Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Well this is pretty cool...

Er, well actually the reverse - it's quite warm, but the photo is kinda cool! 

Can you guess where the bees are? 

I knew it got warm inside the hive, but my girls are so HOT they melted the ice that was on top of the hive!  Could they all be dancing in a little circle around their handbags? It is nearly New Year's Eve!

Eddie's covered in bees!

Loved it, Thanks Ann...It's all Dangerously true...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve & Psalm 100

There is a superstition in England that at midnight on 24 December bees will hum Psalm 100. Many people of course know this to be total rubbish - its Psalm 23.

Well, I had to find out for myself.  It's now about 12.05 Christmas Day and I have just come in from listening to my girls.  What did I find out?  Well, yes, they were humming. I'm not sure what tune, but they were humming. Also, not being religious, I couldn't say if it was Psalm 23, or 100, or Slade's "So Here It Is Merry Christmas". 

Maybe this has more to do with the scotch and mince pies I have already consumed, or perhaps it's because I have Italian bees in the USA.  I think there are too many variables to deal with easily and I also probably left it too late to set up a proper control group. I'm not sure how I would have done this; using russian and buckfast bees perhaps?  The subject clearly deserves greater thought and attention than I gave it today!.

Hey, but at least I checked, and I wished them a Happy Christmas!

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Well not really carnage, but it certainly looks like there has been some kind of bloody coup inside the hive.  Dozens (perhaps hundreds) of dead bees were turfed out of the hive on Thursday during the good weather and there are corpses littering the ground in front of the entrance. Some kind of bee 'Night of the Long Knives'.

It's a tough life for a bee, you're born, you work, then you die... and get chucked out of the hive with the other rubbish! very harsh.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Frantic Activity!

I went out at lunchtime to run some errands and it was really surprisingly warm, perhaps 10C; I didn't really give it much thought.  Anyway I got home and Susan called to report some frantic bee activity.  It seems our girls took the oportunity to get some exercise and also do some cleaning.  Dead bodies were thrown out of Susan's hive and were littering the ground outside.  I've not been able to check mine.  Anyway I think this activity is a good sign.  Mind you it will be short lived, as there is another cold front on the way in.  Who knows some snow may fall!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Beekeepers Holiday Party.

Just got back from the Beekeepers Holiday Party, held downtown at Amos and Natalie's loft. SPECTACULAR venue! and the food was excellent too.  I had a very enjoyable time and learnt a bit too.  Specifically I learnt that I need to look into the Minnesota System of beekeeping.  It sounds like this may help stop the small beekeeper from having to constantly splitting hives.  Sounds like there will be some intensive surfing coming up...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Getting Colder...

Its been nearly a month since my last post and we've had our first cold spell of the year, and a bit of snow. The other day it dropped to -5C overnight. Needless to say there hasn't been much going on outside the hive. I've seen a few corpses pushed out, or perhaps they were bees who went out thinking some warm weather was on the way, but got caught out! Well that's natural attrition I suppose. I don't plan to get into the hive any time soon, although I may peep in to see what has happened to all the crystallized sugar that was in the feeder.

So what to do when the bees are dormant? Well the smart thing would be to plan for next year. My plan – yes I have one – is to start a second hive. So I better think about organising the kit etc.  I may even try to harvest some comb honey this year. I suppose I better think about what I’m going to do with all this sticky stuff! Who want's some?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tucked up for the Winter.

Yesterday seemed likely to be the last day of good(ish) weather we are in for, at least for a while. So, I decided to take a look and see how the girls are doing.

I was pleasantly surprised, and even shocked. Yes, my girls have been eating the sugar syrup I have provided, but of late they haven’t seemed to have had much interest in it and consumption has slowed down. Maybe with the good weather we had last week they preferred to get a more varied diet from natural sources? Anyway, the sugar that remained in the top feeder has become quite crystalline over the past week or so, and I think this is probably a combination of the strength of the syrup and the warmth of the hive drying it out. So as an alternative, I made up some of “Ted’s Mush” – a mixture of 1.5kg of sugar to 250ml of water (or 4lb sugar : 1 cup water) to see if this improved their uptake.

I was prepared to remove the top feeder and place the mush on a piece of parchment paper directly on the hive frames. However when I removed the top feeder I was really, I mean really, surprised by the number of bees! It was heaving in there – busier than a Nottingham nightclub on Ladies Night! Every frame had bees massed on them – WHICH IS BRILLIANT! They, on the other hand, were pretty unimpressed about being disturbed – and began to act as though the bar had run out of “Bacardi and Coke” at 11pm (just to extend the metaphor). From what I could see all the top frames looked full of stores so I am quite happy. I didn’t bother to add any mush on top of the frames so I just left some dollops of it in the top feeder. The word is that leaving the top feeder on for the winter won’t do any harm to the bees and may in fact help provide some additional insulation. I did try to look in the bottom box, but when I cracked it ajar a ton of bees emerged here as well! So rather than excite them further I simply changed the entrance reducer to the smallest size and made a retreat!

I’ve no idea really, but I reckon that I’m on target for a split in the spring - the girls look really strong right now. I am planning to get hold of a second hive and I will move a few frames of bees across to a new home in the spring. I’ll probably buy a new queen for these bees, rather than force one and take the risk of her disappearing on her maiden flight, but I’ll have to think about that. It would be nice to have a bee with similar genetics to the one I already have – she’s been great!

The rain arrived Sunday evening and looks pretty set to stay around all week. Also, Thanksgiving is next week, so I think it is a little optimistic to expect any more extended periods of warm weather this side of the spring. I think the inspection was well timed!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Toasty weather here!

It's currently 76F here today!  What a change this week has seen.  It's been great all week and the girls have been out and about finding pollen, nectar etc.  I have definately seen pollen coming in but who knows about the nectar?  Anyway, all this activity hasn't stopped me feeding them.  I added another 2 litres of syrup this afternoon.  I added it warm - I wonder if that will make them take it more readily?

Anyway the warm weather is set to stay here for another week or so - horray!

Monday, November 2, 2009

November, and at last there's some better weather!

After an appalling October we're now in a period of better weather, albeit a bit cool.

It was the wettest October here since records began more than 100 years ago!  We had more than 12" of rain, which is about 1/3 of the annual average!  No wonder the bees were hungry and very wet at times. Most of the month was spent indoors. So it was a relief to see them out and about on Saturday and Sunday and they have even found some pollen somewhere.  I hope there will be a period of better weather so that the grils can go and find some proper food and not rely on my sugar syrup.  That said I will continue to feed for a bit longer and I will probably make the entrance as small as possible in a week or so.

Tonight (November 3rd) I added about 2 1/2 litres of 2:1 syrup.  If they want it, I'll give it to 'em!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ooops Sorry!

I think I must have been a bit careless with the last lot of sugar syrup I added.

I added the syrup last Thursday, and over the weekend I found that the bag had split and the contents of a  very full zip-loc bag spilled out over the feeder bottom and sadly drowned quite a few bees. I hope no major damage has been done.

Anyway I gave the bees some more 2:1 tonight and I hope things will get back to normal soo.  I really need to check to see how much in the way of stores there now is. Perhaps the weather this weekend will be kind.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Goth" Bees?

The girls are still going strong.  I haven't stopped plying them with sugar. OK, so I realised that I got my sugar mix wrong and they have been taking too dilute a syrup.  If I read my instructions properly I would have seen it should have been two four pound bags of sugar per four pints of water (4kgs/2litres - ish)  Muggins here was only giving them four pounds per 4 pints of water (2kgs/2litres). Doh! 

The gratifying thing is that at least they've been packing this weak solution away, but they have had to work hard to de-humidify it - sorry girls!

Anyway, despite my crap chemistry, I looked in the hive yesterday lunchtime to see just what they have done with all the sugar (currently about 18 litres of syrup) and where they have put it.  Well the answer is that they have practically filled the top hive box! Only a little while ago (about 2 weeks) it was pretty empty. Now all 9 frames in the box are nearly full - a minimum of 80%.  Interestingly, the frames in the bottom box remain empty of anything - brood, honey, pollen. At least from what I can see. But a lot of bees are crawling pver the frames - perhaps there is no room upstairs what with all the syrup stored?

Slightly more concerning however, is the fact that, alhough I was looking for her, I did not find my Queen. I'm no expert on bee husbandry or in bee psycology (or whatever it takes to know what they do), but my girls do not look, or appear to be acting without a purpose, and they are not just going through the motions without any care for themselves.  I mean they've not turned into "Goth" bees, so I think Queenie must be there somewhere keeping the bonds tight.  She may not be laying right now (it is winter afterall) but I reckon she is there, somewhere.

If she wasn't around would the others have left? Would they have been bothered to store anything? Without a Queen why would they bother? What would they have to gain? All they would be doing would be expending a lot of energy only to die off without raising another generation of bees.  I think if I were in their situation, with no future, I'd be partying until I dropped!  Mmmmm, lots of unanswered questions!

Anyway, what to do?  I think nothing is the best thing - always consider the "do nothing" option I say!  It's probably too cold, or too late, to replace the Queen if she has gone, and there would be no guarantee another would survive being introduced. So, if she died we would be back to where we started from. If she was there all along I would probably have just aggrovated the hive, for no reason. Either way, at this time of year when the queen is not laying, what would we achieve? I'll do nothing for a while.  Hopefully if we get another warm day I'll find her and we'll all be good!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"London Girls" - with apologies to David Bowie

Sorry David, but forget your London Boys, it's the London Girls who are really kicking the scene now! 

Yes I know that it is Fortnum & Mason's who are featured, so it is likely to be over-priced honey.  But, the main thing is that urban beekeeping is becoming more widely understood, and accepted. Thanks to the Guardian for this video...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Still Hungry!

In the last week I have given the girls about 11 litres of 2:1 sugar syrup!

That's about 2.5 litres each on Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and again today!....The last two times I used  a 1 gallon (3.75 Litre) a zip-loc bag.  This worked a treat - no mess and no dead bees.  When I looked today there was probably about 1/2 to 1 litre of syrup still in the bag.  I don't know if the bees have enough syrup now or if they simply don't find the syrup as easy to get at in the bag.

I'll leave it a fews days before I check again, and maybe next weekend I'll see how much in the way of stores they have accummulated.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hungry Girls!

Wow!  I reckon they must have been starving!  The 3 litres (or thereabouts) of syrup I gave them on Saturday was all gone by the time I looked this afternoon.  Gone in about 2 days!  There were a few dead bees in the bottom of the feeder - I guess drownings.  Anyway I have added some more syrup (again about 3 litres), so I had better check this on Wednesday!

I scooped out as many bees as I could before putting on the inner cover.  I think they can find their way past the inner cover so I hope I will not get too many casualties.  If I do, I may have to come up with another feeding solution. A closed ziploc bag containing syrup may be worth a try. Of course I will pierce the bag so that the syrup can be reached by the bees.

Anyway I hope it is the bees eating the syrup - either that or the feeder is leaking. I did look but couldn't see any leakage at the bottom of the hive. I'm guessing that if they are this hungry I may need to get some protein in them as well.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


It seems it's been a poor September, at least as far as nectar flows are concerned.  Other bees out there are also finding food a bit of a problem, so mine are not alone.  Funny really, as the rest of the year was so good for nectar and honey.  Anyway feeding seems the order of the day. Eugene is feeding 4 of his 6 hives - so that is comfort of some sort!

OK, I looked in the hive yesterday and removed the Hive Beetle trap and I inserted the entrance reducer (to the medium entrance). Anyway I am a bit confused by what I saw.

The top hive box has about 4 frames (equivalent) of honey in it but I did not really notice how much pollen - I forgot to look hard for this. There was some capped brood, but I forgot to look for larvae and eggs which I regret now as I did not see my queen.

More confusing is the bottom box. Although all but half of one frame is built out with comb, there is virtually nothing else going on. All cells that I saw (and I did not remove all the frames) were empty of honey, pollen, brood. I'm not sure what this means, if anything, but I am a bit confused. Anyway I added a feeder and gave the bees about 3 litres of 2:1 syrup. And I asked Eugene for his advice!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Well tomorrow, if the weather holds, I will take a look to see how much honey the bees have stored and I'll decide whether I need to feed them.  I am farily confident the girls have been busy and I will not have to feed them up - at least not yet. But it's prudent to take a look.  Eugene has given me a few pointers so I will bear these in mind - one box worth of honey in the top and the brood cells in the bottom.  I'll also take the opportunity to clear out the hive beetle trap and to re-insert the entrance reducer - perhaps not all the way to the smallest opening but I will reduce it to the middle one at least.

Then I suppose if all is well I'll start some winter maintenance - painting the supers and even ordeing a new hive!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Daily Green - Urban Beekeepers

A while ago I sent off some pictures and a little biog to "The Daily Green" who are doing an article on Urban Beekeeping.  Well, whaddyaknow, I got an e-mail from the editor today and a link to their site.  Tons of cool beekeeper pictures - the coolest being No.17 of course!  There are some really interesting hives and locations.  I got ideas for next year now, but first I need to build. 

Anyway, by the looks of it several people from Saint Louis managed to send in pictures. I managed to put in a good word for the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association and there is a link to their site and also to my blog - so maybe I'll get some more interest!  Anyway here is the link....

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hold On - Megan Fox has competition...

OK , so we had a debate last night about how I could increase the number of hits to my blog.  One answer (that I'm trying now) was to announce that I had called my Queen or my "Honey", Megan Fox.  Not only might this broaden the appeal of beekeeping to the general public, younger people may also start to take an interest. 

Somehow, I don't think that adding "Megan Fox is my new Honey" to the title of this post is really about reaching out to a different demographic - it's more an unashamedly blatent attempt to tap into the search habits of young men. But hey, the results will certainly be interesting.

Thanks everyone, you added about 100 hits.  I hope there are now one or two more budding beekeepers in the community.  Anyway I discovered that Megan has some new competition....Queen Els...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

There's a buzz all over the world!

I wonder how many 'surprise' beekeepers there are out there?  After sending out my slideshow to all and sundry it turns out that an old school friend (and she won't thank me for that description - Happy Birthday Liz) has bees too - in Dublin.  I didn't think to ask if hers were Irish-Italian bees (bound to be a volitile combination), Irish-German (I can't imagine really), or perhaps Irish-Russian (I bet they drink a lot).  Anyway Liz and Peter kindly sent some pictures for me to post.

Send me any more pictures from around the world. Go Bees!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sugar Roll / Sugar Shake Test

I completed my first sugar roll test this evening, and made some bees very, very, cross in the process. Basically this is a simple test to see what scale of varroa mite investation you might have in a hive.

Simply collect (ha!) about 200 to 300 bees in a jar and cover with a mesh top. It's best to get bees that have been on the brood. Add about 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar to the bees through the mesh and roll the bees around in the sugar for a couple of minutes to coat them.  This is the bit that makes the bees cross - just in case that wasn't obvious.  Anyway, the idea is that after a while any mites will have lost their footing on the sugary bees and will fall off. 

You then have to shake the sugar (and mites) off the bees and onto a white piece of paper and count how many mites were on the bees. If there are about 10 (I think this is the number) you may need to think about treating them.  My magic number was 3, so I think I'm OK.  Susan's was about the same, so she is probably OK too. All this is good news as it means we don't have to think about any chemical treatment, at least for now.  I really don't want to start treating with chemicals as I think that is part of the reason bees are in the mess they are currently in.

Oh yes, once you have counted the frosted bees (perhaps a new breakfast cereal will be spawned!) you shake them back in the hive.  On the plus side for the bees, although they may be a bitdazed, they at least don't have mites now and they have had a sugar bath - not a bad exchange really.

Before all the excitement I managed to take a peek in the top hive box.  Lots of lovely larvae, and I saw the queen. There seems to be plenty in the way of stores too.  I will check over the coming weeks to make sure they have sufficient food for the winter. I too a quick look in the hive beetle trap as well.  Some have been caught, but not as many as I would have wished.  Still, I'll keep it in for another week or so and see where this gets me.

All in all a very good week for the girls!

Monday, September 14, 2009

2009 "Kirkwood Bee Spit" has been bottled!

Wow! - I got a bit more than I was thinking. I managed to fill:

  • twelve 12oz jars
  • twelve 8oz jars,
  • three 8oz honey bears, and
  • I had a bit left to fill a honey jar given to us by Ann, from over the road.

That makes about 270 (US) fluid ounces of honey. Right, now onto one of my favourite hobby horses, units...
  • For all you in the UK that is just over 281 UK fluid ounces, which, of course is about 14 pints (UK pints not US). Oh, by the way, if you want a proper pint of beer here (in terms of volume at least) you're better off asking for a 24oz glass which will give you nearly 1.5 pints (UK)...but that's another matter altogether.
  • Much better still, in metric units (and you all know you should be using this system, even if you don't admit it), it is just a tad under 8 litres or pure unfiltered "Kirkwood Bee Spit"!
I hope you will be able to enjoy some!!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My First Honey Harvest!

Well the weather was gorgeous this weekend and so I got some honey!!! In fact I got about 17 pounds in all!!! Brilliant! I’m letting the honey stand for a couple of days before putting it in jars, so that any air bubbles in it are removed.

I have to offer up a big thank you to Eugene, who also harvested at our house today. He supplied the equipment and, of course, the know-how. In no small way he made sure I got the honey I wanted! The slideshow opposite shows some of what we got up to…

I’m amazed at just how fantastic my girls are and have been, and what they have managed to do since I moved them into their hive only 5 months ago! They really have been as busy as, well bees really! To think that on 18 April 2009 I literally dumped about 10,000 workers (along with a few drones) and a Queen into a single hive box with just 9 frames of foundation and a division board feeder, and here I am a few short months later with a thriving hive of 50,000 bees and what seems like a ton of honey!

All I did was feed them for about 5 weeks and then just sit back and let them do what they do best. In just over 4 weeks I had new bees hatching, in about 8 weeks they had filled two hive boxes with brood and honey and I was able to add 2 supers to the hive. They slowed a little over the summer as most of the significant nectar flow stopped in June but they still managed to put a little something away for me.

Just to shed a little perspective on the whole enterprise, I read that a bee, in its short life, will forage for about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey; that it takes visits to about 2 million flowers to make 1 lb of honey, and the hive (as a whole) must travel in excess of 55,000 miles just to make one pound of honey. The numbers really stack up when you consider a hive can produce 100lbs of honey in a season. Now that’s impressive!

So, what is my honey like? Well it’s quite dark in colour and has quite a floral taste with just a hint of lemons. Well that’s what I think. With any luck some of you will provide me with your own descriptions! I really believe it really does taste superior to any other honey I have tasted – even stuff I have had from other beekeepers. It just goes to show you what blinkered self interest can do to your taste buds!

Bee Lucky

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Trap's in!

Well the trap is installed, along with about a litre of vegetable oil - things could get messy when I next go to see what (if anything) has been caught! I guess if this doesn't work the next step may be to go to IPM and get some nematodes to feed off the pupating larvae! Lets's see how things go over the next couple of weeks!
Just seen in that they want some pictures of urban beekeeping - I may have to send in a couple of snaps. And these guys in Brooklyn are an inspriation...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Honey Harvest Postponed!

Sadly, the weather has beaten us - at least for this weekend. There's been too much rain to use Eugene's clever bee excluder and take off the supers. Well, it's not so much that we can't use it, it's the fact that if we do remove the supers too much humidity may get drawn into the hive and this may be detrimental to the honey - a shame really, but we will put the harvest back a week, that's all.
Instead, if I can, I think I will install a hive beetle trap tomorrow - if there is a suitable beak in the clouds that is. I noticed a number of beetles last weekend and the sooner these are removed the better. I don't fancy using pesticides on the ground around the hive, which given the wet weather would probably be a pointless application anyway, so I will attempt to just distrupt their life cycle, and intercept the larvae before they get the chance to go to ground and pupate.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bee Haus!

Those clever people at Omlet have made a "beehaus" - a kind of updated Dartington bee hive. It's all a bit "mac" vs. "pc", if you know what I mean, and they're expensive too, just to keep the analogy going. That said the approach to have two hive bodies side by side is interesting. I've no idea whether this will be a revolution in bee keeping but if promotes new interest then that's got to be a good thing.

Apparantly it's been endorsed by Natural England, a British government conservation agency.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Final detailed check before harvesting?

Well, more work has been done in the supers (since 12 August) and Matt & I made a detailed assessment of the quantity of honey now stored. We reckon that my supers are overall about 30% full.

So, if there is a theoretical maximum yield of 40lbs of honey per super I may have about 24lbs of honey to harvest. However, if the theoretical yield is more like 20lbs per super I may get about 12lbs of honey. So somewhere between 15 and 20lbs is my guess to what I might harvest. I'm pretty pumped about that! When I think about it, it sounds even better - I only started with a package of bees on 18 April, with no drawn out comb, nothing but an empty box of foundation! My girls have managed to establish a thriving colony and store about 20lbs of honey (over and above what they need) in a little over 4 months. Wow!

There is one potential downside. The stored honey may be quite wet (as only a small amount is actually capped off), so once harvested it will probably have to be used quite quickly.

I will let Eugene know and maybe he will come round during the week and take a look for himself. But the thought of harvesting my own honey is quite exciting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I've been away for just over a week on vacation and it seems the bees have been winding down too - although not much honey has been added over the past week, it is good that at least some has been added! The other good news is that more cells have been capped off so honey from these should be in good condition to harvest.
Dealing with the Harvest. Eugene (who lives up the road) says I can probably wait until the end of September for a final harvest. This is when he plans to take off his final harvest. He is getting together with some of his pals and he kindly asked if I would like to join in. I hope to take him up on this. I will take another look in the supers at the end of August so see how we stand.
I am also hopeful that I will not have a verroa mite problem this year and again thanks to Eugene I have more confidence that I should be in good shape. I will do a check on mite numbers to see how I am doing, but I hope I will not have to treat as I plan to extract honey at the end of September.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Aaagghhh! The dreaded city sanitation department has been out tonight - I saw them "fogging" mosquitoes. Fortunately they were some way away, but who knows when the truck will drive down our street! I'm worried that the insecticide will "do for" my bees! A few are outside tonight, but thankfully it is a cool evening and it is probably fewer than normal.
I will have to inspect in front of the hive for corpses tomorrow.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Wait, and give it a shake...

Good news. I've had help from the beekeeper discussion forum and the advice is to wait to the end of August to see if any more frames get capped off. If not the stores may still be OK - the way to tell? Just turn the frame up-side-down and shake it to see if anything drips! If not we should be good to go!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Not much is happening...

I had a look yesterday at what's been going on in the hive - not much by the look of it. I removed the third "un-built-out" super about a week ago in the hope this would stimulate or concentrate the work ethic. It seems not to have worked particularly well. However some honey is still being stored but I suspect this will slow down further as we head into August and it may well be that I've had my lot - for this year at least.
I guess about 4 frames in the top super and perhaps 3 in the bottom super are almost full of honey, but little has been capped off. I'm not sure what this means. Perhaps the honey is not dry enough to be capped, or perhaps they are feeding off it now and so capping it off is not worth the effort? I will post a thread on the beekeepers forum later - maybe they have a few ideas. Either way I don't know if I am going to have enough to harvest next weekend.
In reflection I think I have been a little optimistic with regard to harvesting any honey this year. Just to have had my girls bees go from a package to a thriving colony should have been sufficient.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


I "bottom supered" last night - no not some deviant apiarist late night activity, but the addition of a new super containing frames of just foundation. I found out via the discussion forum (thanks to JefcoBeeman) that I should not have put my super of foundation on top of the built out combs but directly above the second hive box - well duh!

Apparently (and I don't know why) bees are more likely to build out foundation if it is here and not above other frames of built out comb - probably they're lazy and can't be bothered to go to the top of the hive to work.

Anyway time will tell if I moved the super too late to be able to get honey in it this year. I did however take a gander at the frames that have the built out comb. There has been some work, and more and more cells now being capped off. I have high hopes that there will be some extraction in August.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bee Crisis! Answer: Keep More Bees!!!

I've just seen this article in the Guardian. It seems the UK Government is finally waking up to the importance of bees in the environment.

Worried about pesticides, cold wet weather and varroa mites (so far my girls appear free of these) they are wondering what to do about it. I'm not sure about this weather angle concern, as here in Missouri the winter is more severe than in the UK and my bees are just simple Italian Honey Bees, the same as those kept in the UK and they're doing fine!,

Perhaps if more people kept bees (domestically) in a sub-urban environment then this may help to stabilise things. I have heard of a couple of hives being kept in downtown St Louis on top of an apartment block and they do very well, and this is hardly the greenest city centre. My bees are kept in my front garden and they bother nobody (in fact most people who pass either don't notice them or are fascinated by them) and they do not appear troubled by the weather - if they are nand they have problems finding food, I can always feed them.

In a suburban area, a hive's exposure to pesticides may be lower, colonies would not be moved as often as commercial hives (so may suffer less stress?) and there should be adequate supplies of pollen and nectar i.e. parks and trees - as it's not just flowers the bees harvest from). This may even encourage municipalities to plant more bee friendly trees (e.g. European Linden) in public places. I can't see a downside yet!

OK, so all this "Goode Life" stuff may not help large commercial farms (mono-culture strikes again!) but it could make a difference. Maybe some farmers could diversify and keep their own bees or encourage keepers to establish permanent hives on their land. Yes, they would have to plant crops that flower at different times of year (or leave areas set aside as habitat for the pollinators to live off to keep them going once the main commercial crops have finished. Studies have shown that productivity is not diminished by including these measures. This would reduce the distances hives are transported and therefore reduce the stress on colonies and farmers may even have a new revenue stream - HONEY - imagine that a farm that has more than one crop.

Come on, it's not hard to increase bee awareness and it's not difficult to do something about it. It sounds like we will spend millions studying this and then realise that if more people kept bees the problem may not be so great! And how's this for a radical idea - give beekeepers a financial incentive to help keep and maintain hives.


Sunday, July 12, 2009


It was like a drunk being ejected from a nightclub!

This morning (as we were having breakfast on the porch) we witnessed an outrageous act of aggression by the girls (...well kind of). A bumble bee was having a look around the hive and decided to see what was happening inside (a mistake). It was in for a few seconds and then was kind of "spat out" by the workers. It was a bit like watching bouncers ejecting a drunk from a night club. The bumble bee rolled out of the hive entrance, fell onto the floor, dusted itself off and flew off about its business. All in all, quite amusing.

There has also been quite a bit of work this last week. Three of the frames in the middle super (I have 3) are full of honey and the girls are beginning to cap off the full cells. I hope this means I will be able to extract some honey this year - the big extraction event is on 1 August. No work has gone on in the top super, but there is definitely more being saved in the lowest of the three supers.

I wonder if the condition of the built-out combs is playing a part? The middle super has built-out comb that appears cleaner, the comb is a lighter colour and is arguably in "better condition" than the lower super. The top super had no built out comb and hardly any activity is taking place.

Lower down, the queen (I found her on the top hive box), is still very busy and lots more larvae and brood is on the way. They honey stores in the hive boxes appears full as well. I have not looked in the bottom hive box as this seems unnecessary and would only disturb the bees - and I don't want that!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

July 6, 2009

I'm told there will be nectar available until about mid August; then the flow will pretty much stop. So, there will be quite a bit of work to do by then if I am going to get any honey. The last time I inspected the hive I reckon the built out supers were about half full, although no cells were capped off. Will they manage to fill any frames by the time the flow stops? we will have to wait and see. I guess I'll get a better idea this weekend when I plan to take a look next.

I do not always manage to look through the entire hive at each inspection. This time I stopped when I got to the bottom hive box. Not least because I saw what I wanted to see i.e. the Queen (in the top hive box) plus lots more lovely capped brood. No eggs or larvae but hey, the Queen is there and she certainly knows what she's doing!

The other reason for stopping the inspection - the bees were beginning to get unsettled so I thought "leave them to it, they know what they're doing". I mean what's the point of disturbing the peace just for the sake of my curosity? Perhaps next time I will start in the bottom hive box and work my way up! The other problem now is that the hive boxes are really heavy so I am less inclined to move them.

No signs of any problems with beetles or mites, or any other pests - just lots of happy, healthy contented bees! My muttering away to them when I have a look around must be doing some good!

June 2008

Nearly up to date!!

The work rate did not really diminish in June - for the bees that is. The weather did interrupt some activities for about a week and I think little was done in terms of gathering etc. I nevertheless made 7 inspections and added about 7.5 litres of syrup but stopped feeding on 13 June, after I added three supers.

By mid June it appeared that the bees were filling up the hive boxes with honey and brood and so I decided to add some supers - just in case I got lucky! Susan had been speaking with Robert Cantrell at the beekeeping meeting and he was downsizing his operations. He had about 300 supers with built out comb for sale. He apparantly used to harvest/collect about 12,000 lbs of honey annually. We both bought just 2 supers, figuring that if our bees didn't have to expend effort making comb they could go and collect nectar and pollen and make us some honey! I think in hindsight that was a little optimistic!

So anyway, from 13 June I had two supers with built out comb and one super with just foundation frames installed on the top of the hive boxes. I added a queen excluder but most people here thing this is not really necessary. For the first week I think the supers were just being examined by the bees. They did in fact smell quite unpleasant (a bit like vomit). But I think that this smell diminished as the bees cleaned out the comb and got down to work. Susan had the same smell when she installed her supers a couple of weeks later.

By the end of the second week (almost into July) the combs were clean, but only a very small amount of honey was being stored in them. I was beginning to worry a bit. Perhaps the earlier work ethic my girls showed had waned? I think that what was happening however was the combs were being cleaned while the existing space in the lower hive boxes was being filled - and how!

May 2008

Well, May came and I was feeding every couple of days, or so it seemed. In total I made 9 inspections and fed the girls about 13.5 litres of syrup!

The frames became more and more built out and more and more brood was being developed. I spotted eggs on 26 April and worked out that new bees were likely due on, or around 17 May. As it was I was slightly wrong; when I went to inspect the hive on 14 May many of the capped cells had already hatched! This means that eggs must have been laid around 23 April - only 5 days after installing the package of bees! Amazing. There's no peace for the wicked however as I saw eggs laid in these newly hatched cells only 2 days later.

Things were going so well in fact that I added the second hive box on 14 May - just 4 weeks after installing the bees. I still cannot quite get to grips with how rapidly they became established. You can see the lovely new brood and a bee hatching on one of the adjacent photographs.

There was some interesting behavior too. The bees started to gather at the front of the hive, pointing towards the entrance fanning their wings. Having spoken to some in the know they think this was an effort not to keep the bee hive cool, but more likely to try to reduce the moisture content of the stored honey in the hive by drawing out air in the hive.

Along with all the good news there was some bad. I spotted two hive beetles on 11 May. These were positively identified at the beekeeping meeting. I was told not to worry as the beetles would only become more dominant if the health of the hive suffered. My hive has been in rude health and I have no beetles since!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

April 2008

My bees were installed on a dry, warm day - just as recommended. It was a good job we had just witnessed a demonstration by EMBK on how to install bees - "tapping" about 10,000 bees (however well behaved) into a hive seemed a bit daunting, but actually turned out to be a bit ordinary.

I set out my single hive box containing 9 frames and a division box feeder (full of 2:1 syrup), extracted the queen in her box and installed her on the middle frame - just as advised. Then came the tapping. How hard should I tap the box? Can bees get concussion? Will they get a bit cross and get agitated? I mean I didn't want to start off on the wrong foot with them.

Anyway, I told the bees - I don't know about the USA, but in the UK you're supposed to talk to bees to tell them the news - i.e. the news that I was about to tap them firmly into the bottom of their box and then tip them into their new home! I thought this was a pretty news-worthy event, at least from their perspective.

All the preparation done I gave them a firm belt and sure enough they all fell to the bottom of the package box, in a bit of a heap. There was no fuss or bother when I tipped them into the hive box, they simply found the queen and went about their business. Dead easy this beekeeping - so I went and had a beer!

What a work ethic! Within a couple of days the girls had started to store pollen and within the first couple of weeks they had managed to build out comb on 6 or 7 frames and "queenie" had laid brood in 4 to 5 frames. A significant amount had been capped off, so new bees were definitely on the way. In 10 days I fed them about 7 litres of syrup - WOW!


Welcome to my bee-blog!

I decided in April 2009 - once my neighbours had already taken the plunge - to start keeping bees. I have been interested in bees since I was a teenager, and at school (back in the UK) I studied the life-cycle of the honey bee for my "O" levels. However I never did anything more than take a passing/peripheral interest in bees, until I came to St. Louis, MO, that is.

When the chance came to share experiences (and equipment) I jumped at it. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved! My neighbours, Fred and Susan, have been great. We have helped each other build our hives and have shared notes and information. I suspect I would never have done this without their, but especially Susan's, initial interest.

We both started on 18 April 2008 using a package of bees obtained and organised through the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association - a fantastically run and popular club - which is based in St. Louis Missouri. You can find a link to their web site at the edge of the blog. They have been brilliant at explaining beekeeping for the total novice and have held our "newbee" hands through the process so far. My thanks go out to them and all the contributors to the numerous forum run on their web site. There have been some great stories and tips!

Packages were installed after a thorough briefing and really everything has gone like clockwork since - well at least for me! I have fed the bees when they wanted (or ran out of) food, and I have added hive boxes and supers when I thought things were going well.

So far my girls have not let me down! The blog entries that follow are intended to track the major events I have gone through in the first few weeks of keeping bees (and hopefully beyond) and I hope my observations and comments will prove of interest to others who are also starting out - perhaps you will find some comfort in my experiences. I have learnt that I am really not far from help and support!