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.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Our water issues are solved... at least I hope so. This is the first time we've ever used a landscaper and I'm glad we did. Since we moved into our home the backyard has been one big pain after another. First we had to remove numerous dead trees and way too many buckthorn to count, second was the rock. Rock, rock, rock, that is all there is and have you ever tried planting ANYTHING in rock? It isn't possible. This year it was the water. We've always had standing water in the back yard but nothing compared to this past winter. With our record snowfall we ended up with a pond in the yard that eventually connected with the pond in the park behind our house. One big massive pond equals one big massive mess (mosquitos and stench in the spring). Well, it looks like we may have a yard again thanks to the professionals **fingers crossed. Thanks to everyone that listened to me cry and complain about this disaster for months. Now it is time for a summer party on the new deck in the pretty yard! :)

See water? That is only the a 1/3 of it. The rest is underneath the snow.

Landscapers begin:

It is coming along nicely:

Almost done. Hubby and I spent 5 hours today spreading mulch in the paths to get ready for plantings. I look forward to working on this all summer:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Today we received a new package of bees. At around 4 pm we did the install into the new hive. The process goes like this:

First, you spray the sides of the bee package with 1:1 sugar syrup. This helps calm the bees down so they don't go flying all over the place when you dump them into the hive. Then you give the cage a little bonk to knock all of the bees off of the feeder can so it can be removed.

Then you remove the feeder can from within the package in order to get access to the queen cage and dump the bees into the hive. In this photo I'm removing the can.

Once the can is removed you spray the cluster of bees inside to keep them calm as they have gotten a little agitated from the bonking of the cage.

Then you remove the queen cage. The queen cage is suspended from the top of the cage and in this photo I'm grabbing the metal lip that is attached to the cage and sliding it out through the opening.

Here is she is... all looks great!

Next, I pour the bees into the hive by rapping hard on each side of the package moving side to side.

Then the bees need to spread out along the bottom of the hive ("Like Spreading Sauce on Pizza.")

Once the bees are in the hive then I give the queen cage a little squirt of sugar syrup, open her cage slowly by removing the staple, and then let her crawl out slowly onto one of the frames within the hive. Which she did beautifully! Just like last years queen, this one had her nose poking towards my hand as if she knew I was about to let her free.

Once she's in place then you put the four frames that were removed back into place. This is done very slow as to not hurt the queen.

This is basically the end of the process. A pollen patty is put in place (probably not necessary since the other hive has clearly found sources of natural pollen), and sugar syrup is given. The entrance reducer is at its smallest, plugged with grass so the bees don't leave too quickly. I checked back later this evening as the sun was going down and everything looks great! The bees removed the grass from the entrance reducer and the remaining bees in the package found their way into the hive along with their sisters.


I am happy to see pollen coming in. I don't know where the girls are finding it, I'll assume dandilions since those are growing all over my yard.