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.
dixiebelle said...

Oh bugger. I can totally get why you'd want to give up... I'd feel frustrated, disappointed, overwhelmed, and hopeless going through all that! I really appreciate that you've been so honest, and I really hope you can find something positive in all this, and maybe keep going too?

Good luck, I have no advice on bees, but I love this saying, "The obstacle is the path"...

Steven C said...

I feel your frustration!

Re: propolis, here's a trick a veteran beekeeper taught me for removing frames.

When you start on a box, use your hive tool to in between the (side) edge of the box and the frame, and shove the whole group of 10 frames over as far as you can.

Then in between the 2nd and 3rd frame (counting from the side you initially pried), push the 2 frames to your side as much as you can.

Then gently separate the 1st and 2nd frames.

This should leave you with the 2nd frame with enough space to remove. My friend always told me to not try to remove the 1st frame first - go for the second frame.

Then when you are done, and have put things back (leaving the 2nd slot free for the last frame), you may have to jar the frame to shake off some bees onto the top of the other frames, then you can put back the frame.

Then an important last step: do the same prying of all 10 frames to one side to squish them together; then pry the opposite side slightly to center the group of 10 frames, leaving space on both sides.

Then you'll be ready for next time.

Dealing with propolis in the summer is the pits; I usually do my cleaning / scraping in the fall and early spring when it's cooler and that stuff isn't so gunky!

How may years have you been keeping bees, by the way?

Jim Davis said...

Michelle, I know you'll choose what is best for you and that's as it should be. I agree wholeheartedly year two and beyond is way different than year one--so many things can happen to challenge you. Certainly has with me. If you hand it off to someone else, please don't feel like you've failed--look at all you've learned! We try many things, and there's no harm in deciding some of those things just aren't worth the time they require or we just aren't getting what we hoped to get out of them. If you want to stay involved but having them there is too much, perhaps someone in your local group would be willing to take them, and you could arrange to help out with them? Just a thought. Best of luck to you in whichever way you go and whatever you do.

Michelle said...

Thanks Dixiebelle! I like the saying :) I am a little frustrated with this but the bees are just being normal, I'm the neurotic one. I am hoping I can figure it all out because I'd really like to keep them.

Michelle said...

This is our 2nd year with the bees :)

I will definitely give your suggestion a try. My problem, I think, is as you mentioned. I never scrape the propolis. Should I be removing the frames one by one and scraping them with bees on? I think I have to get past letting the bees control me. I still find myself apologizing to them every time I open the hive :(

Michelle said...


We discussed tonight maybe giving our older hive to another local beekeeper and just keeping the newbie. In class this year Gary Reuter mentioned removing one of the frames from each hive body as we added a new one. Someone asked if it was necessary and his reply was just "if you don't you'll have a heck of a time moving things around." I don't know why I missed that advice when I took the first class a year ago. Our older hive has all 10 frames but the 2nd new hive we are removing one leaving only 9 each time we add a hive body. I know that having 9 can create a lot of brace comb because I'm not respecting the "bee space" but I think since this is where a lot of my frustration lies that having the extra space may do me well. I don't know how to go down from 10 to 9 in the older hive so maybe I have to give that one away :( Or maybe brace comb is more a nightmare than I am aware of.

I appreciate your kind words and hopefully I can get out of this "I feel like a failure" stage. I was reading the latest issue of Bee Culture tonight and there was a section about "what I learned and what I want to learn" and I could totally relate to the list. Maybe, just maybe, I can get through this :)

Steven C said...

Re: when to scrape, I do it every once in a while, especially if I see a gummed up frame. They usually only propolize along the places where the frames rest together - maybe 2"-3" of wood. I take the frame, turn around (away from the hive), brace it against my body (over my bee suit obviously) and scrape off the propolis. I turn around so I don't have the temptation of bracing the frame against the hive and scraping. That amplifies the scraping, and gets the hive rattled!

I don't do it every time - depends on the temperament of the bees to start with. Again, height of summer = not a good time to scrape (too gooey).

Michelle said...


I better get scraping. Although Carniolans don't overdo the propolis, a lot has built up. I need to start with the frame edges, where most of the sticking seems to be happening. I'll wait for a cool day to work on that then so it isn't such a mess. Thank you for the tips, it really helps.

Amy W said...

Wow, after seeing that your bees had come back after swarming, I really thought things were looking up! Beekeeping is way more complicated than I ever imagined. Looks like you have some great support if you need it. Chin up, girl!

Peacocks 'n' Paint said...

Our mistakes are just opportunities to learn, Michelle. You are learning valuable lessons in beekeeping. It hurts not to be instantly successful with every venture, but that is not the way of life. We learn by our mistakes.

You may very well eventually decide to give up on beekeeping, but I hope you continue to learn. Anyone who loves the bees as you do should be forgiven by the hive for unintentional damage, although I know it is painful for you.

Robert Frost said, "The best way out is always through." Sometimes it is hard to get through a situation and come out without a mess somewhere between the beginning and the end, but you will, eventually come through it and learn to live with the bees if you persist in trying and learning. Listen to your beekeeper friends, and keep your chin up!

Michelle said...


I won't lie, I think it is complicated. It is definitely one of those hobbies you have to do for a LONG time to become good at or at least feel comfortable with. There is so much to stay on top of with the diseases and such. At least with soap there seems to be some predictability (aside from the occasional failed batch) but with bees... they haven't read the manual. LOL!

Michelle said...


Thank you for your kind words and you are absolutely right about everything... bringing me back to reality. I have to work on getting over the guilt every time I do something wrong :( I keep telling myself, if I didn't do it wrong I wouldn't know how to do it right. (((hugs)))

Sam Smith said...

I'm sorry you are so frustrated with beekeeping, I was in a similar state when I started, thats normal.

Ok issue #1: frames sticking, the shoulders are the biggest culprit for this bees glue everything together under 5mm and build comb in anything over 7-8mm so when the frames are pushed together propolis builds up on the shoulders, since I build my own frames I don't use shoulders I use spacer screws, (might be able to see them in one of my pics) since the spacer screws are the only things in contact there is less sticking. You can buy shoulder-less frames for your lang boxs and add spacer screws to get the same dimensions.

Issue #2: lifting boxs is hard to avoid but you can minimise this by using management methods like occasional honey harvest instead of mass harvest at the end of the season, plus I am working on a lift system that is easy to build and should make lifting boxes possible for even the smallest person. One of the reasons I started building warre hives is just this the boxes are smaller but still able to provide good vertical space for brood nest.

Issue #3: mite problems, I suggest keeping bees the backwards way is an excellent community of treatment free natural beeks, everyone has mites the idea is to keep the populations down, feral bees can do this on their own and africanised bees are reported to be almost immune to mites. One key is foundation-less management, I don't use foundation and from just looking at my bees they appear just as clean as treated colonies, it isn't just me though there is a growing movement in the US (idk about Canada) towards natural beekeeping. If you want to chat my e-mail is at the bottom of my blog, I can also be reached by phone but I don't list the number so I can send that if you want via e-mail. I hate to see a beek throw in the towel there are always options.

Michelle said...


Thank you so much!! You have a plethora of knowledge on beekeeping and have always graciously shared that knowledge with me and I very much appreciate it! Your advice is always helpful. You are right... it is the shoulders on the frames that give me such difficulty. I like the spacer screw idea and if I'm to lessen my frustrations with all of this I will have to convert to something like that. I was surprised at how strong the propolis is on those frame shoulders. I guess I never expected that.

Per: foundationless frames. Are they difficult to extract honey from? Unfortunately it was something that was never talked about in class and when someone even dared mention it we were told they were too much work. Yet, several people blogging seem to use them and love them, I haven't read anything negative. I definitely want to know more about them.

Thanks for your willingness to talk or exchange email. I'll definitely take you up on that offer :)

Pam J. said...

I'm late to this post but just wanted to offer my good wishes as you continue beekeeping. I was in the EXACT place you were -- frustrated, bothered by killing bees through my inability to handle frames smoothly, etc. And I made the decision to give away my wonderful, full, active hive. That was in late May and I still haven't gotten used to their absence. But when I read a blog post like the one you wrote back on July 4 it reminds me of how worrisome beekeeping can be ... if you let it. I let it worry me into retreat; hope that doesn't happen to you.

And boy is it true that strength is a requirement! If I had continued beekeeping (or if I try again...which is possible) I'll definitely enlist a partner.

Laurie said...

I just found your blog today, and this post especially made me feel better. I'm a new beek, and it seems all the folks in my class are doing so well but I am struggling with all the same things you mention in this post. I have decided, though, that I just haven't learned enough tricks to overcome the obstacles it's still fun! good luck, and thanks for the post.

Michelle said...

HI Laurie,

Thanks for visiting my blog! It is true, time and experience makes a beekeeper and each of us have to find what works for our particular bees and I'm learning that what works for one hive doesn't necessarily work for the other. It is definitely an interesting process :)