Thursday, November 11, 2010

Knock on wood

So I was at the Apalachee Beekeepers meeting Tuesday night and someone casually asked me how my hives were doing. I hesitated before answering. A long time. It seems as though the status of my hives the past couple of months has been all over the place - from high highs to low lows, the only sure thing being that nothing stays the same for long.

I'd just checked all 3 hives on Sunday and everything seemed to be going
okay. Bees seemed calm, enough brood, no signs of mites, few hive beetles, a good store of honey in the supers. I responded to the question by saying that they seemed fine for the moment, and added a quick "knock on wood" just to be safe. I guess maybe I should have knocked a little harder.

Yesterday morning I was out early watering the vegetable garden and pulling a few weeds when I noticed that the pleasant hum of bees in the background had gotten a few decibels louder. I hated to even look. Last time the hum broke through my sub-conscious I looked up and witnessed a swarm. No swarm this time, but the yellow hive was definitely getting robbed. I ran inside, suited up, fired up the smoker, and took the Boardman feeder off the front of the hive. My fault - I should have had that thing off ages ago but h
aven't been able to locate a drill bit to cut a hole in my lid so . . . I left it on thinking maybe I'd be lucky and not have any problems. I guess my luck ran out.

I thought things were under control but, by the time I left to take Eliza to ballet at 4, blue hive was getting robbed too. I dropped her off, hurried home, suited up again, fired up the smoker again, and closed the entrance to the blue hive. No Boardman feeder on this one, but I guess maybe the bees that robbed the yellow hive decided they'd try for this one too since I'd made yellow hard to get into. By dark, things had slowed down. Just to be on the safe side I closed up the green hive too.

This morning, I went back out to check on them and every
thing seemed calm. I decided to take the Boardman feeder for now and put it on top of the yellow hive inside an empty deep, with the lid on top - as a temporary arrangement just until I can find a hole cutter to modify my lid. All three hives have plenty of honey stored, but since there's nothing blooming right now I thought it would be good to feed them with a heavy syrup that they could store for the winter. I started working on weeding the blueberry patch when I noticed the hum again. Turned around and saw bees pouring out of the tiny opening on the blue hive. I smoked them a little and took off the entrance reducer to see if I could tell what was going on. I'm still not sure whether they were trying to swarm, or if I'd locked the robbers IN the hive last night and they were trying to leave, or whether the bees that live there were trying to get out.

So . . . just for now I've put the entrance reducer BACK on and thrown a white sheet over the whole mess for the day. If blue is being robbed again it may be that too much damage has been done. I lifted the back of the hive and it
does seem lighter than it was a few days ago, but not terribly light. I'm hoping the sheet will at least calm things down and break the robbing cycle. Then, if I have to, I'll combine yellow and blue for the winter.

Never a dull day in the bee yard - that's for sure.

Normal happy bee-havior

Robbing bee-havior

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


These bees continue to surprise and amaze me! After yesterday's robbery, I decided it would be a good idea to pop open the lid of the robbed hive and make sure nothing else unforseen was happening. All seemed to be back to "normal" with team blue (has anything really been "normal" with this hive since the day I brought it home?) and since I still had a smoker full of pinestraw I opened up the top super on the green hive to see how things were progressing.

Much to my surprise I found ten full, capped frames of beautiful honey! This is the super I added on July 4 since the first super was full of honey and brood and the girls were working hard and still packing in the nectar and pollen. I was hoping it might be filled by the end of summer, but had not expected it to be full already.

After a day spent tracking down the bee club's extractor, Eliza and I went a picked it up on Wednesday evening and prepared to wake early on Thursday for our fi
rst honey harvest!

Thursday morning dawned cloudy and looking like rain, so I knew we had to work fast. After a quick cup of coffee we suited up and fired up the smoker. I elected to try to remove the frames this time without using either fume board or other equipment. This was partially because I didn't HAVE a fume board or other equipment, but also because it just seemed a simpler and more natural thing to do without and I wanted to see if it would work.

With Eliza suited up and standing about 20
feet from the hive with a plastic box and lid, and Emmy standing nearby with the camera I smoked the front of the hive, then removed the lid and smoked pretty good inside. Waited a few seconds, then I removed the first heavy frame. It was absolutely covered with bees and, I must say, they didn't seem all that overjoyed to see me! I gave the frame a quick but firm shake to dislodge some of the bees, then quickly brushed the rest down into the super, took the frame to Eliza who stuck it into the box and slammed on the lid, then went back for more. Looking back on it now I probably should have removed the entire super and brushed the bees into the bottom super since every frame I removed had more and more bees on it from the previous frame. But . . . live and learn!

After shaking and brushing for about 15 minutes there were hundreds of bees in the air, checking me out nose to nose and getting more and more agitated but - no stings. I took only 6 of the 10 frames in the end because the middle two were from the Apiguard-treated hive and 1 had some upcapped honey. The other I left for the girls as a peace offering.

I was SO glad that I'd helped my friend Jane with her honey harvest back in June because it definitely made the whole process go so much smoother. We loaded the extrator with 4 frames for the first spin after lightly scratching the wax cappings with a fork. Then turned each frame over and did the opposite side and the 2 remaining frames. Then - the best part of all - opening up the tap and seeing our honey for the first time as it flowed out of the extractor, through the seive and into our white honey bucket. And - another surprise! Instead of the light, typical wildflower honey I expected to see, out flowed a very dark, thick, and full-bodied honey with a distinct lemony-y flavor!! What looked like a miniscule amount of honey in the bottom of that huge extractor turned out to weigh in right at 23 pounds which, considering I wasn't expecting honey at all this year, was not a bad haul at all.

I have no idea what to call this honey, and why it's so dark and strong. Since July 4 there have been odds and ends blooming in the garden, and loads of crepe myrtle along the road. There were butter beans and blackeyed peas and the liriope was in bloom. Who knows? But, as I told my neighbor Dan, it seems only appropriate that my first Grassroots honey would turn out strong and opinionated - just like this community!
In the end, we filled up 10 honey bears, 4 half-pint jelly jars, and 6 pint jars. It's so exciting to see them all sitting on the dining room table with the light shining through that honey - I'm not sure when I'll be able to put it away!

Thank you girls for all your hard work bringing in nectar, filling your beautiful wax cells, and capping them off. I truly feel honored to be able to share your bounty and only hope that you consider the good place to live and forage that I've given you is, in some way, a fair exchange.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Smokin' hot

What can I say. It's full-on summertime in north Florida, with 98 degree days, 60% humidity, and a heat index of 105. Walk outside and you feel like somebody slapped you in the face with a warm, wet washcloth. It's July. Things will cool down in just four more months.

People deal with the heat by staying inside in where it air conditioned or jumping into a cool spring or sinkhole. The cats lie as flat as they can on the porch, preferably in the shade under the porch swing. The chickens take dust baths and retire to their roosts earlier than usual. Even the bees have their ways of coping.

Late in the day - just before dusk - they gather on the front porches of their hives and furiously flap their little wings, trying to fan some air into the hives so they can keep the inside temp near 90 degrees (the honeybee comfort zone). Hard to do when it's five to ten degrees hotter than that outside and their hives are sitting out in the full sun.

Others line up on the outside of the hive and rythymically rock themselves back and forth in what looks like an odd kind of bee line dance. Entomolygists call it "scrubbing" or "washboarding" and nobody seems to know for sure why they do it, but you see more of it in the heat of the summer. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the hive and scrub.

I love to watch the forager bees out slurping up water wherever they can find it. These hard-working girls spend almost every day of their lives flying up to three miles out, scouting for sources of nectar and pollen and bringing it back to their sisters who must work inside the hive attending the queen or taking care of baby bees. I've worked out in the garden in the summer heat, and I don't know how they do it day after day. Staying hydrated must take up a lot of their time when it's this hot. One of their favorite spots to get a drink is on the soaker hoses in the garden. Stray drops can also be found dripping from the outside faucets, around the compost pile, or from any place where the dew collects overnight. Even though I put out a large planter saucer of fresh water for them every day, and there's a good sized lake just across the fence, their very most favorite hangout is - unfortunately - the community swimming pool. Something about the chemicals in the water appeal to them, the experts say. Or maybe they just want to be sociable. I sometimes spot them stopping for a pool-side drink when I'm hanging out there, and pretend that I don't see them or that they're not "my" bees. "Those bees?" I say, when a neighbor asks if they're from my hives. "I think those are wild bees."

And who knows? Maybe they are.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Don't weigh your honey before it's extracted

I try not to count my chickens before they hatch, so I know better than to weigh my honey before it's extracted. Nevertheless, if the 2010 summer honey flow is supposed to be over in these parts, nobody has told my bees.

I went to the monthly ABA meeting Tuesday night. The subject was small hive beetles, and I was pleased to come home with 4 new beetle traps - 2 of Mr. Cutts' Beetle Blasters, which I already use, and a new one that I'll try too. I asked a question about what we should be doing/looking for/etc. at this time of year and got some great answers and suggestions.

At the end of the Q&A, the consensus from the experts was that, if we new-bees had managed to keep our bees alive at this point, we were doing good. That's slightly depressing news, and says volumes about how rough a year this has been for beekeepers in general. Just in this area we've had loads of hive losses, more than average swarms back in the spring, loss of queens, heavy varroa mites, and worst of all - foulbrood. Bob L's entire beeyard is still under quarantine and he had to have several hives burned, which means he lost his honey crop for this summer and a good bit of his monetary investment as well.

The good news is - all 3 of my hives are going strong at the moment, so I'm happy not to have been one of the people raising my hand when Bob asked how many folks had lost at least one hive this year. All in all, it's been a hard, but interesting few month since my girls arrived. I've had 3 swarms, captured one, started a new hive, requeened, treated for varroa mites, and lost all the honey because of the Apiguard treatments. On the bright side, I ended up with 3 hives instead of 2 and now have loads of honey for the bees to eat over the winter. I recently installed a second super on my green hive because it was simply bursting with bees and the super was completely full of honey and brood. I just this morning checked the second super and they're drawing it out nicely and already putting in new honey so, as I said before, if the honey flow is supposed to be finished for this summer, nobody has told these girls! The only thing I see blooming right now is crepe myrtle, but there's tons of it in our neighborhood so they must be finding enough to keep them busy. Since I've already treated for mites, I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will at least get a couple of frames of honey to extract before the winter - especially once the goldenrod begins blooming. And with all the signs I've seen lately that we'll have an early fall, that just might happen.

But . . . until the honey's in the jars, I'll try not to weigh it!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I’ve been so busy enjoying summer in Tallahassee that I’m having to go back and catch up on things I should have posted long ago!

Almost two weeks ago now, I had one of the most fun days ever when I spent the morning with my friend Jayne – who is also a new beekeeper – helping her extract honey from her beehives. Jayne’s bees have been good girls. They didn’t swarmed, haven’t gotten varroa mites, and have been busy making tons of honey while mine have been out causing trouble. As a result, she had loads of honey that needed to be extracted and I volunteered to help out so that I could learn how to do it – in the event my bees ever decide to make enough to share with me!

First, we visited her hives. Jayne and her husband Jack have a beautiful piece of land that’s loaded with blueberries, goldenrod, gallberry bushes and loads of other plants that the bees obviously love. We opened up both hives and

decided that there were 6 frames that were fully loaded and completely capped with wax that could be taken from the hives. She had decided to try using fume board to get the bees out of the honey supers – which we all agreed smelled bad enough it would get rid of just about anything (the general consensus being that it smelled like rotten cheese). She put on the fume board and we waited 5 minutes, but still ended up having to brush a lot of

bees off the frames. After being stinked out of the supers AND brushed, they were not too happy! We all 3 worked as fast as we could, brushing bees and stuffing frames into an ice chest, then slapping on the lid to keep other bees out. Finally, we headed back to the house in her truck with our frames of honey.

Back at the house Jayne set up the honey extractor that she’d rented from the beekeeper’s club for the day. We set each frame on the top of the extractor and gently scraped the wax cappings with a fork, then loaded them one by one into the extractor. It only took a few spins of the handle to sling all the honey out of the frames. It didn’t look like much in the bottom of that big extractor, but when we opened the valve and let the honey flow out into my 5-gallon bucket, it filled it almost half full! We lifted the bucket onto Jayne’s bathroom scales and it weighed out at almost exactly 20 pounds. Not bad for only 6 frames of honey! If she’d extracted 10 frames each from both hives, I figure she’d have gotten about 70 pounds!

The honey really tasted good – a light clear golden color. I got a jar to take home, and drove home hot and sweaty, sticky with honey, but happy as a clam.

Can’t wait until I get to do this at my house - thanks for sharing your first honey extraction with me Jayne!

The dreaded varroa mite

It's been a while since I posted on the state of the bees, and much has been going on in that time. Being a new beekeeper I have nothing to compare it to, but all my experienced beekeeper friends agree - it's been a strange year for bees.

First, there was the epidemic of swarm activity back in the spring. Then it seemed that just about everybody whose hives swarmed ended up queenless. And now, to cap it off, there have been several cases of AFB, or American Foul Brood, in the area. AFB is the mother of all bee diseases - the ONE hive disease you don't want to end up with. It's so harsh and so contagious that, in the state of Florida at least, hives that are found to have it are required to be burned - bees and all.

The good news is that my hives don't appear to have it. The bad news is that beekeeper Bob, who lives only about 1 1/2 miles away (and from whom I bought my 2 queens a month ago) did have AFB in several of his hives. Bad news not only for Bob (who lost 4 of his hives) but potentially bad for me, since bees travel up to 3 miles from their hives to forage.

So . . . I called bee inspector Jeff to come and check out my hives earlier this week. They all looked clean for Foul Brood, but 2 of the 3 were carrying a heavy load of Varroa Mites, which can weaken and stress a hive and make them more susceptible to diseases. Such as Foul Brood.

Yesterday, I applied the first dose of Apiguard on both boxes, which is a natural thyme-based treatment that apparently doesn't kill the mites, but makes it so unpleasant for them that they pack up and head for greener pastures. After catching a whiff of the stuff, I can see why they wouldn't want to stay. I feel sorry for the bees, but am hoping that this will solve the mite problem and strengthen the hives. I'll apply the second dose in about a week, then will check for mites a few days later and see if the Apiguard has worked.

Keeping fingers crossed . . . .

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Movin' on up

Seems like there's always something to figure out or fiddle with in the beeyard. The problem of the week: why aren't the bees moving up into the honey super on the green and yellow hives? The past few times I've opened these hives I found a handful of bees walking around in the supers, but it seemed more like they were just out for a stroll rather than busily drawing out the comb and storing nectar.

I posted a question on the ABA site and was quickly advised to remove the queen excluders I had placed between the lower, deep hive and the upper honey super. The excluders were put there to allow the smaller worker bees to move up into the super to store honey, but to keep the larger queen from being able to move up and lay eggs there.

So on Saturday I opened up both green and yellow hives and removed the queen excluders. Last night I lifted up both lids and just took the tiniest peak inside. Both supers were LOADED with bees, which means they have clearly taken the hint that it's time to get down to work in those supers! Next task: checking to see if they're drawing out the comb and storing nectar there. If so, the excluders will go back on to keep her majesty down in the deep hive laying eggs, and hopefully - if all goes well - the supers will soon contain lots of beautiful honey that the bees and I can share!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ballet, bees, and busy-ness

It's been a busy, busy 2 weeks filled with rehearsals for Eliza's ballet company's spring performance, and at times I've felt like a worker bee taking on all roles at the same time - nurse bee, forager, guard, queen attendant. You name it and I've done in the past 14 days!

So . . . time to get caught back up to date on what's happening in the beeyard. When I posted last time, both blue and green hives had been re-queened with queens I bought from Bob L. down the road. I checked them a week later and both had been released from their cages, so I took Bob J.'s advice to "leave those bees alone" and closed up the boxes to let them get down to business.

Yesterday I checked again, frame by frame. Blue is still going slowly and has fewer bees than the other 2, but I did see a few young larvae and some capped brood on one frame. The curious thing was that I did NOT see the new marked queen, and I heard a sound I've read about in my bees books - "piping." At first I thought I was hearing a bird off in the distance, but when I put my ear a little closer I realized it was coming from a bee! Just a small, but strong little "toot" about every 2 seconds. From what I've read this is sometimes a sound made by a virgin or young queen. I'm just guessing here (as I always seem to be doing!) but I'm thinking that Bob and I must have missed a queen cell when we requeened, and that my purchased queen was bumped off by one that this hive produced. Interesting, since one of the new ballet pieces for the performance tonight is called "The Queen's Game" and involves an evil queen who likes to do away with her subjects. Hmmmm . . . . Anyway - whoever the new queen is, I'm glad to see that she's laying eggs and doing her job!

Green hive is doing well too, with lots of new eggs and larvae and capped brood on several frames. I actually spotted the marked queen, which was exciting since I've never managed to find her before! There's still not much happening in the honey super, so today I removed the queen excluder. We'll see whether this encourages them to move "upstairs" and get down to the business of storing honey while there are plenty of things blooming in the area.

Yellow hive, which was my captured swarm, continues to lead the pack. It's literally bursting with bees, hundreds of which are hanging out on the outside of the hive during the days and up until dark. I removed the excluder from this one too to give them a bit more room. This one too have plenty of everything - eggs, larvae, capped brood, honey, and pollen. If they do decide to make honey in the super, they'll probably need it all to keep this large group going during the winter. But that's OK with me. I can always go to the store and buy honey, but they can't.

All in all, things are buzzing right along! Stay tuned for more updates, and "merde" to all the beautiful ballet dancers for tonight's performance!!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hail to the queen!

Much has happened in the beeyard since last I blogged. And given how quickly things have changed since I started this venture, I figure I'd better hurry up and catch the blog up to date before something else happens.

Last time I posted, it was 2 weeks post-swarms and both the original hives (blue and green) were queenless. Not only that, but the number of bees in the blue hive had dropped noticeably. I posted a message on the ABA website asking if anyone had queens, but wasn't too optimistic that I'd find any at the end of April. Luckily Bob Livingston, a beekeeper who lives just a mile or two down the road from me, had some that were mated and ready to go!

Bob showed up Tuesday morning with 2 Italian/Carniolan mix queens and showed me how to install them. But first, he very patiently helped search through each frame of both hives to make sure that both actually were without queens. This was one time I was really hoping that I was dead wrong, and that he'd tell me I just hadn't learned how to spot a queen yet. Unfortunately, not only were both boxes queenless, but there were also no signs of eggs or even larvae in either one. There were still plenty of bees in the green box (although nothing was happening in the honey super yet). But the number of bees in the blue box had dropped noticeably and there were large areas of empty cells in all the frames. Both boxes had a pretty good store of both honey and pollen in the lower hives. Given the low number of bees, we decided to remove the super from the blue box for now.

There were a few queen cells in the green box. Since they hadn't yet hatched I could have put a cell or two into the blue box and waited for both colonies to raise their own. I decided instead to go with Bob's already-mated queens - just to give the bees a chance to get back up to speed a little faster. With more experience under my belt I probably would have let nature take its course - or even taken the queen cells and tried raising my own. Another project for another day!

As of now, the new queens have been in the blue and green hives for 5 days and, hopefully, have been released and accepted by their workers. I'm planning to open up both hives on Tuesday just to be sure and, if all goes well, will be able to return the honey super to the blue hive in just a few weeks.

I'll update again next week, and hope to be able to report that both queens have been accepted and have started laying eggs. Stay tuned . . . .

Monday, April 26, 2010

Queenless in Tallahassee

This weekend marked the 2-week point after my swarms, so it was time to take a peek inside and see what was happening. I checked both blue and green hives last weekend and saw no queens, but did see larvae in each hive so I thought that things were probably going well. But a lot can change in just one week.

Saturday was so windy I couldn't even get the smoker lit. Then Sunday morning we had a monsoon, and by the time it cleared up in the afternoon it was windy again. So . . . this morning I waited until about 10am, suited up, lit the smoker and went visiting.

Blue box was the one I was most concerned about, since this was the one that I was certain had swarmed, and since I saw no queen last weekend. I'm still new at all this and will be the first to admit that I am having major problems finding queens - even though I've started wearing my reading glasses when I open the hives. But today I was 99% sure there was no queen in the hive. I saw plenty of honey, pollen, and nectar, but no eggs or larvae in any stage. To add to it, the girls were downright testy - which is one of the signs of a queenless hive. Up to this point I've barely needed to use smoke at all. But today I was puffing it everywhere and they were flying all around me. Obviously, they did not appreciate my visit. The green box was, sadly, in almost the same state. No signs of a queen or her handiwork.

I went inside and called David, my bee mentor, to get his opinion on the matter. He first helped me calm down, then suggested that I either: 1) take a frame of eggs from the new, yellow box (the captured swarm) and put it into one of the queenless hives, thus allowing the girls to produce a new queen on their own; 2) combine one of the queenless hives with the yellow box, using the newspaper method; or 3) buy new queens. He ever-so-patiently walked me through the steps of each option, but by the time I hung up the phone my head was literally spinning with details.

As if my brain wasn't boggled enough, I spoke with Bob Jackson after dinner, who had a completely different slant to the whole thing. Bob seemed to think that I should wait a bit longer and see if I don't have virgin queens in both hives who just aren't laying eggs yet. But - he also agreed with David's suggestions, and said that all options were viable. He also reminded me that bees DO NOT read the beekeeping manuals, and tend to do whatever they happen to feel like doing at the moment! Listening to Bob on the phone reminded me of something I keep hearing about beekeeping: ask 5 beekeepers the same question and you'll get at least 6 different answers!!

After thinking about it all afternoon, I decided this evening to ask around and see if anyone has any queens for sale. This is, most definitely, the easiest approach to my double problem, requiring the least amount of skill and luck. But at this stage in my life as a beekeeper, I'm thinking that easy sounds pretty good. Luckily, one of my inquiries paid off and tonight I got an email from David L., who lives just 2 miles down the road. He's got queens for sale and will have two ready for me tomorrow! Yipee!!

So . . . stay tuned for my next new adventure: requeening the hive.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

'Tis the season

For swarming, that is. I went to the monthly meeting of the beekeeper's club last night, and swarm stories abounded. It seems that just about everybody either had a hive swarm this week or knew somebody who did, so I guess I'm in good company. Although I have to say that I didn't hear anybody else with a swarm capture story quite as odd as mine. I'm still quite proud of the bucket/duct tape/bamboo pole apparatus I concocted, and am now in the process of working on a new and improved swarm catcher for next swarm season . . . just in case this 20 feet up in the oak tree location gets to be a habit. Hmmmm - I'm thinking telescoping pool brush pole, a hoop at the end, and a pillow case sewn onto the hoop. Or maybe a rope pulley in the tree with a box attached to it?

Stay tuned . . . .

Monday, April 12, 2010

Swarm II

Well . . . when it rains bees, it pours! After all the excitement of yesterday's swarm and capture, I expected to relax today and have a peaceful and non-dramatic day in the beeyard. But it seems that was not what the bees had in mind.

I went outside about noon to put away my handy-dandy bamboo bucket bee-catcher, and happened to glance up in the tree where they'd swarmed to see if any stragglers were still hanging around. Guess what? On the branch just above the site of yesterday's swarm was ANOTHER one!! Now I'm sure there's something going on here that I don't yet know, because I'm thinking that it's just too much of a coincidence that another swarm would pick not only the same tree, but almost the same branch. Could it be that they were attracted to lingering pheremones from yesterday's event? Or could it be that this is just a really, really good tree to hang out in if you happen to be a swarm of bees? I'm hoping somebody at the bee club meeting on Tuesday will be able to shed some light on this mystery.

But, I digress. We continued to watch Swarm II all afternoon as it grew and settled in for the night. By dusk it was quite a bit larger than the one from yesterday. Several thoughts immediately came to mind: 1) Were these bees the remainder of my blue hive? 2) Did the green one swarm too when I wasn't looking? 3) Had the captured swarm left the nuc box and re-assembled on the tree? or 4) Were these bees from someone else's hive, or possibly a group of wild bees? Nos. 1, 2, and 3 seemed unlikely, since there seemed to still be plenty of bees coming and going from the blue, green, and nuc hives. But still . . . . I have to admit that it was really, really tempting to pop the lids on the blue and green hives just to see how many bees were left, but I resisted temptation and decided to let them (and me) have a day of rest and relaxation. Besides, I had the entire community coming to my house at 5 for the monthly community dinner and meeting, and it really wasn't a good time to get out the veil and smoker. Nothing like having a basketball-sized blog of bees hanging from a tree in the front yard when your whole neighborhood is at your house for dinner. So much for trying to be an inconspicuous beekeeper!

I woke up at dawn this morning and sneaked out in the yard to peek at the swarm. The size had changed pretty dramatically and had formed into a perfect heart shape - an unbelievably beautiful valentine of bees hanging in my favorite live oak tree, surrounded by resurrection fern and Spanish moss in the early morning dew. I hope that I never forget what a breath-taking sight this was.

By mid-morning we detected a bit of activity, with a few stray bees darting to and from the swarm and a few others orbiting a few inches around it, and by noon a small hole had opened up in the side and bees appeared to be climbing out of the hole and flying off. We figured a scout had come back with news of a good place to move, and that a decision had been made. Sure enough, we went out for about an hour and, when we came back about 1:30 the swarm was gone.

I may never know where these bees came from, and I'll definitely never know where they went - but I will go to sleep tonight feeling thankful that I had the chance to watch them for 24 hours, and for the lovely valentine they gave me before they departed.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


So . . . it's been 2 weeks today since the bees arrived and I set up the 2 hives, and today I learned another valuable lesson - bees don't always do what the beekeeping books say they should be doing!

So much has happened in the past 2 weeks I can't seem to keep up with it! It was two Saturdays ago that I went with David to pick up the bees from Bob and bring them back to their new home. Then last Saturday, I opened the hives for the first time and took a tentative peek inside to see how things were going. Looked good to me, although I though I might have seen a couple of queen cells on one of the frames. Thursday Jeff the bee inspector came and we spent an hour going through the hives and checking things out. Sure enough - there were 4 queen cells, but we cut them out and thought things were OK. Put the honey supers on both hives and patted myself on the back for how smoothly things were going.

Big mistake. At 2:00 th
is afternoon I was in Target shopping when I got a frantic phone call from hubby saying there was a "tornado" of bees coming out of one of my hives. Not good. I rushed home to find that about half of the girls from the blue box had made a very pretty, but not so easily reachable swarm about 20 feet up in a live oak tree in the front yard. We tried the regular ladder. We tried a neighbor's roofing ladder. We tried a combination of roofing ladder and pole saw. Then I realized there was just no way to reach the swarm and cut the limb without either having the whole limb come crashing to the ground or ending up in the emergency room with a broken something, or both.

So . . . as I sat on the ground watching my bees hanging from the tree, I had a thought. If it's not possible to bring the bees down to a container, why not bring the container up to the bees? A few minutes later, I had a 5 gallon plastic bucket attached to a long bamboo pole with duct tape.

My friend Garrett McCampbell came over to help, and he and I held the bottom of the pole together and guided it up slowly until it was just under the blob of bees. Then we whacked the tree limb with the bucket and ended up with a bucket o' bees, and a whole bunch of really mad bees raining down on our heads. We slowly lowered the bucket to the ground and dumped
the ones we caught into Garrett's hive, then went up for another bucket full. Five tries later, we located the queen and put her into the hive! Like magic, the other bees instantly recognized that she was present, and within 30 minutes every one of them had gone into the box to be with her.

David Hall, my bee mentor, showed up about 6:00 with a hastily assembled nuc box and all of his gear (he SO deserves a trophy or something for all of the help he's given me in the past 2 weeks) and about an hour later we had transferred all the bees from Garrett's hive into the nuc box, added a frame of brood from the
original hive, put on a lid and feeder, and set the box up beside the other 2 hives.

Which just goes to show you that you have to be VERY careful what you wish for - because didn't I just say to somebody recently that I couldn't wait to get some more hives?!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The bees are here!

After a few days of back and forth phone calls, calendar checking, and weather forecasting we managed to coordinate the schedules of myself, my bee mentor David, bee seller Bob, and the bees themselves and set a date to go and pick up my two nuc hives!

David came by about 4 last Saturday with his truck loaded with bags of sugar he'd picked up at the bee supply place in Moultrie, Georgia. We then loaded up my hives and stands and drove to Sycamore - about an hour away from here - and arrived at Bob's place. I was certainly glad that I went with David in his truck. I'm not sure I would ever have found my way there, and I really didn't relish the thought of driving home with several thousand bees in the back of my minivan! On top of that, we discovered on the way over that we had (in addition to bees) homeschooling in common as David and his wife homeschooled their two daughters all the way. So - we had lots to talk about on the ride!

Bob has about a hundred hives on his 40-something acre place. He gave me the grand tour in his golf cart - beautiful land with acres and acres of planted pines and rows of beehives. We then all suited up and opened a few hives, looking for the perfect nucs for me to take home. After a little bit of searching Bob found the ones he was looking for - 10 frames literally dripping with bees, five for each of my hives. He spent lots of time with me, showing me the queens, capped and uncapped brood, larvae and eggs, pollen and honey. There is so much to learn and remember!

We very carefully loaded the 2 hives onto the back of David's truck and secured them with packing straps, then drove them back to Tallahassee. Arrived just a few minutes before dark and gently placed them on the stand I had set up by my blueberry bushes. I have to say that the girls were NOT happy after an hour of jostling around in the back of a truck! You could hear the hum from both hives about 10 feet away. After setting them up on the stands we removed the packing straps, took the moving screens off the entrances and reduced them with bricks, then installed the Boardman feeders with sugar water and - VOILA - I had two hives of bees in my yard!

Went to sleep Saturday night tired but happy, with the sound of that humming in my head. I set my alarm for 7, wanting to make sure I was out in the yard by the time the first bee woke up and ventured out of the hive. I fixed my coffee and went out to bee-watch. About 8:30, the first ones emerged, taking their orientation flights and returning to the hive - I suppose to pass along information to their sisters. Slowly out of the hive, up in a loop, and back in. Then out again, up and out a little farther, and back in again. By noon there were hundreds of them checking things out - even a few venturing into the garden, buzzing around the blueberries, and sipping water out of the soaker hoses!

Fast forward to Friday, April 2. The girls have been here for almost a week now, and have settled in and seem to be enjoying themselves. I'm now seeing them all around the yard - on the clover, in the dogwood trees, all around the garden. They come out around 9, and exit in a steady stream, returning loaded with pollen.

So far I've resisted opening the lids, but tomorrow's the day I've picked to do it for the first time. Practiced lighting the smoker today and finding just the right fuel to produce a steady cool smoke. The inspector is coming next Thursday, so for now I'll be happy with just taking the lids off and peeking inside. If I feel good about it, I'll look at each frame to see if the empty ones are being drawn out with wax - and will possibly move some of the outer, empty frames closer toward the center. I'm a little nervous about doing this the first time, but excited too. Stayed tuned!!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The bees are coming!

Well, I guess I’ve now officially learned the first rule of blogging, which is that sometimes you are too busy doing the things you're blogging about to have time to blog about those things. This has been a crazy busy week with things happening on all fronts, by which I mean both daughters, homeschooling, college applications, personal life, and bee world - just to mention the highlights.'

When last I blogged, the hives had been assembled and had their first coat of white paint. Since then a LOT has happened. On Saturday David, a fellow member of the beekeeper’s club, came to the house and helped me scout out a good location for the hives - close to the blueberry bushes, in sight of the house, not too shady, level ground, and far enough away from neighbors. The bees have to be in a place where they'll get full morning sun since that's their cue to rise and shine and get out there gathering nectar and pollen. David had tons of good information on beekeeping and even offered to drive with me to pick up the girls when they're ready! (I have yet to meet a beekeeper who wasn't nice!!) Since then I've gone to Lowe's about a million times and come home with: concrete blocks, 4x4s, more nails, more paint, straps to hold the hives in place when I go get the bees (so as not to lose them all somewhere along I-10) and too many other things to even remember. Seems like just when I think I'm finally all ready I think of something else I need or five more things I need to do.

This morning I got up at the crack of dawn (OK, it was about 7, but it seemed like the crack of dawn) and burned a pile of yard trash the size of a small house, trimmed the limbs on a tree that would have shaded the hive location, and put the final coats of paint on the hives, stands, bottom boards, and lids - all before breakfast. And somewhere in between all the outdoor work we managed to put in a full day of homeschooling, help Emmy with a college application, take a science test, buy groceries, go to a doctor appointment, make dinner, clean out the chicken coop, and work in two pet-sitting gigs. Then, just when I was ready to sit down and eat dinner, the phone rang and it was Bob J. telling me that my bees will be ready to pick up this weekend!!

So . . . stay tuned. Looks like I’m actually about to become a beekeeper!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A birthday, a gorgeous spring day, and a painted bee hive . . .

Today is my daughter Emmy's 19th birthday, and we had a wonderful celebration this morning complete with presents and a birthday brunch. Just like the day she was born, it has been a gorgeous spring day. The buds are popping open on the dogwoods, redbuds, Japanese magnolias, and even the pear trees. The purple and white violets are in full bloom, and the oak leaf hydrangea opened their leaves almost all the way - just from the time I first went outside this morning until I gathered the eggs from the chicken coop late this afternoon. Spring has definitely sprung!

After our wonderful birthday brunch was over I finished nailing up the last bee hive, then took them all outside to paint in the the warm afternoon sun. I'm so glad I decided against ordering the hives fully assembled. I have to admit it was a bit intimidating when I first opened the boxes and saw all of those pieces, but doing it myself feels like a rite of passage - putting everything together, examining all of the parts, getting a feel for what each part of the hive is for and how it will work, envisioning the hive humming with bees. Putting it together myself has been good.

Late afternoon and the sun is getting lower in the sky. The paint is dry, boxes and parts are all hauled back inside for the night (with their first coat of primer), brushes and painter are cleaned, and we all head out to eat for round two of the birthday celebration. It's so nice to lean back in my chair and watch the fruits of my labor - literally. Nineteen years ago, at 7:10 pm, I first laid eyes on this beautiful child who has grown up to be such a wonderful young woman whom I both love and admire. I see parts of her that are so much like me, but many more parts that she has created from her own strength and character. I have been blessed to have my two daughters in my life.

Yes, spring has indeed sprung - and, as my dear friend Rita says, life is good!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Post #3, in which I discover latent carpentry skills, and emerge victorious with one completed hive.

Well, move over Bob the Builder! After a day of gluing, hammering, and hoping we were doing this the right way, I’m happy to say that Eliza and I have managed to put together (completely without any male assistance, I’m happy to add) one finished bee hive – complete with hive stand, bottom board, deep hive, honey super, migratory lid and 20 frames of foundation. In other words, we have gone from this:

to this:

We have tapped in to our inner carpenters and discovered new talents – and have enjoyed ourselves immensely. A fun, rainy day of staying in our jammies and trying something completely out of our comfort zone. And the house has taken on a wonderful odor of beeswax and new wood.

Now . . . on to hive #2!!

1.) Box of mystery pieces

2.) Application of new carpentry skills

3.) Voila! Are here we have 40 new frames
for our beehives!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I've got hives! (No, not that kind of hives.)

Ooh – I just LOVE opening presents! Even when (or maybe even especially when) it's a present from yourself and you already know what’s inside but you just haven’t actually seen it yet. Like when I buy something I really want on ebay and that package finally arrives in my mailbox. So . . . Tuesday night I attended the monthly meeting of the ABA (no, not the American Bar Association – the Apalachee Beekeepers Association - but more on that later) and came home with 3 huge boxes in the back of my minivan, containing the beehives and accessories that I ordered from Rossman Apiaries two weeks ago when I attended the ABA’s beginning beekeeping course.

I’ve been poring over Rossman’s catalog for almost a year now, pondering the necessity of such arcane items as migratory covers, screened bottom boards, Alexander veils and smoker pellets. But still – there was just something really exciting about lugging those boxes out of the car and into the house and knowing that they were finally mine!

Now, if you’re not all that familiar with beekeeping, you may be envisioning my opening up the boxes and removing – voila – something resembling this:

Or, if you’re really not that familiar with beekeeping, perhaps something like this:

But here’s what I actually saw when I opened my boxes:

What you are looking at is approximately 250 (give or take a few) bits and pieces of wood from which I am to assemble, with minimal instructions and numerous bags of various-sized nails, two complete hives – and which will, by the end of this month, be home to approximately (give or take a few) 50,000 honeybees.

It goes without saying that this gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “some assembly required.” Stay tuned for progress reports!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I have a guiding principle in my life that I like to call The Rule of Threes. It goes something like this: I hear something new and interesting, store it away somewhere in my brain, and promptly forget about it. I hear the same thing a second time, think "hmmm . . . where did I just hear that?" and start to pay attention. I hear it a third time and I figure somebody's trying to tell me something. Some people look for burning bushes or voices in the night. I go for something a little less obvious.

And so it is that this blog came to be. Several months ago when I first decided to try my hand at beekeeping my sweet daughter Eliza suggested that I start a blog about my new adventure. Then, my smart niece Kristen (who is of a literary bent) asked politely whether I'd thought of blogging my project so that others could share in the experience. Then, just last night, my Facebook buddy and fellow vintage tablecloth aficianado Becky P. stepped up with blog request #3, even adding a "please" and several exclamation points. How could I refuse?
I don't know whether anyone other than Eliza, Kristen, and Becky will ever read this blog. But hey - at the very least, it'll be a good way to keep track of my new adventure and see where it leads. And who knows? Maybe I'll become the next "Julie and Julia" and Meryl Streep will end up playing me in the movie version. If that happens, will you be my book editor, Kristen?

Until then - off to bed, to dream of hives and bees and jars and jars of sweet golden honey.