A Giant Arrow to Point the Way and Other Updates

We recently spent a long weekend in Illinois. A former work colleague of The Engineer was getting married, and after the wedding we invited ourselves to some friends’ house for a visit. As always, it was delightful to see them. They are also recently retired, and much of the conversation focused on how we are endeavoring to enjoy and make use of the time we have left while we are still in good health.

Not having to rush home to be up for work the next day is a part of that mindset. We planned to stop at HillCo Bee Supply to pick up a frame feeder. Our local supplier was out, and since we’d split Hive #1 by moving the queen and several frames of brood, bees, honey and food, we were a little concerned we’d left them with too few foragers to bring in the nectar they needed. A frame feeder seemed the only means of providing that extra layer of security we like for our girls.

Thus, we strolled into a business in a small Illinois town, only to discover it was more warehouse than shop. Apparently most customers order online for shipping or pick-up. At least, it seemed that way by employees’ surprise at having us walk in off the street.

Still, they found a few feeders for us and couldn’t have been nicer. If you’re looking for bee supplies in that area of Illinois (or by mail), you might want to give them a try.

Anyway, because this side trip had sent us a different direction than our usual route, our friend (an avid pilot, airplane mechanic, and former United pilot) encouraged us to continue on to see a local landmark.

41°47’11.4″N 89°01’14.2″W Air mail route concrete arrow

So, what, you’re probably thinking, it’s an arrow in a field. Big deal, right?

Well, look again. I think this second picture better shows the scale of things.

If you want to visit, make sure you come before the corn’s planted, or you probably won’t find it!

I bet you’re wondering why anyone would put a big concrete arrow in what is clearly a corn field.

As it happens, this arrow — and other like it — played an important role in the development of our country, specifically in how air mail service was able to function in the early days of aviation when pilots depended visual markings.

A better method was needed, and thus began the concrete arrow and airmail beacon system, with arrows placed every 3-5 miles to be used by aviators flying the mail.

I’m sure the owner of this farm gets tired of having people pull up to gawk at their field, but there aren’t many arrow left these days, and we were glad we made the effort to see this one.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, check out the following:

Concrete Arrows and the U.S. Airmail Beacon System on the “Sometimes Interesting” blog

Airmail Arrow, Reno, Nevada on the Atlas Obscura site

The True Story Behind Those Giant Concrete Arrows from “Saving Places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation

America’s Mysterious Concrete Arrows on the CNN Travel Website

And now, on a completely different subject, but one that’s rarely far from our minds, we will turn our attention to the bees.

The dandelions are in full blossom, and things are buzzing. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

Honey bees in our area rely heavily on this bright yellow flower for their spring buildup. If you have them in your yard — and I hope you do because otherwise you are using some kind of herbicide, which makes you no friend of pollinators — please consider not mowing until they are finished blooming. You don’t have to let them go to seed; just wait until their blossoms shut before mowing.

Since we’ve been home, our hardworking girls have been out foraging whenever the sun is out, and sometimes even between the rain showers. Hives #1A, #2A, #4, and #5 have been particularly active, and even #3, the little one, and #1 and #2 (the splits) have been getting in on the act.

Last week, we checked all of them except #2A and #1A who are (fingers crossed) in the middle of raising queens. We saw all the queens and brood in every stage of development.

This is the best possible news, although as beekeepers, we’ve learned not to get too confident because some kind of disaster is usually just around the corner.

However, judging by the amount of brood in a few of the hives, we’ll probably need to make more splits. The next week is going to be somewhat cool, keeping the bees mostly close to home. If the weather warms after next weekeend as expected, there’s a distinct possibility they’ll be feeling crowded and possibly swarming.

If we get a sunny day toward the end of this week, we’ll have a look, checking for queen cells and, if we’re lucky, a new queen in #2A and perhaps even #1A. It may be too early for any concrete evidence of new mother bees, but if we find queen cells, we’ll have to act quickly to prevent swarming.

In related news, my friend Kate, master quilter and blogger from Tall Tales of Chiconia, asked if we would name our long hive.

Honestly, we hadn’t thought about it. We gave up on naming the others when it got too confusing due to their many incarnations, but Kate was right. This new step in beekeeping, this experiment with a new type of equipment, deserved to stand out.

But, we were both fresh out of inspiration until one night last week, as I was falling asleep (the very best time for creative thinking, I’ve found), I had a flash of inspiration, a weasel, if you will.

Our Long Langstroth hive shall from herein be call LoLa.

What do you think? I find it completely appropriate, and The Engineer, who is (so) over naming hives didn’t care, so that’s what she will be.

Lastly, under bee-related news, we had the opportunity this week to assist with/witness a hive cut-out. The bees had already absconded, rendering moot the beekeeping jackets, veils and gloves we’d worn, but I eventually decided this was probably for the best, especially for our first such experience.

The chance came via our beekeeping club, offered by one of the leading beekeepers in the state, who stressed how important it was to completely clear out any detritus from a hive, and then seal every possible entrance to the area.

The hive removal took place at one of our local parks in an outbuilding that had played home to a series of hives from swarms settling there. As a result, the park had already been through a series of hive cut-outs.

Because honey bee behavior is strongly influenced by pheromones, swarms had been drawn again and again to the same spot by the scent of the previous hives.

Our job was to clear it out and seal it once and for all.

There was a lot of comb, with the range in color telling us the hive had been there for a while (darker comb), but also recently (light comb).

We all had a turn at scraping out the comb and thick propolis the bees had left behind. There was even honey, but no bees, eggs, larvae, or capped brood.

Because there’s no way of knowing why the bees absconded from their home, our leader told us she planned to be very careful in handling the wax to avoid contaminating her own hives with any possible virus.

There was still life in the hive, however, as two of our members discovered. The wax and debris at the bottom of this picture wasn’t left by bees.

Several of the other creatures who’d made a nest in the same cavity leapt for freedom as their home was being scraped out.

It seems mice eat pollen, and a female had chosen to have her young near a ready supply.

One would think that would be enough to drive out the bees, but our leader said that is not the case. They can coexist in the same space without either leaving.

In the end, it probably doesn’t matter. The bees were gone. We could only hope we’d done a good enough job cleaning out their leavings so other swarms wouldn’t settle in their previous home.

Lastly, since so many of you are kind enough to inquire about Mom, I thought I’d share a photo I took yesterday. She is much the same, and I can’t tell you if that’s good news or bad. It’s good because she’s still with us, and bad because she continues to be absolutely sure she’s capable of walking on her own. As a result, she’s fallen twice in the last week or so, although fortunately she only incurred a scrape and some bruises. Of course, at ninety-two, that’s quite bad enough!

Even when we’ve just spoken about how she needs to wait for help — or rather, I’ve reiterated once again that she needs to — the next minute I turn around, and she’s struggling to get to her feet.

Although she already has a camera in her room, obviously the nursing staff can’t watch it every minute of every night. And despite her staying in the common area during the day where they can keep an eye on her, they do have other residents to tend to and can’t be there all the time.

After the last two falls, the director of nursing called and mentioned she was going to get a personal alarm for my mother. The director said she hates to use them, and I know this is true. I’ve only ever heard one person who had one, and that was in the last three weeks. That resident is in quite a similar situation — still convinced she can walk alone and falling whenever she tries.

Like the nursing staff, I hate to resort to this action, but I can’t think of anything else.

Oh, well, Mom still enjoys milkshakes, and thankfully she’s not diabetic. I know they’re not part of a healthy diet, but honestly, at this point, who cares? If bringing her one as an occasional (or even regular) treat gives her a half-hour of happiness, my brother and I will keep doing it unless it becomes a problem.

Well, it’s time for me to turn my attention to at least organizing my to-do list of all the things I let slide while we’ve been busy with trips and bees. I’ll write again when I have something new(ish) to say.

Thanks for reading!

And Then There Were Six? Maybe!

As of today, we have five queenright colonies, and a sixth full of brood, larvae, nurse bees, and hopefully some eggs.

If you recall, we went into the winter looking like this.

We didn’t hold out much hope the little hive in the middle on the left would survive. We discovered too late that they were failing, which we put down to a weird bottom board I’d won that didn’t seal properly and ended up trapping a ton of bees between it and the screen. Whether it was that or something else, we were right, and they didn’t even make it through December.

Coming into late winter and early spring, it was clear we had three quite strong hives (the two big ones in foam on the left and the one on the far right), one sort of okay hive (the brown one wrapped in black), and one that was struggling a bit (the third one from the right).

But, when we were finally able to peek inside, all five had survived and had brood, with the weakest in no worse shape than our very first hive after winter.

The Engineer has now labeled the hives 1-5 (left to right), and on Sunday, we checked #1 and #5, and stole a frame with some brood to give to the weak hive, #3.

After discussing it, we decided to take that hive down to a five-frame nuc box to give them less space to have to guard.

That was the first task for today, and although we didn’t spot the queen, there was brood in addition to the frame we’d added. Hopefully the queen is still viable.

We’ll continue feeding it with pollen patties (just small bits, otherwise they become hive beetle havens) and start with sugar water, HoneyBHealthy, and Amino B Booster. In a week or two, we’ll reevaluate.

We used the Amino B Booster last year, and I’m not sure if it was that or just a good year, but our hives seemed to really take off.

In fact, we’re going to put food on all of them for a few weeks, just for an added boost.

Next, we got into #4, which was the hive I had mentally given three points out of five. It turned out to have quite a lot of dead bees. However, there was also a thriving population of live ones.

And I spotted the queen! In fact, I spotted the mother bees in four out of five of the hives, making it possible for The Engineer to catch each in our queen clip. In doing so, we were able to manipulate the boxes to better suit the needs of the colonies.

Here is probably a good place to explain that when I’ve been talking about checking the hives these last few blogs, you should also know this involved swapping the bottom boards for clean ones (followed by cleaning the old ones to swap for another dirty one), pulling old or moldy frames, and rearranging the frames so the queens can more easily reach open comb to lay eggs. In some cases, we moved the box with the brood to the bottom so the bees can move up into free space.

Anyway, when we finished with #4, there were still a lot of bees in the honey super, so we put in an escape board. I wrote in this post about how they work, but basically, it makes it easy for the bees to go back down into the brood nest at night, but difficult for them to come back up. Unfortunately, if left on too long, those smart insects figure it out, and you’re back to square one.

This means tomorrow, in between several appointments scattered throughout the day, we have to go into that hive and take off both super and escape board. And we need to add some kind of feeder to each of the six hives.

But today, last up was hive #2. It was loaded with brood, frames just packed with capped cells, including drone brood, and with the added attraction of multiple queen cups on the bottom of one frame.

Now, we don’t normally worry overmuch about queen cups. Our bees seem to like to always have one or two on hand. But coupled with the amount of brood, the drone brood, and the fact that we had already found the queen and put her in a clip, well, it just made sense to go ahead and do a split today instead of letting them get even more crowded and doing it in a week or two.

Next week is supposed to be a little cooler, and by the time the really warm weather returns, that hive would likely be just raring to go out and swarm.

We moved Mother Bee and a full frame of brood to the left a bit, keeping it as hive #2, then moved most of the rest of the brood including the nurse bees into a new box next door and calling it #2A.

A lot of people insist you need to move the new hive miles away or put some kind of blockage in front to force the bees to re-orient to their new home. We did the blockage thing the first time we split, but then a fellow beekeeper told us he never bothered because nurse bees haven’t been out of the hive, so they didn’t need to re-orient, and by the time they go on to be foragers, they’ll orient to the “new” hive.

In this case, the returning foragers will come back to 2A because it’s in the original spot. However, because the queen is in #2, we would expect the bees in that box to stay with her. Also, the nurse bees on the frame we left with her should also stay.

She seems to be such a strong queen; I would expect her to replace the removed bees in no time at all.

Of course, we’ll keep an eye on that hive, as well, while crossing our fingers that 2A successfully rears a queen who is able to successfully mate and begin laying.

It’s a long process — sixteen days from egg to hatched queen and anywhere from twelve to seventeen before she starts laying.

We generally give splits a month during which we don’t go into the boxes except to add food. After a month, we’ll have a look for brood. If it’s there, we celebrate. If not, we add a frame with eggs from another hive and start again.

Another alternative would be to buy a mated queen. This can be instead of allowing your girls to raise one or in the event they aren’t successful, and you don’t want to wait any longer.

Lest you think we can now rest on our laurels, I must remind you that #1 will need split soon also. Although the mother bee in that hive wasn’t laying quite as quickly as #2, she was going strong and had started laying drone eggs. That colony will need to be split in the next few weeks, and #4 and #5 may also need split sometime after, depending how they take off.

I think the best we can hope for #3 is that it will regain its strength and become a strong hive once again.

We also need to get the Long Langstroth hive outside and level, ready to take one of the splits so we can begin our adventures in horizontal hive beekeeping.

The next few weeks will be busy ones for all us beekeepers!

And then there were six? We can only wait and see.

So. Much. Pollen.

Spring seems to have finally arrived, and I won’t jinx our good weather by saying anything more on the subject.

Today, we had both the weather and time to do a complete hive inspection on two hives (the newly numbered 1 and 5).

After opening #1, we quickly discovered we’ll probably have to split it sooner, rather than later because there was already quite a lot of eggs, larvae, and brood — including drone brood, which you can see below.

To me, drone brood looks like Kix cereal, but other beekeeps describe it as looking like popcorn. If you look at the bottom of the frame, you’ll see that capped drone cells stick out more than the flatter worker brood that’s more in the middle of the frame.

Here are some eggs, which can be difficult to spot unless the light is just right! I’ve made it easier for you by zooming in. Just look for the little rice-like bits at the bottom of the cells. You can use the bees in the photos to help understand just how tiny bee eggs are.

And I spotted Mama Bee, aka the queen, in both hives, though I only took pictures of one. Photo #1 shows ony her abdomen.

And here’s a bit more of her.

Finally, the workers moved away enough for me to get the big girl’s whole self in the frame.

I also had great fun trying to capture the vast amounts of pollen the Sisters were bringing in.

As I watched, several bees paused outside the entrance to try and kind of compact the pollen on their legs into their pollen baskets.

This girl is so weighed down; I’m surprised she could fly! I mean, just look at her little body — she is practically buried in pollen!

Also on the bee front, we managed to get the Long Langstroth painted. The Engineer had the idea to make it more than one color, and I think it looks great. I especially like the way he painted the entrances different colors.

Earlier today, Darling Daughter and I met up to visit Mom. DD brought a puzzle, which we assembled together, and we both took flowers to brighten up the place. I also took some cookies for the staff and a piece of peanut butter pie for Mom.

She said it was to big. Then she ate it all. 😉

We had a pleasant visit, thanks mostly to the puzzle and goodies. This was especially good because Mom’s had a difficult week. She’s been very anxious and agitated, even yelling at the nurses when they try to thwart her plans to do certain things (mostly because she’s not capable of doing them anymore). And she’s called several times saying she’s ready to go “home.”

I spoke to the nurse-practitioner who prescribed anti-anxiety meds again. In the past, I guess they were on an “as needed” basis, and the prescription fell off after two weeks. Now, she’ll get them every afternoon to prevent the sundowning. And the Psych consultants will be seeing her again.

Anyway, there was no sign of that today, although when I asked her to smile for a picture, she said she didn’t want to.

I said, “Okay. Scowl then.”

And she did.