Honey Bees and Yellow Jackets = Two Different Things

I’m not fond of yellow jackets. I don’t know anyone who is, though they are considered a beneficial insect because they pollinate.

Here is a sweet little honey bee. Look at that fuzz, those intelligent looking eyes! Even though she’s capable of stinging, you know she’d rather just get on with her work.

Now look at this dying yellow jacket. Even in the throes of death after being zapped with my handheld bug zapper (and, no, I do not feel the slightest bit guilty), she was still trying to sting. IMG_2508
Not only are yellow jackets capable of stinging (multiple times, unlike a bee), they also bite. So says Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont.

Becoming a beekeeper has made me dislike them even more. These shiny-bodied menaces will raid beehives. And they are omnivores (some say carnivores), so they not only rob all the honey, they also eat the larvae and bees. (If you want, you can find videos of this on YouTube. I couldn’t stand to look.)

Nasty(!) and more than a bit unnerving since The Engineer and I began to see yellow jackets snooping around the ground by our hive shortly before leaving for Oshkosh. We’ve even seen them trying to drag away bees that were inadvertently squashed by our clumsiness in replacing boxes after an inspection. (I doubt you can imagine how awful we feel when this happens.)

I did some research, and the more I learned, the more concerned I became for our hive during our absence. It turns out the late summer dearth (when food becomes less available for the would-be robbers and bees) is the most common time for hive robbing. And a newly established beehive like ours could be an enticing target.

A strong hive is less tempting, so we made sure to leave plenty of sugar water for our girls, and hung a few commercial traps around the yard, well away from the hive. (We had practiced due diligence in the spring and put out homemade ones to catch the queens, but had no luck.) Additionally, we’d planned to put in the entrance reducer before leaving but reached Illinois before realizing we’d forgotten.

Perhaps you can imagine our relief when we returned home to find our bees still busily working and the traps holding some dead and very annoyed yellow jackets.

Unfortunately, there are still yellow jackets cruising around. Since they always come from the growth nearby, we think it likely they have at least one nest in the ground there.

Knowing this, I’m ignoring my aversion to using chemicals in our home and yard, and tonight attempted to deploy the “nuclear option” mentioned in this article from the Natrona County Beekeepers’ Association wiki.

I’ll let you know how it works.

In the interest of fairness, I should mention honey bees will also raid other hives to steal honey. Here’s a blog post that discusses when, why, and how this happens.

If you’d like more straightforward information on the difference between bees, yellow jackets, and other stinging insects, read “All About Yellow Jackets, Bees, and Their Kin” at Gardeners.com.



Trip to Oshkosh — Photos


We call our friends’ grass air strip “The Field of Dreams.”


En route to Oshkosh.


Flooded fields on our way to Oshkosh from Illinois.


View through the back window of our Cessna.


Part of the Airventure 2017 NOTAM (NOtice to AirMen) for Flying into the “World’s Busiest Airport”


When I put this photo on Instagram, it was cropped to a square, which made it look like the “7” was a cropped off “T.” As one friend remarked, “You read it your way. I’ll read it mine.”


Sunset at camp on a cloudy evening in Oshkosh.


Panorama view of our camp with two rows of planes.


Back seat and cargo area on return trip



Fine, But Not Yet Super-Fine: Take Two

When we last checked the hive, we added a honey super. Like all decisions regarding our girls, we weren’t sure if this was the right decision or not, but I read in a blog post (that I won’t link to here), you add the super when the second deep box has 6-7 full frames.

Our second deep had 6-1/2.
We added the super and took off the feeder as instructed in our beekeeping class.

When we went inside, I checked my email and found an update from the Ohio State Beekeepers’ Association reminding us we were coming up on a nectar dearth the end of July and into August.

Well, shoot! We’ll be gone during some of that time period. Would our bees starve now we’d removed their feeder?

Again, I turned to our Bee Guru, shooting her an email. When I got the reply that I should maybe call her, I knew we’d made the wrong decision.

She advised us to go back in the hive, take off the super, set up the feeder (again) and rearrange the frames to encourage the bees to fill the ones they’d ignored. And time was of the essence.

The only time The Engineer and I had available was early morning, before the sun hit our hive. (Although it’s in our yard’s most advantageous spot, we live in the woods and it doesn’t receive the ideal amount of sunshine.)

From what we’ve learned, it’s best to work the hive in the afternoon, when most foragers are out and there are less bees. Early morning was not a good time to be doing what we needed to do, but neither of us would be home to do the work later.

There were many, many, bees around, and they weren’t happy to be disturbed so early. Who can blame them?

We did what needed done, carefully, but as quickly as possible, and closed the hive. Then, we set about lifting the ones that fell to the ground back to the entrance of the hive. The area around the hive is mulched, which means we were picking up any piece of wood with a bee on it and lifting it to the entrance so the bee could would scurry back in the hive.

Here I should note that many — possibly most — beekeepers work without gloves. I lack the confidence to do this, but had taken mine off for the “mulch rescue mission.”

You know what’s coming, don’t you?

As near as I can recall, the piece of mulch I picked up had not only a bee on the top — the one I was rescuing — but also one on the bottom, who felt a threatened when a giant hand closed around her.

Well, wouldn’t you?

Reader, she stung me.IMG_2349
I did what you’re supposed to do:
Remove the stinger.
Take off your ring.
Take a picture.

Okay, the last action isn’t in the manual, but I thought my first sting as a beekeeper was a moment worth remembering.

My finger didn’t look too bad at first. Eventually my knuckles disappeared, and I couldn’t bend them. I probably should have taken a picture of that stage, but I was too busy whining.

It wasn’t a good day, not because I get stung, but because I felt like our bees deserved better than our fumbling attempts to help them grow a hive strong enough to last the winter.

And yet, by that evening, they appeared to be back to normal, bustling in and out of their home and attending to business.

Again and again, I am amazed by these incredible creatures.

P.S. If you’re wondering about my sting, it got sore and swollen the first day and very sore and swollen the second day. By the third, the swelling was subsiding, and now all that remains is a red mark and a bit of pink around it.


Thirsty Bees

Bees, like other creatures, need water. According to Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine, they use it to dissolve crystallized honey, to dilute honey for food for larvae, and evaporate it to cool the hive. They also enjoy a cool drink on a hot day. (For more on the subject, see “Why Honey Bees Need Water” from the “Bug Squad” blog.)

In our beekeeping class, the teachers stressed the importance of a water source when deciding where to place a hive. Since we have a stream that runs sporadically on our property and maintain a birdbath full of fresh water for the birds even in the winter, I figured we had the water source covered.

But for the first month or so, we didn’t see any bees on the birdbath, and I assumed they’d found water elsewhere.

Well, guess what! They’ve discovered the birdbath!
I was so excited I went out to take a picture.IMG_2321
Then I crept closer and took another.IMG_2322
Closer for another.IMG_2323
And another.IMG_2324
I’ve been taking pictures of thirsty bees ever since. But I promise, this is the last I’ll share.IMG_2330
Then we did our hive check on Sunday, and once more, I freaked out over something that turned out to be nothing.

You see, as soon as we opened the hive, there was a nasty little beetle staring right at me. I tried several times to smash it with my hive tool and missed. The darn thing ran right back into the hive.


Beetles, if you don’t know it, lay eggs that turn into larvae capable of turning a hive into a slimefest faster than you can imagine.

So, of course, I immediately imagined anything that glistened was slime. I was so creeped out I sent this picture to the Bee Guru. She said it was just nectar and pollen.
Whew! IMG_2340I’m not completely stupid. The frame above looks vastly different from the one below from a few weeks ago. Don’t you think?
We’re quickly discovering that beekeeping is an education in how little we know.

Fine, But Not Yet Super-Fine

Our bees are fine, thanks for asking.

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Busy As Bees

Sorry. I couldn’t resist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything I Need to Know I Learned at Oshkosh

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

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

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

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


Photo Credit: The Engineer