Follow this running journal to see what I do to care for my bees, how I manage their natural swarming instincts, and how to prepare for the seasons in caring for my apiary. I begin each entry with a description of the goals for the inspection. *Always have a plan before you open them up!*
I LOVE HONEYBEES!
My apiary, or bee yard, is on the pond dam about 100 yards from the house. I have the hive stands on the outer edge so Casey can still mow the dam. We are on a ridge surrounded by open cropland. My hives are protected on the southwest by a windbreak of saplings, honeysuckle and multiflora rose in the summertime.
HOW I GOT STARTED BEEKEEPING
I’ve been keeping bees since 2020, when my mentor Katie sortof nudged me in the door. I had already been studying for a year and asking her lots of questions, and when I expressed my apprehension at buying my first bees in the spring of 2020, thinking I just wasn’t ready, Katie bought a basic hive setup at an auction and sold it to me with a nucleus colony of bees that she had reared, and I was in the bee business for half the normal startup cost.
I’m a science NUT, so apiculture is so fascinating to me. It appeals to me in the same way as many other things: gardening, golf, guitar, ART…it’s challenging enough that not everyone does it, it can never be mastered completely, you can never know it all, there’s learning around every corner, and the rewards are so sweet!
MY BEEKEEPING JOURNAL, MOST RECENT ENTRY FIRST.
May 11, 2022 Tuesday
My neighbor Midge called and a second afterswarm has landed on the same bush in their front yard! I will go collect it after we get home from homeschool community; it’s pretty small so I may pinch the queen and combine the bees with another colony.
I opened Lizzie back up to go through all the frames looking for queen cups. They had done an impressive job of rebuilding them since yesterday. I chipped off the new ones, but found a supersedure cup that I hadn’t seen yesterday. They were feeding royal jelly to a larva inside. Crap. That means they want to replace her. I went through all the frames in the top box, and I found her on the outside frame surrounded by workers who seemed to be harrassing her. Creek told me later that they were “balling her” and explained that when they want to supersede her, they ball around her and try to run her out. I carried the frame to the gator and grabbed my one-handed queen catcher and caught her, then sat her aside and called Katie, my mentor. I told her what’s up and said that there’s plenty of room in the bottom box. She explained that the queen should be laying in both boxes and they’re replacing her because she’s underperforming. So I put the frames back and left them to do their thing. I carried the queen back to the house and we put her in our kill jar so we can preserve her with our insect collection. I’m relieved it turned out this way because that hive is already storing honey in their super, and I was afraid if the queen swarmed, they wouldn’t produce honey like I want them to. Now, I don’t lose any of my bees and they’ll still be laying away nectar for honey while they’re waiting on their new queen to hatch and mate!
After dealing with that, I had to finish building a new deep box. I need to go check the trapout and cutout in Dade County, and I’m afraid I’ll find another swarm over there as there has been one the last two times I’ve been over there, but I don’t have any empty equipment! I got a deep box, a bottom board and a telescoping lid assembled (Used a recycled cabinet door for the bottom board and a secondhand piece of plywood and recycled lath for the lid) and loaded all my gear before heading to Dade County.
The trapout is working! There were bees clustered around the funnel that I used to cover the entrance. I helped them discover the brood comb in the nuc box by opening the lid and scooping some in, and they acted like I had scooped the queen with one of the handlfuls of bees…butts in the air, fanning and bobbing their bodies up and down, all making the same frequency hum. I moved the box up next to the tree and they began filing into the box. It wasn’t a mass exodus like the cool videos you sometimes see, but they were definitely going in. I ended up leaving the box there and am hoping to pick it up Wednesday evening.
The cutout hive was fanning the front of their box, as it’s really humid out and warm. I waited until dark to close the box then I loaded it and headed toward home. I don’t know yet What I’ll call this colony…I called the first swarm Toni after my customer who called me for the job, but what do I call the other THREE that resulted from this same call???hahaha Tonda, Tawanda, Tonya, Tanya, Toneesha…
I had another trapout call yesterday, and I had said I would check it out on the way to or from the Dade County trapout, as it’s on the way. We went by on the way home, well after dark. It’s a colony in a cedar tree with two openings about 18″ apart. One opening was recessed inward. The other had a branch sticking out about 4″. Casey and I formulated a plan to plug the recessed opening and put our trapout cone over the knothole opening. When I take down the Dade County trapout, I’ll move it directly to the 70th Lane trapout, which I’ll call Mary Ann after my customer that called me to remove the bees.
After we got home, I put Towanda, the new cutout colony, in a new spot. I put down cap blocks between two of my eldeberries on the east side of my property and set the new box that I built on the blocks with a riser in the rear. Then I transferred the colony into the new box
May 10, 2022 Monday
I drove by Midge’s, where I helped them catch a swarm yesterday, and my swarm box was right back out by the road where we caught the swarm.
I pulled in to see why because I was hoping to get my box back. There was a new swarm out there today, so they sat my box (they had already transferred yesterday’s swarm into their top bar hive) back out there and caught the new swarm, which is probably an after-swarm, which means it has a virgin queen who has not had mating flights yet. I told them to put that swarm into the other side of their top bar hive and give them some drawn wax, and I would be back tomoro to get my box.
I opened up my Lizzie hive and chipped off all the queen cells on the bottom of the 4th frame from the left.
I went over and checked my colony at Greg’s and Robin’s. My new queen is gone. We have had horrible wind and rain, so rain had blown into the box and since it’s a swarm trap, the water had nowhere to drain out and there were lots of dead bees in the 1/4″ of water in in the bottom. The first sign something was wrong was the smell when I opened the box. It smelled like something dead. After I removed the first frame, I could see the water and dead bees in the bottom. I got a deep box and removed all the frames and the feeder to the deep, then carefully scraped all the deads to the back of the box and dumped them. There were lots of bees on the outside front and inside front of the box, so I had to becareful not to dump any of those. They had been fanning the entrance, working to evaporate all of that water inside. I drilled a ventilation hole in the back of the box, then drilled two smaller drainage holes in the bottom of the front of the box. I went home and got a frame of eggs and brood for them to make a new queen. So sad. BOTH of my virgin queens from the split of the Beehavin’ hive didn’t make it back from their mating flights, I assume because they tried to fly between storm cells and got caught with their pants down out in the rain.
May 9, 2022 (Sunday, normal inspection day)
I collected a swarm in Dade County on Friday the 7th and scoped out the tree from which it originated. I brought the swarm home and put it in my bee yard, and today when I did inspections, I found the queen and saw she was laying eggs. Woohoo for getting swarm #2 in the bag! Its name is Toni, after my follower who called me to come collect the bees.
Before I began my own hive inspections today, I got a call from my neighbor Midge about a swarm in a tree in their front yard. They have a top bar hive, but they said the bees absconded in the fall and they didn’t know how to get the swarm into their hive. I took a swarm trap I recently built using “oops” drawers from my friend who is a cabinetmaker, and I got the swarm into the box for them. I got them headed in the right direction with doing spring cleaning on their top bar hive, then headed back home to inspect my own hives.
I love that I have been putting my notes in this blog, bc I was able to open it this morning, look at my notes and listen to my voice memos, and make a list of exactly what I needed to do in each hive today.
My inspection goals were to find and mark the queen in the nuc hive (now called Donna after my neighbor who called me with the swarm last year) and move it up into a 10-frame box with an entrance reducer and a 1-gallon internal feeder; check Melissa for supercedure cells, as I chipped some off last week after doing a combine the week before that, and put a propolis trap in the top of the brood box; check Lizzie for swarm cells, as last week she didn’t have any but was full of bees; check Beehavin’ for eggs, as the new queen should have been laying by 5/6; and, check the Toni hive (collected from Dade County on Friday 5/6) to see if a queen is present and add syrup to their internal feeder. I wasn’t able to get over to Greg’s to check the split over there, but it needs inspected to see if the new queen is laying eggs, as she should have been laying by Friday.
After I got my own bees inspected, I returned to Dade County to cut out the hive from the downed tree. I took two nuc boxes and a 10-frame deep brood box, bc I wasn’t sure why I was getting into, which is a good thing bc I ended up using all 3 boxes by end of day!
Before I even got all my stuff drug out there to the tree, the girls found a bee tree not 80 yards from the cutout. I had everything I needed to do a trapout, but I needed something to raise up the trapout box to the height of the hole in the tree, so I asked the landowner if he had a 55-gallon drum and some blocks I could use. He was happy to oblige as long as I bring him honey.
I got started on the cutout, from which I ended up getting 6 frames of brood and food comb along with a chunk that had 6 swarm cells on it. Casey cut the rootball off of the log and did the first part of flaying it open, without a suit or veil, but I needed more of the log flayed later and did that myself bc the bees were pretty rattled by that point. Once I got the queen cells banded into a frame and added it to the box, the bees began flying to it. I ended up leaving the box there, strapped to the top of the log about 8 feet from the cutout, as there were still lots of bees waiting to get in when we were finished with everything else.
When I was in the middle of doing the cutout, the girls found another swarm on a rootbal not 40 yards from where I was working!
After I got the cutout handled, I grabbed the remaining nuc box from the truck, then I pulled a couple of the frames from it and smooshed some of extra brood comb from the cutout onto them. I had the swarm in the box in no time, and I left it sitting there temporarily to catch any stragglers while I did the work for the trapout.
I’ve watched trapouts done on videos, but it’s the first time I’ve done it. I used a nuc box, a frame of eggs and brood that I swiped from Melissa (she’s turning into a resource hive), a chunk of metal window screen, hive cleats (giant copper staples) and painter’s tape to set it all up. I hope it works; we’ll go back on Tuesday evening to check on it and to collect the cutout colony that’s still tied to the log.
After I set up the trapout, we loaded the tools up and grabbed the nuc box with the surprise swarm on the way out the driveway. We were over 2 hours late for dinner at Mom and Dad’s (oops) and I’m exhausted in a wonderful way.
We stopped at the neighbors on the way home from dinner and the bees were all in the box. I closed it and carried it to the top bar hove and sat it right underneath the space where it is destined to go, and told my neighbor I’d help them install it in the top bar hove in a few days.
This week is a lot of beekeeping experiences under my belt. I love collecting swarms, and the bee trees are pretty amazing. I’m prepared to fail at the trapout. 🤷♀️ Can’t wait for Tuesday!
May 7, 2022
I got a call from a facebook follower who said they have two bee trees on their property that were laid down 3 weeks ago. The photo she sent me actually looked like a pic of a swarm, so I gathered up saws, boxes and materials and got over there.
I caught the swarm, 20 miles from home, and am going back tomorrow to cut out the original colony from the tree right next to it.
You can’t see it very well, but the box I put the swarm in is only 15’ from the hive tree.
We have had rain here in SW MO for the last week. I believe the queen was unable to leave with the swarm when her swarm cells were capped, and after a few days she said “We have GOT TO GO!” and they didn’t get far before the next storm cell moved in and they lit on the first branch they found.
On Friday afternoon, the landowner sent me a pic of the swarm that she had snapped on Thursday, and I was worried that they had already left, but they were still there when I arrived.
I used an old deep brood box to hold the swarm, but I found bees crawling out of a crack between the lid and the box, and a few hundred had gone back to the branch. I stuffed a couple of old socks (socks are great for filling cracks and closing entrances 🤷♀️) in the crack to seal it up, then I brushed those stragglers off into an extra nuc box to release with the others later and sprayed the branch with Honey Bandit. I Was concerned that there was no queen with the swarm, so after I got home and sat the box on a stand, I pulled a frame of brood and eggs from another hive and gave it to them. I’ll open it up tomorrow to add syrup and check for emergency queen cells. If there are emergency cells, then I guess the bonus is that I know exactly how old the queen is.
I sat and watched the tree hive for a bit. They’re bringing in pollen, so I think the new queen must be hatching very soon. The loggers are going to be back Tuesday, so I have to do the removal tomorrow. If I don’t find a queen and I accidentally destroy the swarm cells when I flay open the log, I may end up just combining those tree bees with a split that needs to be moved back home this coming week. Or combine them back with the swarm in a double deep!
I’m excited to do the tree removal…I had my saws and another box with me but it was already 4pm and I had to be up early today to go to KC. I read that when doing a removal, you need to budget a day’s time just in case. So tomorrow is the day!
My mentor is great. I called her when I was in sitting on a log watching the tree hive bringing in pollen. We sounded out together what it all looks like and what approach to take on the tree removal. No matter how long I keep bees, I imagine I’ll always call her to tell her what I’ve gotten into and see what she thinks. I’m lucky to have her!
postscript: I posted these pics, details, and a request for a link to a group more specific to bee removals in a honeybee swarm catching group and while I didn’t get an answer to the link request, I caught flack for the trees being cut down. I was clear in my posting about it being a swarm call, mentioning “the landowner” and saying that they had called me after seeing the swarm the day before. I feel it needs noted that I took the comments about the trees, from an older man, as a patriarchal attempt to discourage me from posting in a predominantly male group, which is something I’ve encountered many times in the past. He said I was dumb and treated me like I had little knowledge of the natural world. I replied with mild sarcasm, as is my natural reflex, thanking him for such a helpful reply. Then some other guy hopped on there and told me to chill out. LOL. Some guy always feels the need to challenge me and make me prove my mettle. It’s so annoying. I also feel it needs noted that men who act like this are so stereotypical of the man who loves beekeeping because he can exert his will on a predomintantly female society. Have a laugh if you will, but it’s a real thing. My opinion on beekeeping is similar to that on calf-rearing. Women are better at it. There. I said what I said.
The goal of this inspection is to check queen status in all colonies, remove remaining newspaper between the combined colony and see which queen won the fight there, inspect for swarm cells in Lizzie, check for new queen and chip off unhatched queen cells in Beehavin’.
***Go ahead and have a good laugh at me here….I use voice texting a lot with my Apple Watch, so in a couple of these voice memos, I insert a comma here and a period there. LOL
No voice memo for The Split. It’s over at Greg’s until I see brood, then it comes here to its permanent home, right next to its parent hive, Beehavin’, which I took the split from two weeks ago. I need to have a deep brood box, a bottom board, and a telescoping lid built and painted for this colony to go into. The hive stand is already in place…I’m simply putting it where the Melissa hive was before I combined it with the Removals. I found the queen in the split today and marked her. Using the same calculator as Beehavin’, I should see eggs in there on the 6th and will move it home the following week.
April 21, 2022
Basic inspection all around. Check for eggs and brood, make sure splits are not doing anything unusual like building emergency cells. Refill feeders. Check for swarm cells in the LIzzie hive.
April 14, 2022
The goal of this inspection is to locate and mark queens if possible, swap the deep brood boxes on the double-deep colonies if needed, add a feeder to the top (I made 3 paintcan feeders for the 3 largest hives), assess any needs in regards to swarm control, and clean up the frames and bottom boards so that subsequent inspections are easier.
My notes this time are in voice memos. Excuse me if any of my terminology is incorrect. I’ll get better at narrating as I do it more!
We took the split from the Beehavin’ hive to Greg and Robin’s place. Robin got a deep brood box for her bees, so I moved hers from the box I caught them in to her new box, and taught her a bit about how to handle them. I moved my split from the swarm box I had it in to my now-empty nuc box. They need a deep brood box soon.
Here’s a pic of Robin and I. She got a suit and is loving loving on her bees. We’ve just moved her colony into a deep brood box with a space for a feeder on top, and we are moving my split into a bigger box until the queen hatches and gets ramped up with laying eggs.
We talked with Greg’s neighbor Gideon about likely spots to catch swarms and scouted locations to hang swarm traps.
Caught my first swarm of the year! My friend Robin found a swarm hanging from a lilac bush in their yard. I caught the bees easily, and negotiated a deal with Greg and Robin: I’ll put these bees here at your place and teach you how to care for them. In exchange, you let me use you as an outpost on my splits. When my colonies need to be split, I need to move the splits at least a mile away, so I’ll bring the splits here for a few weeks before moving them back to my apiary. It’s a deal!
March 20, 2022 spring inspection
I hadn’t been in my bee boxes in awhile. The goal of this inspection is to see if a queen is present, see how many bees are in the colonies, and see how much food they have left. I brought out grease patties to feed them. I used my Notes app in my phone, and used the voice recording option to make notes about each box.
First hive just has a small ball of bees. Queen present. Capped brood, few open brood, a few eggs, a bit of nectar and pollen stored. This is the second swarm I caught at Stratton Farms in July 2021. I removed a few empty frames, then moved the colony to a smaller nuc box and added a Boardman feeder with a pint of spring syrup. I’ve not fed them enough this early spring and their numbers are way down.
These pics are from the first swarm I caught at Stratton’s in 2021. They have a bucket truck and I went up in it to catch the bees in a box. This swarm, I combined with my Lizzie hive after it took off, and was able to harvest quite a bit of fall honey off the hive as a result of combining the two.
The second swarm, I caught in the swarm trap that I hung there at Stratton’s right after I caught the first one out of the tree. Here’s a pic of the swarm trap on the telephone pole. I simply allowed them a week to start building comb and let the queen start laying, then I went over at dark one evening, plugged the hole and brought it home. The next morning, I moved it into a deep brood box. You can see in the pic of me holding a frame, they had built an astounding amount of comb, even reaching 4″ below the bottom of the frames!
Second hive is two colonies I combined in the fall; they were both removals from outbuildings in 2021, one from Barton County and the other Ash Grove. They are mean today. I’d say they’re hungry; I’m giving them a Boardman feeder with a quart jar of spring syrup. The top box looks like they have five really busy full frames. I didn’t pull any; I’ll do that next time after they’ve got some food stores and maybe are a bit more calm. I added an empty super to the top of the hive and put a grease patty inside for them to eat as well before closing it up. I need to make some 1-gallon paint can feeders to put in the top of these hives. Internal feeders are best because they prevent robbing.
These three photos are from the removal at Darin and Andrea Crockett’s little outbuilding in southwest Barton County MO. The bees’ entrance was on the northwest corner of the building, so I started there in removing the outer wall. I am picky about removals. If it is going to take too much time or if it’s in an actual house, I turn it down. I did two in 2021, both on small outbuildings, and both were accessible from the ground. Creek is suited up and helping me with this one as we remove the comb and band it into frames before putting it in the box. I didn’t use the wax or honey from either of these removals for consumption, instead using it all as resources. Asbestos and lead paint are common in these old buildings, so it’s best to avoid harvesting any of their honey until they’re in a clean hive body. I’m slowly replacing their original comb and using it to bait swarm traps in 2022.
The Lizzie hive has resources in the top box only. I pulled one frame and saw eggs, open brood and capped brood. I just put a grease patty inside a super on the very top. It’s ready for a 1-gallon feeder as soon as I get them made and filled.
My best friend since we were kids, Liz, told me last year she hides my honey from her family, and she wants to never run out. So she bought me a hive body, and I painted it and named it after her, and I make sure she doesn’t run out of honey! What’s interesting is that the bees land on the corner of the hive, right in the middle of that flower thing I painted on the lower right-hand corner, then they march over to the opening and go inside.
The Beehavin’ hive has resources in both brood boxes. I pulled one frame and saw eggs, open brood and capped brood. I put a deep super on and put a grease Patty inside the super box. I can simply throw another super on next week with a gallon feeder. The two outside pics here are of Beehavin’ in 2020. It’s the first colony I got from Katie as a nuc. I split it in 2021 and the split from that became the LIzzie hive.
The North box has a good ball of bees in it. This is the swarm I collected from Melissa’s place south of Golden City last June. They look like they’ve got three good solid frames of eggs and brood although I did not pull any out to see if there was a queen inside. I think that they may need combined with the smallest colony that we have or maybe with the one that was mean today.
The first two pics are from collecting the Melissa swarm and the third is from her brother’s place, half a mile west, a week or two later.