Catching a Swarm: And Now We Are Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were very calm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were not disappointed.

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

And we saw the queen! Do you?

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

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

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

They kind of sneak up on you.

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

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

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

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

We can do this because we’re retired. 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus, bees! Stay tuned!

A Giant Arrow to Point the Way and Other Updates

We recently spent a long weekend in Illinois. A former work colleague of The Engineer was getting married, and after the wedding we invited ourselves to some friends’ house for a visit. As always, it was delightful to see them. They are also recently retired, and much of the conversation focused on how we are endeavoring to enjoy and make use of the time we have left while we are still in good health.

Not having to rush home to be up for work the next day is a part of that mindset. We planned to stop at HillCo Bee Supply to pick up a frame feeder. Our local supplier was out, and since we’d split Hive #1 by moving the queen and several frames of brood, bees, honey and food, we were a little concerned we’d left them with too few foragers to bring in the nectar they needed. A frame feeder seemed the only means of providing that extra layer of security we like for our girls.

Thus, we strolled into a business in a small Illinois town, only to discover it was more warehouse than shop. Apparently most customers order online for shipping or pick-up. At least, it seemed that way by employees’ surprise at having us walk in off the street.

Still, they found a few feeders for us and couldn’t have been nicer. If you’re looking for bee supplies in that area of Illinois (or by mail), you might want to give them a try.

Anyway, because this side trip had sent us a different direction than our usual route, our friend (an avid pilot, airplane mechanic, and former United pilot) encouraged us to continue on to see a local landmark.

41°47’11.4″N 89°01’14.2″W Air mail route concrete arrow

So, what, you’re probably thinking, it’s an arrow in a field. Big deal, right?

Well, look again. I think this second picture better shows the scale of things.

If you want to visit, make sure you come before the corn’s planted, or you probably won’t find it!

I bet you’re wondering why anyone would put a big concrete arrow in what is clearly a corn field.

As it happens, this arrow — and other like it — played an important role in the development of our country, specifically in how air mail service was able to function in the early days of aviation when pilots depended visual markings.

A better method was needed, and thus began the concrete arrow and airmail beacon system, with arrows placed every 3-5 miles to be used by aviators flying the mail.

I’m sure the owner of this farm gets tired of having people pull up to gawk at their field, but there aren’t many arrow left these days, and we were glad we made the effort to see this one.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, check out the following:

Concrete Arrows and the U.S. Airmail Beacon System on the “Sometimes Interesting” blog

Airmail Arrow, Reno, Nevada on the Atlas Obscura site

The True Story Behind Those Giant Concrete Arrows from “Saving Places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation

America’s Mysterious Concrete Arrows on the CNN Travel Website

And now, on a completely different subject, but one that’s rarely far from our minds, we will turn our attention to the bees.

The dandelions are in full blossom, and things are buzzing. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

Honey bees in our area rely heavily on this bright yellow flower for their spring buildup. If you have them in your yard — and I hope you do because otherwise you are using some kind of herbicide, which makes you no friend of pollinators — please consider not mowing until they are finished blooming. You don’t have to let them go to seed; just wait until their blossoms shut before mowing.

Since we’ve been home, our hardworking girls have been out foraging whenever the sun is out, and sometimes even between the rain showers. Hives #1A, #2A, #4, and #5 have been particularly active, and even #3, the little one, and #1 and #2 (the splits) have been getting in on the act.

Last week, we checked all of them except #2A and #1A who are (fingers crossed) in the middle of raising queens. We saw all the queens and brood in every stage of development.

This is the best possible news, although as beekeepers, we’ve learned not to get too confident because some kind of disaster is usually just around the corner.

However, judging by the amount of brood in a few of the hives, we’ll probably need to make more splits. The next week is going to be somewhat cool, keeping the bees mostly close to home. If the weather warms after next weekeend as expected, there’s a distinct possibility they’ll be feeling crowded and possibly swarming.

If we get a sunny day toward the end of this week, we’ll have a look, checking for queen cells and, if we’re lucky, a new queen in #2A and perhaps even #1A. It may be too early for any concrete evidence of new mother bees, but if we find queen cells, we’ll have to act quickly to prevent swarming.

In related news, my friend Kate, master quilter and blogger from Tall Tales of Chiconia, asked if we would name our long hive.

Honestly, we hadn’t thought about it. We gave up on naming the others when it got too confusing due to their many incarnations, but Kate was right. This new step in beekeeping, this experiment with a new type of equipment, deserved to stand out.

But, we were both fresh out of inspiration until one night last week, as I was falling asleep (the very best time for creative thinking, I’ve found), I had a flash of inspiration, a weasel, if you will.

Our Long Langstroth hive shall from herein be call LoLa.

What do you think? I find it completely appropriate, and The Engineer, who is (so) over naming hives didn’t care, so that’s what she will be.

Lastly, under bee-related news, we had the opportunity this week to assist with/witness a hive cut-out. The bees had already absconded, rendering moot the beekeeping jackets, veils and gloves we’d worn, but I eventually decided this was probably for the best, especially for our first such experience.

The chance came via our beekeeping club, offered by one of the leading beekeepers in the state, who stressed how important it was to completely clear out any detritus from a hive, and then seal every possible entrance to the area.

The hive removal took place at one of our local parks in an outbuilding that had played home to a series of hives from swarms settling there. As a result, the park had already been through a series of hive cut-outs.

Because honey bee behavior is strongly influenced by pheromones, swarms had been drawn again and again to the same spot by the scent of the previous hives.

Our job was to clear it out and seal it once and for all.

There was a lot of comb, with the range in color telling us the hive had been there for a while (darker comb), but also recently (light comb).

We all had a turn at scraping out the comb and thick propolis the bees had left behind. There was even honey, but no bees, eggs, larvae, or capped brood.

Because there’s no way of knowing why the bees absconded from their home, our leader told us she planned to be very careful in handling the wax to avoid contaminating her own hives with any possible virus.

There was still life in the hive, however, as two of our members discovered. The wax and debris at the bottom of this picture wasn’t left by bees.

Several of the other creatures who’d made a nest in the same cavity leapt for freedom as their home was being scraped out.

It seems mice eat pollen, and a female had chosen to have her young near a ready supply.

One would think that would be enough to drive out the bees, but our leader said that is not the case. They can coexist in the same space without either leaving.

In the end, it probably doesn’t matter. The bees were gone. We could only hope we’d done a good enough job cleaning out their leavings so other swarms wouldn’t settle in their previous home.

Lastly, since so many of you are kind enough to inquire about Mom, I thought I’d share a photo I took yesterday. She is much the same, and I can’t tell you if that’s good news or bad. It’s good because she’s still with us, and bad because she continues to be absolutely sure she’s capable of walking on her own. As a result, she’s fallen twice in the last week or so, although fortunately she only incurred a scrape and some bruises. Of course, at ninety-two, that’s quite bad enough!

Even when we’ve just spoken about how she needs to wait for help — or rather, I’ve reiterated once again that she needs to — the next minute I turn around, and she’s struggling to get to her feet.

Although she already has a camera in her room, obviously the nursing staff can’t watch it every minute of every night. And despite her staying in the common area during the day where they can keep an eye on her, they do have other residents to tend to and can’t be there all the time.

After the last two falls, the director of nursing called and mentioned she was going to get a personal alarm for my mother. The director said she hates to use them, and I know this is true. I’ve only ever heard one person who had one, and that was in the last three weeks. That resident is in quite a similar situation — still convinced she can walk alone and falling whenever she tries.

Like the nursing staff, I hate to resort to this action, but I can’t think of anything else.

Oh, well, Mom still enjoys milkshakes, and thankfully she’s not diabetic. I know they’re not part of a healthy diet, but honestly, at this point, who cares? If bringing her one as an occasional (or even regular) treat gives her a half-hour of happiness, my brother and I will keep doing it unless it becomes a problem.

Well, it’s time for me to turn my attention to at least organizing my to-do list of all the things I let slide while we’ve been busy with trips and bees. I’ll write again when I have something new(ish) to say.

Thanks for reading!

And Then There Were Six? Maybe!

As of today, we have five queenright colonies, and a sixth full of brood, larvae, nurse bees, and hopefully some eggs.

If you recall, we went into the winter looking like this.

We didn’t hold out much hope the little hive in the middle on the left would survive. We discovered too late that they were failing, which we put down to a weird bottom board I’d won that didn’t seal properly and ended up trapping a ton of bees between it and the screen. Whether it was that or something else, we were right, and they didn’t even make it through December.

Coming into late winter and early spring, it was clear we had three quite strong hives (the two big ones in foam on the left and the one on the far right), one sort of okay hive (the brown one wrapped in black), and one that was struggling a bit (the third one from the right).

But, when we were finally able to peek inside, all five had survived and had brood, with the weakest in no worse shape than our very first hive after winter.

The Engineer has now labeled the hives 1-5 (left to right), and on Sunday, we checked #1 and #5, and stole a frame with some brood to give to the weak hive, #3.

After discussing it, we decided to take that hive down to a five-frame nuc box to give them less space to have to guard.

That was the first task for today, and although we didn’t spot the queen, there was brood in addition to the frame we’d added. Hopefully the queen is still viable.

We’ll continue feeding it with pollen patties (just small bits, otherwise they become hive beetle havens) and start with sugar water, HoneyBHealthy, and Amino B Booster. In a week or two, we’ll reevaluate.

We used the Amino B Booster last year, and I’m not sure if it was that or just a good year, but our hives seemed to really take off.

In fact, we’re going to put food on all of them for a few weeks, just for an added boost.

Next, we got into #4, which was the hive I had mentally given three points out of five. It turned out to have quite a lot of dead bees. However, there was also a thriving population of live ones.

And I spotted the queen! In fact, I spotted the mother bees in four out of five of the hives, making it possible for The Engineer to catch each in our queen clip. In doing so, we were able to manipulate the boxes to better suit the needs of the colonies.

Here is probably a good place to explain that when I’ve been talking about checking the hives these last few blogs, you should also know this involved swapping the bottom boards for clean ones (followed by cleaning the old ones to swap for another dirty one), pulling old or moldy frames, and rearranging the frames so the queens can more easily reach open comb to lay eggs. In some cases, we moved the box with the brood to the bottom so the bees can move up into free space.

Anyway, when we finished with #4, there were still a lot of bees in the honey super, so we put in an escape board. I wrote in this post about how they work, but basically, it makes it easy for the bees to go back down into the brood nest at night, but difficult for them to come back up. Unfortunately, if left on too long, those smart insects figure it out, and you’re back to square one.

This means tomorrow, in between several appointments scattered throughout the day, we have to go into that hive and take off both super and escape board. And we need to add some kind of feeder to each of the six hives.

But today, last up was hive #2. It was loaded with brood, frames just packed with capped cells, including drone brood, and with the added attraction of multiple queen cups on the bottom of one frame.

Now, we don’t normally worry overmuch about queen cups. Our bees seem to like to always have one or two on hand. But coupled with the amount of brood, the drone brood, and the fact that we had already found the queen and put her in a clip, well, it just made sense to go ahead and do a split today instead of letting them get even more crowded and doing it in a week or two.

Next week is supposed to be a little cooler, and by the time the really warm weather returns, that hive would likely be just raring to go out and swarm.

We moved Mother Bee and a full frame of brood to the left a bit, keeping it as hive #2, then moved most of the rest of the brood including the nurse bees into a new box next door and calling it #2A.

A lot of people insist you need to move the new hive miles away or put some kind of blockage in front to force the bees to re-orient to their new home. We did the blockage thing the first time we split, but then a fellow beekeeper told us he never bothered because nurse bees haven’t been out of the hive, so they didn’t need to re-orient, and by the time they go on to be foragers, they’ll orient to the “new” hive.

In this case, the returning foragers will come back to 2A because it’s in the original spot. However, because the queen is in #2, we would expect the bees in that box to stay with her. Also, the nurse bees on the frame we left with her should also stay.

She seems to be such a strong queen; I would expect her to replace the removed bees in no time at all.

Of course, we’ll keep an eye on that hive, as well, while crossing our fingers that 2A successfully rears a queen who is able to successfully mate and begin laying.

It’s a long process — sixteen days from egg to hatched queen and anywhere from twelve to seventeen before she starts laying.

We generally give splits a month during which we don’t go into the boxes except to add food. After a month, we’ll have a look for brood. If it’s there, we celebrate. If not, we add a frame with eggs from another hive and start again.

Another alternative would be to buy a mated queen. This can be instead of allowing your girls to raise one or in the event they aren’t successful, and you don’t want to wait any longer.

Lest you think we can now rest on our laurels, I must remind you that #1 will need split soon also. Although the mother bee in that hive wasn’t laying quite as quickly as #2, she was going strong and had started laying drone eggs. That colony will need to be split in the next few weeks, and #4 and #5 may also need split sometime after, depending how they take off.

I think the best we can hope for #3 is that it will regain its strength and become a strong hive once again.

We also need to get the Long Langstroth hive outside and level, ready to take one of the splits so we can begin our adventures in horizontal hive beekeeping.

The next few weeks will be busy ones for all us beekeepers!

And then there were six? We can only wait and see.

So. Much. Pollen.

Spring seems to have finally arrived, and I won’t jinx our good weather by saying anything more on the subject.

Today, we had both the weather and time to do a complete hive inspection on two hives (the newly numbered 1 and 5).

After opening #1, we quickly discovered we’ll probably have to split it sooner, rather than later because there was already quite a lot of eggs, larvae, and brood — including drone brood, which you can see below.

To me, drone brood looks like Kix cereal, but other beekeeps describe it as looking like popcorn. If you look at the bottom of the frame, you’ll see that capped drone cells stick out more than the flatter worker brood that’s more in the middle of the frame.

Here are some eggs, which can be difficult to spot unless the light is just right! I’ve made it easier for you by zooming in. Just look for the little rice-like bits at the bottom of the cells. You can use the bees in the photos to help understand just how tiny bee eggs are.

And I spotted Mama Bee, aka the queen, in both hives, though I only took pictures of one. Photo #1 shows ony her abdomen.

And here’s a bit more of her.

Finally, the workers moved away enough for me to get the big girl’s whole self in the frame.

I also had great fun trying to capture the vast amounts of pollen the Sisters were bringing in.

As I watched, several bees paused outside the entrance to try and kind of compact the pollen on their legs into their pollen baskets.

This girl is so weighed down; I’m surprised she could fly! I mean, just look at her little body — she is practically buried in pollen!

Also on the bee front, we managed to get the Long Langstroth painted. The Engineer had the idea to make it more than one color, and I think it looks great. I especially like the way he painted the entrances different colors.

Earlier today, Darling Daughter and I met up to visit Mom. DD brought a puzzle, which we assembled together, and we both took flowers to brighten up the place. I also took some cookies for the staff and a piece of peanut butter pie for Mom.

She said it was to big. Then she ate it all. 😉

We had a pleasant visit, thanks mostly to the puzzle and goodies. This was especially good because Mom’s had a difficult week. She’s been very anxious and agitated, even yelling at the nurses when they try to thwart her plans to do certain things (mostly because she’s not capable of doing them anymore). And she’s called several times saying she’s ready to go “home.”

I spoke to the nurse-practitioner who prescribed anti-anxiety meds again. In the past, I guess they were on an “as needed” basis, and the prescription fell off after two weeks. Now, she’ll get them every afternoon to prevent the sundowning. And the Psych consultants will be seeing her again.

Anyway, there was no sign of that today, although when I asked her to smile for a picture, she said she didn’t want to.

I said, “Okay. Scowl then.”

And she did.

Our (Mostly) Happy Apiary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mea culpa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Ready to Go Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, there are a few reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honey Bees in Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hats Off …

… 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.

Below is a diagram from, The bit that’s pulled out on the bottom board is what I’m talking about.

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.

Mother, Sisters and Princes

It won’t surprise you to learn I follow a lot of beekeepers on Instagram, and I’ve recently encountered some new beekeeping terminology I fully support.

It has to do with the three castes of bees, previously known as the queen, the workers, and the drones. But, no longer! Two of the beekeepers I follow (both women) have introduced new phrasing for these hive members.

Above is a picture that illustrates the three bee castes. (It also illustrates how poor my photo editing skills, but that’s beside the point.)

The photo above was taken of a poster we have hung in our downstairs bathroom. (There is no escape from bee education at our house.) And it was only after I took this picture that I realized that once again, the worker bees have gotten short shrift. They are at the bottom.

Not to be too opinated about it, but THIS IS COMPLETELY WRONG! They belong at the top.

Members of this caste of bees run the hive. Not only do they do all the foraging, make all the honey and propolis, clean the hive, care and feed the larvae (as well as the layabout drones), they also manufacture all the wax, guard the hive, and make all the cells.

Also, because they make the cells, these bees decide on the size of those cells, which is what tells the queen what type of egg to lay — fertilized for another female bee or unfertilized for a male.

Not only that, these girls are the ones who decide when and if the hive needs a new queen, and then they raise one.

Actually, they usually make several and let the new queens figure it out from there, but you get the gist.

Meanwhile, the drones wander around the hive begging food and fly to the drone congregation area to try to mate with a queen. Such a hard life.

While all this is going on around her, the queen is frantically laying eggs in the cells provided by her workers. Her entire life is summed up below. (Or you can read more here.)

1. Emerge from a queen cell.
2. Immediately locate all other queen cells and chew through the wax and kill the queen inside.
3. Rest and mature for a few days.
4. Fly to the drone congregation area to mate with multiple drones (who then die).
5. Repeat #4 a few times, sometimes many times. The more drones she mates with, the better the genetic diversity, which translates into a stronger hive. This is one time that promiscuity pays off, assuming she manages to return from all those flights.
6. Come back to the hive and spend her life laying eggs.
7. If she is very successful, the hive will get crowded. The workers will decide to swarm, and start making new queens in preparation.
8. Before those new queens hatch from the queen cells, the workers make the queen run to get her in shape to fly again. Or so I’ve heard.
9. The old queen then leaves the hive with half of the bees, and they find a new home.

There are other possibilities of how a queen’s life can end, but this is the happiest. Her life isn’t an easy one either.

All of this leads back to the topic of this post, the new names for the bee castes.

Ladies and gents, henceforth, I shall try to remember to refer to my bees as the sisters, the mother, and … wait for it, this is soooo accurate … the princes!

To be honest, I can go either way on worker vs sister bees because worker bee is 100% accurate, but mother and prince have to stay.

And that’s all I have to say on the matter.

Update on Mom: I come away sad every time I visit. She’s exhausted by therapy, but there’s no alternative. If she doesn’t do it, she’ll be bedridden for the rest of her life. If she does it, there’s a chance she may regain enough strength to have again some small control over her life. To even be able to go to the bathroom on her own again would be a huge win. But at this point, neither alternative is very attractive.

Also she’s still a little confused (although she’s not asked for my dad lately). She’s dependent on others for everything, when she’s always been independent, and is so grateful and happy to see me when I visit even though I boss her around. I know she feels she’s had a good life, a lot longer life than she expected, but she’s tired. It’s a lot to ask of a 92-year-old to learn to walk again, and I’m not sure she’ll have the physical strength and the emotional desire to succeed. Even though she has kept her good humor, I can see she’s tired of fighting and sometimes when she’s laying in bed, I can see her mind is very far away.

When she was in the hospital, I was telling the doctor how my grandmother died — doing as she pleased until one day she sat down in her chair and died — and how I was hoping that was how it would be for Mom.

He said, in the kindest way possible, “Most people don’t get what they want,” and something about it being very uncommon.

It makes me think that we need to get much better about death in our culture. There has to be a better way to ease my mother’s (and all of our) last days/months/years on this earth.

Sadly, I don’t know what that might be, or I would be seeking it out for her.

And now, I’ll end with something beautiful — two pictures of a Sweetgum tree leaf on rain-varnished blacktop that I took this morning. I know they are Sweetgum because I tried a new feature on my phone I didn’t know I had, which identified them.

Amazing! Honestly, sometimes technology makes me feel so old.

What We Did on Our Summer Holiday: A Photo-Blog

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.

Grass strip between the corn and bean fields of Illinois

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.

Only this year, we had the added pleasure of having Little Sister along. Experiencing Oshkosh can be a bit full on, at least the way we do it, and she was a great sport about all of it, even when I lapsed into mothering mode. She turned 45 while we were there, and to celebrate we went for a ride on the Ford Tri-Motor.

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.

This Mail Pouch barn looks freshly painted, so it’s either not original or it’s been touched up. Either way, I love to see these painted barns, not because I’m a fan of chewing tobacco (or any tobacco really), but because they are pieces of Americana culture and history.

That trip to the CSA farm, along with friends’ “donations” of zucchini, resulted in many jars of hot pepper jelly and zucchini salsa.

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 camped at Mohican State Park in a spot near the Clear Fork part of the Mohican river.

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.

Beautiful fungi on a dead tree.

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.

This stone arch, at Howard, was a railroad bridge, built in 1874.

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.

Fortunately the crust was thick, and there were lots of toppings, so we kind of ate the middle. Lest you think poorly of my camp cooking abilities, the first time I made this, it was perfect.

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.

Weds — Breakfast: Cereal, milk, Lunch: Sandwiches/veggies/munchies, Dinner: Pizza — pizza crust (make ahead), sausage (fry ahead), onions, peppers, olives, cheese, basil, pepperoni, fresh tomatoes, garlic.

Thurs — Breakfast: snack bars, bananas, melon.

It was a great trip from the misty mornings …

… to the beautiful sunsets.