Dual Queens

Remember the dying queen? I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t. With all my talk about queens, even I find it hard to keep them straight.

Anyway, it turns out the dying queen isn’t dead. This is quite a surprise because when we checked that hive (the first split from OH, Girls this year) on 4 July, we were very happy to find the beautiful new queen the workers bred to replace her. Here’s her picture from that inspection.

Today, when we checked that hive, The Engineer once again spotted New Queen (near the bottom, surrounded by her attendants). And isn’t she gorgeous?

Only later, he also spotted Dented Queen.

In this picture, she’s pointed out with a hive tool, and I’ve circled her in red to make her easier to spot. You can clearly see her dented thorax. (Note all that lovely, glistening white larvae beside her!)

Here’s another pic.

She’s surrounded by her court of attendants.

But if you look at the picture below, and you have sharp eyes, you’ll find both Dented Queen (near the hive tool) and New Queen (near the capped brood at the top of the picture.

Above is Dented Queen (middle left) and New Queen (upper right, circled).
Dented Queen (red) and New Queen (green)

We heard this sometimes happens, but when we took our classes, I got the impression that having two queens co-exist in a hive was unusual. True, there are ways beekeepers occasionally manipulate hives to run two queens, usually by using queen excluders to keep the royalty in separate areas of the hive.

The situation can also arise when one queen isn’t yet mated, the bees are getting ready to swarm or they just haven’t killed the old queen yet. According to this article, the workers keep the two queens in separate parts of the hive, but as these pictures show, New Queen is definitely mated, and she’s not only on the same frame as Dented Queen, she’s mere inches away.

And these two have been sharing the same hive for at least ten days, likely longer.

I expect eventually the workers will kill Dented Queen. She’s still moving and laying, but very slowly, while New Queen sprints around laying as fast as she can.

Meanwhile, the workers have been making comb on the new frames we gave them like their lives depend on it.

Oh, yeah … their lives do sort of depend on it. They’ll need that comb to store honey for winter.

Such a pretty sight (especially after yesterday’s mess)

And our two queens are already using the new comb. There’s larvae in both the pictures below, although it’s harder to spot in the second one.

After our unusual find in the split, we looked in on the Kremlin. I was ready to dispatch Olga to the big beehive in the sky and steal a frame of brood from OH, Girls split #1 so Kremlin workers could make a new queen. The Engineer convinced me we should give her one more chance. Her laying seems to be improving slightly, with more larvae closer together, but if it’s not dramatically better at the end of the month, they’re going to have to make a new queen. This is cutting it fine because August is when beekeepers need to start thinking (read “worrying”) about winter.

There’s an expression about beekeeping, something like “Take care of the bees that will take care of the bees that will need to live through the winter,” and August is when that begins.

Olga needs to step up her game.

Lastly, we had a look at the honey supers on OH, Girls and stole two filled frames, replacing them with super frames with drawn combs. Truthfully, we could have probably pulled more for extraction, but we’re being conservative this year and waiting until the frames are at least 90% full … at least as long as nectar is still coming in.

A lot of the frames look like this, nearly solid on one side and not completely capped on the other (although some had a lot more capped on side #2).

We considered putting a honey super on OH, Girls Split #1 because the hive has a lot of bees, along with a queen cup that might have had larva in it. Ultimately, we chose not to. We gave them several empty frames when we put them in the big boxes so they still have space.

Also, we tempted fate by leaving the queen cup. We’re not 100% sure it was filled, and if we scraped it off, and they want to swarm, they’d just build another.

Speaking of swarms, we still have three swarm boxes up, and at least two are getting a lot of attention from scout bees.

I’m not sure where we’d put another hive, but we could probably find space on one of the stands if we have to. 🙂

The Dark Side of Beekeeping

Until now, I’ve not dwelled on the dark aspects of a beekeeper’s job.

No, I’m not talking about losing hives, dying queens, or even the Dreaded Varroa Destructor Mites.

I mean old beeswax.

Beeswax is a lovely substance. In its cleaner form, it smells delicious, is great for wood and has many other uses including beeswax wraps.

Unfortunately, wax that’s been reused gets old and ugly, and eventually bees refuse to use those frames.

I can’t say I blame them. The many herbicides and pesticides used in our world can accumulate in the wax and begin to affect the young bees.

Recently, we realized many of our frames have reached this state and have begun to clean and/or replace them.

Initially, we tried to extract the honey from the old frames, but it proved a lost cause. Instead we scraped them, and The Engineer powerwashed both the frames and foundation.

What to do with all that dirty, ugly wax though … hmmm, such a quandary.

Well, it turned out there was some honey, so I strained that to feed to the bees. It’s a little dark, and probably partly sugar rather than nectar, but I tasted a bit, and it’s not horrible. The Kremlin and the newest OH, Girls Split seem to like it.

I probably don’t need to remind you that honey is very, very sticky, but I’m going to anyway so you can understand the full beauty of what I was dealing with.

Straining left a dripping dark, sticky substance that stupid me decided to try to melt down.

Do NOT do this. It’s a waste of time. You get very little decent wax from a mountain of disgusting grunge.

Here’s an example of part of the mess I was working with.

At first it didn’t go too badly. I ended up getting what looked like a brand new electric roaster for $20. Using this at 200F, my first pile of wax left me with a dirty pile of … stuff … and more honey.

Still, honey is good, right? Better for the bees than pure sugar syrup, at least.

Once again, I strained the honey from the gunk, then did the same to the the other pile.

Next, I wrapped the black sludge (I’m running out of synonyms for what I cannot in good conscience call beeswax) in a cheesecloth, tied it tightly, and put it back in the roaster, with water.

Theoretically, the wax will melt and rise to the top, the gunk will stay put in the cheesecloth, and any honey that’s left will wash away with the water.

I’ve done this with cappings from when we’ve extracted, and it actually works.

Unfortunately, this stuff proved to have very little usable wax. And making matters worse, when I lifted out the second batch (while still hot, so it doesn’t get stuck in the wax), the cheesecloth slipped from my tongs and dropped back into the roaster.

Picture the first Apollo splashdown only with hot wax and honey.

Yes. It was a Big Mess, and I used every bad word I knew.

I hope the neighbors didn’t hear.

And, oh, yes, the floor.

This is from one side of the island. There was an equally disgusting spill on the other.

Lessons Learned:

  1. It’s probably worth it to stain and even heat dark old wax for the honey.
  2. It is not worth wasting cheesecloth, time and effort to try to render the wax.
  3. An electric roaster if you can get one cheap is excellent for melting wax.
  4. A smarter person would have used said roaster outside for this job, perhaps in the garage, if it’s raining or you’re worried about attracting every bee in the neighborhood.
  5. Cleaning beeswax from a linoleum floor is possible, but not fun. I used water heated in the electric kettle, a scrubby, a towel, and a mop.

That’s how I’ll do it next time, minus the scrubbing the floor (I hope).

I’ve learned from my mistakes. But I’ll feel a lot better if you do too.

On the bright side, here are the brand new frames we’ll be using to swap out the rest of the old ones in our hives. The Engineer assembled them, and they’re waiting for me to apply a better coat of wax.

If only I could have somehow used the stuff in the roaster …

The No Queen Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the new configuration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for more “Bee Music.”

Bee Bus Arrival: Hello GeeBees

A week ago, on a lovely spring day, we picked up our package of bees. Because the weather was so nice, we were able to install them immediately (unlike last year).

By evening, they were beginning to bring in pollen, and on warmer days this week, they’ve been quite active.

The girls came not from Michigan as expected, but Georgia with a Michigan-bred queen who was mated in Georgia.

Intitially we were concerned because in the US, when you buy southern bees, you run the risk of getting Africanized bees, notorious for being overly aggressive and dangerous. It soon became clear, however, that the bees we received were mild-tempered, interested only in adjusting to their new circumstances. And, on review of the package description, I discovered I had misread the details.

Also, the package seemed to me to have fewer bees than last year’s, an idea that may be only a figment of my imagination.

Photo by The Engineer

Below are two pictures from the 2020 Bee Bus, but since they’re from a different angle from this year’s photo, it’s hard to tell.

The 2020 package was the Saskatraz bees that grew into the hive that made it through the winter. We named them California Girls, but rechristened them OH Girls to celebrate their having survived an OH (Ohio) winter).

In a nod to their origin, the new hive is called GeeBees (Georgia Bees).

We had a bit of a scare during the week when I came home to find a frenzy of bees at the entrance of the new hive. I was sure they were being raided for the honey stocks we’d given them and blocked the entrance until things calmed down. When I reopened it, the girls came streaming out, so perhaps it was them all along.

Still, I’d rather be safe than sorry.

We plan to look in both hives tomorrow — a quick check to see if the queen has been released in GeeBees and a more lengthy look at OH Girls.

While picking up a few things at Queen Right Colonies, I found Honey B Healthy has a new product called Amino B Booster, which I’m looking forward to trying. If I’m reading the information correctly, it may be a better supplement than pollen patties, which tend to attract Hive Beetles.

I also picked up two frames and wax foundation so we can try to jar some comb honey this year.

In other unrelated news, I managed to get an appointment for my first vaccine next week. I’m nervous because I’ve read if you’ve had the virus, it can really knock you down.

Stay tuned for details and more bee progress updates!

We Had a Plan

A quick, mostly pictorial update on the hives.

The California Girls hive needed split, we both agreed. The queen’s laying pattern was spotty, and they’d be more likely to get through winter with a locally born and mated queen. Or so we’ve been told.

We gathered the boxes and frames needed to make the split, but chose to check Buzzers’ Roost (II) first.

The hive was packed with bees, with many, many uncapped queen cups.

Last time we had a hive in similar condition, it was FreeBees. With them, we waited a few weeks to make a split, and they ended up swarming anyway.

Determined to avoid a similar error with Buzzers’ Roost (II), we adjusted our plan, and split the hive by taking out a few frames of brood and eggs, shaking in some nurse bees, adding frames of honey and pollen, and giving them sugar water and pollen patties.

We’ll check back in a few weeks and hope to see fresh eggs and larvae. If we don’t see this, we’ll make a decision whether to buy a queen or reunite them with their mother hive and let them swarm (and hope to catch it).

Both hives had tons of pollen, more than I’ve ever seen stored before in one of our hives.

Here are some pictures of Buzzers’ stores.

When we smoke the hive to inspect, the bees sometimes react by sticking their heads in the cells, supposedly to gorge on pollen and nectar in case they have to flee the danger.
The little things on the bottom that look like Kix cereal are capped drone brood.
More colorful pollen, along with glistening nectar. They were also capping honey, but apparently I didn’t get a picture of that.

There were a lot of bees. Nearly every frame was full.

Now we just have to hope the split raises a queen.

Next we turned to California Girls. They’ve also been busy raising babies, but fortunately weren’t quite as crowded as Buzzers.

Here’s a nice frame of brood. See the freshly capped honey at the top left and drone brood on the bottom?

The queen is laying better now. Look closely, and you’ll see the tiny eggs in almost every cell – much nicer than last inspection when she was laying unevenly.

You can also see some larvae in the lower left.

The picture below has everything but pollen! There’s nectar, a few capped brood cells, honey and eggs!

We also saw the queen, always a welcome sight!

And remember this?

And this?

Well, look at it now!

It’s the comb they started building down from the inner cover several weeks ago that we rubber banded to a frame. They’ve filled in almost the whole frame!

If you’re observant, you may notice something about the size of the cells. They’re bigger than usual, which means they’ve been built for drone brood.

This is something we’ll have to keep an eye on because varroa love drone brood, and we don’t want to encourage varroa in our hives. Also, we don’t need that many drones unless we were getting into some serious queen raising, which we’re not.

We did end up putting the honey super we’d intended for Buzzers on California Girls. There’s definitely a nectar flow on, and they’re doing well so we’re giving them space to store it all. It may come off when we split that hive, but that’s a judgment call we’ll make at the time.

On the “Decluttr Kym” front, I sorted out my jeans and am embarrassed to report I gleaned six pairs to donate without even having to think much about it.

And, lastly, the unrest here has caused me to realize our country can’t move forward until we finally admit we were founded on the backbreaking labor of slaves. I’ve heard people say, “That’s over a hundred years ago. It’s ancient history.”

But as a genealogist, I’ve learned a hundred and some years is not ancient history. It’s just a few generations back, and that history creates a culture, both familial and community, that directs our present.

We can’t forget this happened, and although I’m not sure what I can do personally, I know the first step is to learn more about my personal biases and not be afraid to call out others who express more overt racism.

I will start by reading (no surprise there) and forcing myself to sometimes be the unwelcome voice in the room.

Royalty in Residence

Fly the royal standard! The queen is residence, at least for now.

Unfortunately, this photo isn’t great because it doesn’t  show how much bigger she is than the worker bees.

Last time we checked California Girls, we didn’t see this big girl, so we were anxious to spot her today. Even when we see plenty of larvae, both small and large, and capped brood, we always feel better when we see the queen.IMG_3591 This is especially true when we have to do a hive check when the sun isn’t at it’s highest making it difficult to ascertain if there are eggs or not.

They’ve also been busy building comb. IMG_3344
I love new comb! Isn’t it beautiful? And if you look closely, you can see some eggs. IMG_3344
This isn’t a good laying pattern. A strong queen would have laid eggs in all those cells, not in such a scattershot pattern, which makes our plan to requeen this hive look like a better and better idea.

This is frame, from the same hive, looks better, but compare it to the pictures of the frames below taken from Buzzers’ Roost a few weeks ago.IMG_6548IMG_4852What Buzzers seem to excel at is bringing in nectar and pollen, especially nectar, as you see below. Note the freshly capped honey in the corners. So pretty. IMG_3703IMG_4572
Also, remember this from our last check? Bees
We experimented by rubberbanding this comb into an empty frame, hoping they would continue building it. IMG_7287
See the original comb at the right? They’ve attached it to the frame and continued to build! IMG_3656
We were even able to take the bands off.

Watch this space to see how they progress. 🙂

And now … for something completely unrelated: My tomato, pepper, and basil plants came in the mail yesterday. I order online because it’s difficult to get organically grown plants at our local nurseries (although I usually get a few organic herb plants from our CSA each spring). IMG_7675
The Engineer made me an enclosure to keep the red squirrels and chipmunks from digging them up.

I’m telling you this because I think it’s funny that my plants look like they’re in plant jail.

Whatever it takes to have home grown tomatoes and peppers this summer!


What Honey Bees Do When Left to Their Own Devices

We checked both hives yesterday.

Buzzers’ Roost (II) seemed to be thriving despite the pesticide deaths. We saw eggs, larvae, capped brood, lots of nectar and pollen, and the queen.

In fact, they seemed to be getting crowded, so we added a deep box full of frames, plus an empty super for feed jars. We don’t use outside feeders because raccoons make a nightly circuit of our yard and would be delighted to gorge on a jar of sweet liquid.

The bees have also been making queen cups — lots of them. Though they were only cups and none had any eggs in as far as we could see, this is something to keep an eye on in case they’re getting ready to swarm.

This morning we had even better news:  There were very few dead bees outside their hive.

Perhaps the worst is over.

California Girls are also doing well, though there was fewer of everything — fewer eggs, fewer larvae, fewer capped brood cups. We also didn’t see the queen, always a little concerning especially this early in the year when the hives aren’t as full, and she should be easy to spot.

This isn’t as worrying as it would be at another time of the year because we plan to try to force them to requeen in the next few weeks anyway so we’ll have a locally reared queen for the winter.

We’ll do this by splitting the hive — taking the “old” queen and a few frames for brood and food and putting them in a nuc. If the full hive doesn’t successfully requeen, we can put them back together. No harm, no foul. And if worse comes to worse, and the queen is already gone, queens are generally available for purchase this time of year.

Still, they’ve been busy, as you can see below.


This lovely piece of fresh comb was brought to you by California Girls. 

Last time we checked their hive, we thought they needed more room, but were reluctant to add a full deep box. We compromised by adding a deep box half full of frames and using the other half for a big jar of sugar water.

I’m not sure we’ll do that again since this was the result. We should know if you give bees space, they feel compelled to fill it.

And yet, it’s gorgeous, isn’t it? Because it was evenly made, we were able to remove the comb from the inner cover and insert it into a foundationless frame, affixed with rubber bands.

This is an experiment which could go horribly wrong because although bees fill empty spaces, they do so by their own logic.

They might build out the comb, attach it to the frame beside it or create something we’d never dream of.

What we hope is they’ll use this comb and the attached frame as a base for a comb made wholly of wax.

Will we be kicking or congratulating ourselves next week?

Check back to find out!





Mothering Mom and More(!) Honey



Mom Giving Her Opinion a Few Years Ago

On 28 August — four days after being released from the hospital into rehab and ten days after I found her on the floor of her bathroom — Mom turned 89.

We had a little party because it had been a rough couple of weeks for all of us.

The fall that ended with her being hospitalized was the third in a month, and second in a week.

She had fallen in the past, but there were always reasons.

She wasn’t using her walker (crushed elbow).
She tripped on a crack in the sidewalk (dented pride).
And — the one that made me most crazy — she was trying to get some plastic bags out of a tree so the birds wouldn’t get caught and ended up breaking both bones in her forearm.

You might think such a task wasn’t meant for an 88-year-old who used a cane, but Mom felt differently and paid a price for that opinion.

These last few times, it was different. She just … fell. And just like in that stupid commercial, she couldn’t get up.

Lest you think my brother’s and my negligence allowed the third fall, you should know we took her to the doctor after the second one and were considering her suggestion that it might be time to move to into an assisted living facility. But her GP believed fall prevention physical therapy would be better, allowing her to stay independent as long as possible, and ordered tests to make sure there was nothing else happening.

It turned out she had pneumonia and congestive heart failure, though in fairness to the doc, she wasn’t expressing symptoms when she saw him. Those came and went throughout the week, mostly her feeling tired and like she couldn’t get warm.

On Saturday night before the latest fall, she called me at work to say she was cold again. When I arrived, she had a slight fever, but said she wasn’t any worse than earlier in the week, so after talking to the nurse on call, I gave her a meal and acetaminophen, made her comfortable, and went home, knowing I’d be back in the morning. If she wasn’t better, I’d take her to emergency. If she was better, we’d be going back to to the doctor.

But, the next morning, she was on the bathroom floor, having lain there for two and a half hours, partly because her medical alert necklace was on the sink rather than her neck.

I covered her with a blanket and called the rescue squad.

The EMT on call found her blood pressure high and oxygen level low, certainly enough cause to transport her to the hospital.

It was five days before she was released, and then it was to go into rehab. I spent those five days visiting the hospital, looking after Mom’s cat, and researching assisted living and long-term care residences. I hoped to find a place where she could move seamlessly from one stage to the next.

For those who live outside the US, Medicare (which provides the bulk of medical insurance for the elderly) pays only for rehab. It doesn’t cover any type of long-term care or assisted living. To qualify for help with that (through Medicaid), you must considered destitute, defined as below a certain income level with less than $2,000 in savings.

What happens is most people who can no longer live independently will pay for some kind of assisted care in their own home or a facility until their money runs out. Then, they go on Medicaid, which generally pays for long-term care, but not assisted living.  At least not at any place I wanted my mother to live.

None of this happens without a lot of paperwork, a job I have inherited and only just begun.

We were fortunate. My brother and I found a facility that offers rehab, assisted living, and long-term care, all in the same building.

Though it’s a bit farther from her acquaintances than Mom would like, it’s a straight shot down the highway, with beautiful, large, private rooms, and — here’s where we cross our fingers — she should be able to segue from rehab to assisted living to long-term care pretty much seamlessly.

The rehab to assisted living transition went well, but the biggest leap is still ahead, and I’m doing everything within my power to make it so she doesn’t have to change addresses ever again.

This — my new part-time job — involves many steps.

First, Mom had to grant me Power-of-Attorney, allowing me to sign legal and financial documents on her behalf, so my brother and I visited the lawyer.

Then, I had to establish myself as Mom’s POA at her bank, a process that was more onerous than it should have been, requiring an extra form signed by her and notarized. Said form basically states if the bank honored my POA, Mom wouldn’t hold them responsible for my actions. Well, duh. That’s what a signed and notarized POA document says. There were other hold-ups too, which explains my new, but deeply felt, conviction that I will never, ever, use that bank on my own behalf and will be moving her accounts as soon as it’s feasible.

On a side note, surely it’s unreasonable to expect everyone to do everything online. In the bank and you want a copy of all the most recent transactions on an account? The employees can’t help, but you can do it online. Like to change the amount of a monthly transfer from one account at their bank to another (also at their bank)? Sorry. You have do it online or use their handy app, which is, of course, 100% secure. That’s what the teller said: 100%. Um, sorry, but I don’t believe anything is 100% secure, and I have three emails in my inbox about data breaches to back up that belief. Furthermore, I don’t want to bank online or use their app. I just want to be able to go into a bank and, you know, bank there? How crazy is that?

Okay, end of banking rant.

Next up was cleaning out a lifetime of possessions from Mom’s apartment, while furnishing her new room. Cue much furniture moving, many trips to Goodwill and the recycling center, and hours and hours of cleaning and packing.

I can’t express just how grateful I am to my brother for cleaning out the fridge and taking charge of the cat, Darling Daughter and The Engineer for two full weekends of cleaning, sorting, and packing, and my friends Flo and Regina for helping with the final packing day.

We also had a little house/estate sale, giving Mom a chance to visit with her friends, sell some of her stuff, and see her old place one last time. I felt she should be the one to set prices, and both Darling Daughter and I thought she’d be giving everything away.

In fact, it was quite the opposite. Though a veteran of many garage sales, Mom wanted top dollar for everything, which led to me hissing in her ear that I would be the one packing up and taking everything that didn’t sell to Goodwill to donate.

Again, thanks to Flo, for being there to remind me of the humor of the situation.

I’m not completely heartless. I understand it must have been wrenching for Mom to say goodbye to so many of her possessions. But I’d already spent most of three weeks cleaning out the place, so I wasn’t as sympathetic as I might have been otherwise.

On 24 September — four weeks and two days after the bathroom fall — I turned in the keys.

I thought I’d feel like celebrating, but I just felt tired.

To her credit, for the most part, Mom has taken these changes in her stride. Perhaps it helps that she was the one who intitiated the conversation about making the move. Despite this, there have been a few wobbles — see above paragraphs on the house sale — some rather strong statements about her coffee table being hers, and a recent wondering aloud if perhaps we’d made the decision too hastily.

I was emphatic that we had not, reminding her of the many times she’d missed her daily phone call from me (usually because she’d somehow turned off the ringer). This would result in my driving over, preparing myself for the worst, only to find her tootling around her apartment or watching television.

“You didn’t have to come,” she would say.

“Yes, Mom, I kind of do,” I’d reply.

Now, if she misses a phone call, I know she’s busy and not laying on her bathroom floor.

This is a great relief.

Also, on her follow-up visit to the cardiologist, we learned her heart function has decreased about 50% since it was last measured two years ago.

Her heart is failing.
She has atrial fibrillation.
And she’s beginning to have problems with her short-term memory.

She’s in the right place, and will be fine.

The employees there are so nice to her, which is easy, I think, because she’s funny and grateful for the help and easy to be around. There are also card games and Bingo, which Mom has always enjoyed, and I still deliver her books.

As for me, I now need to navigate the Medicaid and Veteran’s Administration mazes, sort through two large boxes of photos and documents, and turn my attention back to my own life, which has fallen into disrepair.

Until last week, I hadn’t exercised for six weeks, and my house is embarrassingly messy, a state very much at odds with my newly developed intention to pare down my own belongings. I’ve made a few small dents (mostly t-shirts and kitchenware), but I’m determined to get rid of more than I keep.

Then, there’s the bees.

Long story much shortened: We’ve done some abbreviated checks, limiting ourselves to quick looks under the hood because the yellow jackets are actively looking to score easy food before winter.

During one of those checks, we discovered Buzzers’ Roost had enough honey to harvest, and used the escape board to remove the honey super.

We extracted on Saturday,  and at The Engineer’s (wise) suggestion, before we cleaned the extractor, we re-checked FreeBees, finding eight more frames to extract. If you recall from my last post, we’d just emptied all the frames in that hive’s supers in early August, and yet, they’d managed to refill most of one.

Since this was a last-minute decision, we hadn’t put in the escape board, and had to rely on the “bang-the-frame-to-knock-off-the-bees-and-brush-off-any-that-cling” process — not a method I’d recommend.

There were many deeply unhappy bees that day, although the hive was back to normal within a couple of hours. I guess when you’re that small, you don’t have much of a memory.

Anyway, just look at this frame — full of beautiful, glistening honey. It’s being held over our uncapping tank. (Ignore the red bit on the bottom, which I’ve only just noticed. It’s probably one of the cards in the holder on that back of my phone.)


Here’s picture of the inside of one side of the extractor. When we crank, the center part spins, forcing the honey out against the walls. You can see the honey at the bottom and bits of wax and propolis stuck to the walls.


And this is a little clip of the honey draining from the capping tank into our new double-mesh filter. It cost about $35 at Queen Right Colonies, but works much better than our previous method of two colanders and cheese cloth. This filter has two strainers, a removable, coarser top one, and a finely meshed bottom one, which catch the bits of wax and bees that inadvertently end up in the uncapped honey.

Lastly, below is our guesstimated calculations on how much honey we put into jars. There will be a little more — maybe a few pounds —  once I do a final drain of the uncapping tank. In addition, I did put some cappings to strain through cheesecloth and colanders because there were so many I didn’t think they’d drain otherwise.

It took us six hours this time, including the interlude spent annoying FreeBees. Extracting honey is hard, but rewarding work, and was a nice break from the emotionally draining work of settling Mom  in her new home.

Honey, Honey

Fact: Each honeybee makes about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. (See here http://goldenblossomhoney.com/education_bees.php and here https://www.apexbeecompany.com/honey-bee-facts/ for more bee facts.)

Keep this in mind as you read.

Saturday, we harvested honey from FreeBees, our most productive hive. We took two supers (medium boxes) of ten frames each. Not all the frames were completely full, and not all the honey was capped, but the frames passed the shake test. (When held parallel to the ground and shaken, nothing dripped out.) We also have swapped in an empty large frame for one full of honey in both FreeBees NewBees (twice in NewBees.) We stored two of these in the freezer in case they need them for winter, but decided we wouldn’t be shorting them if we extracted one. It looked much like this one from Buzzers’.

Before extraction day, we did a quick check to see if our queens were laying.

There was brood and larvae in all three hives. In the third picture, you can see a somewhat typical pattern – a rainbow of capped brood, surrounded by nectar and honey. Usually, there’s also an arc of pollen, but lately the girls have been mainly bringing in nectar, though I was glad to see a lot of bright yellow pollen coming in the day after we checked.

All those baby bees need pollen for protein!

We didn’t see any royalty in FreeBees, but there was plenty of evidence she’d been busy (all that capped brood in the above pictures).

And we spotted the queen in both Buzzers’ and NewBees (much easier when she’s sporting a big green dot!) I even managed to snap a few pics of Buzzers’ royalty. I also got a picture of a fat drone begging food. Look at that rotund body and those big eyes! In the pictures above, you can see Buzzers’ capped brood and lots of larvae. If you look closely below, you’ll five baby bees emerging from their cells.

But I promised a post about honey, and you shall have one.

Look between these frames. Some cells were built out to the next frame, causing them to burst and drip with glistening, amber honey.

Before we could harvest that honey, we had to move the bees out of the supers. They are several ways of doing this, but we use an escape board because it seems less intrusive than the other methods (discussed here: https://www.dummies.com/home-garden/hobby-farming/beekeeping/how-to-remove-the-bees-from-the-honey-supers-in-your-beehive/).

On Friday, we inserted an extra super above the queen excluder, put a shim with an opening on top of it, the escape board on top of that, and the honey-filled supers back on top of all the boxes below.

So working upward from the hive stand, it was a deep box, another deep box (both for brood), the queen excluder, an empty honey super, a shim, the escape board, a honey super, a second honey super, the inner cover, and finally, the outer cover. FreeBees towered over the other hives.

Thankfully, The Engineer remembered to block the entrance on the inner cover, or we’d have moved the bees out of the supers only to have them come back in through that entrance.

We left the escape board on for about 36 hours. If left less than 24 hours, most bees won’t have moved down. More than 48, and they begin to figure out how to get back in.

When we opened the hive to take the supers, a few bees remained, but they were easily brushed off as we checked the frames one at a time and put them in a plastic container to carry to the garage.

We placed the escape board below the hive and watched the bees flow like a river back into their home.

I insisted on closing the garage door so we could work without being invaded by every bee in the county. This was the right move because later, when the extraction was done, we opened it to let in some air as we cleaned propolis off the boxes and frames before returning them to the hive.

First, one bee came exploring, then another, then three or four more. We closed the door again when it became clear we’d soon have a garage full of bees if we didn’t.

Here’s a picture of our setup, with the box of frames in the back, our uncapping tank, and the extractor.

If you look closely, you’ll see two screws on the board on the right. These help hold the frame in place as we slice the caps off the cells. This is done with a knife like this one. We heated it with hot water between frames to make it slice more smoothly.

Photo from Queen Right Colonies online catalog (https://www.queenrightcolonies.com/product/uncapping-cold-knife/)

Sometimes, the cappings were set too low to cut without gouging into the frame, so we sliced off what we could, and then scratched openings in the rest with a capping scratcher (kind of a glorified fork with extremely sharp tines).

The uncapped frames go in the extractor, leaving the capping wax and extra honey to drop into the uncapping tank, which strains out the largest pieces of wax, allowing honey to be captured in the tank below.

Next, we crank. And crank. And crank. Then the frames are turned so the opposite sides face the inside of the tank, and we crank some more.

The yellow spigot is used to drain the extractor into a clean bucket through a strainer or two. We used a colander set inside a second colander that was lined with cheesecloth.

This works, but it’s a bit convoluted, so I bought a proper honey filter like this one for next time. It’s two strainers in one, a coarse one on top a finer one.

Photo also from Queen Right (https://www.queenrightcolonies.com/product/double-sieve-stainless-steel-honey-strainer/)

Once all the honey was extracted, we bottled. The Engineer calculated our harvest at about 59 pounds, but I think it was actually more because we used odd sized jars, and were guesstimating their weight.

I began the beeswax rendering process by putting the cappings in a 200* F oven in a large metal bowl. When the wax floated to the top, it left behind enough honey to fill another jar or two.

When it cooled, the bottom of the wax looked like this.Yesterday, I tried to scrape the gunk off, then put it back into a container, adding boiling water to separate the good stuff. It didn’t work too well, so I fell back on my old method of heating it on a burner at the lowest heat (watching it like a hawk), and then straining throw a clean cloth.

This works ok (see above), but next time, I plan to try crushing it all in cheesecloth, and pouring boiling water over it. In theory, the cheesecloth is supposed to hold in the yuck, allowing the wax to escape. I’ll let you know how it works.

I also strained the honey from the bottom of the uncapping tank. Since there was less, I did it inside with a colander and sieve (balanced precariously) on the kitchen counter.It was enough to fill these bottles. We cleaned up most of the mess on Saturday, first with the hose in the yard, then with hot sudsy water and a rinse, followed by a swish with a weak bleach solution to sanitize everything.

I washed the remaining items inside with sudsy water, a hot rinse, and boiling water from my kettle to sterilize.

Extracting with an extractor is definitely better than the crush and strain method we used last year, but it was the right decision to wait to buy one. The investment in money and cleaning time wouldn’t have be worth it for just a frame or two.

I’m pretty sure our bee club loans out an extractor, and you can rent them, but we (I) ended up buying the bees their very own for Christmas last year, a gift-giving practice that will not become a tradition. It was on sale for $200-something last fall, so it’s not a cheap investment.

Still, we expect to get at least some honey from Buzzers’ and maybe another frame or two from NewBees, so renting one would have been about $50 just for those two occasions.