Bee-wildered by “The Bee Movie”

Last week, The Engineer and I finally watched “The Bee Movie,” mainly because several friends insisted we had to see it.

If you’re a fan of the flick, please close this window and walk away now.

For those who have chosen to continue reading, let me first say I understand the film is not a documentary meant to educate, but a children’s movie. But, I also know children’s learning is not confined to the classroom. With minds like sponges, they absorb information in whatever form it takes.

Let’s begin with what “The Bee Movie” got right.

Now, let’s look at what the movie got wrong.

“Pollen jocks”? Seriously? In a hive, drones do two things: Eat and fly to the drone congregation area (DCA) to try to mate with a queen. Oh, and die. I guess that’s actually three things.

If you have been reading my blog or know anything about bees, you already understand this.


The blue arrow is pointing to a drone. He, unlike his half-sisters, does not work. He will never be a “pollen jock” or do any of the countless jobs offered to Barry B. Benson and his buddies. The smaller bees are workers. All female, they do every job in the hive.

So, why did Jerry Seinfeld write a film about “pollen jocks”? I can only assume he had a deep-seated need to be the voice of the lead character (Barry B.Benson), and thus decided to re-write nature.

Seriously, writing about male bees pollinating is like writing about bulls giving birth. A complete fallacy.

Meanwhile, the females in the movie get to spend all their time oohing and ahing over the “pollen jocks” or, in the case of Barry B. Benson’s mother, acting the role of a 50s housewife.

I know, I know, you’re probably saying, “Kym, it’s just a kid’s movie. What does it matter?”

It matters because the movie implies adventure is confined to the males of every species, including the insect world, which is untrue. It matters because, once again, little girls see boys having all the fun while the females in the movie are confined to the sidelines.

Okay, so I sound like a raging feminist. That’s okay. I am a feminist, and right now, I am raging.

But back to the movie — why couldn’t the lead role have been a (factually accurate) female worker bee having the same adventures Barry B. Benson did? There is no logical reason to reverse the facts.

I don’t expect an animated children’s movie to be completely accurate, but this movie could have easily been both factual and fun.

Instead, it left me angry, bee-wildered, and disappointed on behalf of our girls and all girls.


Update: FreeBees

We gave FreeBees a few days to settle into their new location before opening the hive to have a look. IMG_0133
It was lovely. Enlarge the photo to see nearly every open cell with either a perfectly positioned egg or larva. The queen has been doing her job because the hive has about three frames that look like this.

And here’s a closeup of that queen, who we are calling Ziska at the suggestion of my friend Kate. Ziska’s long, tapered body helps her position those eggs right in the middle where they belong. IMG_0136-2Initially, we planned to use Formic Pro strips for Varroa treatment, but the company rep at field day said a hive needs six frames of bees to do a full-strength treatment. FreeBees has about five.

That was an “Uh-oh” moment for me. Buzzers’ Roost is a small hive, maybe too small for the full MAQS treatment we gave it, which might explain the number of dead bees.

MAQS are similar to Formic Pro, but Formic Pro takes ten days at full strength. The half strength treatment takes twenty. You can’t feed the bees at any time during the treatment, so we chose to use Oxalic Acid (OA). The trade-off is OA only kills Varroa on the bees, not under the caps like the strips.

This means we’ll be keeping a close eye on our Varroa counts and will probably end up using the strips during the early fall/late summer once we know the bees have plenty of their own food.

Beekeeping, it seems, sometimes involves compromise.

With OA, you seal the hive before inserting the wand through the large opening of the entrance reducer. The foragers below were trying to figure out how to get back in the hive with the temporarily installed reducer. (Buzzers’ Roost, in the background, also has some entrance activity at its fully open entry.) IMG_0140The FreeBees foragers are more active than Buzzers’ Roost’s, out and about early each morning until late evening. It rained today, and I was astounded to see some returning and/or going out even in the rain. It was cloudy when we did the OA, but in the 3-1/2 minutes it took to do the treatment, we developed a traffic jam. IMG_0141
Below you can see the bees fanning, bums up, beating their wings to get ride of the scent after we removed the wand.IMG_0143
Later this week, we will add some food to this hive to help the girls as they build comb and raise babies. We’ll also have a peek at Buzzers’ Roost to see if they’ve accepted the queen and whether or not she’s laying if they have. They still had some honey, but we’ll check to see if they need fed as well.

Until then, Bee happy!

P.S. I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but these are Saskatraz bees, just like our most recent queen in Buzzers’ Roost.


On Saturday, 2 June, we attended the Lorain County Beekeepers Association Field Day, held in conjunction with Queen Right Colonies at the shop’s location in Spencer, Ohio, near an Amish community.

As we passed through the town center (which may or may not have a traffic light — I can’t remember), traffic came to a standstill. We realized it was because there were several buggies in front of us, and they were also heading to the Field Day.

We pulled in behind a buggy, and parked in knee-high grass.

It was a fun day, with several speakers, beekeeping talks around several hives of bees, and alpaca shearing. CC77EE85-510C-42F1-9E12-4C501512B4D0
In my previous post, I forgot to mention that Queen Right is also a bit of a menagerie, which includes several alpacas. The one above seemed to be saying “Get me out of here!” as she gets a cut and manicure. But temperatures last week soared into the upper 80s and 90s, so we can be sure the animals were a lot more comfortable afterwards.  And the two shearers handled the herd members gently and carefully.

More important to this post is the fact that there were raffles, and after an outlay of $20 on tickets, I won the best prize — a hive of bees.

Can you believe it? We’d just been talking about how we hoped to eventually be work up to two hives, and a few hours later, our wishes came true. How lucky is that?

Naming this new hive required much discussion (over a beer or two) before The Engineer came up with the perfect moniker.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce Buzzers’ Roost’s new neighbor will be called … FreeBees!

Once More, Same as Before

We killed the Queen of Hearts on Monday.

We didn’t mean to do it, but we did.

She’d lost her red marking, so we decided if we found her, we’d mark her.

The procedure seemed simple enough, and we had all the right tools courtesy of our Ohio State Beekeepers Diagnostic Kit.


Picture of Queen Marking Plunger from Queen Right Colonies online catalog

Basically, you catch the queen, gently move her to the end of the tube with the plunger, hold her still while marking her thorax, wait for the ink to dry, and release her back in her hive.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

In our case, we caught our queen, gently moved her to the end of the tube, held her, marked her, waited a few minutes, pulled out the plunger, and … she was dead.

Did I plunge too hard? Did The Engineer use too much paint? Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Either way, poor Queen of Hearts is gone, leaving only some fuzzy, golden bees as a legacy.

Once again, we called Queen Right Colonies, and lucked out. They had Olivarez Saskatraz queens in stock. And this would be a good place to mention how lucky we are to have a resource like QRC within driving distance. Owned and operated by the St.Clair family, this small shop is a treasure trove of all things bee, including package bees and queens. And anytime we’ve had any question about how to proceed, they are willing to explain exactly what we need to do. (Blue Sky Bee Supply employees have also been quite helpful.)

Anyway, I was able to pick up our queen before I went to work on Wednesday. Since we wouldn’t be able to put her in until that evening, I asked what I should do with her until then.

One of the always helpful St.Clair daughters answered with a question of her own: “You’re going to work?”

Me: “Yes.”

St.Clair daughter: “Put her in your purse. She’ll be fine.”

Me: “Really?”

St.Clair daughter: “I’ve taken them to the grocery store. She’ll be fine.”

And that, friends is how our new queen, Saski, and her attendants ended up spending a day tucked away in my purse in a locker at work.

Later that evening, we put her in the hive.

Today, we opened the hive just enough to see the candy in the queen cage had been eaten through.

Now, we wait for at least a week to give her a chance to be fully accepted by our hive. We’ll probably give her ten days, possibly more, to give her the best chance for a future with the rest of our girls.

Also, I don’t think we’ll try marking our own queen again.


Death Comes to Buzzers’ Roost (Again)

Dead bees are part of beekeeping, just as death is part of life. That knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to see a sight like the one below, especially when we know it was caused by our actions. (Please excuse the blurred picture. I didn’t have on my bee jacket, veil, or hat, and the girls get a little testy after this treatment.)

These bees died after we used Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) to treat for Varroa. You may recall my post last fall about our experience with MAQS. We had problems with Yellow Jackets raiding the hive through the wide-open front entrance although I don’t remember this many dead bees. We might have been so focused on the Yellow Jackets that we didn’t notice.

So, why use MAQS? There are several good reasons. It’s the only treatment currently available that kills mites on capped brood and the only one you can use with honey supers on the hive. More importantly, responsible beekeepers employ Integrated Pest Management (IPM) using a variety of treatments. This helps decrease the likelihood of the mites developing resistance to a particular treatment.

Our treatment plan includes MAQS, Oxalic Acid vaporizing, and drone frames. If we ever manage to get a large enough hive to split, we’ll do that too.

We also use a sticky board and sugar roll to count our mite load and plan to try an alcohol wash this season just to get an idea of how many mites the sugar method is missing.

Though it looks horrible, having this many bees die is not a tragedy, but a side-effect. It’s better than helping cause a treatment to become useless. And it’s much better than allowing the Varroa load to get high enough to cause a hive collapse .

Because when a hive collapses, the bees that survive join other hives in the area.

The mites go with them, starting the problem all over for whichever beekeeper happens to be unfortunate enough to live nearby.

For more information on IPM, visit the following sites.

Ohio State University Bee Lab

Mid-Atlantic Apicultural Research & Extension Consortium

Long May She Reign!

News flash: The queen lives on!

Perhaps we owe thanks to the previous queen for blessing our hive with easygoing offspring who acted against instinct and didn’t kill their would-be monarch. Maybe this queen possesses some extra-strong pheromones. Or it could be the stars just aligned in her favor. We know this apparent miracle isn’t due to skill or knowledge on our part.

But when we finally opened the hive today to see what was going on, this is what we found. IMG_0072
Notice anything?

If you look very closely, you’ll see two different kinds of bees, darker Carniolans from our previous queen and lighter yellow ones from the new Italian one.

In the second picture, you might even see that the new yellow bees seem a little fuzzier.


Below, you’ll see larvae and capped brood, and the difference between the two races is more distinct.


What we never saw was the queen, whom we’re calling “The Red Queen” because she was originally marked with red — this year’s color. Unfortunately, that mark disappeared by the time we released her, which is partly why we didn’t spot her.  (Our last queen was marked yellow, but we never called her anything but “The Queen.”)

I’ll admit the hive has seemed quite active for one filled with winter survivors. And you probably won’t believe this, but a few days ago, I saw a bee fly past our kitchen window and noticed it wasn’t dark like ours from last year. I went out to watch the foragers entering and leaving the hive, but when I didn’t see any yellow bees, I assumed the one I’d seen was from a wild hive somewhere.

Then today, before our inspection, The Engineer mentioned he’d seen some yellow bees around the hive.

Did we dare hope? All the books said a hive with laying workers would kill a new queen.

And yet … and yet … they didn’t.

This just proves once again the old beekeepers are right: Bees don’t read the books. IMG_0075
Here’s another picture of our diversely populated hive. (It does make you wonder, doesn’t it? If two races of bees can get along, why can’t people?)

We also saw several drones. I managed to get a picture of one for you, and even more amazingly, managed to mark it with an arrow so you can see him.IMG_0076
Notice how he’s bigger, with huge eyes. That’s to find a queen to mate with. Other than that, they kind of blunder around begging food from the workers.

<insert joke about males and their food and sex-seeking behavior here>

All the activity was going on upstairs in the honey super we left on for the winter. (If you wonder about our reasons for that, please read my earlier posts). The bottom deep box has only drawn comb and honey.

This is not how it should be, so we’re having a think about how we’re going to remedy this. We’ll go in again on Saturday if weather permits and do some rearranging. Then, we’ll treat for Varroa with Mite Away Quick Strips, followed by a sticky board count and a sugar roll and/or alcohol wash.

I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks to my friend, Kate (from the blog “Tall Tales From Chiconia”) for this post’s title. She writes about quilting and life in the Land Down Under.


Look what I found in our Yellow Jacket trap! She’s very big so I think she’s a queen, which means there will be that many fewer Yellow Jackets harassing our bees this summer!

Please Release Me, Let Me Go

Queen update: We had a look in the hive Saturday. I fully expected to find the corpse of our new queen. The Engineer was more optimistic, pointing out our bees have always been fairly mellow, that maybe she’d been accepted.

We were both wrong. She and her attendants were still in the cage. Directly above them was this puff of new comb. They were so light and airy I wasn’t completely sure the cells weren’t paper until I put a match to them.

It’s burr comb. I should have known. A more experienced beekeeper could possibly explain why the bees suddenly decided there was too much space beneath their inner cover, but I can’t.

Thats how burr comb is used – to fill in open space in the hive. This has to do with “bee space,” a concept discovered by Lorenzo Langstroth, who noticed bees fill in spaces less than 1/4″ with propolis and space over 3/8″ with burr comb. He designed hives to accommodate this, and it’s Langstroth hives that are most commonly used in the US.

But back to our queen quandary.

The the situation in the hive hadn’t changed so we had no reason to feel any more optimistic about her future welfare.

On the other hand, the workers didn’t seem particularly hostile to their would-be monarch. Most didn’t even seem interested.

We debated a few minutes.

The Engineer: “I think we should release her.”

Me: “They’ll kill her.”

The Engineer: “They’ve fed her for ten days. Look at them. They’re not biting the cage or trying to sting her.”

Me: “Well, it’s not like it will make a difference. They’ll probably kill her whatever we do.”

In the end – partly to just get it over – we opened the cage and watched her scurry into the hive.

I fully expect we’ll soon be looking for a nuc in the near future.

What I Did on My Spring Holidays: A Photo Essay

Q. What do you do when it’s March in Ohio, and you’re sick of winter?

A. You go to Alaska.

Okay, maybe our logic was a little skewed when we planned the trip back in October, but neither of us likes crowds (not a problem in Alaska in March), and we wanted to be available when things started happening with our bees.

Look how well that turned out. Sigh.

Still, our forty-ninth state was beautiful, thanks very much, and we enjoyed our stopover in Seattle and six days in Vancouver too.

I enjoyed it so much I feel compelled to share photos. These were taken on my phone. Imagine what someone could do with a real camera.

First, we flew to Anchorage, where we explored the aviation museum and seaplane base. Only we’d kind of forgotten the lake would be frozen, so we didn’t actually see any seaplanes take off or land. (No worries. We made up for it in Vancouver.)


Old wooden prop from the wreckage of a plane (I think it was called “The Seattle”) that was one of the first to attempt to cross the Arctic Circle. Four started out. Two of them made it.


We also saw a moose one night. It was laying on the lawn of a small house in Anchorage, right at the bottom of the front porch. At first I thought it was a lawn ornament. Because, you know, moose lawn ornaments are all the rage in Anchorage. Not.

Next we drove down the Kenai Peninsula to Seward. The weather was beautiful and the scenery amazing.
The picture above is from Turnagain Arm. There’s a huge tide, so big I guess people surf there.img_3484
Evidently, there are also whales. But we didn’t see any.img_3483img_3477img_3480img_3481img_3487img_3485img_3486

When we got to Seward, we stopped at a little park. I’m pretty sure we saw a seal. I know we saw otters in the bay, and some waterfowl we didn’t recognize.

The next day was our whale cruise. Though the season had just opened, we saw a whale blow several times in the distance, but never managed to get close. We also saw Stellar Sea Lions, more otters,  Dall Sheep, and lots of Bald Eagles. Then, after we’d given up on the possibility of seeing more whales and headed back toward the bay, we saw a pod of Orcas, followed in rapid succession by a school of porpoises, some of them Dall’s and another type whose name I didn’t catch.

I’ll warn you now, I didn’t even attempt to get photos of any wildlife because then I’d miss both the photo and the experience. Instead, I opened my eyes wide and tried to take it all in.


Returning to Seward.



Pass this outcrop, and the next landfall is Hawaii.

We returned to Anchorage, and the next morning boarded the train for Fairbanks — a twelve-hour trip. Because they were still running the winter train, it was a “flag stop” train, stopping every so often to pick up and let off passengers in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. img_3525
We ate, drank, and watched the scenery, scanning for wildlife. Here’s a list of what I saw: many more eagles, about six or seven Moose, the backside of two Caribou, and more Dall Sheep. img_3520img_3524
I loved the skinny pines (which we were told were Black Spruce) and Birch. By the time we neared Fairbanks, many of the Birch were bent over almost in a circle, probably from previous snows. Looks like I didn’t get any pictures of that.img_3517 img_3522

And here’s a little movie. It’s not very exciting (but it is short with some nice train noise), and I’ve no idea why WordPress let me post it.




I managed to get this shot of a little church in a tiny town we passed, but had to push a girl who was taking many selfies out the window to do so.

In Fairbanks, we had a balcony view from Pike’s Lodge. Here’s what you saw if you looked out past the air conditioning unit on the roof beneath our window. Believe it or not, they need air conditioning. Though the temperature regularly gets to -40*F in the winter, it hits the 80s and 90s in the summer. In town, they have electrical plugs in the parking lot, not for electric cars, but for engine block heaters so residents can start their cars after being at work all day.img_3529img_3530

The next day, we took a flightseeing tour. I was very proud of myself because I secured the right seat (next to the pilot) for The Engineer.

The guy sitting next to me said, “He must be a pilot, right?”

I nodded, and he said he was too.

“We have a Cessna 182. What do you fly?” I asked.

“Oh,” he replied, “I’m a military pilot. I fly fighters.”

We agreed he needed to switch seats with my husband for the return flight.

Once again, the weather cooperated, and the views were stupendous.img_3560img_3540ed12b940-a2fa-4bb6-9632-a6bd3c98ba3dWe landed in Coldfoot, greeted by two young women. One was wearing flip-flops.

Here’s a nice pic of the airport.img_3583
We got a little tour (it’s very small town, more of a way station). We also had a beer because how many people can say they drank a beer above the Arctic Circle? (Beer looms large on this trip. The far north and western Canada seem to require it.)


Important signage of Coldfoot, Alaska. Possibly the only signage in Coldfoot, Alaska. Yup, that’s the Alaskan Pipeline.

And that was the end of the Alaskan leg of our trip. Our only disappointment was not seeing the Northern Lights. Guess we’ll save the Aurora for another trip. (Iceland, anyone?)

The next morning, we left for Vancouver. When planning this trip, I’d discovered the only way to get from Fairbanks to Vancouver is through Seattle, and all the planes from Fairbanks seemed to land after the last plane to Vancouver. No matter what time we left Fairbanks, we’d end up catching the plane the next day. Since we didn’t want to sleep in the airport, we’d arranged a hotel, and to fly to Vancouver the next evening.

This gave us enough time to take the train into the city, and have a quick walk around, then hop on the ferry for a view from the water. img_3631

In Vancouver, we had a great AirBnB, close to public transport. It was an apartment on a street that was surprisingly quiet despite being conveniently close to a commercial district full of restaurants, shops, night clubs, and more importantly, a grocery store. If we walked down a small hill, we reached a beach on English Bay where we could take a little ferry to a variety of places.

Here’s a view from the roof. img_3632

British Columbia is considered a temperate rain forest, which means it rains nearly every day. At least it did while we were there. We got used to wearing our rain gear everywhere.

On one of our first excursions (to Granville Island), we mistakenly took some bad advice and ended up taking a bus over the island, and had to navigate our way back down. By that, I mean The Engineer navigated, and I followed.

Darling Daughter thinks I have no sense of direction (correct), and can’t find my way anywhere (incorrect). I am actually quite capable of navigating. I’m just lazy and it’s easier to follow The Engineer.

ebe70a43-4780-4f8c-b395-cda1308d6c3eBy the time we got there, it was really raining, so we ducked inside the brewery, and, yes, had more beer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit we spent some time in English-style pubs watching Premier League football. I offer no excuses except to say Liverpool was playing Man City, and on Sundays, they had roast beef with Yorkshire pudding.

Another day, we took public transport to the Waterfront Station. The next two photos look a little odd because they were panoramas, which kind of skews the the perspective a little.


Waterfront Station — I think this was formerly the main train station in Vancouver.


There was a seaplane base and service, and during our time in the city, planes were continually taking off and landing. img_3652img_3650

And the trees were beginning to bloom.img_3672099542b9-7140-4899-abb4-4d005c1aae44

In Gastown, there’s a steam clock (and lots of other tourists).img_3668img_3658 On the only clear day during our stay, we walked around Stanley Park (about 6-7 miles). Since we also walked to the park and home, our stroll ended up being about ten miles. We packed sandwiches, drinks, and munchies, took our time, and enjoyed the scenery, exercise, and fresh air.  img_3684img_3687img_3685


“Girl in a Wetsuit”

There were purple Sea Stars nestled among the rocks by the side of the water.

d1ffc106-aa36-4271-860d-1f8d1eef92bfaa51a7a8-8f5b-43a4-b55c-378139936904Our walk in the park ended near this collection of totems. 47997e62-0058-4bb6-ab4f-9ff9a5ac8928A visit to a new city wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the library. img_3722
We also took the ferry to North Vancouver, where there is a strong shipbuilding history. The city has left many remembrances of the industry on display near the waterfront.bb02da87-4cf3-4889-9919-13fd270e3b70Vancouver has a bike loaning program, and these pigeons seemed to be waiting to hitch a ride. img_3721

On our last day, we did a walking tour of Chinatown.img_3732img_3736
There, we saw the world’s skinniest building. img_3735
Evidently, the original building jutted over the street. When the city wanted to clear the roadway a bit, they made a generous offer for that part of the building, assuming the owner would tear the rest down since it would be useless. Instead he took the money, extended underground and continued using the building.img_3731This building is owned by an indigenous people’s group. The totem and concrete lodge on top represent a blend of traditional and contemporary architecture. Inside, the group runs a small hotel and art gallery, with the profits funding community housing for indigenous persons in the building next door.

The tour (and our touring of Vancouver) ended with a visit to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden — a green oasis in a busy city.img_3738img_3739img_3740img_3741

You can see more photos of our trip on my Instagram account (kymlucas54).