My inspection of the big Sam hive in my Home Yard revealed a massive population occupying three full mediums and getting honey bound or rather, egg bound. Capped brood was intermixed with nectar, though not much. Possibly whatever is brought in and processed is instantly consumed by this massive population.  The weather has been conducive to lush plant growth: rain and sunny days and the wildflowers at least are happy. But not the bees. On the rainy days they can’t fly out to get the bounty, and beekeepers are reporting the loss of the first honey crop, for starters. It’s also been hard on queen rearing. Though there are a lot of drones, and this hive had drones galore (it’s a sign of a strong colony that they are willing to support that many drones), the virgin queens can’t fly out to mate in rainy weather.

But here now was an opportunity: I found tons of swarm cells in the making, with around twelve of them occupied and being filled with royal jelly. This original Sam Comfort queen is too good to lose to a swarm, as are all her queenly off-spring (the first new queen that hatches kills off all the other ones). Time to act!

Easier said than done.

In a rush to get this fixed before cold and rainy weather was due, my option was to go in on a heat wave day. I waited till the bees started flying (not wanting everyone home – I did want to find the queen in there) and already it was too hot. Subconsciously I must have thought, “Hey, let’s not close this suit all the way!” Great idea, subconscious! Too many bees got inside and stung me in the neck and throat and in my scalp.  It’s the worst when they’re trapped in your long hair and you have to grab them with your gloves and squish them. I ran from the hive, which was wide open by then, stripped off the suit, ran inside (somehow having lost any pursuing bees), pulled the still living bees out of my hair and from my neck with tweezers, then pulled the two stingers that I could see (of the seven), popped two Benadryl, threw on the suit and gloves, ran out again and closed up the hive – during which operation they stung me twice more, in the leg (a doozy!)

Now this was truth time for me. I have bad local reactions to stings which hurt for days, so I am a very careful beekeeper who had not been stung for over two years. Who knows what my reaction would be! I lay down, watched the hives break out all over my body, then after a minute recede again as the Benadryl  kicked in. That stuff makes you sleepy, and it was so darn hot, but I kept myself awake for an hour, monitoring the swelling. Then I took a long nap. All in all it was a good experience: now I know I can handle that many stings, albeit with some medication, and that my beekeeping career can continue. And I got right back on the horse again.

On my next try it was cooler and I took care to fully zip up the darn suit. It was also a week later and I found many closed swarm cells.  I pulled two frames, each with two closed cells, and stuck each in a medium for a nuc, along with a frame of brood and a frame of honey, some drawn comb, and bees. And no queen, of course. Had I spotted her I would have done an artificial swarm (moved her), but she was not to be found. I’m sure she was still in there, though. I could spot a few eggs (not many).  I also stuck a frame of brood and a frame of honey in a small nuc box and shook in some bees (again, carefully looking for the queen).  A friend had given me an extra  Russian queen in a queen cage, and she would be their new queen.

The bees were very mellow. I love this hive, so prolific, well-organized, and friendly (except when trapped inside a suit with a human, and in her hair). I brought all these guys to our Common Yard. Here they are to the left of the two Russian hybrid packages, one of which is pulling ahead of the other. I actually pulled a frame of open brood from that 3-medium one to give to the nuc next to it.

The queen in her cage went into that cardboard nuc box. I kept that box closed up so the bees inside couldn’t get out. Released them the next day. They were feeding her but had not yet released her.

This was all from the top medium box of the Sam hive and there were still at least 6 closed swarm cells in just that box! I asked my friend Arthur, a much more experienced beek, for advice. He came over the next day – chilly, drizzly – and said, “Let’s make more nucs!” He had brought a medium queen  castle for three more nucs with one queen cell each, and one 5 frame medium nuc box which we packed to the brim. These too went to the Common Yard:

The leftovers stayed home, with one more closed queen cell and one open one. But we suspect the old queen is still in there – I’ll know for sure tomorrow when I check on them. The Queenless Roar will tell me.

So now I suddenly have twelve colonies:

  • 1 overwintered Russian, with queen (3 mediums)
  • 1 Russian hybrid package, started on 4/7, with queen (3 mediums)
  • 1 Russian hybrid package, started on 4/7, with queen (2 mediums)
  • 1 Russian hybrid package, started on 4/7, which superseded a whi;e ago – I’m waiting for the queen to lay (patience).
  • 1 Sam Comfort colony with queen Sam (probably the one in the Home Yard)
  • 1 nuc with Russian queen, not yet released.
  • 5 3-frame nucs with swarm cells
  • 1 5-frame nuc with swarm cell

We don’t expect all of those virgin queen nucs to make it.

Arthur was very impressed with these bees and proposed we breed from Sam (if we find her) or from any of her surviving daughters. More fun to come!

It’s cold now, below freezing all day long, but next week we’re looking at the Polar Vortex again, or so they say. So I got cracking on finishing up the wrapping of the hives. I choose to go with just the black tar paper – foregoing the pink insulation material. Here they are:

Sam, in the Home Yard. One deep, two mediums, still needs insulation on top.
Tatjana, in the Common Yard. One deep, two mediums, and a Mann Lake inner cover with insulation on top.
Beatrice (right) and Katharina, in the Common Yard. Both are one deep, two mediums, one quilt box on top – no sugar candy yet, but the Beatrice cluster, which is massive, is already in the top box, so they’ll probably need it soon.
Beatrice bees keeping an eye on the crazy lady with her black paper and noisy staple gun.


robbers trying to get into the top entrance (closed)

The robbing at the Common Yard continued, relentless. As soon as I had removed the robbed-out Borgia hive, the aggressive colony started on the next one down, the Constanza colony. A fellow Common beek alerted me and I ran over and closed literally all entrances to all my hives. Hives 3 and 4, resp. Beatrice and Katharina, were holding their own very well, thank you, but it was cold enough for them not fly out anyway. Only these crazy robber bees were flying vigorously (bellies full of honey).

The best was when the owner of the robbing hive showed up. What good timing! He said that, after it requeened itself, his hive (his one hive, he’s a first-year beek) had been a nasty pain to work. They were indeed very aggressive to bees and beeks alike. He suggested, himself, that he should have got rid of that queen, but now it is too late in the season to requeen, so the unfortunate tentative outcome was to lock up the and so  kill off the whole colony. (If anyone objects, let them come over and I’ll even give them a suit and a smoking smoker and let hem open those boxes! Gentleness is most often the first, second or third criterion in a good queen, for the beekeeper as well as the public’s sake.) Luckily another Common beek offered to help him move the colony to the owner’s yard, and then the owner can requeen in Spring. It’s a little over 2 miles away, so I hope those bees don’t find the Common Yard and keep on robbing!

Anyway, too late for Constanza. With the culprit gone today, I was able to open her up and found she is also a goner. There was no queen, only a handful of bees left, not even enough to combine with a strong hive. But a lot of honey, at least 13 full medium frames and 3 full deep frames. Uttering a little apology, I shook the bees out into the grass and locked up the hive. I’ll distribute the honey frames to the other hives tomorrow when it’s warmer (65F!).

I also opened Beatrice and Katharina’s houses and especially Beatrice, the last Italian, is strong: big population covering the bottom deep and two supers and lots of honey. Katharina has fewer bees, but then again they’re Russians, which overwinter with a smaller population. The last hive at the Common, the Russian Tatjana, looks good too, but they’re the adolescent split, occupying only a deep and a super, and I may just give them the super full of honey from Constanza’s leftovers.

Of course, Constanza and Borgia were well-populated, vigorous, honey-loaded hives too, until a couple of weeks ago. So now I’m down to four. I started with four. How many will I have after winter? I bow to the meadow that holds and feeds my bees. May she hold and feed them into the next season.

All last week some of the other colonies in the Common Yard were robbing the Borgia hive. All I could do was close the top entrance, and the  bottom entrance was already reduced to the minimum, which slowed down the process. I didn’t open the hive as it would have invited a frenzy, which I know from  experience is to be avoided at all costs – because the cost is often the demise of either the robbing or robbed colony, or both. Now I wish I had opened it.

It was cold enough yesterday (57 F) for the bees not to be flying and not too cold to open the hive and have a look at what would make such a well-populated, well-stocked, strong-queened colony so prone to robbers.Well, there was no one home. There were just a handful of dead bees on the bottom board (screened, so there was no way to see if there was a mass of mites). All the honey… gone, too. Had I gone in earlier, I’d have saved some of that honey for my other hives. Only some, I think, because interestingly, some of the honey frames were shredded and frayed (a sign of quick robbing), but others were neatly emptied. Did Borgia and her bees swarm or abscond, taking most of the honey with them?

I came home saddened, then went into my two home hives and found Anna too had perished. A sugar roll at the end of August had found the mites below threshold, but clearly I must no longer rely on those: the full bottom board showed tons and tons of mites. Among the fifty or so bees left was Anna herself, the Russian queen. She looks very small. I had never felt happy with this colony’s progress but I wanted to give this queen (whom I gave the last split I made, from Borgia) a chance. There was a little bit of honey left. I’m freezing those frames to kill mites, hive beetle, wax moth eggs and diseases, and will give them to the remaining hives.

I’ve never lost a colony before winter before. And now two. It was a disheartening discovery.

So I’m down to five. In light of the mite discovery in Anna’s home, I will treat with an oxalic acid dribble once the temperatures fall to 40F. It could  be too late for some, but it could make all the difference for others, if not all. I do want to go treatment free, but I have to build up a good apiary before I can start experimenting. With winter coming, more studying and thinking is coming up, but in the meantime I need these bees to survive.

Goodbye Anna and Borgia and offspring. I thank you for gracing us with your beautiful presence the shape of a bee.

The last couple of days have been “bee days,” as they’re called in our household. Mama smells of smoke, and a honeybee inevitable gets into the house or a car or a bee suit (yikes). But it’s all good. The aim is to get all seven hives ready for winter. I have some strong queens there.

Three Italians. Three out of the four Italian queens have been amazing. Even though first-year packages, they’ve given enough worker bees for three splits as well as 45+ lbs of excess “people honey”. If Borgia, Constanza and Beatrice make it through winter they’ll make for good production hives (honey makers) as well as for good genetic material for splits.

The four on the right are mine (right to left: Borgia, Constanza, Beatrice and Katharina). The blue one all the way at the left end is a split (Tatjana). The other hives belong to two other “Common” beeks.

Three Russians. Bianca was a bust early on, and after giving that colony a chance to requeen, Bianca’s daughter, Laura, lasted less than a month: she came back unmated and I had to cut off her head. I replaced her with a Russian, called Katharina, from Dan Conlon’s amazing outfit. Katharina is one of three queens Russians. Tatjana was given a split from a combination of frames and bees from the strong Italian hives on 6/25 (moved to the Home Yard for that purpose, then moved back to the Common in August). Anna was given a split from a combination of frames and bees from the same strong Italian hives on 7/9 and has remained in the Home Yard.

One Mutt. The first split I did, from the same origin colonies, was made on 6/8 and to them I gave Queen Sam – a Sam Comfort “mutt.” They too remain in the Home Yard.


Food Stores

After inspecting each hive, inventorizing their food stores, and checking for disease (sugar rolls on the three Italians, all under threshold which is a huge relief), and a couple of nifty bee escape moves, I had plenty of capped honey frames to distribute to those in need of it.

The Italian populations are plenty large. They also have great honey stores, much of which they’ll need, being so large (typical of Italians), but much of which I felt fine robbing out to give to the weaker hives. Katharina’s colony is large enough too, but they didn’t have as much honey, so they got an extra super with robbed honey. These four “big hives” each have one deep and two mediums for nest boxes. The idea is to switch to three mediums for nest boxes next year. The deeps are just too heavy for me to lift, and mixing deeps and mediums is a hassle as the frames aren’t interchangeable. Come spring, these colonies should have moved up into the two mediums. I plan to use the drawn out deep frames for nucs to sell.

The splits, Sam and particularly Tatjana and Anna, are understandably smaller, and hence they are housed in one deep and just one medium. But I’m not worried. Sam’s population is large enough, and the latter two are Russians and they’re supposed to be more “conservative”: they have smaller populations going into winter and need less honey to make it through. Still, they got some from the Italian honey hives.

With all this honey, I won’t have to feed sugar, of which I’m  glad. I’ll be ready, though, to give it them if they need it.

Tatjana, a split from the Italians with a Russian Queen, split on 6/25 and moved to the Home Yard, then moved back into the Common on 8/29.
Home Yard: Anna (split on 7/9) on the right, Sam (split on 6/8) on the left. A super being robbed out of uncapped honey and protected from the recent rain by an outer cover, leaning against Sam’s hive).


Other Measures

I need to close the screened bottom boards and/or replace them with solid bottom boards. I also plan to give each a candy/quilt winter box, like the ones I made last year (see here). That way they’ll have ventilation and moisture control, and should any of them be in need of candy, I’ll have a place to put it. I also plan to wrap each of them, like I did last year as well (see here). I have some time for that, still, but I’ll try not to underestimate the time it takes to cut all those insulation boards, and to actually do the wrapping.


Looking Ahead

I plan to split each surviving hive at least once as soon as they are ready for it – which will also prevent swarming. The early ones will have to make their own queens, as no local queens will be available yet that early in spring and the whole point is not to get queens from elsewhere. I also plan to start rearing queen (I’ve got all the toys-I-mean-tools ready). I aim to rear lots of bees so I can offer my local beeks local nucs and local queens. But it will also be good to have a couple of production hives to make some honey money to offset at least some of the costs of the whole operation.

Fingers crossed for a mild winter, and especially one that doesn’t have a deep arctic blast at the end of it!

Ah, the troublesome double nuc: time to get rid of it. The two splits (Hive 6 with queen Tatjana and Hive 7 with queen Anna) were growing out of it. The plan: to move H6 – whose entrance was facing west (“backward”) – to the common apiary (3 miles away), and to move H7 into her own 10 frame deep in the same location (home yard; entrance still facing east). But how to move those bees? You can’t just pick them up: there are two colonies in one box. DSCF8321

I went in yesterday evening around 6 pm, when they were all home, planning to transfer the 8 frames into a deep, then to move them. Simple. However, there were too many bees stuck to the sides and bottom of the lower box, which is of course “attached” to the other hive, so you can’t shake those bees off.  I walked away and returned today when the bees were flying. I set the new deep right next to the box so the entrances aligned. I moved over the top four frames, took the top box off and shook the bees off it into the new deep. Then I had this situation:


Still a lot of bees in the bottom box, but not too bad. I could at least make out if the queen was there (I hadn’t spotted her as I moved the frames) and, relatively assured she wasn’t, smoked those bees and scraped off the burr comb on the side. It ha brood in it so it would entice some nurse bees to stay with it. The foragers were coming in hard and going straight for the new entrance/box. Soon the bees in the nuc box were pouring out the exit and moving over as well. Satisfied, I closed the new deep with the outer cover and put the old outer cover on top of the other nux box (weighing it down with the top nuc box) – a deja-vu configuration.


Around 7 pm after I saw the nuc box was empty, so I walked over, picked up the deep off the bottom board and set it down inside an upturned inner cover, using it as a tray. It being a warm, humid evening, quite a few bees were stuck to the front of the box, and quite a few bees were left behind on the bottom board. I shook and brushed as many as I could into the deep, quickly closed it with another outer cover. This, I’ve found,  is the best way to contain the bees: there is no hole or gap for the bees inside to escape through.The bees still stuck on the outside of the box, however, as a different matter. I grabbed a sheet, wetted it thoroughly, and threw it over the box, then carried the darn heavy thing into the back of my car (a station wagon). The sheet worked out nicely: no bees bugged me on the 5 minute drive over.


< Here I am, all geared up. The elastic  of my bee vest is shot, so I put a belt on – it’s not pleasant to have a bee in ones vest or veil! I wear the heavy boots not so much for the bees but for the ticks.

Unfortunately it was already a little too late and darkening. Bees hate it when you go in at night. On top of that, one of my fellow Common Yard beeks had just done a sugar roll on the hive right next to the open spot where I was to place Tatjana. I hadn’t even opened my bees yet or his were spitting at me. But, no turning back. I set up the cinder block hive stand, the bottom board, then lifted the box out of the car, sheet and all, and set it down on the grass. The moment I pulled the deep out of the outer cover tray, the effect was startling. Bees poured out on all sides, and I’ve never heard such a roar – I’ll hear it all night. I kept on, maneuvered the box onto the bottom board. The tray was full of bees and I arranged it in front of the entrance so those could walk in. I tried to see if the queen was on it, but it was too dark already.

I took a few brisk walks around the field to try to shake the five or so bees chasing me, then got into my car and drove home, suit still zipped up, bees buzzing around  me. Didn’t get stung, though!

Tomorrow I will return to retrieve my smoker bucket and sheet – had to abandon those. I won’t inspect for a couple of days. I’ll leave them bee for a bit…


{Update} Tatjana’s bees look okay, very busy. Here they are in the new field. They need an entrance reducer. It’s robbing time. I’ll give them a super with honey in a few days, when I’ll also check on the queen and install some hive beetle traps.

The move of Hive 7 with Queen Anna went smoothly this morning: I moved the 8 frames over – looking good! – then set the old boxes in front of it so they can crawl in. Easy peasy, that one.

Interested in honeybee virology and mite vectors? This article covers a new study with lots good info.

DSC_3410DSC_3393Today I extracted some massive honey combs. My experiment with foundationless frames went a tad awry, the bees drawing out bulging combs wherever there was space because the next frames was empty.

First it made for some puzzling to get those frames out of the two boxes. After using the bee escape for a night, there were a hundred or so bees left. I had to break open some comb and then had to brush off the bees, who were understandably upset. Extracting required the bread knife to cut away the excess comb. The tactile, visual and aromatic pleasure of cutting through soft, oozing comb is unparalleled. Eleven frames made for 45 lbs of honey.


Of all my harvests over the years, honey has always been the most successful and most popular crop. The seven remaining hens lay pretty well too, about 4-5 eggs a day. Three of them are now four years old, and in Fall we’ll cull those and get four, maybe six chicks.

My home veg garden however is a disappointment. It is getting too shady to produce much except for lettuce. We may want to remove the two trees that are the main culprits, but I may also just pack up the full sun veggies and bring them to the Transition Wayland plot at the Community Gardens. Two big beds may be opening up there, with incredible soil (alluvial soil with worms the size of small snakes) and full sun (no shade at all). I drive to that neighborhood twice a week anyway to check on the bees, housed in an old field next to the Gardens. My only issue with the Community Garden plot is that I’d have to water with tap water, as there are no buildings and thus no rain water collection there. If I could somehow solve that issue, then the home garden could become a lettuce garden and a nectary for the nucs and splits, and all the other pollinators, as well as a mushroom yard, and a soil fertility operation…

Lots to think about in these last days of Summer.

DSC_3397  DSC_3408



It’s been hard in our neck of the woods. We had 0.69 inches of rain this month. Not even one inch. The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a “Severe Drought Warning” for my county. Thunderstorm after thunderstorm has  evaporated, glanced off or split around our area. The Wundermap shows their tragic course all too well: other places get the rain, here we get a drop or two, some damaging, desiccating wind, but no relief. I’m looking at the map now: a massive system is bringing rain in the west, but it will pass just south of us, again.

Our town has instigated a partial watering ban (irrigate between 7 pm and 7 am, every other day), which I suspect will soon become a full ban.  The farm three miles from us, from which we get our CSA box, is postponing further plantings until their irrigation ponds and brooks have been replenished. That means we may not get fall produce from them.


My gardens, annual and perennial, are hanging on by their fingernails – it sometimes literally looks like that, with the leaves on trees and bushes standing up, showing their paler undersides, like hands reaching up into the sky, begging for a drop (they’re actually orienting their leaves for minimal evaporation and solar exposure). Even though I water every other day, all are thoroughly stuck in a vegetative state. Haricots verts have been harvested (2 lbs of beans smaller than I usually harvest them, but they failed to grow bigger) and this year there will probably not be a second harvest, which is usually more abundant, because they’re not making new flowers. The tomatoes plants which had grown so many large, plump fruits are not ripening them at all. We’ve been stuck at code green for weeks now and the tomatoes are starting to take on that bloodless, necrotic look. The equally thirsty critters, chipmunks and squirrels mostly, have been eating away at the sour fruits. Few flowers appear and they die off without setting fruit, and it’s not for lack of pollination as I shake them all the time, and the bumblebees have been abundant.

The gardener too suffers. I’ve never been good in the heat, and these 95F-100F (in the shade!) days are brutal. I hand water every other day, in the early morning or later evening and it’s about all I can do. And so my poor (or should I say, lucky?) bees have had to do without my constant interference. They beard or “hang out on the porch,” as we say, by the thousands, even at night to relieve the temperature inside the hive. The nectar flow seems to have slowed down considerably.

The chickens are doing quite well, finding shade and clean water. But for the broody one, who insists on sitting on a pile of straw in the hot nest box all day. Her comb isn’t full and dark like the other ones. During the hottest time of day I open the nest box and pour spoonfuls of cool water into her panting beak.  I hope she stops being broody soon. Egg production is down somewhat.

Rain dance, anyone?

DSC_1824_cutoutTurns out Dan of Warm Colors Apiaries sent me two Russian queens, so I didn’t have to choose between replacing Laura (Hive 4) and making another split (Hive 7-to-be). I could do both!

I went into 4 and found Laura where she usually hangs out, in the top box. DH stood at a safe distance and played with his new lens. It’s amazing. Here I am pointing to the queen. Zooming in, you can easily spot her.









I checked all the frames looking for eggs (very few), another queen (it’s not uncommon for there to be two queens in one colony), and queen cells, of which there were many, full of fat larvae. A sure sign that the bees too didn’t like Laura much. I tore out the queen cells because this colony hasn’t had a laying queen for too long already, picked up Laura, said sorry, and pinched off her head.

I also made a split with five frames of brood, honey, pollen and bees from hives 2 and 3. The weather was chilly (only 65F) and threatening rain, and the bees were all home and not liking it. Still I forged on, since these new queens were being held over with a couple of attendants, a small sponge of water and a dab of honey in a paper bag in my basement.

The splits come to my home bee yard, where I can keep a closer eye on them and baby them a bit more than the big colonies. The lid of the nuc box in which I move bees has warped pretty badly, and despite extra strapping and screws, it turned out that there was plenty of bee space between box and lid. As I was driving (bee jacket and gloves on, but hood down) I looked behind me and saw that twenty bees had escaped and more were following. This is no reason for alarm as long as you keep moving so the bees stick to the rear window. When we pick up packages, there are always stray bees, though perhaps not… thirty of them. Unfortunately I found myself situated behind the oldest lady in the oldest car in the state of Massachusetts, and she paid homage to every red light on the way. Yikes! The woman who was driving behind me certainly was alarmed. She even honked to alert me and I gave her a white gloved thumbs-up. Luckily it’s not too far, and I got home without incident. I went in and squished the ants in the other half of the double nuc, then hived the split.

The next day I queened them: Katharina in Hive 4 and Anna in Hive 7. I taped over the sugar plug of their cages to give them extra time to get accepted, but the bees’ initial reactions looked good. Today I went in again to take the tapes off. The bees will eat through the sugar in a day or two and release their new queens. I will check for eggs in a week or so.

Not to count my chickens before they’ve hatched, but here’s the queen count anyway: three Italians, three Russians, one Sam Comfort Mutt.