Fine, But Not Yet Super-Fine

Our bees are fine, thanks for asking.

I spent Saturday evening  “coloring” the frames of one of our honey supers with beeswax. This is meant to encourage the bees to go into the new box and begin using those frames.FullSizeRender-18

We’re determined to keep a close watch on the pest levels in the hives, so Saturday morning, The Engineer spread Vaseline on a sticky board and put it beneath the hive.

When we did a hive check Sunday,  we counted the Varroa. There were seven. At this point, that count is more a benchmark, but with all those larvae about to be capped, you know the nasty little creatures will be looking for a home. Also, I read that ants can carry off dead Varroa, and we still see the occasional ant crawling on the hive. So, again, our count may be a little skewed.


Varroa through a magnifying glass on a sticky board. Photo credit: The Engineer


If you look closely, you can see the larvae in the lower left corner. There’s capped brood above it and capped honey in the upper right corner. 

The bees are still busy drawing comb, raising young, and gathering nectar and pollen, but in the end, we decided the girls were doing fine, but not quite “super-fine” (i.e., ready for a honey super). Though the bottom box is fairly filled in, the top one only has about four full frames. That’s fine too. Judging by the amount of comb the bees are drawing, that they clearly have designs on the remaining frames. And our Basswood trees are beginning to bloom, so we have high hopes for a honey super in our bees’ futures.  Basswood is considered one of the best North American trees for bees, and we have two.


Look at that gorgeous freshly drawn comb! Aren’t our girls talented?

This week’s visit wasn’t nearly as exhaustive as last week’s. We pulled the Beetle Blaster and Beetle Jail. There were no beetles in either, but one on the single piece of microfiber the girls deigned to allow in the hive. (You’ll recall I mentioned them pulling one all the way down through the two boxes and out the front of the hive, but they also pulled one down and out the bottom.) Another beetle was in the remains of a pollen patty we took out, so we rinsed and replaced the beetle traps.

In an effort to be less obtrusive, we looked at the frames in the upper box, but only peeked into the lower box, so these pictures are all from the upper chamber. If you look below, you’ll see tiny eggs in the center of most the cells. IMG_2296

We didn’t spot the queen, but we didn’t look too hard. The number of eggs and larvae tell us she’s still active. IMG_2297

And though the consumption of sugar-water has slowed, we replaced the feeder with a fresh one and also put in a fresh pollen patty. I read in one of our manuals that we should allow the bees to ignore three feeders of sugar water before we stop feeding it, so we’re using that as a guideline.

There is an ebb and flow in the amount they drink from the feeder and the amount of pollen patty they consume, as well as the amount of pollen we see them bring in. For about a week, we’d see the foragers come back loaded with pollen. Then, at the beginning of last week, they seemed to have very little. Over the weekend, the pollen loads picked up again.

We pay attention to the color of the pollen, but still have no clue where they’re getting it from. Since we live in the country, we may never know. There are still working farms in our area, at least one orchard, and many home gardeners.

It’s neat to think our bees are traveling the countryside, pollinating crops and flowers, as they gather food for the hive.

Oh, and we saw no queen cups in the upper box, so maybe our girls are feeling a bit more secure. 🙂


Busy As Bees

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

Once you own a beehive, you soon get a clear understanding of the etymology of that phrase, and it’s the only one appropriate for the progress our bees have made.

We’ve checked on our girls twice since you last heard from me, and they have been very busy indeed.

One thing we’ve learned is they seem to like the security of having queen cups ready to go. Too bad the sight of them has the opposite effect on me. (As I’ve already mentioned I’m not quite ready to handle a swarm.)

Here’s a couple of pictures so you can see what I mean. If you’re not a beekeeper, look closely at the frame, and you’ll see a couple of oddly shaped cells. Two of them (one on far right middle of the photo and one almost covered with bees at the bottom) are shaped a bit like a piece of Kix cereal. These were not so worrisome because they were small and uncapped. It’s the bigger one, shaped like a peanut, at the bottom of the frame that was a concern. IMG_2233

I handled the longer cell the only way I could think of: I scraped it off (out of sight, out of mind?). We also added a second deep box as planned. (Bees swarm when they feel crowded, but if their hive is too big, they can’t protect it from raiding wasps, yellow jackets or honey bees, so the timing on this is important.)

We saw our Bee Guru during the week, and that’s where we learned that some hives like the security of having a queen cup or two ready. (I didn’t actually mention the longer cell, because I wasn’t 100% sure that’s what it was. Or maybe I just didn’t want to admit that’s what it was.)

Thankfully, there was no sign of swarming before our next check. (And we would have noticed. The Engineer and I are very protective of our bees.)

Also during the week, we attended a session on using the Apiary Diagnostic Kit we got from the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. This organization got a grant to provide these kits (worth over $80!) free of charge to new beekeepers. The goal (per their website) is increasing “beekeeper confidence in hive management by providing tools to help monitor and diagnose changes in the hive before they reach a critical stage and the hive dies.” If you’re a new beekeeper (starting in 2016 or 2017), click the link to get one. Experienced beekeepers can order kits for $49.99 (plus shipping), which is still a deal.

No, this is not a commercial for this project. I just think it’s great that the OSBA made it happen. And the educational sessions about using the kit, which are being offered around the state, make the program even better.

But back to the hive. Varroa Mites and Small Hive Beetles are creatures whose sole existence seems dedicated to wreaking havoc on honey bees and reproducing so their offspring can do the same.

And when I say wreak havoc, I mean it literally. If unchecked, these pests can (directly  or indirectly) cause the demise of a hive (or hives).

Since we don’t want that to happen to our hive, we were grateful for the opportunity to learn more about protecting them. And after attending the OSBA class, we felt prepared to try out some of the tools they’d provided to help us do just that.

This is the time of year to get a base count of the Varroa, so we decided to do a sugar roll (also called a sugar shake). Check out this video from Hudson Valley Bee Supply to see a demonstration.*

Seriously. Watch the video. Even if you don’t keep bees, you’ll find it fascinating.

You can do a similar test using alcohol. It’s more accurate, but it kills that 1/2 cup of bees (about 300). We don’t like killing bees, so we used sugar.

We also inserted both the “Beetle Blaster” and the “Beetle Jail.” These are variations on a theme — both shallow trays baited with cider vinegar inserted between frames. The Jail uses cooking oil to trap the beetles, and the Blaster is designed so they can get in, but not out.

Before closing  the hive, we put strips of microfiber in its dark corners to try to catch even more beetles. (The next day, we found one of the strips at the entrance to the hive where the bees had evidently dragged it. Clearly, one or more took a dislike to the cloth and wanted it gone.)

As you might guess, this hive check took longer than previous checks. Not only did we have two boxes to check, sugar to roll, Jail, Blaster, and microfiber to insert, The Engineer had surgery on his dominant hand on Thursday and was somewhat hindered in using it.

So we were especially grateful to one of our classmates who agreed to come over to help/learn/participate.

The difference from last week was amazing. Our bees are amazing. We couldn’t believe how hard they’ve been working. The queen, whom our classmate spotted first, must be an egg-laying machine! There were loads of eggs, plenty of larvae, lots of capped brood, some lovely glistening nectar and yellow pollen, and some capped honey.

Oh, there were also a couple of queen cups too (as you can see).


We were so proud! I wish I’d taken more pictures, but we were so busy admiring the results of their labor, I just forgot.

The sugar roll resulted in us finding one mite, and we spotted (and killed, of course) another one on the top of a frame. However, I re-read the directions after we came back inside, and we may not have shaken the jar long enough, resulting in a number that skews low. And with all that beautiful capped brood, well, you just know those mites are going to be after our growing larvae.

Once we feel confident the hive is full strength, we may try the drone comb to try to offset some of that issue.

Quick explanation for those who aren’t beekeepers: Drones are male bees. There aren’t as many drones as workers because they don’t do much for the hive, but their growing cycle is longer and coincides better with the mites’. So mites really like drones. The type of egg — worker or drone — the queen lays is based on the size of the comb the workers draw. If the workers feel the hive can support drones, they draw (make) drone comb, the queen lays drones, and the mites are happy. You can force the issue by inserting a special kind of foundation, with drone-size cells started on it. The workers then draw drone comb, the queen lays drones, and the beekeeper takes the foundation out before [that’s really important] the drones hatch and set any mites free into the hive. The beekeeper then uses a special tool called a capping scratcher to open the cells and count the mites. And also kill them. In this way, the drone comb serves as both a diagnostic tool and a treatment measure against drones.

Okay, so maybe that explanation wasn’t so quick. At least you get it now, right?
Your reward for being so patient is one more picture of the girls. 🙂 IMG_2245

Our next visit will be a simple check — having a look for the queen, seeing if the bees are still doing well and when they might be ready for a honey super, and looking in our Jail, Blaster, and microfiber for dead(!) beetles.

*After doing a bit of research, I have one correction to the information provided by the film: Domino Powdered Sugar is no longer cornstarch free. We used a powdered sugar that has cornstarch for our first roll; I purchased Heinen’s brand for the next time. It’s organic and uses tapioca starch instead, which seems like it might be a bit better for the bees.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned at Oshkosh

This post comes to you under the “anything else that strikes my fancy” part of my blog mission.

Every year, we go to Oshkosh with a group of friends called the Metro Warbirds, and over the years, I’ve learned a few things.

  1. You have to be able to take a joke.
  2. Sometimes, you need to fly with your flaps down.
  3. When using the porta-potty, leave your phone in the tent, wear shoes, and don’t look down.
  4. The difference between a good air mattress and a bad air mattress can be as small as a pinhole.
  5. If you want a cold one, you have to go deep.
  6. Never underestimate the importance of sunscreen.
  7. Or bug spray.
  8. Or a hat.
  9. To fit in, pitch in.
  10. The most beautiful angels are blue.
  11. Glow sticks aren’t just for kids.
  12. A diamond formation has nothing to do with jewelry or geology.
  13. The clock of life is wound but once. Make every minute count.
  14. Life is good. Except when you’re sharing a cold drink with friends under the wing of an airplane. Then, it’s great.

Feel free to comment with what you’ve learned at Oshkosh. For inspiration, here’s a picture of an evening at camp.


Photo Credit: The Engineer

Drone Cells and Queen Cells = Two Different Things

I know that. Still, I  hyperventilated for a moment when we saw these on the bottom of a hive frame during our first hive check. IMG_2210The cells on the bottom of the frame above are drone cells, bigger because the drones take longer to mature than worker bees. Queen cells are larger still, but also frequently on the bottom of the frame (except when they’re supercedure cells, which could be anywhere, but that’s probably more than you want to know right now).

I felt a little stupid for confusing queen cells and drone cells until I checked for online images of both and found this blog post.  It’s written by  a beekeeper in Ontario and helpfully titled “The Difference Between Drone and Queen Cells.” Turns out she had the same reaction when she first saw drone cells in her hive.  There are also lots of pictures of queen cells, something I hope to not see in our hive this year. We’re not ready to split the hive to avoid a swarm, which is basically a beekeeper’s only option if the bees start producing queen cells and s/he doesn’t want to lose half of the hive.

The rest of the hive check went smoothly. We managed to spot the queen (thanks to our Bee Guru’s having marked her), recognized a few drones, and the workers were busy as, well, bees. They were eating well, taking lots of sugar water and still munching on the pollen patties. (They’ve slowed a bit during the week, which makes sense since they seem to be bringing in truckloads of the real stuff.) And we didn’t see any beetles.

Although our girls were hard at work, they weren’t yet ready for a second box of frames, having not gotten beyond the middle frames in their current box. IMG_2211On Monday, we plan to attend a session on hive diagnostics, which will teach us more about what we should be doing on our weekly visits — mostly checking for pests using a variety of tests. After that, our hive checks will be more involved.

Stay tuned for the thrilling details!


Ants vs. Bees (and Beekeepers)

My husband (henceforth referred to as The Engineer) discovered the ants the day before our bees arrived. The little black pests had decided our hive stand was the perfect place to raise the next generation and set up housekeeping, complete with eggs. The Engineer, acting in his usual rational manner, quickly cleared them off.

Unfortunately, the little buggers (pun intended) didn’t move on to other real estate. On Wednesday, they were back, marching determinedly up the hive stand legs, carrying eggs and depositing them somewhere inside our bees’ new home.

Panic ensued!

Oh, the ants or the bees were calm enough — it was me who was panicking. What kind of bee owners let ants take over their hive? In the first week, the first day even? And how on earth do you get rid of ants in a beehive? I’m pretty sure they didn’t cover this scenario in class.

Yes, I know, as a retired librarian, I should have gone old-school, found the answer in a book or magazine, but sod it — our bees’ very lives could be at stake! I typed “how to get rid of ants in a beehive” into my favorite search engine, and while I can’t vouch for the authority of the sources, the conclusion was cinnamon.

FullSizeRender-14The favorite apple pie spice, popular tea ingredient, and beloved toast topper is apparently an ant anathema (an ant-athema?). Cinnamon is in almost everyone’s spice cabinet, and mine yielded both ground and stick. IMG_2192We sprinkled the ground cinnamon on and around the legs of the hive.

The ants turned back!

For good measure, we propped the sticks under the hive in the hope of  discouraging further incursions.

Maybe the scent messes with the ants’ trail.
Perhaps they prefer cardamom. Or curry powder.
I don’t really care.
The ants are gone, at least for now, and that’s what matters.

Fortunately, the Bees Seem to Know What They’re Doing

We got our nuc (nucleus hive) last Tuesday evening, and it was a bit like the day we brought Darling Daughter home from the hospital, though not nearly so scary or life-changing. For one thing, bees don’t require diapers or middle-of-the-night feedings, and we had spent fourteen hours of class time learning about the Apis Mellifera (honey bee) — a lot more training than with the aforementioned daughter (worrisome, if you think about it, so try not to).

In both cases, we felt woefully unprepared but excited about our new endeavor.

We picked the bees up about 8:30 pm and drove them home. Following the instructions of our “bee guru” (aka the woman who raised the nuc), we carried the hive to its stand and gave the bees a few minutes to collect themselves before we removed the wire netting over the hole of the inner cover. After another short wait,  we pulled the tape off the hive’s front openings.

I had suited up in full haz-mat gear for the occasion, but the bees were surprisingly calm, so we continued to the next step, setting up their sugar-water feeder. We put an empty hive box around it, with bricks on the cover to discourage the raccoons from investigating. They visit our yard regularly, and we know from experience with a too easily accessible bird feeder that they’d steal an outside feeder.

After watching the girls for a few minutes, we left them in peace and went inside. (I refer to the bees as “girls” because worker bees, i.e. the ones who do all the work, are female. The male bees, or drones, do nothing but mate with queens.)

The next morning, I gave the girls some pollen patties. These, along with the sugar-water, will supplement their diets until the hive is strong enough to completely provide for its own needs.  IMG_2188

Then I stood and watched. Despite having been moved twenty miles to a different environment, they appeared unfazed, going about their daily tasks and completely ignoring me.

Observing them is like meditation. There’s something calming about the fact that they know what to do and just get on with it.

I’d post a video so you could see what I mean, but unfortunately, I’m too cheap to pay $8.25 a month for a premium WordPress plan.

Guess you’ll have to make do with the pictures below of our girls coming back from foraging, weighed down with pollen. And if you know me personally, feel free to ask to visit so you can see for yourself.