Catching a Swarm: And Now We Are Eight

For the past three or four years, The Engineer has been trying to catch a swarm using various old hive boxes in different configurations. In years past, he stuck with the “tried and true” method of baiting the boxes with ugly, old, frames, propolis we’ve scraped while cleaning woodware, and the “lemongrass oil on a q-tip” method.

Many curious bees visited our boxes — apparently drawn by the irresistible smell of another hive’s detritus — but none took the final step of choosing one of our offerings as a new home for their sisters and a queen.

This year, The Engineer upgraded. He built a purpose-made wood swarm box, and we bought Swarm Commander Premium Swarm Lure.

At more than $25 for two ounce bottle, it’s pricey stuff, but we’d heard it was the best. Also, The Engineer hung the trap in a tree, selecting a spot that was higher than previous box locations.

Having been fooled so many times before, we didn’t get excited when we saw bees going in and out, even when their behavior appeared more similar to foragers than curious scouts.

But last Saturday, I got a text: “Three queens in yellow jacket trap” (always cause for celebration), “and pollen going into swarm trap.”

We, and by “we,” I mean The Engineer, had caught a swarm.

As mentioned earlier, many bees will explore a swarm trap, but when they begin foraging and bringing in pollen, it means the box has a queen and brood. And those young bees require pollen to grow.

Next, we had to get the bees out of the box and into a hive, which meant ascending a ladder in full bee suit and lowering it to a table.

We left it there for a few days to allow the bees to reorient to the lower location. This was interesting to watch because the returning foragers went to the box’s prevous location before circling lower and lower until they found their newly lowered home.

Today, we finally looked inside. The swarm is a small one, which makes us think it’s likely a secondary swarm. Also, the bees are similar in color to the rest of ours. Although we split all the full-sized hives, maybe one of them swarmed without us realizing it.

Maybe one of our splits raised two queens, and one of the virgin queens swarmed.

This seems possible, but I still don’t know enough about beekeeping to say if it’s likely or not. Who knows?

They were very calm.

We were prepared to transfer freshly made comb to frames, something we’d done before when we left a hive to their own devices and they built beautiful new comb without a frame. This time, we didn’t need to because the girls were using the old comb.

It was wonderful to see a healthy brood pattern, even though there wasn’t a lot of it.

Then we saw the queen, another golden girl, and knew all was well with our new hive.

To give them a boost and help ensure they stay in their new home, we gave them one of LoLa’s frames of brood, along with a feeder filled with sugar syrup and Amino-B Booster.

In a day or two, we will re-orient the hive entrance to face south, the direction it will ultimately face when we move it to its permanent position in the apiary.

We will be treating all our hives in the next few weeks, and afterwards, when we are sure this one is in good health, we’ll move it to its final home.

Having dealt with our newest hive, we turned our attention to LoLa (the LOng LAngstroth). Although we didn’t spot the queen, there were many frames of brood, larvae, and eggs. Slightly more worrying was the sight of many queen cups on the bottom of one frame, albeit empty ones. This is despite the fact that they have plenty of room toward the middle of the hive.

We rearranged a bit, moving more open comb near the brood so Mama Bee has room to lay, and closed the end entrance to encourage them to move more toward the middle. Taking the frame of brood for the swarm hive will also help.

Below, you can see the bees figuring out they need to use the front entrance.

Our last task was to check #1A, which we’d split from #1 in April, leaving them to make their own queen. When we do this type of split, we like to leave the queen-making hive alone for a full month. By leaving them undisturbed, we hope they will make and accept a new queen and that she will have plenty of time to mate and start laying.

We were not disappointed.

The hive is well-populated, with plenty of brood.

And we saw the queen! Do you?

So now we are an eight hive apiary, and I can assure you this was not the plan. When we started beekeeping, we kind of thought four hives might be good to have … you know, eventually. Then, last year, when our girls started doing well, we upped that estimate to maybe six.

And by having friends take some of our splits, we did pretty well with that aim. But, then came LoLa, and, well, when The Engineer catches a swarm after trying for years, we can hardly get rid of it, now can we?

I can see now how beekeepers end up with twenty, forty, one-hundred hives.

They kind of sneak up on you.

Anyway, I have a couple more photos to show you, taken earlier in the week from #4. At least, I think it’s #4 — the one with the comb-in-a-jar experiment. Here’s an update of their progress. Although the glass distorts the view somewhat, the photo on the left is from the side, and the one on the right is the top of the jar.

There are a lot of bees working on the project. Maybe they’ll get a little further than last year.

And, lest you think we devote our lives solely to beekeeping, I have to report we also took our first camping trip and our first paddle of the year this week at Mohican State Park.

Because the Clear Fork Branch of the Mohican River is popular for canoeing, rafting and tubing, the campground can be quite crowded during the summer, especially on weekends. So, we camp on weeknights in May.

We can do this because we’re retired. 🙂

The downsides are the river can be too high to paddle due to spring rain (last year), and the nights can be quite cold … especially when you camp in a tent like we do (this year).

Still, the days were gloriously clear and sunny. Also, we re-met a couple we’d become acquainted with on last year’s visit and ended up kayaking and hiking with them on our second day.

The paddle was wonderful, with no other boats on the water. The hike was an unplanned one and entirely my fault because after bringing two cars to camp so we could avoid having to hike back to the drop-off point where we’d left our van, I realized I’d left the car keys in the van. As a result, having the car at the end of the kayak run was pretty completely useless.

Although The Engineer and I were happy willing to hike back on our own, our new acquaintances insisted on joining us. And in the end, we could all have ice cream with a clear conscience, knowing we’d earned it.

It was a lovely day, made even better because I didn’t completely char the evening meal.

Our campfire kitchen includes a volcano kettle (one of the best inventions ever!). Ours is a Kelly Kettle, but the Ghillie Kettle is made to similar specs. Our stove is an EcoZoom Versa, and we also use a small Lodge Dutch Oven. All these kitchen items cook with wood or other readily available fuel (leaves, etc).

I’ll admit the results can be hit or miss when cooking in an open fire with a Dutch Oven … at least when I’m cooking.

This time, I thought I did okay. I made chile on the stove with chorizo left from the previous night’s quesadilla (made in our double pie iron (similar to this Rome one), black beans, my last jar of home canned tomatoes, peppers, onions, and lots of spices. Then I threw together cornbread (from a mix), spooned it on top, and into the fire it went.

Result? A little charred, but still quite tasty, and since it was the last night in camp, I was able to soak the pan and clean it up at home. I didn’t realize, or maybe just forgot, that the cornbread mix would make a crust on both the top and bottom!

June promises more adventure, with a coastal kayaking lesson, a kayak tour of Lake Erie, and a camping trip planned to East Harbor State Park where we can put it all into practice.

Plus, bees! Stay tuned!


It’s always a relief when you look in a hive and see this.

Look at that beautiful light comb. Notice the larvae — of every size — and eggs too!

These photos were taken Wednesday. We checked LoLa and checked/split #5. There were lots of larvae and eggs in both, so I’m not sure which hive is in the photos above.

We relieved to see many eggs in LoLa. When we last checked, the mother bee didn’t seem to be doing much. We rearranged the frames in case she felt crowded, and added a few brood frames from another hive to give LoLa a little boost.

Working with a horizontal Langstroth hive is slightly different from a regular (vertical) Langstroth. In a vertical hive, the frames are arranged with the brood in the middle and pantry frames on the outside, adding additional boxes as the hive expands upward. In a Long Langstroth, there is just one long layer of frames, so the beekeeper has to make sure there is open comb near the brood frames for the queen to move to.

Perhaps we hadn’t left her that space because she is quickly filling the frames we moved. The worker bees have also started foraging. There was plenty of food, so we took out the feeder.

When we split into that hive, it got the queen, brood, and mostly nurse bees, so we’d been feeding them until the young bees transitioned to foragers, which now seems to have happened.

Concensus: LoLa is doing well.

The #5 hive was one of two we hadn’t yet split. With loads of brood and larvae, as well as eggs, it was going gangbusters! They had also built numerous fresh queen cups, all of them on the bottom of a frame.

Our bees seem to like to build queen cups, and there’s always a few in each hive, so we don’t generally worrry when we see them. But, in such a full hive, with the the amount of drone brood we were seeing, it’s likely these queen cups were built to be used to raise a queen.

As you may have realized by now, there are no hard and fast rules about honey bee behavior. However, queen cells on the bottom of a frame tend to mean the hive is planning to swarm. And although the cells were still cups and not actual queen cells (yet), we prefer to split before they reach that point.

Why? Because if a beekeeper finds a capped queen cell, that means the cell is at least 8 days old. Generally the primary swarm of a hive takes place when the first queen cell is capped. So, if a beekeeper finds a capped queen cell s/he needs to act quickly (immediately) if they want to (try to) prevent a swarm.

You do this by making a split — taking the old queen and some frames of bees to create a new hive. Theoretically, the old hive will then not swarm because they don’t have a queen to swarm with.

There’s a lot of math involved in queen rearing/beekeeping. The size and stage of the eggs, larvae, and cells can tell us much — if we have a queen, how recently we had a queen, if the hive might swarm, when that swarm might happen. If you’d like more details, Michael Bush explains it better than I ever could.

Math is not my strong point, so I had to keep looking it all up.

“How long before an egg becomes a larva?” I’d ask duckduckgo.

“How many days before a bee emerges from under its cap?” I’d type.

“How long does it take to raise a queen?” I just could not remember!

Then, I found these Bee Math cards at Girl Next Door Honey. I was so taken I bought three of them — one for us, and one each for two of our beekeeper friends.

Ours is taped to my “Bee Book” — the notebook where I record what we do and find when when we inspect hives — and I swear I look at that thing at least once a day.

And, no, I don’t get anything for mentioning them.

Anyway, we try to avoid swarms by preemptively splitting our hives when they start getting full, before they build queen cells, and the situation becomes urgent.

That’s why we split #5 this week. Another beekeeper friend now has a split with lots of bees, brood, and larvae of every age, but no queen. She can choose to either buy a queen or let them raise one.

We now have a less crowded hive that probably (hopefully) won’t swarm.

This sort of segues into today’s task. You see, when we split #2 and #1, we moved the queens into the split, and left the old hive to raise a new one from the eggs/larvae we left them.

And, when I say “left,” I mean “left.” We don’t go into a hive when it’s trying to raise a queen until at least a month after the split. It’s a delicate process, and we don’t take any chances that we might somehow mess it up.

Knowing most of the foragers would return to the location of the original (now queenless) hive, we fed the splits with the queens. Checking in on them every week or so, we didn’t remove the food until we were sure they had enough foragers to thrive without our help.

When we split #4 and #5, we kept the old queens in the original hives, mostly because we didn’t want to have to wait for two more queens to be reared. The hive that keeps the queen keeps the original number; the hive left to rear a new queen gets an “A” added to the number.

Before we move on, here’s another picture from #5A. I always laugh when the bees line up on a frame looking up as if they’re wondering what the hell we’re doing now.

The ugly propolis-adorned thing on the left is a Beetle Jail. You can’t see all of it in the picture, but there’s an inner cavity for bait — that’s the tab you see toward the bottom. There are two reservoirs on either side (you can only see one) for oil. The beetles are attracted to the bait and then captured in the oil. There are othere means of trapping hive beetles, but this is the only one we’ve found that works for us.

Now, we move onto the exciting part! Today was a Big Day because we could finally (finally!) look in 2A!

The girls there were a little flighty, buzzing us quite a lot, and the hive was very full. Definitely a good sign.

First we saw the larvae. Yes! We had a queen!

Then we found eggs! She had been laying within the last three days (more bee math).

And then, and then, there she was! Our beautiful new golden queen.

Can you find her in the picture below, with only her abdomen showing?

How about here, when her body is twisted?

Okay, I’ll make it easy. I know you can find her in the last picture!

And next week, we’ll be able to check #1A to see if they’ve been equally successful. With any luck, all our hives will then be queen right, and we can move on to other duties, like treating for Varroa.

Until then, I’ll leave you with a (slightly blurry) photo of a fuzzy baby bee.

The (Scrap-happy) Engineer

I don’t often join in the ScrapHappiness blogging, mostly because all my posts would look like this:

Not only do I almost exclusively make ScrapHappy afghans following one pattern, if you look closely, you’ll also see some repetition of color because, well, they’re made from scraps. In fact, most of these photos were taken from the exact same spot on our couch where I while away the evenings watching mostly English, mostly mystery, series with The Engineer.

The only ones taken in a different setting were the first two set in my mom’s hospital room where my crochet projects helped keep me sane as we dealt with the challenges of having an elderly parent go through the pain of a broken hip and the ensuing surgery.

This month, however, at the recommendation of Kate from Tall Tales of Chiconia, I have another ScrapHappy project to share courtesy of The Engineer.

He’s a genius about repurposing items — upcycling them as they call it these days — taking a broken foundation frame from one of our hives and making new handles for my more-than-40-year-old-grill and many similar projects. (It’s now our grill rather than just mine, but since I acquired it before The Engineer, I’ll admit to sometimes claiming singular ownership.)

But today, I’m going to show you his latest weasel.

That’s our term for those flashes of inspiration one sometimes gets. It comes from a Blackadder episode, and if you’ve not watched the series, you really must. The first season isn’t the best, but the following ones rise to a level of humor that is sure to raise a giggle, guffaw, or at least a grin if you have the even the tiniest sense of humor.

But I digress. “Weasel” is used to describe one of Blackadder and his helpmate Baldrick’s many “cunning plans.” In that particular episode, Blackadder tells Baldrick, “I have a plan so cunning, you could put a tale on it and call it a weasel.”

Okay, it’s a little silly, but don’t most families/couples/friends usually share silly expressions?

This particular weasel involves the top of a metal grill we found on a hike earlier this year.

This is not as odd as it sounds. We pick up trash and recyclables whenever we hike or kayak and find a lot of strange things — a Crocs shoe, an unopened can of selzer, a pumpkin floating down the river — and this time we happened upon the grill lid.

No idea where the rest of it went, but The Engineer and Darling Daughter duly carried it for the mile or so back to the car, my hands being already full of cans and bottles.

In truth, I’d forgotten all about the thing until a few weeks ago when my husband called me outside to show me what he’d done.

Yes, it is now a lid for our compost barrel, which is itself a repurposed garbage can with the bottom cut out and side holes for aeration.

If you look at the picture below, you’ll see he was even able to use the hinges.

Now, you may think it unlovely, but I would have to disagree. I’m sure the lid will last at least a few years before it falls apart, and that means when we do finally have to recycle the metal, it will require less energy to do so.

Meanwhile, it’s serving a purpose in our garden.

I call that a ScrapHappy win.

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.

Our (Mostly) Happy Apiary

For the last week or so, we’ve been keeping an anxious watch on the weather forecast, hoping for a day when it would be warm enough and clear enough to peek into the hives.

We were in New York last week — the state, not the city — and it was too cold out to open the colonies before we left to make sure they had enough food for when we were gone. When we got home, the temperatures continued to hover in the upper 20s and 30s F.

The weather finally cleared yesterday, with temps climbing to the mid 40s, still a little cool to pop the top. Thus, we were quite relieved to see bees flying from all five hives.

Today, as predicted, we got sunshine and 50s and were finally able to peek in to check the food situation, add bits of pollen patties (to supplement the limited amount coming in), and treat the bees with DFM (honey bee probiotics).

Even better, we managed to find brood in all but one hive.

To remind you of our set-up, imagine the two pictures below side by side with the top photo on the right and the bottom one on the left. That’s what our apiary looks like — three hives on one hive stand, and two on the other. (Or you can go to this blog post for the full picture.) We refer to them by number, 1-5, with 1 being the far right one (pink lid with black wrap) and 5 being the one in the greenish-grey insulation box.

It’s quite easy to get into the hives inside the foam insulation boxes because the foam is basically a larger box around the hive, and can simply be lifted off. The hives in the black wraps are a little more complicated, especially the middle black-wrapped one.

That one is actually wrapped with a foam-backed plastic, held together with tape and tacks. The other two black ones are “Bee Cozies,” an improved version of the wrap. The cozies are basically a tube of foam-backed plastic that you scootch down over the hives. They are slightly easier to work with than the ones that truly require actual wrapping.

We were able to find brood in four of our five hives today, most in the medium box on top (often referred to as a honey super), although one had it in the top deep box.

The outlier was #2, the middle black hive — wrapped in the original style hive wrap. Still, the population seems to be increasing — which can’t happen without new bees — and when we looked into the top deep box, there were a lot of bees on the frames. So, most likely the brood is in that deep, which right now we can’t get into because of the way the hive is winterized.

The colony that most concerns us is #3. There are only about two frames of bees, with not much brood, though there is some. So, they’re still queen right. They’re also foraging, and have plenty of food supplies.

I think their problems started because the hive was too moist, and that’s my fault. Initially we were going to use home-made sugar patties as back-up winter food, and my second batch never dried properly. Our mistake was to use them anyway. (For most of the hives, we used the “mountain camp” feeding method.)

When will I learn my lesson?! Moisture kills bees!! I know better than to give them wet food, but we did it anyway, and that hive is paying the price.

Mea culpa.

And yet, I believe there’s still hope for a recovery. If they can hang in just a little longer until it’s warm enough to do full hive checks, I think we’ll be able to steal a frame of brood from one (or more) of the other hives to give #3 a little boost.

This would also help us to prevent an early swarm from one (or more) of the hives that are already thriving. A win all around.

I knew you’d all want pictures (admit it!), so I took a few just for you!

This is #5 — lots of bees on the inner cover and top of the frames.
Also #5. Can you see the lovely capped brood?
This girl’s been working hard. Look at all that pollen!
Not all the bees were bringing in pollen, but if you look closely, you’ll see three different types, a greenish yellow, a bright yellow, and an orangish yellow. (Also hive #5.)
Even more exciting (at least to us), we (i.e., The Engineer) spotted #1’s queen. By now, you should certainly be able to find her in the picture above. And do you see the difference in the fuzziness of the bees?
The younger the bee, the more fuzz they have.
If you found Mother Bee in the previous picture, see if you can find her here. It’s a little harder because she’s hidden by her daughters, but look for that big bald thorax, and you’ll find her.

For the moment, we have a mostly happy apiary, but of course, that will change. It always does. 🙂

In other apiary news, we got a phone call with a horizontal hive estimate from Mr. Yoder this morning. He was ready to go ahead on our Long Langstroth hive and expects it to be completed either this week or next. So exciting!

And on the mother front, Mom has graduated to a “mechanical” soft food diet, which apparently means anything that can be mashed with a fork. She seems a bit happier, although I can’t say whether or not it’s due to the diet change. I’m just happy that she’s more content, at least for now.

Also, I wanted to share this picture. My friend and I saw this by the trailside when we walked this morning. It’s silly, but I love when people do things like this. It makes me smile, and I hope it does the same for you.

Thanks for reading.

Ready to Go Home

“I’m ready to go home,” Mom said on the phone, “except I don’t know where I could go. No, wait, I have an apartment, #106 Nottingham.”

She doesn’t have an apartment, and although she lived at Nottingham apartments several times, she never lived at #106. That’s the number of her room at the nursing home.

It’s a room in which she can no longer spend much time because when she does, she tries to get up and walk on her own, something she can’t do without falling.

Sometimes this is a problem even in the common area where she’s in full view of the nurses.

At times like that, Mom decides she needs or wants to move, and before anyone can reach her, she’s out of her chair. The advantage of being in the common area is the nurses and aides can usually get to her before she takes a serious tumble.

Mom’s also frustrated because she’s now limited to pureed food. I get it — her meal trays contain foods have no plate appeal, even the menu items she’ll grudgingly admit “aren’t bad.”

Her frustration is because she insists no one told her why she is now dining on the equivalent of baby food. Of course, we — the doctors, the nurses, the aides, my brother and I — have explained multiple times, but Mom can’t remember.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

She’s not a baby, and it’s galling for her to have to eat like one. But since she’s been on this diet, I’ve noticed her chronic cough is all but gone, and she chokes less often. Clearly she was aspirating more than anyone realized.

Also, I think she actually eats better, perhaps because she subconciously associated eating with aspirating and having to cough to be able to breathe again.

Her dementia means Mom can’t read books, a pastime that, until her hip surgery, gave her much enjoyment. She’ll leaf through the magazines I take, but when I ask if she’s done with them, her response is that she hasn’t looked at them yet though I know she browsed them when I brought them in.

The nursing home employees are fond of her, and the activities staff try to encourage her to participate in the activities they offer, bingo, manicures, and crafts, though she refuses to color.

I can’t say I blame her on that; it’s not something I’d choose to do either, although I know many people enjoy it.

In short, the restrictions she’s under mean there’s not much pleasure in Mom’s life these days, a fact that’s exacerbated because she can’t understand, or at least can’t remember, why those restrictions are in place.

When she asks for her phone, they give it to her, and she calls my brother and me to ask us to take her home.

It makes me want to cry because she is home at a place where she was quite happy to live before she lost her memory, and the “home” she wants to go to doesn’t exist as she remembers it.

Even if it did, she would be incapable of living there on her own as she did in the past. I won’t list her infirmities here, but they are many, each of them an incapacity big enough to warrant living where she does.

I want to cry because I understand my mother’s unhappiness. But I also know she can’t safely live with on her own, with me or my brother. Even if there were some way she could “go home,” she wouldn’t be happy because her “home” isn’t just where she used to live, it’s the life she used to have. A life when she could walk on her own, when she could still swallow without choking, when she didn’t need oxygen at night, when she had at least some control of her bodily functions.

That life is no longer a reality for her, no matter where she is.

Sometimes I’ll tell people I don’t want to live that long, and often the response is, “Some people live independently well into their nineties.”

This makes me want to shout at them. Obviously, it would be delightful to live a long life to stay healthy and independent until you die. Mostly, it makes me wonder if the people saying this have any idea just how few people are able to be independent in their nineties, or that the vast majority of people who live past their late eighties experience a decline similar to Mom’s.

I don’t shout, of course. Instead I remind myself that people who respond that way have never had the heartbreaking experience of watching someone you love lose their health and independence bit by bit as the infirmities of old age deprive them of every means of pleasure they once enjoyed.

I try to remember that losing a loved one at any age is devastating, and almost no one escapes this life without living through that experience.

Mom, 92 years, 6 months, and 8 days old in a sweatshirt we bought for her when Darling Daughter was about 2 (which means the shirt itself is 27ish years old) — I managed to get a wry smile by telling her a stupid joke.

Bee update: The girls have been flying anytime the sun is out and the temperature is even close to 40F. Three of the five hives seem very strong, one is kind of meh, and the fifth is average, so it looks like we will be splitting hives again come spring.

We attended a beekeeping conference this weekend and filled some holes in our inventory from one of the Amish woodworkers who come every year with their wares. Last year we bought a full eight-frame hive set-up from the man, and it’s held up well.

On another note, one of the beekeeping clubs we belong to had a presentation on beekeeping in long Langstroth hives. (I think they got sick of my begging.) So, I probably need to explain how a long hive differs from the Langstroth hives commonly used in the U.S.

Here’s a picture of two of our hives from 2021. Both are Langstroth, boxes of frames stacked on top of one another.

This type of hive works well. Honey bees build comb on the frames, fill it with brood, pollen, or honey, and the beekeeper can keep adding boxes as required.

The main drawback is the beekeeper then has to remove those boxes to do an inspection.

A deep box can weight up to eighty pounds when it’s filled with honey. Most often, however, these boxes are filled with a mix of brood and food, which means they weigh a bit less. The medium boxes (on top) can weight up to forty pounds when filled with honey (which is something we beekeepers all hope for).

A colony with two deep boxes and a medium stands about five feet tall (very rough estimate), which means there’s no ergonomic way to pick up and move the top boxes to check the ones below. They are heavy, awkward and, oh yeah, filled with bees who while uninterested in anything but their tasks at hand, don’t take kindly to being banged around.

Checking Langstroth hives is hard on the (Engineer’s) back. (He does all the heavy lifting, for which I am abundantly grateful.)

Enter the Long (sometimes called Horizontal) Hive. There are several varieties of Long/Horizontal Hives, the Layens, the Lazutin, the Top Bar, Long Lanstroth, and countless variations. If you’re deeply interested, visit the Horizontal Hive website, and learn all about them.

We were only interested in the Long Langstroth because it uses the same frames we use in our traditional Langstroth hives. Here’s what one looks like (also from the Horizontal Hive website).

You’ll see the difference immediately. Instead of stacked boxes, it’s one long, horizontal box filled with frames. Hence, the name. The only lifting the beekeeper has to do is one frame at a time.

Why then, you may wonder, doesn’t everyone use this kind of hive?

Well, there are a few reasons.

They’re more expensive, $425 at our local bee supply place, quite a bit more than a two deep, one medium traditional Langstroth hive.
They are uncommon; therefore their parts are not interchangable like the usual Langstroth.
Space is slightly more limited — the one above holds 33 frames, as opposed to the limited-only-by-the-strength-of-the-beekeeper traditional Langstroth. This means the beekeeper better stay on top of things, and not let the hive get too crowded or s/he runs the risk of a swarm.
Bees supposedly like to move up rather than across, but if you see people rescuing bees, you’ll see bees will build hives in any almost any opening — deep or tall.
But the biggest concern is overwintering. Tradition says long/horizontal hives don’t overwinter as well because they are harder to insulate. However, the plans we found feature thicker wood than regular Langstroth hives to help alleviate the insulation issue, and we’re hoping they do the trick.

Is this true? We hope to find out because we shared a copy of the freely available plans (again from the Horizontal Hive website) with the Amish woodworker whose hives we buy.

Could he build such a hive? Yes, he could.

How much would it be? Well, materials would definitely be more than the $50 mentioned on the Long Langstroth plans from the website, but we already knew that. I doubt you could build a birdhouse for $50 these days!

Would he be willing to work up an estimate? Yes, he’d call us with a figure sometime in the next two weeks. If we decided to proceed, we would send him a check and pick it up sometime in April, just in time for spring splits.

It was kind of funny because later each of his sons who had been there when we were discussing the possibility asked us if their dad said he’d do it. One of them said after we left their display, two different people who’d been eavesdropping asked if they were building long hives now. So, maybe it will be a new line of business for their family too!

At any rate, cross your fingers because it looks like we may be off on another beekeeping adventure!

Skunked, But in a Good Way

It’s been quite a week, beginning with one of those bad news phone calls in the middle of the night.

Mom was being transferred to the hospital by ambulance. Her blood oxygen level had dropped, the by-now chronic cough had changed into something worse, and she was running a fever.

At 2:30 am, I met her in the emergency room, where she was in rough shape — disoriented with a horrible wracking cough that shook her whole body and left her gasping for air. I had just seen her at lunchtime, and she’d been fine, making the transformation all the more shocking.

The ER doctors agreed with the nursing home nurses that she’d probably aspirated something into her lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia. It wasn’t showing on the X-ray, but apparently, that happens.

I stayed until late that morning, when they finally settled her into a room, and the next seven days became a blur of worry and waiting.

A modified swallowing test, an x-ray of her esophagus, and an endoscopy showed no blockage. Her esophagul muscles have simply lost their motility, making it difficult to breathe and eat at the same time, and more likely that she will aspirate in the future. This is called dysphagia, and is common in the elderly.

As a result, Mom is now restricted to purees and liquids. She also has to sit up for 30 minutes after eating or drinking to allow gravity to aid in getting her food to where it belongs.

Her response to these restrictions has been mixed — surprisingly sanguine about the pureed food, but almost insulted by the idea she can’t lay down after eating.

“I know how to eat,” she says, “I’ve been doing it for 92 years!”

As if any of us is likely to forget her vast age.

Meanwhile, my brother was diagnosed with pneumonia, which meant he was out of the picture. This was followed by some kind of a stomach upset, which left him frustrated that he couldn’t help, but too ill to chance either his health or Mom’s.

Finally, on the day before Mom left the hospital, he felt well enough to venture out and stopped by before going to work.

While at the hospital, he had a dizzy spell, but said he was fine. I put it down to not eating properly while sick.

Silly me. Given his history of health problems, I should have known better. A few hours later, on arriving home from that day’s visit with Mom, I saw I’d missed a call.

It was from the school where Bro was substitute teaching. He was being taken by ambulance — no, make that life-flighted — to the hospital.

Despite his carotid artery being completely blocked, they sent him home the next day with medication, leaving me to wonder what happened if … when it happened again? What if he had such a spell while driving? It was like throwing a bomb into the community, set to go off at some unknown time.

Also, my sister-in-law, who usually visits Mom when she’s in the hospital, was going out the door with my niece to do just that when she tripped over something, smashing her head on the patio.

She ended up being diagnosed with a concussion in the same ER Mom had been a few days before. The next day, she was back at the hospital, where they discovered she had a broken orbital bone. I wince every time I think about it.

Still, I was very grateful to my cousin, who visited Mom, and my niece who did manage to run up and say hello while her own mother was being treated in the emergency room.

In the end, Mom returned to her nursing home just a few hours short of a week since she’d left.

She was glad to be home, and I was relieved she recognized it as such.

After her last hospital stay, she thought she was there for rehab, and had no memory of the three years she’d lived there. I’m still not sure she remembers her previous life there before her hip break, but at least she’s come to see it as where she lives.

While she was still in the hospital, her doctors asked if we wanted them to insert a feeding tube. Bro and I said no. It would do nothing to improve her comfort and quality of life. And now I’ve read more about them, it seems they don’t even prevent aspiration because quite often what’s aspirated is mucus or saliva.

It was hard to tell the doctors we didn’t want to proceed with this action, difficult to voice a decision that might enable Mom to receive nutrition more directly. I am so sad that things have reached this stage, that her life had become so filled with discomfort.

Nonetheless, this decision echoes the one she made long ago when she signed a Do Not Resuscitate-Comfort Care Only order.

A feeding tube might prolong her life, but it certainly wouldn’t make her days more comfortable or happy.

Sometimes, mostly in the hospital, but occasionally at her nursing home, it seems like there’s only a thin veil between the present and the past for Mom. There’s a look in her eyes, as though she’s seeing something I don’t, as if she’s somewhere else.

It’s different from before my dad died, when he was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s. His eyes became vacant, as if the father I knew no longer existed. With Mom, it’s like she’s just elsewhere.

This doesn’t happen all the time, but enough for me to feel we should prepare ourselves for the end.

Also, she’s tired, as if the struggle to live is almost too much for her.

Obviously, I could be wrong. She could live another ten, or even fifteen, years, and if she can somehow recover from the difficulties of these last months, I’d be happy with that possibility.

But, as things stand, I can’t help wondering why she has to go through all this, why her last days couldn’t just be slower, peaceful, and without such struggles.

I can find no reason, and it’s hard to realize I can’t help make things better.

Certainly, I’m not the first, not even the first of my acquaintances, to have dealt with this situation, and there’s some small comfort in knowing others have gotten through this (although I certainly wouldn’t wish this on anyone).

Meanwhile, my Bro went to the follow-up appointment with his nuero-vascular doctor. (Yes, he has one, which makes it all the more ridiculous that he insisted he was fine to go to work and that I didn’t push him on it.) She was amazed that he’d driven to his appointment and said he should have been transported.

He’s now been admitted to the hospital for an angioplasty on Monday. And although I know he’d prefer to be home, I feel much relieved that this situation is being addressed.

On another note: Once Mom was safely settled back at the nursing home, and the first doctor said Bro was fine to go home, The Engineer and I went for a hike in a local park.

I needed some of nature’s calming influence, and she did not disappoint.

It was a glorious day, over 70F, with the red-winged blackbirds trilling, the cardinals calling, and loads of skunk cabbage along the trail to assure us spring is coming. (Sidenote: This was yesterday, and today we woke up to barely 30F.)

Skunk Cabbage is such an interesting plant, not only because it is a welcome early food for bees, but because it is actually able to generate its own heat.

I must admit we felt a little jealous because we tried planting some in the yard for our bees, and it just disappeared. This is an not infrequent occurence with our gardening efforts, which The Engineer has begun to refer to as “hiding.”

“Didn’t we hide some of those plants in our garden?” he’ll ask.

Thus, we would have been a lot more tempted to break the rules (and possibly the law) and dig some up to plant in our yard if we hadn’t known it would just disappear, never to be seen again.

As it was, we instead revelled in the sight of so many plants just waiting to be discovered by the bees.

We also passed the incredible, many-trunked tree, seen below from both sides.

Even though I know my mom’s and brother’s health troubles are probably not over, I felt my tension seep away as we hiked.

Nature is so healing.

Honey Bees in Winter

I’m always amazed at the number of people who seem genuinely interested in the ins and outs of keeping bees. Because bees are one of my favorite subjects, it’s hard to not answer in such detail that they start edging away, sorry they every asked.

The Engineer can be very helpful on such occasions, kindly pointing out when my audience members’ eyes are beginning to glaze over.

I promise that’s not why I started this blog, although doing so does offer the distinct advantage of readers having the option of choosing to not read a post.

My intent in writing these posts is to share our many foibles as we endeavor to become successful beekeepers — kind “I’m telling you about our mistakes so you don’t have to make them.”

Of course, if you’re a beekeeper, that just frees you to make different ones.

Anyway, one of the more frequent questions I hear is about what bees — specifically honey bees — do in winter.

Most people think they hibernate, but this is not the case as you can see from the photo below (taken today).

It was about 60F today, and our girls took advantage of the warmth by going on cleansing flights. I’m probably anthropomorphizing, but it looked to me like they were just enjoying being out of the hive.

In the winter, they generally only venture out when the temperature is above 50F, although we occasionally seen one or two take brief excursions on those sunny clear days that look warm but are actually extremely cold.

The Engineer and I always joke they fly right back into the hive and tell their sisters, “Don’t go out! It’s f—ing frigid out there!”

Honeybees stay warm in winter by forming a cluster or bee ball, with the cluster growing tighter as the temperature drops. They keep the cluster warm by vibrating their abdomens, rotating the outer positions of the cluster so no single bee gets too cold. The mother (queen) bee remains at the center because if she doesn’t survive the winter, the hive will die also. This is because she doesn’t usually lay eggs when it’s cold, so the sister (worker) bees have no way to make a new queen.

No queen = no new bees = the hive will eventually perish.

Also, the girls waste no effort on keeping the entire hive warm; all their energy goes toward keeping the cluster nice and toasty with the center of it getting to about 95F.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot of energy to create that amount of heat, which is why it’s so important to leave the hive enough honey to support the work they are doing.

A hive can also die because it doesn’t have enough bees to keep the temperature high enough to survive.

It’s a big balancing act: We hope we have enough bees to keep the hive warm, but not so many that they finish their food before winter ends and they are able to forage once more.

We cheat a little by putting sugar or sugar patties on top of the frames so they have extra food if they deplete the honey they’ve stored, but there’s not much you can do if they don’t have enough bees.

One of our hives ended up in this situation last fall. Because we had a lot going on, we were late discovering it, and although we moved it into a smaller box setup, we were sure it wouldn’t last the winter.

It didn’t, and because we knew it would take a miracle for it to survive, I’m not even counting it toward our total number of hives going into winter.

In my opinion, we had five, and we still have five, although since most hives die in March, we are not yet in the clear.

Still, it does my heart good to see them fly!

Because it was so warm, we were able to treat all five hives with Oxalic Acid vapor to try to bump down the varroa count before the queens really start laying. Our hope is this will give them a healthy start to the spring and summer.

In other news, WordPress informed me a few weeks ago that I’ve been blogging for thirteen years now. It’s interesting (at least to me) how my blogging life has changed, having begun with “Reading, Writing, Ranting and Raving,” a blog designed to support my endeavors as a romance writer, then seguing to “Keeping A-Breast: Cancer Lessons,” and eventually landing with “The Byrd and the Bees.”

I intentionally made the spectrum of The Byrd and the Bees wider than my previous blogs so I don’t have start another one if my interests/experiences shift again.

In some ways, it seems impossible that I’ve been doing this for that long, but as I look back, I can see how much my life has changed since I began.

Also, although I feel a little guilty for not having posted as frequently as I usually do, I can promise you I’ve been quite busy doing a lot of exciting (to me) stuff — crocheting vast quantities of scrap-happy afghans (see above), spending hours upon hours researching The Engineer’s mum’s genealogy, and visiting my own Mom three times a week.

She remains much the same — determined to try to move around by herself, which has resulted in multiple falls. Her hand was so badly bruised and swollen after the last one that the nurses thought she’d broken a bone (again). Thankfully, the X-ray showed no new breaks, and the bruises have begun to fade a little.

With my approval, the nurses have begun to insist she stay in the common area during the day so they can keep an eye on her. It’s certainly not ideal, but at some point, safety has to trump Mom’s ability to be independent.

Obviously, she can’t stay there all night or she’d never get any rest, and that’s how she fell this last time — getting up to go to the bathroom on her own.

In looking forward, I can see no happy ending, but I visit regularly, trying to alternate days with my brother, because even if she forgets as soon as we’re gone, Mom is at least happy when one of us is there.