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!