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Inspection #2 this last weekend!

On Sunday, I checked in on my hive again. This is eight days post-install, and four days since I removed the queen cage and ruined some of their comb.

I removed the lid, and saw some cross comb between frames. Damn. I had hoped that my rubber-banded-in fix would have been good enough to keep them from going nuts. Ah well. I pulled the frames apart (one major benefit of a horizontal Langstroth hive that holds 33 frames is that you have a lot of room to work. Just pull out extra, empty frames to give yourself some space), and saw that the piece of comb that I had rubberbanded back into place on Wednesday had fallen agan, after one of the rubber bands broke, and was laying on the bottom of the hive.

Worse, though, the bees had just kept right on filling it with nectar and pollen.

First things first, though. I cut the cross comb, and, of course, dislodged the good comb from the adjacent frame, breaking off a not insignificant piece (also packed full of nectar and pollen, and even some eggs. Fortunately, not a lot of eggs). This piece was so heavy with nectar, but still so new that every attempt to pick it up just found my fingers sinking into it. I had my wife run into the house and grab a spatula, which helped a ton. Using the spatula, I moved the broken comb onto a board I had brought out to keep bees out of the empty side of the hive.

I then pulled some more frames out of the empty side, and slid the follower board over to get access to the piece of comb laying at the bottom of the hive. Again, I had to use the spatula, as it was chock full of nectar (which, hey! Go bees!). I got this piece out with no real problem, and got to stick my hand all the way into a hive for the first time, which… is still terrifying (especially since my nitrile glove had torn, exposing a large, meaty bit of skin).

After retrieving the broken comb without incident, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to get the whole thing vertical to rubberband it back into place, so I broke off about half of it and managed to get that back into a frame. Likewise, with a piece of the first broken bit of comb. Extra rubber bands this time, too. Hopefully, they’ll get the comb secured before there’s any band failure.


 The remaining broken pieces of comb were pretty badly-damaged, but still had a ton of uncapped nectar/syrup and pollen, so I left them by the feeder hole on top of the hive, with a box over them to prevent robbing. By night, the bees had picked the comb clean of almost all of the nectar and a fair amount of pollen. I ended up taking the comb and melting it down to make my first little batch of beeswax, and then made a wood… polish/preserver with jojoba, almond oil, and the beeswax. Very exciting. 


 So yeah, uh… be really, REALLY careful with new comb. It’s crazy-delicate. I think I’m just going to leave my bees alone for a while. They’ve got a decent amount of space; enough to keep some new brood happy, at least, and I took the bottom screen cover off, so I can easily just peek in from below to see if they’re getting crowded.

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I just remembered my phone can shoot slow-motion video …

Get ready to see a bunch of these.

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April 17, 2015 · 10:01 pm

One thing most books don’t tell you about bees…

They smell amazing.

I caught a whiff of my package bees before unloading them, and it was incredible. Subtle, but deep and rich.

During my first inspection the other day, I smelled the queen cage after taking it out, and it had a similar fragrance to it, but already much more like fresh honey (of which there is definitely none in the hive, yet).

Just saying… Go smell your bees. If you have them. Maybe don’t try sniffing a wild hive. I could see that ending poorly.

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Someone on reddit posted a link to some info on Slovenian beekeeping the other day, which prompted me to start googling and find this.

These hives (sheds, bee houses, bee vans, whatever) are gorgeous and super cool. It’s fascinating reading about a culture in which beekeeping is such an ingrained part of their society. I didn’t even realize that the “carniolan” breed of honeybee (which my new queen is) comes from that area.

There’s something rather romantic about this kind of beekeeping (or maybe just the lush hills in the background) and it’s that feeling that attracted me to beekeeping in the first place; the idea of working along with the bee’s nature to mutual benefit. The craftsmanship of the hives is a big part of the appeal for me, as well (which is probably why I opted for a completely odd style of hive that I couldn’t just buy off a shelf).

Maybe someday, I’ll build one of these bee huts. After my observation hive… And my top-bar hives.

Actually, a top-bar-style hive could work really well in a stacked setup like this… Time to get out sketchup.

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April 17, 2015 · 4:40 am

The queen is alive, long live the queen!

Today, my bees had been in their cage for almost four days, so I decided it was time to check and see if they’d released their queen (mostly because I was worried the queen cage being in there would cause them to screw up their comb-building, since I’m using foundationless frames).

Like a responsible adult, I donned my veil, long pants, and sweatshirt, lit my smoker, and grabbed all the tools I might need, along with some rubber bands for re-hanging comb I might clumsily break.

I lifted off their feeder can, blew a couple of puffs of smoke into the hole on top of the hive, and lifted off the lid.

Upon pulling out the frame with the queen zip-tied in place, I saw about what I had hoped/expected; they had attached comb to the queen cage, but otherwise, the comb was perfect and straight. So, naturally, I had to cut it up and ruin everything.

Okay, not quite. I did have to cut the queen cage out of the comb surrounding it. The bees had also stuck it to the top bar of the frame quite nicely with a decent amount of propolis.

In cutting out the queen cage, I dislodged the left side of the fragile fresh comb, leaving it hanging out of the frame.

As a quick repair, I cut out the loose part, then strung two rubber bands over the frame, before placing the comb between the rubber bands. Theoretically, the bees will end up reattaching the comb to the frame, and all will be well.

I didn’t spend too much time looking for eggs or the queen, as it was a windy day, and the bees were already pretty cranky, so hopefully I didn’t squish her somewhere along the way (or if I did, she had already laid a bunch of eggs, so the hive could make an emergency queen).

One thing I found difficult was knowing how to handle the frame. Even a medium frame with some comb completely covered with bees is a little too heavy to gracefully manipulate with one hand, which is exactly what I had to do while cutting out the queen cage. I ended up having to set one corner down on the hive, which is when I crushed one of the bees.

I was also a bit timid about holding the frame, so that didn’t help. It’s going to take some time before 32 years of avoiding bees works its way out of my head.

Anyhow, I got the frames back in place and the hive closed up without too much incident; no stings or terribly pissed-off bees. One problem with the long-langstroth hive design I’m using is that, with the hive cover off, there’s nothing to stop bees from finding their way down into the usually-blocked-off portion of the hive (the area past the follower board). It took me a while to get most of them out, and even then, I left a few to die.

On a top-bar hive, this isn’t a problem, because the bars butt right up next to one another, preventing access to the area below. With Langstroth frames, though, there’s space between each frame at the top, so the bees can move freely between them.

As a result, my follower board’s top bar has to extend above the rest, all the way to the cover, to keep them from going back into the future-expansion area.

The next time I open the hive, I think I’ll just bring a board to lay on top of the expansion area to keep curious bees out. Losing one or two bees isn’t the end of the world in a hive of tens of thousands, but it still doesn’t feel good.

Also, conventional wisdom is not to keep opening your hive all the time. I want to see what’s going on in there, so conventional wisdom is going to drive me crazy. I really need to build an observation hive.

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What the hell am I doing?

For no apparent reason, I am now the proud owner of 10,000 or so honeybees … at least, as much as one can own 10,000 tiny insect that could probably murder you with even a mildly-concerted effort.

To give a short(-ish) recap: I’ve had the beekeeping idea in my head for a few years, now, but only just talked my wife into it this year (after weak garden harvests, despite lots of blooms and healthy plants).

Of course, I’ve been learning about bees and beekeeping since I first got the idea into my head, mostly by lurking /r/beekeeping (never underestimate the power of gradual, passive knowledge transfer, by the way), so I was at least somewhat prepared.

I agonized a bit over what type of hive to build, and eventually went with the horizontal Langstroth hive, seen here:


My decision was ultimately down to this and a top-bar hive. I ended up going this route mostly because it would be easier to find a local beek that could bail me out of an emergency with a frame of uncapped brood (most beekeepers use Langstroth, and the parts are mostly interchangeable). I considered a Warre hive for a while (which is a vertical top-bar hive), but didn’t love the idea of my honey ending up in old brood comb (making comb honey unlikely), and they’re a bit more hands-off than I’d like to be.

The horizontal aspect ratio of this and the top bar hive appealed to me for the “not having to lug boxes full of frames” benefit, but I also like having it at waist height, for convenience’s sake.

Anyhow, hive decisions aside, I picked up and installed my bees on Saturday, April 11th. The installation seemed to go well. I shook them out, and instead of hanging the queen cage between frames, I hung it in the middle of a (foundationless)f rame, with the hope that it will screw up the shape of one comb, rather than all of it.

For the record: I got stung day one, of course. I think I hit a dead bee’s stinger, though, as I grabbed the mostly-empty package and got hit. I didn’t feel or see the bee that stung me, and it was immediately as I grabbed the box.

Some more pics, and a bonus video of my girls (once I figure out how to upload video via mobile): 

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