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.
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!
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
… to Mom for finally giving therapy her best effort. She’s been walking further each day — using a walker (obviously) and with a lot of help getting up, but she’s making progress. Her doctor put her on Memantine for her dementia, and she seems (slightly) less confused, which I think helps. She also “self-propelled” her wheelchair all the way down a hall to lunch a few days ago. The goal is to get her strong enough to transfer from bed to chair/toilet with only the help of an aide. Reaching the point where she can get up by herself and walk with the walker would be a huge accomplishment, but may prove beyond her ability. Still, it is so wonderful to see her moving again. As my brother said, “I thought she was going to stay in a chair forever.”
… to our hives. We’ve realized we left our honey supers on too long because none of the six had as much honey as we’d like to see going into winter. Most of what they’d made was in the honey supers, although in our defense, the queens were laying so many eggs, many of the deep frames were filled with brood from May on! At one point, we had to borrow ten deep frames of honey to keep various hives from getting too crowded (to try to prevent swarming), so we had that to give back to them.
Also, we have a lot of goldenrod, and they were bringing it in (you can tell by the smell), so we left the boxes on for that. Since the Yellow Jackets were always present, trying to rob, we were reluctant to really open the hives and check things out. Once the goldenrod ended and the nasty yellow things calmed down, we went through them all. What we saw made us immediately start feeding thick syrup (2:1 ratio of sugar with some Honey B Healthy to stimulate their appetites).
Some of the hives responded by draining the jars. Others were a bit slower. And we discovered a ton of dead bees on the pull-out part of the bottom board I’d won. It was a different design than the others we have — kind of like a metal tray. I can’t say I recommend it. They seemed to be get stuck between the board and the bottom screen of the hive. Unable to reach food, they died.
Because we saw the mother (queen), and she was still laying, we decided to feed them along with the rest, and hope for the best. Unfortunately, the next time we checked, the population remained small. Ultimately, we chose to move them into a nuc box, which would be easier for them to defend.
Another option would have been to kill the queen and try to combine the hive’s population with another hive. Two reasons we didn’t do this are: 1) We’d have had to find her again, and 2) If the problem is something more than the bees just getting caught downstairs, we wouldn’t want to spread whatever caused the problem to another hive.
Still, I’ll be very surprised if they last through the cold weather, which makes me sad.
This week, we’ve been taking the final steps to winterize. To our surprise, those hardworking sisters were still bringing in pollen! Yesterday and the day before, it was only a few bees, but today there were lots coming in just loaded down with orange protein!
The nights have gotten too cold for them to take liquid food, so the jars came off. In their places, we added supers filled with the honey we’d been saving, topped with either sugar bricks or newspaper with sugar spread over it.
The latter is called “mountain camp feeding,” and is a method we haven’t used before. The sugar is supposed to offer the added advantage of absorbing some of the moisture in the hive.
Moisture in a hive is a very bad thing for a variety of reasons. Go here, if you want to learn more about the havoc it can wreak.
Most people use sugar bricks, fondant or the mountain camp method in late winter or early spring, but I’m paranoid about the prospect of them running out of food, especially when it’s extremely cold and we’d be reluctant to open the lid.
Today, we wrapped and covered. In the past, we’ve used a variety of methods to keep our girls warm and dry. In the picture below, you see hive wraps, hive cozies, and some insulated boxes The Engineer made.
The grey and pink covers are foam insulation, the two outer hives on the right stand have bee cozies that just slip on, and the two hives in the middle of the stands are wrapped. I see they now make the wraps with velcro, which ours don’t have. In the past, we’ve used tape and rope to keep them on, but this year, we’re just using tape.
Prior to starting the whole winterizing procedure, we treated them one more time for Varroa.
All that remains now is to cross our fingers and hope … and tend to the woodenware. The Engineer spent a good hour or two scraping propolis today so we’ll be ready when spring comes, and the photo below is his.
If you don’t keep bees, you may not realize what a job this is, but he’d much rather do that then think about Christmas gifts and cards, which was on my schedule.
Division of labor — that’s what it’s all about!
Last of all, hats off to me, only this time I mean it literally.
I got my hair cut recently, which means the beautiful knit wool headbands my friend Lynne made me aren’t always enough to keep the heat in now, and I decided to crochet myself a beanie from a pattern I’d used before. (Thank you, Lynne, I do still wear them, just need something with more coverage for those very cold mornings!)
Because I have plenty of scrap yarn (both donated — again, thank you, Lynne — and bought at thrift stores), I decided to use what I had.
I’m not very good at the whole “gauge” concept, and if you knit or crochet, you can guess what happened next. I ended up “adjusting” the pattern to what I thought would fit me with varying results.
Like the Three Bears, the first was too big.
The second wasn’t quite right either.
So, I made another, which turned out fairly good, but the color was wrong for my coat. I may give it as a gift, so I’m not showing it here.
The next one was made from velour yarn and looked like a tea cosy. It’s been repurposed as such.
But, finally, finally(!) I made one that works. Matches purple coat — check. Fits my head and does not look like a tea cosy — check and check.
I would have modeled it for you, but today was a no-makeup day, and sadly I’m too vain.
If you’d like to try your hand at a tea cosy, I mean beanie, you can find the pattern here. It really is pretty easy, even if you have to adjust for different yarns and head sizes.
And on the plus side, our local thrift store is getting two hats out of my venture as well. 🙂
P.S. I apologize for neglecting to post in the last weeks. I could offer many excuses including the fact that we took a little trip to Kentucky and Tennessee. Mostly though it’s just trying to get into a new normal that involves working around my more frequent and longer visits with Mom. I feel we’ve dodged the bullet this time, but I know the gun is still out there in our future, loaded and waiting. And yes, I do realize this is a dark image. I’m using it anyway because it’s accurate.
I’m stealing the title from one of my favorite movies to try to get everyone caught up with what we’ve been doing.
If you’ve not seen “What We Did on Our Summer Holiday,” you must. Go ahead and borrow, rent, stream or whatever it is you do for movies. This post will still be here when you get back.
Okay! Now that we’ve all seen the movie, I’ll warn you this post’s entertainment value pales in comparison, partly because I already wrote most of it once before, only to have WordPress swallow it up and refuse to regurgitate it on command.
I apologize. I’m not as amusing as Billy Connolly, Rosamund Pike, and David Tennant, not to mention the scene-stealing children actors in the movie. I’m not sure anyone could be.
Anyway, first we went to Oshkosh. Well, strictly speaking, first we went to Illinois to our friends’ grass strip, and then we fly to Oshkosh.
Actually, if I’m being completely accurate, first we drove to Detroit to pick up The Engineer’s Little Sister, who came in from England to go to Oshkosh with us, then we flew to Illinois and went to Oshkosh from there.
The point is, we’ve done a lot of traveling in the last month.
Oshkosh was as Oshkosh always is, a whirlwind of catching up with friends from all over, sleeping in a tent under the wing of a plane, cooking outside, and enjoying sights like this at the end of our group’s rows of planes.
The rides are quite short, but seeing Lake Winnebago from one of these historic planes is an experience to remember.
I won’t go into much detail about Oshkosh, having written about it many times in the past, both on this blog and my old one.
We returned home — happy to once again sleep between sheets and enjoy the novelty of indoor plumbing. A few days and several immense loads of laundry later, we were on our way back to Detroit to bid farewell to Little Sister.
Then, it was time to check the hives we were unable to check before Oshkosh because of the weather.
They all seemed fine — with larvae, brood, and eggs — and we were able to steal a few more frames of honey.
We even saw one or two of the queens. Bet you can find one of them below even though I didn’t circle her.
We did notice something weird.
In all three hives there was more drone brood than we would have expected this time of year.
For comparison, below are photos of worker brood.
When we first saw the drone brood, we thought there might be a laying worker in that hive, but there was plenty of regular brood and larvae, so that seemed unlikely.
We opened the other two hives, and were surprised to discover a similar situation in both.
Complicating things is the fact that queens slow their laying toward the end of summer, resulting in a higher Varroa load. And those nasty mites love drone brood because it’s most similar to their own development cycle, so having a large number of drone brood right now didn’t seem a good thing.
In the end, we decided to get rid of the capped drone brood by scraping those cells off the frames, a disgusting job I won’t describe for you.
Was that the right decision? I couldn’t tell you. I only know we didn’t want to take a chance on our hives becoming Varroa bombs.
We also moved three of the hives, converting the pink nuc box hive into an eight-frame in the process. Now, they’re all on hive stands, instead of being spread out on the picnic table.
Some beekeepers say if you move hives, it needs to be two inches at a time, or over two miles all at once. This is because when bees become foragers, they orient to the hive’s location.
If you move the hive more than two miles, they have no choice but to re-orient. If you move it two inches, it’s still close enough to the old spot that they can find it.
Other beekeepers say you can move it however you like as long as you force them to re-orient by putting something in front of the hive (like a big leafy branch).
The first few times we moved a hive, we did this.
Then, we forgot.
The bees milled around where the hive used to be for a couple hours, but then dispersed, and all was well again in bee world.
I still think the branch is a good idea, especially if you (or anyone else) need to be near where the hive was previously located, because confused bees are not happy bees.
Sorry for the anthropomorphizing, but can anyone really say unequivocally bees don’t get unhappy? I mean, no one really knows for sure, do they?
Anyway, all the hives are on hive stands now, which is the first step in preparing them for winter.
We also ended up visiting our friend MJ to have a look at her two hives because she’d seen open queen cells but no larvae or eggs the last time she’d checked one of them.
By the time we saw them, the new queen had started laying, and everything was fine.
Still, it was a good excuse for a visit, and I was able to take a photo of this glorious sunflower from her yard.
In our own yard, the bees have been loving the mint I planted in a pot last year. Wonder if any of our honey will taste minty?
Because we have so little sun in our yard, we belong to a CSA, and I needed to turn my attention toward that to try to catch up on our vegetable and fruit shares. On the drive to the farm, I pass this barn and was finally able to take a photo.
Making and canning anything is a little time-consuming, but the results are worth it. In fact, I hope to can some tomatoes this year. I’m still behind on my CSA share and hoping they can provide me with enough tomatoes to get some in jars.
We managed to get in a quick flight to a local airport for breakfast and a wash of the plane (filthy from Oshkosh), and then were off again, this time for four nights camping.
We shared our campsite with this creature, whom we saw every day. It’s a Common Watersnake, and apparently can give a nasty, although not poisonous bite. Fortunately, the breed only does this if a person does something stupid like swing them around by the tail. As it was, we kept an eye on it from a respectful distance, and s/he mostly laid in the sun.
These days, most people camp in large RVs, but we saw a few other tent campers and some small trailers.
I loved this vintage one, which reminded me of the kind of trailer that was common when I camped as a child with my family.
On our first full day, we hiked to where we hoped to put in our kayak the following day, a distance that was supposed to be two miles each way. It turned out to be closer to four, but was a nice escape from a campground that is always crowded due to its proximity to the water.
There were many fallen trees, some of them across the path, so it made for an interesting hike.
Also, we crossed a swinging bridge.
I was quite proud of myself because I don’t like bridges or heights. Plus, at the end of the day, my FitBit said I had walked over 20,000 steps for a total of more than eleven miles!
The following day, we drove to the put-in spot, kayaked back to camp, and then did the same hike again, only going one way this time to pick up our vehicle.
The scenery was beautiful from the river, but I’d be lying if I said it was a wonderful kayak trip. The water level was low, and we had to walk over slippery rocks more times than I can count. If we do that river again, it will be earlier in the season when the level might be higher.
On our third day, we drove to the Kokosing Gap trail, a bike path we hadn’t previously ridden. We only cycled about eleven miles — from Howard to Gambier and up into the town of Gambier and back — but plan to visit again, if only to dine at the “Howard Hilton.”
Howard is a very small crossroads town, and we were quite taken with this little bar calling itself the Hilton.
I look forward to further exploring the trail.
And this train is parked at Gambier. You’re allowed to ring its bell, so I did. 🙂
As you can imagine, we had to eat heartily to provide energy for all this physical activity, and most of my cooking turned out well, like this chile and pie iron cornbread dinner.
On the other hand, my second attempt at Dutch Oven pizza turned out rather charred.
If you’re into camping and cooking, below is the menu for our trip.
Sun — Ham and cheese baguette (Cut a baguette in half, butter one side, mustard on the other, add ham and cheese, wrap in foil, and grill over fire until done), Grilled zucchini marinated in Garlic Expressions, topped with romano and grilled until cheese melts.
Mon — Breakfast: Tomato scrambled eggs (canned tomatoes cooked in buttered pan until liquid is released and thickens into a sauce, add eggs beaten for scrambling, cook gently until done, add chopped cilantro), Lunch: Sandwiches/veggies/munchies, Dinner: Cornbread and chile — beans, peppers, chorizo, chile powder, 1/2 can black beans, canned tomatoes, cumin — Dutch Oven on stove, Cornbread in pie iron (butter pie iron very well, drop 4 T. cornbread dough, close iron and stick in coals, flipping after five minutes and checking after ten).
Tues — Breakfast: Ham and eggs, with home fries, on tortilla if desired, Lunch: sandwiches/veggies/munchies, Dinner: Camp quesadillas — tortillas, chorizo (fry ahead), salsa, guac, olives, beans, cheese, done in pie iron, toppings: guacamole, salsa.
Actually, it was more like 98 or 100 pounds, but at a certain point, one gives up caring about the exact number.
Since we’d been working on the plane annual for two weeks, we certainly didn’t plan to extract honey this weekend, but apparently the bees thought differently.
We’ve been treating them for Varroa with Formic Pro and gotten the first strips in, but ten days later when the second strips were due, it was too hot. The temperature has to be 85 F or below for the first three days after putting in the strips, and we’ve not had three days in a row below that temperature for quite a while.
You can do two strips at once for 14 days, but when we’ve done that in the past, we ended up with dead queens, so we’re more cautious now.
Normally when we’re treating, we don’t open the hive even to look in the honey supers, but they’ve been crazy busy, filling the frames this year, and we were afraid they’d get too crowded with no place to move out of the brood nest. And when I looked in the directions for Formic Pro, it says don’t disturb the brood. By looking only in the supers, at least we’d be following the letter — if not the spirit — of the law.
So, Saturday, we peeked, and it was a good thing we did because we ended up swapping out fifteen frames full of honey for fifteen new ones. And there were eight more full ones we couldn’t switch because we were out of new frames despite investing in (many!) new frames this season.
The bees were also festooning. That’s when they kind of chain together, and supposedly they do it mostly when they’re building comb.
There are lots of theories about why they do this, but nobody’s quite sure. Whatever the reason, it’s a neat thing to see.
Anyway, because we needed empty frames to replace the eight full ones, we had to extract sooner than we planned, and that’s why we ended up extracting honey on the 4th of July weekend.
In the end, we pulled honey from thirty-four frames*, including ten we’d already taken out and frozen** for forty-eight hours.
Actually, since our friend MJ had her very first honey harvest(!!!) and brought frames to extract with us, we pulled from thirty-eight.
Here’s MJ using a knife to uncap her frames. Interestingly, her honey had a strong mint flavor despite mint not yet being in bloom. Both she and I noticed it, so perhaps the bees foraged on another flower in the mint family.
It was a long, hot, sticky, exhausting day.
Long enough and sticky enough and exhausting enough that we decided to finetune our process.
We’ve always drained the extractor into the filter, and then into a bucket for jar filling, but with this much honey, the procedure became bottlenecked at the filter.
Also, despite being fine in the past for less honey, our little plastic extractor really wasn’t up to par for the amount we had to extract.
End result: yesterday, we ordered a new, larger extractor and decided in the future we will extract one day, and filter and fill the jars later.
However, these decisions were made after slogging through the old way and spending yesterday finishing up the cleaning of the many tools we use, melting wax, and then cleaning again.
We had talked about going out to celebrate our big honey harvest, but we were so tired we ate leftover pizza on Saturday and ended up eating dinner Sunday at ten pm, so still no celebration.
Today, I began the semi-final step in rendering the wax and began filtering the honey that drained from it when I did the first melting. Then I steam-mopped the floor.
The Engineer and I also reached the momentous conclusion that we have to start selling our honey. We are simply expending too much effort and spending too much money to sustain it as a hobby without an influx of cash for the end result.
We looked in today when we put the second Formic Pro strips on the hives, and it looked like the bees were filling some of the comb.
How exciting is that!!
If you’re curious what 96 pounds of honey looks like, here’s a couple of pictures which show both the honey and part of the mess in the kitchen after the honey extraction.
*If you’re good at calculating, you’re may wonder how we ended up with thirty-four frames because 10+15+8 = 33, not 34. It’s because we missed replacing one frame somewhere, which means a hive has only nine. Although bees are notoriously picky about their space, this isn’t as big of a deal as one might expect. The fact is some beekeepers run nine frames instead of ten because they think the bees make more honey that way.
**The freezing is to kill any wax moth eggs in the wax so they don’t hatch and destroy the frames of comb. If the frames are being extracted immediately, it doesn’t matter because the wax is separated and rendered before any eggs can hatch.
Honestly, I don’t know how people who have large apiaries do it, especially those who do it as a side hustle. I suppose the more hives you have, the less you fret over each. That’s certainly been the case with us. I mean, we fret in the sense that we try to do what’s best for them, but I think we’re a little calmer about the possibility of things going wrong.
Thankfully, we seem to have settled with six colonies, at least for the time being. Still, we’ve had to split our hive checks into two days. It’s just too hard to go through six hives in one go. Hence the double wordplay in the title — it’s split shifts because our bee duties have been split into two shifts, and split shifts because four of the eight hives we’ve had this year were the result of splits.
Today, we checked 1A, 1, 2, and 2B.
1A was split from 1, taking the original queen with it. It’s our only eight-frame hive, and it’s pretty packed. If any of our hives is a candidate for swarming, it’s this one. The fact that there were eight or ten queen cups on the bottom of a couple of frames would lend weight to this possibility. With the discovery of eggs in several of those cups (turning them into queen cells), a swarm becomes even more likely.
Since we also saw the queen — and she was clearly laying well — we’d normally split the hive, but frankly, we’re running out of room and supplies, despite having spent about $400 on wooden ware in the last month.
Instead, we took out that brood-laden, multi-queen cell/cup frame to move to another hive and added another honey super because the first one is full of capped and uncapped honey and nectar.
They may still swarm, but we bought Swarm Commander to spray on the little bushes the last swarm picked. According to several people who should know, if you spray a little on a cotton ball and attach it where you want swarms to land, they’ll go there.
Apparently, nothing else does the job quite as well. I sure hope they’re right because it’s $35.95 for a 2 ounce bottle!
We moved on to 1, last checked on 20 May. There was a queen present on 11 May, but no larvae, eggs, or evidence she was laying. When we looked on the 20th, we didn’t see any either, so we’d given them a frame of eggs to make a queen if they needed one. Now, we’re questioning if we bothered to look in the super because today we did, and there was brood, eggs, and larvae. We didn’t see the queen, so we took out the queen excluder, hoping she’ll move downstairs where there’s more room.
There was also lots of honey in the supers, so we swapped two fully capped frames for some empties.
So, the good news is the hive is queen right and they’re making honey. The bad news is she’s been laying in the wrong place.
On the other hand, some beekeepers swear the bees make more honey if there’s no queen excluder to hinder their work, and I’ve kind of wanted to see if this is true.
Maybe this is our chance to find out.
One worker, who apparently took offense at our presence, stung me through my glove. I can’t blame her for being cranky. It was a hot day (mid 80s), and the hive was crowded, especially upstairs in the “nursery.” It hurt a bit, but the stinger scarcely penetrated the glove. Of course, the bee’s crankiness cost her a lot more.
There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere … something about a person’s bad temper causing them more pain than it does others maybe?
Next, we came to #2, the one where we watched the queen emerge. When we last peeked inside, we saw the queen — who was nice and big and therefore clearly mated — but no evidence she’d started laying.
We went through the bottom box … and found lots of pollen, nectar, and honey, as well as some comb they were drawing.
Thinking something had happened to the queen, we put the brood-laden frame with queen cells in the box.
I love the pattern made by the varied colors of the pollen.
It wasn’t until we reached the top deep box that we found what we were looking for — brood, eggs, and larvae, followed by a spotting of the queen.
Can you spot her?
I’ll make it a little easier for you. Here’s a couple with The Engineer’s hive tool pointing at Her Loveliness.
Are you ready for a challenge? See if you can find her below!
I’ve circled her. Did you spot her?
So, what will happen to the queen cells from the other hive? Our hope is if the bees are happy with their queen — and they have no reason not to be — they’ll ignore those eggs and let nature take its course.
Still, who knows what goes through their tiny little brains?
Last up was 2B, the hive from the swarm. We have a board with mason jars acting as a honey super for this hive, in the hope they will make comb in a jar for us.
So far, all that’s happened is the comb “starter strips” keep falling down, and the jars have gotten moisture in them, which we’ve tried to alleviate by adding a couple of sticks beneath the board and an inner cover with a front entrance to allow more circulation.
Since we had to do some repair work on the starter strips, we decided we might as well check that hive too.
We spotted the queen, as well as some larvae, eggs, and brood, and the bees have been making comb.
However, they still have three empty frames in their living quarters, which explains why they’re not interested in making comb in jars.
When we took the jars off to repair their strips, we discovered the ants had moved in. We’ve been ignoring ants around the hives ever since we learned they produce formic acid (the same stuff we use to get rid of the dreaded Varroa Destructor Mites). Still, nesting in our experimental comb honey jars before the bees even got in them was pushing it too far, so we used the old cinnamon trick to discourage them.
In writing this just now, I’ve had the idea that perhaps we should steal some brood from the crowded hives, say 1 or 1A, and put it in this one to give them a little boost. I’ll have to discuss that idea with The Engineer to see if he agrees.
In summary, today we checked four hives and either saw queens or evidence one had been busy laying in all of the colonies.
Later this week, we will check 3A and 3B. 3A should have a queen because when we split the hive, we moved her into that colony. 3B is the tall nuc, which may or may not have a queen yet. If they do, she’s probably not started laying.
After that, hopefully sometime next week, we’ll treat the hives, probably with Formic Pro since most of them have brood.
From left to right, we 1A and 1 (checked today and currently sporting heavy beards), 2 (also checked today), 3B (tall, skinny pink nuc we will check later in the week), 3 (on picnic table), empty nuc box (in case a hive wants another option to swarm to), 2B (swarm hive with comb honey setup).
Other than that, we’ve enjoyed seeing Tears for Fears and Garbage (a Christmas gift from Darling Daughter) at a nearby venue. We were very grateful DD sprang for pavilion seats (for us oldies) because it poured buckets as soon as we got out of the car.
I’ve exited the shower drier than I was when we got to our seats. Fortunately, it was warm so it didn’t spoil the evening.
Two days later, we went camping for four nights where we dined on such delicacies as pie iron samosas.
Once again, we snagged a site by the river, so fell asleep to the rippling of the water.
It was delightful.
Although we left the kayak at home (we were driving to Columbus and didn’t want to leave it in a hotel parking lot overnight), we hoped to rent one for a days paddling. Unfortunately, the river was too high, so we spent two days cycling a nearby rail-trail
Near one of the trailheads, there’s a grass strip. We paused a moment to envy the pilot who was using it.
It’s a nice bike path. I recommend it if you’re ever near Mansfield, Ohio.
After camping, we threw all our gear into the van and went to Columbus. There, we ate gyros with Darling Daughter and Partner. It was so pleasant to see them again … and to enjoy dining in their screened-in porch.
We were in town to see the Beach Boys, who were performing a free concert at Columbus Commons, (another outdoor venue, but one without pavilion seats). Disappointingly, a major storm came through just as the gates were supposed to open. Because it was significantly cooler than the previous concert night, and we’d already had our outdoor shower for the week, we decided to skip the concert.
Instead we enjoyed the novelty of a bed that wasn’t the ground and food that hadn’t been cooked outside.
It rained all night, so this decision turned out to be the right one, at least for us.
On the way home, we were passed two R-Vs. Both had unusual spare wheel covers, although I was only able to capture a picture of one.
In our twenty-four hours at home, we managed to get the camping gear unpacked, although not re-packed, and The Engineer cleaned the van. I got in a fast visit to my mom, did the laundry and made a dish for the Memorial Day picnic we were attending.
I made this super-easy and delicious cinnamon cheesecake. I’ve seen a similar recipe made with lemon, which I’ll try sometime, but I don’t usually have lemons on hand, so it will wait until we’re not quite so busy.
The picnic was yesterday (another hotel night — thank heaven for The Engineer’s points from all his nights away before retirement), with lots of delicious food and good company.
Thankfully, this week we have no plans that involve overnights away because, in addition to bee work, we want to try out the kayak on our local lake, get some house work done, and prepare for our garage sale.
I’m looking forward to having two days with nowhere to go but inside a garage full of our cleared out stuff!
Well, I’m not going to bore you with the details, but when we inspected Hive 2A (the split from #2), we discovered it had the original queen. This was the hive where we ended up doing a “walkaway split” by putting frames with eggs in both the original box and the split and leaving them to it. We did this because when we went through the original box, we didn’t see the queen.
Having found the original queen, we took the hive down to one box and called our friend MJ to take it for the nuc we promised her.
We also have another friend coming on Sunday for a nuc, which would take us down to five hives, but after MJ took hers, we were temporarily at six.
Today, we inspected the hives with new queens to see if there were eggs. When we finished, our apiary looked like this.
Yes, we have seven hives. Again.
You see, we looked inside Hive #1 (second from the left), which we last left nine days ago with a new queen. Today, we found no queen, no eggs, and no larvae. Either she didn’t mate successfully, the bees didn’t like her and killed her, or she just hasn’t started laying and we missed her.
Any of these possibilities is as likely as the rest.
We stole a frame with eggs from 1A to put in. If they are queenless, they can make a new queen. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
Having a break in eggs hatching might be a good thing for that hive anyway. They are still very full.
Then we looked in Hive #2 — the hive where we watched a queen emerge. We didn’t see any eggs there either, but we did see the queen. She is gorgeously big, which should signify she’s mated successfully and just hasn’t started laying. So fingers crossed for that one too.
Last, we opened Hive #3. It was full of brood and bees, likely from the eggs and larvae that were in it when we last checked. But we didn’t see a queen or eggs, and it was full(!) of queen cells. Like, maybe 25 of them?
So, clearly if they have a queen, they’re not happy with her. And why would they be if she’s not laying?
The question was what should we do with all those bees, brood and queen cells? If we did nothing, we would almost certainly end up with another swarm on our hands.
The logical solution was to split the hive (again), putting brood and queen cells in both, along with honey, pollen, and nectar for food.
The only problem is, we’re now back up to seven hives, and will only go down to six instead of five when we give away the split.
In the end, I expect this situation will resolve itself because I find it hard to imagine we’ll have six hives going into winter.
The problem is we’ve been waiting to treat the hives because I’ve heard it’s pointless to treat only part of an apiary because bees do sometimes “drift” into neighboring hives and can take those nasty Varroa Mites with them. I’ve also heard it’s not good to treat when they are in the delicate process of making and/or accepting new queens because the smell of the Oxalic or Formic Acid can mask the queen’s pheromones.
Unfortunately, we are stuck playing the waiting game. In a week or ten days, we will check the hives again, but I’ve given up trying to predict what we’ll find. We may have to just treat them no matter what state they’re in. This is the time of year when Varroa can really take off, but you sometimes don’t see the problem until August when it’s too late to do anything about it.
In other news, we went to Michigan for a concert and came home with a tandem kayak.
This is not quite as impetuous as it sounds. Because we enjoy canoeing and kayaking, we’ve been considering making such a purchase for several years. We just didn’t plan on acting on the idea this week!
However, we were cycling on a riverside path in Ann Arbor, and the people in the water looked like they were having so much fun! We discussed the idea again, and when we got back to our motel room, I looked at the REI website because I have a 20% off coupon for their yearly anniversary sale.
The ones we liked were a little more than we wanted to spend, so I looked on Craigslist. Lo and behold, twenty minutes away there was this beauty being offered complete with life jackets, paddles, and scupper plugs for what seemed quite a reasonable price.
We made an appointment to see it, found there was an REI store within two miles of our hotel, and bought what we needed to strap it to our luggage rack.
It was as good as it looked online, and the deal was struck.
Yesterday, we drove to the Watercraft Agent and registered it.
When we called our friend, MJ and told her we had a swarm if she wanted it, she was so happy. We were too because we knew she was anxious to get another colony started.
So, The Engineer carefully shut the openings and put mesh over the vents on our plastic nuc box for transporting.
This morning MJ came over to pick it up.
We gently loaded the box into her car, careful not to jostle its contents, and MJ drove away.
About twenty minutes later, I got a phone call.
“It’s a good thing I was so careful driving and carrying that nuc box,” MJ said. “When I opened it, there were three bees inside.”
What the heck?! Sometime yesterday, those crazy girls must have returned to their original home!
We recently learned this happens sometime and usually means the workers left without a queen. Oops!
On a positive note, we have hope that at least one or two of our three splits will soon have a viable queen so MJ can take it as a nuc.
Meanwhile, in an effort at preventing any more swarms from that hive, we did a complete check, intending to remove all queen cells except the two biggest.
There were many, some open and some closed.
And then, The Engineer noticed this!
You can watch video of it here. Because it takes a while, I also did a time-lapse video, which sped up the action so much you can hardly see what’s going on. 😦
When the new queen was fully emerged and had scampered on her way, we moved on to Hive #3, the one we planned to split on Monday.
Now, we generally cover open boxes with a towel when we’re not working on them, and today when I lifted the towel on the second box, I spotted the queen … who promptly flew away.
$#@%&! Had we lost the queen forever?
All we could do was make sure both the split we were making and the original hive had eggs to make a new one.
But, then we found another queen, larger than the one I saw. So, she was probably the original queen. We put her in the split.
There weren’t any queen cells, and the many queen cups we saw last week hadn’t developed further, but maybe we missed one that resulted in the flying queen. The bees would have to make a new queen from an egg.
Hive #1 has been looking crowded, with a lot of bearding (as you can see in yesterday’s blog), which is weird because when we split it, we put the queen in the split. This means they don’t yet have a laying queen. We weren’t even going to check for one until nearer the end of the month, but it seemed so full, we decided to put on an extra honey super to allow bees a little more room.
When we looked inside, we were surprised to see a queen! She also had to be quite newly emerged because there were no eggs, no larvae , and only capped brood. Since we split on 22 April, this makes sense. It takes about sixteen days for a queen to develop, and another week or two to really start laying well. It’s only been about twenty-eight days.
Evidently, we must have left in quite a lot of eggs and larvae when we split because the hive is bursting at the seams. When she begins to lay, we will need to get on a second brood box posthaste!
We also found a queen cell on a frame in the honey super, which we set aside to put in the now queenless Hive #3.
So, after we closed up Hive #1, we moved back to Hive #3, opened it, and went to put the queen cell inside, only now there was also a queen on the frame. Perhaps the one that flew off?
Now, we have (left to right) Hive #1A (laying queen, split from Hive #1), a very crowded Hive #1 (new queen, needs another brood box very soon), Hive #2A (tall nuc split from Hive #2), Hive #2 (aka the “swarmed hive,” newly hatched queen and queen cell), Hive #3 (freshly split with queen and a queen cell), Hive #3A (laying queen, split from Hive #3), Hive #2B (swarmed from Hive #2, probably has a queen).
With Hive #2B, we are attempting to get the bees to make comb in a jar. It’s supposed to be difficult to get the bees to start building comb on a glass surface, but it sounded interesting, so we decided to give it a shot.
All the hives with new queens (#2B, #3, #2, and #1) will need to be checked to for eggs in a week or so. If there are eggs, the hive is “queen right.” If there aren’t, we give it another week, and then it will need another queen from somewhere.
Since we really don’t want seven hives, we hope to be able to give a queen right hive to MJ and possibly another acquaintance as well.
Today, I came home from my morning walk to find The Engineer replacing the tubes in both my bike tires. They blew out yesterday while the bicycle was sitting in my hot car. I’d filled them to the psi listed on the tire, which turned out to be the maximum. And it was cold when I filled them and hot in the car. Air expands, so …
A little later, when I went inside to make some breakfast, I looked out at the hives, and darned if the same one wasn’t swarming again, only this time they hadn’t gotten past the hanging off the front of the hive.
Here’s the Instagram video of what it looked like.
“No problem,” I thought, “we’ve handled this before,” and I told The Engineer not to worry, I’d put on my suit and scoop them into the box we’d set out yesterday.
And that’s what I did.
A little later, The Engineer decided it was getting confusing keeping track of what hive spawned what split/swarm. He numbered them and marked which we knew had queens.
Then, before we left to go buy more boxes and frames, it looked like that hive might be thinking about swarming it again. We set our only remaining box in front of the colony to encourage them to settle there if they did, but on return, it doesn’t look like they’ve swarmed.
We are giving today’s swarm, Hive/Nuc2C to our friend MJ to try her hand at. She’ll need to check it in 10-15 days to see if there are eggs. If there are, the queen has mated and all is fine. If it isn’t, MJ may need to buy a queen, but that’s still significantly cheaper than buying a package or Nuc.
Tomorrow, we plan to split Hive 3 and put a different setup on the first swarm’s hive — trying to get them to make honey in jars.
Just another day in the life of two beekeepers during swarm season.