GeeBees Are Queenless

Poor GeeBees! They are certainly off to a rough start.

When we inserted the queen cage, we noticed she seemed smaller than others we’ve had. In fact, the only way we could differentiate between her and her attendant bees was by her thorax, which isn’t furry on a queen. Normally, you can also tell by the size and shape of her body, but she was only slightly more tapered than the worker bees (see circled below in The Engineer’s photo).

Even allowing for the different scale of the photos, she was much smaller than OH, Girls’ queen (below).

When it comes to queens, bigger is generally better because it means she’s full of sperm and will be a good egg layer.

Also, the workers didn’t seem much interested in looking after her, at least not in comparison to the queen on the package our friend picked up.

Well, after today, we don’t have to worry about her size because when we opened the hive to check if she’d been released, we discovered she’s dead.

Definitely not* the way we’d prefer to start a new hive.

What to do, what to do … what could we do but close up the hive and make plans to buy another queen or try to get one from the man who sold us the package? (In the end, we did let him know what happened, and he said he should have queens in a few weeks, so that is now our backup plan, I suppose.)

On a much brighter note, OH, Girls are doing great, with lots of brood and larvae in a nice solid laying pattern. And we saw Her Royal Blueness skittering around, laying eggs as fast as she could move.

Not a good shot of bees, but you can get a sense of the different sizes of larvae.

When we found a frame chock full of eggs, I suddenly had the idea to swap it for one of GeeBees’ frames in the hope they’d make a queen.

You see, queen and worker bees are almost identical genetically. It’s what she’s fed that makes her a queen. Contrary to what you might have heard, all larvae are fed royal jelly, but worker bees and drones only receive it for three days. A would-be queen is given enough royal jelly to sustain her throughout her growth cycle, and the difference in diet causes the changes in development that makes a queen.

I’ll spare you the lecture on queen development and simply share a few additional facts. First, you should know worker bees generally build queen cells when they are ready to make a new queen, either to supercede the old or to replace the old queen when the hive swarms. And, second, sometimes, when a queen dies unexpectedly, the workers need to make an “emergency queen” by building a queen cell around existing eggs and feeding those eggs more royal jelly as they develop into larvae and then bees. Here is an article with pictures of the different types of queen cells.

Some say emergency queens are generally smaller than those who developed in a queen cell built intentionally to develop a queen. Others disagree.

If GeeBees do what bees are supposed to do and develop a queen for us, I guess we’ll be able to form our own opinion on the matter. Queens take about three weeks to develop, so don’t think we’ll be finding out anytime soon. When bees are in the process of making or accepting a new queen, it’s generally best to leave them to it, so we won’t be peeking for a while.

And then, she would have to successfully survive her mating flights — yet another hurdle.

At the very least, the hive will have some brood to raise while they wait.

Speaking of brood, I thought you’d like to see some photos of a baby bee emerging from her cell (and she’s definitely a she because she’s coming out of a worker cell).

It always cracks me up the way the new bee’s sister bees just walk right over her while she’s trying to emerge.

Once again, we are left crossing our fingers about one of our hives. I’m starting to think we should just keep them permanently crossed. 🙂

*Unrelated side note: For months, WordPress hasn’t let me italicize words, and now I can do it again. This makes no sense whatsoever.

Adventures in the Mead-le

I know I already wrote one post today, and yet, here I am, writing one more about our adventures in mead.

We joined the legions of mead makers early this year, using equipment Santa (me) brought for Christmas. This endeavor was a natural development from our beekeeping and investment in Nashville’s Honeytree Meadery. And when we tasted the first batch Darling Daughter’s Boyfriend made and found it delicious, well, it was clear we needed to try making some ourselves.

After the initial “racking” (bottling) in February, the next step would be to taste the mead and re-bottle it with a siphon into smaller (or at least freshly cleaned) bottles. This process separates the liquid from any flavorings that have been added, and leaves the majority of the sediment of the yeast behind.

Unfortunately, COVID briefly interfered by causing me to lose my sense of taste and smell for several weeks.

By the time we got to the job today, I was concerned the chili peppers we’d added to one growler had been in too long and would cause the mead to be overly zesty. As for the grapefruit zest we’d put in another, well, I’d read tales of citrus flavorings gone horribly wrong, making the mead so bitter it couldn’t be consumed.

Thus, it was with some trepidation we racked the first bottle, starting with what we expected to be the gentlest of the flavors — our “OH Honey!” basic mead.

I should interject here to say something about The Engineer’s calculation of ABV (alcohol by volume). According to Storm the Castle and other sources, this measurement varies, from 3.5% up to 18%, with an average of 7.5%-14%. The Engineer pegged ours at 16.8%.

I didn’t believe him, thinking he’d somehow used the wrong scale. There are several on the hydrometer, and if left to me, we’d never know.

After tasting OH Honey!, I believe him. Our meads are strong. OH, Honey! is also — how can I put this? — in serious need of more aging.

That’s the brilliant thing about mead. The longer you age it, the better (and clearer) it gets.

In the case of OH Honey!, this is a very good thing.

Next up was “Ginger Rogers,” flavored with grated ginger root I had in the fridge from our CSA share last fall. It was surprisingly not horrible.

In fact, it wasn’t bad, although a little cloudy in appearance.

“Sourpuss,” with the grapefruit zest was even better and less cloudy too.

What a relief!

The big surprise was “Hot Mama,” our chili flavored mead. It was delicious and nearly transparent, though it’s difficult to see the difference in the picture below.

Since we have an abundance of OH, Honey!, we’ve decided to make another batch soon and make it all one flavor. Unfortunately, we’ve gone through our own honey from last year with this lot and won’t have any more from our hives for a few months so I’ll have to buy supplies from another local beekeeper.

And I need to source some smaller bottles so we can share without decimating our own supply.

We’ll probably stick to Hot Mama for the next batch because its flavor and clarity came together without a long aging process. Since we plan to make another five gallons, it would be best to repeat a process that has worked once, don’t you think?

Bee Bus Arrival: Hello GeeBees

A week ago, on a lovely spring day, we picked up our package of bees. Because the weather was so nice, we were able to install them immediately (unlike last year).

By evening, they were beginning to bring in pollen, and on warmer days this week, they’ve been quite active.

The girls came not from Michigan as expected, but Georgia with a Michigan-bred queen who was mated in Georgia.

Intitially we were concerned because in the US, when you buy southern bees, you run the risk of getting Africanized bees, notorious for being overly aggressive and dangerous. It soon became clear, however, that the bees we received were mild-tempered, interested only in adjusting to their new circumstances. And, on review of the package description, I discovered I had misread the details.

Also, the package seemed to me to have fewer bees than last year’s, an idea that may be only a figment of my imagination.

Photo by The Engineer

Below are two pictures from the 2020 Bee Bus, but since they’re from a different angle from this year’s photo, it’s hard to tell.

The 2020 package was the Saskatraz bees that grew into the hive that made it through the winter. We named them California Girls, but rechristened them OH Girls to celebrate their having survived an OH (Ohio) winter).

In a nod to their origin, the new hive is called GeeBees (Georgia Bees).

We had a bit of a scare during the week when I came home to find a frenzy of bees at the entrance of the new hive. I was sure they were being raided for the honey stocks we’d given them and blocked the entrance until things calmed down. When I reopened it, the girls came streaming out, so perhaps it was them all along.

Still, I’d rather be safe than sorry.

We plan to look in both hives tomorrow — a quick check to see if the queen has been released in GeeBees and a more lengthy look at OH Girls.

While picking up a few things at Queen Right Colonies, I found Honey B Healthy has a new product called Amino B Booster, which I’m looking forward to trying. If I’m reading the information correctly, it may be a better supplement than pollen patties, which tend to attract Hive Beetles.

I also picked up two frames and wax foundation so we can try to jar some comb honey this year.

In other unrelated news, I managed to get an appointment for my first vaccine next week. I’m nervous because I’ve read if you’ve had the virus, it can really knock you down.

Stay tuned for details and more bee progress updates!

No Easter Eggs Here but Let’s Hear It for OH Girls

I wanted steal a clever phrase from an Instagram photo and caption a picture of bee eggs with “Easter Eggs.” Unfortunately, though we saw a gratifying amount of capped brood and larvae, I didn’t get any photos of eggs.

And yet, I bring good tidings from our hive check.

Last time we saw the queen, she seemed apathetic and slow-moving, but today Her Royal Blueness was back to scurrying around the hive like she owns the place. (I was waiting for spell-check to change that to “palace,” but it never chimes in when you want it to.)

Also, there were more bees, many of them clearly young and very fuzzy (as you can see in the above picture).

I love how they look up at us from between the frames.

And lastly, there was a major increase in capped brood and larvae.

Can you spot the larvae above? You may have to zoom in to see it.

The only bad news was we also spotted some beetle larvae in a pollen patty we removed. Time to order the nematodes and quit supplementing with patties now the real stuff is coming in. We have two traps in each box, which helps, but the nematodes help break the life cycle of the beetles, preventing the larvae from developing.

To replace the hives that didn’t make it through the winter, we’ll be picking up a package of bees on Saturday from the same place we got our nuc last year — Grandpa’s Bee Farm. The man who runs this endeavor is a county bee inspector, and although the nuc didn’t survive the winter, we are trying again with his stock. We’re reasonably convinced the hives died because we weren’t able to keep up with treating them for Varroa through the winter. It was never warm enough to do so.

Also, we made the mistake of not doing a count of the nasties after we last treated them in October. If we had, we might have gone ahead and treated them again then.

We have to do better this year. It’s ridiculous to expend so much effort if we can’t do a better job of helping them survive the winter.

In other news, we’ve (I’ve) decided it’s time we change the hive name from California Girls to OH Girls since the only California girl left in the hive is the queen.

So, cheers to OH Girls. <raising my glass> 🙂

Bee-ginning the Bee Year with Queen Worries

My apologies for the fuzziness of the picture below. I’ve included it so you see our girls are not exactly going gangbusters. By anyone’s standards, this is a weak hive.

Still, they’re alive and working hard, and that has to count for something.

When we checked them today, there were larvae and eggs. I’ve highlighted the eggs in the picture below (zoom in). The larvae are easy to spot.

I think the next picture looks like a painting, don’t you?

Here’s some capped brood, a few larvae, and a hardworking forager bringing in some pollen.

We are a concerned about Her Royal Blueness because she seemed to be moving slowly.
When we check the hive next week, we may have to make a hard decision concerning her future employment (and life, for that matter).

The problem is, when you replace a queen, you lose a week or two because you can’t release the replacement directly into the hive, even after dispatching the old one. The other bees would kill her. You have to leave the new queen in her cage for a week or so to let the workers get used to her pheromones.

So, we’ve put off that worry for another day.

In other bee news, The Engineer has made two swarm boxes in hope of catching a swarm this spring. He met an old beekeeper last year who told him how to go about it, but it was late in the season when he tried it, so we didn’t catch anything.

Some people bait the boxes with purchased lures, but our source said he always used lemon grass oil on a cotton swab and some frames of old comb, so that’s what’s in ours.

In theory, you know you’ve caught a swarm when you find the swab outside the box. Bees are fastidious about what they allow in their hive, and cotton swabs apparently don’t make the list.

We’ve got two boxes baited, and have seen several bees inspecting the accommodations, but they may just be interested in something that smells like free food.

Still, it looks like we’re on the right track.

Free bees! What could be better?

“Without Occupation”

While in quarantine/isolation, I’ve been working on genealogy research, specifically the Feathers of West Virginia. My 2x great grandmother was Ida Frances Feathers, and I’ve hit a genealogical “brick wall” with her father, George W. Feathers

In genealogy, when you can’t go up, i.e., can’t locate George W.’s father, you go sideways. This means I’ve begun searching not just my direct line — Ida, her father George and mother Catharine — but also Ida’s sisters and brothers and their families.**

Quite often this type of research leads to discoveries that break through that wall.

And that’s why I began tracing Phoebe “Phebe” Feathers Cullers.

Phebe, Susan, and George Washington Feathers — Ida’s siblings — all married Cullers (frequently misspelled as Colors, also Cullen, Culler, Color). Phebe and Susan’s husbands were probably brothers, although I’ve not gotten that deep into their family’s and hope I don’t have to.

From what I can tell, George Washington’s wife was his sister Susan’s daughter, which means he was her uncle despite being only four years older.

Yes, that makes me cringe. (A small disclaimer here — I could be wrong. There were many Cullers in the area, and many men with the first and middle names of George and Washington.)

Still today I’m not focusing on overly close familial connections in this post except to say that though West Virginia has a reputation for inbreeding, this is the first time I’ve come across a fact that actually made me make a face.

Mostly, I’ve found cases of siblings of one family marrying siblings of another, thereby making their children what my Dad called “double first cousins.”

That’s the genetic equivalent of a half-sibling.

But back to the subject of this post, which is the 1880 census for the Phebe and Henry Cullers household in Lost River (love that name), Hardy County, West Virginia.

Here’s what it says:

Color, Henry, White, Male, 55, married, farmer, can’t read, can’t write, born Virginia, both parents born Virginia
Color, Phoebia, White, Female, 52, wife, married, keeping house, can’t read, can’t write, born Virginia, both parents born Virginia
Color, Jacob, White, Male, 26, son, single, works on farm, 4 months unemployed, born Virginia, both parents born Virginia
Color, Morgan, White, Male, 16, son, single, works on farm, 5 months unemployed, attended school in last year, born West Virginia,* parents born Virginia
Color, Martha, White, Female, 18, daughter, single, without occupation (bf mine), born West Virginia,* both parents born Virginia
Color, Elizabeth, White, Female, 15, daughter, single, without occupation (bf mine), attended school in last year, born West Virginia,* both parents born Virginia
Color, Susan, White, Female, 9, daughter, attended school in last year, born West Virginia,* both parents born Virginia
Louis, Mordica, White, Male, 23, servant, can’t read, can’t write, born Virginia, both parents born Virginia

So, here we have a family with six children. The head of the family (which is, of course, the elder man, Henry) is a farmer. His wife is listed as “keeping house.” The male children, Jacob and Morgan are listed as “works on farm” even though they were unemployed for four and five months of the year, respectively.

The servant, Mordica, is also male, so it’s a pretty safe bet he also works on the farm.

Now we turn to the females.
The youngest Susan, is just nine, so it’s unsurprising there’s nothing listed for her occupation, although she does attend school. But the two older females, Martha (18) and Elizabeth (15), are specifically listed as “without occupation,” although Elizabeth has attended school in the last year. You’ll notice Martha, at eighteen, is older than Morgan who is listed as working on a farm (and attending school), but she still has no “occupation.”

At least, that’s what the census says.

Here’s my question: Do you seriously believe Martha and Elizabeth had no occupation? Or is it possible, just maybe, that the work they did at home and on the farm was simply unrecognized as an occupation because it wasn’t done by a man?

Think about it for a minute. I’ll wait.

Fortuitously, I was able to find an article detailing the daily lives of women in West Virginia during this time period on the West Virginia archives website.

Big surprise. The women were not “unoccupied.”

Information direct from one woman’s diaries lists these activities on an average day:

” … the mother or one of the daughters at home regularly cleaned the “far room”, the lower room, diningroom and sitting room. Rebecca and Sade appeared to do most of the chores in the home. When school was out, Fan and Virginia helped in this work. Rebecca noted that either individually or with one of her sisters she worked at the following household tasks: cleaning and straightening the house, washing clothes and blankets, ironing, sewing shirts and dresses and cooking which included baking cakes and salt-rising bread and making taffy.”

Another diarist recorded:

“… women did most of their work in the home with few references to outdoor tasks recorded in the diaries. Certain chores like washing, ironing, cleaning and sewing were usually done weekly. Sarah baked and churned frequently. Among the unusual homemaking chores were browning or roasting coffee, making yeast, and boiling hominy.

Grains for cornmeal and flour were raised on the farm. The farm produced its own meat and the family regularly butchered, hung meat, and salted it. Sarah wrote of preserving yellow tomatoes, drying corn, making peach butter, and burying cabbage and turnips in the root cellar. Purchased food items included coffee, fish, sugar, lemon and nutmeg.

Money appeared to be in short supply in the McKown family. The diaries’ early entries tell of selling eggs and butter. The backs of some of the diaries record the amount of butter and eggs sold during a particular year. Although the income from these sales was not great, the money helped to make life easier for the family. Produce and items not available on the farm were often acquired by bartering or trading one item for another. For example, Sarah wrote that she sometimes paid to have her weekly washing done in 1869 with cornmeal, vegetables, lard, etc., if she did not have the fifty cents. In 1888, she noted that a son had traded cornmeal for sugar at the local store.”

“Without occupation,” indeed.

*Note: Morgan, Martha, Elizabeth and Susan were all born in West Virgina, while Jacob was not. This is not because the family moved, it’s because West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1861 during the Civil War. In my research, making this distinction on the census is somewhat unusual. Frequently, those who lived in West Virginia after the war just say they were born in West Virginia, even if it was technically Virginia at the time. Since Hardy County is on the border of Virginia, I wonder if the Cullers were making a point that they were proud Virginians or proud West Virginians. Or maybe they were making no point at all, but the families consistently reported birth locations this way.

**I wrote two earlier blog posts on Ida’s brother Cornelius and his wife, Sarah Jane Daugherty Feathers Scott.

Ten Years

March 18, 2011 was a beautiful day, cool and sunny.

While many were sleeping off St. Patrick’s Day hangovers, I was driving home from the hospital thinking I should be crying because I’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Darling Daughter had just passed her driver’s test the day before, and I didn’t want to spoil that memory for her. So I held off telling her, which she has long since informed me was the wrong decision. Instead I immediately called The Engineer to tell him to come straight home after work.

We went out for an Indian meal at a restaurant that no longer exists and talked about what this development might mean.

Of course, we had no idea. No one did, not even the doctors. Because every body is different, no one can predict how things will go.

I was lucky. My cancer was an average run-of-the-mill ductal carcinoma. I had a mastectomy and immediate TRAM flap reconstruction. followed by chemo to try to ensure it never came back. Of course, it wasn’t quite that straightforward, and I ended writing a blog about my “Cancer Lessons.” The lessons are a little out of order because I deleted and then re-wrote some, but if you ever want to read it, you can find it here:

Ten years have passed. Today, it’s warmish, grey, and rainy, and I have cause for celebration because I’m still here!

This is also a good day to remember my friend Pat who managed to cram a lot of living into the four years following her ovarian cancer diagnosis. A brilliant quilter, gifted musician, loving wife, mother, and grandma who wasn’t afraid to laugh at both herself and life, Pat left behind memories of joy and love (

Namaste, Pat. May we all leave behind such a legacy.

COVID Update (Feel Free to Skip this Post – It’s a Little Whiny)

I’m in isolation for six more days, and The Engineer is quarantined as well. Meanwhile, Poor Mom gets fourteen days in her room, though thankfully they started counting from last Tuesday’s visit.

Yesterday I noticed I was feeling a bit worse. Not I-can’t-breathe-go-to-the-hospital bad, just … worse.

Mostly I’m just tired. After every small task, I need a little sit-down and a cup of tea. Compare this to Saturday, when we prepared a raspberry bed. I dug the 9’x18″ plot while The Engineer planted trellises.

Photo by fotografierende on

Now, I do something, and then sit down. It reminds me of when I was in chemo. Then, as now, I experienced few of the dreadful symptoms that go along with the illness and treatment. I was just exhausted.

And then, as now, the awareness of how lucky I am remains foremost in my mind.

So, I rest on the couch and drink tea I can’t taste. It’s still comforting, though the loss of smell and taste is slightly worse too.

When I try to sniff the eucalyptus oil, I don’t even feel it in the back of my throat.

Cooking is interesting right now. Today I made spaghetti sauce with lots of onion, peppers, and garlic.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

How weird is it to cry from the onions you’re chopping but smelling?

On the bee news front, today we’ll treat give the bees their third Oxalic Acid treatment. We didn’t see much of a mite drop after the last one, which is a good sign.

It’s getting warmer, at least temporarily (this weekend, the nights are going below freezing again), and the girls have been quite active, even bringing in pollen

My co-beekeeper took this picture yesterday. Isn’t she beautiful?

A Tasteless Joke

On Tuesday I woke up with a scratchy throat and a sinus headache. Since I work in a grocery store and have almost certainly been exposed to COVID on more than one occasion, my first thought was I shouldn’t go for my scheduled in-person visit with my 90-year-old mom.

Mom’s in a nursing home where they just started having visits again for the first time in months. They first tried about six months ago, but ended up canceling after two weeks because a staff member tested positive. Now, however, most residents including Mom are vaccinated, so I get to see her without a window between us.

The administration has also started rapid testing anyone who visits. That’s why my second thought was, “No. I need to go because then I’ll know if it’s COVID.”

If it was, I’d get in my car and go home. No harm, no foul.

As expected, the test was negative. My mild symptoms were clearly just a cold.

Still, I canceled my Wednesday dentist appointment and took things easy the next two days before working on Friday as scheduled. By that time, I’d taken my temperature a few times. Twice it was slightly elevated, but by Friday it was normal.

And on Saturday, I planned to do the same. But when I took a shower that morning, I realized I couldn’t smell the eucalyptus oil I’d dribbled in the tub to help clear my head.

I opened the bottle and tried breathing it directly.

It was strange. I could kind of feel the oil’s effects, but not smell it. (And if you’ve ever breathed in eucalyptus oil, you’ll know the scent is very strong.)

Feeling like an idiot, I stood there dripping as I sniffed every bar of soap and bottle of shampoo and conditioner … even the Vicks Vaporub.


And then I remembered having pizza the night before and thinking it didn’t taste like much even though I’d used quite a lot of garlic on the crust.


Well, this was a bit worrisome.

I was scheduled to work all weekend because my co-worker was out of town, and for a moment — and only a moment — I considered putting off going for a test until Monday, not because I wanted to get anyone sick, but because I would feel an idiot if the whole thing turned out to be nothing.

Except I couldn’t taste the toast I ate for breakfast either.

And that’s how I ended up visiting the drive-up at a local drug store for a lab test instead of going to work yesterday.

According to them, result times are averaging one to two days.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a phone call from my employer’s Human Resources Department to instruct me on the process I’ve apparently put into play.

Wow. Now I really felt like a fraud. I’m sure he has other things he’d rather be doing than calling me on a Saturday night.

The man said I did the right thing, but I couldn’t help thinking, “What if I’m wrong and just made a fuss about nothing?”

Then I went into the pantry and tried to smell the vinegar.

It’s weird not to be able to taste or smell. I could sort of feel the vinegar in the back of my throat, but even with the bottle right below my nose, I couldn’t smell anything.

We ate quiche last night, and I put a load of hot sauce on it. I could feel the heat, but it tasted like nothing.

I’ve been drinking tea and it’s comforting because it’s hot, but there’s no flavor.

So, do I have the virus or not?

All I know is I’ve been sick before with everything from pnuemonia to bronchitis to pleurisy, and there have been times my head was stuffy enough to make it difficult to smell, but I’ve never experienced anything like this.

Photo by cottonbro on

At this point, I’m sort of hoping I have the virus because otherwise I’ll feel like a complete fool. And if losing two of my senses is the worst thing that happens to me, I’m grateful.

Whether I have it or not, the joke is on me. Either I’ve gone for a complete year of shutdown working in a grocery store and gotten it when a vaccine is finally available (at least in theory because it’s not been available for me!) or I’ve somehow gotten one of the main symptoms of COVID without having the virus.

I’ll let you know when I find out.

Meanwhile, I’ll be in the pantry, sniffing vinegar and slurping hot sauce.

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on

Addendum: Just got the text that I’m positive. Right now, I’m feeling very grateful to have mild symptoms.