Monthly Archives: March 2009

Check out my equipment

So, bees have stingers.  They are pheromone driven and one sting always leads to many more as the pheromones radiate through the hive.  With proper equipment, a beekeeper can minimize the disturbance to the hive which is good for both man and bees!  I wear a full length suit most times that I get in the hive.  If you react badly to bee stings, it would be important to wear the suit at all times when working the bees (though it is no guarantee…see below).

A beekeeper’s suit is typically white (dark colors, wool and some leathers make bees defensive…read: sting).  There are several types of veils to protect the beekeeper’s face but in general, they provide a see-through barrier around the entire head of the beekeeper.  An interesting note…sometimes bees get inside the suit (sometimes I don’t zip up tight I guess).  When they are inside the veil, it is rarely a problem.  The bees see “outside” and aim to get there.  They rarely sting in those cases.  Now, down inside the suit is a completely different story.  Anyhow, the arms and legs of the suit are elasticized to keep bees from getting into the suit.  Sometimes I wear boots to cover my ankles and sometimes I don’t.  A hot hive (i.e. overly defensive hive…needs to be re-queened) finds exposed ankles very quickly…trust me!  Typically, though, it’s not an issue for me.  Finally, I often wear long gloves with deerskin “hands” and canvas uppers to cover my forearms.  You might think all of this equipment would guarantee that a properly attired beekeeper would be sting-free.  I am here to tell you that I have been stung more than once through the leather gloves (though they certainly help).

In addition to a good suit, I also carry two hive tools.  Each tool has its advantages and disadvantages so I just carry both and use them as needed.  The red tool has a sharp edge that is good to pry hive parts apart.  Propolis, the gummy substance that bees make to seal cracks, is everywhere in a hive and must be pried apart smoothly (i.e. no jerky, sudden movements, jarring, etc).  The sharp edge of the red tool is perfect for that work.  The silver tool, you’ll notice has a curved hook on one end.  It also has a blade similar to the red tool, but it’s not sharp enough for some reason…anyhow, the hooked tool is ideal for lifting individual frames from the hive.  The are “glued” to the hive as well and cannot be easily removed without prying.  By latching the hook under the edge of the frames, they can be pried up easily for inspection.  By using these tools, I can minimize jarring blows and sudden movements which put bees on alert.  I tend to go through hive tools like I change underwear though…I need a new one about every month.  It’s easy to set them down or otherwise misplace them when your mind is on the frame full of bees in your hands.  Save yourself the trouble and order a couple of each tool while you are at it.

Most people think of billows of smoke when they think of beekeeping.  Smokers are used to blow cool smoke into the hive to allegedly calm the bees.  When I started beekeeping, I used smoke like any beekeeper.  But, in time, I noticed that the bees would flee from the smoke but I never felt like they were calmed.  Instead, they gorge on honey (less for me), I end up smelling smokey, and they are ticked when the smoke disappears.  I find that if I am patient and methodical and light in my touch, I do not excite the bees and they do not sting excessively.  This is a somewhat religious topic among some beekeepers.  I’ll just say smnoke has no place in my beeyard.

Ok, so we have covered a bunch of stuff this week.  If you have an interest in beekeeping, now is the time to be getting ready for the honey flow.  If you have bees, they should be ramping up (or soon will be).  If you are getting bees, the time is near!  Honey season in WV is roughly tax day (April 15) until Independence day (July 4).  That’s when the golden magic happens!

Stuff inside the hive

So we talked about the three types of bees and how the queen regulates everything…but not many folks keep bees to study colony dynamics.  Honey is the main point for most people though there are tons of other hive products and benefits including pollination (and here and here ), wax for various products , pollen, royal jelly, and propolis (you can google those…tons of info!)

To understand how honey production works, we need to understand more about what goes down inside the hive.   The bees begin to collect pollen right now (in WV anyhow) when the maples start to bloom.  Did you know maple trees actually flower and bloom?  Well, they do and the bees count on maple pollen and nectar this time of year to stimulate the queen to ramp up egg production for the coming of the real “honey flow” in about a month or so.  Bees use pollen as their protein source which is especially important for the raising of new baby bees. 


Pollen comes in many colors from grayish green from the maples to bright yellows, reds and blues, depending on the source.  Bees bounce from flower to flower collecting pollen in pollen baskets on their back legs (thereby pollinating the flowers) until they have a full load.  I have seen bees barely make it back to the hive because they are so loaded with pollen.  They come in low and slow, but most make it…slow and steady!  So, when these females get back to the hive, other females remove the pollen, mix it with a bit of nectar, and pack it into some of the honey comb.


(I am pointing to pollen above)

As you have probably seen, hives are typically square boxes.  Bees, however, tend to work in circular patterns.  Imagine in the box  a basketball-sized spherical area where the queen typically lays all of the eggs.  In a similar manner,  around the brood nest the bees pack in pollen and outside of that they fill in the remaining space with honey stores.  So the picture you should have in your head is of a gobstopper where the center is full of baby bees.  Outside of that, the next layer is pollen followed by honey as the outside layer.

(there’s lots to see above…yellow is pollen, white is bee larva, shiny is raw honey/nectar, cardboard-brown is capped brood or bees in pupal stage)

So, we have pollen and brood covered.  Honey is what it is all about though.  Honey starts out as nectar from flower sources including weeds, trees, crops, flowers and everyhing in your garden including corn, squash, and tomatoes.  Bees collect nectar in a honey stomach (separate from their gut) using their 3 tongues to draw in the nectar from the base of the flower (usually).  Once they are full (after visiting 60 or so flowers), they return to the hive weighing up to 50% more than when they left.  Other females help them place the raw nectar into honey comb and begin the honey making progress.  Nectar is mostly water with sugars and other things when it leaves the flower source.  In order to convert nectar to honey, the bees add enzymes to convert sucrose in the nectar to glucose and fructose.  They also reduce the moisture content of nectar from up to 80% down to less that 18%.  During the honey flow, many bees will stand at the hive entrance and fan their wings.  Other bees throughout the hive also fan.  The air flow over the raw honey causes the moisture to evaporate from the nectar.  Once the moisture content is low enough, worker bees cap the honey which completes the ripening of the honey.

(capped honey)

Properly collected honey (i.e. honey collected after it has been capped by the bees), if stored properly (covered in a moisture-proof container) will last indefinitely.  I always test my honey with a refractometer to make sure the moisture is low enough to prevent fermentation.  Fermentation from excessive moisture is what ruins honey.  Some folks think that crystallized honey is bad honey.  In fact, all honey will crystallize. The rate of crystallization depends on the nectar source but does not make it bad.  Crystallized honey simply can be placed in a pan of very  water for 15 or so minutes and it will de-crystallize.

Ok, so there is a lot of stuff that goes into making honey.  If done properly, the beekeeper can harvest 50-100 pounds of honey from a hive (in WV anyhow) and still leave enough honey for the bees to eat through the winter.  I keep honey supers on my hives from tax day until the end of July.  There is another honey flow in the fall which I let the bees keep to boost their winter stores.  Summer is where it is at for the bees though!  And they rock it!

From the Whens-day archives

I was very involved in boy scounts when I was a teenager.  Someday I’ll post more on that as there are many interesting stores to tell.  Anyhow, Boy Scouts has a sub group in it called Order of the Arrow.  OA, as it is called, is based around Native American lore and has all sorts of traditions related to that.  Typically, OA is comprised of the older, more involved scouts so it is a pretty neat time.  One aspect that many OA “lodges” (regional groups) have is a Native American dance team (we used to call it an Indian dance team…but that was a while ago).  My brother and I both were members of such a team for the Langundowi Lodge in PA.  I was a dancer and he was a drummer.

We practiced weekly the authentic “fancy dance”  dances that modern plains and western Native Americans might dance now.  All of our costumes were hand made so each member had a direct hand in researching and building the dance outfit.

We travelled all over the place putting on shows for groups of all sorts.  We danced in parades and in malls and for nursing homes and cub scouts.  It was a lot of fun and we put on a loud and rowdy looking show as we spun and jumped and rattled the dozen or so cowbells around our legs.  While dancing, I am sure I was in the best cardiovascular shape that I have ever been in.  Anyhow, these pictures are from some of the dances in which I participated.  Check out my mad rhythm!

Long live the queen!

In a hive, there is one and only one queen. She runs the colony and is the mother to all the bees (~60,000 per hive at peak) in the hive. A queen is the only sexually mature female in a colony (note the big booty in the pic…click to blow it up).  The bulk of a colony is comprised of sexually immature females which account for about 90% of the population.  The female worker bees, as they are called, protect the hive (they have the stingers and know how to use them), gather all of the nectar and pollen, raise all of the brood (baby bees) and generally clean up around the place (No, bees and humans are not alike).

Click the pic to enlarge.  The queen is obvious when enlarged

Aside from the females, about 10% of the hive is comprised of male drone bees.  Males are bigger in stature than females and have large eyes with which to see the queen.  Their only job is to mate with a virgin queen, should the need arise.  The big eyes come in handy because they must mount and mate with the queen in mid-flight.  More about that in a moment…but don’t think that a drones life is all that hot though.  In mid-fall, all of the drones are turned out to starve to death.  If they try to come back, the workers pull off their wings (and if necessary, their legs) and throw them out.  Males, you see, serve no purpose in the winter and only eat precious food (no, bees are nothing like humans…quit thinking that!)

So, how is a queen “made”?  A female larva is turned into a queen by getting the proper amount of royal jelly at the proper time in its larval stage. Basically, she gets a little extra protein when she is a worm and all the rest is downhill. Anyhow, a colony can sense the absence of a queen (i.e. she died or was killed), or a failing queen (too old, sick) and will prepare several new queens by giving extra royal jelly to several larva that they deem as appropriate. Typically the first hatched queen (21 days after the egg was laid) of those prepared by the colony will navigate the colony and sting to death any unhatched queens and the original queen that the colony deemed as not worthy.

So, the hive has one queen and she must be mated to properly do her work, that is, laying 1000-2000 eggs per day, every day except during the winter when she slows down. She mates with 10-20 male drones in the first week or so after she hatches. She’s easy I guess, as she goes out on the town and will mate with any males who can catch her…yup, they mate mid-flight. Once the male is..uh…done, he falls off of the queen leaving his…uh…equipment attached to the queen. Without his equipment, the male plummets to his death (I mean, seriously, why go on without it?  No. bees are nothing like humans..).  So, to be clear, the queen mates with 10-20 males midflight during the first week or so of her life. She never mates again so must store every bit of sperm that she will use to fertilize eggs for the rest of her life. So, here’s a riddle…which bees in the hive have brothers and sisters and a mother but no father? It’s not the white trash bees…give up? The male drones. Drones are created by the queen when she lays an unfertilized egg. It’s not by accident that she fertilizes or doesn’t fertilize eggs. She regulates the hive to ensure that there are the correct number of male drones and female worker bees as the season demands.

So, all this information is to tell you that the queen is the life of the hive. Without her, the hive will die if a new queen cannot be made. Beekeepers are very careful to select good queens to ensure their hygenic tendencies, their temperament, their resistance to disease and in general, how they roll. I always check my hives to find a queen or evidence of a queen (i.e. eggs…they only stay eggs for 3 days).

The other girls in my life

The weather this weekend was incredible so I was able to survey the bees…the other girls in my life. I went into the winter with 10 good hives. I made sure each had around 50 pounds of honey in their top chamber (I run 2 deep chambers for the brood area…where the bees “live”) to get them through the winter. I did my varroa mite treatments (which this year, consisted of 1 treatment of apiguard as suggested by the WV Department of Agriculture). Anyhow, I checked them this weekend and found one completely dead and one very weak.

I have a series of funny stories regarding the hive that ultimately died. This hive was at a location in the city. It was started from a package (i.e. a box of bees that comes in the mail…the hardest way to start a hive I think) and was progressing along nicely. The landowner called me one day and said that the hive was destroyed. I went to investigate and found evidence that a bear had destroyed it (a big paw print in the wax gave him away). Anyhow, I collected the bees that remained (including the queen!) and took them to my house. The queen was damaged though so I combined them with a small swarm I collected last summer and hoped they would do well. A few weeks later, we got 75 mile-per-hour winds which blew a rain barrel full of water into the hive which knocked it over. Still, the bees mostly survived and the queen was still laying eggs (the life of the hive of course), though she wasn’t right. Once again, I added some bees and a new queen and tried again. This winter, another wild wind storm came up and blew the hive over and across my yard! I will not be putting more bees in that hive! So, I count that hive as one of the 10 I started with, but it is hard to be upset about their demise!

So, anyhow, I got into the hives and the remaining hives are very strong so I anticipate a good year if the weather plays along. I am going to post a bit more this week with some videos and pictures related to beekeeping. Holler if there is anything in particular you want to know about bees or beekeeping and I will try to show some pictures or video to answer.


My new friend over at Such Lovely Freckles gave me an award.  Part of the award is to list 7 things that I love.  For me, that part is easy!

1.  I love caramel cream candies…you know, the white sugar in the middle surrounded by caramel.  My aunt and uncle used to keep those around and my brother and I would eat every last one they had out.  As an adult, I am only slightly more restrained around caramel creams

2.  I love daffodils.  Spring finally feels like it is “here” when I see the first daffodil blooms.  I hate winter with a passion so spring is such a delight!  It means bees and garden and being outside all day.

3.  I love staying up too late doing nothing.  I get sort of dreamy at night.  I stop analyzing my day and just think of life as it should be or could be.

4.  I love big mouthed women…explanation here .  I love all sorts of music and variety is a must! 

5.  I love keeping bees – I sort of got into beekeeping by accident but I am absolutely hooked on it now.  It is primitive and simple and old fashioned and appeals to me for all of those reasons and more.

6.  I love the ocean.  We go to the beach for vacation.  “If it ain’t the beach, it ain’t vacation”  We go as often as we can and have been to several beaches but our favorites are in NC and GA (where we go is a secret since they are still uncrowded)

7.  I love meeting new friends in blogspace.  I have met a lot of great and fun people and have enjoyed…truly enjoyed…getting to know several much better.  I never dreamed how important blog reading and writing has become to my getting through the dreaded winter blahs!

Over at Such Lovely Freckles:, she mentioned that she gave me the award, “because he’s a guy, and I never gave an award to a guy. Plus I like his tomato picture. I love tomatoes.” Just for you…here is a tomato picture! Thanks for the award!

Behold...the tomato!

Urban Assault Salad

Yeah, well, the title is a bit misleading.  This salad never hurt anyone and does not only exist in the city.  In fact, it is the teddy-bear of salads and is the international salad of love.  Anyhow, the salad is amazing…it is powerful stuff and a title like “Plain old Salad” or “Salad to Make your Day” just didn’t seem to get it.  So, that leaves me with “Urban Assault Salad”.


We love to make and eat this salad so I thought I would share.  You have probably come across 7-layer salad before and this is our version of it.  I hope you enjoy!

7 Layer Salad

1 head shredded lettuce (iceberg if you must…otherwise something better)

1 bunch/pkg fresh spinach – broken

4 hard boiled eggs – chopped

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 pkg uncooked peas – thawed (or not 🙂 )

1 bunch green onions – chopped

1/2 lb bacon cooked and crumbled (We always cook too much bacon so I can “snack” as we prepare the stuff.  I recommend it!)

Layer ingredients as listed…this makes a lot so have a good sized bowl ready



1 cup mayonaise

1/2 pkg Hidden Valley Ranch mix

1/2 cup sour cream

Spread dressing on top of salad and top with a sprinkling of cheese and bacon


Ok, I know…this is just a salad…but somewhere in the construction of this salad is a mystical combination that lets you see into other worlds, to ride on the waves of time and space, to dance among the stars….well…it really rocks anyhow!  

Holler if you’ve ever (or never) had this stuff or if you have a variation.  I’d love to hear other folks’ experiences in dream land.  Of course, as always, please feel free to just say “hi” too!

In the 70s

Today is Way-back Whens-day so it’s time to look back through the old archives.  I found a number of pictures of me as a baby…

The first picture of me!

Time to go home!

Nap time!

Supper time!

The Family – phase 1!

Grandpa and me – back when everyone wore ties?

My First Birthday!

It’s so strange to see my parents and grandparents as…well…young people.  The thing that scares me is that someday my kids will have the same feeling!  My poor wife, she is aging!  All the years with me are taking their toll…joking…I am just joking!

I nailed it!

My foot that it…but I am getting ahead of myself.  You may recall that I have been putting insulation in my crawlspace and my attic. I finished that and have moved on to the next project.  Since none of our house is insulated, I decided to just pick a room to gut, insulate and remodel.  We have a goofy little craft room off of the family room and it seemed like a good place to hone my skills.  It is fairly small and seemed like an easy room to start.  So we hauled several hundered books out of the room and cleared the floor.

My therapist has suggested I use imagery and meditation to ease my woes and destress.  Smashing the plaster celing out with a hammer seemed much more my style though.  So I committed to destroying this room.  Who says men can’t commit?

I smashed every bit of plaster out of the ceilings.  I started pulling the wanes coating off the walls and that’s when things got interesting.  The room is 2/3 under ground and water has, apparently, been seeping into that room since it was constructed in 1939.  There was 2 inches of cement (I guess) over the cement block walls (and under the wanes coating) that crumbled from the water.  Actually, the half of the cement that was wet crumbled…the remainder that was dry is as solid as a rock.  Of course, I will need to chisel the remaining cement off of the walls to make it smooth enough to insulate and re-cover.  Besides having to remove the cement, I also need to fix the seepage so we will have to dig around the back corner of the house to install French drains.  It seems like this was supposed to be a simple room on which to start…hmmmm.

We looked at the windows and found that there are no lintels either so I’ll need to jack the floor above and install new lintels in the lower windows to prevent sagging.  Since the two windows in that room are lintel-less, I am sure that the door and 3 windows in the family room suffer the same problem.  That room is next.  Anyhow, it seems like this was supposed to be a simple room on which to start…hmmmm.

I finally stopped crying and decided to start cleaning up the mess I made in the demolition.  You may remember, though, that I seem to have an issue with my feet which proved true again.  I stepped on a nail in the process.  My tetanus is up to date from when I got a rusty nail in my head when Abigail was born (unrelated).  Anyhow, the problem this time is that the nail not only entered my foot, but also broke off.  It seems like this was supposed to be a simple room on which to start…ARGGGGHHHH!.