The Treatment

All week, it’s been hot and humid with dark clouds threatening storms, and today was no exception.

Still, our beekeeping duties required us to suit up and treat the hives for Varroa. Because I wield the magic wand (our vaporizer), I had the added pleasure of an N95 mask and safety goggles. It was Very Hot.

Using a vaporizer to treat with oxalic acid is usually pretty simple. You block the entrances, put the powder on the little tray, slide the tray into the hive, attach the leads to a battery, and leave the vapor to permeate the hive for the alloted amount of time.

Easy-peasy.

However, when you have honey supers on a hive, you have to take them off the hive to treat because oxalic acid guidelines say honey that’s been treated with OA shouldn’t be consumed by humans.

That’s how the guidelines stand at present, although the prevailing wisdom seems to be moving away from that idea because oxalic acid is a naturally occurring substance. On February 23, 2021 the FDA finalized a ruling that establishes an exemption from the requirement of a tolerance for residues of oxalic acid in honey and honeycomb.  

Nonetheless, “Bee Culture” magazine says this doesn’t mean we can all start treating our hives with honey supers on. So, we either take them off to treat with oxalic acid, or we use Formic Pro, which can be used with supers.

Formic Pro also has the advantage of killing Varroa that are in cells of capped brood. But it takes longer (14-20 days instead of minutes [or in today’s case, about an hour]), can only be used in a certain temperature range, and kills some bees along with the Varroa. Since one of bees that it may kill could be the queen, this can be a serious disadvantage.

In our situation, we have a new queen in OH, Girls who hasn’t started laying and possibly a new queen who’s not yet laying or a new queen in the works in the OH, Girls split. As a result, two of our three hives have no brood to worry about.

Meanwhile, in the Kremlin, Olga’s laying is a little spotty, and we treated that hive when it arrived as a package.

We decided to use oxalic acid on all three hives even though we’d have to get the bees out of OH, Girls’ supers.

In the past, we’ve had no problem using our escape board to accomplish this.

We insert the board between the supers and the deeps with the triangles down and leave it in for twenty-four to forty-eight hours. The bees seem to find their way down into the brood boxes for the night, but have problems finding their way back up. There are always a few stragglers left in the supers and/or the board, but they’re easily dealt with.

Today, however, the bottom of the board was seething with bees.

After regrouping, The Engineer and I decided to cover the hole in the escape board and treat the hive with the board in place.

Filed under “other problems” was the fact that the front porch of the hive was also loaded with bees who didn’t take kindly to me trying to move them either in or out of the hive so I could block the entrance to treat the hive.

Then, the part of the vaporizer that actually does that blocking fell off, and we had to sort of hold it in place while the vaporizer was working.

We were about halfway through the treatment when The Engineer realized we hadn’t replaced the bottom board. This meant all the vapor that was going in the hive was coming right back out of the hive through the screen at the bottom.

It was like a slapstick movie where Laurel and Hardy take up beekeeping.

Out came the vaporizer. In went the bottom board. And we started all over again.

The bees were delighted with these developments.
Not.

Also, we discovered a few guard bees took their jobs very seriously, butting our veils repeatedly.

Have I mentioned how much I love my hat and veil?

What a relief it was to finish that hive and replace the supers and quilt box!

We’d hoped to be able to pull some frames for extraction, but though most were full of honey and nectar, none were completely capped. 😦

Our best bet for getting the bees on the escape board back into the hive seemed to be to tip it in front so they could walk in.

A LOT of Bees

For comparison, here’s a photo from two years ago when we used the escape board to get bees out of the supers so we could extract.

Normally, the walking back in process takes a short time, even with lots of bees. This time, the bees on the board seemed reluctant to abandon it. The picture above was taken about thirty minutes after we finished treating, and it was over an hour later before the board was mostly empty.

Clearly, this hive is very full despite having been split a month ago, and we’ll need to keep a close eye on it, especially once the new queen starts laying.

Despite the rivulets of sweat pouring down our faces and OH, Girls’ diligent guard bees trying to convince us we should abandon our tasks, we managed to treat the other two hives without incident.

What’s next on our beekeeping schedule? We’ll need to do full hive checks on all three hives, looking to see if the new OH, Girls queen has begun laying, if Olga’s prowess at egg laying has improved, and if the split has managed to requeen.

For now, that’s all the news from the OH, Honey! beeyard.

In a Jam

It’s strawberry 🍓 season, which in my house means making strawberry margarita jam.

This year, it’s been challenging to find lids and bands. Although jars have become available again, I still can’t find small lids and bands to use with the jars I already own, except part of a box I happened across at a garage sale.

As a result, I’ve purchased some reusable lids with rubber gaskets, and will be trying them with my next canning effort.

Five quarts of berries from the Mennonite market makes about three batches of jam, with just enough left over to take my mom a treat.

With three pans on the fire, the house is sweltering.

Of course, strawberry margarita jam includes tequila, lime juice, and triple sec. And this time I tried something different – adding jalapeños to the last batch.

First, you cross fingers the jars will seal, then you pray the jam gels properly, although it’s great on cottage cheese even if it doesn’t.

Result? Twenty-four jars of delicious jam to share with friends.

OH, Girls! New Queen, Oh My!

The girls have done it! They’ve managed to create a beautiful new queen.

Can you find her? Admittedly, both of the pictures only show her abdomen, so the task may not be easy. And she’s not that big-eyed, fat one in the upper corner. That’s a drone, hanging around the honey as usual.

GIve up? Let me make it easier for you.

There she is! In the middle of the purple circle.

Of course, it was The Engineer who spotted her, as usual, and what a relief it was to see her.

She’s quite new, possibly still unmated, though she is already nice and fat. Could be she’s just not finished with her “maiden flights.”

There were no eggs or larvae yet, so she’s definitely not begun laying.

But now we have two queen right hives — definitely cause for celebration.

OH, Girls also kept busy while waiting for royalty to emerge. They have been socking away nectar and turning it into sweet, sweet honey.

In addition, they completely rebuilt the wax frames they took a dislike to.

Newly made comb is so gorgeous!

And since, unlike the last time, these frames aren’t in the brood chambers, there’s no chance of them being used as drone comb, which means we won’t be over-run with drones.

Next, we took a look at the Kremlin.

They have a great deal of pollen, nectar, and honey (both new and old). I think the pollen is probably a mix as well, but I still love to wonder about the sources of the various colors.

As you can see, there were a fair amount of drones in the hive — the result of those workers who were laying before Olga came along and set them straight.

Speaking of Olga, here she is.

I’m not 100% happy with her laying pattern. It’s kind of spotty, with brood and larva mixed together and backfilled with nectar and pollen.

Also, in the picture above, it looks like her eggs might not be being laid in the middle of the cells.

The off-center eggs are more clear in this picture.

I’ve heard sometimes new queens take a little while to get going properly, so this is something we’ll keep an eye on.

Another possible explanation for the spotty pattern (but not the off-center eggs) is the workers had backfilled many of the cells on the frames with nectar and pollen. We added another deep box with some more open frames to help alleviate this.

To add fuel to this particular fire, it looks to me like the bee in the center bottom of the picture above has a varroa mite under its wing.

We treated this package when we received it (before it had any brood) and had planned to treat both the others within the next week, but it looks like we need to hit this one again too.

Finally, we went into the split just enough to remove the bottom board and peek at the bottom of the top box to see if there were queen cells.

The weather has turned (again), and we expect temperatures in the mid 80s (F) all week. Thus, we are pulling all the boards so they have ventilation through the screened bottom. That particular hive setup requires you to almost pick up the whole hive to remove the board.

There was at least one open queen cell, but in my quick look, I couldn’t tell if it had been opened, or was just not yet capped, though I suspect and hope the former. When we looked in on the 26th, there was an uncapped queen cell. That was eleven days ago, so it’s entirely possible the uncapped queen cell we saw then with larva in it has since been capped and the new queen emerged.

Michael Bush’s “bee math” gives the following figures for bee development, and a queen cell is capped at eight days, with her hatching eight days later (give or take a few). If we saw the cell just before it was capped (and the larva in it was good-sized, so this is possible), she may be out and taking maiden mating flights.

Days until:
Caste Hatch Cap  Emerge	
Queen  3½   8 ±1 16 ±2 Laying        28 ±5
Worker 3½   9 ±1 20 ±1 Foraging      42 ±7
Drone  3½  10 ±1 24 ±1 Flying to DCA 38 ±5

Once again our fingers are crossed.

Filed under “Other Beekeeping Activities,” yesterday we attended the Lorain County Beekeepersfield day at Queen Right Colonies.

We last attended in 2018, when I won a beehive. In 2019, we were in France, and last year, of course, it was cancelled because of the pandemic, so we were eager to see what this year had in store.

To start with, we learned a bit about queen rearing from the folks of Z’s Bees. Mostly, we learned, as we always do when we attend a program on raising queens, that we’re not yet ready for that particular activity.

We next attended “Assessing Hive Health” and “Maintaining Hive Health” with Peggy Garnes, who happens to be the president of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. Since she also sold us our first hive and was one of the instructors at the Beginner Beekeeping Course we took (twice), we knew her sessions would be worth our time.

It was a treat to watch her work as she took apart and inspected two hives, commenting on what she found, why she worked the way she did, and what next steps she would advise for each.

Several facts I found interesting:

  1. New sister/sister queens won’t usually kill each other. Half-sisters will. That is, if two queens hatch from eggs fertilized from sperm of the same father, they are unlikely to commit sororicide (yes, I had to look that one up). This is similar to something I heard at one of the (many!) classes we took. It seems a worker bee will always favor a full sister over a half-sister when feeding them as larvae.
  2. If you drop the queen, pick her up and reinsert her into the back of the hive rather than the front, and the bees will be more likely to recognize her as their own queen, rather than a strange bee.
  3. And the best fact of all: Ants produce formic acid!!! And what do beekeepers spend lots of money on to treat their hives for Varroa? FORMIC ACID!!! This means we’ve wasted five years fighting ants in our hives. Learning that fact alone was worth the price of admission.

Actually, there was no price of admission, but if there had been, I’d have gladly paid it to learn that!

Still, LCBA once again raffled off two hives, and I contributed to their coffers by entering.

They also had several guessing games, which were free. I guessed “the weight of the candle” and the “number of corks in the bottle,” but declined to stick my hand in the enclosed box to name the items within.

The “Bee Race” sounded like an interesting event, so I bought The Engineer the chance to be selected to participate. This involved six contestants each being provided with a marked worker bee in a queen cage. The contestants (both insects and people) were then driven several miles away. The person whose bee got back to the hive first won the pot of money collected for the tickets.

“Stuff the Queen Cage” sounded more painful than any possible prize could possibly be worth. Yes, it was exactly what it sounds like — stuffing as many bees as you could into a queen cage, with points deducted for every sting.

We didn’t even stay to watch.

The raffles and door prizes were awarded before those two events, and to my surprise, I won both guessing games I entered.

I’d known I was a contender for the number of corks because when I wrote down my guess, the lady taking the guesses looked at it and said I was very close.

However, the candle weight win was a surprise, although my guess was based on the many pounds of birdseed I buy for my mom’s and our feeders and all the dirt I’ve recently lifted to fill the pots that make up my garden. There were actually two winners for that game, and I was set to forego my prize since I’d already won, but then I saw they had two prizes, so I accepted.

Both my prizes were “Candle Flex” molds, a wise man and a shepherd. Since I’ve been wanting to start candle making (after a brief, not-very-successful foray into it last year), these high-quality forms will be very handy.

The winner of the “items in the box” was seated right next to me, so people were beginning to make comments about us sitting in the lucky row of seats.

When we registered for the event that morning, each attendee was given a ticket for the door prizes. The Engineer took charge of ours, and when they called one of the numbers, he went up to collect our new “Pro Nuc.”

Pro nuc box
Ours is a different color, but this is the product.

We will find this very useful either as a swarm box or as something to hold frames when we take them out for inspection.

In fact, The Engineer just informed me, it’s already up a tree as a swarm trap.

I was never lucky at winning things, but in the last ten years or so, my luck seems to have changed.

I’ve won:

  1. A pair of Keen boots
  2. A Leatherman
  3. A beehive
  4. A smoker
  5. Instructions for making a top-bar hive
  6. An uncapping tank (pictured in this post)
  7. A Broodminder and several drone frames (we don’t use either anymore — the Broodminder gave up the ghost last year, and the drone frames were more trouble than they were worth)
  8. Two candle molds

As you can see, most the prizes have to do with beekeeping. From this I can only conclude that we were destined to be beekeepers. 🙂

Between Saturday’s Field Day and our Monday-Thursday camping trip, we also drove 1-1/2 hours to the Harry Clever Field in New Philadelphia where our plane is being annualed. If you’re unfamiliar with general aviation plane maintenance, you may be surprised to learn every plane has to be taken apart each year and inspected by a Certified A&P Mechanic. To cut costs, we try to do as much of the work as allowed. This means, we take out seats, take up carpet, and remove inspection panels (lots of inspection panels — usually my job). Otherwise, we’d be paying mechanics’ wages to have someone else do what is mostly unskilled labor. Once the inspection is completed, we put back in the carpet and seats, and replace the inspection panels and trim.

That was Friday. You’ve just read about Saturday and Sunday, and I’ve already written about Monday-Thursday.

After this very busy week, I expect the next to be much the same. We’re both back to work, have the bees to treat, the airplane to finish, and strawberries are coming in, which means if I want to make strawberry margarita jam, it has to be this week or I risk not being able to get the berries.

I certainly don’t want to miss making the best strawberry jam in the world. (This links to a recipe very similar to the one I use, though it’s not exactly the same.) I mean, any strawberry jam is good with me, but including lime and tequila somehow works to make the flavor of the strawberries more clear.

I have some jalapeños in the fridge, and I think I’ll try adding a few of those to the second batch just to add a little kick.

I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out.

P.S. We had a little mead tasting with some out-of-town beekeeper friends who came in for the field day, and I think Sourpuss is my new favorite, although Ginger Rogers and Hot Mama are still contenders. Alas, OH, Honey needs more time to get rid of a yeasty smell.

Slugabed

From Merriam-Webster:

Definition of slugabed

a person who stays in bed after the usual or proper time to get upbroadlySLUGGARD

Or, in my case:

Slug I found in my bed (sleeping bag) this morning

Okay, if you’re being literal, it wasn’t in my bed, it was on my bed, but that’s just semantics when you get up to use the facilities and on the walk there, you find yourself wondering what the slimy, sticky streak is on your hand.

Ugh.

I must have still been half-asleep this morning because by the time I realized the mucusy substance was mucus which came from my bedfellow, I just opened the tent zipper and flung it outside.

Normally, I’m pretty sure there would have been some shrieking, possibly swearing, and maybe even a gag reflex.

Yes, we’ve been camping again. And yes, the second and third night and most of the third day were damp.

Still, we had a good trip.

We canoed on Tuesday, and this reprobate, whom you know as “The Engineer,” was in charge of steering. I took this photo over my shoulder without focusing and am quite pleased with the result (even though some of my wild camp hair made it into the frame). He looks like a badass, doesn’t he?

As you can see, it was a great day to be on the river, warm but not too hot, and not many people about because it was a Tuesday.

I did notice there are many more trailers parked on the banks than I remember from the last time I canoed there. But, heck, it’s only been about thirty years, why would things have changed?

We also went for a drink and meal at a local bistro. What a treat after so many months being unable to do so! It was such a treat, in fact, that I somehow managed to capture the experience without even realizing it. How clever of my subconscious to catch the name of the bistro in the corner of the photo as well as the sparkling clarity of the drink.

Also, we had some great campfires, and cooked solely over those fires and our Kelly Kettle. This was mostly because that’s how we like to do things, but partly because the one time we tried to use our little burner, it wouldn’t work properly.

So, our breakfast fajitas were made using the kettle too. If you wonder how that works, here’s a link to a picture. And once the kettle boiled for tea, we actually used the little metal apparatus directly over the fire base to hold the pan while I finished scrambling the eggs.

To make the fajitas, I just sauteed chopped onions, sweet peppers, and a jalapeño. Then I beat a couple of eggs with some water and made a scramble with the vegetables. Serve over a tortilla with grated cheese, some cilantro, and salsa (ours was my home-canned zucchini salsa).

Serve with freshly made hot tea, and eat sitting in your favorite folding chair. Delicious!

It can be a little challenging to get the fire started in a volcano kettle, but we’ve actually found ours easier to use, more versatile, and faster to cook with than our stove.

I love the way the fire illuminates the ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) letters.

We also made jambalaya, cooking it between rain showers.

Yes, that’s our Lodge Dutch Oven being put to use again!

This was based on a recipe from Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap.

Again, you begin with sauteed vegetables — peppers, a jalapeño (Leanne called for a chile, but I had jalapeños), celery, and onions. Once they’re softened, you toss in a small can of diced tomatoes (or fresh) and a spice mix of thyme, cayenne, bay leaves, garlic powder, paprika, and oregano. I added a little extra garlic powder because I didn’t sauté any fresh with the other veggies. For convenience, I mixed the spices at home. Once the tomatoes cook down a little you add stock, Worcestershire sauce, and rice, and cook until the rice is soft. If you like, you can add other ingredients — Leanne suggests fried sausage, shrimp, leftover meat or beans — fifteen minutes after the stock. Since we were camping, I mixed stock base and Worcestershire before leaving home, storing it in our cooler, and mixing with water to make stock.

We had chorizo in the freezer, so I pre-fried that, as well, and used it for an add-in.

It was a little on the spicy side, but as The Engineer pointed out, it’s good to have something hot when you’re eating in a tent on a wet night.

Nonetheless, if I make it with chorizo again, I’ll cut back on the cayenne or maybe leave out the jalapeño. I’ll definitely make the basic recipe again, at home and at camp. Along with being Good and Cheap, it’s also easy and was simple to adjust to campside cooking.

And seriously, check out that cookbook. It’s a good one.

The mist over the river from the rain last night was like having a cloud come right down to the water’s surface, very atmospheric and moody. I took photos as the night drew in.

It was pouring this morning (hence, the slugabed), but The Engineer still managed to follow through on his promise to fire up the kettle and have a turn at making a welcome cup of morning tea.

Eventually the rain cleared momentarily, and we packed up our damp gear and took the scenic route home.

We really do live in a beautiful state.

Supposedly some folks on the East and West coasts consider Ohio a part of “flyover country.”

Because of this prejudice, our plentiful bike paths, incredible state and local parks (along with our national one), and the sheer loveliness of the countryside remain mostly uncrowded by outsiders.

And that’s just fine by me.

All Hail the Dying Queen

The Engineer: “I forgot the blue dot was almost worn off the queen. I wasn’t really looking for an unmarked queen.”

Me: “She’s dead. There were no eggs, and the few larvae we spotted were on the verge of being capped.”

The Engineer: “Yes, but I’d feel better if we went through that hive again.”

Me: <sigh> “She’s dead.”

The Engineer: “If we look and don’t see her, we’ll know to go ahead and get another queen to introduce.”

Me: “Okay. But, if we’re going to look, we have to do it early because it’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Then, if we don’t find her, I’ll order a queen.”

The Engineer: “Okay.”

It was thus that this morning found us once again going through the OH, Girls split, carefully studying each frame before placing it in a different, empty box. Doing the inspection this way, if the queen was still alive, she wouldn’t be able to slip back to a frame we’d already pronounced queen-free.

Frame 1: Old honey (from previous hives) with some fresh comb. No queen.

Frame 2: No queen, but lots of nectar and a little freshly capped honey. Isn’t it beautiful?

Here’s a closeup of a drone. See the big eyes and fat body? Naturally, he’s in the pantry with all the food! And look how fuzzy that little worker is next to him. She must be very young to still be so furry!

Frame 3: Pretty much a repeat of the second, except for several queen cups and the queen cell with a larva in it we’d seen yesterday. There were lots of bees tending to it, so much so that it was difficult to get a good picture of the larva.

You can just barely see the larva glistening inside, and the cell was longer than it was yesterday.

There were also a few more queen cups that may or may not have had larvae in them. It was hard to tell. I didn’t take pictures of all of them, but when I look at the ones I did, I think maybe my seeing larvae is wishful thinking.

Then we got to frame 4, and there was Her Royal Blueness. Her blue dot was gone, her thorax appeared to be — I can’t think of a better word — dented, and she was barely moving. Truly, she was in a sorry state. It makes me sad to even look at her.

We have no idea how she got into this state. When we put her in the split, she was in great shape, scurrying around as queens do.

Did she get rolled between two frames when we put the others in? Or what?

Now I wonder if we should have pinched her, both to put her out of her misery and so the other bees know without a doubt they don’t have a viable queen.

We didn’t, and we’re not going back in there, disturbing them further as they go about the delicate process of replacing their queen.

The fact they are making one would seem to indicate they are well aware of their situation.

RIP Her Royal Blueness. You served your hive well. We’ll consider ourselves lucky if your daughter queen turns out to be half as good as you.

Because of this fact, and because the bees clearly are making at least one new queen, we are going to let them get on with it instead of ordering a replacement.

The No Queen Blues

We’re singing the No Queen Blues again, which is appropriate because Her Royal Blueness seems to have disappeared.

Before I share those blues, let’s first do a little happy dance because Olga the White Russian has settled into the Kremlin and commenced to laying!

Olga and some tiny larvae
More larvae
Can you spot the eggs?

Bee eggs look like tiny grains of rice. They more or less stand straight up when they have just been laid, before beginning to tilt and then turning into larvae by the third day. So most of the eggs above have been recently laid.

This frame of brood looks a little spotty … until you notice the larvae in most the open cells.
Zoom in on this one, and you may see some very tiny larvae near the upper righthand corner, as well as bees that are hatching.
If you zoom in on the middle of this frame, you’ll see eggs in the process of tilting over.

And below are several frames of bees eating honey we spilled on the top of their frames. Can you see some of the bees’ proboscises (tongues)?

When we peeked in the supers (medium-sized boxes usually used for honey) on OH, Girls, we were curious to see how they liked the two frames of wax comb we’d given them. Though we usually use plastic foundation anecdotal wisdom seems to hold that bees prefer wax, and we decided to give them a try.

Apparently, our bees weren’t consulted for those anecdotes. Now we are left wondering: Was it the wax they didn’t like, the string we used to stabilize it, or both?

From what we can tell, they’ve repurposed the wax from the foundation and begun to build their own on the bottom because there’s a slight difference in color.

We took out the string, and reinserted those two frames.

Since they’d filled the rest of the frames with nectar, we added another super. The hive is also still quite populated, so we added the empty quilt box for ventilation. If you recall, this winter we used the same box filled with wood chips for insulation on another hive.

Here’s the new configuration.

Finally, we turned to the OH, Girls split, the hive we were confident would be in good shape.

The Engineer had quickly looked through this hive a few days ago and not seen Her Blueness, but since he saw some brood, we weren’t too concerned.

Today we looked more closely, and found mostly capped brood being backfilled by nectar i.e., as the bees hatch, their cells are filled with honey rather than new eggs. There were also just few large larvae, none of the tiny stuff you see in the pictures from the Kremlin, and no eggs at all.

And there was no royalty in sight … except — and this may save us — a small uncapped queen cell with larva in it.

Yes, I know, I should have taken a picture.

According to Mike Bush, a queen is capped at about eight days, which means we have some waiting to do.
Again.

We also may have some queen buying to do if OH, Girls aren’t successful at requeening. According to Bush’s “Bee Math,” we should know sometime in mid June.

If they haven’t managed to requeen, or if the new queen is unsuccessful at mating or laying, or if the queen cell in the split is unsuccessful, we’ll have to buy a queen (or possibly two). Since a Saskatraz queen (our preferred race) is $46, including marking, this can be an expensive endeavor.

Still, at least there will be queens available if needed.

And both the split and the original hive will have had a break in the brood cycle — helpful for both discouraging Varroa and for using the easier method of vaporized Oxalic Acid, rather than the more lengthy Formic Pro strip treatment.

Of course, we will have to remember to take honey supers off the full-sized hive before applying the vapor because it’s not meant to be used with them on, but that’s easily done.

Speaking of honey, I’ve got high hopes that OH, Girls will soon have some capped and ready for extraction.

Stay tuned for more “Bee Music.”

Long Live Empress Olga

I’ve decided Olga can’t be the queen of our beehive because she’s Russian, and everyone knows Russia was ruled by emperors and empresses or tsar and tsarinas.

I’m going with “Empress Olga,” and the reason I’m mentioning her is because she lives!

The Engineer had a quick peek in that hive today while I was at work, and I’m very impressed that he not only found her, he also managed to capture her on camera.

Empress Olga and her workers

You may notice Olga is marked with a white dot, unlike Her Royal Blueness in the OH, Girls hive. This is because she is a 2021 queen, and Her Royal Blueness was a 2020 queen.

White and blue are two of the International Queen Bee Marking Colors. The other colors are yellow, red, and green, based on the digit the year ends in.

1 or 6 are White Dots (2021 and 2016)

2 or 7 are Yellow (2022 and 2017)

3 or 8 are Red (2023 and 2018)

4 or 9 are Green (2024 and 2019)

5 or 0 are Blue (2025 and 2020)

We’ve had both marked and unmarked queens. When we buy a queen or package or nuc, we pay the extra dollar or so to have her marked. But when we split our hives, and they are successful at requeening themselves, we end up with an unmarked queen.

This is because the only time we tried marking a queen, she ended up dead.

We won’t do that again.

As you might expect, it’s much easier to spot a bee with a colored dot on her back than one without. I’m woefully bad at finding her in any case. Thankfully, The Engineer is slightly better, but there are still many times we don’t see her and have to be happy with just seeing eggs and larvae.

In other news, the workers from the OH, Girls split have been foraging.

OH, Girls split

And, it’s been very hot (upper 80s and low 90s F), which means the OH, Girls hive is bearding most days. We’ve noticed our Saskatraz hives seem to do this more than the other ones we’ve had.

OH, Girls hanging out on the front of their hive and entrance

No doubt the swift change of weather is as much a shock to them as it is to us. You may recall me mentioning (whining about) the snow on Mother’s Day, May 9. Immediately afterwards, the weather turned, and it’s been hot, without rain for the last week or so.

Weather permitting, we plan to perform a more detailed inspection of the Olgas and the OH, Girls split on Tuesday. If there’s any news to report, you’ll read it here first. 🙂


Marasmus

Until today, I’d never heard or read the term “marasmus.”

But this morning I had some free time before going to work so I was searching Findagrave.com and the birth and death records on the West Virginia Archives.

I do this sometimes, putting in a family surname and narrowing the search by county and date. Yes, this is a random way to approach genealogy, but I occasionally use the tactic anyway because it can yield interesting, albeit sometimes tragic, results.

Today was one of those times.

Findagrave.com popped up with a memorial for thirteen-day-old baby. When I placed her on my family tree, she turned out to have been my father’s cousin (my grandfather’s brother’s daughter).

Melba Jarushire Bird (as FIndagrave lists her) was born at the very end of December 1929 and died on January 9, 1930.

She was either twelve, thirteen, or fourteen days old (depending if you believe the death certificate, Findagrave, or the death register). Her name wasn’t actually Melba Jarushire either, at least not according to the legal documents. It was Melva Jearline.

Cause of death was listed as marasmus, which Healthline defines as: “… a form of severe malnutrition. It can occur in anyone who has severe malnutrition, but it usually occurs in children. It typically occurs in developing countries. Marasmus can be life-threatening, but you can get treatment for it.

Well. That gave me pause.

To think Dad’s cousin, born three years after him in nearly the same place, died of what sounds like starvation … I can hardly wrap my brain around it.

Although Melva’s death technically happened during the Great Depression, I’m not sure that was the root cause. The Depression started in the US with the stock market crash in October 1929. Would two months of inadequate nutrition at the end of a pregnancy be enough to cause malnutrition severe enough that the child would die?

I don’t know.

I do know Melva’s parents had a son born in 1932, before losing another child in 1939, a daughter who lived only a day.

It’s impossible to imagine the grief they must have felt both with Melva and their second daughter, which makes the fact that their son lived until the age of 73 seem almost a miracle.

My grandparents raised my father and his sister during these years. In the 1930 census, the two families are on the same page, making them neighbors as well as relations. Melva’s father was a laborer, as was my grandfather.

It seems incredible that only now am I beginning to see the struggle these young families went through trying to survive.

Grandma was always extremely strict about not wasting anything. As a child, I didn’t understand. Later, as an adult, I barely thought about it.

Now, however, I think I begin to understand.

To have lived through such times, where these couple’s (and I’m sure many others’) very survival — and worse, the survival of their children — may have been in doubt, would leave a person forever determined to never live that way again.

Also, and this may seem a bit of a stretch to some, reading about this happening in my own family gives me empathy for parents around the world who take what seems to us to be ridiculous chances to migrate somewhere that seems to promise a better future. And I can tell you this, if I’d seen one of my children die of malnutrition, I think I would be quite likely to take any risk necessary to help make sure I didn’t lose another the same way.

Addendum: Since writing this, several friends have pointed out malnutrition could have been caused by issues other than lack of food — cleft palate inability to digest milk, or any number of physical maladies. I was viewing my father’s cousin’s death through the lens of a person raised much later, when such issues would have been problematic, but not life-threatening. Still, however it happened, it’s clear this family suffered their share of tragedy.

Orientation Day

The nurse bees we shook into the OH, Girls split seem to have segued into the next stage of their working lives.

The Engineer took this picture of them around the bottom entrance of the hive. He said they seemed to be orienting. Bees do this before flying away from their home so they can find their way back.

They are such incredible creatures! Click through the link above if you’d like a more detailed explanation of the orientation process.

We’re just happy because it’s exactly what they should be doing at this point.

Meanwhile, the OH, Girls main hive continues to be quite active. With the weather seeming to have finally turned (please, God!), and lots of nectar coming in, we’ve decided it’s time to put another box on for honey. After all, while they wait to grow their new queen (please, God!!), they have a bit of a break in eggs being laid. Ergo, less brood to rear, so they can spend more time making honey.

This type of break in brood rearing — whether initiated by the beekeeper with a split or naturally occurring — also helps with integrated pest management. No new eggs and larvae means nowhere for Varroa Mites to lay eggs = a good thing.

As for Olga, The Engineer and I had the following text conversation yesterday while I was at work.

10:56 am
Engineer: Bees eaten through candy plug, but Olga still left inside so left alone again.

12:49 pm
Me: Maybe look Sunday.

1:24 pm
Me: Still alive is good.

2:29 pm
Engineer: Shes out. So many bees inside and outside the cage she was trapped so I released her.

2:33 pm
Me: Were they friendly bees?
🤞🤞🤞🤞🤞🤞

2:33 pm
Engineer: To her yes not to me.

2:34 pm
Me: Stung?

2:34 pm
Engineer: No.

Well, that was a relief.

Later I learned he’d been unable to locate his bee jacket (which zips to the hat and veil) because when I washed them on Wednesday, I forgot and left them in the washer. Whoops! 😱

Next steps:

  • We put a box on OH, Girls and hope for honey.
  • We wait again, this time to see if Olga begins to lay.
  • And we wait to see if OH, Girls are successful in making a queen.
  • If they aren’t successful, we may have to buy one.

The excitement never ends.

In other news: I got my second vaccine yesterday (Pfizer), and am okay so far. I did wake up at 6:30 with a bad headache, but thankfully ibuprofen took the edge off. (What did our ancestors do without aspirin and other analgesics? Bayer only began manufacturing and selling asprin in 1899. Imagine having to find willow tree bark to make tea or chew on at six in the morning.)

My co-workers told me to expect to fee super tired, but I don’t, at least not yet. What I do feel is sort of off-kilter, with vertigo and lightheadedness. Odd and disorienting enough that I don’t plan to do much today.

Splitsville

On Saturday, as planned (and hopefully not too late), The Engineer and I stole a frame of brood from OH, Girls to help encourage the Olgas (OH-lgas?) to accept their new queen. When you have laying workers, this is meant to make them think the new queen is laying, and therefore is a good queen worthy of their hive.

Yes, I do realize I’m ascribing them with human attributes. It’s the only way I can make sense of honey bee habits.

At any rate, that’s one of the suggestions Bee Culture magazine offers in requeening a hive with laying workers. Of course, their article says this should be done at the same time the queen is introduced and that the hive should be switched with a stronger hive.

We didn’t switch them, and the brood was added a few days after the queen. However, as I mentioned in the last post, we lucked out once before introducing a queen to a hive with laying workers in much worse circumstances, and they accepted the queen. (It was the very beginning of spring when there were no queens to be had for several weeks after The Engineer discovered the dead queen and certainly no brood to add or strong hive to switch with.)

This time, when we discovered the then-named GeeBees (now Olgas) had a dead queen, we put in a frame of eggs, hoping they’d make a queen. They didn’t, but at least for a few weeks they had brood. They now have brood again, as well as a queen, so I’m hoping this at least confuses their tiny minds enough to give Olga a chance.

We also checked OH, Girls, with the intention of splitting the hive. Her Royal Blueness has been laying so well we were worried the hive would swarm. Splitting a hive is sort of like a fake swarm controlled by the beekeeper.

There are many (many!) ways to split a hive. The easiest is called a “walkaway split.” Basically, you divide a strong hive into two, and walk away. The idea is the hive that has the old queen continues on their merry way, and the other raises a new queen. To do this, both hives need to have eggs, or at the very least, very young larvae.

We used this method last year, mainly because we knew the hive was getting ready to swarm and when we went to split it, we didn’t find the queen.

This year, however, we were going to try to do a proper swarm control split, where you take the queen and put her in a new hive with food and brood. You also shake in some nurse bees so the the split is populated.

Nurse bees will stay in the “new” hive, while any foragers caught up in the divide will return to the original hive. I believe this is because the nurse bees haven’t yet oriented to their hive. You see, when bees come out of their cells, their first job generally is cleaning and capping cells. Next, they become nurse bees, tending the brood and queen. Later, they cycle through other jobs (guarding, foraging), only orienting when they start to go outside the hive for their work. For more details, you can read this article from American Bee Journal.

So, by shaking in extra nurse bees, the beekeeper ensures the hive has enough bees to survive.

Meanwhile, both hives think they’ve swarmed. If all goes well, the queenless hive makes a new queen, and the split soon grows into a full-sized hive.

That was the plan for Saturday. However, things didn’t quite go as we intended.

It was a cool day (about 50 F, the coolest we’ll usually do a hive check), but OH, Girls were out foraging, and we thought we’d be okay. We probably would have been, had we not made the mistake of trying to catch the queen to move her when we could have just moved the whole frame.

Her Blueness fell (into the hive, thank heaven!). Unable to find her again, we closed up shop and decided to try again today (Wednesday), when it would be warmer.

GIven the weather that followed on Sunday, it was probably just as well we hadn’t made a new split/nuc. Bees don’t usually swarm when it’s cold, and a full hive has more bees to keep it warm.

Ah, yes, it was a lovely Mother’s Day here, worse even than the cold and rain that was predicted. Dear Readers, we got snow — a lovely, wet, slushy snow, slippery enough that I saw several cars in the ditch when I drove to visit my mom.

This is our deck, after the snow had started to melt.
And here (in this blurry photo — sorry) are some poor, bedraggled birds trying to shelter from the cold.
And this is a picture of the birds on our feeder, taken through the window. I just like the effect of the water on the window. It reminds me of a kaleidoscope.

It finally warmed up today, and I spent a few hours hauling around bags of soil and mixing them with compost (to be fair, The Engineer did most of the mixing). Then I moved all the tiny little plants I’d grown from seed into pots, along with a few others I’d picked up from the nursery. Ground cherries, lemon basil, tomatoes, and more ground cherries, if you want to know, plus I split off some chives and Hen and Chicks for Darling Daughter.

In retrospect, I probably should have first asked if she wanted them. 🤔

Ah, well, at least she wants the lemon basil and tomatoes I also potted for her. And the chives and Hen and Chicks needed splitting anyway.

Here would be a good place to mention that the “last frost date” for this area is meant to be May 15, a mere three days away. Also, I checked the weather report before starting, and it didn’t mention anything about frost.

The alert came up on my phone when we finished and came inside to have a cup of tea and a snack.

Sometimes I hate living in Ohio.

Sorry, I digress. I’m supposed to be writing about bees, and so I shall.

After our tea (me) and snack (The Engineer), we again turned to our favorite insects.

Both hives were busily foraging, even though it’s still a bit cool — sunny and maybe 60 F as long as you stay out of the shade, but the breeze is chilly.

You can see OH, Girls are quite active.
Olgas were also foraging, with fewer bees going in and out. It’s a smaller hive, so this makes sense.

A (very) quick peek at that hive today revealed the candy plug still in the queen cage, though they are working their way through it. Also, the bees didn’t seem overly agressive on the cage, so that could be a good sign too.

We turned our attention to OH, Girls. Once again, my observant partner found the queen — unharmed, thankfully, though her blue is wearing off. And this time, we moved the whole frame into the waiting nuc box, gave her another frame of brood and some food, shook in the nurse bees, and closed up shop.

From left to right: OH, Girls nuc, Olgas, and OH, Girls.

Will OH, Girls make a new queen?
Will the Olgas accept their queen?
Will my tomato plants freeze?

I wish I knew. We’ll all have to wait and see.

I hope you can handle the suspense. 🙂