The No Queen Blues

We’re singing the No Queen Blues again, which is appropriate because Her Royal Blueness seems to have disappeared.

Before I share those blues, let’s first do a little happy dance because Olga the White Russian has settled into the Kremlin and commenced to laying!

Olga and some tiny larvae
More larvae
Can you spot the eggs?

Bee eggs look like tiny grains of rice. They more or less stand straight up when they have just been laid, before beginning to tilt and then turning into larvae by the third day. So most of the eggs above have been recently laid.

This frame of brood looks a little spotty … until you notice the larvae in most the open cells.
Zoom in on this one, and you may see some very tiny larvae near the upper righthand corner, as well as bees that are hatching.
If you zoom in on the middle of this frame, you’ll see eggs in the process of tilting over.

And below are several frames of bees eating honey we spilled on the top of their frames. Can you see some of the bees’ proboscises (tongues)?

When we peeked in the supers (medium-sized boxes usually used for honey) on OH, Girls, we were curious to see how they liked the two frames of wax comb we’d given them. Though we usually use plastic foundation anecdotal wisdom seems to hold that bees prefer wax, and we decided to give them a try.

Apparently, our bees weren’t consulted for those anecdotes. Now we are left wondering: Was it the wax they didn’t like, the string we used to stabilize it, or both?

From what we can tell, they’ve repurposed the wax from the foundation and begun to build their own on the bottom because there’s a slight difference in color.

We took out the string, and reinserted those two frames.

Since they’d filled the rest of the frames with nectar, we added another super. The hive is also still quite populated, so we added the empty quilt box for ventilation. If you recall, this winter we used the same box filled with wood chips for insulation on another hive.

Here’s the new configuration.

Finally, we turned to the OH, Girls split, the hive we were confident would be in good shape.

The Engineer had quickly looked through this hive a few days ago and not seen Her Blueness, but since he saw some brood, we weren’t too concerned.

Today we looked more closely, and found mostly capped brood being backfilled by nectar i.e., as the bees hatch, their cells are filled with honey rather than new eggs. There were also just few large larvae, none of the tiny stuff you see in the pictures from the Kremlin, and no eggs at all.

And there was no royalty in sight … except — and this may save us — a small uncapped queen cell with larva in it.

Yes, I know, I should have taken a picture.

According to Mike Bush, a queen is capped at about eight days, which means we have some waiting to do.
Again.

We also may have some queen buying to do if OH, Girls aren’t successful at requeening. According to Bush’s “Bee Math,” we should know sometime in mid June.

If they haven’t managed to requeen, or if the new queen is unsuccessful at mating or laying, or if the queen cell in the split is unsuccessful, we’ll have to buy a queen (or possibly two). Since a Saskatraz queen (our preferred race) is $46, including marking, this can be an expensive endeavor.

Still, at least there will be queens available if needed.

And both the split and the original hive will have had a break in the brood cycle — helpful for both discouraging Varroa and for using the easier method of vaporized Oxalic Acid, rather than the more lengthy Formic Pro strip treatment.

Of course, we will have to remember to take honey supers off the full-sized hive before applying the vapor because it’s not meant to be used with them on, but that’s easily done.

Speaking of honey, I’ve got high hopes that OH, Girls will soon have some capped and ready for extraction.

Stay tuned for more “Bee Music.”

Long Live Empress Olga

I’ve decided Olga can’t be the queen of our beehive because she’s Russian, and everyone knows Russia was ruled by emperors and empresses or tsar and tsarinas.

I’m going with “Empress Olga,” and the reason I’m mentioning her is because she lives!

The Engineer had a quick peek in that hive today while I was at work, and I’m very impressed that he not only found her, he also managed to capture her on camera.

Empress Olga and her workers

You may notice Olga is marked with a white dot, unlike Her Royal Blueness in the OH, Girls hive. This is because she is a 2021 queen, and Her Royal Blueness was a 2020 queen.

White and blue are two of the International Queen Bee Marking Colors. The other colors are yellow, red, and green, based on the digit the year ends in.

1 or 6 are White Dots (2021 and 2016)

2 or 7 are Yellow (2022 and 2017)

3 or 8 are Red (2023 and 2018)

4 or 9 are Green (2024 and 2019)

5 or 0 are Blue (2025 and 2020)

We’ve had both marked and unmarked queens. When we buy a queen or package or nuc, we pay the extra dollar or so to have her marked. But when we split our hives, and they are successful at requeening themselves, we end up with an unmarked queen.

This is because the only time we tried marking a queen, she ended up dead.

We won’t do that again.

As you might expect, it’s much easier to spot a bee with a colored dot on her back than one without. I’m woefully bad at finding her in any case. Thankfully, The Engineer is slightly better, but there are still many times we don’t see her and have to be happy with just seeing eggs and larvae.

In other news, the workers from the OH, Girls split have been foraging.

OH, Girls split

And, it’s been very hot (upper 80s and low 90s F), which means the OH, Girls hive is bearding most days. We’ve noticed our Saskatraz hives seem to do this more than the other ones we’ve had.

OH, Girls hanging out on the front of their hive and entrance

No doubt the swift change of weather is as much a shock to them as it is to us. You may recall me mentioning (whining about) the snow on Mother’s Day, May 9. Immediately afterwards, the weather turned, and it’s been hot, without rain for the last week or so.

Weather permitting, we plan to perform a more detailed inspection of the Olgas and the OH, Girls split on Tuesday. If there’s any news to report, you’ll read it here first. 🙂


Marasmus

Until today, I’d never heard or read the term “marasmus.”

But this morning I had some free time before going to work so I was searching Findagrave.com and the birth and death records on the West Virginia Archives.

I do this sometimes, putting in a family surname and narrowing the search by county and date. Yes, this is a random way to approach genealogy, but I occasionally use the tactic anyway because it can yield interesting, albeit sometimes tragic, results.

Today was one of those times.

Findagrave.com popped up with a memorial for thirteen-day-old baby. When I placed her on my family tree, she turned out to have been my father’s cousin (my grandfather’s brother’s daughter).

Melba Jarushire Bird (as FIndagrave lists her) was born at the very end of December 1929 and died on January 9, 1930.

She was either twelve, thirteen, or fourteen days old (depending if you believe the death certificate, Findagrave, or the death register). Her name wasn’t actually Melba Jarushire either, at least not according to the legal documents. It was Melva Jearline.

Cause of death was listed as marasmus, which Healthline defines as: “… a form of severe malnutrition. It can occur in anyone who has severe malnutrition, but it usually occurs in children. It typically occurs in developing countries. Marasmus can be life-threatening, but you can get treatment for it.

Well. That gave me pause.

To think Dad’s cousin, born three years after him in nearly the same place, died of what sounds like starvation … I can hardly wrap my brain around it.

Although Melva’s death technically happened during the Great Depression, I’m not sure that was the root cause. The Depression started in the US with the stock market crash in October 1929. Would two months of inadequate nutrition at the end of a pregnancy be enough to cause malnutrition severe enough that the child would die?

I don’t know.

I do know Melva’s parents had a son born in 1932, before losing another child in 1939, a daughter who lived only a day.

It’s impossible to imagine the grief they must have felt both with Melva and their second daughter, which makes the fact that their son lived until the age of 73 seem almost a miracle.

My grandparents raised my father and his sister during these years. In the 1930 census, the two families are on the same page, making them neighbors as well as relations. Melva’s father was a laborer, as was my grandfather.

It seems incredible that only now am I beginning to see the struggle these young families went through trying to survive.

Grandma was always extremely strict about not wasting anything. As a child, I didn’t understand. Later, as an adult, I barely thought about it.

Now, however, I think I begin to understand.

To have lived through such times, where these couple’s (and I’m sure many others’) very survival — and worse, the survival of their children — may have been in doubt, would leave a person forever determined to never live that way again.

Also, and this may seem a bit of a stretch to some, reading about this happening in my own family gives me empathy for parents around the world who take what seems to us to be ridiculous chances to migrate somewhere that seems to promise a better future. And I can tell you this, if I’d seen one of my children die of malnutrition, I think I would be quite likely to take any risk necessary to help make sure I didn’t lose another the same way.

Addendum: Since writing this, several friends have pointed out malnutrition could have been caused by issues other than lack of food — cleft palate inability to digest milk, or any number of physical maladies. I was viewing my father’s cousin’s death through the lens of a person raised much later, when such issues would have been problematic, but not life-threatening. Still, however it happened, it’s clear this family suffered their share of tragedy.

Orientation Day

The nurse bees we shook into the OH, Girls split seem to have segued into the next stage of their working lives.

The Engineer took this picture of them around the bottom entrance of the hive. He said they seemed to be orienting. Bees do this before flying away from their home so they can find their way back.

They are such incredible creatures! Click through the link above if you’d like a more detailed explanation of the orientation process.

We’re just happy because it’s exactly what they should be doing at this point.

Meanwhile, the OH, Girls main hive continues to be quite active. With the weather seeming to have finally turned (please, God!), and lots of nectar coming in, we’ve decided it’s time to put another box on for honey. After all, while they wait to grow their new queen (please, God!!), they have a bit of a break in eggs being laid. Ergo, less brood to rear, so they can spend more time making honey.

This type of break in brood rearing — whether initiated by the beekeeper with a split or naturally occurring — also helps with integrated pest management. No new eggs and larvae means nowhere for Varroa Mites to lay eggs = a good thing.

As for Olga, The Engineer and I had the following text conversation yesterday while I was at work.

10:56 am
Engineer: Bees eaten through candy plug, but Olga still left inside so left alone again.

12:49 pm
Me: Maybe look Sunday.

1:24 pm
Me: Still alive is good.

2:29 pm
Engineer: Shes out. So many bees inside and outside the cage she was trapped so I released her.

2:33 pm
Me: Were they friendly bees?
🤞🤞🤞🤞🤞🤞

2:33 pm
Engineer: To her yes not to me.

2:34 pm
Me: Stung?

2:34 pm
Engineer: No.

Well, that was a relief.

Later I learned he’d been unable to locate his bee jacket (which zips to the hat and veil) because when I washed them on Wednesday, I forgot and left them in the washer. Whoops! 😱

Next steps:

  • We put a box on OH, Girls and hope for honey.
  • We wait again, this time to see if Olga begins to lay.
  • And we wait to see if OH, Girls are successful in making a queen.
  • If they aren’t successful, we may have to buy one.

The excitement never ends.

In other news: I got my second vaccine yesterday (Pfizer), and am okay so far. I did wake up at 6:30 with a bad headache, but thankfully ibuprofen took the edge off. (What did our ancestors do without aspirin and other analgesics? Bayer only began manufacturing and selling asprin in 1899. Imagine having to find willow tree bark to make tea or chew on at six in the morning.)

My co-workers told me to expect to fee super tired, but I don’t, at least not yet. What I do feel is sort of off-kilter, with vertigo and lightheadedness. Odd and disorienting enough that I don’t plan to do much today.

Splitsville

On Saturday, as planned (and hopefully not too late), The Engineer and I stole a frame of brood from OH, Girls to help encourage the Olgas (OH-lgas?) to accept their new queen. When you have laying workers, this is meant to make them think the new queen is laying, and therefore is a good queen worthy of their hive.

Yes, I do realize I’m ascribing them with human attributes. It’s the only way I can make sense of honey bee habits.

At any rate, that’s one of the suggestions Bee Culture magazine offers in requeening a hive with laying workers. Of course, their article says this should be done at the same time the queen is introduced and that the hive should be switched with a stronger hive.

We didn’t switch them, and the brood was added a few days after the queen. However, as I mentioned in the last post, we lucked out once before introducing a queen to a hive with laying workers in much worse circumstances, and they accepted the queen. (It was the very beginning of spring when there were no queens to be had for several weeks after The Engineer discovered the dead queen and certainly no brood to add or strong hive to switch with.)

This time, when we discovered the then-named GeeBees (now Olgas) had a dead queen, we put in a frame of eggs, hoping they’d make a queen. They didn’t, but at least for a few weeks they had brood. They now have brood again, as well as a queen, so I’m hoping this at least confuses their tiny minds enough to give Olga a chance.

We also checked OH, Girls, with the intention of splitting the hive. Her Royal Blueness has been laying so well we were worried the hive would swarm. Splitting a hive is sort of like a fake swarm controlled by the beekeeper.

There are many (many!) ways to split a hive. The easiest is called a “walkaway split.” Basically, you divide a strong hive into two, and walk away. The idea is the hive that has the old queen continues on their merry way, and the other raises a new queen. To do this, both hives need to have eggs, or at the very least, very young larvae.

We used this method last year, mainly because we knew the hive was getting ready to swarm and when we went to split it, we didn’t find the queen.

This year, however, we were going to try to do a proper swarm control split, where you take the queen and put her in a new hive with food and brood. You also shake in some nurse bees so the the split is populated.

Nurse bees will stay in the “new” hive, while any foragers caught up in the divide will return to the original hive. I believe this is because the nurse bees haven’t yet oriented to their hive. You see, when bees come out of their cells, their first job generally is cleaning and capping cells. Next, they become nurse bees, tending the brood and queen. Later, they cycle through other jobs (guarding, foraging), only orienting when they start to go outside the hive for their work. For more details, you can read this article from American Bee Journal.

So, by shaking in extra nurse bees, the beekeeper ensures the hive has enough bees to survive.

Meanwhile, both hives think they’ve swarmed. If all goes well, the queenless hive makes a new queen, and the split soon grows into a full-sized hive.

That was the plan for Saturday. However, things didn’t quite go as we intended.

It was a cool day (about 50 F, the coolest we’ll usually do a hive check), but OH, Girls were out foraging, and we thought we’d be okay. We probably would have been, had we not made the mistake of trying to catch the queen to move her when we could have just moved the whole frame.

Her Blueness fell (into the hive, thank heaven!). Unable to find her again, we closed up shop and decided to try again today (Wednesday), when it would be warmer.

GIven the weather that followed on Sunday, it was probably just as well we hadn’t made a new split/nuc. Bees don’t usually swarm when it’s cold, and a full hive has more bees to keep it warm.

Ah, yes, it was a lovely Mother’s Day here, worse even than the cold and rain that was predicted. Dear Readers, we got snow — a lovely, wet, slushy snow, slippery enough that I saw several cars in the ditch when I drove to visit my mom.

This is our deck, after the snow had started to melt.
And here (in this blurry photo — sorry) are some poor, bedraggled birds trying to shelter from the cold.
And this is a picture of the birds on our feeder, taken through the window. I just like the effect of the water on the window. It reminds me of a kaleidoscope.

It finally warmed up today, and I spent a few hours hauling around bags of soil and mixing them with compost (to be fair, The Engineer did most of the mixing). Then I moved all the tiny little plants I’d grown from seed into pots, along with a few others I’d picked up from the nursery. Ground cherries, lemon basil, tomatoes, and more ground cherries, if you want to know, plus I split off some chives and Hen and Chicks for Darling Daughter.

In retrospect, I probably should have first asked if she wanted them. 🤔

Ah, well, at least she wants the lemon basil and tomatoes I also potted for her. And the chives and Hen and Chicks needed splitting anyway.

Here would be a good place to mention that the “last frost date” for this area is meant to be May 15, a mere three days away. Also, I checked the weather report before starting, and it didn’t mention anything about frost.

The alert came up on my phone when we finished and came inside to have a cup of tea and a snack.

Sometimes I hate living in Ohio.

Sorry, I digress. I’m supposed to be writing about bees, and so I shall.

After our tea (me) and snack (The Engineer), we again turned to our favorite insects.

Both hives were busily foraging, even though it’s still a bit cool — sunny and maybe 60 F as long as you stay out of the shade, but the breeze is chilly.

You can see OH, Girls are quite active.
Olgas were also foraging, with fewer bees going in and out. It’s a smaller hive, so this makes sense.

A (very) quick peek at that hive today revealed the candy plug still in the queen cage, though they are working their way through it. Also, the bees didn’t seem overly agressive on the cage, so that could be a good sign too.

We turned our attention to OH, Girls. Once again, my observant partner found the queen — unharmed, thankfully, though her blue is wearing off. And this time, we moved the whole frame into the waiting nuc box, gave her another frame of brood and some food, shook in the nurse bees, and closed up shop.

From left to right: OH, Girls nuc, Olgas, and OH, Girls.

Will OH, Girls make a new queen?
Will the Olgas accept their queen?
Will my tomato plants freeze?

I wish I knew. We’ll all have to wait and see.

I hope you can handle the suspense. 🙂

Package Bees – DOA

A friend of ours has set up his own apiary and had ordered a package of bees by mail.

I admit it seems strange to ship bees by post, but it’s actually quite common. In fact, I just looked it up, and there are several animals you can get by mail, including scorpions. Yikes! Why would anyone want to ship a scorpion?

Anyway, the bees were shipped Priority Mail from a company in Kentucky. Our friend chose this company because he wanted a Russian queen.

Russian bees are a less common variety, and apparently this company ships them.

His package arrived today. It’s pictured below — photo courtesy of our friend. The can in the middle is the bees’ food (sugar syrup).

For comparison, below is a picture of the bee package we got last year.

Notice anything different?

Our bees were clustered around the can of food, so thickly you couldn’t see the can.

His bees were on the bottom.

That’s because they were dead.

When the postal workers called our friend for pickup, they asked something to the effect of, “You ordered bees. Shouldn’t they be delivered alive?”

Okay, I did exaggerate a little about them all being dead. The queen (who he named Olga) was alive, along with her attendants, and when he sprayed the bees on the bottom with sugar water, about thirty came back to life.

The reason the rest of the bees were dead was because someone put the food can in upside down, with the holes on the top of the bee bus, facing outward, where the insects couldn’t reach it. The poor creatures went without food or liquid for the three or four days it took for them to arrive. Unsurprisingly, most of them died of starvation or dehydration en route.

There are always some bees who don’t survive being shipped. Even the package bees we have picked up from our local sources always have a few dead. But most of them do just fine.

Look, people make mistakes. It’s part of being human. But when surely when you’re dealing with live animals, there should be checks in place to make sure such slip-ups are caught.

That’s what I would think, wouldn’t you?

Well, there’s a box full of dead bees outside that says otherwise.

About 10,000 dead bees, to be exact. Bees that are dead because a human made a mistake (as we all do), and no one checked it.

There is a bright side to this story, a small one, but a bright side nonetheless.

Our friend got a package of bees that was basically a queen and a few attendants. He’s also getting a refund.
We got a package with a dead queen, that we were hoping would make a queen from a frame of eggs. And we have a hive that is thriving.

We could think of two main options, which depended on the state of our hives:

  • If our new queenless hive hadn’t created a queen, we could introduce Olga to that hive.
  • If the new hive had made a queen, we could split our larger hive, queening the split with Olga.

I was at work, so The Engineer went to our friend’s and came home with Olga.

He did a quick scan of our new hive, saw now evidence of queen cells, and inserted Olga’s cage.

Photo by The Engineer

He did say there were a lot more bees in the hive (probably from all the eggs on the frame we put in), and that he saw scattered capped brood on more than one frame, which means they couldn’t have been from the original eggs, which were all on one frame.

On reflection, he remembered at least some of the capped brood were drone cells.

From this I have surmised, we have a laying worker.

This isn’t great news either. Generally hives with laying workers won’t accept a new queen unless the hive is strong and you introduce frames of brood at the same time.

Okay, we didn’t do that, but we will try to rectify the situation on Saturday.
Also, we did once manage to requeen a hive with laying workers when we had no brood to put in it.

So, there’s hope.

Meanwhile, we are crossing our fingers once again for this hive, whose name has now been changed to the Olgas.

Note: Live bees also need food.
Photo by The Engineer

Still a Man’s World

I just read a blog post about mothers in England and Wales finally being listed on their children’s marriage certificates.

All I could think was, “Really? Mothers carry their children inside them for ten months (average pregnancy is 38-42 weeks = 10 months by my math), labor for hours (sometimes days) to bring them into the world, and they are only just now being included on the record when that child marries?”

I’m not even going to touch the fact that frequently most of the heavy lifting of raising a child is done by the mother.

In the eyes of the law, it appears we have remained, at least in England and Wales, mere vessels for a man’s progeny.

Leaving such misogyny aside, it’s irresponsible and shortsighted to only record half the information. As a genealogist, I regularly experience firsthand the difficulty of finding records for the women in a family tree. A certificate that lists a woman’s full maiden name can the key to another generation of ancestors

I just checked my parent’s marriage certificate. It lists both parents on both sides (including my grandmas’ maiden names).

Then I looked at my grandparents’ records. For my paternal grandma and grandpa, I have only a copy of the marriage register, and the only names listed are theirs. For my mom’s parents, I have three certificates, all in different formats. Not one lists Grandma and Grandpa’s parents.

My guess is this lack of information has more to do with differences in location and time than anything. Here in the US, we are nothing if not inconsistent in our record keeping. 🙄

I know this is a bit of a rant, but this sort of thing sets me off.

Especially since it came immediately after I spent twenty minutes at the grocery store behind a man who spent the whole time yelling at his wife. And while I admit I can, at times, be prone to exaggeration, this is not one of those times.

I happened to walk in behind them, and he immediately began shouting at her to hurry up.

The store was crowded so I was stuck behind them all the way around it and in the sole open register line.

The guy never stopped haranguing her.

She said she liked something.

Nobody likes that,” was his loud reply.

At one point, she replied just as nastily that he should shut up.

Still, he was a constant aggressor making me hope I would be gone before they left and wouldn’t be on the road with him (making the short leap to assuming he was the type of guy who would insist on being in control of the car).

If that’s how they are in public, how are they at home? And how on earth can anyone live like that?

Sigh.

End of rant.

Your reward for reading it is this picture of a gorgeous Redbud tree I saw on yesterday’s walk.

The North Wind Did Blow

The north wind doth blow
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then?
Poor thing.

She’ll sit in the barn,
And keep herself warm,
And hide her head under her wing.
Poor thing.

When my friend and I went for our morning walk Tuesday, I took photos. The flowering trees were just coming into full bloom, and I wanted to document their loveliness because I knew what was coming.

Wednesday, I woke up to this.

View from our back door. I’d say that was at least 6″ of snow, wouldn’t you?
This is a flowering tree (crab apple, I think). Not a large bush, a tree with its limbs bent over by heavy spring snow.
Yep. Those are flowers from that same tree.

That night, it got down into the lower 30s or upper 20s. By then, I didn’t want to know the details.

This, amazingly, is that same tree this morning, still blooming over the compost heap.

On Tuesday, it’s supposed to hit 83 F.

My point is it’s been a week of extremes. Coming immediately after we learned our new hive, GeeBees, had no queen, this is not the best scenario.

If you recall, we put in jars of sugar water with Honey B Healthy Amino-B Booster to encourage them to make a new queen from the frame of eggs we’d stolen from OH Girls.

Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to me that sugar patties might have served them better since bees don’t usually like to drink sugar water during cold weather.

Today we had a quick look at the levels of the jars of food and discovered they had consumed very little, if any. We’ve always read/heard it’s best to leave hives alone when they are (hopefully) in the delicate business of making a queen, so we didn’t look any further, just gave them fresh jars and closed the hive.

Once again, we are left sitting on our hands (with fingers crossed) and waiting.

The good news is their workers are foraging and bringing in pollen. They have fewer bees, so it’s not surprising they have fewer foragers than OH Girls, but at least they’re doing what bees are meant to do in the spring.

OH Girls, on the other hand, are thriving to the extent that we expect to have to split the hive soon. We saw Her Royal Blueness, and she’s clearly keeping busy because there were many frames of capped brood and larvae. It was cloudy, making it difficult to tell if there were eggs, but there was one frame with tiny larvae — not much past the egg stage.

So far, they’ve only made a few queen cups and not queen cells. With so much brood however, we expect to see those peanut-shaped cells when we do our next check, especially because schedule conflicts will push it back to a few weeks from now, rather than the usual seven to ten days.

One advantage to the delay is we’ll also be able to have a more complete check of GeeBees to see if they have requeened. If not, we will move a few queen cells from OH Girls (if they’ve made any).

We’ll probably still have to do a split because moving a frame with queen cells won’t do anything about the bees feeling crowded.

If OH Girls haven’t made queen cells, and GeeBees haven’t made a queen, we’ll have to buy one and go through the whole introduction thing again.

OH Girls have begun to load frames in the classic football or rainbow shape, with brood in the middle, surrounded by pollen, nectar, and honey, which is something we like to see.

Why do we like to see this? Probably because we’ve heard they should do it. Plus, it demonstrates a certain kind of logic — putting food for the brood near the cells where it will be needed.

This article on checking a hive has a good photo at the bottom that demonstrates what I mean.

I took just one picture — this little worker with her small load of pollen. I tried to get one of her sisters, who was loaded with bright orange pollen. Too bad she was not in the mood for the paparazzi and flew away. 🙂

In other news, I got my first vaccine yesterday at a drive-up location. I was worried because having had COVID makes you more likely to have side effects, and one of my co-workers who had the illness last spring(!) was laid up for days.

Imagine then, the smugness of my smile when I woke up today with only a sore arm.

Then The Engineer (who got his second shot yesterday) mentioned how cold it was in the house and that he had a “sinus” headache.

“It’s side effects from the vaccine,” I said, smug smile growing wider.

Yeah. You know what’s coming. Within a half hour, I began to feel chilled, with the onset of a headache.

It’s not unbearable, but we’re both going to take it easy the rest of the day and save planting my fruit bushes until tomorrow.

Also, I feel compelled to tell you about a man who came into the grocery store where I work. I asked if he needed help, not even noticing he didn’t have on a mask until my co-worker pointed it out.

Assuming he’d forgotten his, I got the box of them we keep for such circumstances. When I came back, he was nowhere to be found, and my co-workers told me he’d already been asked to put on a mask.

He pulled one out of his pocket and made some comment about someone already “telling on him.”

I felt like saying, “What are we? Five?”

Having worked a somewhat physical job for over a year wearing a mask to protect myself and others, I must admit I’m finding it difficult to be patient with people with such attitudes.

Must sign off now. I can feel a rant coming on, and I don’t want to get too political.

So, let’s just focus on the bees, shall we?

GeeBees Are Queenless

Poor GeeBees! They are certainly off to a rough start.

When we inserted the queen cage, we noticed she seemed smaller than others we’ve had. In fact, the only way we could differentiate between her and her attendant bees was by her thorax, which isn’t furry on a queen. Normally, you can also tell by the size and shape of her body, but she was only slightly more tapered than the worker bees (see circled below in The Engineer’s photo).

Even allowing for the different scale of the photos, she was much smaller than OH, Girls’ queen (below).

When it comes to queens, bigger is generally better because it means she’s full of sperm and will be a good egg layer.

Also, the workers didn’t seem much interested in looking after her, at least not in comparison to the queen on the package our friend picked up.

Well, after today, we don’t have to worry about her size because when we opened the hive to check if she’d been released, we discovered she’s dead.

Definitely not* the way we’d prefer to start a new hive.

What to do, what to do … what could we do but close up the hive and make plans to buy another queen or try to get one from the man who sold us the package? (In the end, we did let him know what happened, and he said he should have queens in a few weeks, so that is now our backup plan, I suppose.)

On a much brighter note, OH, Girls are doing great, with lots of brood and larvae in a nice solid laying pattern. And we saw Her Royal Blueness skittering around, laying eggs as fast as she could move.

Not a good shot of bees, but you can get a sense of the different sizes of larvae.

When we found a frame chock full of eggs, I suddenly had the idea to swap it for one of GeeBees’ frames in the hope they’d make a queen.

You see, queen and worker bees are almost identical genetically. It’s what she’s fed that makes her a queen. Contrary to what you might have heard, all larvae are fed royal jelly, but worker bees and drones only receive it for three days. A would-be queen is given enough royal jelly to sustain her throughout her growth cycle, and the difference in diet causes the changes in development that makes a queen.

I’ll spare you the lecture on queen development and simply share a few additional facts. First, you should know worker bees generally build queen cells when they are ready to make a new queen, either to supercede the old or to replace the old queen when the hive swarms. And, second, sometimes, when a queen dies unexpectedly, the workers need to make an “emergency queen” by building a queen cell around existing eggs and feeding those eggs more royal jelly as they develop into larvae and then bees. Here is an article with pictures of the different types of queen cells.

Some say emergency queens are generally smaller than those who developed in a queen cell built intentionally to develop a queen. Others disagree.

If GeeBees do what bees are supposed to do and develop a queen for us, I guess we’ll be able to form our own opinion on the matter. Queens take about three weeks to develop, so don’t think we’ll be finding out anytime soon. When bees are in the process of making or accepting a new queen, it’s generally best to leave them to it, so we won’t be peeking for a while.

And then, she would have to successfully survive her mating flights — yet another hurdle.

At the very least, the hive will have some brood to raise while they wait.

Speaking of brood, I thought you’d like to see some photos of a baby bee emerging from her cell (and she’s definitely a she because she’s coming out of a worker cell).

It always cracks me up the way the new bee’s sister bees just walk right over her while she’s trying to emerge.

Once again, we are left crossing our fingers about one of our hives. I’m starting to think we should just keep them permanently crossed. 🙂

*Unrelated side note: For months, WordPress hasn’t let me italicize words, and now I can do it again. This makes no sense whatsoever.

Adventures in the Mead-le

I know I already wrote one post today, and yet, here I am, writing one more about our adventures in mead.

We joined the legions of mead makers early this year, using equipment Santa (me) brought for Christmas. This endeavor was a natural development from our beekeeping and investment in Nashville’s Honeytree Meadery. And when we tasted the first batch Darling Daughter’s Boyfriend made and found it delicious, well, it was clear we needed to try making some ourselves.

After the initial “racking” (bottling) in February, the next step would be to taste the mead and re-bottle it with a siphon into smaller (or at least freshly cleaned) bottles. This process separates the liquid from any flavorings that have been added, and leaves the majority of the sediment of the yeast behind.

Unfortunately, COVID briefly interfered by causing me to lose my sense of taste and smell for several weeks.

By the time we got to the job today, I was concerned the chili peppers we’d added to one growler had been in too long and would cause the mead to be overly zesty. As for the grapefruit zest we’d put in another, well, I’d read tales of citrus flavorings gone horribly wrong, making the mead so bitter it couldn’t be consumed.

Thus, it was with some trepidation we racked the first bottle, starting with what we expected to be the gentlest of the flavors — our “OH Honey!” basic mead.

I should interject here to say something about The Engineer’s calculation of ABV (alcohol by volume). According to Storm the Castle and other sources, this measurement varies, from 3.5% up to 18%, with an average of 7.5%-14%. The Engineer pegged ours at 16.8%.

I didn’t believe him, thinking he’d somehow used the wrong scale. There are several on the hydrometer, and if left to me, we’d never know.

After tasting OH Honey!, I believe him. Our meads are strong. OH, Honey! is also — how can I put this? — in serious need of more aging.

That’s the brilliant thing about mead. The longer you age it, the better (and clearer) it gets.

In the case of OH Honey!, this is a very good thing.

Next up was “Ginger Rogers,” flavored with grated ginger root I had in the fridge from our CSA share last fall. It was surprisingly not horrible.

In fact, it wasn’t bad, although a little cloudy in appearance.

“Sourpuss,” with the grapefruit zest was even better and less cloudy too.

What a relief!

The big surprise was “Hot Mama,” our chili flavored mead. It was delicious and nearly transparent, though it’s difficult to see the difference in the picture below.

Since we have an abundance of OH, Honey!, we’ve decided to make another batch soon and make it all one flavor. Unfortunately, we’ve gone through our own honey from last year with this lot and won’t have any more from our hives for a few months so I’ll have to buy supplies from another local beekeeper.

And I need to source some smaller bottles so we can share without decimating our own supply.

We’ll probably stick to Hot Mama for the next batch because its flavor and clarity came together without a long aging process. Since we plan to make another five gallons, it would be best to repeat a process that has worked once, don’t you think?