Friday, July 31, 2015

Buttercup Can't Catch a Break

I hate being woken up by my DH in the morning, but not for the reason you might think. Normally, I'm the first one up around 5 or 6 am, so if my DH wakes me up, it's because there's bad news.

I fell asleep late last night on our basement couch watching Graham Norton, so I slept in a bit this morning. At 8:30 this morning, I heard him calling my name (my DH, not Graham) and found out that during the night, Buttercup had been overturned by a bear and rained on. The electric fence was still on and intact, so my guess is that Yogi or Boo Boo must have stuck a paw through the electric tape and knocked my nuc down. The nuc was not quite 3' from the fence. Guess it wasn't far enough.

The first thing I did was scan the ground for the queen, but I didn't see her, so I figured she might be between the combs. To minimize damage to the comb, I first moved all the bars to a table so that I could pick up the nuc body. While doing so, I noticed the mess was not as bad as it could've been. Most of the comb had ripped slightly from the bars, but only three combs had torn off completely.

These bees were on the outside and drowned in the rain.
I had two emergency bars (some hardware cloth stapled to a bar) already prepped for such a time as this, so I popped two of the fallen combs onto them. Rather than take time to make another emergency bar, I used some scrap quilting fabric to fashion a sling for the third comb. I have a bin full of scraps so it was my fastest option.

Sling for holding comb. Masking tape will work, too. 
As I was going through the comb, I kept looking for the queen but didn't see her. Then I noticed a pile of bees that was beginning to accumulate on the ground. The queen was in it! Hooray!  (And yes, I was soooo relieved to have not stepped on her.)

Cluster of bees starting to form on the ground.
Hard to see, but the tail end of HRH is trying to scoot out of sight near the top of this cluster.

Meanwhile, the other hives were waking up and the spilled syrup and nectar were drawing robbers. They were all over the table and Buttercup. I really should have moved her to a new location, but I didn't because those log stands are heavy! Instead, I just moved her stand a bit to make sure a bear couldn't swipe at it again and reduced her entrance by half. I also decided not to feed her until the robbing frenzy subsided.


Forgive me if I didn't take a lot of photos of them robbing the nuc itself. I was kind of busy trying to close it up quickly.

Reduced entrance. I use 2 pieces of duct tape.
One small piece is taped to the outside piece so that the bees don't stick to it.
I'm not a fan of wearing lots of protective gear, but you'd better believe I wore a jacket today! Even so, I still got zapped twice. One of the girls actually climbed inside my jacket somehow and stung me in the right shoulder. Considering how they'd just had their home destroyed, though, I feel I got off pretty lightly.

Trying to clear a space for the level. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Summer Doldrums

Temperatures have been in the 90's F. all week, which has made me reluctant to do inspections. However, it's been awhile since I looked into some of the hives (almost 3 weeks for the mean ones!), so yesterday morning, I decided to bite the bullet and get outside.

Hippolyte is hot, too. Though she's the only one doing any real bearding.
I started my inspection around noon, and I began with the mean ones because I didn't want to overheat and decide "to heck with them" when it was their turn. They turned out to be ok, so maybe their grumpiness is related to time of day. In the past, I'd been checking them around 4:00 or 5:00 in the evening when the foragers were returning home. Today, they were almost mellow.

My full-size hives, Persephone, Hippolyte, and Austeja, seem fine. Persephone, the laggard, has only 16 drawn bars of comb, and about a third of that was given to her when I installed her. Lazy freeloader.

The other two have about 22-24 bars and loads of brood. Austeja is the one that kept getting split, so I think she could've built out a lot more, but it is what it is. In any case, in my area, 15 bars full of honey is the recommendation for going into winter. They have enough drawn comb, so if they fill it up, they'll be fine.

Brood comb from Hippolyte
The splits are doing well, too. Buttercup and Bubblegum have only one or two empty bars. Elsa and Peach are still really new and don't have much comb yet. I'll probably step up the feeding to help them draw out. I've been pretty negligent lately, giving them only about 2 quarts 1 to 2 times a week. However, I just bought 50 lbs of sugar at Costco that I'm motivated to move out of the kitchen, so I'll try to increase the feeding frequency. At this point, I'm more interested in getting them to build comb than anything else, so I've been feeding 1 part sugar: 2 parts water. I don't know that I'm seeing a lot of construction, but they're sucking it down fast enough.

Brood comb from recent split Elsa
The bees seem busy working things like coneflowers, Russian sage, and loosestrife. Butterfly bushes are in bloom, too. My ligularia is on its way out, but the bees never really got excited about it. Maybe there's not enough.

Maybe I'm becoming more observant, but I'm getting better at spotting queens.

Here's a better pic of her. I think this is Austeja.

Last week, our goldenrod started up. Last year, I left for vacation the last week of July, and it hadn't begun yet. When I came back two weeks later, it was just starting to bloom. That's three weeks difference in start time between this year and last! That's almost a month! Once again, I'm impressed by a beekeeper's need to be attuned to cues in nature rather than to work according to a strict calendar.

HRH Buttercup
Temperatures are supposed to hover in the 90's/mid- to upper-80's the rest of this week and next. Fortunately, there is a lull this time of year. The spring boom is over, and while the goldenrod marks the start of our fall flow, it's not yet in full swing. For me, these summer doldrums translate into a time when I don't need to worry about swarming or crooked comb. Therefore, there's no need to inspect, which is perfect since it's too hot to be outside in the middle of the day. Instead, we can spend our days cooling off at the beach or pool, which is way more pleasant than sweating into one's eyeballs.

Hope you're enjoying your summer, too!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Have the World's Best Husband!

My DH travels frequently for work, and he always makes it a point to ask me what I want him to bring back. Most of the time, the answer is, "Nothing." However, when he had to visit London last week, I knew exactly what I wanted. "Bring me some monofloral honey from Fortnum & Mason!!!"

Fortnum & Mason

He asked, "Do you have an address? Do I have to go there?"

"Well, no, but just make sure that you get something monofloral." Lots of stress on that "monofloral."

Honey selection

Of course, while attending his conference, he mentioned in various conversations that he had to run an errand for honey. Every single person responded with, "Oh, so you're going to Fortnum & Mason, yeah?" His destiny was sealed.

Shropshire honey, Welsh heather honey, and Salisbury plain honey
along with some  wildflower honey in an adorable china jar and a luxurious honey dipper from F&M
The biscuits are from Harrods, though. 

Early Saturday morning, I received an excited call from my DH, "I wish you were here! You should see this place!" Then I got a run-down on all the varieties of honey in the store. (My picks: heather, borage, and Pitcairn Island, please! Yes, the Pitcairn Island is not a monofloral, but it's from Pitcairn Island! Where else am going to get a sample?)

The Pitcairn Island honey is bottled in dark plastic :-(
Still, look how light the borage honey -- it's practically clear.

My DH wasn't able to take a tour of Fortnum & Mason's rooftop apiary. Apparently, tours have to be arranged well in advance. (It's just as well since I get nervous when my allergic husband gets too close to beehives.) F&M also sells honey from their London store location. However, one has to get on a waiting list, and it takes awhile to get the honey. "Better sign up now," my DH advised, "so you can get your honey in two or three years from now." I have no plans to get on the wait list, but no matter.

An Ogilvy's honey sampler: Balkan Linden, Zambezi Plains, Himalayan Mountains, and New Zealand Rainforest

My DH is a little bummed because he had meant to pick up some Scottish comb honey and forgot, but I'm beyond ecstatic about his selections. I'm feeling like a kid in a candy shop.

The day before his F&M excursion, my husband visited a little Italian shop in SoHo
and picked up some acacia and chestnut honey.
The man knows what I like.

I really don't know which one to try first. Perhaps a honey tasting party is in order! I did some reading on some of the monoflorals, and this is what I found:

  • Acacia: This is European sister of our black locust, and it has the same butterscotch, vanilla, and almonds finish. Pair it with Pecorino Romano or provolone and chardonnay.
  • Chestnut: "Chestnut is either a honey you'll adore or one you'll wish you'd never met." Notes of carob, wet tobacco, balsam, smoke, and leather with a bitterness that lasts on the tongue. Serve with Pecorino Romano & fresh pears or with Gorgonzola on walnut bread, arugula, and cabernet sauvignon.
  • Heather: The London Honey Company makes a distinction in their products between ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) and bell heather (Erica cinerea). However, ling heather is generally the plant referred to as heather while the Ericas (cross-leaved heather is another Erica) are called heaths.

    Ling is dark amber and opaque. It's sometimes referred to as "the Rolls Royce of honeys." It has a viscous, jelly-like texture that refuses to pour out of the jar -- even when turned upside down. It also does not crystallize. To test the purity of ling honey, scrape a line on its surface. "If the line stays on the surface, it's not mixed with other heather honeys." Pure ling also has tiny air bubbles throughout. Tasting notes indicates flavors of warm and smoky toffee, plum, blackberry, and bitter coffee with a tangy finish. It should be paired with Stilton or cheddar cheese, griddle cakes or porridge.

    Bell heather is reddish and transparent. The flavor is bitter, perfumy, and floral with hints of mint. Drambuie and Sam Adams Honey Porter beer are brewed with Scottish heather honey.

    I think my DH brought back some sort of mix since, visually, my honey has characteristics of each. 
  • Linden: Delicate, herbal, and fruity. Smells of sour milk, beeswax, and a sweet mustiness. Flavor profile includes green bananas, kiwi fruit, butterscotch pineapple, and green melon. Pair it with a butter camembert accompanied by green grapes, toasted pecans, a baguette, and chardonnay.

Now I don't want to give too much away right now, but I asked my DH to pick up an extra jar of one of the honeys (I won't say which) because I've been wanting to have a raffle. I just have to get around to figuring out how to run one and which host to use. But stay tuned... It's coming soon!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A New Queen & The Birthing of a Revolution

On Thursday, I added some syrup to the nucs and took the opportunity to check on them. Not only is all well, but Buttercup has a queen! Finally! Sadly, I left my smartphone in the house, but compared to my dark girls, she's a blond beauty.

This afternoon, I undertook an inspection of the full-sized hives. I can tell that the summer dearth has started. Very little nectar coming in. Actually, it looks like the saved nectar is starting to get eaten. Comb building has all but halted. All very normal for this time of year.

I didn't do a thorough check, but Austeja is starting to build drone comb, which is a sign of a healthy hive to me. Saw eggs and larvae, so I closed up.

Hippolyte & Peach
Hippolyte and Peach don't seem to have any honey bars in back, but it's hard to tell what they have since I didn't really get to look at them.

I never thought I'd say this, but I actively dislike these bees. These are my open-mated packages from GA, and they are the meanest, nastiest, most hateful furies I've ever seen. Even the bees I had my first-year weren't this bad. They were a little defensive at first (head bumping) because they'd suffered a few bear attacks right before I'd gotten them, but they settled down after a few weeks. These Georgia bees must have some AHB genetics or something. As soon as I pull out the first bar, they swarm out en masse directly at my head. There are no warning bumps, either. Stinging commences straightaway.

Hippolyte. Starting some comb behind the divider board.

Today, it was so bad I actually had to go back to the house and suit up, which almost ticked me off more than the vicious attacks since it was almost 90 F outside. I usually don't wear more than a veil, but I truly need the whole shebang with them. I barely took a look at them. I got two bars into Hippolyte, and not even a single bar into Peach. I still got zapped four times.

Some double comb on a bar

I've had it. These queens are getting dethroned. I just haven't quite decided yet how to proceed with my revolt. Here are the options I'm considering.

  1. I could requeen them now. However, I don't see this as a real viable plan since I'd have to comb through the hive to find the queens and then I'd have to keep messing about with them until I know they have a new mother. The idea of repeated interactions with them sends shivers down my spine.
  2. Leave them alone until the last brood emerges at the end of fall. Then shake them out to die & take the honey. It sounds horrible, but that's what people used to do with skeps every year. My only concern is that they might join other colonies without adding any resources to them. In other words, will I make the bread bigger without adding any more butter?
  3. Let their numbers dwindle a bit until the fall flow starts. Shake all the bees out and let them beg their way into the other hives. Distribute brood to the other hives in order to boost their workforce. The down side of this plan is that the thought of all those hellions in the air at once terrifies me. On the other hand, it should give the other hives a huge bump for that final nectar flow.
  4. Hope winter kills them. If not, make splits & raise queens using brood from my other hives. If they survive, it will be an easy way to start a lot of new hives. However, this plan has a con, too, which is that if they die, they die after consuming a lot of honey.

I know one should never say never, but truly, if I can avoid it, I will NEVER buy a Southern package again.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Headaches Begone with Switchel!

Yesterday afternoon, a friend of mine stopped and shared something new with me -- switchel. I'd never really heard of it before, and she mentioned that it was great for headaches. Intrigued, I had to do some research on this.

CideRoad is the brand my friend brought over.
Honestly, I didn't love it. I thought it a little bland.
More ginger would've been nice.

Going way back in history, Hippocrates prescribed something called oxymel -- vinegar mixed with honey. It was used as a remedy for various ailments on its own, but it was also used as a pleasant-tasting carrier for not-so-pleasant medicinal herbs.

The Vermont Switchel Company

Switchel kind of takes oxymel and turns it into a refreshing beverage. Switchel, which is thought to have originated in the Caribbean, had become a popular summer drink in the American colonies by the 17th century. In the 19th century, it was nicknamed haymaker's punch because it was served to thirsty farmers during the summer hay harvest. Prior to the discovery of electrolyes and the advent of blue sports drinks, switchel fit the bill for replacing minerals lost through sweating.

Superior Switchel

The ingredients for switchel are quite simple -- water, ginger, apple cider vinegar, and a sweetener (e.g., honey, molasses, brown sugar, or maple syrup). Except for the water, all of the ingredients contain potassium to assist with rehydration. The ginger itself is an important ingredient, too. Apparently, it "warms the stomach," making it possible for a person to drink more fluid than if he/she were drinking plain cold water alone.

Up Mountain Switchel

I did some more digging, and it seems that, to my friend's point about the headaches, ginger is a popular home remedy for headaches. Lucky me, I had a chance to test out her claim the same day.

Last night, I came down with a massive, head-splitting pain. After suffering miserably for a couple of hours, I made myself a glass of switchel. I didn't use a recipe but just mixed:

  • A glass of water
  • 1 Tbsp fire cider (apple cider vinegar that's been steeped in herbs)
  • Some honey
  • About a Tbsp of ginger 
Lo and behold, within 15-20 minutes I did indeed feel human again. I actually felt fairly well!

Fire Tonic No9 is the fire cider brand I used.
There's a big dispute about the product bearing the name Fire Cider,
but that's a different story.

I realize this post is only loosely related to bees or honey, since honey is just an ingredient in switchel (and not even the main ingredient or a necessary one since it can be replaced by another sweetener). However, the pain relief came so quickly that I wanted to share this since it might be helpful to a lot of people. In particular, I have some people in mind who limit their use of pain killers due to kidney conditions, and I think they could benefit from this easy, fast, healthful alternative.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Natural Beekeeping... Au Naturel

I don't have a clue what this guy said. I was too busy cracking up.

Whatever you do, when you're beekeeping, be safe and always wear a hat & veil.

Corn Pollen

I'm not a talented gardener. Most odd years find me planting things. Then during even years, I rip 75% of my plants out and move them. Despite my lack of talent, I still like to plant a veg garden every spring.

This year, the kids wanted to grow corn. Normally, I wouldn't because it takes up so much space and yields very little. Even so, I'd hate to squash any enthusiasm for planting, so we put some organic non-GMO corn in between the green beans.

Since it's a grass, I've always thought of corn as a wind-pollinated plant, but this morning, as I was gathering up beans, my husband directed my attention to the corn tassels. They were loaded with honeybees.

I can't imagine how much nectar they were getting from the flowers, but there must have been some because their proboscises were out.

Proboscis out
Even more amazing was how full their pollen bags were. 

Loaded with pollen
My husband tapped on a tassel, and the pollen created a thick corn-colored cloud. All my green bean picking must have caused a pollen avalanche, too, because I noticed a lot of leaves thickly coated with the stuff.

Pollen on a leaf
Curious about bees and corn, I went digging and found a write-up of a study conducted by a Brazilian university showing that corn pollen is an important food source for African honey bees (AHB). The protein content of various pollens ranges from 8%-40%. Corn pollen has a lower protein content -- about 15% protein -- but it appears to be collected quite enthusiastically by AHB.

One paragraph from the study that I found quite interesting related to corn and European honey bees:
According Sabugosa-Madeira et al. (2007), bees do not show great interest in the fields of corn plants when there are other good sources of pollen to ensure close and their livelihoods. However, the bees come to feed almost exclusively on corn pollen when in case of famine or when apiaries are located in areas with large plantations of corn (MAURIZIO; LOUVEAUX, 1965). These authors found apiaries in the area of the Landes, in France, satisfying about 90% of its needs for flowers with pollen from corn, extending this for almost a month until the end of August.

First, I'm troubled since this paragraph suggests European bees collect corn pollen when nothing else is blooming. I could tell my dearth was starting, but it just makes me sad that they have to resort to corn because I live in a pollinator's desert.

Second, I already knew that the dust from GMO-corn seed was hazardous to bees. However, now that I realize how much bees depend on corn pollen, I'm doubly concerned. In a way, I suppose it's fortunate that Monsanto requires corn to be detasseled (not for the bees' benefit, but so that farmers cannot save seed),  but somewhere, Monsatan [sic] has to have poisonous fields of tasseled corn in order to produced the toxic seeds they sell. Urgh.

Anyway, it was really neat watching the bees work the corn, so for next year, I'm already planning a whole patch of it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

An Oldie But Goodie

I was going through a bunch of files on my computer when I found this one. Last summer, my husband came hollering and running through the house -- yelling about a big cloud of black bees outside. Sadly, by the time I was able to get to the beeyard, they were gone.

At the time, I thought it might have been related to orientation flights, but in retrospect, I believe he witnessed a swarm. I had some queen cells in the hive, and there were significantly fewer bees in the days afterward.

In any case, I opened the observation window to see what was happening inside the hive. Obviously, I must have taken video, too, because I found it today.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Coronation Day!

I met someone who lives two towns over from me who wants to take up beekeeping next year. John was interested in getting some first-hand experience seeing bees up close, so I invited him and his wife Laura over to participate in a hive inspection.

John with some comb
We started with the splits since those are the colonies that I'm most concerned with.

Peach and Elsa
Today is Day 10 for Peach and her virgin queen. Well, that queen is a virgin no longer. There are eggs and a queen!

Peach's queen

I really have trouble finding the dark queens, so thankfully John has some sharp eyes. He noticed both Peach's and Elsa's queens first.

Elsa's queen should have emerged Wednesday, so I really was not expecting any eggs until next Saturday, but she's laying already.

Elsa's queen

Buttercup did not have any eggs, but her queen should've emerged about Wednesday, so I'm not concerned yet. Just in case, I stole yet another bar of eggs/larvae from Bubblegum for her.

This nuc is doing beautifully. She's starting to backfill the nest, though, so I broke it up with a couple of empty bars.

Austeja, Hippolyte & Persephone
These three colonies are all doing well -- eggs, larvae, extra stores, making some drones. Hippolyte and Persephone were starting to backfill their nests as well. Hopefully, some extra space and the dwindling flow will suppress any swarming.

If I'm being truthful, I'm really starting to dislike Hippolyte and Persephone. Almost every time I open them, they sting me. I've got 7 colonies, and 98% of my stings this year have come from these two wretches. Today, they set a new record for me for the most stings in one day -- four stings, two on each arm. Even John got stung on the hand. Horrible little fiends these two. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Interactive Honey Bee Forage Map

If you're a beekeeper living in the U.S., you're going to love this interactive honey bee forage map. If you visit the site, all you have to do is click a state to get a list of blooms, when they start, and when they end.

You're welcome. :-)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Extra Virgin Queen Bee

Thursday, I stole two bars of eggs/larvae from Bubblegum and gave it to Peach. I also gave Peach the queen I'd purchased from Sam. Sunday, I checked, and there was no queen in the cage and no eggs. I couldn't spot the queen in the hive either.

I wasn't quite sure how long it would take the queen to lay eggs -- or if they'd accepted her -- or if she was even in there. So I gave them some syrup and a bar of eggs/young larvae and closed up.

Tuesday, I put some more syrup in the hive and checked again. Still no sign of a queen, or eggs, or even queen cells. Urgh. I added a small bar bar of eggs again and some more syrup.

Feeling perplexed, I texted Sam with the situation today. His response: 

"No, they didn't accept her. If they haven't started queen cells then there is a virgin queen present."

What??? How did this happen? I took the brood from Bubblegum, which is queen right. She has been since at least June 25 (two weeks ago). Could there have been a virgin queen that emerged that wasn't killed off? I know this sometimes happens in a large hive, but this was a small nuc. Urgh. I already have two queenless colonies. Now a third? Ok, technically, she has a queen, but I'm going to be uneasy until I see eggs. My stomach is flip-flopping.

On the other hand, I had fretted about introducing the queen too soon. Now, I can see that even if I'd waited the minimum 24 hours, it wouldn't have mattered anyway. They still would have killed her because they already had a queen.

Of course my next questions were, "When do I start worrying, and what do I do next?" Sam advised me, "Don't ever worry. Check again in another 5 days or so." Oh boy, here we go again. I'm tracking so many queen bee "birth dates" on my calendar that my agenda looks like a personal organizer for an obstetrician. Fun. Fun. Fun. 

Ant Lions

I'm going through my draft posts and trying to finish some up. This post is actually from last August, but I'm just posting it now because I found it too interesting not to share. (Not that I'm some kind of blogging Tolstoy or anything, but because I learned something totally cool.)


Over the summer, I noticed some odd-looking holes in the ground beneath the hives. They didn't quite look like anthills, but I didn't give much thought to what they might be either.

A couple of weeks ago, though, my DH made a brave appearance (because he's allergic to bee stings) in the bee yard and said, "Oh, look, you have antlions" (My guy really does know everything!)

"Where?" I asked. He pointed to the weird holes.

Antlions! I'd never heard of them! Say it together now -- "Google time!"

Apparently, the term ant-lion applies to the larval form of about 2,000 members of the family Myrmeleontidae. Here in N. America, antlions are also called doodlebugs because of the spiraling trails they make. They live in little pit-like burrows which they use to trap ants and other tasty arthropods.

From Wikipedia:

Adult antlions look a lot like dragonflies or damselflies, though I think I read somewhere that they're more closely related to lacewings. In fact, I've seen many of the adults by the hives, but I didn't know that's what they were. It's also interesting that my ant problems decreased dramatically after I saw them hanging around. Ah... It's a truly a wonderful world.

From Wikipedia:

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Do I Need a Bee Suit?

Update: Removed non-working photo links.

I was out inspecting the bees today, and one of the guys installing some siding for me noticed my veil. He used to do pest removals and exclaimed, "Just a veil! You've got more heart than me. I used to use a whole suit! Head to toe! Bees freak me out!" We laughed about it, but his remark reminded me that I'd started this post ages ago and forgot to finish. So here goes...

"Do I need a bee suit? What kind of protective clothing do I really need?" I hear those questions over and over, and I totally get it because beekeeping is not cheap. Starting costs include the hive (which can run anywhere from $15 to several hundred dollars per hive depending on whether one builds it or buy its and the materials used. Then, if you have to buy bees, a package runs about $110 and up. Nucs can be even more. Depending on how many hives one wants to start with, beekeeping can get pricey. Protective clothing just adds to the cost. Even an inexpensive jacket can run about $60.

What I wear
To be very frank -- I'm no clotheshorse. My personal philosophy on clothing is that it should be comfortable, practical, and appeal to the wearer. That notion applies to beekeeping fashions as well. My personal beekeeping attire depends on two factors 1) the temperament of the bees and 2) the season. The temperament of the bees is a no-brainer. I suit up -- jacket, veil, and gloves -- for the really nasty ones. However, even nice bees seem to have "seasonal affective disorder," so I also make modifications depending on the outside temperature.
  • Summer. I stick to shorts, tank top, and flip flops. I wear a veil, though, because bees burrowing into my hair raises my anxiety level, and to reiterate, this is all about being comfortable. The bees are usually easy-going this time of year, though, so my choice to wear as little protective clothing has nothing to do with (in the words of Morgan Freeman) "resonating" with the bees. I just want to be cool -- not James Dean cool, but let's-avoid-hot-flashes cool. My overall lack of protection results in me taking a fair number of stings. However, I prefer an occasional shot of venom to overheating, but that's my personal preference. 
  • Early spring or fall. I prefer a bee jacket with veiled hood and jeans because at that time of year, I need the warmth, and the girls are more likely to be irked by intrusions. A regular jacket is fine, but I just don't want to keep getting my jackets dirty. BTW, some people say that their bees attack their jeans. I've not really had an issue with this, though. It helps to wear clean clothes, I think, during inspections.
No matter the season, I skip gloves because I feel that I'm more sensitive and careful without them, and I like being forced to stay mindful.

To reiterate, these are my personal protective clothing choices, not general recommendations. Every person has to decide for him/herself what will make them most comfortable. There is absolutely no shame in wearing protective clothing from head to toe. Naked beekeeping may be entertaining, but it does not make you a better beekeeper. You want to be able to enjoy your bees -- so wear whatever gives you the best balance of physical and mental comfort. 

Do I need protective clothing?
Before buying clothing/deciding what kind of clothing to buy, I'd ask the following questions:
  • Will I be more relaxed if I'm wearing protective clothing?
  • Am I nervous about getting stung? 
  • Am I allergic to bee stings?
  • Do I want to avoid stings in any particular areas?
  • Do I want to have guests in my apiary?
  • Do I live in an area with AHB (Africanized honey bees)?
  • Do I have children that might assist me?
If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes," then you might consider getting some protective clothing. However, the actual types of clothing you get might depend on how much protection you need and how comfortable you are around bees. 

What are my clothing options?

Bee suit:  Bee suits are the most expensive option, but if you want full coverage from head to foot, a bee suit with a veil will give you the most complete protection. If you're working with some really mean bees, this is a good option since they can't squeeze in under the jacket waist, which is something I've experienced first-hand. The other bonus is that they usually have gaiters around the ankles to prevent bees from climbing up your pants. They are hot, though, so a ventilated jacket, like Ultra Breeze, might be something to consider. Ventilated jackets have multiple layers of mesh which allow air to pass through, but are thick enough to prevent stings.

If you want a full suit but can't swing it with your budget, some people use cheap painter's suits that they get from places like Walmart. I've never tried one, so I can't speak for how well they work. However, that might be an option.

Ultrabreeze suit

Bee jacket: Many people find a bee jacket with pants sufficient protection. Again, they can be quite warm, so a ventilated jacket might be a good option if you want to wear it all summer long. With jackets and suits, it's good to look for designs that have zero gaps where zippers meet. I write this because I've had bees slip through those holes. Another area where bees slip through for me is around the sleeve at the wrist. Even though the wrists are elasticized, they find a way in.

Whether you get a jacket or suit, pockets are very helpful.
Jacket from Mann Lake.
Oversized long-sleeve shirt: My first summer, I quickly tired of wearing a jacket and switched to using an oversized long-sleeve shirt (one of my husband's cast-off dress shirts). It was a lot lighter and more comfortable than a jacket, and I never had any issues with bees coming in at the wrists. It's not as thick or tight-fitting around the wrists or waist as a jacket/suit, though, so if AHB is a concern, a shirt probably wouldn't provide suitable protection.

Note: Whether you get a suit, jacket, or oversized shirt, get something loose and roomy. That gap between your fabric and skin will protect you from stings. If your clothing is too tight, the stinger will go straight through the fabric into your skin.

Pants: Some companies sell pants separately from the jacket. I'm not sure why a person would buy a jacket and pants separately -- maybe they might want options for more coverage in spring/fall and less in summer. Or maybe more coverage starting out before they start stripping layers away. But buying separately also lets people start with a just a jacket, and then if they decide they need more coverage, they can buy pants later without getting a whole suit. In any case, options are a good thing.

Helmet with veil: You can find helmets that are used in conjunction with a veil. I haven't tried using this combination, so I can't speak to the comfort factor. However, the veil and helmet are usually sold separately. There are also various types of veil styles. Veils usually cost about $15 - $20. The helmet is usually another $12 - $20. One nice thing about this style I think is that if the veil rips, you don't have to replace the whole thing.

Helmet with veil from Brushy Mountain

Hatless Veil: I have Brushy Mountain's folding hatless veil and I like it well enough. Instead of separate pieces, it has a thick piece of cotton that serves as a "hat," and the veil is connected to the cotton. The only thing I don't like are the vertical white strips which sometimes obstruct my view. It ties down, so it's not 100% gapless, but I haven't ever had any major issues with it.

Hatless veil from Brushy Mountain

I also recently purchased Mann Lake's Veil with Hat. Because it's round and doesn't have anything on the screen, I think the visibility is a little better -- when it's not falling over my eyes. The "hat" is way too big (seriously, it comes down to my nose) and doesn't really adjust. I'm going to have to hack it with velcro or snaps to make it fit.

Mann Lake's version of a hatless veil

Gloves: There are lots of choices for gloves.

  • Leather. I haven't tried cowhide gloves, but my first season, I ordered some super soft goat-skin gloves. They have decent flexibility and provide good protection, but they make my movements clunky, and I can't feel anything while I wear them. Also, my hands sweat. (Sorry, if that was TMI.) Actually, I think the bees are more angry when I wear gloves.
  • Nitrile. They provide more sensitivity, though significantly less protection than leather. They're usually about $2 a pair from a beekeeping supply company, but you can get big boxes of them from a hardware store for much less (per pair). I tried them my first season, and I liked that I could feel the bars and bees and that they kept my hands clean. The downside is that I felt like The Incredible Hulk because they kept ripping.
  • Plastic coated gloves. I haven't tried these, so I can't say much about them. They're supposed to be sting-resistant and cool, though.
In any case, if you want to wear gloves, avoid using old gloves that have been used for doing mechanical work. I've heard from a number of people who've done this, and they say the bees go straight for the hands. Maybe there's something in the smell of the oil or something that drives them nuts, but they don't like it.

Note: If you go gloveless, you could blow some smoke on your hands with a smoker (or rub liquid smoke on them) before starting your inspection to deter potential stings. Or if you do get stung, you could try masking the pheromone by squirting some water mixed with peppermint oil on your hands. I've found this doesn't always work, but sometimes it does.

Leggings from Mann Lake
Boot band/Leg straps: If you don't want to buy a suit, but you don't want bees finding their way up your pants, consider a boot band or leg strap. It's just a piece of elastic sewn to velcro (or just a piece of velcro) that you can wrap around your pant legs to keep bees from climbing up. (BTW, I can't see spending $$$ on this. I'm just too cheap.)

Leggings. These are an alternative to boot bands. They fasten all the way around the bottom of one's pant legs to keep them closed up.

Children's Clothing: I bought a beekeeping suit as well as a beekeeping jacket/pants set. Some kids may really like them and feel more comfortable in them. However, they were not cheap, and the protective clothing is sometimes a beekeeping deterrent. I've noticed that most kids (my own and their friends) initially don the suits because for the peace of mind, but they get so hot that they generally abscond pretty quickly.

An alternative to kid's suits might be some gloves, veils, and oversized shirts over their clothes (maybe even with a belt or some elastic around the waist if you're a sewer). If they have overalls, that would probably be a good replacement for the suit.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


Made some syrup for the nucs today, and decided to check on queen progress while feeding them.

Peach got the new queen from Sam on Thursday. Today, the candy plug was gone, and the queen was no longer in her cage. However, I didn't see her in the nuc either. That bothered me a little because although I'm rubbish at finding queens, even I can usually find one in a hive that has only two bars of bees. Even more troubling was the fact that I didn't see any eggs. Dang it. I think I'm out $30, plus a lot of driving time.

Just in case, I stole a bar of eggs/young larvae from Bubblegum for her.

Empty queen cage

I wasn't expecting the queens to emerge until Wednesday, but when I looked today, one queen cell was open as if the queen had emerged. Another was broken open from the side. I didn't see a queen, but she might have been on a mating flight. Fingers crossed that I see eggs by the 15th.

Can't tell from this angle, but a queen emerged from this emergency cell.

Another emergency cell that has been broken into from the side.

She's packed with bees thanks to the large influx of workers. Still has capped queen cells, though, which I expect to emerge on Wednesday.

Teeny larvae & eggs. Some pollen, too.

I've been stealing so much brood from her that I gave her some syrup on Thursday. I gave her another jar today, but I don't think she'll get much more since she's been storing it. I added some empty bars to the brood nest to encourage building rather than hoarding. We'll see.

In any case, all four colonies that got syrup last week were completely dry today, so I'll probably start feeding every other day for awhile until they're built up. Mostly, this note is a reminder for me so that I don't forget which girls to feed. I think I need to come up with a better system -- maybe some sort of checklist or matrix to help me remember.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Morning Drive

Was driving around this morning, and noticed a series of signs by the road. I don't know who you are, my friend, but rock on!