Tag Archives: Bees

Time Flies

It is said that as you get older time seems to go faster. It is also said that time flies when you’re having fun. I’m not sure which it is, and I suspect it is a combination of the two, but time sure does seem to be going quickly. Here it is well into June already and it  seems I have missed a lot of the things I should have written about. I thought I’d make this a catch up post.

Planting and weeding were two of our priorities in the last week of May and first week of June. My husband and I worked mostly together to do a thorough weeding of the entire garlic field. We spread it out over 5 or 6 days working 2 to 4 hours each day and it looked really good when it was finished. We are now just pulling big weeds as needed in the garlic. I have also spent time pulling weeds in the Prayer Garden, and devoted almost a full day to weeding the strawberry patch and asparagus. We have pretty much waged war on weeds and for now we seem to be winning the battle.

My husband has also spent a lot of time getting the garden planted. He started with the fifty tomato plants that he has grown from heirloom seed, as well as some green peppers, cabbage, and cucumbers.  We had our annual date to the local green house. The green house is one of the few places I enjoy shopping and usually I spend way too much money buying plants. This year there were only a few thing that we needed because my husband had started much of what we needed from seed. He picked out a couple of egg plants and some leeks and I bought a couple of rosemary plants but they were all out of culinary sage that I wanted. I did get a couple of Russian sage plants. Although they are not edible they should look nice in the prayer garden and the blossoms are said to attract butterflies. Maybe the bees will like them as well.


We had another swarm of bees. We watched the entire event. Above is the beginning when the group was starting to leave the hive.


It’s hard to make out in the above photo but all the little yellow spots against the green areas and all of the black spots against the blue sky are bees. They settled in a picturesque location nearby.


The flexibility of the  pine branches made it easy for my husband to slip a bucket up over the swarm. He then shook the branch while holding the bucket around the swarm. Nearly all of the bees fell into the bucket. He covered it with a lid and carried it to the empty hive.


He dumped the bees into the hive and put the inner cover on. He placed a piece of wood over the hole in the top of the inner cover to keep the bees inside. He went back to the pine tree and repeated the process to collect the bees that were left behind.

We watched the hive and saw bees gathering at the small slot in the side of the inner cover. This was a good indication that the queen was inside and the workers were going in to be with the queen.

It’s now about a week later and this hive along with our other 5 are all doing well.


The Irises are in full bloom in the Prayer Garden. When I was planting rosemary and sage the other day a lovely fragrance caught my attention. Since the Irises were the nearest blossoms I walked to them and took a sniff. Wow! Spicy-sweet. I then took a long deep breathe to fill myself with this wonderful scent. These have only been in place for a couple of years and have really just taken off this year. I always thought that Irises were planted for their showy flowers, and that is why I planted them. I never realized that they were aromatic as well.


I guess this just goes to show that we should take time to stop and smell the Irises. I’ll consider this a lesson learned.

Harvesting and watering are now our primary activities. Our asparagus crop was significantly affected by the wet weather this year and we harvested less than 50% of what we had last year. The strawberries are ripening and I have picked about 7 quarts so far. I am freezing them for now and will make jam with many of them when I have more time. I have also picked and dried oregano, spearmint and chocolate mint.

We are now having to water daily as we have gone from overly wet weather to overly dry. I think our last good rain was before Memorial Day, and the lack of rain plus the summerlike temperatures, equals very thirsty plants. This post explains our watering system on the farm. Since the farm is off grid watering takes a little more time and effort than just turning on a faucet. https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/06/05/our-off-grid-irrigation-system/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

While there are many other things going on here, there is much work to be done and precious little time to write about it, so until next time 🙂



Five Hives

As of Monday, May 23 rd., we have five hives of honey bees.

We were working at the farm in the morning, my husband planting tomatoes while I was weeding the prayer garden and marshmallow garden https://donteatitsoap.com/2015/08/05/marshmallow-root/ . We took about an hour for lunch and decided to get right back at it. As my husband walked toward the field where he was going to start planting pepper plants I heard him say, “We have a swarm”.


I grabbed my camera and walked in his direction. I saw the bees still getting themselves organized in an Autumn Olive tree. The way they were landing it looked like two separate swarms but by the time they had finished they had all come together as one large swarm.


One of the nice things about the location of our apiary is that it is surrounded by trees so when it is time for a swarm of bees to move to a new location their first stop is usually in one of the nearby trees. The Autumn Olive which is in bloom right now is very fragrant and I don’t blame them for choosing this tree.

Swarming is how honey bees colonies reproduce. When the hive begins to become over crowded the bees produce a new queen. They do this by building special brood cells which are known as queen cells. The queen larvae is then fed exclusively on royal jelly. The old queen leaves the hive with the swarm of worker bees in search of a new location to call home. The new queen hatches, mates with the drones, and begins laying eggs in the hive.

One thing I want to point out is that if you come across a swarm of bees on a tree or other structure there is no need to panic. It is not necessary to have someone remove them, as these bees are in transition and will be gone soon. There is no danger if you simply avoid the area. That’s not to say that if you know a beekeeper you shouldn’t call them to see if they want to come get it, as they might appreciate the opportunity to start a new hive.

As the bees settled in my husband began preparing to capture them. Just like with hiving bees it is important to make sure that everything is in place before getting started. He already had a empty hive ready in anticipation of capturing a swarm. He opened it up and removed some frames from an area where he would dump the bees. He left the covers sitting nearby.

He got out a five gallon bucket with a lid and examined the tree. I reminded him this tree has thorns. He decided he would need to cut a lower branch off so he could get to the swarm. He put on his bee suit, but since he wouldn’t need my help I didn’t suit up. I would just watch and take photos.


The battery of my camera went dead after this photo.

After he removed the branch he was able to put the bucket directly under the branch that held the swarm. He then shook the branch very hard and a large portion of the swarm dropped into the bucket. His objective at this point was to get the queen. He quickly covered the bucket and took it to the hive that he had ready.  He emptied the bucket into the hive and I imagine he said a silent prayer that the queen was amongst them. He placed the cover over the hive and went back for more of the bees who were gathering back on the limb. He again shook the branch so that another large amount of bees fell into the bucket, and he took them to the hive as well. After repeating this a third time he had captured most of the bees. When he placed the cover on the hive many of the bees which were flying around the outside began clustering on the hive. This was a good sign that the queen was inside.

It is now three days later and this hive seems to be functioning as well as the others. Worker bees are leaving the hive and coming back with bright yellow pollen. That is just what we like to see. 🙂

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 https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/05/17/beware/ 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  http://www.osagebees.com/ . 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. 🙂