My New Book


Kitty and Olga and The Newspaper Method

Well, there have been some changes in the beekeeping operation. But first, let’s start with the fun.

Can I say how grateful I am for the sweet natured temperament of the MimiKo bees? They are just a joy to visit and are still so friendly and easy going…which as you will read later, is much needed this summer. I love it when I open the lid of a hive and all is calm and a few bees that are at the top of the frames just kind of poke their heads up to see what is going on. They just hang there as if to ask, “Hey, how’s it going? Did you see the dance about that aster patch on the south side of the fallow field–that’s some good nectar.” They’re so fuzzy up close, you almost want to pet them.

My buddy Jody the Librarian came out with me for some of the hive inspections and I had her do some hand feeding. That is the cool thing to do this summer: come out to the hives and feed bees bare handed. Once you’ve had bee tongue on your finger, you never go back to life as it was before.

Above is a Bickman hive frame with some out of control comb construction. In a beehive, you have deep brood boxes with longer frames that bees put their brood and food stores. Then there are smaller boxes called honey supers that bees building excess honey in and you get to eat. We’ve been having a tough time convincing some of the bees to get out of their brood boxes and go build up inside the honey supers. So, I put a smaller honey super frame inside a deep brood box of the Bickman hive. The plan was to have her start to draw out comb on the frame and then I would put it back up in the honey super and encourage the girls to build up there. I left the frame in just a little to long and the bottom of the frame was covered in soon to be drone cells. I scraped those off and put the frame back in the honey super…honey should be packed in there by the end of this month. Whoot.

I will say this, the Bickman hive has low tolerance for shenanigans. While scraping off the drones cells, a worker tried to sting my glove. I didn’t feel it, but I saw her stuck on the finger tip. I had Jody smoke my glove. When a worker bee stings you, she releases a pheromone that tells her sisters, “Hey! Something bad, right here, come sting too!” And soon more bees arrive. Sometimes it’s instantaneous. You’ll see the one sting you and three seconds later, five bees fly to the spot. If you use your smoker and puff it over the sting, that will mask the pheromone and prevent more bees from coming to join in the stinging fun. Jody smoked my glove, but this one bee pictured above was furiously trying to find the spot to sting. She kept angrily buzzing the glove, but couldn’t find the exact spot to sting. Her stinger kept popping in and out of her body, but my camera was not fast enough to catch it.

Jody and I also checked the Kitty and Olga hives. Kitty is still going strong. Above is a frame with some early drawn out comb. Kitty is strong. We looked in on Olga, neither of the new queens had hatched yet. Damn. They should have hatched by now and it was clear that they just weren’t going to. Olga was dying. The workers were in a slow death. What could I do? Well, there’s the dump method where you take a brood box and dump in front of other hives and hope for the best that some of the workers will make it past the guard bees of other hives and start a new life there. We opted for the news paper method. I went back to consult an under the weather Mr. Neil. He agreed, it was time to combine the weak hive with a strong hive. I waited until later in the afternoon when more foragers would be back and could take Non Birding Bill with me.

NBB opened up Olga. She was quiet, not the robust busting of activity that she had been in the past. Even though we had two brood boxes on Olga, half the frames in each box were empty, so we took frames full of bees and combined them into one brood box.

We then went over to the Kitty hive, opened the roof and ceiling, placed down a layer of newspaper and set the Olga box on that. Since some Kitty bees were still coming back from foraging and using the top of the hive, we put another piece of newspaper on top of the Olga box, and then put Kitty’s honey supers on top. The bees will chew through the newspaper in the next 24 hours and hopefully by that time, the workers will have absorbed the new queen’s pheromone and acclimate to the hive. Mr. Neil wisely pointed out that pointed Kitty was simply Olga’s daughter hive anyway (we divided Olga this spring to create the Kitty hive), so Olga was transforming back to herself..

I went back to where Olga had been. We missed some bees. Foragers were still coming back and landing on the bottom board of where their hive had been. I looked at the frame with the two queen cells that didn’t hatch. Did I do this too soon? Was there any chance that the queens might hatch really late. I needed to open them to know…but what would I find. I couldn’t open them. NBB took the frame and offered to open the queen cells and tell me. I was a coward and agreed. He said that the larvae in both cells was shriveled and dried up. Something had gone wrong.

I watched former Olga foragers landing on the board and furiously running around. Guilt knotted up in my stomach. A lump formed in my throat. The sound was awful and full of panic:

It was early evening, it was cool, and it would be dark soon. Where would these bees go?

I took all the frames out of a brood box but set it up with an entrance and roof so they would have someplace to hang out in at night, some sort of shelter. Maybe some of them would fly over to the Kitty hive and the guards would let them through. Otherwise, what else would they do? NBB had to drive the vehicle with the remains of the Olga hive back to the house, I opted to walk. I felt terrible. As took the path, I saw a honey bee foraging on some clover. I wondered to myself if it was an Olga bee, and tears filled my eyes, she’s gathering pollen and nectar only to head back to hive that no long exists. I thought back to all the lessons in beekeeping the Olga hive had taught me: how I freaked out big time because she was my first time putting new bees in; she gave my only sting thus far, we got comb honey from her last year, we listened to her in winter.

And now she is gone. She’s very much a part of the Kitty hive and perhaps it’s appropriate that the two hives we started with last year are combined into one hive this year. I didn’t think I would feel this bad. I tearily met up with NBB and he patted my back and agreed that he too felt bad, but really at the end of the day, they are just insects. I tried to listen, but found that my typical anti anthropomorphic resolve was failing. These are just bees, they only live for like 21 days anyway.

So, days when you make the decision to end a hive, it’s good to have a friendly hand feeding hive as a back up.

No, I’m not too attached to my bees. I can quit beekeeping at any time. Really, I can. It’s not a habit. So what if I broke down in my hair stylist’s chair yesterday as I related the story? I’m not in too deep, really. I can totally handle this.

Actually, I’ve had a few days to chew on this since it happened, so I am over the loss of the Olga hive and can chuckle at myself for being so wrapped up in my bees (and looking at the calendar, I’m sure hormones had something to do with it too). Meanwhile, there have been other happy and cool things related to beekeeping on:

MimiKo (hive namesake) sent me a kickin’ shirt for my birthday–it’s an Eddie Izzard shirt and much like his routine, I’m a beekeeper who is happy to be covered in bees. And, unlike a majority of bird shirts out there, this is actually designed for a woman’s body and looks cute–bird manufacturers, please take note–you don’t have to sell only men’s sizes or the unisex sizes.

And another artist has been inspired by our bees (some may remember the Lisa Snellings art). Well, this really cool photographer named Kimberly Butler made a series of photos based on our beekeeping adventures–that’s one above them. She gave us a signed copy. I was speechless when she showed it to us, it was so weird and reminded me of calm, happy bees poking their heads over frames to see what you are doing. So, in many ways, old hives do live on in really weird and wonderful ways.

10 comments to Kitty and Olga and The Newspaper Method

  • Kodak the Eskie

    Happy Birthday Sharon!!

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry to hear about the difficulties with the Olga hive. Though you’re feeling guilty, you have no reason too. Remember all that you’ve done for the hive’s survival, including placing her with the Kitty hive. After all, isn’t each bee supposed to look out for the greater good.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, interesting, poignant, wise. Cool art. Rockin’ hair.

  • Jess

    Hey, I’ve got that shirt! \o/ We saw Eddie Izzard back in May– funny, funny show. The shirt looks better on you! Makes more sense, too.

    You’re an excellent beekeeper– just think how long Kitty/Olga has been going now, thanks to your efforts! I imagine that these sorts of problems in hives are not uncommon in the wild– people just don’t see them happen unless they’re beekeepers. So you can’t really blame yourself. And you’re getting to see things that many folks would never see, in a very intimate way, which is really pretty lucky– I don’t think anyone can fault you for getting caught up in bee events.

    I love that first shot of the MimiKo bees. That made me chuckle.

  • Dan Guy

    I’m glad Jody got to hand-feed some bees!

  • mordicai

    The bee stuff is far & away my favorite stuff, & this post in particular really worked. Engaging as heck. This + Pushing Daisies makes me wonder about bee keeping on urban rooftops…

  • Elaine & Belinda

    Happy B’ day! and thank you for the very touching narrative of the Olga hive. I know there some very special honey coming out of those hives. And love is love, wether it’s for a creature that lives for 21 days or 91 years. It’s a heartful thing you are doing. Thank you.

  • Stacy

    Happy BEE~irthday to you! Great hair; coolio shirt; cool glasses and a heart as big as an open Irish field!

    I too adore the first picture; that center bee looks like she could be trouble; just the jaunty angle of her head and her antennae straight up; kinda resembles you in your picture actually.

    bunnies: bees: birds & even NBB; you enhance the day's of so many with laughter and joy. Keep up the great work!~

  • raven-feathers

    would it have made more sense, in retrospect, to combine the hives in the evening, when all of the foragers had returned?

  • MrsMac

    Hey, I know how you feel. It is so strange to be emotional about the bees. When we had a hive of wild honey bees (very nice honey bees, BTW) make a home in our house wall, we had to have them removed. We tried making the entrance smaller hoping they would swarm and leave on their own. Since they were nice honey bees, we didn’t want to kill them. But they were pretty persistent. So we had to call a bee keeper to come and relocate them. It was so sad to see the few bees who were out and had missed the bee keeper and now had no hive. For days we would sit on the porch and look over to where all the action was and we would miss our bees. Fortunately, the original hive is in our old oak tree. So we still have bees. We just can’t see them every day. We have been thinking about starting a bee hive, but I think living in the city and having only 1/2 an acre and no real sunny spot might make us bad bee parents. I do love reading about your bees.