Sunday, May 31, 2009


So yesterday, I'm sitting in my living room drinking my morning coffee, enjoying the peace and quiet of the morning, when my next door neighbor comes over and rings the doorbell. "I think I've got something of yours," she says.

We trudge next door and she points to a small pile of bees on the ground, probably fifty or so bees, a pile the size of a small hand. "Huh," I said. "That's not a swarm. There's not enough bees. Plus, swarms usually aren't sitting on the ground. They're up in a clump in a tree." I pointed upward, vaguely. We all looked up. My neighbor took a few involuntary steps back toward her house. There, up in the tree, was a swarm, tens of thousands of bees clinging together. We all paused for a quick think. Then I launched into reassurances. "Hey, wow. No problem. Swarms are not looking to sting anyone. They just want a home. We can call a local beekeeper, and they'll be glad to come get them. Free bees!

We would have thought about getting them ourselves, but they were twenty feet up, and we didn't have any swarm catching bucket on a pole, no big ladder, no hive. We called our friend who keeps bees professionally. He was on his way out the door to go camping with his family, but said he would call someone. By the time we got a call back, it was too late. We had a plan.
*We made some sugar water and put some of it in a spray bottle. We got the cardboard nuc (small box holding five frames of bees) that our latest bees came in. We put on our bee suits. We went in one of our hives and stole a frame of drawn out comb full of baby bees (see below) and put it in the nuc, along with four brand new frames with wax foundation. We grabbed an old white bedspread, a small ladder, and the tree trimming extension pole that has a hook on the end.
The assistant bee keeper climbed up the small ladder with the pole. I held the ladder and helped with the pole. We hooked the branch, looked at each other and counted to three. On three we gave the branch a huge jerk. KERFLUMP! Down came the bees, mostly on the blanket.

We hit the bees with fast squirts of sugar water. We figured they were hungry, and bees licking sugar water off themselves are usually too busy and happy to sting you. Then we picked up the bedspread and dumped a bunch of bees in the cardboard nuc onto the frames.

The bees figured out that they had arrived, and that there were BABY BEES that needed their care. The old beekeepers in the area tell me that if you hive a swarm with baby bees, they will almost always stay put and not swarm out again. Sure enough, they had hardly hit the box when some of the bees put their tail ends in the air to send out pheromones indicating that this was home and everyone else should come.

We put the top on the box, leaving the little round entrance open. Pretty soon the vast majority of the swarm was in or on the box. Then we went home to wait a spell.

When we returned around four, most everybody was inside the box. We corked the entrance and took them to the backyard.
(Meanwhile, I had spent some frantic time on the phone trying to find a hive. Many thanks to Orr Bee Supply in Old Fort, North Carolina, for opening on a Saturday to help me deal with my emergency.)

We transferred the five frames into the new hive, spraying everybody with sugar water as we went. We dumped the bees out of the bottom of the box into the hive, put a sugar water feeder on top, and left the box near the entrance for any stragglers to find their way home.

I just checked the neighbor's tree. The morning after there is a fist sized clump of bees hanging there. They were the bees that were out and about gathering and hunting when we moved the cardboard nuc. I'm sad about them, but these things happen. For a hive, it is not the loss of the individual bees, but the survival of the hive. This hive has a happy new home.
*I'm not sure how my neighbor feels about the remaining small clump of bees, but I'm sure this is preferable to tens of thousands.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Chapstick Postponed

I saved the wax cappings that we cut off of the honey comb last year, and they spent the year in the freezer. One package from each honey harvest. Recently, I got all motivated to MAKE CHAPSTICK.

We thawed the cappings, then I put them on the strainers in the bottling bucket and ran water over them to rinse out some of the excess honey that was still stuck to them. I left them to drip dry.

During a house cleaning that week for company, someone (probably me) put the lid on the bucket and moved it to the basement out of the way.

I went to find it last night and discovered that the wax cappings had turned to a pile of science project looking mildewed mess. I did not take a picture. I just threw out the mess, strainers and all.

Here's what I've figured out. Honey keeps forever, but if you add water, it ferments. We fermented those cappings and then closed them up and grew some wicked mildew.

I'm eventually going to try again with either the cappings in the freezer or the new ones when we collect honey in the next couple weeks. But I'll consult with some experts first about how to avoid this mess.

I put in an order last night for metal strainers. The bucket is fine, polished clean and ready to go. I also ordered a fancy uncapping tray that will be a little easier to use than last year's frying pan arrangement, and will allow the honey to drip through a built in strainer below. The honey from the cappings is reported to be the best honey, so we'll be able to bottle it separately.

I'll stick with Burt's Bees for now.

Friday, May 15, 2009

May 12, Two Honey Supers on Each Hive

For my own records: The Junior Hive bottom super has nine frames of drawn out honey comb from last year, with one frame of capped honey that was in the freezer all winter. The Junior Hive also has a queen excluder below the bottom honey super. The top honey super on the Junior Hive has six new frames of foundation only and three frames of drawn out honey comb from last year.

The bottom super of the Senior Hive (pictured in a previous blog) has all new foundation except for the one frame of capped honey from last year. There were bees all over the frame with honey, but not much going on with the foundation frames, so we removed the queen excluder on this hive. The top honey super, added on May 12, has four frames of new foundation and five drawn out frames from last year.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Honey Flow

The Tulip Poplars and the Honey Locust trees are in full bloom, as are the blackberries...all present in our neighborhood and quickly turning to honey in the hives. The Poplars and Locust have both been in bloom all week. Here is a link to a page with our local bee flowers....

Western Carolina Flower Sources

The senior hive had still not moved much into the super we put on top this week, and it was evident without much poking around that the top of the frames of the top deep were full of honey. We removed the queen excluder and added a second shallow on top, which had several frames of drawn out comb and a few frames with just foundation. The drawn out comb will definitely hasten the process since it takes large amounts of nectar for the bees to create comb.

The junior hive has moved up into the second deep that we added last week. They are also storing honey in it for their own uses. We did put on a queen excluder (which I may take off later) and gave them a shallow with a mix of drawn out comb and frames with new foundation as well. I put dates on the frames so I'll know which frames are which as time goes on.

The queen excluder is supposed to keep the queen out of the honey supers, since you don't want baby bees in your honey, but we think it was slowing down the senior hive. We did fine without excluders last year, and there was enough honey at the top of the upper deep to keep the queen down below.

My fourth super box was in use until today as a box around the mason jar feeder. I'll add it to the new hive soon, so there will be two honey supers on each hive. We'll check their progress from week to week. If this is a big honey year, I might have to add even more supers. Hope springs eternal.

No pictures today...I wanted to be more of a beekeeper and less of a photographer. Still, while we had intended to pull frames out of the deeps, it was evident that the honey flow was on, so we went with the basic rule of "don't mess with the bees any more than you have to when the honey flow is on."

Go bees, go.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New bees' new wax and new deep

We took a peek in the new hive. They have branched out from their original five frames. The two outside frames still have just foundation, but they've built gorgeous new wax on the others. Here is a frame of bees that was one of the new is now covered with drawn out comb and busy bees.
It won't stay this white. As they track their dirty little bee feet over it, it will go from bright white to black.

They are also busy making babies. This solid brown below is capped brood...babies almost ready to hatch out as working adult bees. I'm thinking the new bottom board must give them a little extra room at the bottom, because they've stretched out their comb below the frame.

Since they had almost filled their deep box, we added a second story. The deep we put on has all drawn out comb. It is the deep box we took off the bottom of the leaning tower of bees last fall. I kept the frames in the freezer part of the fall and then stored them with chemicals to deter moths the rest of the winter. They've aired out and are ready for occupation and use.

When I went out to put a new bottle of sugar water on this hive, the bees had already moved up into the new deep. They looked happy to be there.
We also checked on the older hive. They have not moved up into the new super, despite me hanging a frame of honey right smack in the middle of it. We'll keep an eye on it over the next week or so. If they continue to balk, I might take out the queen excluder. I suspect they just haven't needed it yet.