Blogging About My Adventures as a New Backyard Beekeeper

New Year, New Season, New Post! March 1, 2012

Filed under: beehive,Beekeeping,Honey,Queen Bee — beekeepingbug @ 7:13 pm
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Hello All!

So…I know, it’s been a while. Like, 7 months, a while. Life got in the way, etc etc. Also, there wasn’t anything too terribly exciting going on with the bees, just getting them ready for winter. But that’s enough about that, let’s get on with filling in the last 7 months!

Last we left off we had just completed our first honey harvest! Oh how sweet it was! After the July honey harvest, we left the bees more to themselves. We let them keep the rest of the honey as we made our inevitable descent into Autumn (I’m not a fan, can you tell?). We treated our bees to prevent Nosema…Imagine thousands of bees with dysentery, stuck inside a small hive with nowhere to fly. It’s pretty nasty, and can be a bee-killer as it will weaken the hive over the winter often to the point that the hive can no longer support itself and dies out.

Winter Dead Outs. In recent winters, it has become more and more a beekeepers worst nightmare. There’s no one cause for a hive to not make it through the winter. Aside from all the many many types of pests and diseases that can weaken a colony, like Nosema, there are several other factors. Not prepping the hive with proper ventilation in time for winter can cause moisture build-up on the inside cover of the hive. Cold, wet bees are not happy or healthy bees and do not last long. Ventilation is key. The next two issues are actually brought on mostly by the extremely mild winter we’ve had here in Boston. It has been lovely for us humans, but has wrecked havoc on the bees’ poor internal seasonal clock.

Both hives tried to swarm in September. That would have been a suicide mission for them, but thankfully we managed to avoid it with some good advice and lots of luck. When a hive swarms, it takes 1/2 to 2/3 of the mature, working bees as well as the queen, and flies off to a new place to make a new hive. The swarm takes much of the honey stores, and bee bodies necessary to keep a hive warm in the winter months. Not enough bees means they can’t cluster for warmth. That means death. There were many beekeepers in our area who unfortunately were unable to prevent these very late-season suicide missions. These swarms most often are in May/June and give both the swarm and the hive left behind time to build up population and stores before winter. Warm fall=above average number of swarms.

Next problem with mild winters: Starvation. Each of our hives went into the fall with 80 pounds of honey! Generally, a queen stops laying eggs in Oct/Nov and the bees cluster (and consume little food) until Feb/March when the queen resumes laying. Normally, 80 pounds would be considered conservative for winter honey stores around Boston, but this winter wasn’t normal. We believe our queen laid eggs well into December (if she even stopped then!) and has definitely started laying as of early-mid February. In addition, with 60% of this winter having daily temperatures over 45 degrees, that was 60% more time our bees were NOT in cluster, consuming less food. They were up and flying around, and we saw them flying around quite often in December, January, and February. They were out and about just two days ago! So, far more activity means more consumption. We started feeding our bees (homemade fondant) 3 weeks ago because they would have starved otherwise. For other beekeepers in the area who were less conservative with honey stores, they’ve had starvation problems.

Putting all this death and gloom aside, our bees are still alive (knock on wood)! We’ve seen quite a bit of them, and they appear to be happy and healthy. They continue to eat the fondant at a good pace, which means the queen may already be laying eggs. Since our hives appear to be very strong (we’ll have a better idea when we get to inspect the hives in April), we plan on splitting them in the Spring. As they will likely try and swarm come Springtime, we are doing a sort of ‘controlled’ swarm for them, by taking the queen and some of the bees and putting them into a new hive. They feel less crowded and don’t need to swarm, and we get more (free) hives! If all goes well, we will have four hives this year! Honey honey honey!!

So now the preparation has begun again. We ordered more woodenware for the two new hives and must assemble and paint. I won’t make you sit through that boring process, so instead, here are some lovely pictures I took last August/September!






Sweet Rewards July 22, 2011

Filed under: Bee Package,beehive,Beekeeping,Honey — beekeepingbug @ 3:01 pm

Hello Everyone!

It’s been quite some time since I last posted, but that is because there has not been much to report. Mine and my mother’s hives have been what honey bees do best–be busy and make honey. We have been extremely lucky thus far. We have heard so many horror stories of first year hives succumbing to the (almost) inevitable swarming in the Spring, not long after establishment. Many first year hives this year have also been plagued with queen issues–the queen that came with the original package was superceded, which interrupts the brood process by several weeks.

Somehow, with a bit of luck, our hives have avoided such issues (knock on wood) and have been busy making babies and honey. There is constantly a swarm of new bees taking orientation flights and older bees zipping in and out with goods from the field.

Now, for the good part. My mother and I were consistantly told not to expect honey from our first year hives. First year hives are several months behind in brood and honey production than over-wintered hives and generally make just enough honey to make it through their first winter. However, again by sheer luck, our hives have produced enough honey that we get to take some spoils from our new hobby 🙂

Three weeks ago, the previous hive inspection we performed, my mother and I were a bit overwhelmed by all the burr-comb and honey and sticky mess in our hives. We took too long cleaning house and the bees got agitated so we couldn’t finish. So, we invited our fantastic bee teacher over to show us some tips and tricks and offer insight as to how our hives are doing. As soon as we pried the top off of my hive this week, he said my hive was honey-bound, had no room, and we needed to remove some honey ASAP. Well, that was just music to my ears! I haven’t stopped smiling since! We removed 5 frames (about 20LBS) from my hive. We could have taken more, but not surprisingly, the bees got quite agitated.

We didn’t have time to go into my mother’s hive that night, but with the great tips and tricks our teacher showed us, my mother had enough confidence to inspect her hive solo (my father supervised from the safety of the window, so she wasn’t completely alone with the agitated bees!) She managed to get two bulging frames of honey, which add about 10 LBS to our total. Right now, we are waiting for the chance to extract and bottle the honey, which will hopefully take place next week!

I will most definitely take pictures of the extraction and bottling process, so look out for that!

Until then,



Busy as Bees June 19, 2011

Filed under: apiary,beehive,Beekeeping,Honey — beekeepingbug @ 6:16 pm

Hello all!

It’s been quite a while since my last post, and I have a few more pictures to share. Since my last post, my mother and I have done several more inspections. We generally do them once a week, weather depending, since we can’t open the hive if it is raining or too cold.

Things are going very well so far with the bees! Every inspection has been successful in its own way, and we have learned more with every visit to the hive. Currently, our hives now have 4 boxes. 3 are for brood and the bees personal honey stores. Anything past the third brood box is ‘extra’ and can be harvested by the beekeeper as long as the bees will have enough for winter. Unfortunately, first year hives generally do not produce enough honey for the beekeeper to share in the spoils! Alas, we are still having a lot of fun learning about our girls!

In addition to now having 4 boxes on each hive, we have removed the entrance reducers entirely and will be taking the feeders off this week. Also, the ‘weak’ hive that we were worried about because its progress was much slower than the other is now flourishing and holding its own!

As always, I will try to get more pictures, but we’ve discovered it’s not easy trying to get them while inspecting a hive!

Until next time,




First Inspection: Success! May 10, 2011

Filed under: bee smoker,beehive,Beekeeping,fear of bees,Honey,Queen Bee — beekeepingbug @ 8:50 pm

So Sunday was another big day in our young beekeeping careers! My mother and I did our first full inspection of the hive. We had to wait almost 2 weeks since we installed the bees to do this, which was killer! After installing the bees, you must do absolutely everything in your power not to disturb the bees for the first week, or they may kill the queen. The worker bees will likely blame any disturbance on the queen that they are only just getting acquainted to and kill her. Not the brightest thing to do, but it happens.

So, we already knew before the inspection that the queens had been released, thanks to our quick peak in the hive the previous Sunday. Our mission for the first inspection was to establish whether or not the queen was alive and laying eggs by looking for new eggs and capped brood (larvae). Now, in our beekeeping class, our teacher had urged us not to look too hard for the queen because she is hard to spot and it can be a waste of time. As long as you see eggs, she’s been around recently. Thankfully for my mother and I, we were lucky enough to see the queen in both hives! We were so lucky. In addition to seeing the queens, both hives are doing very well. For equipment, we are using 8-frame medium supers, and 7 to 8 frames had drawn out comb in each hive. Drawing out comb on foundation is essential because the hexagonal comb is where bees store food (honey), nectar, pollen, and grow young bees. Because all the comb was drawn out, we got to add a second super, doubling the size of the hive.

Since the beginning, my hive has clearly been bigger (in terms of bee population) than my mother’s. With more bees constantly in and out, my hive seemed far more productive. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find that although my hive had more bees, my mother’s hive had drawn out just as much comb and was happily buzzing along. Clearly, the bees in my hive are a little lazy like me 🙂

It was amazing to look at the inside of a working hive. While I am somewhat afraid of bees and get very uncomfortable when they buzz near my head, I completely forgot to be afraid while I was looking at the frames in my hive. It wasn’t until I was on smoker-duty, while my mother looked at her hive, that I remembered bees make me uncomfortable. I couldn’t believe how at ease I was when I was inspecting my hive.

So, all in all, it was a very successful trip into the hives. We managed to light the smoker (essential for calming the bees), see the queens, add on a super to each hive, and see the inner workings of our hives. I also took a big step in getting over my fear of bees.

Next time I do an inspection, I promise to take pictures of the inside of our hives.