Thursday, April 27, 2017

The grass is definitely NOT greener on my side...

it's most decidedly yellow!

A spring feast

It's taken five years of my youngest child "planting" dandelions, but I finally have a lawn that my neighbors probably hate and the bees love.

Grabbing a snack

Ever since we bought this house, I've been working on the gardens out front. When we moved in, the soil was hot, dry, and as hard as a rock. Nothing was growing. None of the shrubs were flowering. There were no bees, no pollinators, nothing. 

Here are some shrubs in an area that I haven't done any work on. (Yeah, I know, it's been 5 years, and I haven't done jack. Still deciding whether to try and save them or rip them out.)

Sad, sad, sad

Now here is a shrub on the other side of the front door that is in a spot where I've consistently been amending the soil for 5 years.  It used to look just like the shrubs above. This spring, though, it's glorious!

My pretty shrub

I've never seen honey bees on it before. In fact, I didn't think bees were overly fond of azaleas, rhododendron, and mountain laurel. My impression has always been that bees considered them the celery sticks of the nectar smorgasbord -- it's what they go for when nothing else is available. However, this shrub is humming with bees.

So many bees on this thing!

Yeah, I know honey from these shrubs is toxic, but it would take a lot of nectar to make honey that harm a human. So instead of worrying, I'm enjoying the buzz.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Last week, temps were in the 70's perfect for inspecting. Unfortunately, I was in Florida all week, so my first inspection of the season waited until today.

Before I left, I was seeing activity outside 7/8 hives. Then yesterday, which was a beautiful 85 F, there was much less activity than I would have expected. The magnolias are in full bloom, and even some dandelions are starting to pop out. But the bees. Where were all the bees? Concerned, I decided it was time for a hive inspection.

Celestia, Elsa, and Persephone were all doing extremely well (Note: Elsa & Persehone are my double-walled hives). They had brood on about half of their bars (7 for the nuc and 14-15 for the full-sized hives) and were making drone brood. The dandelions are just starting to open, so I'll go in next week and remove their leftover stores.

Bubblegum, one of the nucs, was doing fine with brood on about 4-5 bars (including some drone brood), but given the amount of activity I'd seen a couple weeks ago, I had sort of expected more.

Peach, another nuc, had a few bars of brood, but since I wasn't really expecting her to pull through, that was a good surprise. Elsa donated a bar of brood to help boost that nuc.

There wasn't any activity surrounding Buttercup, and in fact, I expected to find a dead-out. However, when I got to the front, she had 2 bars of eggs/larvae and a really tiny queen. Really tiny. Where and when did the bees make that queen? Last fall maybe? I should probably requeen/combine that hive, but I'm kind of curious to see what's going to happen.

Austeja, as expected, was a dead-out. There was evidence of dried out eggs and larvae, so it must have happened some time this spring. My bees usually don't start rearing brood until the swamp cabbage starts blooming, so my guess is that she died out sometime during March. 

You can see the Austeja's dead queen in there.

Hippolyte was more of a surprise. There was activity a couple of weeks ago, but when I looked in the hive today, all the bees were gone. There was a lot of old, dark comb, though. My guess is that they absconded. This sort of reinforces my resolve to be more aggressive about pulling old comb this year.

So 5/7 hives remaining isn't bad. In a way, I'm kind of glad to have the space for splits, and those two hives needed some repair work anyway. This is a good opportunity to do that.

What does stink, though, is that I have about 1.5 hives worth of capped syrup that didn't get eaten. One of my hives holds 32 bars -- so that's something like 48(!!!) bars of syrup. Crikey. What am I supposed to do with that??? My freezer is jam packed, but I don't want to waste all that syrup either.  I'm thinking of crushing & straining and storing it in jars. If I end up having to feed again this fall, the syrup should be immediately cappable.

So that's my spring report. Hope your bees survived winter, too!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Georges de Layens: Keeping Bees in Horizontal Hives

Just returned from a trip to Florida, and the plane ride to/from Orlando was the perfect opportunity to catch up on some bee-related reading that has been languoring by my bedside. Specifically, I was able to skim through my new copy of Georges de Layens' book Keeping Bees in Horizontal Hives. Actually, it would be more accurate to say my newly translated copy since the original was written by Layens, a French beekeeper and biologist in 1897. (The recently published version was translated by Mark Pettus and edited by Leo Sharashkin.)

Can order from:
I've been wanting to read this book for awhile since it was one of the works that inspired Lazutin's approach to beekeeping. 

To say that this book is an amazingly comprehensive work doesn't really do it justice. It is thoughtfully organized into 4 sections:
  1. An intro to beekeeping focused on bees, the colony and the hive
  2. A tutorial that takes beekeepers through the first three years of beekeeping
  3. Other hive systems
  4. General observations on beekeeping, eg., apiarity products, diseases, pests, nectar sources, etc.
Some of the information is irrelevant to the modern reader (such as the information on skeps and how to transfer bees to a Layens hive from a fixed comb hive). But to me, those bits seems like an interesting little window back through time.

There were also lots of interesting little tips that I found delightful -- like rubbing one's hands with a lemon to reduce the chances of being stung (something I look forward to testing). I especially liked the chapters on nectar sources and yields. 

Another fascinating aspect of the book were Layen's feeding recommendations. By today's standards, they seem so minimal. I don't know if it's because sugar was so much more expensive then, or if modern beekeepers are feeding too much. My guess is a little of both, but if we experience another terrible season this year, I'll certainly reconsider how much sugar I purchase.

Anyway, this book is available on Amazon or, and it is a wonderful resource for anyone looking to keep bees with minimal interference.