Out Among the Bees

The weekend before last we got our first package of bees. We chose to go with Carniolans our first go because they are said to be more docile. The queen package didn’t have candy in it, just a cork so we chose to just leave her in the cage for several days to make sure the workers would accept her. On Tuesday I removed the cork and released the queen. She scurried out quickly and disappeared. I closed up the hive and let them do their thing.

Yesterday we decided it was time to check on them again. We wanted to check their progress and make sure the queen was accepted and that she was laying eggs. The Carniolans are indeed very docile. They didn’t mind us at all, however, we made sure not to be too disruptive and to move slowly, deliberately and treat them with respect – no smashed bees here.

Gap between frames. The frames were all pushed together when I last was in the hive.

There was a tiny amount of brace comb, which we easily removed. I was dismayed to find some of our frames had been moved apart from the rest opening us up to a whole mess of problems with burr comb. When I released the queen I had made sure that all the frames were against each other tightly. I have my suspicions as to what happened.

The queen was very easy to find. She’s nearly black and was marked with a white dot. We checked all the frames and were happy to see a bit of capped honey, nectar and pollen stores along with eggs!

 The green arrow is pointing to a cell filled with nectar. The red arrow is pointing to an egg (they look like miniature grains of rice) and the blue arrow is pointing at pollen. The photo isn’t the best but you should be able to click on it to enlarge it.

We’ll check next week sometime to see what kind of brood we’ve got.

Dogs & Bees – No Bueno

At first we thought Squeek had rubbed her muzzle raw on the fence while barking viciously at the dogs the next door. Then it dawned on me that she got stung by a bee while we were in the garden and this must have been where it happened. She had pulled the stinger out before we could check her out so at the time it wasn’t clear where it had occurred. This photo was taken last weekend and it’s still looking pretty bad, though it’s not as swollen now. Next time I’ll need to remember to give her some benedryl. Poor pup.

Monday’s Guests – On Purchasing Honey

We’ve got our very first guest post for the New Year! Today’s post comes from Gary Sieling of Making Beehives.


As far back as I can remember, my father has kept bees. As children we each had our own beehive and we helped him extract the honey. I have fond memories of the fragrance of melted beeswax mixed with the golden, sweet honey. He still keeps bees, and until recently, I never purchased honey from a store, and that only for this piece.

A friend bought ten pounds of Dad’s honey and remarked that he now only needs half as much honey as before, as this honey has a much richer flavor than what he bought before. Honey sold commercially is graded by the USDA on attributes like clarity, color, and flavor, but there is a wide variance in beekeeper’s field methods. USDA guidelines separate products between consumer and industrial uses. The grocery shopper is left to consider labels chosen by wholesalers and individual apiaries from a variety of geographical origins, floral sources, and treatment
and feeding options.

Bees collect nectar from flowers or sugar syrups, which they partially digest and store in small wax compartments. Flowers local to the apiary and in season when the honey was made determine honey color, taste, and flavor. For me, part of the charm is that each bottle is a little different. There are certainly companies that try to give their honey a uniform flavor, but it goes against the grain of the product.

Beekeepers often feed the bees a sugar syrup in the fall to build up the hive’s store of food, if they are concerned about the hive’s survival. Some beekeepers have been accused of doing this to create saleable honey, or mixing honey and sugar syrup.

Many beekeepers treat bees for parasites such as varroa mites, which suck vital fluids from a bee’s body. Commercial miticides must be applied with care to prevent honey contamination. A growing trend among beekeepers is treatment free beekeeping, which advocates mechanical protections for bees, rather than chemical, with the idea that over-treatment leads to resistance and food contamination.

Large commercial packers flash heat honey, then filter it to remove every particle of wax and pollen. This leaves a crystal clear product with longer shelf life but volatile flavors are lost. Smaller producers warm honey just so it flows, then strain it to remove wax particles. The result may be clear or cloudy, but has much more flavor. This honey may crystalize more easily, but this is easily reversed by gently warming it in a double boiler until the sugar crystals melt.

Field methods are controversial, and not always apparent from the honey labelling. If you buy straight from a beekeeper (or find a bottle with an apiary’s number), you can ask them how their bees are treated, whether the honey is from flowers or sugar fed, and whether the honey is even from your area.

Gary Sieling is a partner at Garreson Publishing, who make woodworking books for beekeepers. You can contact him at gary@garresonpublishing.com.

Could this be the Cause of Colony Collapse Disorder?

We have to give a hearty thank you to Tom Theobald, a Colorado beekeeper, who recently uncovered and exposed an EPA memo that could point to why bees are dying in such high numbers.

According to them memo, BayerCropScience is selling a seed treatment called clothianidin and it hasn’t done sufficient testing on the chemical to prove its safety for honeybees. It’s a systemic pesticide, meaning it’s absorbed into the plant, making all parts poisonous to insects that feed on it. It also makes me wonder what it does to us? It is mostly used on…you guessed it…corn. Actually 80% of corn seed is treated with it. When the corn tassels it produces a lot of pollen – pollen being a primary source of protein for bees. Beekeepers are seeing the biggest problems in their hives coinciding with the corn tasseling.

You can read more about this problem here.