Friday, December 25, 2015

christmas day - honey bees on hellebores

dec 2015 bee on hellebores

Last week the hellebore has been blooming gloriously in the misty unusually warm New England weather. Today the sun broke out. I saw my bees were out foraging. Hard to believe on the last week of the year! I found some, collecting hellebore nectar. The hive entrance was pretty active with three or 4 bees passing in and out at any one time. I didn't see any bees foraging around the pond on our afternoon boat ride. Of course - there are no flowers there. The only flowers around now are some dried dianthus and some beautiful hellebore's. This hellebore plant had several bees on it even though it was nearing sunset, 4 pm, when I checked it.

Dec 2015 bee on hellebores IMG_4485

a very warm Christmas!

My bees are out and about at the end of December! 61F now, and yesterday was a high of 68F. I don't know if this is good for them. There are no flowers. I suppose they can get a drink and stretch their wings then go back to their honey stores.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


I can't quite believe it. I collected honey from my own hives! It's a cool feeling. Yesterday I opened my white hive, the healthier of my two. it has two deep boxes and one super. I checked the deeps and they are full, with the exception of the far half of one outside frame. I didn't pull out frames, just checked from the top. They are also full of lots of bees. It seems the bees have settled down - much less aggressive than they were in the heat of summer.

Anyway, I took all of the honey out of the super - five full frames. It was pretty easy to just tap the bees off of them. I brought the frames up to the house in a garden trug and replaced the super and honey coated queen excluder back on the hive hoping the bees will clean them up for me. Once at the house I transferred the frames to a plastic box with a lid. I made the mistake of leaving the trug outside on our patio table. It set of a small feeding frenzy as hundreds of bees came to clean out honey left in it. Pretty impressive.

I am planning to use a honey sieve and gravity strain the honey. Five frames isn't very much for most beekeepers, so this simple method makes the most sense. Hopefully I can do that tomorrow.

I'll check my second hive soon too, but not expecting much if any honey. This hive was without a queen for a month this summer and lagged behind the other one. I'll remove what's there so I can take the supers off for winter.

honey comb IMG_3899 honey comb IMG_3904 honey comb IMG_3907
honey filtering IMG_3922 honey filtering IMG_3928
honey IMG_3937
honey IMG_3930

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


I called the Middlesex bee inspector last week and told him I was a new beekeeper in the area. He was very quick to come by and inspect my hives. And it was exciting for me to have an expert take a look. The bottom line: I passed! Yeah. He said my hives look super.

We started first at the far side of the yard, looking over at the hives. He said they are in a good location with lots of morning sun, maybe a bit shady in the afternoon. It's good they have a nice big water source with the pond nearby. He loved to see all the purple loose strife, pepper bush and round white flowers (I forget what he called them) blooming. He wasn't concerned about the location being too damp. He looked at the hive traffic and saw my white hive is very active and the green one has fewer bees, but still very active. I explained the recent queen replacement and dip in numbers during the process.

He likes to start with the healthiest hive first, so he opened the white hive. Yes, its full of bees! I had two supers on and he said the second wasn't needed. It wasn't being filled and lots of room still in the first. He thought I'd get a good amount of honey by the end of fall, but said it's been a slow honey season for some reason this summer. So the top super came off.

He opened the hive and pulled out a few frames from the top box. Ones at edges and in the middle. Spot checking. He said its best not to bother the bees more than is needed and recommends only checking a few frames at most every three weeks. Look for laying pattern and food stores. No need to find the queen.

Then he opened the green hive. He noticed, as I had told him, how aggressive they are. They've been gradually settling down since they were without the queen. But still they are very protective. He got a good sting on his back shoulder as he was closing up. Before that he was able to check a couple frames and could see lots of food and a nice laying pattern. He said I have a good queen and even though that hive might not make honey for me this year, it was good going into winter to have a young, naturally mated queen. He thought the green hive might do better over-wintering than the white.

So all is good.

I am interested in the inspection process and kind of stumbled into it. He said he is paid by the State and likes to looks at every hive in the area once a year. He serves a function to both look for disease and to mentor beekeepers. Well, it was a very helpful experience for me!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

who's laying - hive-produced queen or workers???

I spent some time inspecting my green hive yesterday. I took a bunch of pictures. Wish I could say I figured out the answer. But I didn't. I am tending to  think that things look OK - like a queen is laying and not workers. But I could use advice (help!).

Review: 4.5 weeks ago, my brood pattern looked fine, but capped queen cells made it look like a supercedure was in progress.Then, at my next inspection, 10 days ago, there were no larvae and no capped brood. I looked carefully but did not see any eggs either, though I find eggs very hard to see. So I installed a new queen 9 days ago. But 5 days after her installation, there were larvae and capped brood! Either a hive-produced queen returned and started laying (at least 14 days ago to produce capped brood 9 days later) - OR the workers started laying. Which??? It's hard as a novice bee-keeper to distinguish.

IMG_2515 IMG_2501IMG_2494
The hive has lots of honey - good news. But brood space is a little short. I did not see a queen when I inspected. I looked at about 1/3 of the frames on the top box. Maybe a thorough inspection to find a queen is in order in 2 weeks.

Good news - the bees were much calmer than at my last inspection. My smoke was better, so that helped, but they were definitely calmer bees. I wonder if that means they have a queen?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

queen check - someone's already laying ....

Today I checked on the queen I installed 5 days ago. Oops! I was surprised to find the frames full of larvae and capped brood. Since it takes at least 9 days to develop capped brood, it couldn't have been the new queen that I introduced who laid these eggs.

Two options, I suppose. Maybe one of the queens that the hive made (I saw many capped queen cells several weeks ago - evidentially a supercedure) mated and returned to lay. Or, maybe workers laid the eggs. I don't know which is more likely. I will open the hive the next time I can, next Wednesday morning, and see if I can see signs of worker laying, including multiple eggs per cell, eggs on the wall of cells, two or more large per cell, uneven larva patterns in cells, uneven laying pattern, high frequency of drones. At my brief observation this morning, the laying pattern looked very even and consistant. I hope it's a queen laying as it sounds difficult to remove laying workers.

Monday, July 20, 2015

the new queen is installed

I was worried about working with my bees today but ended up having fun. I just have trouble with that darned smoker. Need to learn how to get it going for more than a minute. I worked with it 15 minutes before I went down to the hive. Still, at the hive it would go for a minute then go out. But as long as I moved away from the hive, tended the smoker when it went out, the bees were good. No rushing, just keep at it, sweat dripping.

I picked up a nice new young queen from NE Bees. They gave me an attendant bee on the outside of the queen cage with her. I took both bees into my car. A 30 min ride home, and after 20 min attendant bee decided she wanted to get out of the car. I stayed calm as she buzzed all the windows. I was on the highway - what else could I do. She wasn't interested in me, but I kept my eye on her.

I think I did a good job installing the queen (I've done it wrong twice before). ....Remove plug on the candy side....stick the cage with screen side up into the comb in the center of the hive...move frames apart so the protruding cage fits...replace frame and reassemble hive. Simple, but took an hour with my smoker issues.

After I finished and sealed up the hive, of course my smoker was going good. It went for a half hour after I finished. I hated to waste it so I stayed and photographed (sweat dripping - 94F and humid) ... pictures of the smoke, of the hives, of forager bees returning to the hive greeted by attendants. Bees are amazing!

Here's the new queen in her cage. And then, the cage stuck in place the wax of a frame.
new queen IMG_3047queen installed IMG_3075

i've reserved a new queen

I'll drive up to Tyngsboro to New England Bees this afternoon and pick her up. In July, they have native queens bred from their survivor stock. I'll get some advice on installing her and keeping the hive healthy, too.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

no queen!

I checked my hives today. 3 weeks since I last looked inside. I didn't do a complete check because its 95F and 12 noon. I think not the best time to check. Both hives were incredibly active.

  White hive: LOTS of bees. OMG! I didn't open the boxes, just looked at the honey super. It has four nice frames on honey. I need to look up when to put on the second super.

  Green hive: These bees were really vicious. I checked 2 frames in each box. No larvea, no capped brood, several open queen cells, and LOTS of food. They are filling up the hive with honey and pollen. So, it looks like they lost the queen, tried to make a new one, but this failed. Or they swarmed and left the hive queenless. I have noticed that the number of bees I see on the running board is gradually decreasing compared to the other hive. I will call around and see where and when I can get a new queen. I assume I will need to take out a number of those frames of food so that a queen will have room to lay.

I got two half stings on my thigh. Not bad ones. But I am planning to buy a full bee suit instead of my bee jacket. I think it might be cooler than wearing thick jeans and I don't like getting stung.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

my first bee sting

I got stung by one of my bees last Saturday. Ouch. It really hurt. It made me hurry to finish the hive inspection.

The bee stung me on my ankle through a thin sock. I tuck my pants into my socks because I once had bees trying to climb up my leg. (That was when I installed my packages on a cold rainy day this spring. The bees were all over me then, but not up to stinging - fortunately for me.)

My ankle hurt quite bad for a day, then itched really bad for two days. It didn't really swell much. I hope I don't develop an allergy. I've had a bunch of bee stings before, so I don't think I will.

From now on, I'll wear my plastic boots to protect my ankles. I don't think I'm ever going to be one of those cool bee keepers who goes bear handed and without protection.

I did know that my bees were annoyed with me before the sting. My smoke kept running out and it was taking me a very long time to inspect the whole hive. It seems there's a balance for inspections between moving slow and getting the job over with. Especially with a jam packed hive of bees.

Monday, June 29, 2015

watching the bees after a rainy day

It rained all day yesterday. My garden gauge registered just over an inch. I suppose the bees hung out in their crowded hives all day as well as the nights. And today, it was sort of cloudy and still seemed damp. I've read that a sunny day after rain is when bees will swarm, so I was watching as I worked in the garden. But they are still all at home. No swarms.

My sister is visiting and she asked me how can you stop bees from out growing a hive? I don't know. I told her that I don't think you can. If you're lucky and the bees are healthy, they grow.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

again, I think they're going to swarm soon

A couple weeks ago, I was very worried because I thought my bees were about to swarm and had foul brood. After lots of advice, it turns out I had seen a row of drone cells and a few uncapped queen cups. I had also noticed that the bees were beginning to store food in old brood frames, which surprised me and I thought there was something wrong like foul brood or other nasty disease. My beekeeper friends probably got tired of reassuring me that my hives were OK. And, as one pointed out, foul brood and swarming are two complete opposites: An overly healthy hive and a sick one.

But at my last inspection yesterday, I am again concerned one of my hives will swarm. But it's the other one this time. My green hive has:
- about 20-25 capped queen cells located at the centers of frames
- packed full with built out frames all the way to the edges, 50:50, food:brood
- no action on the honey super that I put on about 2 weeks ago

I didn't inspect the lower brood box because I worried I wouldn't have been able to pick the top one up off the ground and get it back into place (I'll get a bench).

For comparison, my other hive (the white hive) has:
- no queen cells (This hive had 2 or 3 uncapped queen cups 3 weeks ago. They disappeared.)
- some action in the honey super (though only a little), about half a frame is built out
- a little extra space at the outsides of frames

From reading a bit, it seems my bees need more space. If the green hive has decided to swarm, it will be too late for any thing I can do. (Maybe its a supercedure, since queen cells are located in centers of frames, but there are SO many of them.) For both hives, I will try
- making and adding a couple follower boards for each hive so bees will have space to hang out at the edges
- adding a slatted bottom rack

And I'll buy an extra brood box in case I want to split a hive or catch a swarm.

where do my bees go?

I've been watching which flowers my bees are on.

In May, I saw them on wild phlox, violas, crab apples and Carolina silverbell.

bee on wild phlox IMG_2645
honeybee on wild phlox, May 23

bee on viola IMG_2596
honeybee landing on a viola, May 23

 bee on wil geranium IMG_2579bee on honeysuckle IMG_2662
honeybees on ajuga and honeysuckle, May 23

In June, black locust, beauty bush, Nepeta, wild rose and clover.

new blog just for the bees

I'm finding I'm spending a lot of time on my bees and the topic doesn't really fit with my vegetable garden blog. So I'm trying something new. A separate blog for the bees.

I'll put a link in skippy's vegetable garden blog when I post here.

I'm calling it Kathy's bees because neither Skippy nor Suzie go near the hives - only me.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

record keeping

I'm trying to figure out the best way to keep a record of my bees. First, I had Siri transcribe my observations, then just transferred that to a word document. But Siri doesn't understand me very well and see certainly doesn't know words like "brood box".

So now I have an excel table with lots of information. I jot down notes as I inspect the hives, then transfer it to the table later. I suppose this is OK, but I'm still working out what information I really need to record.

Here's my table for one of my hives (the white hive). I keep adding data to record and its maybe to small to see here
Microsoft PowerPoint - bee record 1.pptx I've tried using some online record keeping resources, but they were too complicated for me to get started with (e.g. Hive Tracker). Maybe they're for advanced beekeepers. I'm going the try BeeTight when I have time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

are they getting ready to swarm?

Yesterday I inspected my two new bee hives. It's the first time I've gone two weeks between inspections so I was really curious what I would find. One hive looks perfect and just as I expected. It's 70% full, ready for a mite treatment and then a honey super. Maybe both at once.

The other hive - well, not so good. The top box looked nice: I saw the queen and lots of eggs and larvae she had laid. Lots of stored food. But the bottom box was different. Pulling and checking frames from right to left I came across a single dark queen succession cell. A wax igloo in the middle of the frame. This frame and the next 3 or 4, were surprisingly inactive. These are built out frames that had been used for brood, but now no eggs, larvae, or nectar. Maybe a bit of yellow-brown stuff (pollen?) at the bottom? (I'll go back and photograph this today as I am wondering now if its foul brood or some other disease.)

queen succession cell frame with brown cells and queen igloobrown cells

But that single queen succession cell seemed to make sense. Maybe my original queen can't keep up laying eggs in all the cells. BUT then, on the next frame, about 20 light colored queen swarm cells hanging down the center sideways and off the edges! So are they are planning to swarm! And succeed? Both?

queen swarm cells

What I think I'll do next (tomorrow) is (1) photograph those funny yellow-brown cells closer and see if a problem. Maybe I need to take them out. (2) Try to create more space in case they are is considering swarming due to crowding. I will move unused outer frames inward and adding a honey super. I am deciding whether to remove the queen swarm cells. A friend said she can lend me equipment if I do need to catch a swarm. But it may make sense to remove whatever swarm cells I can, leaving the succession cells.

We'll see. I'd love advice.

Monday, April 27, 2015

checking my hives after 1 week

Two hives, two queens. I opened up my hives a week after installing my packages (new bees) to check on them today. I was relieved that I was able to identify queens. I ordered two marked queens, but one had lost her marker and I was surprised to see her looking plain but different from all the rest.

My bees are so sweet and calm. I have spent a lot of time watching them, close up and at a distance, and no stings (yet). I found I cannot trigger my cell phone camera button with my bee gloves on, so I work one handed - one glove on one off and can take pictures. Aren't they beautiful!!

bees IMG_1214bees IMG_1218 bee queen 2 IMG_1211bbees IMG_1192 bees IMG_1219 bees IMG_1200