As always, some good advice showed up in the comments to Harvest post.

Andrey suggests using 9 frames not only in the honey supers, but also in the brood chambers. Interestingly, he says “let bees draw out foundation first then remove one frame.” I’m curious, though: why let them draw out ten frames and then remove one, rather than just start with nine?

On the mite front, Andrey pointed me towards Thymol as a natural remedy, in addition to affirming the need for a screened bottom board. I did a bit of reading on Thymol, a derivative of thyme, and it does seem safe (although I’ll admit I’m often skeptical of the belief that anything “natural” or “plant-derived” is somehow intrinsically safe). An article from BBC News suggests that it can kill off 90% of the mite population. Might be worth a go.

Finally, Beek pointed me towards a “clearer board” or “Porter”, a device for getting the bees out of supers without wasting hours trying to brush them off. Best I can tell, it’s a sort of one-way door you put into your hive, so that they can exit the supers but not re-enter. Leave it in for 24 hours and all the bees inside will have dropped off honey and headed out to gather more, then not been able to get back into those boxes. The nurses and such that don’t leave the hive will be down with the brood, so you should have relatively bee-free honey supers you can just pluck off.

Great. NOW you tell me.

Harvest Time

In all my years, I have never dealt with a feister, more ornery bunch of bees than I wrangled with this Saturday. It wasn’t just the stinging, which there was a lot of (the suit is good but not perfect protection), it was that they just refused to go where I wanted them to go.

The nectar flow has pretty much ceased for the season, so it was time to pull off the honey supers and set the bees up for their winter quiet time. We had a bit of an Indian summer this past weekend, highs in the 70’s, which is unusual for late Seattle September, so I took advantage, clad my armor and headed out to the yard. The trick of this stage of the adventure is to separate the honey from the bees. That means taking the top boxes (supers) off the hive and clearing the bees off them so that I can bring them elsewhere to extract the honey, while not bringing the bees elsewhere to sting me in the car while I drive to elsewhere.

I started with the Sunny Hive, and quickly started wrestling with a bad news good news story: the hives were so heavy with honey, it was back breaking pulling them apart. I asked Michelle to pull down our bathroom scale so I could see exactly how heavy each was: the heaviest came in around 60 lbs!

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I hauled the honey supers across the yard to my deck, and then poked around a bit in the lower two boxes (brood chambers, these I’ll leave for the bees to overwinter in). I was a bit worried to find that there was virtually no honey in either of these boxes. Lots of brood (bee larvae) and lots of pollen (which they store near their larvae to feed them), but almost no honey whatsoever (see below left). This is not a good thing, I don’t think, because it means that if I took all the honey and harvested it, they’d have nothing to eat all winter.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I also saw the same old problem with the remaining plastic frames I have (below right). They take to it grudgingly, at best. See how they’ve avoided working out whole sections?

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I spent some time going through the brood chambers, frame by frame, looking for drone cells (distinguished by their larger, bullet-shaped profile) because I’d read that one way to fight varroa infestation is to kill off the drone cells, which are better home for the mites’ eggs. Surprisingly (to me), I found hardly any at all, just a few at the bottom the upper chamber. I’m supposing that I got to them too late?

IMG_7573Next, I set up about separating the bees from the comb. My strategy, which has worked in past years, is to establish a “clean area”. I remove frame individually, brush the bees off, then carry the beeless frames over to a separate part of the yard, where I reconstruct the now empty supers.

Maybe I did something different this year, I’m not quite sure, but it didn’t work so well. Despite my best efforts, they kept following me over, so that my “clean room” was not clean, but, instead, bee infested. I did manage to come up with a significant number of half-filled frames that had enough honey that the bees would enjoy enjoy it overwinter, but it wasn’t worth my time trying to harvest. Many of these half-filled frames weren’t capped, which means their moisture content would be too high to harvest, anyway, so I left a honey super, partly filled with honey, on each hive.

Shady Hive had a better outlook for the brood chambers, with a significant amount of brood, pollen and honey in the brood chambers. (That’s solid brood on the left and solid honey on the right).

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On the downside, as I was partly through working Shady Hive, a bee managed to worm her way inside my suit, up under my shirt, where she proceeded to do the expected. Howling, swatting, swearing and slapping ensued (me, not her).

Eventually, I landed on a system where I set up a bee-free(ish) area in my driveway, brought only bee-less frames to it, and quickly covered it as I deposited each, so minimize the number of bees that were left on the frames. I also found that if I left them covered for a while, the bees that had managed to sneak in rose to the top and few away the moment I removed the cover, so I was able to clear them out over time.

All in all, it looks like it will be a good harvest. Five full supers of honey. Mike Doleshell has agreed to extract for me again this year, so I’m arranging with Alyssa to ferry the supers up to his place.

A few final pieces of note:

  • Mike was absolutely right about using fewer frames with a separator. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, having nine frames with more space between them definitely led to more honey than 10 frames with less space. They simply build deeper cells, rather than wasting space on separation space between frames and foundation.
  • I am somewhat stymied on how to handle the mite issue. I’m going to need some advice on how to treat without chemicals. I’m going to try to pick up some screened bottom boards and try the powdered sugar technique, but I’m afraid I’m coming in too little, too late. I don’t want to lose my hives again this winter.
  • Apparently, yellowjackets aren’t the only enemies of bees. Check out this little scene from near the hive. Welcome to my parlor, indeed!

Welcome to my parlor
  • My latest art experiment failed. Apparently, the bees simply won’t build out new comb late in the season, and I didn’t put in my lights until late July. Oh well, I put this frame back in to Hive 1 and we’ll see if they take to it next Spring.


yIkes, photo edition

As our little bit to help in the wake of Hurricane Ike, I posted a question on Sunday from Gabriela, a beekeeper hit by Ike. There’s been an educational conversation going on in the comments, and Gabriela just sent me these pictures of her hives to help further. The first shot is the hives strapped down for the storm, then some of the sludge that appeared after the storm, and the bottom left photo is fighting around the hive entrance.

Thanks, Andrey, for the useful insight!


Just received this from Gabriela. I thought maybe someone reading this might be able to offer some advice?

We keep bees and have 2 hives at our house. We strapped these down for Hurricane Ike. As Houston took a direct hit so did the bees. Post IKE the first and older hive is being attacked by wild bees and the golden hue of the landing platform has turned black, they are severely stressed. We have cleared off the bamboo leaves off the hive tops.
2 days ago I suited up and filmed some close ups and observed that the bees are getting highly inspected inside the opening gap. It is peculiar – some bees entering are lying down subserviently like a dog, literally, the other bees touching and inspecting the dormant bee
lifting it’s legs and wings, underside. After the inspected bee it leaves slowly and does not fly off as expected.
Hive 2 (5″ apart from Hive 1 and a different breed) has remained quiet for 3 days after the storm, most bees lying very still in the corner entrance, only moving slowly as huddled. Sadly they now seem to be under attack. there is frantic activity around both hives. We had just harvested a week before the storm.
Any ideas or suggestions or members of your site that have had their bees through a hurricane? We think we may lose the hives. If wild ones take over, are they bees that can be kept and harvested?
Carlisle Vandervoort (cc’d above) is the actual beekeeper but is away for a few days.
We would appreciate your feedback.
With best regards Gabriela.

Anyone have any advice?

Sundial talk at Gnomedex

You may rememeber that I’m in the process of building a green wall cum sundial (or sundial cum green wall) next to my hives. I’ll be giving a short talk tonight at the Gnomedex 8.0 conference tonight about sundials in general, as well as a bit on this sundial.

One of the amazing things about the Gnomedex conference is that the entire thing is being broadcast live on the web, so, if you’re interested, visit http://www.gnomedex.com/ at 5 pm PT tonight and watch. The talk is short, just 5 min, so tune in early.

Bee Update / Sculpture Kick-Off

Checked out the hives last week. I had expected that with the cool weather, the hives would be as stunted as my tomato plants, but was pleasantly surprised to find both hives had filled both the honey supers they had access to. I know I’m supposed to add a new super when the old one is about 2/3rds full, so this left me late to the game. Ah, overachiever bees, we should all have such problems.

Actually, although I say the supers were completely filled, what I really mean is that they were completely filled except for the few plastic frames I had left in there. They did end up working over one black plastic frame (left), but it was clear from its state of completeness that they had started on it later than the frames around it, no doubt reluctantly. I gave away my remaining plastic on Craigslist for free.

But check out the chunks o’ honey in the other frames. Full capped and back-breaking heavy!

Beekeeping Beekeeping

Now, you may remember that last year I experimented with encouraging the bees to build burr comb around objects I put in the hive as a sort of bee-human sculptural collaboration. It worked out well last year, so I decided to try it again this year.

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to put in there. I did spend a day biking around to various garage sales and toy stores in search of an appropriately sized Winnie the Pooh doll (thanks for the suggestion, Nader Enthusiast), but came up empty handed. (Well, found one Piglet, but what’s a Piglet without a Pooh?)

And then I hit on it: Christmas lights! When it’s done, I can drain the honey and hang them from somewhere as lighted decoration.

I poked around in the bins of lights we have in the attic (for parties, not Christmas, nor Jewsmas, I’m just not much of a holiday-decorator) and found a goodly-sized string, but when I tried plugging it in, the bulbs felt too warm too quickly. I was afraid they’d melt the wax the first time I turned them on.

Fortunately, digging around in Burning Man bins, I found a short string of battery-powered, LED lights. They’re perfect for wrapping into a costume to be seen at night, and perfect for stringing through a bee hive.

I took one of my crappy, bees-hate-em plastic frames, popped out the plastic, and strung the lights into the frame. I tried to get it as flast as possible so it would fit into the natural pattern of the comb, tying the bulbs to the adjacent cords with thin wire, but I’m still pretty sure the bees will balk at the odd shapes in places. To help them feel more at home, I painted the cords and bulbs with a thin film of beeswax I melted down from burr comb I stripped out of the hive last week.

I can’t wait to find out how it turned out. I’m worried that I put it in too late in the season for them to build new comb around it. Last year when I added empty frames this late in the season, they didn’t build it up, and a commenter said they won’t build if the summer’s too advanced, so we’ll see.

As always, I’ll keep you posted.