Thursday, November 12, 2009

Zen and the Art of Beekeeing; The Close of Season 3

Featuring the complete line of Beacon Bee Balm! Selected products are available at DIA Beacon, Homespun, Beacon Natural,
and coming soon to a new store; Wing and Clover in Rhinebeck.

After a month of temperatures that veered wildly from the 30s to the 60s (sometimes in the same day), the chill seems to be settling in for good now. This has meant winter preparation for me and the girls, with my focus on moisture control (sounds exciting, right?). The girls know how to cluster, maintaining a temperature of between 92 degrees (at the center of the cluster, where the queen is) and 74 degrees (at the outer edges of the cluster). Just inches from the outside of the cluster, the temperature is close to that on the outside of the hive. Because of this internal heat production, hot and humid air rises in the hive and condenses when it reaches the cool upper levels. If this cold water collects and drips back onto the bees, they are doomed. For some reason, maybe because we are on the side of the mountain and have more of a temperature fluctuation than most areas, my hives have major moisture issues. On mixed temperature days this past October, when a cool night followed a warm day, I could see the water dripping out of the hive entrance the following morning. I am thinking now that the mold that I found in the bottom box of my hive this spring was probably due to this condensation.

So, I put out my feelers for advice to a few bee experts, and got a dozen or so suggestions. I took from them what made sense, added what I knew from my own experience, and came up with a system that I feel optimistic about.
For the two or three beeks (yes, it stands for bee geeks), that are still loopy enough to be reading this post, my solution is as follows:

On top of my super that is full of honey, I put an empty half medium super. (Matt was kind enough to saw one in half on his table saw). On top of that, I put a shim (a perimeter of wood) which is about two inches high. Stapled to the bottom of the shim is a sheet of 1/4" hardware cloth (metal mesh). On this hardware cloth I can lay down sheets of newspaper, with a lozenge shape cut out of the center. The outer cover sits on top of the shim. (no inner cover!) I drilled a 3/4" hole in the front of the half medium super, for ventilation as well as a second entrance.
So; the moisture rises, gets absorbed by the newspaper and has air above it and below it so that the newspaper does not get moldy. Periodically I can go in and replace the paper.

The last thing I will did is wrap the hives with tar paper. This will not offer much in the way of warmth, although the black will help draw in the sun. Its main purpose is to block the wind and keep it from getting into the cracks between the boxes.

This fall I have treated both hives numerous times (with Oxalic acid) for mites. Levels got really high in September and it was only this last treatment, at the end of October, that caused a tremendous mite drop to occur. As you can see, they formed a sheet of parasitic disgustingness the day after. This continued for a few more days. Now that I know that there is no brood being laid, I should be able to get away with just one more treatment.

I would of course prefer to be "treatment free" in my beekeeping practice, but because I only have two hives, I am not ready to totally let nature take its course. In times of adversity, we are pressed hard between our ideal of how we would like things to be and the consequences of pursuing that ideal.

And so the season closes with two very different hives, one small with lots of stores, the other bigger with hopefully enough stores. My hope is that both hives get through the winter. If they do, I may split one and start a top bar hive in the spring, although two hives keeps me busy enough as it is.

I feel that this was the season where I learned to trust myself as a beekeeper. This did not mean that I did not make mistakes, but I found myself able to make sense of most situations and act accordingly (without reaching for the phone each time a bee buzzed in an unfamiliar way). In late spring or so, when I found myself getting overly anxious about the plight of my new nuc, and the never ending stream of ants going in and out of the bottom board, I realized that I could not continue to pursue this if it was causing me such anxiety. I had to let go a bit and feel comfortable being an observer as much as a keeper.

Om Shanti?

Saturday, October 10, 2009


The hives were light at the end of the summer, and the girls have been working hard to make up for their depleted stores. Luckily, September brought lots of pollen; Goldenrod, Purple Loosestrife, Aster and others. Like them or not, we count on many of the invasive weeds for fall forage.
I fed back all but one of the frames of capped honey that I took from the hives in July. The following photos show the emptying of a full frame over the course of about five hours.

Realizing that I was attracting bees other than my own, I moved the feeding indoors, meaning that I now have an empty box on the top of each hive that I put a feeder in full of Bee Tea (sugar, water, thyme, salt and camomile.) The girls are sucking it down daily. I am hopeful that by the time the chill sets in in a few weeks, they will have enough for the winter. I am more worried about mites, which rose to a dangerously high level over the month of September. I have been treating the hives with Oxalic Acid (a compound found naturally in things like Rhubarb), but I am still seeing a lot of them.

This last photo shows some of what I can learn from outside of the hive. The white plastic sits under the hive and catches what falls through the screened bottom of the hive. This is how I monitor the mite level in the hive, and it also lets me see when the bees are uncapping honey, or in this case when brood has hatched. The two piles of "stuff" is from emerging bees chewing through the caps of their cells. From this I can see the the winter brood has hatched! These are the girls that will live the relatively long life of four months or so until the spring brood can be laid. They are who the winter survival of this hive depends on.
I wish them love and the best of luck.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Bees Have Gone Simple

I went into the house hive yesterday, expecting to find a month's worth of sweet golden honey, hoping to pull off another full box... and instead I found... dryness.
It is a stomach dropping feeling to prepare oneself to heave a 35 pound box, and find instead that it lifts off light as a feather. My arms rose too far into the air with the unexpected lightness. The next box was the same, as was the third.
(Plenty of bees though, which was reassuring at least.)
That brought me down to the top deep, which should be full of brood, pollen and uncapped nectar. I found brood, and larvae both large and small, but no nectar. Cells that did not have brood in them were bone dry. I have never seen this before. (I also found supersedure queen cells, showing that the hive either lost their last queen or found some dire need to replace her.)
I felt sick. Not for my own loss of the good and sweet stuff, but with the knowledge that fall is almost upon us, and there are a limited number of weeks before the girls will pack it in for the season. Without at least a box and a half of honey, they could starve to death.
The girls were kind, but agitated, and must have sent a message out because I simultaneously got stung on my thumb, the back of my hand and my calf. For the first time this season, they went so far as to follow me down to the house and I ended up with one girl in my studio and another in the pocket of my bee suit.
I spoke with Chris Harp who said that he is finding the same thing (lack of nectar or honey) in his hives. He attributes it in part to the unrelenting rain that we have been getting. The girls are homebound when it rains, and the heavy rain washes the pollen off of the flowers.
I find myself wondering how nature can conspire against itself in this way? I understand her not giving a toot about us humans (who have a tendency to royally mess things up for her), but her own blessed pollinators?

Luckily, I have 16 (now 15) frames of capped honey stored in the downstairs bathroom. I harvested a box in early June, (with the Black Locust flow), but saved everything else that I have pulled from the hive. I put out one of these frames this morning and by late afternoon the girls were an inch deep on it.
This is the feeding station that I set up for them. The umbrella is in case of rain (as umbrellas often are), but I also like how it makes the spot feel kind of like a hot dog stand.

On a brighter note, this photo is of a feral hive that I found in a tree in Golden Gate Park, CA. It was conveniently located about six feet up the tree, and I was overjoyed to find it!!

I close with a lovely poem by Mary Oliver, who has a remarkable and admirable way of finding beauty in the smallest things. Thank you Naomi for bringing this to me.

What is this dark hum among the roses?
The bees have gone simple, sipping,
that's all. What did you expect? Sophistication?
They're small creatures and they are
filling their bodies with sweetness, how could they not
moan in happiness? The little
worker bee lives, I have read, about three weeks.
Is that long? Long enough, I suppose, to understand
that life is a blessing. I have found them — haven't you? —
stopped in the very cups of the flowers, their wings
a little tattered — so much flying about, to the hive,
then out into the world, then back, and perhaps dancing,
should the task be to be a scout-sweet, dancing bee.
I think there isn't anything in this world I don't
admire. If there is, I don't know what it is. I
haven't met it yet. Nor expect to. The bee is small,
and since I wear glasses, so I can see the traffic and
read books, I have to
take them off and bend close to study and
understand what is happening. It's not hard, it's in fact
as instructive as anything I have ever studied. Plus, too,
it's love almost too fierce to endure, the bee
nuzzling like that into the blouse
of the rose. And the fragrance, and the honey, and of course
the sun, the purely pure sun, shining, all the while, over
all of us.
-Mary Oliver

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Early August Adventures

Here is my favorite Junior Beekeeper.
And here are a few shots of my bees visiting my flowers, a rare and sweet occurrence. When I first got bees, I was so excited to have local pollinators grooving on my flower garden, only to learn that they really like to travel. This year however, some of them have been kind enough to be true locavors.

Over the first weekend of August, I attended a three day "Treatment Free Beekeeping Conference" in Leominster Massachusetts. With beekeeping, as with all agricultural pursuits, there is a wide range of beliefs about how to strike a balance between raising healthy, chemical free creatures, and dealing with the pests and diseases that threaten their existence. This conference gathered together some of the most passionate, hard-core, devoted to chemical free, beekeepers in the country and one from Sweden to boot. Imagine if you will 13 hour days of beekeepers sitting in a conference room listening to other beekeepers talking about bees. I was spellbound the entire time, not only because of the information that was seeping into my brain, but because of the devotion, ingenuity and powers of observation that these beekeepers demonstrated as they shared their years of experience. It reinforced my sense of beekeeping being a craft in which creativity, trust in yourself, and respect for the bees are key qualities, although ones not shared by all involved.
This photo introduces you (visually at least) to some of the biggies of the organic beekeeping world (as far as I know anyway). Dee Lusby holds court in the center. Dee is an Arizona beekeeper who can move a full 10 frame deep brood box as if it were filled with bubble wrap. She manages over 600 hives in the desert and produces a really unusual honey. (Chris Harp, my teacher from New Paltz is on the far left.)

Sam Comfort is a beekeeper in the Red Hook N.Y. area who has done all sorts of crazy bee oriented things, (like working for a year for a migratory beekeeping operation earning $6.00 an hour), and he is currently raising loads of bees in Top Bar Hives, which are very different from the Langstroth vertically oriented hives that I and most beekeepers have. Top Bar Hives are horizontal in nature, and only one level high. What is wonderful about them is that the bees build all their comb off of a bar of wood, and therefor dictate the size and form of their cells. You can see this with the frame shown here.

Note the queen on this frame!

On the home front, I just peeked in today to see what is going on supply wise. I have been seeing loads of Goldenrod in bloom (about 5 weeks early this year), and Purple Loosestrife, so I expected to find at least some frames full of honey, but both hives are still working on drawing out foundation in their top boxes. I have 16 frames of capped honey in reserve (in the downstairs bathroom actually), and will not harvest any until I see what happens between now and the fall. I went in today without smoking because I just wanted to take a peek.

The Woods Hive went well, but by the time I got to the house hive, word must have gotten out and I could sense their agitation. A girl got me good on the left index finger and man did it hurt!! I am curious as to what makes some stings so much more powerful than others. Is it the age of the bee? The location? My condition? Whatever it is, this one is a doozy in terms of swelling and throbbing. But then I go up and see them doing an orientation flight and my heart swells with pride (for them) and awe. Go figure.

This final image is of Ramona (an organizer of the conference) holding a section of comb that she and her husband Dean removed from a defunct stovepipe in someone's house.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Honey, Ants and Bee Stung Lips

First, the beautiful sight of an orientation flight, (a.k.a. joy flight or play flight) that occurs when a group of girls (about two weeks old) is ready to take on their final job of forager. Before doing so, they leave the total darkness of the hive and do a hovering type dance while facing the hive, gently moving up and down in front of it. It is their way of imprinting their hive on their brains. "This is what it looks like, this is what it smells like." They will do this for a few days in a row before finally leaving to forage. The dance lasts about ten minutes and tends to occur in the mid afternoon.
Honey: I harvested about 35 pounds of honey from the first super that I pulled. It is a very time consuming process because I don't have an extractor and I am saving the beeswax for use in my Bee Balm. I work one frame at a time, crushing, straining and finally bottling it. The result was an amazing, light in color, flavorful honey, and the bottles lined up on the window sill fill me with awe.

Ants: I have known for awhile that black ants had taken up residence under the bottom board (the board of wood that sits under all of the boxes) of the House Hive. They would scurry out, carrying their eggs and larvae each time I would check the observation tray, and I was hoping that they could peacefully coexist. I have noticed lately though that the girls have been bringing in great big globs of propolis and doing something that has been causing it to drip down into one particular corner of the tray. This told me that there was something in there that they were trying to get rid of. (They have been known to coat a dead mouse in propolis if it is so bold as to try to build a nest in their hive.) I went in today to find out what was lurking in there.
I have learned that if I want to see what is going on in the bottom box, I had better not even peek in the upper boxes first, or I will be exhausted and the girls will have no patience for me by the time I work my way down there. So the boxes: three supers and one deep got stacked on top of each other next to the hive. Removing two frames, I could see that the girls were laying propolis into the holes of the screening that was separating them from the ants. Even though the ants could not get into the hive, they were clearly too close for the girls' comfort.

So... to think on ones feet, amongst thousands of whirring bees.
I removed the deep from the bottom board and exposed a huge nest of big black ants. I removed the bottom board to find even more ants, wood chips, eggs etc. under it. I moved both boards away from the hives, and wondered what to do next. Meanwhile, I saw that the girls REALLY did not like that I had moved their bottom most hive box. It would be as if you went out to get the mail and when you turned back to go inside, your entire house had been moved 6 feet to the left and sideways. Very disorienting to say the least. Girls were everywhere and I noticed that they were starting to move in on the Woods Hive!
I quickly looked around, pulled out two stakes that were supporting the wild blackberries and lay them on top of the cinder blocks to act as spacers between the blocks and the hive. This would allow me enough space to slip in the observation tray, but would not offer the ants a wood surface to call home.
I moved the bottom box in place and the air calmed down.
The rest of the inspection was smooth. I saw capped brood, a bit of larvae, honey, pollen and best of all freshly laid eggs. I know that the hive swarmed (again) in mid June (the population is about half of what it was) and eggs are the only way to know that a new queen is present and doing well. I moved frames around a bit so that I have another box full of capped honey on the top of the hive, with the escape board under it.

Going back up to the hives in the evening (in order to treat the Woods Hive for varroa mites), I was mistaken for a bear and stung squarely on the upper lip. Note the similarity to how Sam looked last year at this time (also note the super cool glasses that completed the look).
The swelling went down before Matt could make me a suitable giraffe costume.

A few days ago I got an email from Khalil Hamdan, a beekeeping teacher who lives in Holland. He asked permission to use an image of my hives for an article that he is writing and so I did what we all do these day, which is Googled him. What I found is a series of clearly written and interesting articles about various aspects of beekeeping. I learned some fascinating information about Bumble Bees! I will post a link on my blog.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The House Hive and The Woods Hive

(This just in; Beacon Bee now has it's own email address,

As you can see from the above photo, I currently have two (very different) hives. The hives are named "The House Hive" and "The Woods Hive", the former being closest to the house and the later closest to the woods. The naming process was similar to the process I go through when titling a drawing or sculpture, I listen to what I am calling it in my mind.

Last year, the pissy hive was called Thor, due to its temperament, but after re-queening itself (I may have accidentally killed the pissy queen during the last inspection,) they no longer live up to the name. (Hurray!) I have learned that the temperament of the hive can change over the course of a season, depending on how well they are being treated by their care taker (removal of moldy equipment, providing adequate growing room etc.) and on the mood of their queen.

So far, The House Hive is performing above and beyond anything that I could have imagined. On May 31, I gave them a second super to fill, with frames containing undrawn foundation. I did this as a preemptive measure, thinking that they may need the space in a few weeks. In the following days, I noticed a whole lot of clumping going on in the front of the hive, even on cool days. I went back in six days later to see what might be going on and what I found was a "honey bound hive" which means that every cell of every frame was full of goods. In just FIVE DAYS these girls drew all the comb on the eight frames, filled them with honey, and capped them off with beeswax. I could not believe what I was seeing!! I put the bee excluder on between the two supers so that the bees would leave the top one, (the excluder has a special triangular exit that somehow allows the bees to leave a hive box, but not to reenter it.) Two days later I returned to find it nearly empty of bees and very much full of honey and I literally staggered back to the house with it. They continue to flourish. In the evenings, bees spill out of every entrance of the hive.

The Woods Hive however, which arrived in mid May, got off to a weak start. They arrived with a lot of mites, and I became concerned that robbing might be going on from The House Hive. In the same five days that the House Hive filled their second super with honey, The Woods Hive did not even draw any comb on their new frames. In response, I put an empty hive box above the inner cover and gave them a full frame of capped honey. To protect them from robbing, I closed down their entrance to about 1 and a half inches so that the guard bees could better protect the hive, and plugged up all of the ventilation holes. I also gave them a treatment of Oxalic acid (the same toxic compound that is naturally found in rhubarb). Three weeks later, they seem to be in better shape. Lots of pollen going in, no bees with withered wings visible, a more robust group of girls hanging around.

A frame from The House Hive, with a lozenge of fresh comb built hanging off of the bottom. This was due to my putting a medium sized frame in a deep box. An experiment that I won't repeat because it makes the frames harder to handle.

Due to the seemingly never ending rain that we are currently having, I have not been able to get back into the hive the past few weeks. My guess is that they are both in need of another super, which means that I have more frames to make. It is a repetitive and somewhat pleasant activity. (In case you were wondering, each frame uses a total of 15 nails of varying lengths.) I am not sure what affect the constant rain is having on the bees, but up until that, it had been a super spring for them. Reports of swarms were coming in fast and furious from friends, bee teachers and even co-workers. It's enough to give one a ray of hope about it all.

Beacon Bee Balm is now available at both DIA Beacon and Homespun Foods. I am really happy about my new fragrance, Rose Geranium, which not only smells lovely, but is also a natural tick repellent. (What more could you ask for really.)

In general, I am having trouble keeping up with everything, (parenting, job, art, garden, bees and more), but don't want to (or am not allowed to) give any of it up. Hopefully the summer will give me a chance to catch up, or at least catch my breath.

A shot from below of a super healthy and vibrant hive box.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Season Three, From Egg, to Honey

Picture of the day: this photo shows the wide range of activity that goes on inside the hive. (You may want to click on the image so that you can actually see anything). Ready? The center cells with the curled up white wormy looking things are larvae, which is the second stage of brood development. To the right of these cells are several cells containing eggs, (the first stage, and very hard to spot) which look like really small grains of rice. On the upper left edge of the photo you see capped brood, (the third stage). Just above the larvae, you can see two girls as they are popping their heads out of their cells for the first time. On the right edge you see capped honey, and just to the left of that, uncapped honey. Finally, between the uncapped honey and the larvae, you can see many cells stuffed full of pollen, in all of its glorious colors (this will be fed to the brood).

As a beekeeper, I am glad I live somewhere with four true seasons. By the end of the fall, I am ready for a rest from the hive, but by April I am missing the bees, and eager to see how they have fared over the winter. I must admit that before the first inspection of the season however, I find myself wondering just how it is that I plan on going into a wooden box housing several thousand bees and coexisting with them, if even for just a short time.
This morning, donning my new and official feeling bee jacket, I reassured myself by singing my little bee song and telling myself "Because this is what a beekeeper does, that's why."
It was a flower day, the smoker caught and stayed lit. And then the cover was off and there they were, my beautiful bees. I have seen them around a lot with the warmer days. I have tasted the pollen that they have dropped on the tray that sits under the hive, but until I saw them crawling over the frames in their vast numbers, I did not know for sure that they had made it through the long and cold winter. This hives temperament had not mellowed with the winter, and within a few minutes, they were really agitated, buzzing me and landing on my clothing and veil. I slowly relaxed as I saw the merits of my jacket and gloves. I may not look as dare-devily or as "at one with nature" as that guy who goes into his hives shirtless, but I felt calm (relatively) and remained sting free throughout.

It was a mother of an inspection, with all sorts of unexpected situations thrown my way. Here is a synopsis of what I found: The top super was still full of capped honey. I set this box on the ground without inspecting it. The top deep was loaded with capped honey as well, and also a lot of brood. I recognized the four frames of wacky comb (frames that the bees built so that one frame linked with the one next to it, making it impossible for me to remove the frames without destroying the comb.) I set this box on the ground as well so that I could see what was going on down below. The bottom deep was really light, and I remembered that it felt light in the fall as well, but that I had not been able to go through all of the frames at that time. Today I looked at them all. The first four I pulled out were empty except for brood in the upper left corner, an odd place for brood to be. The fifth frame was a plastic one that came with last year's nuc, and apparently the bees disliked this so much that they never even fully drew the comb on it. The big surprise came with the last three frames, which were covered with a layer of green mold, explaining the complete absence of bees, brood, honey, ANYTHING on them. The inside of the wood was also moldy on this half of the hive box. It's not easy to think on ones feet when surrounded by agitated bees, but I was in fact fairly prepared for the unexpected. I had brought up to the hive with me a bunch of different frames and boxes, and was able to replace both the moldy box and frames, as well as the wacky comb frames that I had to remove from the top deep.

The whole process from lighting the smoker to putting the top back on took an hour. Way longer than an inspection should ideally take, but considering all that was done, I was pretty happy. This was the first time where I felt a certain level of confidence when dealing with new and complicated situations. Instead of running to the phone for advice, I considered what my options were, and what I knew from past experience and books and workshops. Of the frames that I took out, several were loaded with honey, and one was about a quarter full of brood in its various stages. While writing in my bee journal, I noticed two bees just crawling out of their cells. (which brings us back the the first photo in this post.) Poor girls being born on the wrong side of the hive wall. It is true that the hive functions as an organism, but I still wince with the death of each individual. Despite the mass murder of today, (alright, not mass, but a whole bunch did die), I know that my setting things right is what needed to be done. I will try to be more vigilant this year, not letting my fear get in the way of digging deep into the hive and knowing what is going on in there. In the meantime, I have two new deep frames of honey to harvest!

On the Beacon Bee Balm front, interest continues to grow and I plan on hitting the Farmers Markets this summer. I now have three different size tubes; lip balm size, .75oz (a slightly bigger tube that is a great purse size) and 3 ounce (the most Balm for your buck). After a morning of gloveless gardening today, I found the Bee Balm to be soooo comforting to my dirt dry hands. Looks like it is a year round product!

Next month I will get my new nuc to start my second hive with. Until then I will do what Kim Flottum from Bee Culture Magazine always says to do, "Keep my hive tool sharp and my smoker lit."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Honey Harvest and first Pollen

This past weekend I felt confident enough that the girls had enough stores to last them till spring that I finally harvested the four frames of honey that I pulled last October. My studio is the closest I have to a "honey house", so if you notice flecks of wax or honey on my drawings the next time you see them, you now know why. From the four frames, I bottled a total of twelve pounds of honey! (Honey is measured by weight, not volume, and an 8 ounce glass jar of honey that you buy in the store actually contains 6 fluid ounces of honey.) This batch is very light in color, and has a nice fairly mild flavor. Sam visited me many, many times, as I had told him that he could have a taste each time that he visited. It was interesting to see that as I cut into the frames, I could see the color of the honey change slightly as the crop changed. I hung the rinsed frames out under the front deck and being that it was a pretty warm day (around 55 degrees), they were soon discovered and enjoyed by a few dozen girls. I noticed that most of the girls that I saw had all black abdomens (the hive often times contains multiple breeds since the queen has mated with about a dozen different drones). These are probably Carniolan bees, originally from eastern Europe I think.

Today I went up to check the observation board which sits under the hive, and found.... POLLEN!! This week has been too cold for them to have been out and about, so this must have been from March 7th or 8th when it was warmer. The earliest trees that produce pollen are Willows, and the color I am seeing matches that, but there are NO willow trees in our neighborhood. It was thrilling to see this clear sign of spring. Also on the board was a lot of wax cappings showing that they are still consuming a lot of honey. This makes sense as they are busy raising their brood at this point. My new beekeeper's jacket came in the mail!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

help the bees and eat ice cream

The following image shows how high hives can get to be at times. I am planning on making a switch to shallower boxes so that I am better able to move them when needed, and so I asked for advice from the organic beekeeping email chat group that I am part of, and a member sent me this image of his hives. His point was that it is a good idea, but that the hives tend to be taller than ones using deeper boxes. Note the loads of bees on the front of the hive. This must have been taken on a pretty hot day.
These beekeeper people are pretty intense. I could send out a question at 11:00 p.m., and by 8:00 a.m., there might be five or more responses. In July I plan on attending a three day conference where I will finally get a chance to meet some of the big names in the (bee) field.
Maybe we will eat some ice cream.

Speaking of ice cream
Haagen Dazs has been doing sooo much to help the honey bees, that you really ought to suffer through a pint of their new line of honey vanilla ice creams in order to show your support. So far they have given $500,000 to several Universities that are conducting research to solve the mysteries of Colony Collapse Disorder, funded the creation of a honey bee friendly garden and established a web-site that aims to bring awareness to the importance of the honey bee. Check it out at You may even want to send someone a honey bee email, which means that you can build an animated bee and email it to your friends. Oh, and don't forget to try the honey vanilla, or lowfat honey vanilla with granola (the only ones that I have tried so far.) Yum....

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February bees

Given the warm weather today, I made my first hive inspection of 2009. Most bees that don't make it through the winter die in March because they have started to raise brood but nothing is blooming yet and they don't have enough food to get them through the last gasp of winter. My goal therefore, was to make sure that they have enough stores left to get them through the next few months. I have four frames of capped honey that I pulled in the fall and have been saving in case they need them. The inspection was short and sweet. It was a fruit day (good news from a planetary perspective), the smoker caught, and the top super was still FULL of honey! The girls were out and about, enjoying the warmth and the sun, clearing out the dead (all those black spots on the snow), and pooping all over the place. They are very hygienic creatures, and will not poop in the hive, so a day like today comes as a welcome relief to them. They were attracted to my white helmet and light colored clothes and I enjoyed watching them as they perched on me and rested.

The image below shows the tray that sits under the hive. I pull this tray out to see what is going on in the hive. On it, I can see if I have any mites (NO!), and in the winter I can see where in the hive they are clustering. The yellow dusty stuff is wax cappings that the girls are chewing off of the frames to get at the honey. Today I can see that they have been clustered to one side of the hive.

I have decided to by a new nuc (box with 5 frames of bees including a queen) this spring rather than try to split this hive and make a second one from it. My primary reason is genetic diversification, meaning that this hive has been what we beekeepers call "a hot hive", (pissy, keen on stinging me, not friendly at all), and I would welcome some new genes in the bee yard.

On a business note, Beacon Bee Balm has been a huge success! All over Beacon (and beyond) folks are saying good-bye to their dry skin, chapped lips, damaged cuticles and cracked heels. Currently, I am making the Balm as a Moisturizing Stick, which is like a giant lip balm stick. It rubs on in an even and thin layer and seems to be quite popular.
This 3 ounce stick is $15.00 and comes in Lavender and Naturally Scented. I also have regular size lip balm sticks for $4.00, and 2 ounce jars in both Lavender and Naturally Scented Balm for $10.00.
Interested? Send me an email.
I have received many testimonials regarding the Propolis Tincture and I am currently SOLD OUT!