Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Gains and losses

While I was checking hives on Saturday, I suddenly noticed bearding on the back of one of our weak hives.   I was in the middle of inspecting a strong hive, so all I could do was keep an eye on them.  The beard grew and then the dancing started — clearly a swarm in progress.   I puffed smoke in their direction in the slim hope that they’d go back where they came from, but of course they didn’t.  However, they only moved about 20 feet away and then they settled on a pine branch about a foot off the ground.  (What a time for my phone to be up in the camper charging!)

Swarm captured
Swarm captured

I grabbed a NUC, dropped it off by the swarm and and ran to the shipping container as fast as my tired legs and boots would allow to get the spray bottle and bee brush.  I splashed some more Pro Health into the sugar water because bees like the smell even more than I do and hurried back to the swarm.    I had plenty of frames with drawn comb because I’d already reduced some of the hives down to one brood box, so I set up the NUC, sprayed some sugar water with Pro Health on the frames, gently brushed the bees from the branch and watched the workers crawl down into the frames.  The queen soon followed and then the bulk of the remaining bees followed her.  I slid the inner cover across and then went to get my phone, giving them time to settle in.   When I returned, there were still some bees flying around, so I just put a cover on and left them there until the end of the day.  Hubby suggested that I put a frame of brood in the NUC, and the next hive I inspected had plenty to spare, so that worked out too.

The hive next to the one on which they’d bearded turned out to be empty, so I think that’s where they came from.  There were only 3 frames of bees in there last check, but I couldn’t collapse them down to one brood box because it was too cold to remove frames that trip — that’s a disadvantage of stapling the bottom brood box to the bottom board.  There were quite a few small hive beetles in the frames, so that may be the reason they decided to go elsewhere.   There were no dead bees in the bottom of the hive or around the hive, so swarming seems to be a more likely than a dead out.

With temps in the low seventies, I was able to collapse all the other weak hives down to one brood box and make a couple of splits from the strongest hives.  I was soon surprised to see the sun disappearing below the tree line.  I had two hives to go, but with daylight fading and temperatures dropping I resorted to simply putting another brood box on the mean hive (yes, I’d left them to last) and trusting that the other hive still had plenty of space.    All in all, it was a productive work day and I just hope the splits survive the cooler temperatures this week.

The English hive is also no longer leaning — the bottom board had actually slipped off the stand, so I did have to tear it all the way down.   One of the video bloggers we follow puts a queen excluder above the first brood box with the rationale that the brood will hatch in time to free up cells for the queen to lay more eggs.  That wouldn’t work with my hive as the queen had most of the two deeps and two mediums full of brood!   That’s our top producing and gentlest hive.   If I’d had more time, I could have made two splits out of it instead of just one, but I only had one NUC with me up at the garden.

We hope we can make it back to the farm next weekend as the swarm risk remains for at least two hives.   Hubby has been sidelined with a muscle sprain, so we’ll have to see how he’s doing by Friday.   I may have to make another trip on my own.   It was a beautiful drive back, and the dog no longer gets car sick, so all in all it was a great weekend.


Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing

My favorite time of year.

Little evokes as much childlike joy in me as the sight of the first crocus or early daffodil.  I think it has a lot to do with the long winters of England and Germany those first 27 years of my life.  A daffodil pushing up through the snow and blooming bright yellow was always such a welcome sign.  I’m not sure that people in warmer climates can ever quite grasp just how long and dreary winters are in other regions!


Not only are daffodils blooming at the farm and in the city, the buckwheat at the farm is sprouting with its promise of nectar for the bees.   Of course, the blackberries are too, but I’ll forgive them for snagging my pants so long as they feed the bees.  I see many colors of pollen coming in right now, but the bees are all over the syrup buckets now that I’ve tipped them so the remaining syrup can drain out.   I guess that means nectar is still in short supply out there.

According to my phone, it’s only 58 degrees, but the bees are very active despite that.   Of course the hives in the sun are more active than those in the shade.   I plan to check for space and the likelihood of swarms this afternoon, but it’s not quite warm enough yet.   I’ve spent the morning staging equipment for inspections and possible splits and doing the tedious job of scraping propolis off frames and wood ware.   That’s not a job I relish, but it’s sunny and the sky is blue so I’d rather do that than sit inside.  (Unless of course I’m grabbing another cup of coffee and blogging.)

I’ll start the inspections with the hives that had the lowest numbers of bees first just to make sure they haven’t experienced a population explosion and need another brood box.  By the time I finish that, it should be warm enough to check frames on the hives that I suspect are running out of space.   We had to limit ourselves to putting an additional box on top of the English hive last trip because, although they were jam packed, temperatures were starting to fall and we didn’t have time to do anything else.   That hive is also no longer centered on the bottom board and the second box is tipped a little, which is making the rest of the hive look precarious.   I think I’m going to have to bite the bullet and re-stack the whole darn thing.  It’s tempting to start with that one, but it’s always been our strongest producer so it’s the most likely to need to be split.

It’s 60 degrees – time to head back outdoors,  enjoy life and keep myself busy until it’s warm enough to do what I really came here for!


Bees · Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

Cause for celebration!

New hive stands
New hive stands

While our spring results are not perfect, we are very happy to have only lost two hives this winter.    I thought we went into winter with over 20 hives, but when I updated the records yesterday morning, I found that we have 15 hives.   However, that makes the percentage we lost this winter even better — and our best year yet.   Even the two we lost probably would have made it through if we hadn’t had that incredibly long cold spell.  In fall, we long debated combining them with each other or with other hives as they were not strong, but they also weren’t quite that weak and they had honey.  We added candy boards in December and hoped for the best.   Neither hive even went into the candy boards.  There were actually some resources left in the frames, but the bees died clustered — about 3 cups of bees in each hive.    Sixteen degrees is just too cold and we are counting our blessings that the other hives are doing as well as they are.

With temperatures in the mid seventies on Saturday, many bees were out gathering pollen and every hive still had a good number of bees in the hive.   We even had to add a super to the English hive and the best other hives have 10 frames of bees.  A couple of hives only have three frames, but there was a variety of ages so the queen must be ramping up production.   Despite the sunshine and the warm temperature, the intermittent breeze had a chill to it so I didn’t pull any frames.  I counted frames of bees and tested the weight of the boxes.  It feels like some of the ladies have really been packing sugar into frames!   Hubby helped out on the last two hives and pulled some frames without a large number of bees on them and saw lots of wonderful bee bread, pollen, and nectar.

I was impatient (and over confident) in the morning and did a quick check of candy boards before suiting up.  Our generally worst tempered hive had no sugar left, so I decided to give them one of the candy boards from a dead-out.   The unappreciative little critters stung me right above my top lip, so I spent the rest of the weekend looking like I was trying to do that stupid duck-face thing!   Hopefully I’ll abide by “we live and we learn” in the future.   I almost look normal again today, which is good because I have to get a new ID made tomorrow.

New Wood Ware - New Colors
New Wood Ware – New Colors

While I was checking hives, hubby installed some more hive stands in the new location and then he painted all the new wood ware with paint from the reject shelf at Lowe’s.  I love the new colors!    I know some beekeepers prefer an all-white apiary, but bees orient on color.   That’s my excuse for our rainbow hives, and I’m sticking to it.   I know for sure that hubby would not pick magenta if he was the only one working the bees, but he does like making me happy!   It works out well for both of us as I’d rather have pretty bee hives than jewelry, and you can’t buy a diamond ring for $9.00!

It was so wonderful to spend a weekend at the farm, even with a mouse in the camper!   (That was my motivation to get up at 6:00 a.m.)   I love waking up to the quiet and a view of pine trees.  While we’ll make frequent trips back before then, I’m counting down the days until spring break and a whole week in paradise!

Beekeepers Associations and Groups · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Queen Bee

Getting ready for spring

Frames - February 2018
400 Frames waiting for foundation!

The weather hasn’t been conducive to trips to the bee yard the past two weekends, but that doesn’t mean we’re not thinking of our bees.    On days when the temperature in the garage has been above freezing, Hubby has been busy putting frames together in preparation for another year of growth in the apiary.   I’ll help with the foundation just as soon as I get a break from grading, but as soon as I finish one batch of essays, students write the next batch.  This will be the story of my life for the next couple of months, but I will go visit the bees next weekend!

Hubby has been reading a  book about rearing better queens and one of the suggestions is to include frames with starter strips as comb that the bees draw “freeform” apparently leads to bigger queens.    Old comb with all the cocoon remnants in cells can also negatively affect the size of queens — or the bees have to extend the queen cell out and float the egg into the larger area in a sea of royal jelly.   All in all, we’re going to try some new things this spring.    We’ve also been watching many videos on YouTube to get a variety of ideas.   One guy we really like is Ian from Steppler Farms in Ontario.   While he clearly has different weather conditions to us, his experiences are relevant most of the time.   We missed this month’s Mid-State Beekeeper meeting this month because of a conflict with work, but we also really look forward to getting to the next one and learning more from people in our area.   January’s presentation about fire-ants was enlightening and fascinating — and it will change the way we apply fire ant chemicals.

I’ve always noticed the first signs of spring, but now I notice them differently.   That red haze around some maple-trees — that now means pollen and nectar!   A dust of pollen on the car means bee food in addition to allergy flare-ups.  Bee-keeping does indeed change us.

Leveled embankment
Leveled embankment

Before beekeeping, I would have seen the newly leveled area along our driveway as prime land for daylilies and maybe a rose bush or two.   Now I have dreams of buckwheat and clover to provide early food for the bees.  Instead of having a greenhouse full of tomato seedlings, I currently have basil, rosemary and lavender growing.   These plants repel moths, mosquitoes, house-flies, and some beetles, so I plan to plant them around the new hive stands.  Of course, they are also nectar and pollen sources and the rosemary and lavender repel snakes.  That alone shows how much I’ve changed — protecting the hives has become more important than keeping snakes at bay.   Of course, we haven’t seen a rattlesnake in a while, so my priorities might well change with the next sighting!

I don’t know which of us is more impatient to get out of the city, but I doubt the dog will need any more encouragement than the two of us next weekend.   All the hives were active a couple of weeks ago, but we have no idea what’s going on inside them.   My new pollen feeder was popular, so hopefully the queens have been ramping up production and all those frames in the garage will disappear into the new boxes that await paint.  Spring is just about here and I can’t wait to get back to the bees!



Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Heater Bees

This is less a blog, and more a quick post to share an interesting article about the bees that keep a hive warm in winter.    As most of the country is in the middle of this long cold-spell, I’m sure that most of us who are beekeepers are concerned about our hives.   We placed candy boards on every hive before we returned to the city, and I hope they add a layer of insulation as well as food.  Still, I worry…..   and we won’t know how well each hive pulled through until it’s warm enough for bees to fly again.

There are some new-to-me facts in this article, such as why it’s not a bad thing when a queen leaves some cells empty when laying eggs.   Enjoy!

How Honey Bees Keep Their Hives Warm Given That They are Cold Blooded

City Life · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

A Mule for Christmas (and other distractions from grading).

During a job interview many years ago,  I was asked whether I’d rather be an art critic or an artist.  I’ve never figured out what that had to do with being a computer programmer, but I do finally know the answer — I want to be an artist — or at least be creative!   I only spent 90 minutes grading this morning before the urge to empty the compost pot became the most important thing in my life, and that led to seeing a bee flying, which led to visiting the bee yard, which led to taking pictures, which led me back to the computer and this blog!   To grade, one must be a critic, and I find it hard to “criticize” according the criteria on a rubric.  Yes, I agree that it’s a fair way to grade, and, yes, students knew what the expectations were for their oral exam, but the happy feelings that blue skies and sunshine evoke makes it hard to give a student a failing grade!   Never mind that my dominant learning style is hands-on activity, my second most dominant is visual, and my least dominant is listening — and here I sit with 17.5 hours of oral exams to listen to.   I should not have procrastinated, and I probably shouldn’t be blogging, but just like every other year I’ll get through it somehow.

Feeding pollen and sugar to bees
Feeding pollen and sugar to bees

It’s only 48 degrees out this morning, but the bees are foraging and we want them to have as much stored as possible going into the predicted 20 degree nights next week, so it wasn’t just procrastination that led me down to the bee yard.  Cold as it is, there were so many bees on the pollen feeder station that I couldn’t get to the trays and had to scatter the pollen-sugar mix where the bees can get to it but the dog can’t.   (Maggie climbed a stack of shipping pallets to get to a pollen tray yesterday — you’d think we didn’t feed her sometimes!)   I so enjoy standing there listening to the sound of happy bees, especially on a day as beautiful as today.   We are just so lucky to have this little piece of heaven to call our own.

Work boots

What does any of this have to do with a mule?   Not much, but our Christmas present to each other this year was a Mighty Mule gate opener.   Well, it was hubby’s Christmas to me, and my gift was to graciously concede that it is money well spent!    Even on a good day, having to get out of the car and walk across the gravel to unlock the gate becomes tedious.   If I’m wearing anything other than my trusty work boots, the likelihood of a twisted ankle increases with the height of the heel.   Rain makes the process even less fun.  Last week’s thunderstorm actually made it somewhat hilarious.   If we do end up moving here before retirement, we need to somehow be able to get out of the gate in all weather still looking presentable enough to show up at work.

It took hubby a while to install the gate opener, partly because of the instructions,  partly because of all the adjustments and settings, and partly because the dog and I were hibernating in the camper instead of helping for much of the time.   By the end of the day on Christmas Day, he had everything working, but then spent most of the next day trying to get it to work right!   The gate opens fine, and even closes after 30 seconds.  The problem was that it randomly re-opened.   That doesn’t offer much security and is likely to run the battery down.   I searched the Internet for answers on our way to the family dinner and found that many people have problems with the wand that detects when a car pulls up to the gate to leave.   Hubby spoke with tech support and tried many things, but the final solution was along the lines of Hotel California — guests who have the code can check in any time they like, but they can never leave!   The wand is going back for a refund and hubby will research other solutions.

Maggie - exhausted
Maggie – exhausted

Well, it’s time to listen to at least a couple more exams — 7 down, 30 to go!   It makes me want to curl up with the dog and just take a nap.




Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing · Supplemental Feeding

Looking back, looking forward

Christmas 2017
Christmas 2017

As I sat here last night knitting and watching a western that is older than I, it was impossible to not think back to doing the same thing throughout my teenage years.   True, instead of being dad’s channel-changer, we now have a remote and don’t have to take the two steps to the T.V.  We also had 9 channels, instead of the 3 we both grew up with.   And we got to choose what we watched — something that rarely happened when grown-ups were home and the one-and-only T.V. was in the living room.  Watching a wildlife episode of NOVA afterwards just reinforced the feeling of stepping back in time.   It’s a good feeling.

The deja-vu continues this morning as the fog and drizzle feel very English, although the pine trees do not.  My cousin and I have been reminiscing about our big family Christmases, and he has promised to send me pictures of my uncle in his apiary.   I never knew he kept bees.   I remember the mushroom cellar, wood working shop, the kitchen renovation that took years to complete (I think of him every time I look at our abundance of almost-finish projects!), the incredible garden, and the many other ever-changing interests that made him such an amazing person, but I don’t remember bees.  It’s nice to feel connected to him in one more way.

Talking of apiaries, our hives are all thriving.  I peeked in two of the small hives yesterday and both have a little sugar left on the candy boards.  I doubt the bigger hives have any, but we are less worried about their ability to provide for themselves.   The forecast is for temperatures in the high 60s until Christmas, so I’m debating putting one feeder bucket out and then refilling candy boards for the hives that have them.   I’ll try lifting the hives to assess how much honey they have left, but will only take lids off long enough to swap out candy boards.  I’ll also put a trial tray of pollen substitute and powdered sugar out.  The bees either flock to it or ignore it, so I’ll just dump one cup onto a tray that is protected from the rain.

Now that the great basement debate is over, we look forward to starting the foundation for our house in 2018.   Ideally we’d finish it and start framing, but I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment if we don’t get that far!   There are so very many things that impact what we can accomplish here, but we are overall very happy with our progress.   We hope to finish burning the wood piles over winter break, doing some tractor work on the deck and starting some raised beds that may or may not become hoop houses.   This year’s batch of magnolia seeds are germinating in the greenhouse in the city and I’ll have a new round of lavender, rosemary, and shrub cuttings to plant by spring break.   That reminds me — I have a bag of daffodil bulbs from the Tractor Supply clearance shelf to get in the ground, so I should stop blogging and get to work.