Showing posts with label Bees. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bees. Show all posts

Sunday, November 8, 2015


While I was at Valley Natural Foods the other day I was standing behind a couple in front of the honey shelf and I overheard them discussing the quality of the various honeys.  The woman leans in towards the man to tell him that some of the honeys had gone bad "you can tell because they are crystallized" she said.  I didn't correct them but I had to laugh to myself because prior to becoming a beekeeper (once upon a time) I use to think that too. I'd always toss out honey that had crystallized and I learned to do that from my mother who would say "that honey is bad."  So, here's the truth for those of you who have done the same.  Crystallized honey isn't bad, not even inferior.  In fact, it is great! Trust me, I learned this directly from the bee genius Marla Spivak.

Since I learned about this in my beekeeping course I now prefer my honey to be crystallized.  I'm a firm believer that if it doesn't crystallized at some point then it is an inferior product. Why? Because the more natural (raw) a honey is the more likely it is to crystallized or be sold in that form.

I purchase raw honey from a local beekeeper (sold at our natural food store) and my recent purchase looks like this:

I had two jars from the same MN beekeeper and one was liquid for about 1-2 weeks and the other solid (like you see above).  How is that possible?  Well, how fast a honey crystalizes depends on where the bees found their nectar.  Example: nectar that comes from goldenrod is more likely to crystallized faster than nectar that comes from blackberries.  So, the amount of sugar vs. water content is what contributes to the rate of crystallization or granulation.

Another factor affecting crystallization of honey is in how it's processed.  Heating and filtering is what keeps it from crystalizing and both can destroy the healing benefits of honey.  Commercial beekeepers will heat (pasteurize) up to 150 degrees F, filtering out all pollen, wax and other bee particles.  Makes honey pretty but not healthy.

It's easy to make honey liquid again without destroying the beneficial components (nutrients and enzymes), all you have to do is warm it up a little.  I prefer avoiding the microwave to do this, instead I'll use a pot of hot water (don't heat above 95 F) and set the honey jar inside til it is liquid again.

There is a huge misconception that pasteurizing (heating) makes the honey safer to consume.  That is not why commercial beekeepers or companies do this, they do it because the customer prefers it.  Not sure how that came to be but I'm assuming it is similar to why we preferred white soap over non-white...ADVERTISING! They market liquid & clear honey as "more appealing" to look at but in addition they'll also claim that their honey is also beneficial to your health when it isn't.  What made it clear and liquid also destroyed its beneficial properties.

So, buy RAW and don't be afraid if it is crystallized or granulated or if it was once liquid and becomes crystallized or granulated.  Honey does not expire in the way other foods do which is why you likely will not find an expiration date on locally made RAW honey from a small beekeeper.  When commercial honey is sold it often has an expiration date on the bottle or a "best if used by" date.  When you see this, remember it has nothing to do with the honey but more to do with the company selling it wanting you to buy another bottle.  That expiration date in conjunction with the crystallization will make you think your honey has gone bad but that commercial honey was crap to begin with.  It will still taste great and work fine in your tea, baking, etc… but it will not help you recover from a cold or sooth that sore throat the way RAW honey does.  Much of the commercial honey now is being adulterated with ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup so its best to avoid anyway but now I'm drifting off topic.

End of point… crystallized honey is NOT bad  :-)

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I was so excited to find this itty bitty bee in my garden working really hard on one of my bamboo poles that I'm using to stake my raspberry bush.  I immediately thought it was a mason bee.  Some of the other bamboo poles in the raspberry patch have mud plugged holes already (possibly from last year).  Anyway... I took some pix and a video to show my daughter Maya but when she saw the video she insisted that it wasn't a mason bee.  She thinks it looks like a wasp but the video is a little deceiving when it comes to seeing the bees size.  It was really tiny, about the size of my fingernail.  I don't think any wasps are that size.  Are there wasps that size????

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I figured if I can't have honeybees right now it doesn't mean I can't have another type of bee.  According to my beekeeping friend Dave  it is a little late in the season to get going with Mason Bees so I'm going to give bumble bees a try.  A while back, after my beekeeping course, my oldest daughter decided she wanted to try keeping bumble bees.  She's always had a fascinating relationship with bumbles.  When she and I took a class at a local nature center 14 years ago we learned the difference between bees, wasps and hornets, which ones are aggressive and which ones aren't, etc... After that time she's always handled bumble bees.  She mostly likes to stroke their backs when they are busy working a flower.  Since she is so brave and had a real interest we ordered Marla Spivak's book: Befriending Bumble Bees.

Maya, my daughter, caught a bunch of bumbles initially but we were unsure in our ability to determine which ones were queens so she'd always let them go.  Well, since I'm bee-less I've decided to give the bumbles another try. With bumbles I won't have to worry about swarm management and worried neighbors, I'll just be able to still enjoy having a relationship with bees.

Now all I need is a bumble bee to show up.  They are late this year.

Wish me luck! :D

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


I thought this was cool.  Jim at Natures Nectar talks about moving our hives, explaining his process. The hive in the picture was our 2nd year hive :)

Natures Nectar: Moving Hives

Sunday, May 6, 2012


We said goodbye to our hives yesterday.  It was actually pretty sad.  I didn't care so much about the yellow hive but I was really attached to the pink one (the one you see being carried away).  That was my very first hive after I took the U of M beekeeping course and we've managed to get it through two winters and this was our third spring having them, they were also our mild tempered and happy bees.  My husband said I looked pitiful, like a lost child watching them from the window being carried away.We discussed just keeping the one hive because they really were a great bunch of bees to have but we just couldn't get past the possibility that, even if we managed them well, they could swarm again and next time it might not turn out so great.  I kept having visions of them swarming during one of the neighbors many dusk til dawn lawn parties.

Hubby and I are already discussing other options.  We have a couple friends that live in the country and we might approach them about keeping our bees.  One of them has wanted to have bees but wasn't so sure she wanted to do the management part of it, so we're thinking she might be a good option.  Otherwise, we do plan on moving so we might wait until then to get another hive, we'll see.

For now, Jim at Natures Nectar took our babies away.  I feel good that he was the one to take them since he's the guy I orginally purchased my packages from.  Who better to have our hives than the man I bought them from, right? 

So anyway...a couple pictures to share:

Jim getting the hives ready to be hauled away.

and then carrying my favorite one out.

Middy (my middle child) is pretty mad at me.  She loves the bees.  We have spent every day since spring of 2010 checking them out each morning, watching them fly in and out throughout the day (aside from winter).  I didn't realize she had grown as attached as I did.  She kept trying to think of reasons they didn't have to go.  She thinks people around us should "suck it up and get with the program." lol!  She's already asking when we can get some more.  I guess her nagging will get me moving on finding someone to let us keep them on their property.

Did I ever mention how much I hate living in the city?

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Today our second hive swarmed. We really didn't anticipate this one. Our neighbor came by around 1 pm to tell us that our hive was swarming and it was in her backyard AGAIN! I don't know what it is about her yard that they love so much but they do. I ran over to see where it landed and this time it was attached to a tree trunk about 7 feet from the ground smack in the middle of her backyard. I told her that I'd get someone to remove it right away.

Well, I made the usual round of calls and not a single beekeeper could come out to get the swarm. One beekeeper was nice enough to walk me through the process so the hubby and I decided we would retrieve it and keep the bees in a box until someone came to get them. Just before we set out to get the swarm I made a call to the MN Hobby Beekeepers Association to see who might want the bees once I boxed them up and a member told me that he had a list and would make calls. I got a call from a beekeeper that wanted to remove the swarm himself (it was his first time), so he came right over. Unfortunately, being a newbie at swarm removal, he wasn't quite sure what to do so he placed his hive body below the tree, climbed the ladder, and shook the thick branch. Bees didn't exactly fall into the box, they sorta tumbled and then started flying. This fiasco went on for about a dozen more tree shakes and each shake would create lots of angry bees, lots of flying, and an eventual return to the tree. The guy finally left and planned a return in a few hours.

In the meantime my hubby and I were talking to the neighbors about 20 feet from the swarm. The swarm had mostly calmed itself but one lone bee came flying over and hovered above my husbands head (thanks to his black hair the bees are really really attracted to him.) He tried walking further away but it followed and stung him right on the eyelid. Needless to say, my husband was NOT happy. He has had his fill of bee stings lately and right now I'm not really sure what he's thinking about our little insects. (the first picture is at urgent care.  I made my hubby go in to see if the doctor could at least give him something for the swelling.  He swells pretty awful when he is stung and I was afraid it would put pressure on his eye.  The doctor agreed and prescribed prednisone but now my goofy husband won't take it.)

(This second picture was taken 2 hours after the doctor visit.  He still won't take the meds nor will he take anymore benadryl. He's a glutton for punishment I guess).

On top of that, my neighbors were feeling a little put off as well. It turned out that both they and I have been thinking the same thing: what if our bees swarmed one day, none of us notice, and they let the dogs out to play? What if no one notices the swarm sitting on our fence, or on their table, or in the bush next to the house and they bring their 3 yr old granddaughter outside to run around? I live my life according to the Golden Rule so my neighbors weren't really thinking anything that I hadn't thought myself. They didn't tell me to get rid of my bees but I know I have to think about it. We do plan on a move to the country soon so we may just have to hold off on the beekeeping until we have more land.

About three hours later the beekeeper returned to try once again to remove the swarm (some of the bees were already in the hive body from his previous visit). This time he used his bee brush to scoop them up and dump them into the hive body. Once he felt he scooped enough he sat and waited but again, the bees that were flying kept returning to the tree and not the hive. He decided to take home the thousands he scooped up and left the chunk on the tree behind. We have no way of knowing if the queen was in the hive body or in the tree since it seemed the bees were divided on where they wanted to stay. All I know for sure is I hope the bees find their way back to my hive or else leave because if they don't I'm afraid they'll end up being exterminated in the morning :(

We did get some honey out of it all.  The guy who retrieved the swarm was a little confused by me.  He couldn't understand why someone would keep bees without the need or desire for honey.  I tried to explain to him that honey would be awesome but it really wasn't what drove me to keep bees but he just couldn't wrap his mind around that so when he returned the second time he brought me this big jar of honey and said, as he handed me the jar "this is why you become a beekeeper." 

I still don't agree with him but... lol!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


but this one was far more interesting. I had just finished emailing Jim from Natures Nectar about the divide I was about to do, it was the perfect day for it; sunny and warm. Our bees were in a great mood. I was standing in front of the hive that we knew needed to be divided the most. The pink hive is our oldest but the yellow newer hive had a prolific egg laying queen. At the end of winter it looked as if the hive hadn't lost a single bee, it was insane. Just as hubby and I were standing in front of the hive discussing our plan of attack (we are new to this dividing business), the hive decided to swarm. Um... there they go not following the manual again. Minnesota bees aren't suppose to swarm until late June, early July but apparently these girls didn't get the memo. We watched as they moved around the yard, up into a tree, and then settled on our fence.

Needless to say I was in full panic mode (readers: you do sort of see me as the high anxiety type already don't ya?! - cuz I am). I hate having to tell my neighbors that they can't let their dogs out to potty because my bees are on the move again. I feel like I'm being rude... I am rude. Sorry, but your annoying neighbor purchased a bunch of bees and because they like to swarm all the time you need to keep your dogs stuck inside until the bees move on and who cares if you pooch piddles on the carpet. It's rude, it really is.

When I told the neighbor how I was feeling about the swarm she told me to calm down and stop worrying. Apparently she and her husband think the bees are interesting and a worthy cause. That's a relief! Sadly though, we are getting rid of one hive. There have been waaaaaaay too many bees in the yard. Aside from the swarms making me nervous when it comes to neighbor relations the bees have gotten a bit territorial. The girls in the family (ours, not the queens) have to tie their hair into a bun and wrap a scarf around their heads to keep the bees from getting caught while outside playing (we have that many bees flying around the yard). We are keeping our pink hive though because I've grown attached to that one :)

Onto the swarm.

I called about 5 beekeepers to come and get the swarm and the lucky winner was the man who said he'd be at my house in less than an hour. He came, gathered up our little bunch that attached themselves to the fence and he left.

Funny how smart bees are. Once he boxed up the bees and put them in the van he came over to talk to me, which was 30 feet from where the bees were and the buzzy girls still managed to find him and bop him in the head. I was standing in front of him, no further than 2 feet away, and they didn't mind me at all. They wanted to get the guy who stole their sisters and mother. Smart little suckers.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


My third spring without treating my bees for ANYTHING and they are still going strong. I've read where other beekeepers have gone 7-10 years without mite treatment and their bees did just fine so I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and hope for the best.

Since both hives survived the winter I have to decide what I'm going to do about the splits. I cannot have four hives. My neighbors were really patient with me when the hives swarmed last year but I fear that patience runs thin. I know that if a swarm of bees attached itself to our home back when I knew nothing about bees I wouldn't have been a very nice neighbor so... I have to "do unto others...."

Since splitting hives in two is a swarm management system and I don't want four hives I decided to split both hives and give the bees away. The good thing is, there is no shortage of those who want bees. After posting that I wanted to give the bees away on beesource I received a bunch of private messages from people who wanted them. Problem is, most of the requests came from people who do not have an established presence on the forum, therefore it made me a little nervous. My nervousness comes from my wanting the one retrieving the bees to do the split for me. I figure if I'm giving them away and not selling them, the least they can do is the split. But... I'm nervous about letting someone dig into my hives when I have no idea how much they know about beekeeping. Luckily, one of the very experienced beekeepers on the beesource contacted me. He happens to live one state over and is willing to take the bees if no one else will. He suggested I look locally first so I contacted Natures Nectar (my bee supplier), and Jim (the owner) said he'd take them if they are still going strong at the end of April. I haven't heard back yet on whether he'll do the split though.

I've been told I should do the split, create nucs and just sell the bees myself but honestly, I have no idea how much to sell them for or how I even go about marketing that. I've never even seen a nuc before other than in a supply catalog. How do they work exactly? Can they be transported once the bees are inside?

Well... I have at least a month to sort it all out. Right now the bees are doing great! These warm days should make them happy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


It has been a while since I talked about my bees so I thought I'd share something new about my awesome girls.


Honeybees get mites. The actual term is Varroa Mites.

What are they?

They are itty bitty insects that attach to and weaken honeybees by sucking hemolymph from their bodies, which serves as both blood and intestinal fluid. Once the honeybee has been weakened they become susceptible to certain viruses.

Varroa are destructive and can destroy an entire hive. If infestation is caught early the hive can be saved. Treatments vary depending on the preference of the beekeeper. Some treatments are more effective than others.

We were told in class that ALL bee hives get varroa mites and research has shown that some types of honeybee are better at protecting themselves from infestation than others. Example: Africanized bees tend to protect themselves better than Italian bees. MN Hygienic bees have been raised to defend themselves better against certain illnesses, diseases, etc... including mites.

The key to controlling the mite population is #1 testing your hives mite count and #2 checking for hygienic behavior

(there are other ways to check for mites)

If you know how many bees were in your sample, you can
estimate the number of mites per 100 bees. If there is
brood in the colony when you sample, you should double
this number to factor in the amount of mites in worker
brood. For example, if there are 5 mites / 100 bees, the
total infestation is probably 10 mites/100 bees. If your
colony has over 10-12 mites/100 bees, you should consider treatment. ~University of Minnesota

So... that is the mini scoop on varroa mite.

I have not treated my bees for mites and yes, I may live to regret it. My first year keeping bees I decided to see how well they'd do "naturally" over the winter. They survived and flourished. I have a new hive that I did not treat but I believe it won't do quite as well. Ya see, we were told something in class that makes me worry. Marla Spivak said "if you can see mites with the naked eye then you have a serious problem." Well, I scraped some brood from between hive bodies and this is what I found:

Now, I know not treating the bees probably isn't the best choice I've made as a beekeeper but I have two issues with treatment. #1 is I would only use a natural treatment like Thymol but the problem has been getting the thymol and the weather (beekeepers will know what I mean about the weather). #2 I've wanted to see how well my bees do (or how long they live) without treatment. Is that wrong? I've read where other beeks have had hives survive years without treatment and I'm hoping mine do the same. Although the 2nd hive being so obviously infested has me worried.

The only option now would be a treatment I'm not comfortable with so I'll wait out another winter and see how they do.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I was reading a blog recently where the author posted a picture of a wasp and called it a bee which is the reason for this post.

I'm not blogging to make fun of anyone who confuses a bee with a wasp. Actually, I didn't even know there was a difference until I took a class with my daughter at our local nature center back in 1998. Up until then, anything that was black and yellow with a stinger was a bee to me. We took the class because I had a major phobia of bees but the nature center taught us that not all stinging insects are created equal nor are they all bees.

This is purely an educational post. Hopefully it will help people identify these insects when they come in contact with them and help them be less fearful of bees.

I will cover the ones most commonly seen in Minnesota. Other states may have different types of wasps or bees, I'm not sure.


Benefits: Wasps eat all kinds of insects and are great to have in the garden because they often eat the insects that are harmful to your fruits and vegetables.

Temperament: Paper Wasps tend not to be too aggressive unless their nests are disturbed. Yellowjackets get defensive if their hives are disturbed, when they are around food, or during certain parts of the season when food is scarce. Hornets are aggressive when nests are disturbed.

Body: Have a slender body, narrow waste, appear shiny with smooth skin. Slender, cylindrical legs. Wasps are the stinging insects most commonly encountered by people.

Food: Wasps are predators. They eat other insects. They will eat fruit juices as well. Hornets will forage for nectar.

Nests: Yellowjackets, baldfaced hornets, and paper wasps make nests from a papery pulp comprised of chewed-up wood fibers mixed with saliva. Yellowjackets commonly build nests underground and paper wasps will build there nests from overhangs such as a tree limb.

Hornets Nest looks like this:

courtesy of Peregrine Audubon

Yellowjacket Nest looks like this:

courtesy of Local Pest Control

Paper Wasp Nest looks like this:

courtesy of Ace Bees

What do they look like?

The Yellow Jacket

courtesty of The Bee Hunter

The Paper Wasp

courtesy of Snails Tales

The Hornet

courtesy of FCPS



Temperament: Honeybees are docile unless hive is disturbed. When out foraging they rarely sting. Mason bees will not sting unless strongly provoked. Bumble bees are defensive of their hive but more docile when out foraging unless stepped on or squeezed.

Body: Bees have robust bodies and are very hairy. Hind legs are flattened for collecting and transporting pollen.

Food: Bees feed on pollen & nectar from flowers.

Nests: Honey bees make a series of vertical honey combs made of wax. Their colonies are mostly in manufactured hives but they do occasionally nest in cavities in large trees, voids in building walls, or other protected areas.

Courtesy of bees on the net

Bumble bees use old mice burrows, cavities in buildings, and other locations to make their nests. Like honey bees, bumble bees make cells of wax.

Courtesy of Extermatrim

Mason bees (The female) uses existing holes in wood for a nest, the whole will be slightly larger than her body (1/8 of inch) and she puts a mud plug in one of the hole.

Courtesy of Help Save the Bees

What they look like?

Honey Bee

courtesy of NC Pedia

Mason Bee

courtesy of Gig Harbor

Bumble Bee

courtesy of Organic Garden Info.

Much of the information listed above came from the University of Minnesota.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Last year I read the book "Bee Propolis: Natural Healing from the Hive" and although I was eager to make a propolis tincture after reading the book my bees weren't cooperating. They weren't making much propolis. This year I bought another package of bees and they are propolis crazy. I was able to go into the hive a couple days ago and scrape a generous portion off the side of a hive body.

Propolis is messy, sticky stuff that is composed of resin and wax and bees collect the resin mainly from trees, the poplar tree being a favorite source.

Contents in propolis: resin, wax, essential oils, pollen, other organics and minerals.

Here in Minnesota propolis is a yellowish brown color but the color varies in different areas of the world. Propolis is used by the bees to seal up cracks/space in the hive. Usually they stick it anywhere the drafts come in. They also use it to wrap up intruders like mice. Propolis is antibacterial so encasing a mouse in propolis would prevent the spread of disease within the hive. It is also antimicrobial and is being researched as a treatment for HIV

But I'm interested in its ability to treat winter ailments. So on to the details on how to make a tincture. A tincture is a medicine made by dissolving an herb or a plant in alcohol, glycerin or vinegar. I use 80 proof vodka. I took the following tincture recipe from the book listed above.

The process:
When I scraped the propolis from the hive two days ago it was warm and sticky and I did it with my fingers which was a big mistake. I spent the entire day trying to get it off. Today was a much cooler day so it hardened enough that I could handle it again. I could have put it in the fridge to harden but that would have been too easy, right! :D

Step One:
Gather supplies
(vodka not pictured here)
You need a bottle with dropper. A little funnel (unless you want a big mess) a marble size bit of propolis and a small bottle of vodka (about 2 oz will be needed).

Step Two:
Put the propolis in the bottle. (Now the book recommends cutting the proplis into little pieces and then putting it into the bottle, I chose not to follow that step).

Step Three:
Fill the bottle with 80 proof alcohol (vodka). Cover. Shake. Keep bottle in a cool dark place. Shake once a day and leave for one week before using.

I've done things a bit differently than was suggested in the book. Our family will not be taking this as a preventative so we didn't want a large amount. The book suggests taking a few drops per day to boost the immune system or prevent colds and coughs (which goes along with their larger recipe). Small amounts are recommended at first due to the fact that nearly 1% of the population has been found to be allergic to propolis.

I won't list all the things that propolis is good for because I don't want someone reading this blog and then thinking that propolis can cure their ailment. I'm not a doctor. I just trust what I've learned about my bees and their gifts and wanted to share a bit of that information with my readers. Please do more research if you are interested in using propolis.

Here are some of the things propolis has been used to treat (not all of these can be treated with a tincture. Some require propolis creams, ointments, tablets, etc...):

Dental Problems
Coughs & Colds
Fungal Infections
Immune Support
Back Pain

Wondering where you can get propolis? Contact a local beekeeper or check at your local farmers market. I would avoid buying it at the store since commercial varieties come out of areas like China and reports warn of the possibility of contamination.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


They did it! They swarmed a 3rd time and they attached themselves to the same tree as the other two times but moved on quickly about 5 feet further into the neighbors yard. Thankfully, after talking with the neighbors, they have been great sports about it. The bees are in a ball again about 30 feet up on a tree limb, not reachable by anyone. but that isn't my news.

Attention all beekeepers because I have a strange one for you.

We witnessed our bees swarm and then come right back shortly after. When they returned they went into the hive they orginally came out of hive #1 (the 2 yr hive). Next day they swarmed again but when we came home their clump in the tree was gone. We noticed hive #2 had an unusual number of bees. We added a third hive body Sunday and already the three boxes were overflowing with bees to the point that hubby and I started to wonder if the swarm went into the wrong hive. We debated it a while and decided that was crazy and we started brainstorming on what we should do with the new overflowing hive since the queen wasn't laying as fast as the bees were appearing (weird right) and in the 2nd hive body only 4-5 frames are drawn and in the 3rd hive body it looks like 0 are drawn. Hmmm...

What happens next? The swarm of bees emerge from the new hive (the 3 month old hive) and go right back up into the tree they swarmed to the last two times. What the heck? I'm still in shock. Is it even possible for a swarm to go back to the wrong hive?? I figure two things, that both hives have swarmed, which seems odd considering there is sooooooooo much space in the new hive for the queen to lay and she is NOT laying enough to compare with the number of bees that were inside or the bees from the first hive returned to the wrong hive.

We were fortunate to see all of this swarming. Two times from the 2 year old hive and now once from the hive we acquired in May this year.

Here is the video from the 2nd swarming:

Here is a video from when the swarm returned the first time and was scattered all over our yard:

Monday, July 4, 2011


At least I feel that way right at this moment. I love the bees, love watching them, learning from them, having them in the backyard but... there is a reason more men than women are beekeepers. Now I'm not trying to offend all the feminists out there but seriously, beekeeping takes some strength and it takes strength that I don't have.

Initially when I decided to take up this hobby my hubby was adamant he would not be involved. He isn't afraid of bees but he wasn't that intrigued by them the way I am. He respects all things "natural" and he also thinks they should be left alone. I on the other hand like learning about everything and this was one of those moments but sometimes I think I want to learn about things too much and I dive right in.

As of right now I am unable to move hive bodies around without my husbands assistance and it doesn't help matters that he has a bad lower back. While my hubby graciously helps me out even though this was never his "thing" I find that I'm also struggling to get those darn frames out. Me + propolis = disaster. I even purchased a frame gripper thinking that would make it easier and that didn't work. I pull, pry, scrape, dig and those suckers won't come loose.

Aside from the weight of the hive I have two other problems.

#1 I hate killing things. The other day I opened the new hive and went to pull a frame out and it was stuck in place so I wiggled, pulled, wiggled, pulled some more and finally the darn thing came loose. While it came loose it also pulled up a mess of beeswax. I noticed a large chunk was at the bottom on top of the other hive body so I decided to pull the hive bodies apart to clean things up. What I found was a disaster. The bees in the new hive don't want to draw out the 4 outer frames for some reason, they only drew out the 4 inner frames and the queen laid a mass of brood between the hive bodies. This was a new experience for me. The first hive went according to plan (for the most part) but this hive is acting weird. Not only does the queen not want to utilize the frame space for laying there are a massive amount of bees. Makes me wonder where the heck she laid the brood for the new bees to emerge??? So, as you can imagine, when I cleaned things up I had to kill a mess of bees. This is what one chunk looked like. (see below). 24 hours later the bees with their heads poking out were still alive. I felt terrible.

#2 I have no sense of what is normal and not normal with my hives. My bees swarmed again today but I left shortly after so I don't know if they returned a 2nd time. I was curious to see how many bees were left behind or if they had returned so when I got home I opened the hive. The top box seemed pretty empty so I slid it off and what do I do??? Kill the new queen. She wasn't even born yet. Her cell was attached between two frames and I know for certain it was a queen cell and her body was exposed. Of course my little bees rushed to protect her but I don't think they will repair her queen cell in time. I suck at this, I seriously do! On top of that I still can't tell if the swarm returned or not. It looks like the same amount of bees I had last time I checked. To add insult to injury I discovered that hive #2 has a horrendous mite problem. How do I know? The mites were in the mass of brood + wax I scraped off (pictures later). We were told in class if we could "see" mites then we had a serious problem. I see them.

So, maybe I'm overreacting to this beekeeping thing. Maybe everyone feels all this anxiety when they have their first hives. I'm not sure. All I know is right now I think I could write the "how to be a crappy beekeeper" book because I have all the steps down perfectly. If I could only keep bees without managing them, just let them do their thing, but... I have to worry about Nosema, Tracheal Mites, AFB, Hive Beetle, Mites, etc... I don't even want to think about the swarming issue right now.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


I thought I was losing my mind when it happened but a more experienced beekeeper has confirmed it... MY BEES CAME BACK!!

I've never read about it or heard it before but it was exactly what we believed happened after we saw it. About 30-45 minutes after our hive swarmed and were hanging in a clump up in the tree, the swarm broke ranks and were flying all over our backyard. I kept thinking it wasn't possible, that it must be a 2nd swarm. I looked everywhere for the original swarm as I was sure they couldn't have gone far. We were present in the backyard and didn't notice anything prior to this massive cloud of bees returning. The cloud covered nearly .5 acre of our property, they were flying everywhere. I went outside and stood in the cloud, the bees barely acknowledging my presence. I thought maybe the swarm was on the move to another location so I ran outside and put a new hive body on the ground, sprinkling it with lemongrass essential oil as a lure (heard that one works well), and waited. The bees started to pile into the hive body but after about 15 minutes they changed their minds and started to go into the established hive. It took about 20 minutes for them to get settled back into the original hive. I asked a few beekeepers if this was a returning swarm or 2nd swarm and I was assured the swarm didn't return but today I read a facebook update by an experienced beekeeper that their swarm returned home. I inquired about my experience and was told swarms do come back sometimes.

I am curious now. What does it all mean? Were they out scouting for a new location? Will they stay for the season or attempt to swarm again? Our summer season is very short so wouldn't my bees have to stay put since they start prepping for winter in less than 2 months? We were told in beek class that if our bees (in MInnesota) don't swarm by July 6 then we are safe but this hasn't been a normal summer so far so I'm thinking that rule of thought no longer applies. All I know for sure is this experience has been interesting.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


I can't say that I am disappointed. We were fortunate to see it happen and it was very cool to see.

My hubby looked out the back window this morning around 11 a.m. and asked "is that normal" as he watched a massive cloud of bees flying above the hive. At first glance I thought it was normal. Last year on a hot summer day the bees would come out in what looked like a swarm but they were all just rushing out in the morning sun to get to work. This, of course, was different. The bees weren't directly above the hive, they were off to the side headed upward towards a large tree branch. When I took note of the number of bees and how closely they were flying to the trees I knew it was a swarm. I had to get outside with my video camera and document it.

I am so grateful that my swarm is about 30 feet in the air and not attached to the neighbors house (still crossing my fingers that they don't move that way). The neighbors dog was barking like crazy but it appears no one besides us noticed what all the hoopla was about.

I've called a local "experienced" beekeeper to come and take a look at the swarm. Maybe he can reach it and take it home. He, the expert, said something to me that rings very true. He said "a swarm is a blessing and a curse. On one hand you have helped a species continue on and on the other hand you lose the opportunity to extract honey." I'm ok with the no extracting honey part. I think it is more important that the bees survive. If what is left behind creates enough honey to be extracted, that will be a pleasant surprise, if they don't, well that is ok too. I just hope wherever the swarm settles that they flourish.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Ok, one thing I promised myself is that when blogging about beekeeping I would be totally honest. I wouldn't make it look easy when it was hard, fun if it was boring, enlightening if it was just plain stupid. So here it goes...

The 2nd year of beekeeping SUCKS!!

I've taken 2 classes on beekeeping in 1.5 years. I talk to beekeepers whenever I get the chance. I take advice. I'm learning.


When I opened last years hive for the first time this year what I saw gave me this sinking feeling in my stomach and I allowed myself to think that beekeeping just isn't for me. I quickly brushed that sensation and thought aside since I've learned this is how I feel about everything when it starts/appears difficult but I must say, the books never told me this.

Hives look like shit in the 2nd year. No more pretty clean frames, no more easy to find queen, no more docile bees. Oh no... what you have is a propolis disaster, so many bees that the queen is impossible to locate and some seriously bitchy bees.

Now I'm sure our bees are much nicer than say an AFRICANIZED BEE but still, I barely scratched the hive today and a couple guard bees just wouldn't lay off. They followed me 25 feet to house and wouldn't go away. It scared my hubby to a point that he started to wonder if we'd ever be able to work outside again. He is wrong, we will be fine, but... I don't want him second guessing my decision on this.

The first year, bees are angels. I almost feel like they love me the way I love them but the 2nd year is a different story. With frames full of honey, an established colony, the girls aren't as loving as before but that isn't really what upsets me. What makes me mad is my own stupidity. I used 10 frames instead of 9 so now it is nearly impossible to move things around. Once a frame is pulled out I can barely get it back in. The propolis is such that my fingers stick together so I nearly drop frames, there is brood being stored everywhere so each time I move anything I kill tons of babies :( I want to do the checkerboard thingy to prevent the bees from swarming yet I can manage to get frames unstuck (it took me 10 minutes last opening to get one back in place). I screwed up my spring divide because I had no idea what I was doing. Now I have to worry the bees will sworm to my "bee hating" neighbors house and the city will be knocking on my door.

On top of it, my bees are not moving up into the honey super. They seem to have something against the queen excluder because they wouldn't pass through it last year either. So my idea of using honey supers to create more space and hopefully avoid swarming isn't going that well. BTW/there are no queen cells from what I could find for those who asked.

So there ya go... my confession. I own practically every beekeeping book written and I don't remember any of the above being mentioned. Beekeeping IS NOT EASY! I didn't think it was but I didn't think it wasn't either. As with most things a difficult point arises and I vent until I figure a way through it. I promise, I'm silently venting over here and only purging on my blog, I carry a happy face about all this through out the day :)

It is difficult to see from these pix but it gives a little visual idea of how things change:

2 month old hive

2 year old hive

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


My husband endured several bee stings recently and I documented his experience so that I could share it with others. I found it fascinating that every person we came in contact with who saw the results of the bee stings asked two questions (1) If we were going to seek medical attention and (2) If we were going to stop keeping bees. It turns out that most people think severe swelling means you are allergic to bees. If it wasn't for my beekeeping course a year ago I would think the same thing. One myth I was told growing up is that the more you are stung the more allergic you become. When I was stung in the back once and it swelled about the size of a golf ball and itched for 4 days my mother told me I was allergic and should carry an epipen.

So I thought, since there are so many misconceptions about bee stings, I thought I'd clarify a few things I've learned. I have followed up my list of things to know about stings with a few pictures I took of my husbands hands as he recovered from his bee stings.

#1 Less than 1% of the population has a systematic allergy to honeybee stings.

#2 If you are allergic you will experience some or all of the following symptoms: rash or hives, swelling that is not in the area of the sting, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. If you experience any of these symptoms after being stung seek medical attention immediately.

#3 An allergy is NOT: pain, swelling, redness, and/or itching.

#4 When stung by a honeybee you want to remove the stinger immediately by scraping and not pinching or pulling on it. Pinching or pulling the stinger forces more venom into your body and your reaction can be worse.

#5 The venom from a honeybee is different than that of a wasp, hornet, or other type bee such as a bumble bee. If you are allergic to one it doesn't mean you are allergic to the other.

#6 Honeybees, because their stingers are barbed, can sting only once and die shortly afterwards. Wasps & Hornets have smooth stingers, therefore, can sting several times.

#7 Honeybees generally do not sting when away from their hive. Unlike wasps and hornets that will sting unprovoked.

#8 Most physicians know very little about bee stings and have a tendency to diagnose allergies when none exist.

#9 The more often you are stung by a honeybee the less symptomatic you become.

#10 Honeybee stings are being used in place of some types of medical treatment for MS and arthritis. (Bee Venom Therapy)

DAY ONE OF BEE STINGS (This is the result of 2 stings previously thought to be 3). Hour after being stung. The two stings happened on the knuckle of the hand.

DAY TWO AFTER BEING STUNG (The pain from stings is the worst on day two. The skin is stretched to its max so there is lots of ache and itching).

DAY THREE. Not as painful but just as swollen. Still itchy. Swelling has stopped at the elbow.

ONE WEEK AFTER STING (A new youthful hand. How weird is that?!) The hand on the right is the one that was stung.

We figured a few things about the stings. One: the swelling may not have been so bad if my husband had removed the stingers faster. He spent a lot of time looking for something to scrape them off with, I'd say about 2 minutes too long.

Two: Although he ran to the store to buy benadryl and used ice packs for 3 days it only helped in the way of pain (the ice more than the benadryl). The swelling seemed to hang around until we figured out that elevating the hand worked quite a bit.

Now all he has to do is get stung in the other hand so both can be wrinkless :)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Today is awful. I came to the realization that splitting the hive is impossible. Thanks to the sloppy job done by the landscaper and his inability to fix the mess until two weeks from now we are left with soggy soil which means when I walk out to my hive I sink calf length in mud. With no stable ground to stand on for very long and really no safe place to put the "daughter" hive right now I have to give in to the fact that my bees will swarm and I will likely not get any honey this year :( My hubby has reminded me though that this venture was not about honey, it is about doing our part to keep bees alive and flourishing in this world and also having the wonderful opportunity to walk out and see them working any time we like.

Why split the hive?
In my beekeeping course we were told that splitting a hive is the best way to keep your bees from swarming. Apparently when they swarm only half of them leave with their queen and the other half stays behind with a new queen (which they will nourish until she's born).

What I have is called a "parent hive". It is the hive in which my first package of bees was installed. Two weeks before nectar flow (I'm a little late), we were suppose to split the hive into two. We would take the top hive body and put it on a new stand and bottom board, order a new queen and that would be the daughter hive (just like starting a new package but with bees that I already have).

The parent hive is the honey producer. After the daughter hive is created the parent hive would consist of two hive bodies instead of three and I would continually add honey supers to that hive as needed to create honey over the summer. In the fall I would not prep the parent hive for winter survival. We were told to let that hive die out and only maintain the daughter hive. The reason for letting the parent hive die is to prevent the queen from aging. Apparently, according to my instructors, an old queen (beyond 2 years)is no good. I must admit, I'm not feeling the "let the parent hive die" part.

If any beekeepers have advice on how to keep the bees from swarming without splitting I welcome that information :) Right now the middle hive body is 60% full of honey and about 30% full of brood. The top hive body is drawn out and they are filling it with nectar but no brood. I couldn't remove the middle deep because it was too heavy and I didn't have good footing :(

NOTE TO SELF: Don't keep 10 frames in each deep. Use only 9 with the 2nd parent hive. Trying to deal with moving of frames and propolis is a nightmare when using 10frames.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Hard to imagine that within hours of "fixing" our backyard water issues the yard is once again flooded. After going to bed with this:

We woke to this(sorry the pic is blurry, my hands were shaking from anger):

If you aren't a beekeeper you may not know or understand what I felt at that very moment. I put my heart and soul into my bees the same way I do into the life of my dogs. I don't care about getting honey but I do care about the time and energy I've spent managing my hives, making sure the bees are surviving. Aside from the cost of having bees a lot of emotion goes into making sure they thrive. I spent countless nights awake worrying that they would be washed away by all the water and this was the very first time I didn't worry about the downpour we received overnight.

Plus, there are three things you don't do to me, in general, or especially if I've paid you for a service:

#1 Promise me that you can fix problem, bill me for it, and then NOT fix the problem.

#2 Talk to me like I'm stupid. You can try to divert the problem away from the real issue but your only pissing me off. I guarantee you that my mind remembers every conversation we've had and every detail of that conversation and I will regurgitate verbatim the "guarantee's" you made.

#3 Don't ever raise your voice to me, especially when I've paid you good money because I can assure you I can be even louder and angrier than you could ever be.

My migraine, the one that will soon leave me debilitated for the rest of the day, is what's left over of my anger, frustration and debates I've had with the landscaper this morning. I've now been "promised" a fix and only a weeks time will show whether or not those promises will be fulfilled.

On a side note, well sorta, we disassembled the hive in the rain (the bee's love that < insert sarcasm here) and we put some pallets underneath to raise them up enough to keep them out of water. Thankfully, they all seemed to be ok, only a few dead on the bottom, but try disassembling a hive when you have to stand in calf length of mud. It is next to impossible.

The bees in water: although half of the frames were sitting in water in the bottom deep the bees managed to stay working above it. Not sure what, if any, damage occurred to the frames. Unfortunately, this was not the time to open a hive and not the time my husband should have chosen to go without gloves. He NEVER works the hives without gloves and even though I reminded him he'd get stung without them he was so worried about the bees he moved too quickly to get out there and in the process smacked a hive body against another and the girls having been calm became angry over the vibrations they felt and hubby got stung 3x's in the hand.

As I was putting the hive back together all the men (hubby & landscapers) scurried for higher ground trying to find a way to scrape the stingers out before all the venom pumped out. Not as heroic on my part as one may think... I had the full beesuit and gloves, the other guys had no protection at all. The hive is back together and all looks well in that area. Now I need to go lay down in a dark room. Not to sulk because I'm seriously past that phase, I just need to recover from this horrible head pain.

Please note: I'm just venting here. I know that THINGS COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE.

Plus, for those who may wonder why we don't just move our hive to higher, dryer ground. Well, it isn't that easy. #1 it would have be done at night, #2 our hives are sitting in the best location for sun, #3 there really isn't a dry area in our yard, #4 moving hives can create a problem for the bees in that they aren't able to find there way home. We were told by Marla Spivak that if you MUST move a hive it should be no more than a foot each day otherwise you run the risk of bees returning to the same spot and we just don't want to risk that problem.