Honey Bee Nursery

I know I don't do as many bee reports on the blog as I used to but in a lot of respects our bees do the same thing over and over. Not that I don't delight in watching the hive, but how often can I report the same thing? Things that are fun to check are larvae. I especially like frames with black foundation, makes things ten times easier to see and it really pops the color of the bees.

Above are mostly worker bee eggs (the things that look like mini rice) and some larvae off to the right. If you don't find your queen when you're digging around in your hive, you can be relatively confident that a she is alive somewhere in there because eggs stay in that shape for about three days as they are fed royal jelly from the worker bees.

Once the larvae is three days old, it's switched to a mixture of pollen, honey and water (some bee sites call this bee bread). You can see at least one worker up there feeding someboyd as her head is wedged into a cell. The larvae grows and eats for six days.

After six days, the workers cap over the brood and they pupate for 12 days as they go from a squishy blob into a segmented, leggy, winged bee complete with stinger.

Like this girl! On a side note, while looking up something else entirely I wandered into an article on eating bee larvae. I suppose eating all that honey would make them tasty.

For those curious, I think our hives are doing splendidly this year. Many are as tall or even taller than I am because they are stacked with so many honey supers for us to harvest soon. Though, Lynne was quick to point out that since I'm only 5 feet tall, that's not saying much.  Thanks, Lynne. ;)



Total Slacker Bees #Beekeeping

Dear Bees,

I don't want to get all Ned Stark on you, but Winter is coming.  You are bees of summer and it's been fun to fly around and explore, but seriously, dudettes, you need to start some serious storage to make it through the winter.

See, this whole socializing and not storing honey business is not going to do you any good.  I know, I know, Mr. Neil has been away for awhile and I've been busy counting birds this summer and you've been able to do your own thing, but that's because I believed you could handle the responsibility of being an adult worker.  And I realize that some of you are Russian Bees and that you have a reputation for keeping the hive small and still surviving the winter.  But all of you are bees of summer and bees of the south--what do you know of Winter?

I'm willing to compromise.  I know some books say you should have 3 deep brood boxes full of honey to get you through our northern winters, but we've had bees do just fine with only 2 boxes.  If that's all you want to do and not give us any excess honey this year--that's fine.  We'll help you with that.  But this business of only using one box and completely ignoring the second is not going to work, you must band together and get to work.

I know you think you're being clever by filling in any area that violates "bee space" but that's not enough.  And though we will subsidize you with food in a 2 box system well into fall and possibly early winter, we can't help you come February, that's when your stores are crucial.  And do understand, if you don't have enough honey, your hive will fail and you will die.  And though we will mourn you, we will loot your hive like the Hound loots a corpse.

I love you, but I understand that you are all insects and that you have to do as much for yourself as you can.  So, I hope you read my blog between gathering pollen and half-heartedly storing honey to understand how serious I am about your need to bump up production in order to survive the winter.  I also hope Mr. Neil doesn't mind me referencing another writer in a post about our hives.

Your Obedient Beekeeper,



Bees Plugging Away

After having all of our beehives die this past winter, it's so nice to finally have a warm spring day and look in to see bees industriously tending brood and filling up empty comb.  Our Italian bees are filling up hives like crazy, but the Russians and Carniolans are at a slow and steady pace.

Russians are known for smaller hives and to always have queen cells on hand to replace a failing queen if need be.  Even though this Russian hive had plenty of space, she had queen cells ready to go.  I doubt she'll swarm, but if she does, we have an empty hive near by that they are welcome to move into.  It was just Non Birding Bill and I out at the hives this time and we noted that the Russians make more noise than our other hives, but didn't bonk us to warn us they were about to sting.

One of my favorite things to watch for in the spring--fresh comb and lots of queen eggs.  Even though we didn't see the queen in this particular hive, we knew she was there and busy with all of these fresh eggs.  The yellow stuff in the bottom of the comb in the upper right corner is pollen workers have been bringing in.

Here's a bunch of healthy, gooey larvae--soon to be new bees.

We combined a couple of new hives in mid May using the newspaper method.  That worked well, you could see all the chewed bits of the newspaper in the bottom of the hive.  There were some queen cells and lots of drone cells but given the Russian tendency to rear queens I don't think it's a sign of a problem.

The hive had some good freshly capped brood and larvae in the empty holes.  This is a little more spotty than I'd like, but considering this is in a combined hive and the new and old workers had to work out some differences, I think this is a good sign.

At the end of the day, it's fun to go out and watch 6 healthy hives and see bees return laden with pollen and nectar, despite our chilly and rainy spring.




Maraschino Cherry Bees

Last week, I linked to the story about the bees producing red honey because the were gathering syrup from a Maraschino Cherry Factory--bees going for high fructose corn syrup, go figure.

There's an article over at The Grist about one of their writers went for a blind honey taste test to see if she could taste the difference between various honeys, including corn syrup honey.  Turns out, it was not as flavorful as some of the other honeys she tried.

It makes me wonder if urban bees will find other ways to access corn syrup and would people notice?  This one was discovered because the bees brought back red dye with them.  But what if some other candy factory out there doesn't have dyes?  Or will some crazy person out there think, "You know what, we can totally market this!  What if we put out vats of corn syrup with blue dye and we get bees to make Smurf Honey?"  Jokes have been made that the red honey looks like the beekeepers have vampire bees or zombie bees and I wonder if someone out there will find a market for blood red cherry honey?

As I was pondering this, I found another article from The Grist about the Maraschino Cherry Factory's response to the bees using their syrup.  The owner of the factory, Arthur Mondello did offer to provide different shades of syrup so that the bees could make rainbow-hued honey.  The beekeeper response was not favorable to that idea--that's not "true" honey and quite frankly, initial taste tests show that it's not that tasty anyway.

According to the story, Mondello is ready to go the extra mile and do what he can to prevent bees from harvesting the syrup.  The Grist reported that the problem is that cherry syrup spills when vats are moved around.  Once bees discovered the ample syrup supply, they soon found ways of bypassing the shrink wrap that covered the vats as well.  So, Mondello is looking into several options to block the bees, including covering the vats with vinegar soaked fabric to mask the sweet aroma.

It's an interesting series of articles, definitely check them out at The Grist.

Useful Beekeeping Tools

The lone bee!

It's late fall and we are getting our bees ready for the winter.  As we were winding our bee season to a close, I thought I would bring up 2 different pieces of bee equipment that have been incredibly useful to use this year.  There's a lot of bee equipment equipment that is mediocre (or does not come with instructions so is about as useful as a Slap Chop).

This was a hive tool Mr Neil found...I think when he went to Australia.  Hive tools are needed to pry boxes and frames apart--especially after bees have propolised them together.  Our newest one is called an Australian hive tool. What separates this from your garden variety beekeeping hive tools (besides higher cost) is the little hook on the end--you can use it to pull out the frames from the brood boxes.  If you are only going to have one hive tool...I'd go with with this one.

The other really cool piece of equipment that Mr. Neil ordered for us is the escape board.  Every year when we extract honey, we have the not so fun task of convincing all the worker bees to leave those honey supers and join all the other bees in the brood boxes.  We don't always see eye to eye on this sort of thing.  We've tried other things to get the bees to leave like Bee Quick which is an essential oil that you spray that causes most of the bees to leave the super and go deeper into the hive.  You have to order a new bottle every year because it appears to be less effective after the first summer.  There's also Neil's shake the hell out of the box to flick the bees out method.

But I gotta say that this escape board works WAY better!

You place the escape on top of the supers or boxes that you do not want to remove and place it so the triangle side is on the inside of the hive.  The top has a hole, the bees crawl down that and out the triangle to join the rest of the hive at night.  The next day, when they try to return to the other honey supers, they can't figure out the triangle maze and don't go back.

You then place the box full of honey that you want the bees to vacate on top of the escape board and in a day or two you have a bee-free honey super--it's awesome.  More effective than the Bee Quick and the flick method.

You end up with happy bees and not angry bees lost and irritated in the honey super you are trying to harvest.  Bonus!

Drunk bees!

Hello all, NBB here. Yesterday was a pretty shining example of why, three (?) years into this process, I'm still the junior beekeeping assistant, the Barney Fife of the apiary world.

To get everyone up to speed: the bees needed to be fed, Sharon has to work, Neil is out of town, Hans is out of town, and Lorraine is sick as a dog. Which left me. Now, the last time I was sent off alone to check on the bees it was a comedy of errors, if by "comedy" you mean "it's funny because it happened to someone else."

This mission, however, was a simple one: feed the bees. I didn't have to switch boxes, combine any hives, or search for the queen. Just feed the bees by mixing sugar and water in a pail, then add the pail to the hive. A job so simple, an idiot could do it.

Which is why they sent me.

It was a cold day, about 44°, which meant the hives would be less active, they tend to stay inside and cluster for warmth. I got there in plenty of time, figuring to take about an hour to make the sugar water solution. Small problem:


The sugar, having been left in the garage all summer, was not so much as “easy pour” as more of a “solid brick.” After chipping away at the bags, I was able to produce several manageable chunks and also a large mess. So after about an hour I had five pails full of sugar water.

Too bad we have six beehives. Sigh... what can I say? Math is hard! Back to the house to make another pail, then back down to the hives.

Amazing, the bees were still alive by the time I got to them.


We didn’t get as much honey as we were expecting this year. I wonder if the wetness of the season had something to do with this, or the fact that we had eight hives competing for pollen rather than two.

Regardless, the remaining hives seemed full. And thirsty...



For reasons that escape me now, I had to reopen one of the hives after I put the pail on. I noticed one of the bees had gotten splashed with the sugar water, making her the most popular girl at the dance.


Her wings were sparkling.

We’re heading towards the end of bee season. Soon we’ll be taking the hives down to two or three brood boxes (filled with honey, which the bees will eat over the winter). We’ll wrap the hives in insulation, put the entrance reducers on (to keep out mice and other pests that would make a honey-filled box a winter home), and that’ll be that. We’ll sneak down in the winter and press our ears to the side to make sure they’re alive, dreaming whatever winter dreams bees have.

Mice & Moths In The Hive

I always love when I catch bees making little mistakes with m camera--like falling when landing.  It happens a lot.  Bees are not perfect creatures.

I headed out to the hives to check my frame situation.  A friend works at a local nature center and they need a few extra frames full of honey for programs.  They will extract the honey for us and we do a good deed loaning out our frames.  Seemed like a win/win to me.  As Non Birding Bill and I check on the frames we'd be donating, I just peaked into all of the hives.  We started the summer with 8 hives but we are ending with 6--not bad.

We left our two empty hives out this summer--my thinking was that 1. the other hives would rob the stores of the empty hives and incorporate the little honey that was there into their own hives and 2. if any of the other hives decided to swarm, they might take over one of the empties.  No honey bee swarms took them over, but other critters did.  When I looked into one, I found tons of webbing between the frames.  I had a suspicion of what was going on and took out a frame.

The frame is full of larvae and webbing--we've go wax moths!  It's a type of moth that you see sometimes for sale at bird stores or bait stores.  The moths lay their eggs in wax, the larvae eat the wax and their webbing makes a mess.  If you have a healthy hive the workers keep them out.  Since this hive was void of bees, the moths made themselves at home.  The infestation is bad, the larvae is on every frame.  They will die when it gets cold, but they could burrow in to the wood before then.  I'm half tempted to set the frames out at the bird feeders.  I have a feeling that the chickadees and titmice would make short order of them.

I checked our other empty hive and found some holes in the frame.  It knew this was familiar but couldn't quite remember what it meant.  We took it apart to put it in storage and then I remembered what this meant:

As I lifted the floor--we found three mice--the little stinkers! They are always trying to move into one of our hives.  We took the hive completely apart and booted out the mice.

They had a nice little grass nest underneath.  I can't blame them for trying, but the little plague carriers are going to have to find a new spot to live in.

The occupied hives are doing well.  I did have to chuckle that on our plastic hive...

...there was a teeny frog soaking up the sun.  Do you see it?

I originally called this a toad, but an alert reader told me that this is a Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor).  It was very small, a young frog and was about the same size as a drone.  It was certainly not after the bees.  It was far enough away from the entrance so as not to attract the attention of the workers or the guard bees.  I do love how it looks like it has a huge grin, as if this one wee frog has the entire world figured out.

Beehives Attract Flycatchers

This is an interesting little bird.  It's an eastern wood-peewee that was singing out around Mr. Neil's property.  Periodically, the peewee would flip out from its perch and grab some insects.  I didn't get a photo of it, but as I was watching the peewee through the scope, I noticed it grabbed a bee!  That's when I realized this peewee was perched right over our yard hive and is hanging out in what we call the "bee highway" or the main flight path bees follow going to and from the hive.

This is not the first flycatcher I've seen around the hives.  Great-crested flycatchers show interest as well.  I'm not too worried about it, there are several thousand bees, so a dozen or so eaten by birds is manageable.  Plus, I suspect the birds prefer drones--they are bigger, fatter, juicier, slower and being males, they do not sting.

Bee Sounds

I thought I would share some sounds of our bees.  We're down from 8 eight hives from the beginning of spring to six.  One of the new hives failed (something happened with the queen) and the red hive...well she swarmed and no new queen hatched afterwards.  We combined her remnants with another hive so her workers had a shot at life in another hive. While we were doing all of this, I took the opportunity to record some sounds of a hive.  Below is a healthy, strong, two year old colony.  Note the buzzing is in unison.  You will hear a nearby individual bee because she is close to the microphone, but you can hear how her buzzing fits in with the over all din of the hive.  You'll also hear a second individual buzz--that's from a bee landing.  This sound was taken after we had done a minor inspection, so the girls were a little bit on edge.


Now, here is the sound of a queenless colony (you'll also hear Mr. Neil explaining some bee technique to a guest in the background).  But note in this video that the buzzing is all over the place, it's not cohesive, it's not in unison.  It's a quieter hive and you make out almost all individual bees.  The buzzing is dissonant and in some cases the buzzing almost cries out like a question:  what am I supposed to be doing?


Bees have duties according to their ages.  When they first hatch, they are nurse bees--tending larvae, maintaining pupating cells, feeding the young.  As they get older, they more on to construction and eventually become foragers who look for pollen and nectar.  Without a queen with a strong pheromone to hold them to hive there is no larvae to tend.  Some workers will suddenly develop ovaries and try to lay eggs (which end up as deformed drones) since there is no larvae to tend too.  The hive is in chaos and disarray.  I think you can hear that in a queenless hive by the sad dissonant buzzing.

But then there is my favorite sound: the quiet of a new hive.  Below is one of the hives we installed this year.  As we do a quick inspection, the bees on this roof are buzzing quietly and contentedly.  They also seem more curious about what you are doing to the abode, rather than defensive.  Their buzzing is so quiet, you can barely hear it:


Aren't they just so cute when they are like that? Popping up their little heads to get a better look at your. I love it.  I think bees are cute anyway--all furry and golden!  In that last video, they also do that thing that rabbits do--kind of wiping their faces with their front...well, not paws...I guess, appendages.  They are so endearing when they are like that.