Bee Swap!

I swear, you can’t make things like this up. Last year, published a Sex advice from a beekeeper article, featuring advice from yours truly, among others. Now, here’s what I found in my inbox this morning:

My name is Elisha and I am a Casting Assistant for ABC’s hit show “Wife Swap.” I hope you don’t mind me contacting you. I’m currently searching for a beekeeping family! Are you a beekeeper who shares their passion of beekeeping with their family? If you are interested in sharing your family philosophy with us, I would love to hear from you.

The premise of “Wife Swap” is simple: two moms from two different families get the opportunity to swap lives for a week to experience what it’s like to live a different lifestyle – and to see what they can teach each other about their own!

Potential families can live anywhere in the United States. Families must consist of two parents that have at least one child between the ages of 5 to18. Families that appear on the show will receive a financial honorarium for their time and commitment. If you refer a family that appears on the show you would receive $1,000.

If you and your family are interested in participating, email elisha.deleon (at) …ASAP with a description of your family, photos (if available) and contact information.

And wouldn’t ya know it, Michelle and I are expecting our first child in November, so we don’t qualify (cuz I’m sure Michelle would have jumped all over the idea, otherwise). So sad.

But hey, if you go for it, tell them you read about it here. Thousand bucks, yo.


My neighbor Lesli popped over yesterday to drop off some empty jars. She’d been asking for a tour for some time, so I took advantage of the excuse to take a break and tend to the hives.

Both had two honey supers, and both were almost full, with the outer frames filled, if not completely capped (below left). There was quite a few drone cells in the sunny hive up in the upper super, with some worker cells as well (below middle). (I don’t use a queen excluder. I tell myself its because I want to ‘go natural’ and let the bees tend the hive their own way, but really it’s because I’m exceedingly and increasingly lazy.)

IMGP4287 IMGP4285

I added a third honey super to each, this time slotting it in between the two existing supers rather than layering it on top (consistent with the advice I received on my Movin’ Up post) and sealed it back up without digging down much further.

As I went to write this post, I happened upon the pictures I took last year, and realized that I had put on four honey supers on the sunny hive by mid-July 2007. Another sign of a dry year.

Rorschach Declined

One of the treats of having bees in your backyard is that you can just sit down next to the hive whenever you feel like it and pass the time, watching them go about their day.

I was doing just that the other day, when I noticed an odd behavior. There was a bee out on the stoop with slightly shorter wings then her compatriots, and a larger bee was working her over. The larger bee stood over her, fondled her with her tentacles, licked under the wings, the works. A couple times, another bee came over and they had a three-way tete-a-tete(-a-tete). Notice, too, in the bottom photo that it’s clear that smaller bee had less hair on her back than the others.

I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. Was this a newly born bee being cleaned of her afterbirth by one of her sisters, or a runty girl being bumrushed out of the hive?

Take a look at the photos below and let me know if you know the answer.

IMG_7369 IMG_7367

Movin’ on up

Amanda, a reader of this blog, wrote to ask whether new supers generally go on top of existing honey supers or below. I answered that the second super usually goes on top, and after that, I’d seen diagrams of swapping the new super in to the middle of stack, but hadn’t tried it. She responded

Well, that’s exactly what we did and they wouldn’t touch them. I guess we will just extract what’s already on there and return the drawn comb back to them.

My suggestion was as follows:

  • Make sure you’re using wax frames, not plastic
  • Take outer frames from the existing, filled super and swap them out with middle frames from the new top super
  • Spray frames with sugar water
  • Swap the order of the supers

Any other suggestions for Amanda?

Wrong Way Follow-up

Alyssa gave me on update on the results of yesterday’s debacle:

Well, this morning I went and found them just as we left them, all nestled into the nooks and crannies of the ivy and ornamental wall. after explaining to them as nicely as I could WHY they should move into the nice box, complete with honey and drawn comb, they flat-out refused and rebutted with animated buzzing. So I resorted to trying to grab them, first by the fistful, then using a garden trowel, and drop them into the box. No real luck. So I left them for a while. When I left they were pissed, and all over the place.

Came back a few hours later, repeated the futile efforts of earlier (Pavlov was wrong!), the results were no different. Maybe they were more annoyed, hard to tell….
At about 1:00 I got a call from the neighbor who’s house they were squatting near that they had swarmed again and were heading South. I drove around and tried to find them…… no such luck. The girls are just plain gone….. sad.

The Wrong Way

It’s amazing the things you know that you didn’t realize you knew.

I got a call from Alyssa today, one of her three hives had swarmed and she wanted to know would I come over to help round them up. Sure, it meant stealing precious time away from a backyard BBQ, but a friend in need is a friend indeed (if you knew what Seattle’s weather’s been like this year, you’d realize that this actually is a sacrifice).

Quick background for those of you not familiar: bees swarm when they feel crowded, under stress or otherwise just want to screw with you. They’ll create a second queen, and one day half of them come pouring out of the hive with their new leader heading off to establish a new home. It’s not a huge problem except that, you know, you just lost half your hive. The best you can do at that point is try to round them up into a box and establish them as a fresh colony.

The bees had settled down for the night in a neighbor’s yard, likely planning to pick their new home in the morning. Unfortunately for us, they chose to settle on wall of those cement blocks with the funky patterns in it.

IMG_7351 IMG_7352

See the trick to rounding up a swarming hive is to capture the queen. If you can get the queen into a box, the rest of the bees will follow and you’re off to the races. The problem is, the queen was likely hiding out in one of those little crevices, so we couldn’t just scoop in the lot of them and hope to catch her.

Now, I’d seen in books and such that beekeepers will vacuum bees up to collect them. After a bit of poking, Alyssa’s father came out with an old shop vac, freshly rinsed. We replaced the filter with my beekeeping glove: a perfect fit, which I took to be a good omen.

Stupid omens.

IMG_7355We all agreed that we weren’t sure it was a good idea, but had little to lose (easy for us to say) and Alyssa set off to the races vacuuming the little guys up. I sat back a bit and chatted with her father.

As she vacuumed, I mentioned to him how I loved the distinctive smell of bee, a bit like honey, a bit like wax, a lot like…bee. I love it.

But…something wasn’t quite right. That smell was a smell I recognized…

“Hey Alyssa,” I said. “Why don’t we take a break and see how they’re doing in there, make sure the suction isn’t too much for them.”

Good idea, we agreed, and ever so slowly lifted the lid off the shop vac, trying to just crack it enough that we could see inside without letting the swarm of angry bees back out.

Oh, no worry there.

See, the smell that I knew without ever actually knowing consciously that I knew was the smell of crushed bee. Lots and lots of crushed bee, in this case.

Turns out, a shop vac is way too strong to suck up bees. Well, too strong if you want them to live, that is. You can kinda see the splatter mark there on the side of the bucket, can’t ya?


Obviously, we were pretty mournful. I mean, I try to avoid killing even a few bees when I work with them, and here we had probably wiped out half the hive in one sucking frenzy.

We all kind of stared at each other, thinking “what did we just do?” We meant well, right? Ah, the path to hell is paved with good intentions, they say.