Archive for the ‘Bees’ Category


Busy with the Bees

May 12, 2013

The phone rang just before 7 Thursday morning (the 9th).  It was the post office – my bees had arrived.  I ordered packages from B & B Honey Farm.  They are based in Minnesota which, this year, meant the bees came a bit later than expected.  For two weeks in a row, snow in May delayed shipping. 

I ordered 4 hives.  One for my top bar hive, two for my friend, Libby, who wants (me) to start hives, and one for the Montessori school that I’m helping. The bees arrived safe and sound. Some aren’t going to survive the trip, but surprisingly few died in transit, and the queens were all alive. Surprisingly the postmaster was not nearly as interested in looking at these boxes full of bees as I was. She seemed quite happy to usher me and my bees out of the building as quickly as possible.

Thursday was cloudy, highs in the low 60’s, with rain and thunderstorms expected on and off all day.  Actually, not a bad day for installing bees into hives.  If it were sunny and warm the bees might be tempted to try to find better digs than an empty hive space; but when it is colder and rainy they are more likely to sit tight and start drawing comb.

A check of the local radar indicated a break was likely in the late morning.  The Montessori class had been disappointed twice when bee arrivals hadn’t happened were more than happy to interrupt their day for a field trip to their hive at a schoolmate’s home. 

bees in a boxThe students found the bees in their package pretty interesting. 








They were less comfortable being so close when I actually began dumping them into the hive.


My photographer, though, may have a future, both in photography and beekeeping.  He’s front and center and closest to the hive in this group picture of the new beekeepers.


As soon as this installation was finished it began to rain.  I hope the straggler bees that weren’t in the hive yet did ok.

I headed home and consulted the radar once again.  Another break was approaching in late afternoon.  I got together the bees and supplies for two more installations, this time at my friend Libby’s home.

Libby has a cattle farm and employees.  After a roadtrip to Dadant’s in March to get what she needed, her farm helpers put the hives and frames DSCF1604together.  Libby went for Langstroth, but with pretty copper, peaked roofs.  I love the look!

I was better at dumping the bees by the time I got to Libby’s second hive, but I fumbled a bit with the queen cage.  These cages didn’t have a sugar plug for the queen to eat, just a cork, so I needed to open the cage for the queen to get out.  On that second hive the queen got out more quickly than anticipated and we weren’t 100% sure she went into the hive.  But the bees were fanning for their friends so I was pretty optimistic.

DSCF1608I got home about 5:00 and while the rain held off I quickly installed the last package into my top bar hive.  

I was cold, wet, and tired, so it wasn’t the neatest job.

I left the last to find their way in and went inside to change and meet Libby at her restaurant for a drink.  (She also gave me a bottle of wine – if I install enough hives for her I’ll never have to buy wine again!)

Yesterday I took a peak at my own bees.  Everyone was happily inside, and perhaps because I’d left them some comb from last year’s absconded colony they haven’t been terribly interested in the baggie of sugar water they have for food.

I then went up to check on Libby’s hives, and sure am glad I did.  Both hives seemed happy enough, but when I picked up one of the empty package boxes we found a clump of bees.  At first I thought they’d been trapped by the package, but eventually realized they were huddled around a queen.  Odds are pretty good that the queen did not land in the hive on Thursday but instead ended up on the ground – and luckily she didn’t get stepped on!  I moved her on a twig over to the hive landing board and she made a very regal entrance. 

And so 4 more hives have been created in Central Illinois.


Me as a beekeeping mentor?

October 27, 2012

I am a laissez faire beekeeper – or – perhaps more accurately – a lazy fairy beekeeper.  I am not worried about maximizing honey production, breeding queens with particular characteristics, or moving my bees from field to field as pollinators for hire.  DSCF1276Although not opposed to taking a bit of honey now and again; I otherwise assume that bees know how to be bees better than I do – so bzzz and let bzzz.

Perhaps because of my Earth Mother leanings it is only natural that I have become a mentor for a local Montessori class of 4th – 6th graders.  The Montessori philosophy: “To aid life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself, that is the basic task of the educator” (Maria Montessorri, is not terribly different from my beekeeping philosophy, granted, to a different end.  I just want healthy bee colonies – not educated ones (to bee, or not to bee…).

So not too long ago I received an e-mail from a Montessori teacher asking if I’d help them as they venture into the world of beekeeping.  Now I am no expert beekeeper.  I’ve had hives only since 2009.  I explained my philosophy, my l limited knowledge, my newbee status.  Jane still wanted me to be their mentor.

Earlier this month I met with the class and talked about bees until all of our attentions flagged.  DSCF1320Yesterday, though, the class took a field trip to my apiary.

We opened a couple of hives – just took the lids off – it was only in the 40’s and I’m still concerned the bees got too chilled.  We looked at my Langstroth vs. my topbar hive.  It isn’t much of a comparison at the moment.  The topbar bees absconded this summer.  Can’t blame them, with a severe drought and not much nectar, they were having a heck of time building comb.  I hope they found a happy place. 

I don’t know how I’ll do as a mentor, I suspect I’ll learn more than the students, and about more than just bees.  I’ll keep you posted.


Update after a long hiatus

October 21, 2012

It has been over 6 months since I last posted.  I give no excuses; it just happened.  But here’s a bit of a catch up.

One of our llamas died in the spring.  She ate some hemlock.  That left us with just Serendipity – and a lone llama has a propensity for getting into trouble.  SerendiptiySerendipity kept finding ways to escape our field.  One day a woman pulled into the driveway to tell us our llama was in the park that borders our property.  It took my husband, this woman, and 3 more passers-by to herd her back into the field.  She had so much fun!

And then the first day of school she did it again.  I got a call from the high school principal telling me he’d let my son out of school to help wrangle the llama.  She clearly needed friends (and we needed to upgrade the fencing).

Acci and Cheetah

The fencing was upgraded and my husband found a local llama farm that needed to downsize, and that is how we ended up with Acci and Cheetah.

Acci and Cheetah are older than Serendipity.  We don’t know for sure, but think Serendipity is about 4 years old.  Acci and Cheetah are 8 and 6 years old.  All three get along quite well, not super chummy, but they hang out together (but also spit at one another for the slightest offense).

No pictures of the flower or vegetable gardens.  We had a severe drought and very hot temperatures and everything was just fried.  Finally, in September, the tomatoes started to fill out and ripen – but not at anywhere near the rate we are used to.  We still have plenty of tomatoes, but also occasional frosts; we eat what we can.  Tonight, my husband made some green fried tomatoes for dinner, and oven roasted potatoes (also from the garden).  Mmmm.

The honey bees had a time of it too.  I obtained two swarms in May.  One I put in a Langstroth (the rectangular boxes) with some old comb from previous inhabitants, and one I put in the topbar hive.  Those bees, though, had to start from scratch, with no comb.  The drought was too much.  The couldn’t bring in enough nectar to both build comb and store honey, so eventually they left in search of better digs.  I hope they found some. 

The other hives, however, are doing quite well.  My husband and I put mouseguards on the hives today (so mice don’t winter in the nice warm hive) and rearranged boxes as we saw fit.DSCF1276  I like to have the bulk of the bees and their honey start at the bottom of the hive so they can work their way up during the winter.  I also moved a box of honey from one very strong hive to a weaker one.  I’ll feed the two weakest hives also so they can store more honey until it’s too cold for them to move about.  Fingers crossed this will get them through the winter and early spring.

That’s the short version of the last 6 months.  I’ll try to write more before another 6 months slip by.  Until then, enjoy the Autumn!


This week’s take

July 26, 2011

DSCF943331.5 lbs – give or take a little.  That’s how much honey I harvested this past week. Last year I bought pretty little honey jars – this year I reused canning jars we’ve had kicking around (I sanitized them in the dishwasher and I did invest in new inner lids). 

With no better place to put them, I have the filled jars stacked in the corner of my kitchen. 

I haven’t put labels on the jars yet (the label you can see says jalapeno jelly) – I’ll probably use the labels I made last year:image

In the process of bottling the honey I certainly had ample opportunity to taste it, and it’s goooood.  I hate wasting a drop because it takes the bees a lot of work.  According to one bee trivia list a single bee makes only 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime.  If there’s a tablespoon of honey left in the bottom of the bucket that’s the life’s work of 36 bees.  I hate for any of it to get washed down the drain – so I scraped it pretty clean.  I’ll put the bucket out for the bees to clean too (and then I’ll wash it really really well, honest.)



Honey Harvest

July 24, 2011

Motivated by the bottom of my last jar of honey I have harvested some honey from the hives over the last few days.

The bee escape needed some expected modifications – the bees easily climbed through the openings of the mesh.  But since I was in the hive I decided to take some individual frames (rather than an entire box).  I sorted through two boxes and took a couple of frames of nicely capped honey and put them in a 5 gallon bucket I’d brought for just this eventuality.  Of course there were lots of bees on those frames, but this group was easily brushed off, a towel was tossed over the frames and buckets, I left my bee clothes down in my storage box and I traipsed on home.

By the way, this was the first time I really felt I’d put the nitrile gloves to the test.  No stings.  Between my hat, veil, scrubs, and nitrile gloves I feel invincible!

The next day I went down and retrieved a couple more frames.  I also put the bee escape, version 2, on the 2nd hive.  Today I opened that hive again and the bee escape had done a fine job.  Where yesterday there had been thousands of bees in that box, today there were about 50.  The box and the 50 bees went into a wheelbarrow and took a ride up to the house.  In the yard I chose the frames I wanted to harvest – not all were fully capped (the bees cover over the comb cell – cap them – when the honey is ready) – brushed off the bees and brought them (the frames, not the bees) inside.  Meanwhile the bees that had come along on the box gave up on those frames and were lapping up spilled honey.   Later, I took the wheelbarrow and box back to the hive with about 1/2 of the bees that had been on the box before – the others were flying around near the house.  They were still around at dinner time too, mostly in a little cluster.  They may have been chilly.  If they are still there in the morning I’ll try to put them in a cup and take them back to the hive.

Meanwhile – back to harvesting.

Many beekeepers use extractors that spin the frames around and cause the honey to sling out of the honey comb.  These combs, however, are typically built on foundation and that makes them a bit sturdier.  I don’t use foundation so I use the crush and strain method.  Its pretty much how it sounds – you crush up the comb and strain the honey through a mesh strainer.

Here are some pics:DSCF9424

Frames in the bucketDSCF9429,


frames in the pan before crushing,





and all smushed up!  Notice the dark and light honey; they taste a bit different from each other, but they are all going into the same mix.


…pouring the mess into the strainer where it will sit overnight.DSCF9430

All told I have about 2 to 2.5 gallons of honey. 

I hope to harvest a few more frames in the Fall.  I want to be sure the bees have enough honey for the winter though.  I tend to be very conservative – I’d feel horrible if they starved to death – and it isn’t as if I am making my living doing this.

I also have a bit of trepidation about this honey.  Not all the honey was capped yet – that’s bound to happen, and I tried to limit how much uncapped honey I took.  The problem with uncapped honey is it has too much water content and it isn’t “shelf-stable” yet.  A little uncapped honey isn’t an issue, but too much will raise the water content in the honey and that can lead to honey that ferments.  Fermented honey is generally not good (although not everyone thinks it has to be tossed).  Another issue is the humidity – honey will actually extract water from the air.  It was very humid this week and I put the honey bucket in the garage overnight a couple of nights so the warmth (hot nights) would keep the honey dripping through the wax and mesh.  Now I’m wondering if that was such a good idea.  Oh well, only time will tell.  Until the honey ferments – if it will at all – it will be perfectly fine.

Tomorrow I bottle.


Heat, Bees, and Beekeeping

July 20, 2011

Heat Wave!  You know its bad when they warn you 4 days in advance that a heat advisory is coming, but perhaps worse, when the garbage men are on a heat schedule – then it’s hot.

Yes, we’re warm, but we have AC and frankly we’re fine. bee escape And for some reason, in the midst of this heat (heat index was 102 last night at 9:30) I am actually accomplishing little things.

For instance, I made the bee escape.  It isn’t super pretty.  Scrap plywood and not an equilateral triangle – but I’m hoping the bees won’t have their protractors out.  I am also hoping the holes in the hardware cloth are small enough to keep the bees from going back in the box – we’ll see.  If not, I have a plan B – another layer of hardware cloth offset a bit – but I didn’t want to limit air flow any more than necessary so I’ll see if this works.

I also stopped at a new store in the area – Big R – K-Mart for the farm family – and they sell scrubs. Hmmm, light weight, washable.  One of the aspects of beekeeping that hampers my willingness open the hives is the need for certain clothes.  No, you really don’t need a beekeeping outfit like this: V01230M---Cricket-Suit

Not that there is anything wrong with it – and if someone gave me one I’d very happily use it – but it is just not in my price range.  Anyway, what often happens is I’m down at the bees and thinking of opening the hive, even thinking of walking back to the house to get equipment (before I brought down my handy dandy storage box) when I realize I’m wearing something dark or worse, something with a strong contrast.  So not only would I have to go get the equipment, I’d have to change my clothes…. and then the will to open the hive dissipates rapidly.

So back to the scrubs.  How about if I had something light colored down in my storage box that I could just slip over whatever I’m wearing – be it shorts or blue jeans, a dark sweatshirt or even (ha) my bathing suit (because I always traipse half naked through my fields and woods to the bee yard with its wild raspberries and nasty poison ivy).  So I bought a pair of white pants with a draw string (in a couple of sizes too big so they would fit over everything) and a long sleeved white scrub-jacket – with knit cuffs (a plus for keeping curious bees from climbing up your sleeve on the inside), also on the large side to fit over whatever I happen to be wearing.  Ta Da – a beekeeping outfit.

Today I tried out everything.DSCF9420

There are the scrubs and my hat with veil, my bee brush and hive tool, and the lavender things on the pants are nitrile gloves.  So far no bee has stung my hand while I’ve worn them, and I’m a lot more dexterous than with the heavy leather beekeeping gloves I originally used.

Today I put the bee escape board under a box I want to harvest on the yellow hive.  I needed to switch the empty top box (they haven’t gotten to it yet, although there were plenty of bees hanging around in there, so perhaps they are on the verge) and the full box. The full box is dang heavy!  (and that’s a good thing) I almost gave up out of fear for my back, but I soldiered on, tightened those abs, took it off, put the empty one on, put the escape board on (boy, I hope I didn’t put it on upside down…) and then hefted the full box back on top.  I’ll check tonight or tomorrow morning and see if it worked.

Oh, and the scrubs worked great.  I put elastic bands around my ankles to keep wayward bees from entering that way (and to keep from tripping on the too long pants).  Yes, it was warm out (heat index about 96) but not unbearable in the scrubs. The hat and veil were hotter.  I am pleased – and pleased with myself for my ingenuity (pat pat pat on the back).

Back to the heat.

Not only are people feeling the heat – so are the bees.  The last couple of evenings they have been bearding on the outside of the hives.DSCF9412  See all the bees on the outside of the hive?  It’s too hot for them inside.

The other hive has less bearding – they seem to be hiding under the hive where they have a bit more room than this one.  I rather wonder if they have some comb under there…, I saw a bee going under the hive with pollen (we’re talking about a 2 or 3 inch area); maybe this fall I’ll look.

Both hives have upper entrances too, which should help with ventilation.  Except I needed to remove it for the yellow hive this morning – another reason to get back to them asap. 

Now that I did that bit of beekeeping I think I’m done with outdoor activities today. 


Bees, the Bee Yard, and my Little Refuge

July 16, 2011

As I write this in one window I have the Mother Earth News Bee-a-thon 2011 on in another window.  Its an informational 12-hour program on all sorts of bees, not just honey bees. 

Much of the focus is on encouraging participation in Your Garden Show and their Citizen Science program bee-moduleThe Great Sunflower Project during which participants count bees as they (the bees, not the participants) visit specific flowers.  They even have a bee-o-meter that shows where bees (all types, honey, green, bumble, and unknown) have been seen.  I have a bee-o-meter widget here on the blog.  I’ve also registered and plan to record bees who visit several bee balm plants we have in our garden (there is a choice of several bee-attractive plants to choose from).

My own bees are doing just fine.  The swarm I caught last year was lagging behind the hive I won last year, but a week or so ago it took off.  I don’t mean it flew away, I mean it made lots and lots of bees.  I even put another box on top so they’ll have plenty of room to expand.

I am hoping to harvest some frames triangle escapeof honey soon.  But first I need to make a bee escape.  It’s a board with a hole in it that you put below the box of frames you want to take off (this box should be on the top of the pile).  On the bottom of the board is a triangle of thin (1/2” x 3/4” or so) pieces of wood with openings at each corner and covered with hardware cloth.  The bees go out of the box through the hole and out the corners, but they generally can’t figure out how to go back in through the corners.  I borrowed an escape board last year and it worked great.  Time to make my own.  Fingers crossed they’ll work and the bees have made enough honey that I can take some without feeling guilty.

I’ve also made some changes to improve my beekeeping capabilities and make myself happier too.  I found I’d stop by and make sure the bee hives were standing and bees were still flying in and out.  They would be but I might want to open the hives to check something yet I wouldn’t have lugged the gear down to the bee yard, so I wouldn’t be able to open the hive.  It’s not all that far, 500 yards or so, from the shed where I have my bee stuff to the bee yard, but it is long enough to often keep me from going back up, gathering what I need, and then going back down to the yard.  So I bought a patio storage chest to hold my stuff and put it down in the bee yard.  Among the “stuff” I put in the box is a chair.  Watch this little video (2.5 minutes) and you’ll see where the chair goes.