Dump Them in the Top

Early in the winter I make my best guesses and place my orders for packages of bees. Those packages are two or three pound boxes of bees that will replace a hive that may (or may not) die out over the winter. After this is done I promptly forget how many packages I ordered and when I requested they arrive. This is key to my yearly process because that means when I get the call from the bee man that the bees have arrived, it’s always a fun spring surprise. Surprise! Drop everything, it’s time to hive the bees!

Now that sounds dramatic but here is a little secret. To hive the bees you take an empty beehive and you dump all the bees in the top. Then you put the lid on and leave.

The end.

Sure, it’s a little more nuanced than that. I usually take a few frames out so they have room to fall into the hive easier, the queen comes in her own special cage inside the package of bees and she needs to be placed in the hive within her little package first. And the art of slamming a two or three pound box of bees on the ground repeatedly and then shaking them out is… well, actually, that’s not much of an art. It’s just banging and shaking and it makes me feel like a mad woman every year. “Hey look, a few thousand bees in a box, lets bang them on the ground and dump them out!”

But, as beekeepers have known for ages bees without a hive to defend are really fairly docile. On a nice spring evening, the perfect time to hive a package of bees, many fly up in the air until you are inside a cloud of bees but they quickly locate their queen in the new hive and like magic settle back down inside. Before you know it the mad drama of shaking bees is over and you are free to put the lid on and leave.

Of course this year, as sometimes happens in April in Wisconsin, it was snowing. Making it a decidedly less idyllic situation. For starters it’s hard to wear a stocking cap under a bee veil without everything going cattywampus and falling over your eyes. In order to get them into the hive as quick as possible I upped my level of mad woman shaking and dumping and shaking and dumping, trying to get as many as possible inside, where they would soon warm it up before I put the lid on. All sorts of bees still filled the air but instead of finding the hive many of them found me and clung to me because it’s just too cold to fly in the snow when you are a little bee. A bunch of gentle flicking and swiping and plucking and shaking and finally the bees had been dumped on top of the hive, I put the lid on and walked away.

I’m participating in the April Squares challenge with The Life of B!

Top o’ the Maples

There are many signs of spring but when I look to the top of the maple trees and see that they are in bloom I feel secure that it’s really on it’s way.

The feeling probably stems from the relief of knowing that my bees (which did make it through the winter this year!) finally have a food source they can go out and forage.

If the bees can find food, it must really be spring.

I’m participating in the April Squares challenge over at The Life of B!

L is for… Leaf

Did you know that honey bees are actually unrepentant photobombers?

It’s true, just look what this little lady did to my picture of a leaf!

She’s trying to steal the show but this “L” picture is all those baby leaves.

The leaves that uncurl daily at this time of year always seem to be overshadowed by their flowery companions (and photobombing bees) but I think that mist of green that covers everything shouts, “Spring is here!” louder than any flower (or buzzing bee) ever could.

Speaking of shouting, I’d also like to share a little story about listening, in honor of the letter “L”, of course.

(Ivy brings me a container of small bulbs that have started to sprout and asks what they are.)

Me: “Those are the blue-flower bulbs.”

Ivy: “I don’t know what those are.”

Me: “Do you remember which flowers I’m talking about it? We plant them in pots…blue flowers… Granny and Gramps have them on their porch too…”

Ivy: “Oh! Are they red?”

Me: “Did you hear me call them blue-flowers?”

Ivy: “No.”

Me: “Sometimes, when we have conversations like this, I wonder if you actually listen to me when we talk.”

Ivy laughing: “No. I don’t really.”

Me: …

Speaking of conversations like these, I’d also like to share another favorite “L” word – liquor.


Photo blogging my way through the alphabet with:

The (Dead) Bee Report

In true procrastinator form, after ignoring the fact that one of my bee hives had died out much earlier this winter, I finally cleaned up the hive and brought it inside.

In extra true procrastinator form I did it today because it was sunny and cold and beautiful outside and I was doing all I could to avoid my inside chores.


I’m sure you will be pleased to know that unlike the mess of a mouse nest I expected to find in a hive that had been left out for part of the winter, (because of course this isn’t the first time I’ve made such a poor decision) it was empty.

All that was inside was a small cluster of dead bees still clinging around hundreds of bee butts sticking out of empty cells. A sad sight.dead bees in frame

The cluster was much smaller than I expected which made me wonder if the hive was never as big and strong as I had thought it was. Perhaps that was why it was the target of the robbing behavior last fall and they never would have made it through the winter anyway. Or perhaps the robbing threw them off, destroying so much of their home, hive and brood that it caused them to be low in number going into winter.dead bees in frame

Whatever it is, it drives home the fact that the longer I keep bees the more I know how little I really know.

After shaking off what bees we could and cleaning up the hive for transport into the garage for the rest of the winter, Jane and I spent some time poking about in the pile of dead bees. I’m going to fob this behavior off as “investigative research”  but I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty fascinating to look through the pile of bees. Frozen and dead they look very much the same as when they were alive and the hairs on their legs will still “grab” onto jacks and gloves and each other. Sifting through the pile I only saw one (dead) mite still clinging to it’s host which I shall take to be a good sign. And after a bit of searching we pulled the queen out of the pile and were able to take her back to the house for a morbid little photo shoot.

Queen bee on top with one of her daughters below to show the size difference.

Queen bee on top with one of her daughters below to show the size difference.

While we looked through the dead hive evidence of cleansing flights from the live hive was all around us and they appear to be doing fine. I’m crossing my fingers and making a note to check them during the next warm spell, it can be hard to be a hive of bees in the winter that might be counting on a little extra care from an expert procrastinator.



Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

I stood in front of a room full of people and hoped they didn’t notice the “Oh shit!” look that had just crossed my face.

It wasn’t that the presentation my friend and I were in the middle of giving on bees and beekeeping wasn’t going well (for two hobbyist beekeepers putting together our first talk, I felt like it was going quite well). It wasn’t even that my shirt was on inside out (I caught that problem early and already fixed it) or that my sandal broke (I was barefoot and fine with it). No, it was that my friend had just explain how in the fall there is a dearth of nectar for the bees and that this is the time of year they will often turn to robbing behaviors, descending on another hive and stealing all their honey stores. Then he mentioned how it’s best to tighten up your hive, reduce the main entrance and block off smaller entrances completely so a hive has a chance to defend itself against robbing bees.

robbing bees

Standing in front of a room of people who are under the impression that you might know what you are talking about is an unfortunate time to realize you forgot to do the very thing you are in the middle of telling them they should do.  An “Oh shit” moment if I’ve ever had one.

Which might have been a totally acceptable as a “do as I say not as I do/ I’ve never run into this problem” sort of moment except that, for the first time, one of my two hives had been robbed.

A week ago I had been sitting at the table working on the very presentation we were giving when Jane looked out the window behind me and asked why there were so many bees. My pat answer of, “Oh, there are just lots of flowers,” died on my tongue when I looked out and saw that our house seemed to be surrounded by bees.  Further investigation found that not only was our house surrounded by bees, but they seemed aimless, bumbling into the side of the house and totally docile. Which was good  (because our house was surrounded by bees) but bad because something was definitely up with the bees. I went to the hives to see what they were doing and discovered one of the hives was also surrounded by bees.

robbing bees

I put on my bee suit to investigate up close and came to no definitive conclusions in the small amount of time I had before I had to walk Jane slowly and calmly  through a bumbling mass of bees (Turns out Jane doesn’t naturally do slow and calm when faced with hundreds of bees) to leave for the rest of the day.

The next chance I got, I went back out to the hives and discovered the one that had been surrounded by bees weighed almost nothing. The 60 or so pounds of honey I had left for that hive to live on through the winter when I extracted earlier in the month was all gone. After ten plus years of beekeeping it seemed like a rude introduction to my first robbing experience but live and learn right?

Except here I was listening to the presentation, that I had helped write, that we had gone over more than once and here was my friend saying, again, how we should reduce our entrances in the fall and I still hadn’t done it and I had already lost a hive’s worth of honey, and therefore quite likely the entire hive because of it.

Do as I say, not as I do.

This all would have been a bit sad, slightly ironic, but essentially fine, until the very next morning when I went to let the dogs in the door and they came in with a retinue of honey bees. Again the house was being surrounded by bees. I headed out to the hives to find that my other hive, was surrounded by bees. Smarter now, in theory anyway, I found my entrance reducers and closed their big “front door” down to a small opening and to the annoyance of many, many bees stuffed grass in the upper hive entrances. Then I crossed my fingers told them to kick those rotten intruders to the curb and and ran off, now late, to the rest of my day.

That evening when I got home I checked, there were still more bees and activity than their should have been and the grass plugs had been ripped out.  I haven’t had the heart or the chance to check the hive yet. I worry that my two strong hives have been reduced to food-less weaklings that won’t make it through the winter without huge amounts of supplemental feeding and even then it will be dicey.

Live and learn.

The hive that already had been robbed had it's grass door still in place.

The hive that already had been robbed had it’s grass door still in place.

And so another season of beekeeping is coming to a close and, as always, I have learned something. This year I learned that when you have other hives in the neighborhood that advice about closing up the hive in the fall is not to be taken lightly. On the other hand I haven’t learned why my house was surrounded by so many aimless bees. Their odd behavior totally threw me off track and I missed that my hive was being robbed that first day. But I’m not hopeless, because I also learned that when they showed up around the house again I needed to head out to help protect my hives even if I still didn’t understand why they were congregating at the house in the first place.

Live and Learn.

honey bees

As we put together our talk we discussed that we’ve probably learned more in our combined years of beekeeping by messing things up and doing things the wrong way than anything else. Which is why, during the Question and Answer session, when asked what advice we’d give to a new beekeeper that we wish we had known when we started I nodded my head vigorously to my friends suggestion of finding a mentor.
honey bee

And now, another day wiser, I’d like to add, “And do as they say, not as they do!”



Weekly Photo Challenge: Dinnertime

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dinnertime

One evening, right around when I should have been fixing dinner, I couldn’t go inside. I was stuck on the deck, captivated by all the different kinds of bees flying through a patch of scilla looking for their own dinner.honey bee flying

The girls and I laid on our bellies and watched honey bees, bumble bees, mason bees and assorted flies until our own dinner was severely delayed.honey bee on scilla

We couldn’t tear ourselves away from the show until I discovered how to use the time lapse feature on my camera, then to keep our shadows out of the picture, we walked away.

When we returned, ten minutes later, dinnertime for the bees seemed to be over and we finally headed inside to start on our own.




Sorting the Hives

Neither of my bee hives made it though the winter.

Again.bee hives

To add another layer of insult, I’m pretty sure that I’m worse at overwintering hives now than I was when I started this whole apiary thing ten years ago.  It could be the genetics of the bees, it could be mites, it could be funky winter weather, or it could just be that I’m easily distracted by fluffy white flakes and warm fires and I’m a terribly inattentive winter bee keeper.bee hives

Next year, I tell myself once again, I will do things differently.bee hives

But for this year, there is nothing to be done but clean the hives in preparation for new bees.bee hives

I set the girls up and then watched from the sidelines as all three girls jumped into the project together.bee hives

They poked through the hives figuring out what happened (one starved, one froze), evicting the mice (serious excitement), comparing moldy bee colors, searching for the dead queen, and (helpfully) sorting the good frames from the bad.bee hives

Next year I’ll do better.bee hives

But this year, despite my dead bees, I couldn’t help but enjoy the process.

I Got Pooped On Today

I got pooped on today, but it’s all right.

It was just a little bee.honey bee

And I was wearing John’s jacket.

honey bee

During the winter bees won’t defecate in their hive. Instead they wait for a bit of mild weather and then fly out on “cleansing flights”. Which is a very polite way of saying that if you are out walking near the hives when the snow stops and the sun peeks out for a moment you might be lucky enough to get pooped on by bees! 

Merry Christmas

The Bee Carol

by Carol Ann Duffyblack and white bee hives

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice —
a silver frieze —
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive —
trembling stars cloistered above —
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.black and white bee hives

Merry Christmas and a special thank you to Annette for sending us this poem!