Sunday, June 21, 2015

And then there was one...

Well, we lost the weak hive. Anson noticed there were fewer and fewer bees down to a population that he did not think would survive. He could not identify the queen, though we knew that would be difficult because she was unmarked and small so would easily blend in with the worker bees. He also only saw larva, and based on this blog post charting development cycles we can conclude she was laying 6 days prior. However, this was not sign enough she was prolific. For all of these reasons Anson decided (under Poppop's mentorship) to combine it with the other stronger hive. So, now we are down to one hive which hopefully we can keep alive until next spring when the pollen and nectar will flow enough for us to get some honey out of this whole deal!

After some discussion and thought we have decided that our queen source (Bailey Bee Supply in Raleigh) is of poor quality and that we should find another supplier next year.

Friday, May 29, 2015


We encountered a bee problem again: a weak queen. So we've ousted her and replaced her with a new, hopefully more powerful queen. The new queen is small though, so we're slightly concerned her reign may not be much better than the incumbent's. I've tried to photograph the new and the old queens for you but they're always on the move and their attendants get in the way, so I only have one decent shot to share. They come in a small box with about 4 attendants and are plugged with sugar that they eat away to slowly be released into the new hive. That allows the bees to reorient themselves with the new queen's scent so that they accept her.

Ousted queen can be spotted by her large blue marking

Most queens are marked with a dot, as explained in this previous post about queens, but this new queen is not. We are not thrilled about that because combined with her small size she will be very difficult to spot.

The original queen cost $100 and came with 3 pounds of bees. Since we already had a mostly established hive and just a weak queen we had the option to either 1) combine the failing hive with our more successful one and hope they winter over or 2) buy another queen for $30. We opted for the latter option and have our fingers crossed she begins laying a lot in the next week or so. We'll keep you posted!

Friday, April 17, 2015

We're Back!

We're back in beekeeping business, y'all! We had a bit of a hiatus while I was pregnant and then caring for a baby. We did still have bees through much of both of those life stages but it was very difficult to find the time to get out to the bee yard. Then, we did lose both hives. I felt defeated and frustrated with the hobby altogether. We were rewarded with about 20 pounds of honey, which seems like a lot, but didn't feel like a decent return on our investment. Anson still wanted to continue while I wanted to quit so he said he'd take the bulk of the responsibility. Actually, what he said to me was a play on a Captain Phillips movie quote when the pirate takes over the ship and says he's the captain now:

He does the two fingers and says the line a lot and it hasn't stopped being funny yet. He was always very supportive but now he's actually very exited about beekeeping!

So, we're back! Anson bought two packages of 3 pounds of bees each.

Each package comes with a queen in a small box that is corked and then plugged with a bit of sugar.
He needs new gloves! These have duct tape on the fingers.
You open the package, pull the cork from the queen's box, and shake the 3 pounds of bees into a hive. The bees will eat the sugar plug which allows the queen to be slowly introduced to the colony. The bees get to work busily pulling out wax comb and foraging straight away. We installed the two packages today so wish us luck!

Monday, September 9, 2013

One Year Blogiversary

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of this blog and September marks our first full year as beekeepers.  I'd say both have been successful!  I've (mostly) stuck to my commitment of blogging about once a month and readership is as could be expected with a niche topic.  Here is a global view of where my readers view my blog:

Over 1200 page views to date!

I'd love some feedback regarding the blog if you have any regarding content or otherwise.

Our first year as beekeepers has been a great learning experience.  We've not yet gotten the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of our labor in terms of actual product but we have gotten to enjoy many other aspects discussed as reasons to keep bees in this blog post from last year.  The connection with nature is really my favorite part.  I love listening to the bees buzz and watch them zooming in and out of the hive.  It's amazing to watch them work.  Two of the most inspiring bee activities to me are watching the bees head down working inside of a cell and watching a new bee eat her way out of her cell to life.  It's incredible and no other bees can help her out.  Then she immediately gets to work.  It's very tranquil to just watch them go about their tasks.

Bees head down working inside of cells and one bee emerging to begin her life working for the hive
Also this year we lost two hives and got the opportunity to start two new ones, both of which are thriving today.  We've had hive beetle issues, and learned about wax moths the hard way.  We have gotten stung, dealt with robbing and lit the ground on fire starting the smoker.  Our neighbors have been supportive and even appreciative of the pollination our bees have provided.  Poppop has been a great mentor to me and it's been nice to have the opportunity to learn from his 20+ years of experience.  Also, I've made some friends from the Wake County Beekeeper Association and have enjoyed the various community activities related to bees.

Overall, it's been a great year and I am thankful for the experiences.  Does one year mean I'm no longer a newbie?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Our Extraction Process

We did not have enough honey to extract ourselves this year but we like to help Poppop extract his so we headed down to Hampstead.  This post explains our extraction process.

First we collect all of the frames off of the hive.  We have to minimize the bees left on the frames so that when we move inside we are not working around lots of bees.  This is actually a difficult task.  We use a spray that the bees don't care for to try to move them away and then we brush as many bees off as we can and place them in a wheel barrow with a towel on top.  Then we move those boxes of frames of honey to the room where we extract.  The room is my grandparent's workshop where they work on their various hobbies and it is has a cement floor with a drain.  We cover the floor with newspaper so we can easily clean up from any honey spills.

Boxes of frames ready for extracting!
After we have gathered the frames we will extract from, we go frame by frame to cut off the wax cappings sealing off each honey comb.  We use a hot metal knife and sometimes a metal toothed pick to do this.

A frame of capped honey comb
An electric metal knife and a metal pick help us get to the good stuff

Melting and cutting away the wax capping.  See the cells that are still capped at the top?  That's where the metal pick would be handy.
Then, we place each frame into a centrifuge and spin away!  The honey comes flying out of the comb and onto the walls and bottom of a large plastic barrel.  Then we strain that honey through cheesecloth and two metal strainers.  

An above view of the centrifuge and straining bucket over a floor covered with newspaper for easy cleaning.

The last step is bottling the honey which we normally save for another day as sanitizing the bottles is a bit of a job all in itself.  Poppop likes to add a fancy label to his jars if they're gifts for non-family members or if he intends to sell it.

Last year we gathered over 600 pounds but this year poor Poppop only got about 50.  It's sadly been a tough year for bees.  Hopefully we both have better luck next summer!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Anson and I went to the Science Cafe at the Museum of Natural Sciences last week to hear an NC State Professor of Entomology talk about bees.  He gave a brief intro and then opened it up for Q&A.  The session was fun and people asked a lot of great questions.  I was surprised at the quality of the questions, actually, especially considering how diverse the crowd was.

After the session, I approached Dr. Tarpy to ask about the affect of sun or lack thereof on my hives.  He said that it would be preferable to have morning sun but it is not imperative.  Then he mentioned that a grad student of his is conducting a study about diseases of urbanized bees and requested I contact the student because of the location of my hives being downtown.  The following day I did and the student was excited to have hives in Five Points to study.  He asked if he could come by 3 times in 3 week intervals to take a sample of 60 bees each time from my hives.  I declined to include the nuc in the study and offered the stronger hive.  He came by this morning with a net and about 10 tubes for bee collection.  He is only capturing foragers as the study includes some feral hives and he would not be able to collect anything but foragers from those hives.

After standing at the entrance with a net for 30 seconds, Holden would then swoop the net around attempting to contain as many additional bees as possible.  Then he had to insert a tube into the net and try to get them all to go inside the tube.  He did this until he had collected 60 bees which took almost an hour.

Attempting to capture all the bees in the net into a tube.

Tube of bees.

Hopefully by the fall he will have some analysis for me.  He did keep a watchful eye for any disease-like activity and noticed a bee that carried out a dead larva from the hive.  He was interested but not concerned about that being related to disease.

Dead larva we examined after noticing a bee carried it out of the hive and dropped it outside.  There were a few others on the ground near it.
I'll keep ya posted about the results of the study once I get them back.  It will be a long time though.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Spring Season 2013

I lost both of the hives Poppop gave me last September.  About a month ago we picked up two more: another one Poppop gave me and one was a nuc that I bought from Mr. Knox.

About to start another bee driving adventure!  This one went much more smoothly!

A nuc is a 5 frame mini-hive that should include a mix of frames including brood of varying stages of maturity, honey stores, and pollen.  All of the frames should have drawn comb and the queen should be less than a year old.  Mr. Knox is is an 80 year old master beekeeper that I met at the Wake County Beekeepers Association and he has been keeping bees since he was like 13.  Unfortunately, the nuc he sold me was weak as it had only 4 frames of drawn comb, and not enough bees.  I knew that it should have 5 but I figured it wouldn't make much of a difference.  Well, a month later and it's clear that it does make a difference.  The hive is very weak, has hardly grown, has yet to finish drawing that 5th frame of comb, and has so few bees I'm worried I'll lose them again this winter.

The hive Poppop gave me is much stronger and already has 2 supers on it!  Supers are the boxes on top of the larger boxes that are meant for brood and some honey stores for the bees.  The supers are slightly smaller boxes and frames that the bees fill only with honey and no brood.  We ensure that there is no brood in these boxes by excluding the queen from getting to them using what's called a queen excluder.  This way, when we go to extract honey we are sure that we are not disturbing the queen or her brood.

This is a frame from the honey super.  The cells are filled with delicious smelling honey.  The white area are cells that have a sufficiently reduced moisture content and have been capped with wax by the bees to best preserve the honey.

The nuc is on the left and the hive from Poppop on the right.  You can certainly tell which one is healthier!

That wire rack beneath this set of frames is the excluder as it is too narrow for the queen's larger body but is just right for worker bees to be able to slip through.

Both hives are weak really, but the one Poppop gave me is much happier than the other and hopefully will survive this winter for me!  I have identified two major problems and only one is really solvable.  The first problem is that the hives really need to be in a sunnier spot.  I suspect that the reason these hives are under-active is because they are not getting enough direct sunlight.  My book tells me that bees become "listless" in the shade which I do believe describes my poor bees but there's not much I can do about that living in the City of Oaks in an old neighborhood.  The second problem I see is that I really need a mentor to come check my hives with me about once a month.  I have asked the association for a mentor and also asked around at the club but so far have not had a lot of luck other than people willing to offer verbal advice.  I will continue to pursue finding a mentor though!  Also, I can lean on the support of a forum in the meantime.

Over the past month I also had the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson.  Poppop told us when we started our adventure of becoming beekeepers that we need to keep all of our unused boxes enclosed with moth crystals.

We were mostly diligent about that until the week we picked up the new hives.  See, you're supposed to air out the moth crystals for 24 hours before putting a new box on the hive.  We figured the nuc would need a new box in a few days and set one out in the basement.  Within the week we had wax moths.  A little infestation is, according to Poppop, not the end of the world as the bees can clean and repair any damage.  The wax moths eat through the comb and also make a disgusting webbing all over it.  I noticed the problem but wasn't really sure what to do about it at the time because I wasn't sure when we'd need the box for the nuc.  Well, I should have figured something out because now it's been down there for a month, is covered in webbing and moth larva and is dripping and crumbling wax to the point that it was too gross for me to get near.  The frames were no longer salvageable and we had to throw them away.  While the frames themselves are not expensive, the drawn comb is a big advantage to the bees so that they do not have to waste energy pulling new comb and can focus on making honey!  So that you can also be repulsed, I took a picture of the frame covered in larva.  I almost vomited just taking the picture.  But I'm looking at it as a good thing because now I won't ever let our shed of unused boxes be without those crystals!

You can see where the moths have eaten through the comb

I'm really not sure why it is dripping wet like it's melting but it has left a puddle of wax on the basement floor.  The larva is there in the middle but perhaps not close enough for you to get the willies.  Take my word for it, it was nasty.

My next blog post will be a lot more fun as we help Poppop extract his honey.  I may even get a jar or two of my own from my good hive!  Now that would be awesome!  I can't wait to taste it.  And as one of my 12 valued readers perhaps you could join me!