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Home Sweet Home (Hiving Honey Bees)

We are convinced that bee keeping is part art, part science and part luck. We have read many books and websites and there are so many ways of doing things and reasons behind doing things that it is really up to each bee keeper to decide what works best for them.  Experienced bee keepers may read this and identify 5 or 10 things that they think we did “wrong”. New bee keepers should not use this as their “bee hiving bible”, but study different methods and decide for themselves what will work best. With that being said this is our story of hiving our bees this year.


Saturday morning we had perfect weather for putting our new bees in their hives. The sun was shinning, the temperature was in the low 60’s and the wind was clam. It was in February, after we realized the loss of two out of our four hives, that we decided to order two packages of bees.  Since we had such a tragic experience last year when our bees were delivered by U.S. Mail we knew we would never do that again. Fortunately last August at the Saint Clair County Farm Museum’s Harvest Days we met Scott and Jen from Osage Farms . They are building an impressive business which includes managing their own bees and bee products along with selling beekeeping products and packaged bees. They don’t raise and package the bees. Their supplier is out of Georgia and Scott personally makes the trip from Michigan to bring back a truckload of bees. We decided to order our bees from them.

We knew the bees would be arriving sometime on Saturday and when we got the news from Jen on Saturday morning that we could pick them up anytime after 9:00 a.m. we headed out the door. Their location in Avoca, Michigan is less than a 20 mile drive and we were back home and getting our bee suits and bee kit ready before 10:00 a.m.

Our bee kit contains the tools that we use when working in the bee hives – hive tools, bee brushes, a couple of small nails that are used for poking a hole in the queen candy to help the workers release the queen from her cage. It also has things like a mirror, flashlight and guitar strings that are handy at times but were not used for hiving the bees. I also made up a spray bottle of light sugar syrup.

When we got to the farm my husband organized all of the hive pieces that we were going to need. He had already in place a bottom board, a deep hive body with 10 frames, a medium hive body with two frames removed from the center, and a medium hive body with all frames removed, for each of the two new hives. Next to each new hive he had set out an inner cover and an outer cover.


Having everything organized is extremely important when hiving bees because you don’t want to be searching for missing pieces once you get that package of bees open.

Once we had everything in place we put on our bee suits. We don’t have full suits, just the hooded jackets and gloves. We wear blue jeans and pull our sock up over our pant legs so bees do not have an entryway.

Wearing a bee suit can be an encumbrance, the added layer of clothing can be hot and bulky, the screen can make it difficult to see clearly, and the gloves can interfere with manual dexterity.

My husband tends to only wear his suit when it is really necessary and he decided early in the hiving process that it was not necessary. Honey bees are generally not aggressive and only use their stinger as a defense mechanism. At this point they had no food to defend, so unless he accidently put his had on one it is not likely he would get stung. He stopped me before I opened the package and said “This is just in the way,” while taking off his hooded jacket. The picture of him below is much later in the process since I could stop to take his picture while we were busy with the bees and there is no way I would have been able to press that little camera button with those bulky gloves on.


Usually my husband opens the package, dumps the bees, and deals with the queen cage while I stand by to quickly put on covers or hand him things he might need. This year he  walked me through the process as I did more of the work.

Before we began opening the packages I sprayed them with the sugar water. I used a mixture of 1 part sugar to two parts water. Spraying the bees is said to calm them. I’m not sure if it does.

I started by using the hive tool to pry off the wooden cover that was stapled to the top of the package. When that was removed it exposed the top of the feeder can. I then used the tool to pry up the edge of the feeder can and loosen the plastic tag that held the queen cage in place. Once the feeder can was removed my husband took the queen cage out of the package and I quickly placed the wooden cover back over the hole in the package to keep the bees inside. We inspected the queen cage to make sure the queen was alive. Each queen cage had a queen and three or four attendants with her. It had queen candy on one end and a small cork to plug the hole that would expose the queen candy. My husband removed the cork then took a small nail to gently puncture a starter hole in the queen candy. He then used a slightly larger nail to make the hole bigger all the time being careful not to hit the bees with the nail. This will make it easier for the workers to release the queen from her cage.

My husband then set the queen cage in the hive, in the space where the two frames had been left out of the medium hive body. It was sitting on top of the frames in the bottom hive body.


Once we had the queen cage in place it was time to shake the rest of the bees into the hive. I let him do the first one but I decided I would do the second one. Even though I have watched my husband do this quite a few times, I didn’t realize how tough you have to be with them. After giving the package several good shakes into the hive with a cluster of bees dropping into the hive each time, and shaking them first to one end then to the other then out the center, and hitting the ends of the package to get them clustered and out, there were still a lot of bees clinging to the screened side of the packages. My husband then took the package from me and gave it a couple good slams on the wooded work table, then shook most of the rest of the bees into the hive.

All this time there were thousands of bees flying around us but I honestly didn’t pay them much attention. My focus was on the task at hand and  thinking about what we needed to do next.

After most of the bees were out of the package he put the package on the ground near the hive entrance so the rest of the bees could find their new home when they exited the package. We brushed a few bees off the lip of the hive box as we slid the inner cover in place, then we put on the outer cover.

As far as feeding these new bees we decided not to use a feeder on the hive. We stopped feeding our bees sugar water several years ago and began making sure they have enough honey to keep them going. We are able to use honey that was in the hives we lost over the winter. Rather than putting it inside the hives my husband has it set up on the bench directly outside the hives. (see photo with my husband in it above).

By afternoon the bee activity had settled down quite a bit and there were bees coming and go from  both of the new hives.

It was a good day. 🙂





Bath Day For The Boys

One 90 lb. Scout + one 120 lb. Trooper on bath day = one big job. What makes it somewhat easier is the fact that they are well behaved when they get their bath. Yesterday when I    announced to the Boys that they were going to get a bath they both came into the bathroom and looked at the tub. I still needed to get things set up for them, so I told Scout he had to wait a few minutes. He laid down to wait.

Scout waiting for his bath.

We used to give them both their bath’s in our garden tub. My husband hooked a shower hose to the tub faucet and this works well.

Bath time for Scout and Trooper

We usually bathe them one at a time, but one time my husband actually had them both in the tub together.

Trooper still gets his bath in the tub, but Scout’s advanced age prevents him from jumping into the tub like he used to. Nowadays I remove our glass shower doors so that Scout can just step into the shower. I kneel on the floor beside the shower and wash him up. He loves the attention and he loves it when we tell him he is a “clean puppy”.

A few years back, after I began using my homemade soap for washing my own hair, I decided to try using it on the boys. Buying dog shampoo can be expensive, the highly perfumed fragrance of these often has adverse effects on my sinuses, and getting these shampoos completely rinsed out of the boys coats was a nightmare. Using the soap, on the other hand, there are no added fragrance. It provides a lather that penetrates even Trooper’s extremely thick coat and under coat yet it rinses out nicely. Yesterday I used Aloe Soap but I sometimes use my Hair Care Soap that I use on my own hair.

Scout and Trooper – the afterbath

After their bath my husband had them lay on the blanket to dry and he gave them a nail trim.

Last night as I petting each one and saying good night I noticed how exceptionally soft Troopers coat was and even Scout’s wirey hair had a softer feel. Indeed, Don’t Eat It! Handcrafted Soaps are good for the whole family, including the dog.


Two New Soap Recipes

I am really excited about the two new soap recipes I made this week. The soap I made on Monday was inspired by the dandelions that are popping up everywhere screaming “spring is here.” I decided that those yellow beauties might just make a nice soap.

Usually before I try something new with a soap recipe I do an internet search to see if others have done similar. Artisan soap makers are a creative bunch and it seems there is not much they haven’t tried and wrote about. I did indeed find several sites with dandelion soap recipes, stories, and for sale. I do not use other peoples recipes but I like to get an idea of how others have used particular ingredients, what the results were and if there is anything major that might go wrong.

By this time I have learned that when adding botanicals to cold process soaps you will very rarely capture any fragrance and I have no way of testing to see if any potential therapeutic benefits from them survive the process. The most I could hope for is to capture some of the cheery yellow color. Hoping to double up on any benefits I infused both the water and the oils with dandelion flowers. I decided to add honey as well.

This recipe is now out of the molds and has a deep yellow color. It still has to cure for about six weeks and doubtless the color will change as the soap cures. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Todays soap experiment is maple. When I did my internet search for maple soap I found that maple syrup is often used as an ingredient in handcrafted soap. My plan was a little different. When my husband was collecting sap to make syrup this spring I asked him to save me a couple of quarts so I could make a batch of soap with it. “Are you sure you know what you are doing?” he asked. I explained that I plan to use the sap in place of the water in my soap recipe. He graciously obliged my request and I have kept the sap in the freezer waiting to be turned into soap.

One morning when we were having our homemade syrup on our pancakes and I looked at the sugar sand that had collected at the bottom of the jar and wondered about using it in soap. Will the sand particles remain sand or will they dissolve during the processing. I remembered reading that it is mostly composed of calcium salts and malic acid. It is not harmful to eat and upon further research I learned that those ingredients can be beneficial for skin care. Again I can’t make any claims about my soap providing these therapeutic benefits because it is questionable whether they survive the soap making process. The sand in that jar was gone before I had a chance to tell my husband that I wanted to save some for making soap. We had a few more jars with sand at the bottom, so I opened one this morning, poured most of the syrup into an empty jar and put it in the refrigerator for future breakfast. The sand and a small portion of the syrup that was left in the bottom of the jar were added to my soap.

The maple soap, if it turns out well, will definitely be a seasonal soap and I expect the sweet dandelion soap will be as well. Although they won’t be ready for 6+ weeks you can contact me by email ( if you are interested in purchasing either of these soaps. 🙂

Meat The Chicks

or maybe I should say “The Meat Chicks”. The plan for these chicks is to raise them only until they are large enough to butcher. Regardless of the title we have begun introducing the chicks to the farm and the rest of the flock.


We set up a 12′ x 3′ run, made out of 2 foot chicken wire, near the chicken coop. We left the dog crate inside the run so the chicks could get out of the sun or wind if they need to. We covered the run with netting so the chicks can’t fly out and the other chickens or overhead predators can’t get in. We thought the chicks would go into the crate as darkness comes, this would make it easy to bring them back to the brooder for the overnight hours. We quickly learned there is a flaw in this plan. Even though the chicks spent time in and out of the crate during the day, as darkness approached all of the chicks were outside of the crate. The first night I chuckled as my husband told me that he had to crawl around the pen to catch them all and put them back in the crate. The second night I actually lost our bet when we arrived at their pen to find them all huddled next to the crate. My creative husband, who was willing to try anything so he would not have to crawl around on his hands and knees again chasing chicks, took out his flashlight, turned it on, and put it in the crate. Immediately all 10 chicks went into the crate on their own. That’s when we realized that unlike our older chickens that always return to their coop when darkness comes,    these chicks have never know darkness. The warmth that they require at their young age has always been provided by a heat lamp during the overnight hours.  They were seeking light or maybe afraid of the dark.

“I didn’t know if that would work,” 🙂 my husband said as he carried the crate to the van, but we are thankful that it did as we plan to continue this for a week or so until we feel they are ready to move to the farm permanently.