Saturday, October 13, 2007

57 Lbs of Chemical Free Honey

After removing the escape boards, I lean them against the front of the hive so that the bees can walk back into their hive.

The bees are given the harvested honey comb back (boxes in the center) so that they can harvest the remaining honey from the comb and store it in the hives (to the left and to the right). The bees will lick these frames clean and then I can store the comb for the winter (after 24 hours in the freezer).

I have assessed the final weight of the filtered honey and it came to 57 lbs. Excellent! This is equal to an almost full 5 gallon bucket of honey!

They honey is selling a lot faster than I had anticipated. I will be sold out in a couple of weeks, and I have only told a handful of people that I have honey for sale.

I am saving 15 lbs of honey, for myself, to hold me over until the next harvest.

Now I just have to make sure that my bees have adequate foods stores for winter and that the queens are healthy and laying well to ensure that I will have bees in the Spring when I open the hives up.

On Thanksgiving I will wrap the hives in tar paper or something similar to insulate them against the cold of winter, while ensuring that there is adequate ventilation (to allow moisture to escape the hives), and 2 entrances for the bees to come in and out of, when weather provides, to use the bathroom and clean the hives.

Over the winter I will purchase, assemble, and paint 3 more complete hives for the new bees I am going to install in the spring. This will give me a total of 5 hives, which is about the highest number of hives I will have time for, with a new baby on the way in early February and two full time businesses to run.

Its been a great year of beekeeping. I learned a lot about bees, and a lot about myself. At age 31 it amazes me that this journey through life continues to be so astonishing. I am so grateful for that.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Honey Harvest

This picture is of the honey comb being uncapped.

Today I put the escape boards on my bee hives. This contraption is like a one-way door for bees. Once placed on the hives (between the surplus honey and the bottom chambers where the baby bees are raised) the bees will leave the hive within 2-3 days. Then, the honey can be harvested without much of a fight, and with very few bees to contend with. The trouble is that the bee escape is not really a one way door....if left on for more than 3-4 days, the bees will learn how to go back in, and the honey supers will be full of bees again.

Thursday morning, while it is still mostly dark, and cold, I will pull the surplus honey off of the hives. I will store the supers in my house, and after dark on Thursday I will extract the honey once the bees are in their hive for the night, and will not be out and about to try and take their honey back.

All in all, it has been a very very impressive first year of bee keeping. I am expecting between 30 and 50 lbs of honey total. Many people told me to expect very little honey, if any, my first year, so to have a harvest at all is very rewarding. There are still many new aspects of bee keeping between now and spring (when I start my new 1st year hives), but to make it to the honey harvest, given the pitfalls that I experienced this year, is a rewarding feeling. I didn't think I would feel this good about the honey harvest. Its wonderful.

I will post again after the honey harvest, with pictures of the process, and the removal of the surplus honey. I will take a lot of photos and post them in the next blog.

Side note: I have had so many people ask me what sort of stuff is needed to be a beekeeper that I thought it might be helpful to post this link:

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Nasty Disposition

Frame with mostly uncapped honey.

Beekeepers have various common descriptions for hives. There are 'weak' hives (not many bees, or not enough bees to make surplus honey or to survive winter), 'average' hives (uh, average and unremarkable), and 'strong' hives (hives bubbling over with a very large bee population).

Then there are MEAN hives.

A MEAN hive is a hive of bees with an attitude problem. They simply want to sting the crap out of you. They protect their hives in situations that don't warrant protection...and in my opinion this sort of hive is intolerable.

What makes one hive mean, and one hive wonderful???

Sometimes a hive is mean because it is getting harassed by animals during the night. Skunks will often sit outside the hive and eat bees at the entrance. They will scratch at the opening of the hive and wait for the bees to come out and then eat them. I put my hives on a stand to help avoid this problem. In most other circumstances a hive is mean due to bad genes, and often enough, once the honey flow is in full effect (as it is now) hives will sometimes be a bit protective. Usually, if a person will just stay 15 or so feet from the hive, they will have NO problems. More often than not you can stand AT the entrance to the hive and be just fine. I have not yet been stung while standing at the entrance of a hive...even with NO protection at all.

This year I have compared the differences between my Russian and Italian hives. The Russians have built out comb faster, did not lose their queen, have not yet stung me, have been really docile, and have showed no signs of mite infestation. They have filled one honey super with honey and are part way through a couple of frames on another super. They have a beautiful black color and are a true pleasure to work with.

The Italians,on the other hand, have been hard work and little reward all year. They have built honey comb quite slowly, lost their queen early in the season, were very slow to build up their population, and since the honey flow started they have been seriously protective of their hive. In fact, the guard bees have chased me out of my own orchard, repeatedly, and while picking apples the other day, our 4 year old was stung on the arm over 50 feet from the hives. This is a remarkable distance for bees to fly in order to sting someone (when not provoked), and is FAR further than I would expect a SAFE distance to be.

The only problem is this: Since the honey flow started the Italians have gathered surplus honey FAR faster than the Russian bees. In fact, the amount of honey in the Italian hive, in such a short amount of time, is remarkable. Despite the wonderful speed at which they have gathered surplus honey, I just don't think that the NASTY disposition of these bees when the hive is full of honey is worth it. We have lost access to that part of the yard, and the added stress while working the hives is really annoying. Dealing with 50,000 bees is challenging enough for a guy like me who is keeping bees, partly, to overcome a serious fear of bees. Having really defensive bees while working a hive is just plain stressful.

Today while working both hives I had a guard bee attacking every part of my body trying to sting me (I was FULLY suited up today, except no gloves). I actually put my hands in my pockets to protect them from this nasty bee. It kept coming at my face and hands and was so angry, and so hell-bent on stinging me that I walked out of the orchard, while it harassed me over a distance of 100 feet. After a minute I walked back to the hives and began working again. The same thing happened again, and again, and again. After being driven from my own orchard 2 times I had had enough. I walked up to the apiary and stood there while this bee attacked me....each time it landed on my veil, and tried to shove its stinger through my face I swatted at it. After a couple of minutes I knocked him to the ground and killed him. Suddenly, peace and quiet. 100,000 other bees just working and cleaning and feeding and curing honey and living in harmony with nature. What a sigh of relief.

This picture shows capped honey, uncapped honey, and some brood. I do not use queen excluders to keep the queen from laying in the honey supers, so some of her eggs were laid with the honey. These frames will be carefully extracted to keep the honey from being mixed with the baby bees.

The purpose of today's foray into the hive was to see how much cured honey is in there and ready to extracted. The Italians have one honey super filled and almost fully capped with wax. The Russians have one honey super filled and mostly capped. All in all, it appears that I will be able to get between 40 and 55 lbs of honey this year from 1st-year hives. This is a good accomplishment and is due to a good year for honey combined with sound hive management.

To date I have been stung 5 times this year, including once today from my Italian hive today. I still have not started to wear gloves. I am getting used to the stings on the hands (3 on the hand...all on my right hand), but will never get used to the stings on the face (2 on the face so far). They hurt and when they swell there is more critical (internal) parts to be concerned about being affected by the swelling. Other than that, the stings have been a tolerable hazard of the trade.

The picture below is of today's bee sting (white raised area below my thumb), with a curious bee approaching between my thumb and forefinger. Its a neat picture.

If anyone had any questions shoot me an email: If you have allergies, and need local honey, I will be selling a very small supply this year. It is all organic with no chemicals used whatsoever. These hives have never had any chemical treatments or medicines of any kind since they have been built.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Stung in the face

One of the things I have learned in my first year of beekeeping is that I don't really mind getting stung by the girls...I have also learned that I have the very rare Type III allergic reaction to stings. Substantial swelling occurs on the 2nd, 3rd, day after the sting. The picture above is me, 36 hours after getting, stung between the eyes by a bee at a WCBA field day. While the picture below, is me 12 hours after the first picture was taken.

I don't really look like the same person. The swelling got so bad that it began pushing on my sinuses (inside), which cause my body to stimulate a panic attack (first I have EVER had) and I ended up getting an ambulance ride to the hospital...I was alone and passing out, so I felt that calling 911 was a good idea. I called my family 1st, but nobody was closer than 30 minutes away, so 911 got the 2nd call. By the time the ambulance got here (10 minutes later) the attack was passing. I had taken Benadryl about 5 minutes before I started passing out, so it was already in my system, and beginning to do its magic.

Yesterday I get stung in the face, again. The Italian queen I installed, in the last blog, began her egg laying 6 weeks ago and layed more eggs than most people found reasonable. In fact, when I told people that there were 7 frames of brood in the top chamber alone (I didn't check the bottom chamber) they were astonished..."Great queen" is what everyone said. 7 frames of brood is around 40,000 new bees. As they hatch, she lays a new egg in the empty cell and the cycle starts all over again.

3 weeks after laying an egg, the bee hatches as a nurse bee. 3 weeks after that, they begin to emerge from the hive and take their orientation flights around the bee yard before going out into the field to begin their work as pollen and nectar gathering machines. Well, imagine 2000-10,000 bees all taking their orientation flights at once. Its quite a sight. I walked up into the orchard to get a closer look. I was standing about 20 feet from the hive and one of them bumped into my face and stung me. Its going to happen with that level of activity. The bees were EVERYWHERE.

If my reaction follows similar patterns to the past 3 stings, it will swell tomorrow and the following day, and then begin to subside. I am tired from the Benadryl. Also, I have been a bit under the weather for the last 5 days, so I am wondering if my body may have a bit harder time fighting the bee venom than usual. I will post the follow-up in a few days to document the extent of swelling.

There are two factors that MIGHT reduce the amount of swelling I get from this particular sting. 1st, stings tend to swell less and less as you get stung more often. 2nd, when I went to the hospital they told me to take Zantac to aide in reducing the swelling. I guess the stomach medication (Ranitidine) has an anti-histamine affect similar to that of Benadryl. If these two factors combine, I may not look like a monster by tomorrow night. If they don't work, I will just have to get used to looking like this from time to time.
***UPDATE*** There was no additional swelling from the sting. My body is getting used to the stings, or the Zantac is a miracle antihistamine. Either way, hooray.

On a more positive note, the last time I checked the hives (12 days ago) I had one full honey super filled with honey on the Russian hive. That's 40 lbs of honey. I added an additional super onto that hive, and also added the first honey super onto the Italian hive. That is pretty good for a first year hive. This has been a good year for honey production, in general.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Today I checked both hives to see the progress, and to see if the new Italian queen was released and laying eggs. All was well. The queen cage was empty and there were hundreds of eggs, each in their own happy little cell.

This photo at left shows the space between the frames where I put the queen cage. You can see the beige spot in the middle (the queen cage), and the burr comb which they built between the frames due to the too-large space created by putting the queen cage between the frames. The photo at upper left is me eating a glorious piece of honey filled comb. The flavor was amazing....a true slice of heaven. It was the first time I got to fill my mouth with a full piece of honey filled comb.
It was so nice to work the bees today...a perfect summer afternoon, with a slight breeze and friends Jimmy and Heather Paquette sharing some laughs while Jimmy took photos ( The sun was setting across the street, and the view was just beautiful. Today, life was good. May there be many more just like it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

PURE angst

Today (Saturday June 16th), I approached my Italian hive with a new queen bee in my left pocket, and a pair of needle nosed pliers in my right back pocket. That is, a package for the introduction of new life, and an instrument of pre-meditated murder...(euphemistically called 'culling' instead of murder). I also used a bee smoker today, so it sat beside the hives lit and smoking away. Today, my work was motivated by fear of having a poor queen, so into the Italian hive I went.

Ever watch yourself in a dream? Sometimes there are moments in my life that are similar to this experience, and today was one of them. You see, 10 days ago when I discovered that the Italian hive was without eggs or larva, and that supercedure cells had hatched (meaning a new queen was born), I was content to see the course of nature unfold. The queen would leave the hive within a week of emerging, and in another week will begin to lay eggs. According to this time line, it would be expected that this new queen would be mated and laying eggs in about 14 days. Without giving it the full amount of time required, however, I observed the uneasiness of the bees and made up my mind to get a new queen. I don't know if I did the right thing or not, but I do know that I was motivated by fear of a poorly mated queen.

I do wish that I had let nature do its thing...that I had waited, watched, and learned.

I began working the hives by smoking the entrance and top of the hive. The bees buzzed audibly, and then became quiet. I waited 30 seconds, and when I opened the hive most of the bees had their heads stuck in cells gorging themselves on honey, which calms them down. It also sets the progress of the hive back a few days, so I don't like to do it unless I feel that I need to.

After the bees were calm, I began pulling frames one at a time. I was looking for eggs, and a queen. Most likely the queen would not be laying yet, but I was looking for eggs (easier than finding a queen). The first few frames had none. On the third frame I pulled I saw her, the queen, walking across the comb. I reached into my pocket, pulled the pliers our and unceremoniously grabbed the queen, killing her instantly. I dropped the queen on the ground and with both hands on the frame, began the motion of putting it back into the hive...BUT WAIT!!!!! WAS THAT AN EGGS I JUST SAW???? Sure enough, it was. WHAT HAVE I DONE!? ARGH! I killed a queen that appears to have been properly mated, and was now laying eggs. Right away I regretted not listening to my own inner voice that told me to 'watch and learn as nature does its thing.' Instead, I had listened to others who warned, "Hives that raise their own queen are more aggressive than mated queens of known quality. You'll be sorry you let them make their own."

Of course, there is a chance that these people saved me from myself. Saved me from the chance that my desire to watch the bees do their thing would have let to a story of a 'nasty hive' that I'd wished I were not able to tell. Still I wish that I had waited one more week, but the bees were getting worn and tattered. I had to ensure that there would be enough worker bees around to care for the young bees that would develop from the eggs a new queen would lay. Time was running out. So, I "requeened." Saturday I will go back into the hive and see if the queen is yet laying eggs. I will be surprised to get honey from that hive this year......instead I am hoping to simply have the bees build the honey comb for me so that next year will be easier on the colony.

I will post another report tomorrow, which will mark 1 week since the queen was installed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Worn and tatterd

I only had time to work the Italian hive today. The bees were anxious, loud, and restless, as was I. They are getting worn and tattered. I found no queen, and no eggs. There was only one supercedure cell left in there. The bees are building out honey comb, on existing frames, without minding the 'bee' space needed to fill out the frame next to it. What a disappointment. Part way through working the bees, I put a pair of gloves on my hands. I was afraid. The bees are unhappy and I don't blame them. They live for their queen, and she is not there, or not well. I finished working the hive by sheer force of my own inner will. I did not want to finish working the hive today, but HAD to because I do not want to go back in there until I am ready to install a new queen.

Tomorrow, weather and time permitting, I will work the Russian hive. The Russian hive has been BURSTING with bees lately, as the first baby bees are emerging, as workers, and taking their orientation flights....there are so many new bees doing this, that two days ago I thought the hive was being robbed by another colony of bees. I am SO grateful to have two hives. It takes the *sting* out of my troubles with the Italians.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


Today was filled with a few new experiences and a new mystery. To me, that is about as good as it gets.

(In the center of this photo at right is a picture of what seems to be a new Italian queen. A VIRGIN queen, which may have been created by the bees to replace the original queen which may have been lost or killed.)

I am grateful to Jim Moscatel, a great friend of mine, who donned a veil and became today's 'beetographer' while I worked the hive with friend and fellow bee keeper, Michael Keene, whose help I am also very grateful to have had today.

Last week, the order of business was to see how much comb the Russian bees had built. The measure was 5.5 out of 10 total frames. This was 1/2 frame shy of the minimum of 6 frames needed to trigger the addition of a 2nd 'deep super' (bee box). It was also found that the Russian queen was alive, evidenced by the presence of eggs in the otherwise empty cells.

This week, the Russian queen was still laying eggs, and 7 out of 10 frames were fully built out with comb. The queen was observed to still be laying eggs. There were bees in all stages of growth, and an additional deep super was added. In order to encourage the bees to move upward into the new super and build comb on those new frames, a presently used frame from the bottom super (with bees, honey, pollen, and nectar) was added to the new box before placing it on top of the first. The frames in the new super were also sprayed with sugar water to further encourage the bees. The Russian hive is doing WONDERFULLY.

In the Italian hive last week presented a number of concerns. First of all, there were no empty comb cells on any frame. They were all filled with brood, honey, pollen, and nectar. There were no eggs, no larvae, and no queen to be found. Not knowing whether the queen was gone, or simply unable to lay eggs due to a lack of space, I closed the hive in anticipation of waiting one full week prior to rechecking. At this point, I assumed that there would be empty cells, and that a mated and healthy queen would resume laying eggs, or there would be evidence of a problem. Unfortunately, what I found today WAS evidence of a problem.

What I found were 'supercedure' cells, which are created by the bees to replace a missing or faulty queen. In the center of this photo, you can see a bee with her head inside a supercedure cell that had previously hatched. I think that the queen in the photo at the top of this blog, may have been hatched from this cell. I belive this to be the case because the were approx 8 supercedure cells (7 of which were not yet open), and many empty 'standard' cells without eggs or larvea. This tells me that it is likely that the original queen is dead and or not laying eggs and that the observed queen is a likely a virgin queen who has not yet taken her mating flight yet. Before I can determine that, I have the following questions that I need answered:

  • Can a queen be created from a frame of capped brood?
  • At what age does the queen make her mating flights?

As I recall, last week I was unable to find any larvae or eggs, so how was a queen created? Looks like I will have my head burried in reference books tonight to get the answers. I am, after all, a newbie beekeeper.

Finally, the new mystery the presented itself today. While closing the Italian hive, many bees stood at the entrance to the inner cover and began fanning. Fanning is typically for orientation of the colony. The only time I have seen fanning prior to this was at the ENTRANCE of a hive, when hiving a new package of bees into a hive. What was the reason that they fanned at the top of the hive, when bees were not coming or going from that location? I am grateful to have this new mystery to uncover, and other answers to seek.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Where art thou?

Order of business today:

  • Check to see if I need to add a 2nd deep super on the Russian hive (the Russian queen is alive and well).
  • See if my prayers to the bee gods to "Reveal my Italian queen or show some sign of her existence and health" have been answered.

The Russians are still one full frame away from needing a 2nd deep super, and the Italian queen was hiding her self today, if she is there at all. And there were no eggs, again.

Today I find myself humbled by the uncertainty of what is happening in the Italian hive. I speculate that there is not enough comb in the Italian hive for the queen to lay eggs, since the colony is building it at a slow pace. Once there is more comb, there should be eggs again. In lieu of finding the queen, which is 1 bee out of 10,000 bees at this time, a beekeeper may instead observe the presence of eggs. The presence of eggs means that as recently as a few days ago, the queen was present.

Today I looked for the queen, and eggs, diligently. I spent way too much time in the hive, but I wanted to be certain that I had given my best effort. It was a frustrating experience, and by the time I worked my way through all the frames twice, the bees were sensing my frustration.

I have noticed that as I work the bees, they mirror my emotions. Today as I became frustrated (showing no perceptible outward sign of that emotion), the bees buzzed very loudly. When I took a deep breath and became calm, they quieted down. I found it amazing that these creatures, who monitor the queen's presence and health through an endless chemical interpretation of what she excretes from glands on her body, should also be capable of reading my emotions as they occur. It may likely be through the pheromones, hormones, and other chemical singals that my body gives as I traverse a spectrum of emotion. Or perhaps it is my imagination.

Ken Kesey once noted that the most essential roll of our truest friends is to be an accurate and clear mirror for us, so that we may see ourselves as we are, and be better equipped to improve our selves because of it. My little friends are great mirrors for me. I am simply glad that they were compassionate today, and did not sting. I wonder if they can intuit the good will I feel toward them, and somehow understand the role I have assumed as their caregiver.

I worked the hive in a short sleeved shirt today, and given my emotional range today, and their accurate reflection of it, it was gracious of them to show compassion, and not sting me. What they should have done is dragged their queen to center I would have appreciated that.

So, I am going to leave the hive alone for a week, and hope that the bees build out enough comb for the Italian queen to start laying eggs again. This way, even if I cannot find her next Thursday, I will be able to confirm that she is alive and well. If not, I will order a new queen, and begin the process of introducing her. At least by then, there will be a lot of space in the brood comb to lay.

And the Russians, well, 1 week will be enough time for them to finish building out the requisite 6-7 frames of comb in the lower deep. Then they get room for expansion.

This week, I will continue work on my real estate blog, which is a bit more technical and jargonistic than this, and pray that the gods of honey will send word that my queen is indeed alive and well.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Monday, May 28th, 2007

I worked the hives today, without smoke, and Jenny took some pictures. It was nice to have someone else taking pictures, since I had a lot of work to do, and wanted to work steadily. The order of business today was to check the following things:
  • How built out are the frames in each hive?

  • Are the queens alive and healthy (are there eggs)?

  • How are the food stores in the Mason Jars?

Russian hive:

I began with the Russian hive today. They have built out 5 1/2 frames, which means that I will add another hive body in just a few days. I might have been able to add it today, but I wanted to consult with Dan Conlon, of Warm Colors Apiary, first. His instruction is that a 2nd deep super is added to a Russian hive when 6 frames are fully built out and in use.

While I did not see the Russian queen today, I did see a few eggs, many larva, and masses of capped brood. Also, there was capped honey (capped with white wax), stored pollen (multi-colored substance in open cells), and nectar (liquid in open cells). The bees looked happy and healthy, and were doing a hell of a great job on eating the pollen patty and building out the comb. I will soon add some more sugar-water to their jars, and if I go to Warm Colors Apiary, I will get one more pollen patty. Otherwise, there is enough pollen in the environment right now that they don't absolutely need one.

Italian hive:

When I finished with the Russian hive, I opened the Italian hive. The first thing I noticed is that the Italians are taking a bit longer to consume the pollen patty. Also there were 2 frames completely built out, and (2) half-frames built out. So, a total of 6 frame sides, or 3 frames. While I was able to observe capped brood, and larva, I could not find a single egg in any one cell. This is rather worrisome, considering I am supposed to be confirming the presence of a queen by either finding her, or eggs, each time I visit the hive. This lack of eggs may be one of two things:

  1. The queen is no longer present

  2. There is simply no room for eggs right now, as the vast majority of cells I observed are in use.
I am hoping the 2nd scenario holds the answer. That there is simply not enough room for the queen to be laying eggs at the moment. I will call/email Dan Conlon, and Mike Keene, my two mentors. After talking with them, I will have an idea of what I can do to determine the right course of action. I am assuming that I will simply have to check back in 4-5 days, and see if there are eggs in there at that time. I will (first) check my 3 bee reference books and see if I can find some answers in there.

All in all, it was a good day to work the hives. I removed my veil part way through working the Italians so that I could get a closer look for eggs. Still, I saw nothing, but was able to get a clearer view of the bees, than is possible with the veil on. I wish I could work the bees, veil-less, all the time. Perhaps I can. I'll have to learn as I go.

In other business: Today a friends sent an email telling that her bees had simply vacated the hive. All that was left were a bunch of drone (male) bees, and a few workers. No queen, no eggs. She feels that this may be due to the excessive heat on Friday and Saturday. We are going to try and find an explanation. If we find a likely one, I will post it. In any event, she is a fellow first-year keeper, so I really feel for her. She is going to purchase a nuc (nuclear hive) from an acquaintance of ours, and start with it. Nucs are 4-5 frame hives with a laying queens, some built out frames (with brood, honey, pollen, nectar, etc...) The nuc is delivered, and the frames are placed into the hive of the person purchasing the bees. This should give her a head start on building up a strong colony for a good honey crop this year.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Installing a different hive-top feeder and checking for frame build-out with comb

Today I needed to work with the Russian hive. The hive top feeder, which I thought would make my life easier, ended up not working as well as I’d hoped. To begin with, the feeder weighed about 40 lbs when completely filled with sugar water, so it was inconvenient to remove from the top of the hive, when working the bees. Also, the bees did not consume as much sugar water, as quickly, as I thought they would, so the feeder began to grow a mold in and around the sugar water. Shortly after this mold appeared, the bees simply stopped eating the syrup. Lastly, because the feeder was difficult to handle, I would inevitably crush a couple of bees between the bottom of the feeder and the frame of the hive when placing it onto the hive each time. At any point, that could have been my queen bee getting crushed, which would be devastating for the colony, and set them back at a critical time of the year.

I found it interesting, though not surprising, that the bees avoided the mold in the sugar water.

Another purpose for today’s work was to examine how many frames the bees have built out with wax comb. There are 10 frames (see the pic below) in each wooden hive body (the wooden boxes that are stacked on top of each other to form the expandable hive). The bottom two hive bodies are called ‘deep supers’. When each colony is started, they start with one deep super with 10 frames. When the bees have built wax comb on enough of the frames in that body (6 frames for Russian bees, and 8 frames for Italian bees), a bee keeper will add another deep super on top of the first. When all 20 frames (both supers) are built out with comb, honey, pollen, and brood (young bees in various stages of development), the honey supers are added. Honey supers also have 9 or 10 frames, and are smaller boxes so that they can be lifted when filled with honey. Supers are VERY heavy when filled with honey. Supers placed above the bottom two are what the bee keeper harvest for himself at the end of the season. The bottom two are left as food store for the bees to eat over the winter months.

*Note: Bees only need to build comb on frames once. After new frames have been built out with comb, the bees simply need to reuse the comb year after year. Many bee keepers will say that 'drawn comb' is the bee keepers most valuable asset.

Both colonies this year are brand new. New bees, new queens, new equipment, so the bees have the added work of building new comb on all the frames. The Russians were installed on 5.5.07, and to date have built out 4 frames with comb. This means that they have built 28,000 honey comb cells in 2 weeks and 3 days. To me, that is a remarkable accomplishment. The Italians were hived on 5.12.07, and have built out just over 2 frames in 10 days.

Both colonies are laying lots of eggs, and appear to be very healthy.

Today, I also removed the entrance reducer on the Italian hive so that the bees have less restricted access to bring what they need to in and out of the hive.

All in all, today’s work was very good. I will now stay out of the hive until 5.29. By then, I anticipate that the Russians will have built out 6 frames with comb, and will require a 2nd deep super. Staying on top of this is important. It will help prevent the hive from feeling the impulse to swarm. I hope NOT to write a blog about swarming this year, unless it is just an informative blog, rather than an experiential one.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Queens are Released and Laying Eggs

Today I checked to see if my Italian queen had been released from her cage. She had been released, and has also started to lay eggs. I also checked the Russian hive to see if the queen had started laying yet (it can take 2 weeks for a Russian queen to start to lay eggs, whereas an Italian queen will begin to lay much sooner). My Russian queen must have started to lay eggs right after her release, because there were some young bees, already in the larval stage of development, which means that about 1 week has passed since her first eggs were layed.

I also wanted to place some pollen substitute in each hive because it has been so rainy that the bees have been unable to gather pollen for themselves and for rearing young. Because it is a first year hive, the bees first have to build honey comb on all the frames before they can store anything in it. This slows the bees down considerably, and as a result, the food stores are built slower, and are therefor bare at this point. I didn't want the bees to starve to death in their first weeks in my bee yard.

When entering the hives today I did not use any smoke. I simply washed my hands with wintergreen rubbing alcohol, and quietly opened each hive to do what I needed to do. The bees were gentle and cooperative.

I was able to find the Italian queen, which I needed to do in order to keep her safe while I removed some burr comb from one of the frames, which was covered with thousands of bees. Removing this comb, bare handed, was a challenge for me, both practically and psychologically. In the end, I was able to get it done without injuring any bees or getting stung. There were about 100 or so bees on the small piece of burr comb I removed, and about 1000 eggs (one in each cell) in the burr as well.

Its too bad that it had to be removed, but burr comb is impractical because it is built where there is a too-big gap between frames, which there is while a new queen is installed. During the installation of a queen there are only 9 frames in a hive body designed to hold 10 frames. 9 frames are used, instead of the required 10 frames, so that the queen cage can occupy some of the space where the missing frame would otherwise be kept. This creates a gap, during the time it takes the bees to release the queen from her cage. The bees work hard to fill this space.

The nice part of having to remove the burr comb, is that the comb had some honey stored in it. After shaking all the bees off it and bringing it into the house, I was able to eat raw honey in the comb for the first time. That was a nice reward to receive so early in my first season. The flavor of the honey was wonderful. And I can't wait until I can harvest some more.

The next time I go into the hive I will check to see if the Russians have filled 6 out of the 10 frames with comb, eggs, pollen, and honey. When they have 60% (80% for the Italian hive) of the first hive body (called a Super) built out, and in use, I will add a second hive body (which holds 10 more frames) on top of the first. This will give the bees the room to expand. This process will continue throughout the season, for both hives, and all supers above and beyond the bottom two are mine to harvest when they are filled with honey.

So, I now leave the hives alone for a week, while I watch these bees work their magic of converting nectar, water, and pollen into energy for themselves and honey for the both of us to share.

Why bee keeping?

The first thing most people ask is, "Why would you want to keep bees?" It's fair question. The lunacy of handling tens of thousands of bees barehanded seems a bit obvious, but there is an answer. The follow up question, "How often do you get stung" is the one that I think most people are really interested in having answered. Well, this was my primary interest as well.

I have been stung once, so far, in the first 3 weeks of bee keeping (and it was my mistake that caused the bee to sting. I would have stung too). Seasoned beekeepers tell me that I will be stung much more frequently as each colony grows; from 15,000 bees to over 60,000 bees, over the next few months. A queen bee will lay up to 2000 eggs a day, when conditions are good, and they begin to be a bit more defensive as they have young and honey to defend. Still, keeping the bees' health in tip top shape is the primary job of the bee keeper. This blog will be updated each time I do any major work with the bees, which will be approximately once per week.

Getting back to the first question, I would first rephrase it: "How did I come to keep bees in the first place?" The answer to how I came to keep bees, and why I keep bees now are a bit different. This blog will address how it happened. However, now that I have a taste of it, I continue to do it is because these insects are fascinating, and instructive to me. They have become my teachers, and have provided a clear window for me to see into my self. This is proving to be remarkable in ways I could have not foreseen. But this topic is for another day, and will be unfolded over time.

I came to bee keeping through a separate hobby; the brewing and fermenting of beers, wines, and 'meads'. Grains and hops are to beer, what grapes are to wine, and what honey is to mead; The essence and spirit of the drink.

My making of alcohol can be traced to 1997, when I became a boarder/renter in a home on Appleton Circle, in Fitchburg. I had just returned home from travelling the US, and needed a place to hang my hat. I ended up rooming in a house with a couple of guys named Mark and Eric, who both had an interest in alcohol. Mark was a beer brewer, and kept large 5 gallon glass jars of bubbling mystery in an abandoned sauna in the basement, where he could easily maintain the 67 (or so) degree temps that he needed for fermentation. Eric was not a brewer, but was friendly with a group of Franciscan monks who ran a bakery called, "As You Like It." The monks made a drink called Mead, the making of which can be traced back thousands of years to the Vikings and beyond.

Eric kept cases of meads in the basement, and because it was bottled without preservatives, these bottles were likely to explode if not handled with the utmost care. It was actually frightening to watch him open a watching a car accident in-progress. He would pick up a bottle, gingerly, with a towel, and gently push on the already protruding cork until it exploded across the room, like champagne. (I have since learned that it was the still-living yeasts, eating some of the remaining sugars in the sweet liquid, that caused the buildup of CO2, which created the pressure, making the bottle likely to explode. In fact, due to the high alcoholic content of meads, champagne yeasts are often used to ferment them, since these yeasts can survive a highly alcoholic environment.) The meads that Eric drank had a wide range of tastes. Some of the meads were sweet, and some were dry. The flavors were profoundly different based on the origin of the honey, and while I did not develop a taste for fine and distinctive alcohol until long after moving out of that house, I was affected by the uniqueness of what these guys were doing. And that left a lasting impression on me.

In 2004, after purchasing a house which had some room I had no prior use for, I thought that I would give beer brewing a shot, and fill some of that space with this new hobby (it had a built in bar to begin with!). My brother (who has been a brewer for quite a while) showed me the basics of beer, and after a year of making beer, I added wine-making to the agenda, and then decided to try my hand at making a mead.

I read a book on mead making, researched available recipes on the net, and finally decided on this one, which will be finished on 8.24.07: . I put together the ingredient list, and began a search on the Internet for a local source of honey. The recipe called for 30-40 lbs of honey for a total of 10 gallons of mead. This would be two batches, and two different flavors. The first, a cinnamon/vanilla mead, made with organic cinnamon and whole vanilla beans from Madagascar. The 2nd, a standard, sweet, wildflower mead without added flavor. I ended up purchasing 30 lbs of honey, for a total cost of $150 (just for the honey!). Taking that money out of my wallet was painful, even if I was going to end up with a consumable product. And so, I decided that if I was going to experiment with meads, I better learn to keep bees. There was only one problem. I WAS TERRIFIED OF THEM.

Now, people who know me well can tell you that I love a challenge. I don't like feeling limited in any way, and if I feel confined by limitations I will work tirelessly to push beyond them. Learning to be unafraid of bees was no different...its just that this time, it was not some external constraint that was limiting was ME that was limiting me. And as we all have experienced, overcoming our on psychological constructs can be the greatest challenge that we will ever face. Fortunately, I had an 'ace in the hole.' It was called Vipassana.

A technique I had learned during a 12 day silent meditation retreat in the heart of the Berkshires, in the month of March of 2006, was about to open a doorway that would have previously seemed impossible to open, and make those 12 days of internal torture and bewilderment, pay off in a way that never expected. Summed up neatly, Vipassana is the technique of observing the sensations of the body, without being swept away by what the body is doing and experiencing. I would use this technique to help me overcome my fear of bees. I knew it could be done.

The first time I went into a bee hive, using the techniques of Vipassana, my mind was observing: "Wow, it's amazing how this body is filled with fear. The heart is racing, sweat is forming on the skin, and the desire to run like an Olympic sprinter is overwhelming. Now, continue doing as you are being instructed. If the experience of a stinging sensation arises in the body, just observe it with equanimity and detachment." I did not get stung that first time in the hive, and by the time my body did get stung I was able to watch the sting happening with detachment, and continue working the hive. This was a remarkable accomplishment, considering my body still quivers with fear when I open the hives (I don't wear protective gloves anymore, which has increased the apprehension and fear). Thankfully, my mind is at the helm remembering: "equanimity, detachment, happiness, real peace."

After coming to terms with the fact that I was going to have to overcome the 'learned fear' of bees, I understood that I had no choice but to move forward.

I learned that the average well-managed hive produces between 40 and 150 lbs of honey each year, and this meant that to produce enough honey to make many different meads, I would need 2-4 hives; enough to guarantee at least 80 lbs of honey a year. This would cover at least 4 batches of mead annually and allow me to explore variously flavored meads at a very low cost.

I also discovered that properly managed hives will most-often pay for themselves by the end of their very first year. I had a win/win proposition going. I had a hobby that paid for itself, allowed me to afordably explore a separate hobby, and provided a brand new tool for self-improvement.

Now, 9 months after the impetus to explore the possibility of beekeeping was born, I am a beekeeper. I feel like a beekeeper. I am managing my bees as well as I am able, and I am LEARNING about my own self, by watching the lives of these amazing creatures.