Everything But the Bees

On Friday, we drove to Blue Sky Bee Supply to buy The Engineer a bee jacket and veil.

Then, on Sunday, we took down a dead tree, a preventive measure to prevent it falling on our hive during some future storm.

I also did battle with a wild rose that was taking over that area of our property.  The rose won — I have scratches to prove it — though I retaliated by hacking it to the ground.

The wild rose (also know as multi-flora rose, rambler rose, or Japanese rose) has a self-preservation instinct strong enough that the Ohio Weedguide calls it a “noxious weed.” The plant earns this distinction partly due to its prolific seed production (up to 500,000 per bush per year) and partly because one bush can cover a patch more than thirty-three feet in diameter.

Also, did I mention the thorns? Wickedly sharp and plentiful, they seize any piece of clothing or skin that happens to brush against a cane, and refuse to let go.

And yet, the scent of this plant is beguiling, sweeter than any hybrid on earth, so I can’t bring myself to kill it, even if I could manage that near-impossible feat.


Photo from Ohio Weedguide

I predict our bees will be sipping its nectar within the year.

With tree and rose bush down (or at least in temporarily restrained), we were able to place the paving stones for our hive stand, mulch the area, and (finally!) place our stand outside.

Here it is. FullSizeRender-13

All we need is the bees, which brings me to the point of this post. (You did know there’d be a point eventually, right?)

When people learn we are going to keep bees, they inevitably ask one question: “Where do you get them?”

I can’t answer without mention a fact I found astounding: Honey bees are not native to the U.S., although there are many native bees, which also pollinate. If you’re not squeamish about insects, check out this Popular Science article. It includes lots photos and a link to the U.S. Geological Survey’s great database for even more bee photos.

So, all honey bees came from somewhere else. Later, I’ll write a post about the different kinds, but for now, let’s talk about where you can get them.

Probably the most common way of populating a hive is to buy a package of bees. A package is basically a box of three pounds of bees (about 10,000 insects) and an unrelated, unmated queen. This can be shipped or picked up depending on where you purchase. For example, Draper Super Bee Apiary uses either UPS or Priority Mail. (This is not an endorsement. I just found them online and know nothing about them.)

In our area, many people purchase their package from Queen Right Colonies, a local bee supply store. Queen Right orders their packages from California, bringing in two semis full of bees each spring.

Since a package queen is unrelated to the bees she’s shipped with, a beekeeper must make sure she’s accepted before introducing her to her hive. Otherwise, the other bees will kill her. Since she’s unmated, there is a lag time involved for her to mate and produce eggs, as well as the amount of time it takes to raise the eggs into worker bees. (Drones generally come only after the hive has enough bees to get the work done.)


Here’s a queen from a package, safe in her little cage until she’s accepted. Photo from Donce.Lofthouse.com‘s photo essayy on hiving packaged bees.

This lag time can be useful for new beekeepers, allowing them time to get comfortable with their hive before they have new bees. But if the new queen doesn’t take, she’ll have to be replaced, starting the introduction process all over.

A second option is a nucleus hive or nuc. This is like a starter hive, usually including three or five frames with a mated queen and brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae). Having a proven queen and brood can provide a head start on developing a strong hive. On the downside, nucs cost a bit more, and you have to trust the person you’re buying from since nucleus hives tend to come from individuals or smaller beekeeping businesses. If you buy from the wrong person, you could end up buying someone else’s problems (pests, diseases).


Cardboard nuc box. Photo from Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association

A third way to acquire bees is to buy someone’s hive(s). Rarely available and ditto on the idea of buying someone else’s problems.

Lastly, some people get bees by swarming. This can be done using a swarm trap, hoping to attract swarming bees, or by placing your name on a swarm list for people to call when bees swarm on their property. While I’m not sure we’ll ever be ready to acquire bees this way, it looks interesting. That many bees can seem a bit scary, but I read somewhere swarming bees are at their most gentle because they have no hive to defend. Sometimes, they’ll just walk right into the box.  Click through to see it happen.

Did we make the right choice? Only time — and our bees — will tell.

Queen Right Colonies’ summary of pros and cons of the four methods of getting bees.

Map showing where wild bees are disappearing via Bee Culture magazine’s “Catch the Buzz” newsletter.

Another swarm marching into a hive via YouTube.



“Your doctor bill is $46, but the use of a ‘treatment room’ costs $255.”

The U.S. medical system is skewed toward profit. I should know that by now. And yet, I was still surprised when I got an invoice for $299.96 for a twenty minute appointment for steroid injections in my head. (For more on that fun, go here.) The recent bill was made all the more surprising by the fact that the first appointment cost just over $100.

“Ah,” I thought, “I’ve heard about this before. They’ve made a billing error and are charging me for a treatment room, when my appointment took place in a normal examining room. I’ll simply call them and sort it out.”



According to Denita, the customer service representative, “treatment room” is just another expression for “facility charge.”

Because my doctor’s network is at a public hospital, this cost is set by the government.

If you don’t live in the U.S., you’re probably scratching your head, wondering why on earth the American government wants hospitals to charge $391 for me to spend 2o minutes in an examining room. You’re also probably wondering why I just wrote $391, when I previously said I was billed for $266.

After the insurance adjustment, the bill was $266.

This means if you don’t have insurance you’re on the hook for the whole $391.


By now, non-Americans in other industrialized nations are likely feeling a little smug.

Because I’m American. I asked if I could talk to someone to get the fees waived because they were so clearly ridiculous.

Danita offered to put me in a payment plan.

But the issue wasn’t about ability to pay, it was the expectation that I should pay $255 for passing twenty minutes in a bare bones examination room

If you’re wondering, that’s $12.75 a minute, just over $.21 a second, to pay for something that should be considered the cost of doing business.

It’s like going to buy a pair of shoes and being told, “That’s $65.97 for the shoes and $20 to help pay our electric bill.”

To be fair, I should admit, it doesn’t just happen in the medical field. These days — and yes, I do realize I sound like an old-timer using that phrase — when you buy tickets to any event, you go online, jump through a few hoops (or many, as when The Engineer recently purchased tickets to see Jeff Dunham), pay your money, and print the ticket. For this, you are charged a service fee, which seems to get higher every time we go anywhere.

Exactly what service are we getting?
The program that “allows” us the dubious convenience of buying tickets online?
The non-existent customer service if — God forbid! — you make a mistake in the labyrinth of the procedure?
The doubtless minimum-wage-receiving contract workers who take the tickets at the venue?

These are all part of the cost of doing business and should be covered by the exorbitant cost of tickets.

My “facilities fee” is the same. Why am I paying for my medical provider’s building every time I visit? At that rate, I could pay to share an apartment for a few weeks.

Danita did say I could speak to a supervisor, but the supervisor would offer the same choices — a payment plan or 10% off.

So I asked Danita for 10% off. The bill for two visits (including the doctor) went from $597.92 to $538.12.

That means I paid $13.45 a minute for the doctor and the facility, instead of $14.95.

Wow. I feel so much better.

 Addendum: It bears saying, though it should be obvious, that the most ludicrous part of this kind of medical bill is the assumptions that everyone can pay them, and that those least able to pay, the uninsured, are expected to pay a higher rate. 



The Radium Girls

In the early 1900s, radium was looked upon as a miracle element capable of amazing things, quite a different reputation from the one we now recognize as true.

In the 1910s, through the 1920s, and into the 1930s, the “Radium Girls” were looked upon as the chosen few for they were the ones privileged to work with the wondrously glowing material. These girls — and most of them were just that —  worked as “dial painters” painting the dials of watch faces and airplane instruments so the numbers would glow in the dark.


Photo credit: Wikimedia

Such work required meticulous attention to detail, using only the finest of paintbrushes, which the girls would swirl to an even finer point with their mouth.

“Lip, dip, paint.” The procedure was part of the their training. “Lip” the brush to a point, “dip” it in the radium material, and “paint” the dial.

By all accounts, the girls liked their jobs. Though the work was challenging, they enjoyed one another’s company, and of course, there was the added benefit of being some of the few to work with radium. Wearing their best clothes to work so they would glow when they went out at night, sometimes painting their nails or lips with the material — it was all part of the fun.

But then, girls started having little health problems. A tooth that had to be pulled leaving a socket that never healed. A slight limp. Pimples.

As the years progressed, the sockets that didn’t heal became jaw bones that broke and fell out in their mouths. The limp became a leg that had somehow grown shorter. Pimples turned into bumps which grew into full-sized lumps and ended up as tumors.

Disclosure: I had never heard of the Radium Girls until I received a free advance reader edition from the publisher (Sourcebooks) of The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. 


Photo from Sourcebooks website

If I hadn’t it’s likely I would have requested a copy from the library once I read a review. I’m a sucker for underdog stories.

The girls were indeed underdogs; they came from working class families, but eventually took on two of the most powerful and wealthy companies of their time.

Their story was heartbreaking, bringing tears to my eyes. Their illnesses seemed to me to be the opposite of Alzheimer’s Disease, a physical breaking down of their bodies while the strength of their minds and spirits kept them fighting.

Many of the Radium Girls died young, and by young, I mean in their twenties and thirties. And although initially the companies were as ignorant about radium’s lethal powers, in the end, they simply didn’t care.

Readers, they lied. They lied to the girls. They lied to the girls’ families, and they lied in court.

They lied to save their almighty profits.

This probably doesn’t surprise you. I may be a cynic, but it sure didn’t surprise me. Workers, especially women, have ever been looked on as expendable resources, but the brazenness of these companies actions still shocked me. They knew these women were radioactive before the women did, probably because company doctors were allowed to examine them without sharing the results of those examinations.

I was also stunned to learn that sometimes even the girls’ own communities shunned them. (Now they have a statue in their honor.)

However, what truly sets this story apart is the realization that we owe much to these young women and to the fact that they continued fighting, in one case virtually from a deathbed. It is their fight that led to work safety standards and eventually to the development of OSHA.

Many survivors participated in research at the Center for Human Radiobiology (CHR) for decades. CHR also exhumed the bodies of more than one hundred dial painters for further research. Amazingly, the researchers didn’t share what they found with their subjects either.

Still more amazingly, as late as 1979, one of the companies’ sites was found to have unacceptable, environmentally hazardous levels of radioactivity, and they were charged with cleanup, which the company never actually did. Another site was razed and the waste dumped around its town. That town now suffers a higher than average cancer rate.

The Radium Girls comes out in May. Read it if you’re a history buff, a fan of the underdog, or simply think heroines don’t exist.

Think again.


Little Insects, Big Investment

There’s no two ways about it — getting into beekeeping is a costly endeavor. To make it worse, it’s generally advised that you buy new equipment. The reason is simple, and you probably know it already unless you live under a rock, in which case you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Raising bees these days means launching yourself into an ongoing battle against diseases and pests. Buying used equipment can mean buying another’s problems, definitely not the way to start.

Since I’m the queen of thrift shops and garage sales, and The Engineer is strongly (and intelligently, I might say) anti-waste, starting a new activity with completely new equipment is a rare exception to our usual mode of operation. A sense of foreboding warns me beekeeping may prove to be an exception in a lot of other ways too.

To begin with, it’s best to take a class. Ours was held at the local library on two Saturdays and cost $85 per person or $100 per family. We spent fourteen hours learning about the fascinating world of the honey bee.  If you ever take up beekeeping, I highly recommend you do the same. The $100 included a book, The Backyard Beekeeper, by Kim Flottum, which has rapidly become our bible.

I must add the world of the honey bee is also a frightening one. And that has nothing to do with their sting. It’s those pests and diseases I mentioned, especially the Varroa Mite.

A Varroa Mite is a scary thing. Their scientific name, Varroa Destructor, is well-earned. These nasty creatures latch on to bee larvae and pretty much devour them alive. But that’s not the scariest part. They also latch on to the adult bees, thereby making the bees vulnerable to a laundry list of other diseases and pests. (I won’t share that list. Just thinking about it is a little worrying.)


Varroa Destructor  See what I mean? Scary! Photo credit: Wikipedia

Still, forewarned is forearmed and all that. <crosses fingers>

We also learned what we’d need to start a hive. Having already visited a beekeeping store, we weren’t too shocked, but the list of required tools and equipment can be daunting.

Here’s what Flottum recommends:
Screened bottom board
At least 3 assembled medium-depth brood chambers (sometimes called supers) with assembled frames and foundation (30)
At least two additional medium supers for honey
Entrance reducers for the hive’s front door
Inner cover, outer cover

We chose to use “deeps” for the brood chambers, which meant we only needed two. Getting them plus honey supers, entrance reducer, inner and outer covers, bottom board, and all the frames and foundations in a kit for $275.00 (unpainted, but assembled). 



Photo from articles.extension.org

Queen excluder (optional) $10.95
Mouse guard $2.95
Bee suit with veil (Some people say the suit is optional, and many recommend gloves, but everything I read said you need the hat and veil at the very least. Also, many people wear a jacket instead of a full suit.) My jacket with veil, and my gloves came to around $150.00. It’s very chic.
Hive tools, at least two $6.00- $15.95 each
Smoker and fuel $34.95-$42.95 — we went for the medium priced one at $38.95
Hive stands to hold heavy hives (should support at least 500 lbs) The Engineer made ours out of lumber we purchased using a Lowes gift card he got for being such an exceptional engineer. His preliminary design, the design he used, which he ammended from one I found online, and the final product are pictured below. It’s pretty sturdy, will be set on four patio paving stones, with mulch around the area. 

Hive-top sugar-syrup feeder pail, jar, or hive-top feeder, can use mason jars. I’m a canner, so we have plenty.
Books, magazines, catalogs, and other information Along with Flottum’s book, we got lots of catalogues at our beekeeping class. Subscription to beekeeping magazine was about $20.00, and I also bought a few additional books costing a total of about $40.00.

Honey bees and a queen Cost depends on what kind you get, and where you get them. I will do a separate post on this later. 

To our list, we added baby powder (for gloves, figure a couple of dollars) 2 mist bottles (one for sugar water and one for alcohol to make clean-up easier, Lowes gift card), paint for the hive (also Lowes — it was less than $5.00), duct tape (always useful and always on hand — what design do you think the bees would like?), a frame perch to hold empty frames while inspecting the bees (The Engineer is making), blocks for on top of hive (on hand), notebook (plenty left over from Darling Daughter’s school years), pail to hold tools, a piece of board to scrape waste on, a bee brush ($6.00), and a cell cap scratcher ($8.00). We will purchase or make velcro scraps to discourage bees from exploring up our trouser legs (not sure of cost), pollen or pollen substitute ($6.95 – $82.00 depending on how much you need) and an eating stimulant ($30.00- $150.00, depending on how much you need). These were all recommended in one book or another and made sense to us.

I should note here that you can save money by making, assembling, or even just painting your own hives and stands. There’s also another type of hive that’s more easily constructed, and thus more economical, called a “top bar hive.” Click through for more information.

And when we get to the point where we can harvest honey, there are more supplies to purchase.

You can total it up if you like.
I’d rather not.



The Byrd and the Bees

We’re getting bees!

After trying to convince The Engineer (aka my husband) beekeeping would be a great hobby for him, I recently realized that it would be an even better one for us to do together.

Initially, I was put off the idea for myself because, well, you know, even the gentle honeybee sometimes stings, and The Engineer is a lot more stoic than I am about that kind of thing.

However, after speaking to a friend who took up beekeeping last year, I realized how fascinating the little buggers are and decided I wanted to be a part of it.

So, we’re starting our hive for the following reasons.

  1. Colony Collapse Disorder — honeybees need all the help they can get right now.
  2. At our ages, it becomes especially important to occasionally learn something comepletely new and somewhat out of your comfort level.
  3. We would be starting on this new endeavor together, both novices and learning together.
  4. I use a lot of honey in my tea.

I can’t wait to learn more about these hardworking little insects, and I hope you’ll join us in our adventure!

Look at this one — so loaded with pollen she can hardly fly. (Photo from: http://beesweetnaturals.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Honey-Bee-Flowers-Widescreen.jpg)Honey-Bee-Flowers-Widescreen