Reverie - n. a state of being pleasantly lost in one's thoughts; a daydream or fantasy; a visionary or impractical idea

"To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.

The revery alone will do
If bees are few." - Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This One's Gonna Hurt.

The stencil
I want to share a secret with you.  I like tattoos, and I love a little bit of pain.  Not the agonizing pain of an injury, but the good kind of pain that gives you a rush of adrenaline and is a reminder that you are alive.  I am a major daydreamer who has trouble living in the present.  A little bit of pain - at the right moment - focuses my attention and brings me back to earth.  Like the pain from a bee sting.  Or a tattoo.

Thanks for taking photos, Mel!
This is Ryan from High Priestess.  He understood my ideas immediately and created an absolutely perfect custom design for me.  I have a temporary designer-of-my-tattoo/inflictor-of-pain crush on him.  And the best part...
he agreed to design the labels for my honey jars!!!

To me, a well-designed tattoo has deep meaning and beautifully fits the part of your body where it’s placed.  I normally prefer to keep things like this hidden, but it just made sense to put it here.   I think a beekeeper’s most valuable tools are their hands, and when you work without gloves you constantly feel bees walking over your hands and wrists.  The meaning is obvious.  Beekeeping has brought me back to life.   

So here she is, born of a thousand little stings on my wrist, close to my most valuable beekeeping tool, where she will be walked upon by real bees from my hives.  She is a lovely little creature reminiscent of old entomology textbooks, beautifully symmetrical, presented as if pinned in a display case.  In plain sight.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Must. Not. Taste.

I peeked in my hives today.  Just the honey supers, and just for a moment.  It's best if I leave them alone right now when they are so busy gathering nectar, but I can't help myself.  The wire grid in this photo is a queen excluder, placed between the top most brood box and the first honey super.  The bars are spaced to allow workers to pass through, but not the larger queen.  Most people prefer their honey without eggs and larvae mixed in.  Five of the eight frames in this box are full of honey already! 

These are two frames stacked next to each other.  You can see the starter strip of wax on the foundationless frame, and the wires that will reinforce the comb for use in a honey extractor.  The bees are just beginning to draw out comb on these frames.

Here is one of the second-hand frames Beeman gave me, hanging from a frame rest on the outside of the hive.  A frame rest is a bee photographer's best friend when they are working solo.  The entire frame is completely filled with honey.  I really want to taste it.

Here is a closer look.  The wax comb is older and darker than on my newer frames, so the honey appears darker.  They still have to fill the cells a bit before they cap them.  You really have no idea how badly I want to taste this. 

Here is honey being stored in newly drawn comb on a brand new frame.  The wax is white so the honey appears lighter.  Look how fuzzy and young some of the bees are.  They are taking their job very seriously.  It's taking every ounce of my almost non-existent self control not to taste this honey.  It will be worth the wait.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Beehive Here Inside My Heart

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error! –
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

                                     Antonio Machado                             

What the...???

What is this strange behavior?  Why are they clustered outside the entrance and in the entrance holes like this when it is almost night? 

Are they chilled and wet from the rain today?  If so, why don't they just go inside, they are right outside the entrance?

Are they mad?  Do they not love me anymore?  Why won't they answer me when I ask them questions?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bloom Phenology - Late June

Bees are early risers, just like me.  As soon as the first rays of sun hit the face of the hive they are busy looking for nectar.  Some current favorites...


Borage.  It's irresistable to bees and reseeds itself wildly.  I give it a free pass to grow wherever and however it pleases.  Normally I am very methodical in my garden planning, but this year I am letting the garden decide what it wants to do.  Apparently the theme is  "reckless abandon". 

Both german and roman chamomile...

...and blackberries!  I've already posted this photo, but I'm doing it again because I love it.  Blackberries are the drug of choice for bees right now, and this one was absolutely drunk on nectar.  She rested on the petal for an eternity with her head buried deep.  Bee bliss.

Foxglove.  I get impatient with biennials, but foxglove are worth it.  Honeybees don't seem to like going all the way inside, unlike their badass bumblebee friends who completely disappear within. 

Sea Holly.  This is supposed to be a good bee plant, but I have yet to see any using it.  The blackberries must be more appealing.

Bees don't care about this one, but I do...Kent Beauty oregano.  The Thyme Garden grows these and right now they are at their prime.  Very light, papery blooms that are similar to hops.  These are very sweet, demure flowers (unlike that naughty peony) and last forever when cut. 

And now the sun has fully risen and they are ready to go.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


When I peeked inside my hives this afternoon I made a surprising discovery.  Honey - and lots of it!  Up until this point they have been using all of the nectar they gather to feed babies and build wax comb, so my hives were alarmingly low in stored honey.  Now all of the frames are fully drawn in wax and there is tons of honey everywhere. I would guess 75% of the frames have stored honey, when two weeks ago there were none.  Busy girls! 

I didn't find the queen, but there were plenty of new eggs.  Now that the yellow markings are worn off I am embarrasingly bad at locating them. 

This is a view inside the honey super I added last weekend.  It's filled with brand new frames and a few second-hand frames with already-drawn comb.  The bees are just beginning to work the super, and you can see which frames they prefer.  The "used" ones are already full of honey, front and back. 

Here is one of the "used" honey frames, almost entirely covered with honey and REALLY heavy.  Next year, they won't have to spend their time and energy building wax; they can just get down to business. 

So while my bees were busy all weekend creating food for themselves and (future) treats for me, I was busy too.  My friends and I did a lot of this...

...and even more of this...

...and a WHOLE LOT of this...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Swarm Catchers

I am such a lucky girl.  The other evening Beeman got a call that his friends Tim and Mary found a swarm on their land that was in an easy location for capturing.  They have an amazing farm on the Marys River not far from my house.  In addition to being great models of self-sufficient living, they are beekeepers with eleven hives (I'm jealous)! 

I love how swarms always seem to find their way to the properties of people who deserve them the most.

Mary and Tim are getting ready to shake and brush the swarm into an empty hive box.  When bees are clustered in a swarm they are extremely gentle.  Their only concern is staying together and protecting the queen.  Everything is calm and lovely...

...and now it is not.  Beeman, Mary, and Tim stirring up the bees and creating a wonderful scene of chaos.

The hive box was left up on the ladder for awhile to encourage more bees to go inside. 

Most of the bees were contained within the hive box, but a large number were bearding on the front near the entrance. 

A group of bees immediately assumed guard duty, lifting their abdomens in the air and fanning their wings to signal that a suitable home had been found.  Usually this is a good sign that the queen is inside with them. 

There were some stragglers left on the arbor.  They will most likely join their sisters in the new hive soon.  I don't know that I would like to be forceably told where to go either.  Some bees are stubborn, just like me.

Not even 30 minutes later, the bees had all moved inside the hive.  The next steps for Tim and Mary are to add additional frames to the hive and inspect the bees in a few days to verify that a queen is indeed inside.  And now they have twelve active hives (super jealous).  Twelve!!!

In addition to beekeeping, Mary also breeds carnivorous plants.  Two very exciting hobbies, don't you think?  Thank you for an incredible evening!

In other news, yesterday I found a swarm of my own.  Melanie and I were walking with the boys near the Oak Creek covered bridge when a cloud of thousands of bees surrounded us, moving very slowly through the forest.  We watched them settle and cluster on an old tree, practically hidden from view. 

I completely understand the allure of catching a swarm in order to expand your hives, but there is something magical about a swarm that is able to establish itself in the wild.  Don't worry bees, your secret is safe with me. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Successes and Failures

My hives are aging, and I couldn't be more excited.  The pure white wax is turning golden yellow, and the hive is getting sticky.  Older hives are much more exciting to me.  Their smell is more complex, they feel better in your hands, and they have much more to teach you.  Success!

This is one of my foundationless frames that used a small starter strip of wax.  There are no visible differences between these frames and those started with full sheets of foundation.  And let me give her credit - I have an awesome queen.  Success!

A close view of a beautiful pollen rainbow.  My bees like variety.  Success!

My green hive is growing taller.  The bottom three boxes are bursting with bees and solid brood pattern and I was able to add a honey super.  Success!

This was a foundationless frame with no starter wax.  Huge amounts of drone cells, weird configurations and undulating wax patterns, and strange communication holes in the center of the frame.  I'm glad I did this little experiment, but from now on I will be using foundationless frames with starter wax.  Failure! 

Foundationless frames are always drawn in very organic shapes that eventually evenly fill out the frame.  But a large number of the foundationless frames with no starter wax were being drawn exclusively with drone cells, so they were cut out and I will have the bees begin again (sorry girls!) on frames with starter wax.  So much wasted energy and effort, but lesson learned.  Failure!

A deformed drone frame, fed to the chickens.  Within an hour there was an empty frame on the ground, completely cleaned of all the wax.  Is it possible to have honey flavored eggs?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bloom Phenology - Mid June

Just kidding.  I haven't seen a single bee on this flower.  But I wanted you to see her.  I have been nurturing this peony along for many seasons now, and this year she is finally coming into her own.  Isn't she exquisite?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Feral Queen Revisited

Here we are taking a peek at the swarm I wrote about in an earlier post.  The once-feral queen is alive and well.  Can you spot her?  Look at that beautiful frame she has created - a tight brood pattern and radiating bands of pollen and honey.  This is what you want in your hive. 

Here is a closer view.  Notice the dutiful attendants surrounding her. 

To help prevent a hive from swarming, capped queen cells are usually removed.  Here are some destroyed cells with larvae inside. 

Hello, sir.  The drones are noticeably larger than the females, with enormous eyes to assist them on their mating flights.  These guys are hanging around hoping they will get to do just that. 

Here is a drone hatching from a cell.  Welcome to the world, little bee. As a drone you are destined to live a life full of luxury and frustration. 

This is a mite-trapping frame like the one's designed by Randy Oliver.  The top 2" or so of the frame is used by the bees to store honey, and the bottom is filled with drone cells.  Varroa mites prefer the larger size of drone cells, and once these cells are capped the comb can be scraped out and fed to your chickens.  The honey in the top can be returned to the bees (maybe) or cut out and eaten as comb honey (yes, please). 

I would like to try this type of frame in my hives.  Maybe my mentor will build me one (hint, hint). 

A parting shot.  Look at the amount of energy stored in those cells!