The queen must die

I’ve talked in the past about how one of our colonies is super aggressive. And the colony isn’t even as productive in drawing out comb and producing honey as our other colony. It is very productive at stinging.

I finally talked to a local experienced beekeeper this week. The conversation went something like this:

me: So, I have a really aggressive colony. Smoke doesn’t seem to calm them. They constantly attack me while I’m in the hive…
him: They follow you when you walk away?
me: Exactly! Any advice on how to handle them?
him: Sounds like you need to requeen. You’ve got a queen that is making angry bees. You need to find the queen, twist her head off, throw her body in the bottom of the hive, and in 24 hours, replace the queen with a new one.

At this point, I am thinking to myself, “Wow, I could use this as a metaphor for so many situations. “You need to requeen…your queen is creating some angry employees” just as an example.

I told him that I would try, but I have never been able to find the queen. I have just gone by the fact that there are eggs, larva, and emerging bees to assure me that the queen is safe and happy. Her actual being I have never seen.

Matt and I suited up that evening and visited the hives.

We took a quick peek in our nice, polite hive. The bees were really active that evening:


I pulled this frame from it:


Look at that beautiful honey. Here is a close up:


I tasted some and it is excellent. This colony is so productive that we might actually get a little honey from this hive this year!

After the quick check on our star hive, we opened our Fight Club hive. They came out swinging. We looked and looked and cowered from the onslaught of bees, but could never find the queen. They were very mad at us. And let us know it by continuing to attack our hats long after we closed the hive and walked away. That queen really is making angry bees.

We hope to have the other beekeeper come by and help us find the queen; otherwise, I’m letting that colony live and let live.

Close up of one of our girls

Close up of a bee’s wing

Our bees have a bee in their bonnets

Happy Memorial Day!  We have enjoyed our long holiday weekend.  And we have both been survivors of our very angry, angry colony.

I haven’t worked in the hives since I got that really nasty sting (see previous post), but my curiosity since I added the winter supers got the best of me and I had to check out to see how the girls were doing.  So, this morning, I spent some time with them.  And because the last sting was so nasty, I knew that I was going to be fully-suited and gloved the whole time this time.

I added the winter supers about two weeks ago and I was wondering how much comb they had drawn out in the winter supers and if they had started to fill any of it with honey.  And I wanted to make sure that there was still plenty of egg laying going on.

I started with our colony that has always been gentle (which is how we learned in bee school that honeybees act) this morning.  I knew from the moment that I took the winter super off of the top of the bottom super that this colony was healthy and doing really well.  The winter super was heavy, a lot heavier than I was expecting.

I took a picture of the two supers side by side and I was excited from the beginning.

Winter super in the forefront and bottom super in the back

Winter super in the forefront and bottom super in the back

The frame that you see hanging on the side of the back super is the frame that is the outer frame of the bottom super.  It was 100% full of honey.  The bees haven’t capped it yet, but each cell is full of such pretty, light-colored honey.  I was so proud.

I checked the bottom super to make sure that there was healthy brood and I saw lots of brood and larva, though it looks like a bunch of bees have hatched recently because the amount of capped brood isn’t as much as I’ve seen in the past.  But I saw a lot of little bees in a lot of cells, so I know that there is a laying queen in this hive.

As I was working this hive, Matt came to visit.  No sooner had he stopped his 4-wheeler then WHAM! he was stung on the cheek by a bee.  It was so odd…he wasn’t near the hives and he definitely wasn’t threatening them in any way.  He left almost immediately to go home and take a Benadryl.

I finished up by inspecting the winter super.  I couldn’t believe that every frame had comb drawn out on the foundation (in just two weeks)!  The combs were a combination of brood and honey.  We didn’t add a queen excluder between the winter super and the bottom super.  These supers are their supers and we decided that the bees could use these supers in any way that they wanted.  When we add a shallow super to the top of the winter super, we’ll add an excluder between the winter and the shallow.

It was so exciting and uplifting to see how well this hive is doing.  It seems really healthy.  I checked the bottom board and there are ants, so I need to investigate if and how to treat for ants, but otherwise, this colony is rocking!

I took a break after closing this hive back up to let the bees calm back down before I opened up the next hive (the aggressive hive).  I was sitting on the ground, killing time, and was really struck about how pretty it was.  We have our hives on the back part of our property and it is really nice back there.  I was sitting there and the ducks from the pond had come to visit.  It was just peaceful.

Mr. and Mrs. Duck (I don't think that's their real name)

Mr. and Mrs. Duck (I don’t think that’s their real name)

Matt came back at some point and we were talking (again, nowhere near the hives) and another bee dive bombed him and stung him on the face.  No warning, no nothing.  It was so unexpected and weird.  He took off (not to come back) and ended up having to come home and shoot himself with an epi-pen and lay down.

Then, I went into our aggressive hive.

I smoke the hive, I approach it slowly, I try to do everything correctly as we have learned.  And that hive is just one angry hive.

The minute that I open the hive, the bees start to attack me.  And they don’t let up.

I took a picture of them flying around my face as I was trying to check the frames in the bottom hive.

Thank goodness for bee suit

Thank goodness for bee suit

I ended up checking the bottom hive (which looked fine) but didn’t do anymore than a quick check of the winter hive.  I did notice that the drawing out of the comb in this hive wasn’t nearly as far along as in the other hive and there wasn’t nearly as much honey in this hive.  I closed this hive up as quickly as I could.

Despite the gloves, I still got stung twice today.  Once, very slightly, just barely got me in the palm of my right hand.  The second time, the bee got me good in a knuckle of my left hand.  Right now, that finger is swollen and sore, and the hand is starting to swell, but no bruising (yet).  I’m hoping that being stung through a glove will mediate some of the damage.

After I closed the angry hive, I walked away about 40 yards, hoping that the 20 to 30 bees that were constantly banging against my hat and veil would then leave me alone and fly back to their hive.  No such luck.  These bees followed me no matter how far away from the hive I walked and continued to “attack” me, no matter how long I waited.  I just stood still for about 10 minutes and they continued to kamikaze me.  I’ve never heard of this kind of behavior from honeybees.  It’s disturbing that they are so aggressive.

At this point, I’m not working that hive again.  It’s too aggressive.  I came home and told Matt that my plan was to just leave it alone.  I don’t care about the honey, I don’t care if it swarms.  But I do care if it swarms (angry bees) and I want to make sure that these bees don’t harm the nice bees next door.  I need help from an experienced beekeeper.  These bees need a house in a hollow log, deep in a forest somewhere.  They are anti-social bees.

Someone posted a comment on my blog that they had heard that “hot” hives produce more honey, but this hive isn’t even producing as much honey as the “nice” hive.  I told Matt that and he said, “They’re too busy having fight clubs to make honey.”




This sting hurts

I am having a large, local reaction (according to WebMD) to the bee sting in my index finger I got yesterday. I took my glove off for about 10 seconds, and a bee dive bombed me and stung me around my knuckle.

I have noticed that one colony is definitely more aggressive than the other. In beekeeping class, the more experienced bee keepers talked about that colonies could have totally different personalities and our two are very different.

Anyway, one of the bees from the aggressive colony got me good yesterday, and several hours after the sting, my finger and hand started to swell. Today, I also have the bruising and blistering.

It looks like the beginning of a flesh eating disease attack.

Anyone else have reactions like this? I’m treating with ice, ibuprofen and antihistamine. Anything else?


Working the hives

Being a beekeeper (or playing one) is even better than I thought it would be.

I’ve been in the hives a couple of times to check that the queen is laying eggs, that the workers are drawing out the comb, to feed them sugar-water and to generally ensure that things are progressing on schedule.

Actually getting into the hives is SO.  MUCH.  FUN.

You can’t think of anything else when you working with the bees.  No thoughts of work.  No thoughts of bills.  No thoughts of the other stresses in your life.  I am totally absorbed by what is going on in the hives.

And completely fascinated by what these girls are able to accomplish.

Last week I added another deep hive box to each hive.  This, we hope, will be where they store all “their” honey — the honey that they eat during the winter to get them through the time of year when they can’t go gather the necessary ingredients to make their food.  A lot of beekeepers call this hive box the “Winter Super” since it is the hive box that contains the honey for winter feeding.

I went into the hives this morning to see if the bees had started to draw comb on the frames in the winter super and how the brood comb (the comb where the baby bees are made) was looking.

I got stung once today and my finger hurts like a SOB.  The price you pay for the things you love.

I took a few pictures today, but it is hard to work the hives and take pictures at the same time.  Especially if you don’t want to get your camera equipment all dirty!

Love, love, love my bees.

Pollen sacs are full

Pollen sacs are full


Working a section of brood comb.  If you look closely, you'll see some larva

Working a section of brood comb. If you look closely, you’ll see some larva

A new bee eating her way out of the comb

A new bee eating her way out of the comb


Three beautiful girls, all in a row

Three beautiful girls, all in a row

Our girls are here.

Finally.  The day that we having been waiting for since we decided to keep bees — we brought our bees home.

We drove to a local beekeeper’s house at 8 AM this morning to pick up the beginning of two new colonies.  Three weeks ago, I took him two hive bodies with 9 frames in each.  He split two of his existing colonies and with two new queens, created two new colonies and transferred them to our hives.  He’s been watching over them the last couple of weeks to make sure the bees accept their new queens.

So, now they are going to spend the spring and summer drawing out their comb, the queen’s going to be laying thousands and thousands of eggs to get the colony numbers up where they need to be and they will be making honey for survival during the winter.

This morning was FANTASTIC!  It was absolutely as fascinating as I hoped it would be.  I got stung twice in the right hand, but we learned a valuable lesson — always, always, always use smoke, even if you think you’ll only be in the hive for two seconds.  Two seconds are enough for a very pissed off bee to sting you.

Click on the pictures to get an even better view.

The Bee Photographer–great site

I stumbled upon this website yesterday — it has the best pictures of bees. I’ve posted a few examples. You should check it out: The Bee Photographer at The photographer’s name is Eric Tourneret and his work is fabulous. Enjoy these few pics and check out his site for more.

Building combs – from

Detail of a wing under microscope – from

Multitude – from

We have hives! Bee hives, that is. Not the itchy kind of hives….

Matt and I took the afternoon off one day last week and went to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm.  They were AWESOME there!  We knew we wanted enough hive boxes for three separate hives, but they helped us buy everything we needed and counseled us on some things that we thought we needed, but probably didn’t.  We came home loaded down with 6 deep 10-frame hive boxes and 3 shallow 10-frame hive boxes, a smoker, 40 frames and foundation, a beekeeper’s suit for Matt and two hive tools.  Oh, and a pound of honey.

Putting together bee hives

Putting together bee hives

We spent that evening assembling the hives.  See the carpenter’s square above (second box from right, at top)….have you ever seen such a square corner?  That was one of my hives.

It took me a little longer to paint them (I’m the painter of the family).  We went with traditional white.  Even our French bulldog, Louie, got into the act and tried to help.  He brought his pig to put into one of the hives while it was drying (see second box from left, at top) and got a little paint on his coat (second box down, on left).  I appreciated the help!

Now, it’s time for bees!  The weather here was beautiful this weekend — in the mid-60s — so it shouldn’t be long, only a few more weeks!

Crops and wild bees — NPR story

This was a story on NPR on Friday, March 1. Interesting theory that “kept” bees can’t be as efficient at pollinating the crops without the help of local feral bees. The link will take you to NPR’s website where you can actually listen to the broadcast.

Link to story

Wild Bees Are Good For Crops, But Crops Are Bad For Bees

Wild bees….play a key role in boosting crop yields.

Some of the most healthful foods you can think of — blueberries, cranberries, apples, almonds and squash — would never get to your plate without the help of insects. No insects, no pollination. No pollination, no fruit.

Farmers who grow these crops often rely on honeybees to do the job. But scientists are now reporting that honeybees, while convenient, are not necessarily the best pollinators.

A huge collaboration of bee researchers, from more than a dozen countries, looked at how pollination happens in dozens of different crops, including strawberries, coffee, buckwheat, cherries and watermelons. As they report in the journal Science, even when beekeepers installed plenty of hives in a field, yields usually got a boost when wild, native insects, such as bumblebees or carpenter bees, also showed up.

“The surprising message in all of this is that honeybees cannot carry the load. Honeybees need help from their cousins and relatives, the other wild bees,” says Marla Spivak, a professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota. “So let’s do something to promote it, so that we can keep honeybees healthy and our wild bee populations healthy.”

Unfortunately, a second study, also released in Science this week, makes it clear that wild bees aren’t having an easy time of it.

That study essentially follows in the century-old footsteps of Charles Robertson, “one of America’s great scientists that nobody knows about,” says Laura Burkle, an ecologist at Montana State University.

Robertson taught biology and Greek at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill., and he was fascinated by the close connection between insects and flowers. He spent years in the forests around Carlinville, carefully noting which insects visited which wild flowers at what time of year.

Burkle and Tiffany Knight, a colleague at Washington University in St. Louis, went back to Carlinville to see how much of the ecosystem that Robertson observed still exists today.

Much of the forested area around the town has been converted into fields of corn and soybeans — or suburbs. In the fragments of forest that remain, Burkle and Knight found all of the flowering plants that Robertson recorded in his notes a century ago. Of the 109 species of bees that Robertson saw, though, just over half seemed to have disappeared from that area.

“We don’t know why,” says Burkle.

One possibility might be a loss of nesting sites for these bees. But a changing climate may also play a role.

The bees that disappeared tended to be species that depended on just a few kinds of flowers for food. For those bees to survive, their preferred flowers have to be blooming when the bees start flying and need food. The warming trend might have thrown off that timing.

In fact, Burkle says, if you map the interactions between flowers and bees, they seem more tenuous now. Some flowers may get visited by just one or two kinds of bees, and maybe just for one week.

“I don’t know that these systems can take a lot more environmental change without something drastic happening,” she says.

Many bee researchers are trying to figure out how to help those native bees — and how to help farmers who benefit from them.

Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s a co-author of the first study in Science, says one of the biggest problems for wild bees is the agricultural specialization that has produced huge fields of just one crop.

The almond groves of California, for example, are a sea of blossoms in February. It’s a feast, as far as the eye can see, for honeybees that come here from all over the country.

“But for the rest of the year, there’s nothing blooming,” she says.

That means there are no bees. “In fact, in places where we have very large monocultures of almond, we don’t find any native bees anymore,” Kremen says.

Planting other flowers in and around these almond groves, maybe as hedgerows, blooming all summer long, would help, she says.

Even better would be farms with smaller fields, and lots of different crops flowering at different times. Wild bees, Kremen says, need diversity.

AgriNews: Honeybees and Agriculture

My friend, Wendy, sent me this great article from AgriNews this weekend about honeybees and their importance to agriculture.  It’s a good reminder about we have to protect the honeybees and get more people interested in beekeeping.

Here is the link to article online.

Honeybees and agriculture must co-exist, entomologist explains

INDIANAPOLIS — Honeybees and agriculture can coexist, explained an experienced beekeeper, entomologist and manager of the Bayer Bee Care Center.

Or rather, he stressed, they must.

“I’ve been a beekeeper a long time — crop protection and apiculture overlap,” said Richard Rogers at the Corn Belt Seed Conference. “Healthy honeybees are better pollinators, and efficient and effective pollination means more effective fertilization.”

He said it is very clear there is a honeybee health problem emerging from a variety of factors. He mentioned Colony Collapse Disorder, the name given to the sudden reduction in bees leading to the collapse of their colony.

Rogers said growers, scientists, seed companies and people involved in agriculture must look for multiple causes of CCD.

“In 2006, we began observing a specific set of symptoms that became known as CCD,” he said. “Colonies do collapse, and CCD is credited for many bee deaths, but CCD does not cause all the bee deaths.”

While honeybees themselves are not at risk of becoming extinct, commercial beekeepers are, Rogers warned.

Beekeepers, like other farmers, are pushing to survive in a tough economy that limits them from expanding their operation, he added.

Varroa mites and tracheal mites continue to plague commercial beehives and contribute to bee deaths, and entomologists are planning and monitoring for the incidence of the Tropilaelaps mite in bee populations, as well, Rogers said.

Last April, entomologists at Purdue University revealed the results of studies showing that the neonicotinoid insecticides used in popular seed coatings were present in the dead bodies of bees and that seed treatments that remain in the soil from one planting season to the next may be causing bee kills.

With planting season just around the corner, beekeepers and commercial crop growers likely are wondering what this year will bring in terms of planting conditions and crop protection products and strategies from Bayer.

Rogers said an integrated bee management plan is needed, similar to an integrated pest management plan. This option would include monitoring, management and control. “Beekeepers are at the mercy of the landowners, so one good thing growers can do is provide forage, access and security for honeybees to survive,” Rogers said.

Following the launch of its Bayer Bee Care Program last February, Bayer CropScience has established Bayer Bee Care Centers — one in Germany and another in North Carolina, the second of which will open this year, he said.

Scientists at the bee care centers will study management techniques for breaking the life cycle of the Varroa mite, Rogers said.

The Bayer Bee Care Center in Monheim, Germany, will have a full-time team of specialists, including two experienced beekeepers.

Additional activities will be rolled out by the Bayer Bee Care Program, which includes educational projects and bee health promotion schemes, including the planting of flowers and natural habitat essential for bees to thrive.

Rogers said integrated bee management will take good education, for one.

“There is no point in putting bees where nothing is growing,” he said. “Integration will take a while.”

“This will be a difficult year for beekeepers to recover from bee losses,” he added.

“I’ve seen bee kills from pesticides. We prefer that growers use seed treatments rather than foliar sprays since foliar sprays present a much higher level of chemical drift.”

The bee management strategy will include taking a hard look at the Varroa mite as an efficient vector of viruses and a harmful pest in the beekeeping industry, Rogers noted.

Beekeepers, like grain and specialty crop producers, also are aging, and a younger generation of beekeepers is needed to bring new perspectives to the industry, he said.

He also recommended that growers provide good forage and habitat for bees, citing the Xerces Society as a source of information for bee-friendly plants and seed mixes.