Thursday, August 6, 2015

Bees Don't Just 'Sting'

When I would work my hive, I would occasionally get minor cuts on my fingers and knuckles. At first, I thought nothing much of it. I don't normally wear gloves and I just figured I nicked myself with the hive tool or something of the sorts. The cuts were not bad and were actually more like paper cuts. Except they would sting or tingle  - sometimes for days depending on where it was on my hand. Normally no bleeding would result, unless I squeezed it hard. This has happened to me more often than actually getting stung.

The last time it happened I knew exactly what it was. I did something stupid and got bit.

This is the first year that I have been a beekeeper. I have wanted to keep bees for years. Before getting them, I had attended classes, seminars and did much reading on the subject as well as watch videos. One thing I have not heard anyone talk about is the fact that bees can also bite (people).

I started researching about bees biting defensively.  Now I know, it was the girls nipping me defensively. This was happening more often because I'm using the smoker less and less - I will use it more often now.  =:o)

The day the light bulb came on above my head.

It happened when I was preparing the hive for a relocation. The night before I blocked the entrance so they would not start their day (normally 5:30 AM) What I wanted to do next was to put pollen patties under the inner cover before strapping it all down. One thing I wasn't aware of is the inner cover is asymmetrical and can be flipped around to allow more room between it and the top frames.

This morning I saw no need to suit up or even light a smoker. It was quite as they were all inside. I thought this would be a quick easy job. I first removed the lid and 'feeder ring'. I then slowly lifted the inner cover and pushed the calm bees aside and laid down the patty successfully. I lowered the inner cover down and I was going to strap it in place with tie downs (without the plastic lid). As I started to press down firmly to seat it to begin to ratchet the straps, I heard that unpleasant sound of crunching bees. I knew I had to finish the job quickly because now there is alarm pheromones that will make them aggressive. When I released my pressure to readjust the misaligned inner cover, it flexed back up 1/4 inch - the thickness of the pollen patties would not allow it to sit flat and flush. As soon as that happened some guard bees stuck their heads out the crack and looked around - as if to say 'what the hell?! I reached for the inner cover to adjust it straight. That's when I flinched back and said 'what the hell?!'. Yup, I got my middle finger 'cut' or should I say bit. Right on the tip of my left hand middle finger. That location was the most painful and I fully expected to have to pull a stinger out. I stood there staring at my finger feeling the pain but seeing no stinger. I had to blink a bunch of times to keep staring, thinking why is my finger hurting when I see nothing. I went ahead and squeezed it and very little blood came out, but I knew it was a cut. I darted back in the house (15ft) while being randomly dived-bombed by bees. I quickly washed hands, through on a vail and went back to finish the job.

As I understand it, from posted research journals '2-Heptanone' is found to be excreted by honey bees when they bite small pests within the colony such as wax moth larvae and Varroa mites. It acts as an anaesthetic on the pests, enabling the honey bee to stun the pest and eject it from the hive.

It was kinda freaky but it took 3 days before the tip of my finger started to feel normal. It was numb/tingly/sore. Not too bad, but it was a constant reminder every time I had to use it to release the safety belt when exiting the truck.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Girls last dance

Well, this was the last dance -  The next morning I transported the girls to their new foster home. This will be temporary. We are looking for their new home still.

This is the first time I saw my honey bees dance all in unison. This is what they call wash-boarding, and experts are still not sure why they do this, and where the music comes from.

It's been observed that the bees that participate in this activity are mostly workers between the age of 15 and 25 days. Mostly at the end of a nectar flow. It's unknown if this is general cleaning activities. Studies show that this happens more often on coarse textured surfaces than smooth. My observation is that it happens more in the (hot) evenings.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Taste of Honey

So today was the day to inspect the top box (i.e. honey super) and remove the queen excluder. I only wanted to keep the queen out of the top box for a short time - comb would be free of newly laid eggs.

~21 days ago I moved a frame of natural comb from the middle box. All the brood in the frame had all hatched out and the comb was repurposed for honey storage. They had drawn out the comb wider than I expected due to the fact that the adjacent frames were not all drawn out to the frame edges. The bees took advantage of this space and made the center honeycomb fatter than normal. Even wider because the box had only 9 frames - using frame spacers evenly space frames to allow bigger honeycomb.

The widest corner was so fat it broke during frame removal. Since it was already damaged I choose to use this as our sample to taste. Unfortunately the honey was not completely ready (cured and capped) and It did not taste 100% ready but it was still good.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Drones Trapped in Super

I took a look at the hive to see the progress in the box I added. Yes there was some honey! - more than I have seen from them so far.

I had added atop the hive a new box i.e. Honey Super with two new open frames. Also, I added one full frame of brood/nectar up from the box below to "seed it" (encourage them to congregate). I also added a queen excluder to temporarily separate her from the top box. I wanted to keep the queen out of top box for an attempt to get a clean sample of honeycomb without her laying eggs in it.

It wasn't apparent to me that the full frame I moved up actually had drone cells in it. I inspected the honey super (a week later) and noticed drones milling about in the top frames. This is not really a huge problem - but because they had hatched out, they are now trapped above the queen excluder. Drones are fatter than workers, like the queen, and cannot pass through the excluder to the rest of the hive. So, they're not able to leave the hive as they want to do for breeding purposes. I will soon be removing the excluder from the hive on my next visit.

I learned that various screen sizes can affect bees differently - #5 is the largest that will only allow workers through and not queens or drones.  Workers can squeeze through #6 but it's a lot of work.  #7 (if it's straight) will keep workers in. Also, the bottom screened boards I believe is #8 for mite traps / observation trays. But if it is damaged it could start to allow them to (almost) escape...

There is some discussion about queen excluders on

Next day, noon time, I added a couple plums for them to eat (last ones are just pits now left on inner cover). Later on during the day, I lifted the cover to see how the girls were enjoying the latest plums and three fat/lazy drones flew out. I bet they were happy to get out being trapped for a few days...

Inspected the bottom tray: I see two hive beetles running around - Promptly crushed!

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Before I even got my first hive, I knew I had to solve the skunk problem. Last year the neighbor had a family of them removed by a professional. But, that was not the last of them. So, I boarded up all the passageways they've created under the fences and gate and started using a new trap - even trapped one. (whole 'nother story)

So, one morning I get up about 4:30 AM, no particular reason. I looked out to the backyard and I see a shadowy figure moving around the front of my hive.  I dash to get my pistol-grip flashlight and illuminate the area. Wouldn't you know it, a skunk, busily stomping around in front of my hive. I have learned that skunks are avid bee-eaters and can wipe out a colony within two weeks.

Another mad dash, to the garage. Quickly I grabbed a mop, an empty cardboard box, and a bucket.

As I come flying from the house with my weapons in full force and in vigorous pursuit - I restrain my Battle Cry as I proceed towards the Vermin. However, it hears my approach and quickly turns to scurry off to the corner of the yard disappearing. Now completely vanished into the bushes - possibly under a newly burrowed access. This does not stop me from continuing throwing items and swinging my random weapons furiously - later on the neighbor told me I heard something last night - He thought it was a prowler jumping the fence - No, just an idiot running around in his underwear with cleaning supplies.

I do not have my hive up on a stand high enough to avoid this problem. The lore is that they won't stand up to eat bees - this will expose their soft belly to stinging. They'll scratch at the entrance to entice the guard bees to come out and then they will eat them. It's also good to note, that the ground directly in front of the hive may be cleaned and cleared of rubble which apparently is an area that they use to smash and eat. It was true, the area in front of the hive was all cleaned of normally chipped bark - now is bare dirt. In fact, this was not the skunks first visit. I have notice this clearing of the ground a few days earlier and now I know exactly why. I did an inspection of my hive and it did not have any claw scratches. However, lately during these hot evenings many of the bees have not gone inside. They just congregate on the front (bearding) and stay out all night and become an easy meal.

An interesting remedy I read, was to smash a couple of aspirin and put it into an egg. It seems that skunks find the eggs irresistible and eat them.  I guess aspirin is toxic to them - the trap has been set ,we will soon see... Or maybe not see as the case may bee.


The bugger came back again. However this time I just watch him. Most of the time he is just randomly poking/digging around - he acts like he doesn't know what he's doing. When he sniffs closely at the entrance of the hive, he jumps back.  He continued to stomp / scratch the ground around the front area of the hive - eating dead or dying bees  - not the live ones. At one point he walked away scratching his face against the ground as if maybe one of them got him. He doesn't seem like a threat but I will keep an eye on them. I still have the trap ready and armed.

Oh, yeah - he totally ignored the egg!

old post on

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Full Hive = Added Box

During the past week, I've seen bearding around the front of the hive. This mostly happens in the evening after a couple of extra hot days of 100+degree weather. But now it's happening more during no-so hot days. I opened up the hive and it is full! Full of brood, honey & bees. Hive is two 10-frame mediums with 2 follower boards (so, 16 frames total). Pulling the outer side frames of the upper box showed heavy - mostly nectar and 20% capped honey. This is new (since I started giving fruit from near-by plum tree) I don't want them to run out of comb-space, so I decided to add another box. But with queen excluder under. The new box has spacers for 9 frames installed. These are added in pairs to the box before frames are installed - makes fatter honeycomb.

I pulled a natural comb frame out from the (old) top box and put it in the middle of the new top box, I also put empty frames on either side of it. The rest of the slots have new frames with foundation.

The goal is to not take very much honey - just a small clean sample then give back the rest and then pull the queen excluder. I want to be nicer to them this first year because of our 4 year drought here in northern california.

No ants at all around hive for quite a few weeks now. Only a couple of  'pincher bugs' and one silverfish.

We have something still blooming around here.  There is lots of pollen coming into hive  - is mostly white, some orange.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Girls LOVE Plum

So, in our area things are starting to slow down as far as blooming. Although, there are some other plants/trees that are starting to bloom. That will be short lived and the bees will be looking for other sources of nectar.

My plum tree is exploding with fruit and I'm having to go out and chase off the birds quite often. Hanging DVD/CD's and building a scarecrow is only slowing them down. While picking ripe plums, I noticed one of the bees at a piece of fruit that was pecked open, yet still on the tree. This had me thinking - I'll give ripe plums to the hive to see if they would eat them.

So, how I did this was - if the fruit didn't have a split in it already, I would just pinch off a dime-size piece and lay them on top of the inner cover. Well, it didn't take long, but an hour, before they fully encompassed it. In about 1 hour I learn this was the right decision vs. let the fruit rot on the ground. Click below to see them in action! (double-click to toggle full screen)

You'll notice that most of them are actually not consuming it - but they're all coming up to encompass it, as if they were all hugging it and saying "thank-you thank-you". Although, this is more of a protection and defense against the ants that could eventually come in - which is normally just an annoyance, but competition in this case.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Empty Frames in Full Use


Up to this point I have only used wood frames with foundation of embossed black plastic that is wax coated. This works for a lot of beekeepers. However, some bees hate this kind, but I have been lucky so far. I eventually want to transition to wax foundation or just all natural comb - good for comb honey. So, I decided to install two empty foundationless frames, one in each box - upper & lower.

Now the results:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Varroa Mites Discovered!

Well, here we go. I was wondering if this day would come.

So it's been 24 hours since I went ahead and coated my pull-out "storyboard" (screened bottom board with pull-out drawer) with Crisco. Yes, you heard it right. This trick creates a surface that insects fall onto and actually stick - not simply run away. Even though it wasn't 'coated' before, it has been useful for monitoring the hive activity. Interesting to see various items dropped - like wax flakes, pollen and other stuff. I am still researching droppings that look like small black rose thorns.(??) Any ideas fellow Beekeepers...

Anyway, now that it is sticky with Crisco - I have discovered "Varroa destructor"  It's a parasitic mite that only reproduces in honey bee colonies. It attacks honey bees and spreads varroosis disease and also transmits DWV, the deformed wing virus (I actually remember seeing one bee running around last week with a messed up wing.) Now that I'm actually able to find mites, and count them, I count ~ 20. Included is a video I took of one I saw still alive and kicking.

I have found various dead bees around during the last week. However, that is expected - we are now in the middle of a 4 year drought. The weather bounced from rain to 104 degrees to full thunder/rain back to 100 degrees again. 

After all this, I'm not worried about anything, this hive seems to be strong and going well. The queen is cranking out enough eggs for new bees to overcome any environmental setbacks. However,  I will open it up this weekend and do another inspection and document anything (else) of interest.

Cliffhanger: I just got a ZomBee Watch reminder email - I will report on my ongoing findings of that... 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Thorn-Like Droppings ?

Okay, this is strange. Over the last week or so, I've been noticing these strange droppings. (click photo to enlarge) They look like rose thorns but black in color. They're stuck to the removable bottom board but they can easily be picked off. This is still puzzling and I'm still looking for some clues - what is this?

So, it's been about a week later - I see them still / again. I put some into a ziplock to look at later if I can get my hands on a microscope... =:o)

Went to a SABA club meeting and 1 out of 3 Beekeepers had an 'idea' of what it was...
He thinks it might be a result of a spider (no exact explanation though)... I did pull the whole hive off the stand and found a sizable white patch looking like from a spider.  I freaked-out at first thinking wax moths, but the location seems wrong for wax moth.

So, even though I did find (spider?) webbing - It was underneath...

So, I still don't know.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

SHB: Small Hive Beetle

Small Hive Beetle: A recently imported pest whose larvae will destroy comb and ferment honey.

This is the 3rd time I saw a small hive beetle 'SHB' in my hive - once on a frame and twice on the removable tray / screened bottom board. Because I haven't made my removable bottom tray sticky, I'm not actually sure if this is the same one I keep seeing over and over. From watching a video from University of Florida Honey Bee research and extension laboratory these can be completely devastating. Something to keep an eye out for. I will be making my tray sticky to catch them - I'm hoping it's an isolated incident.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

ZomBee Apocalypse

One night ~ 11:30PM  I did a quick visit to inspect the hive after a long hot day. No big deal as it is ~15 ft from the back porch. They were bearding out front the hive and I was holding a flashlight to see. Bees randomly kept buzzing my flash light, then passing me to the porch light, like crazy moths - I just watched...  Then I remembered.

Some time ago I was reading the website ZomBee Watch. It was about how a fly is parasitizing honey bees in California and possibly other areas of North America. The parasite (Zombie Fly Apocephalus borealis) affect the bees by eating their brains and make them act like zombies or "ZomBees". They act funny at night and fly towards the light incessantly until they die. Then a few weeks later a larvae emerges from their bodies, sometimes popping off their heads, (I read somwhere) to eventually pupate into a fly. The resulting female fly will go out and find new bees to "stab".

Ahhhh, I said, OMG I got Zombees! Where is that website?

So, I joined ZomBee Watch, and became ZomBee hunter! [cue: Raiders of the Lost Ark music] It is a citizen science project to collect samples and report results. In some cases if you do have ZomBees, you may have to send in samples.

Stay tuned.

PS- Vermont now has them.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Intermediate Class with Serge Labesque

After taking the Beginning Beekeeping class, I knew I wanted to take the Intermediate Beekeeping Class by Serge Labesque. Held at the UC Cooperative Extension - Sacramento County. This time I already had my hive going and I definitely wanted to learn more from such a respected expert on the topic.

He talked about beekeeping practices, like keeping your colonies strong, hive inspections and colony evaluation, hive dynamics, queen management, frame manipulations, supering, planning the harvest of honey, feeding, building without using foundation, hive divisions, queen rearing and methods, many more tips, tricks & technique, Well worth it!

Here is a video featuring him:

Saturday, May 9, 2015

UC Davis Bee Symposium

We went to a full day packed event at the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute. They hosted its inaugural Bee Symposium: Keeping Bees Healthy.

We were in the company of over 350 interested beekeepers, gardeners, scientists and students. Marla Spivak, the distinguished McKnight Professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota and winner of a MacArthur Genius Grant, delivered the keynote address.

Additional speakers included members of the Department of Entomology and Nematology: Brian Johnson, Elina Nino and Neal Williams and Amy Toth, Iowa State University and Nigel Raine, University of Guelph, Ontario Canada.

Bee statue seen at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven

The day long event concluded with a bus trip to the UC Davis Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. We had lots of food/snack wine and a tour of the facility - lots of various plants that support honeybees and their pollination.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Evening with Hannah Nordhaus

We went to Auburn, Calif for an another event at Placer High Auditorium. It was put on by "One Book, One Community" - an Evening with Author Hannah Nordhaus hosted by Beth Ruyak on Thursday, April 16, 2015

National bestselling author, Hannah Nordhaus, appeared  to discuss her book, “The Beekeeper’s Lament.” She tells the remarkable story of John Miller, one of America’s foremost migratory beekeepers, and the myriad and mysterious epidemics threatening American honeybee populations. The interview went very well and Hannah read many passages from this book and others. It was a very enjoyable evening.

All the while, hiding backstage in the 'wings', was John himself rolling around in a wheelchair - still recovering from a beekeeper accident,

Marlene Zuk, Los Angeles Review of Books:
“The Beekeeper’s Lament is not only about bees, or the people who make a living off of them, fascinating as both of these subjects are. It’s about the dying of rural America, the way we grow and sell our food, the reason people take risks… It is a poignant and keenly observed narrative.” 
 John Miller talks about The Beekeeper's Lament:

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Installed New Honeybees

I traveled to Olivarez Honey Bees Ranch in Orland, California to participate in their 7th annual Field/Hobbyist Day on Saturday April 11th, 2015. I bought 3 pounds of Carniolan bees with a mated & marked queen and picked up a couple pollen patties from the Mann Lake table. 

I did not stay for the free BBQ, but did listen to Randy Oliver, Bee Researcher of

That evening I shook the bees into their new hive. Unfortunately I ran out of daylight while making final adjustments to the hive stand. Installing bees without protection during daylight would normally not be a problem. However, I did get stung. The bees were very gentle but they can (and do) attack light sources at night, like my flashlight. I am not allergic to stings like ~98% of people but, I should have worn a long sleeve shirt - I did get an infection later that required antibiotics.

...more to come

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Beekeeeper's Lament Panel

I went to a very interesting discussion panel at Placer High Auditorium. It was moderated very well and was good to see all the participants.

Attending was Randy Oliver who currently has about 1000 hives here in Northern Calif. Also, John Miller (see his TED talk) of  Miller Honey Farms and Elina L. Niño, Ph.D. - the Apiculture Extension and Research chair at U.C. Davis.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Film: More than Honey

We went to Placerville State Theater to see this documentary film. This was from Oscar-nominated director Markus Imhoof. It is a detailed look at the breeding of queen bees, the laboratory process of a bee brainscan, and a hive facing the infection of mites. Our local Beekeeper John Miller is in this film and he showed up to talk about it and honeybees issues. He also explained the 'beekeeper accident' that now has him recovering in a wheelchair.

More Than Honey is subtitled and is full of stunning HD video of honeybees.  It
"tackles the vexing issue of why bees, worldwide, are facing extinction. From California to Switzerland, China and Australia, Imhoof investigates this global phenomenon. Exquisite macro-photography of the bees in flight and in their hives reveals a fascinating, complex world in crisis. " 
 Narrated by John Hurt.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Club hives need split

Bruce Trescott member of El Dorado Backyard Beekeepers and owner of Plan Bee Gardens saw some beginning swarm cells in some of the club hives at the Folsom college observatory.

Because of the proximity to public activity, it is important that we try to prevent swarming there, even at the expense of production.  I went out to help and learn from Bruce. He showed how to make a 'swarm cell' split in an attempt to fool the bees into thinking that they have already swarmed.  An additional split will set the hive back enough so that it may not be anxious to try to swarm again.

Afterwards Bruce delivered supplies to those that needed them. - Thanks Bruce!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Beginning Beekeepers Class

I attended an all day long Saturday Beginning Beekeepers Class put on by SABA, the Sacramento Area Beekeepers Association. The instructor was Sonoma County beekeeper Serge Labesque. Serge is very knowledgeable, some say obsessive, and is a well known mentor. Serge's class was very well put together and chock-full of information! My Brain was throbbing when we finished. Two thumbs up - I definitely will be taking his next class.