The Warm December

December 24, 2015

The weather has been the big news for beekeepers across the country, with much of the country being much warmer than usual for this time of year.   and its led to some interesting things in my backyard.

But first, the fate of my first colony, that of Elizabeth.  I did an inspection a couple of weeks ago and there was just a handful oof bees clustered up and no queen and no brood.  This hive was finished.


So I took the honey frames from the super and gave them to the other hive along with the bee remnants.  I then took the shallow off of my new main hive so now there is the deep and two supers for them and then harvested the honey from the shallow box.  The shallow box was always supposed to be for our use anyway before the second hive took off.

So now I’m back down to one hive which may sound like a real setback, but honestly I’m still ahead of last year when I had zero hives in my backyard.  Plus I have the knowledge that I gained that I didn’t have last year.  In addition I have 10 half-pint jars of honey!  The drawn comb and extra honey comb can also be put too good use by the other hive.

So I did an inspection around the 16th, about a week after combining the two hive bees and stores and everything seemed to look good.   That hive has continued to be active throughout the warm spell that we’ve been having.  One problem with the warm weather is that since the bees are more active, they are going to be eating more than if they were simply clustering in the hive for warmth.  So the extra honey I gave them could be quickly eaten away if I didn’t tend to them.  But I didn’t want to feed them inside the hive as I was doing during the summer, because it can create problems during cold snaps as the bees are trying to keep the hive warm.

So I set up an outdoor feeding station on our old swing set.  Since I have only one hive and the only one around (as far as I know) I’m not too concerned about robbing behavior.  The swing set makes the perfect station because it’s off the ground and away from the ants.   I also put the frames out there after I have gotten most of the honey.  The bees make a really good cleaning crew, reclaiming the honey from frames and wax, in addition to getting their supply of sugar water.


But bees also need pollen for protein.  As I watched them, they were bringing it in from somewhere, despite us having gotten frost several times in previous weeks enough to kill most flowering plants.  I didn’t have to wonder too long, as I happened to look up at the maple tree right beside my house.


The tree was loaded with blooms and the bees were making good use of the opportunity to gather pollen.

Most beekeepers around the country report that the bees are able to find things to forage on during the abnormally warm winter.  And we’re all hoping that our hives survive whatever the conditions.  At the moment we are still extremely warm (above 70 F) but we’re very wet and rainy which tends to keep the bees inside the hive.  But they will come out between showers if they have a place nearby to go.  I had a chance to observe a bunch of them buzzing around the entrance right before the rains really got heavy.  These would be newer bees making their orientation flights.

While not treating the hives cost me one of them, the July walk away split had an offsetting benefit in a much healthier hive going into winter.  I’m currently thinking about how to best incorporate this into a more deliberate management practice.  I could divide my hive in early spring (as an artificial swarm) and then divide again in July but that would mean another year of very little honey.  That would be offset by having up to 4 hives going into winter.  However without treatment, I could stand to lose all but the last two split hives.  Fortunately I still have a few months to think about it, but it’s definitely food for thought.


A Hive in Decline

November 29, 2015

The weather has been a mixed bag over the past month.  sometimes it has been wet and cold, sometimes just cold and sometimes warmer with or without sunshine.


I managed to do an inspection a couple of weeks ago and lo and behold I was able to capture a picture of my original queen!  Meet Queen Elizabeth, the first of her name, mother of bees and queen of the backyard.  In the picture above you might be able to spot her as she still has remnants of her blue markings.  But the hive has been going down hill for about a month.  I’ve seen the tell-tale signs of Varroa doing its insidious work, with the malformed wings on many of the workers, plus an abundance of hive beetles.

In my latest inspection this weekend, I did not see her, there were less bees, almost no brood and there were a few queen cells.  In addition, the sound of the hive was just different than I am accustomed to.  It’s difficult to describe, but the pitch was off.  I think experienced beekeepers might know what I’m talking about but since there were so few bees and I didn’t see her it is not looking good.   And there are plenty of reasons for the hive decline, but lack of honey isn’t one of them.   They had a full super plus an almost-full shallow.  I moved the shallow to my other hive as I knew they were going to need more stores.  Removing the deep box and combs probably didn’t help, but the pollen didn’t go to waste since after a few days in the freezer, they were given to my other hive when I expanded their box.

In fact, this second hive has now become my ‘good’ hive, the flagship of the yard.  And during this last inspection I hit a rare stroke of luck in actually seeing the queen of this for the very first time.  And my wife managed to catch a shot with her camera phone so you can catch her too!


Meet Queen Elsa!  (My oldest son is the one naming the queens) She’s just a bit above the corner of the hive tool.  She is finally slowing down in her egg laying, but she is still producing a lot of brood and the boxes are full of bees.  Not much nectar, pollen or honey, but lots of bees.  This hive has become the active one in the yard and shows the greatest promise.  My thought is that when I did the split in early July, this severely broke the life cycle of the Varroa as there just wasn’t enough brood around.  July is when the mites would have been on a major uptick, population-wise.  This hive is also in a less shady location, although still under the trees.  So there isn’t as many hive beetles either.  By September, Elsa was catching her full stride and laid a solid brood pattern across all of the drawn comb that she had.  So I’m quite happy with her as a new queen after wondering whether these guys would make it and whether she got mated properly, considering that there was just the one other hive in the yard to provide drones.

This year has been, and still is a learning year so I’m keen to see how things work out.  If I don’t see any brood in Elizabeth’s hive in a week or two, I’ll combine what’s left for Elsa and her colony.  They’ll definitely make better use of the honey stores.  Then if I can get them through the winter, we can be off for a better start next year now that I have quite a bit of drawn comb.

It’s all about the weather, now.  But then it always is, when if comes to any form of agriculture.  Too cold, too warm, too wet or too dry and things can change in a hurry.  At the moment, the weather has been exceptionall y warm, but a week ago it was exceptionally cold.  We’ve had a couple of killing frosts which will put a major crimp on their pollen and nectar efforts.  The fate of Elizabeth and her hive will be better known in a week or two– weather permitting.




Fall 2015: A Tale of Two hives

October 31, 2015

I haven’t updated in a month or so, but have continued to inspect and monitor the progress of the bees in the backyard.  In fact, it’s the most therapeutic and relaxing part of my day or week; going out and tending to the bees.  Which mostly involves just lifting the cover and seeing if they are feeding on sugar syrup.

During the first 2 weeks of October, we had a lot of rain that kept the bees cooped up for long periods of time.  During that time, the nuc hive ate the one full frame of honey they had, This was due in large part to the population explosion that was going on within that hive.  The queen laid her eggs in time for the fall flow, but the weather didn’t cooperate very well.   However, once the weather cleared, she and the workers went at it in a big way.   They have been bringing in both nectar and pollen while continuing to expend their numbers.  It finally got to the point where I decided they were outgrowing the nuc.  They had drawn out and filled all of the frames, completely covering them with several frames of capped brood.   So I moved them into a full-sized hive with the lower box being full-size and the upper box being the medium size frames.  Right now the configuration looks like this.


I’m still feeding but will pull that off and insert frames and centering the filled out ones in the topo box once it looks like the weather is getting ready to turn colder.  We had a snap get down in the high 30’s a couple of weeks ago, but otherwise it has been mild.

My other hive, the “main” hive isn’t looking as robust as the one above.  The queen is still laying a few egs, but she has backed way off.  They are feeding and storing honey.  In fact they have about 15 frames of honey spread across a medium and a shallow boxe from which they will be able to feed.


In the above picture, we’re looking down into the brood box, which is a medium.  Beside that is another medium box that is mostly honey and then the third box is a shallow super that is mostly honey with a few combs still needing to be drawn out.

But there just aren’t as many bees here, and there are most hive beetles and more mites.  I’ve seen a fair number of bees with deformed wings which is a tell-tale sign of a mite infection gone too far.   But rather than treating (it’s getting too late in the year anyway) I’m going to let them go and see what they can do.  I did pit a couple of dry swiffer pads to see if I could trap some of the beetles and I’ll continue feeding until the cold really hits.

The thought occurred to me that I could combine these two hives but I’m reluctant to give up either of these queens as they both have done so well.  I might still let the new hive have one of the honey boxes at some point, just to give them a better chance especially since it looks like the main hive is dwindling in numbers.

Starting the second hive in July was a gamble, but it turns out to have been a fairly good one so far.  I inadvertently broke up the life cycle of the Varroa mites in that hive as  they had a few weeks where there was hardly any brood at all since the new queen was hatching and getting mated during a time when the mites were ramping up in the other hive.  with this latest population explosion, the new queen was able to get ahead of them in a big way and now she’s starting to back off and the workers are able to fill the empty cells with honey and pollen.

I also did something on my main hive that might have hurt them, which was I removed the deep brood box, with the idea of being able to go to all medium frames at some point in the future.  They had it fairly well-stocked with pollen but there was hardly any brood in there at all.   I took those frames that were drawn out and put them in the freezer for a few days, and then they went into the new hive when I expanded them to a full box.

I also have some candy frames that I made with a water-sugar paste that I can install to help feed them when needed.  One of them is a deep frame and the other two are mediums.  This is mostly for the newer colony since they have the least in terms of honey storage and the most in terms of bee population.

So now it’s just a matter of keeping my fingers crossed that I can get both of these hives through the winter.  Fortunately we still have a few more working days for the bees to get ready.

Inspection 9/19/15 – Hornets make bees mad

September 19, 2015

It was a beautiful fall day and perfect for inspecting my hives.  I’ve inspected almost weekly since getting my first one and things are looking good so far.

The nuc hive that I started in July is finally taking off.  The new queen is laying and they are drawing out comb.  I had found a medium comb that the main hive didn’t seem to be using so I gave that to her to fill up with eggs.  She took immediate advantage and is just now hitting her stride with a good laying pattern:

1nuc brood

Neither of my hives have touched the sugar syrup I put in a week ago which tells me they are hitting the fall flow.  This is the first time since I got my bees that they have not bothered with the sugar syrup at all. I’m not exactly sure what they are into as my golden rod hasn’t bloomed yet, but whatever it is, they are bringing in loads of nectar and pollen.  Hopefully this nuc will hit its peak at just the right time to take advantage.


The bottom box is a 5 frame deep with a screened bottom and the middle box is a medium 5 frame.  I eventually want to go to all medium boxes just to make switching out frames easier and use the deeps to sell.  The top box is where my feeder is, just above the inner cover.

When I got to my big hive, I noticed I had a big ball of bees at the entrance.


The girls were playing tug-of-war with a hornet which is at the center of this ball.  I watched for a bit and I think the hornet might have gotten away as they all suddenly poofed up and were flying around.  I figured the show was over and proceeded with my inspection.


Starting at the top, the first box is the medium feeding box (just above the inner cover) and then a shallow super followed by an empty medium, a medium honey super, a medium brood box and then the bottom box is the original deep hive that I had installed my first nuc.  All of these are 10 frame boxes.  I’m strongly considering going to 8 frame boxes on future expansions.

1honey drone

They had drawn the comb out on 8 of the frames on the shallow super 2 weeks ago and it was mostly honey, which they have been capping this week.  However the queen had made a trip up, crossing the honey super below to lay some drones amongst the honey frames.  This is annoying on a couple of levels.  Firstly because I when I poked the drone cells open, I could see the mites in there.  And secondly it’s inconvenient to have brood mixed up in the honey frames.  But the plan is to let the bees have this honey until spring unless they really kill it during the fall flow and even then I’ll probably just take a couple of frames since we’re out of the stuff I had harvested a couple of months ago.

A couple of other things to note relating to how they choose to draw comb out:

  1. The bees seem to prefer building on plastic foundation as opposed to building their own comb on empty frames.  I do have some wax foundation but I haven’t tried it in the hive yet as I’m trying to get them to build their own and going foundation-less.
  2. They HATE the solid black frames.  Neither hive has bothered to touch them at all.  They eventually just become a blank frame on the side, making it the first to get removed during the inspection.  The solid plastic has the advantage of being stronger and doesn’t split apart like the wooden ones.  But if the bees are going to avoid them it sort of wipes that advantage out.
  3. The queen definitely prefers the newest wax, willing to go all over to find it.

I worked my way down, intending to look at the bottom deep box as it had been months since I had looked at those frames.  I know the queen is laying on the other boxes but wanted to see what they were doing closer to the entrance.  However as soon as I removed the medium brood box, the demeanor of the entire hive changed.  The buzzing raised in pitch and volume as if they were at a football game and the Cyclones had thrown a touchdown pass against the Hawkeyes in Jack Trice stadium.  However, these weren’t bee-cheers, for it was their war cry as they were still worked up from the attack of the hornet.  And they took after me, delivering more than one sting through my pants and bee jacket.  The girls were NOT screwing around!  So I quickly reassembled the hive and put the cover back on before retreating.  I’ll inspect the bottom box another time.

Honey bees get their protein from pollen while hornets get theirs from meat— other animals and insects including honey bees.   They weren’t being aggressive so much as defending their turf which is exactly what they are supposed to do in order to keep a strong hive.

Zinged – Update 8.1.2015

August 1, 2015

I had a chance to spend some time in Iowa for a family reunion/vacation, and kept my eyes open for what the bees up there were doing.  Since they had plenty of rain, they seemed to be experiencing a fairly strong nectar flow and I did get a chance to see someone’s bees working all of the white and red clover as well as the birdsfoot trefoil that was blooming in abundance.  The northeast part of the state is a good place for bees.  While there is still plenty of intensive agriculture going on in the way of corn and soybeans, there are also plenty of wild areas that aren’t as amenable to the plow as the rest of the state.  So while Georgia was entering a dearth, the upper midwest was in the thickest part of their flow.  I might be taking some nucs up next year to see what they can do.

Once I returned, I was anxious to see what the girls had been up to, especially in the nuc that I had started.  When I opened it up, sure enough the queen cells were open and there was a few cells of open brood.  I looked for the queen but never did see her, which irritates me since she really only has 3 frames with built comb to roam around on, and one of those has honey.  I opened up the hive again today, and there was some capped brood as well as some open.  There was also a new queen cell.  I left it there, thinking that maybe the bees are hoping to make a better queen than the emergency one they turned out a few weeks ago.  I added a medium 5 frame box on top of the deep, mostly to accommodate the medium honey comb frame and then a third medium box enabled me to feed them in the same manner as my main hive.

The main hive continues to be as strong as ever, although their building has slowed greatly.  They still haven’t built any comb on the top shallow box, but they have several frames in the lower levels that they can draw out to replace those I took out for the nuc.  I did manage to spot their queen a week ago.  She’s still marked and still laying, although I think she might be slowing down.  I’m still feeding both hives, hoping they can use the extra energy to draw out more comb.

The main hive is much more defensive lately.  While I was on vacation, my wife decided to give a try at feeding them and she got stung on the ankle before she could even lift the lid!  She was wearing a bee jacket, but went back to the full bee suit after that to finish the feeding.  When I got back, I encountered the same as she did.  I used to be able to lift the lid, feed and spend some time watching them go in and out, trying to identify what they were bringing in.  Yesterday, I didn’t even lift the lid but was just watching them.  This was okay for a few minutes, and then one decided she’d had enough and came up and zinged me.  Fortunately I wear glasses, because she was gunning for my eye.  Instead, she got undcer the bill of my hat and got me right on the eyebrow, and stayed hooked there for a few seconds until I plucked her off.  But her sisters were already buzzing and spooling up to join the fray and I had to high-tail it out of there and around the house.  My best defense seems to be the fan on the AC unit.  I stick my face in that and it seems to blow them off the trail.

But now my eye is about swollen shut.


I’m working on getting some water for them, and will see how that works.  It’s similar to my feeding system, only I lay the tub on a piece of cardboard to let the water wick out and the bees can get it without drowning.  I set it out this afternoon and had one decide I was too close again and went after me.  This formerly very docile colony is getting mighty defensive lately.  They have the same queen they’ve always had, so it isn’t a genetic thing.  Sometimes aggression can be bred out by introducing a new queen but she’s been doing a good job up until this point.

So some research reveals that during the late summer when there is a dearth of nectar and when the weather is excessively hot can lead to bees becoming more defensive.  This blog entry does a fairly good job of breaking down several reasons for being aggressive.  Basically, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.  When resources get short, the bees crank up their defenses as they are likely being bothered by predators like wasps and hornets and a variety of other small critters.  So I just need to be careful around the big hive and hope things simmer down eventually.  Feeding and watering might improve their disposition and then not fiddling with them on a weekly basis like I have been.

The nuc remains very docile, despite trying to supersede their existing queen.  If attempts are being made to rob them from the larger hive, they seem to be defending quite well.


A New Queen?

July 12, 2015

I opened up both hives on the 8th, but did not go very far into the main hive.  It was looking strong and they were redrawing comb on one of the frames where I had taken honey a few weeks ago.  I’ve been feeding continuously and they seem to be doing well.

It was the nuc that I was most excited about getting into, to see the status of the queen cell there.

queen cell1

If you click the pic, it will make it bigger and you might be able to spot the other 2 cells just to the left of the one big one.  So I was pretty optimistic that things seem to be going well.  I knew the big cell was close.

So today, before leaving on vacation, I took another look and lo and behold all of the queen cells were gone!  So at least one looks to have hatched and possibly took care of the other two.  I did spend a little time sweating it out, looking for her, but virgin queens are notoriously difficult to spot.  I haven’t seen the queen in the main hive since a week after I installed her, and she’s even marked!   But hopefully she can get mated in the next week or so and perhaps I’ll see some eggs when I get back in a week or so.  There isn’t much brood left, but still a nice contingent of workers.

Independence Day Inspection – Thoughts on wax

July 6, 2015

We’ve had lots of rain, but also a lot of sunny days, making it perfect bee weather.  I observed the main hive bringing in lots of white pollen, which is different from the yellow-orange stuff I’ve seen the past few weeks.  At least they are still working.

I and my oldest went into the hive, looking at all the frames from the top down.  The top medium super didn’t have any comb drawn at all so I put that off to the side with the intention of replacing it with a shallow super.   I had originally intended on the shallow all along, but I had to put some guides at the top for the bees and bought a few with foundation to help them build right.  The guides are simply some wide craft sticks glued into the top groove.

Basically, I’m getting off of foundation altogether and letting the bees draw their own comb.  There are several other beeks that are doing this for several reasons.  Much of it has to do with varroa control, as well as making sure that the wax is clean.  It gives the bees the option of building the cells to their own size specification instead of the pattern on the foundation.  And the bees have made it obvious to me that they much prefer drawing their own over following the guide on plastic foundation.  Foundation types (plastic vs wax) and whether or not to use any foundation at all can be contentious topics among beekeepers.  The saying goes that if you ask 10 beekeepers for advice on anything you’ll get about 12 different answers.  I read several blogs and follow a few groups on Facebook and the contentiousness is easy to spot, although it’s generally friendly for the most part.

There’s a figure that is tossed around that it takes 8-10 pounds of honey (or more) to make one pound of wax.  I haven’t seen anything scientific to go in favor or against that but it’s generally a figure that is accepted and then tossed around in favor of re-using comb in order to preserve more honey by re-using the comb.  The logic is that bees will make more honey instead of using their energy to make wax.  But when I look more into it, the making of wax is something honey bees of a certain age are going to do and the keeper really has no real say in it.  Sort of like how we grow hair.  We may say that it takes 100 pounds of food to grow 1 pound of hair.  So if I don’t cut my hair I can use that energy to do other things right?  Or, I could cut my hair more often, and encourage myself to grow more and burn more calories, right?  This is how the re-using wax logic looks to me.  Sure, making wax takes energy, but just like growing hair, it’s something bees are going to do, anyway.  The whole reason bees store honey in the first place is for their own energy to do things involved in living and being alive.  If you re-use comb, the bees will still make wax, but they’ll just transport the stuff out of the hive with other refuse.  So we might as well put this good, clean stuff to productive use.

Super medium #2 was the one that was full of honey and it was all capped this time around.  I went ahead and took one frame out, replacing it with the empty I had taken the week before.  In the next super box, there was a mixture of brood and honey, but it looked like it was gradually becoming more honey than brood, with half of them capped.

The brood box had some blank frames, where I had replaced the ones I had taken out for the new nuc.  I had bouaght a few solid black plastic frames, and it’s safe to say the bees really do not like those at all.  They had not done any drawing of those, while the remaining frames had a good mix of capped and open brood.  Once again, the queen escaped being seen but there was plenty of evidence that she was in there, and still laying albeit at a slower rate.  There were a lot of cells with nothing in them at all and  it looked like there was more pollen cells than I remember seeing before.

After putting that hive back together, it was time to check the nuc.

After I removed the sheet and put the screen over the nuc, this seemed to settle the robbing issues from a week ago.  Now as I observed, there were bees going in and out, but it wasn’t terribly busy.  There was a stream of sugar ants working the feeder as I pulled it off.  When I opened the hive, it looked much as it did when I installed it.  No new wax, the honey was still capped and there were bees and capped brood.  There was also one, small, solitary capped queen cell.

Queen Cell

It’s not easy to see, but it’s a single little finger in the middle with a bee on it.

So the future of this little experiment rests upon that one cell hatching, the queen flying out, getting sufficiently mated and then returning.

Evidently, when I caged up the entrance, several of the robbers were in there and when they couldn’t escape, they were forced to become members of the hive.  So it seems I might have inadvertently given the population an unintended boost.

When I checked them today, they seemed really calm and were cleaning up in and around their hive.  The stream of ants were gone and the bees were regularly patrolling that area and putting the run on any ants still wandering around.

Looking at Micheal Bush’s little schedule and primer on bee math, if all goes well I should have a queen within a week and then some eggs within a couple more weeks.


July 1, 2015


In my last post I was feeling pretty confident with my strong hive.  So much so, I thought I might start another one.  So I got some brood frames and honey frames, stuck a few bees into a nuc box.  I stuck a feeder on top, dusted my hands off and thought “That was easy!” and walked away.

Hence “Walk-away” split.

The next day, the hive was not calm– at all.  I knew something was wrong and suspected that it might have something to do with my new nuc box…which I had sat on top of the parent hive.  So I suited up and moved the nuc to a new location some distance from the main hive.  This seemed to settle things slightly enough so I went back into the house and relaxed with a cold drink.

Later that afternoon, I went back out and the bees were still not their docile, domesticated, pussy-cat selves.  And the nuc box was definitely not calm at all.   I knew they would be tense because they were queenless, but that activity there was just not right.  And it wasn’t hard to figure out that the bees were all going back and forth between the main hive and the nuc.  This was larceny on a grand scale.

I had read some blogs about robbing, but like every noob, I didn’t think it would happen with my bees!  But of course it could and it did.  And I knew I needed to get a handle on it immediately, if not sooner.  The first thin I did was grab my dirty sheet off my bed, wet it down and then threw it over the nuc.  If I had another sheet, I would have covered the main hive, too, but I didn’t.  so I got an entrance reducer and put it over their entrance to slow things down.  I then got the door cage that came with my nuc and put that over the entrance of the nuc.


I secured it with the bungee cord and then put the sheet back.  And then I did what every other guy does after he breaks something and has to fix it.  I went back to read the directions.

You can read Micheal Bush’s article on robbing here.

As it turned out, I was at least on the right track as to the things I had done.   I left the sheet and the cage door on for two days, occasionally checking on them.  They were not happy campers, but the main hive gave up trying to break in and went about gathering up their pollen from whatever flowers were blooming.

Today, I took the door off, removed the sheet and then stapled some screens to the entrance to the nuc thus:


It looks like a bit of a jumbled mess because I recycled the screens I used from my first harvest and created an overlapping flap.  The bees can go in and out, but robbers will have to make a couple of turns to get in, and if needed I can staple the flap shut.  I left the entrance reducer on my main hive and may put some screens on their entrance as well.  But with so many bees there, it will be a tougher job than it was with nuc.  As soon as I opened the nuc door, they were all in flight, orienting, making it easier to staple the screens.

Leaving the door on for a couple of days hopefully forced the robbers to incorporate with the rest of the nuc, but I’ll need to keep a close eye on them for the rest of the summer.

First Harvest

June 28, 2015

I’ve heard it said that the first year of beekeeping is very political, especially for those starting in their backyard with lots of neighbors.  Generally the recommendation from urban beekeepers is the less fuss made and the less neighbors know the better.  However, at some point, neighbors are going to find out or figure it out.  My hive is in a very isolated spot, well away from anyone’s house, screened by trees and our storage shed.  But once the smoker is fired up, it generates a fair amount of attention from those close by.  Fortunately I’m being found out at a decent time when I can deal with potential issues, even if I have to resort to bribery.

I got my bees very late in the season and most of the nectar flow was spent by the bees making comb and getting their numbers up.  I added one medium box about a week after I installed my nuc and then about 2 weeks after that, added and third box once they had drawn comb in box #2.  I could tell the queen preferred laying in the new wax but she eventually moved back down to the deep box.  Box #3 is all honey, and so yesterday I decided it was time to take one of the capped frames and make our first harvest.  There are several other capped frames in box #3 and I have added a 4th box a week ago, that they haven’t touched.  But I’ll keep feeding, hoping they draw out some more comb.

cut comb

Since I don’t have an extractor, I went to my go-to blog, where Linda describes how to harvest honey without an extractor.  I decided to opt for the jar-to-jar method as it looked the simplest and I could get the boys involved in the process.  After cutting the comb from the frame, I broke it up into a pitcher and then we all took turns smashing it into a sort of mash.

crush1 strain1 strain2

I used the rings to fasten fiberglass screen and then used duct tape to tape 2 jars together.  Then it was just a matter of flipping them over, like a sort of hour glass, and let the honey drain.  However, since I did this at night, indoors, the straining process went really slow.  So this morning, I decided to get a little help moving things along.  I took my truck out of the garage and parked in the sun, and then set the double jars on the dash and walked away.  90 minutes later, we had some full-ish jars of honey!

Finished product

That’s about 1 quart (4 half pints) of honey from a single frame.

One of these is earmarked for my next door neighbor.  The one who rarely ever mows his yard, has never sprayed it and has let it become overgrown with weeds.    I’ve been looking at that yard for years, a bit annoyed that he wasn’t taking care of the place.  But now my tune has changed greatly and I’m never going to complain about his neglect of his yard again!  My bees seem pretty fond of it, and I’m pretty sure there is some dandelion nectar in there from his back yard.

I’ll probably take one more frame and then see how they build out the other box.

I also, on the spur of the moment, decided to try a walk-away split, putting some brood frames and bees into a nuc box.  One problem is my honey frames are all mediums while my nuc box is a deep!  I did stick on frame of uncapped honey in with the brood frames that had both capped and uncapped brood plus a blank frame and have a feeder already set up for them.  It will be really interesting to see how this little experiment works.

There is one other thing I need to note on this last inspection.  I decided to go for the split after already having taken the honey frame,  late in the afternoon.  The bees were really good, but as I got into the brood box, the weather was starting to change and things got much more intense.  It was hot, the humidity was high and even though I wear a fairly light bee jacket, I was sweating buckets.  I was just about finished when I saw spots and ended up on the ground!  Fortunately well away from the hive but that was my first brush with heat exhaustion.  I’m just not as young as I used to be, and I’m probably in the worst shape of my life, thanks to a job that involves almost zero physical exercise.  SO, I just have to take it a bit easier and make hydration a bigger priority.  And get outside more, which the bees do motivate me to do.


Post script: In my addled state, I didn’t get the boxes perfectly straight, especially next to the brood box– the bottom one (of course).  So I went out today thinking I could just pry it over with the hive tool, re-aligning and closing the gap.  I at least had enough sense to put on my jacket and veil but didn’t think this would be a drawn-out difficult job so didn’t bother with the smoker.  Big mistake!  I pried up and began to move the box, and the girls came boiling out of every gap and of course several were smash as I set the box down.  They were MAD and were not going to give up the chase!  I ended up firing the smoker up while they charged my veil and got the gaps sufficiently closed and walked away.  I ended up sitting in the yard (far from the hive) for awhile until the ones buzzing around me  finally buzzed off.  Holding my head in front of the AC pump fan seemed to discourage them enough I could get into the garage without pursuers.

Feeding Upgrade

May 21, 2015

The plastic yellow in-hive entrance feeder was giving me trouble as my bottom screen curled upwards, making it impossible to push in without having to hold it down with something else, like my hive tool.  But it was also proving bothersome because the bees would empty it in less than a day, after a bit of spilling when I finally got the thing where it wouldn’t fall off.  So it was time to do some research.

Here are some video links that I looked at: – this one is one of the best videos on the topic from Brushy Mtn where he explains the advantages and disadvantages of several types of feeders.  As it turns out, I had the one he sends with his beginner hives.  I had bought it on my own before even seeing this, so beginners luck on me!  However, as mentioned above, it wasn’t very satisfactory. – This video from Don “The Fat Beeman” is another good one.  Don’s videos are all pretty good, and this is no exception, going through advantages and disadvantages of the different feeders.  Don tends to be a cheapskate; a man after my own heart.  He manages so many hives, he isn’t about wasting time or money.

There are lots of other videos about feeders that I looked at.  However, when I found the one about the Collins Ultimate Feeder, I had a “eureka!” moment.  It’s basically a plastic container with holes in the lid.  It just so happens that I had a bunch of these sitting in my cupboard!  I watched the whole video, and they pretty much show you how to make one with a thumb tack.  They are selling these for around $7.00 each if you buy 5 or more.

I’ve been using my new “Dage’s ultimate Bee Feeder” for several days and it seems to be working exactly as designed.

Beefeeder stick

My ultimate bee feeder

My ultimate bee feeder

Just look at these calm, stress-free bees!

Just look at these calm, stress-free bees!


The good thing about these feeders, is that I get free potato salad with each one!  It takes about 3 days for them (the bees) to finish off one of these.  Which is about how long it takes us to finish a container full of potato salad. And in the top two pictures, you can see the level of syrup that is still left.  This makes it really easy to check the level, without having to tear into the hive.  My micro perforations were made with the smallest nail that I had.  I didn’t have any thumb tacks at hand.

I have it in the empty super to guard against robbing, although that is not a huge concern since I only have one hive and the next closest must be over a mile away.  I also have another reason for this configuration.  This summer, the boys and I will be traveling to see grandparents about 1000 miles away for a couple of weeks.  Which means my very nervous and skittish wife might be left to do the feeding.  In order to have any chance of that happening, I need to make the process as easy and painless as possible.  And so far, this might fit the bill.

We have several things blooming in my backyard.   Blackberries, dandelions and white clover.  Up until now, I hadn’t seen much activity from my bees on any of these as they seem pretty happy flying off into the north woods and bringing back whatever they are finding there.  But today, I finally did see one of my girls working over our clover patch by the back porch.

Working the clover

Working the clover

The key thing seems to be getting the numbers up in the hive.  I did a frame-by-frame inspection last weekend and most of the bottom box is built out, with lots of larvae, eggs and brood.  My oldest has named our queen “Elizabeth I” but I’ll probably end up just calling her Lizzy.  She’s been doing a good job so far, laying her eggs and her growing court is doing well feeding and raising the next generation that will eventually graduate into becoming foragers.  I added a super and have been feeding steadily in hopes that they finish the lower story and begin on this second one.