Apprentices and Swarms

It’s finally starting to feel like Spring here (and even summer too, if you close your eyes sometimes), so despite all of the craziness in the world today life has still retained a modicum of business too. That being said, here is an update as to what has been going on since my last post.


Continuing from last year, my cousin has been helping me with many of our our beekeeping tasks this season. He also is taking advantage of the free beekeeping class being offered by Penn State, so his knowledge is catching up with his interest! We had our first ‘normal’ inspection (that is, we weren’t installing bees or peeling brace comb out during queen acceptance checks) about a week ago so I thought it was time for him to try his hand at handling the frames. Needless to say, he did great, even with my poor tutelage.

We even had my son suited up again and helping out. At 7, he’s got a bit more learning to do. However, I’m glad he still has the interest. It’s good to have the extra hands!


Swarms always seems to have the oddest timing for me. Take for example my first ‘catch’ of the season. We were at home eating lunch on the back porch the day after Memorial day. Looking back into our yard, a large cloud of insects had assembled, which my wife correctly guessed was a swarm. They ended up coalescing about 2 feet off the ground in a forcynthia bush between our property and the neighboring doctor’s office. You can see from the photo below that it was a simple matter of bumping them off the branch and into the box. It’s usually never that easy!

The crazy part of this story was that this all occurred about 20 minutes before a conference call. While I was able to get everything straightened up and the bees homed, it unfortunately didn’t give me a lot of time to take photos. Bottom line, we’re back up to three hives!

The more things change…

I think everyone is familiar with the adage, but it’s hard to argue that it’s anything but the truth! Since we last ‘talked’, my brood has expanded again and I moved back to hometown Pennsylvania. It’s all much more exciting than that, but you came here for bees, not me – right? However, an important programming note:

The queen didn’t kick this drone out over winter, but winter isn’t done yet!

Seriously though, a lot has changed with the way I keep bees, the way this blog will be run, and – most importantly – beekeeping in general.

Take, for example, my maiden season in PA. Compared to that first year (I can’t bear to look how long ago that was), varroa mite pressure has significantly increased. This time around, I lost all of my three hives over winter, largely due to the effects of these destructors. As deflating as that was for an experienced bee bungler like myself, it would have been quite the gut check for a newbee. So for those of you riding rough waters your first year out, I feel for you!


Like many of you, my attention doesn’t rest on one thing for long – there’s things many vying for it. So let’s take the approach this being of a scrapbook of my experiences, with perhaps some lessons learned sprinkled for good measure. I hope to work in some perspectives of my new ‘apprentices’ as well!

Next up: Package Delivery

Been a long time!

As the year comes to a close, I realize that I have done a disservice to those interested in beekeeping by not following up after the bear attack in 2012.  The truth is that my journey has been full of up and downs since then, its just that I haven’t had the time to keep up this blog.  From the year of three queens, to Hurricane Sandy, to the birth of our first child, it has been quite the journey for both the bees and me!  In the end, I hope to continue the goal of this blog in 2014 using some new technology that will hopefully enable me to better keep up with what’s happening in the hive. So here’s to getting back to the bees.  If you are new to beekeeping, now is time to learn all you can about these wonderful creatures!  Here’s hoping that I can be of some assistance on your journey!

Smarter Than The Average Bear

Just as the good weather started to bring about visions of busy honey bees last week, so too did it bring out something much larger and furry! As you can see by the photos in the album below, the bear did a doozy on the hive:

When I originally buttoned up the hive for winter, I figured that there was a good possibility of a bear paying a visit this spring.  However, my novice thinking was that the bear would move on to something easier after not being able to push the hive from between the straps and the stone pad.  Apparently, this bear was smarter than the average bear!

As you can see from the photo album, the bear appears to have lifted the stone pad (which weighs about as much as I do) onto its side, upsetting the hive and allowing the bear to get into the tasty treats inside.  Luckily, its damage was limited only to the polystyrene outer cover and the majority of the frames found in the upper hive body.  By the way, this same bear also decided to cherry pick the kitchen garbage bag from the other junk in the garbage toter when it wasn’t able to upset the toter (I learned long ago to keep it secured upright to keep a clean lawn!).  Definitely Yogi Bear territory here.  🙂

Another casualty was the brood and queen.  A common misconception about bears is that they disturb bees to get to their honey.  However, seeing frames of honey left behind while frames of brood were destroyed in the pictures above underscores the real target of the bear – the developing bees.  Compounding this, since there is little to no brood remaining, my only real option to ensure the hive continues to grow and prosper is to introduce a new queen bee.

Due to the timing of the attack, obtaining a new queen turned out to be a bit of a challenge.  Why, one may ask?  This time of year, aside from winter, is typically the most difficult time to find queens available for sale since they are often not yet available or already promised to someone who ordered them in December or January!  Fortunately, I was able to find Stiles Apiaries via a lead from my local beekeeper’s club’s Facebook page.  Although he didn’t really have any to spare, Grant was kind enough to free a queen up to help me out of this predicament.  His help is greatly appreciated!

So the question now becomes ‘What are you doing to keep the bear from coming back?’  To help deter future pleasant visits to the hive, I have begun installing a small electric fence system around the hive which runs off of solar power.  Once I have the ground rod and proper feed wires in place, the bear’s next visit will be more of a ‘shocking’ experience than the last.  Until then, I have been regularly surrounding the area with a very, um, odorous repellent spray for gardens.

All of this and I haven’t even gotten a chance to speak about the mites!  What a start to the season it has been.  Be sure to check in regularly as the pace begins to pick up.  Before you know it, I might actually get to extract some honey this year!

Got the Bug This New Years?

Welcome back to the Buzzy Bees blog for Year 2 of my trek in the beekeeping world.  I hope that the holidays treated you and yours well and that you have gotten off to a good start with all those new years resolutions!  😉  For my part, there is much to be thankful for.  As it pertains to this blog, we’re happy to have surpassed the 900 visit mark but are also sad for the passing of half of the blog’s namesake.

Well, enough about that stuff, let’s get talking about bees.  Have you gotten the beekeeping bug yet (I have!)?  If so (or if you are on the fence), it’s a great time to start getting your feet wet.

Now, the curious of you are likely wondering why it would be a great idea to get their feet wet in January.  The simple fact of the matter is that there is little to do with the bees (up in the north here at least) in the winter months.  This gives both the new and experienced beekeeper something that might have lacked during other parts of the season – time.  The fact is that most of us lead pretty busy lives, and during the other months the spare time made for the bees is usually taken up by doing inspections, exacting honey, or figuring out the latest and greatest contraption.  In the winter months, however,  little is done to the hives, which allows the beekeeper to focus on other aspects on beekeeping.

Now the new beekeeper is likely wondering what exactly should they be focusing on during this time.  Looking back on my first year, here is a list of things that I would recommend looking into:

  1. Educate Yourself – Everyone learns differently, but learning about the honey bee is essential in understanding and caring for them.  I learned much of what I needed to know through books and online videos.  Many people will likely find that they would be much more comfortable taking one of the beginner beekeeping courses that local beekeeping associations offer, if only for the hands-on experience.  You mileage will vary so learn until you feel comfortable and remember, you don’t become and expert overnight and the bees don’t read the same books you do!  🙂
  2. Get Support – While family and friends naturally jump to ones mind on this subject, I urge you to reach out to you local beekeepers association and join up.  They are local experienced keepers that have likely been down the same path you are embarking and in the same area (you’d be surprised the variances between practices in different regions).  The best part is, stick around enough and you’ll be able to help someone else out eventually!
  3. Get Equipment – While you are completing steps 1 & 2, pay close attention to the types of equipment available to try to get an idea of what will work best for you.  Are you afraid that boxes may be too heavy for you to move?  Then you’ll want to go with a Langstroth hive with a smaller amount of frames (8 versus 10) or perhaps a top bar hive.  Once you have some ideas formed, go out and search around for the best deal.  If you’re handy, be sure to order your gear early enough to have it assembled in time for the next step.
  4. Buy Your Bees – Like equipment, there are a number of options available to you in terms of how you get your bees.  By doing you research, you’ll have an idea what breed will be the best for you and how you should obtain it (i.e. package, nuc, swarm, etc.).  Do this step ASAP since orders are typically taken now for many sources of bees and its first come-first serve.  Find your source and get on the list now so you won’t be bee-less in the spring!

By doing these four things, you’ll be on your way to getting ready for an interesting and relaxing (for me at least :-)) hobby.  None of the four need an inordinate amount of time either, so don’t be afraid to make that jump – come on in, the water’s fine! 😀

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Soon it will be time to make your springtime plans.  For the ‘newbees’, that will include purchasing you bees and equipment.  Veterans will be getting everything in order and maybe even get a peak inside the hive.  But not yet!

Regardless of your religious views, I hope you take some time this holiday season to reflect on all you have to be thankful for.  One of those things for me (at least that’s relevant here), is certainly the beekeeping bug!  Along with that goes the support of my loving wife and the Northeast New Jersey Beekeepers Association – their help was invaluable for a beginner like me.

That being said, this will likely be my last post until after the new year.  So from Buzzy Bees to your family, I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a happy and prosperous new year!


All Ready for the Cold Weather

As I noted in my last post, the cold weather is a-coming in my neck of the woods so I took some time last weekend to close up the hive.  The measures you’ll see in the photos below are important for protecting the bees from both the elements and predators.

Regarding the weather, you might think (like I did) that the biggest danger to the bees is the low temperatures.  For those of you who have read my blog from the start, you’ll know that this isn’t necessarily the case since the bees create the ‘winter cluster’.  This winter cluster allows the body heat of the thousands of busy bees to warm the cluster to 92 degrees!  So what is the real threat from the elements?  In a word, condensation.  In a hive lacking the proper ventilation through the winter, the water will collect in the top portions of the hive and drip onto the bees.  To put it in perspective, imagine taking a shower and then running out into a snowstorm!  🙂

Regarding predators, this post fill focus on the ‘big’ ones – mice, skunks, and bears.  Since hives are warm due to the little furnace inside, mice love to move in around this time of year and camp out through the winter months…destroying the hive as they go.  As food gets scarce, skunks and bears will also turn to hives for snacks.  A skunk will actually sit outside of the hive entrance and make a commotion, causing the hive to send out some guard bees to investigate – perhaps snack bees is a better term.  😦  Bear also apparently love the taste of honeybee brood (not necessarily the honey) and will topple and ransack hives to get to them.

In addition to all the winter preparations, the dropping temperatures also means that it was time to take the feeder off.  Hopefully the girls will have enough to last them through to the spring!  🙂  Some of the pictures below will deal more with the procession of bees back into the hive after I unloaded the feeder – I thought they were neat photos and I welcome your comments about them too!  🙂

Here is a general overview of the hive.  As you can see, I have it secured to the cement slab below using ratchet straps.  This will *hopefully* dissuade any bear from disassembling the hive.  Check back to see how that turns out.  :-)The hive has also been wrapped in tar paper at the suggestion of Beekeeping for Dummies.  This supposedly acts as a wind break and helps absorb more of the sun’s heat.If you look closely, the you’ll see that the white outer cover is sitting at an angle (i.e. higher in the front).  To cut the amount of condensation collection in the hive and to direct any that does collect away from the bees, the inner cover has been propped up about 1/2″ in each of the front corners. Winter Preparations
The white device at the entrance of the hive serves two functions: entrance reducer (less space for the bees to guard) and mouse guard.  As you can see from the top feeder refugees, the holes are the perfect size for a honey bee to fit through.  As for Mrs. Mouse, she’ll have to find an easier target for her winter home! Mouse Guard
See?  There’s plenty of room for the girls to squeeze through.  🙂 Mouse Guard Close-Up

Some additional things I have planned to do before the winter really gets cold is to put up a wind break around the hive (since my natural wind breaks haven’t grown in yet) and to place some dense foam between the inner and outer covers.  The later is a trick I picked up at the latest NE NJBA meeting and looks like it has some merit in preventing condensation.

Did You Know – Part V

My apologies for the week or so hiatus!  As the weather cools down so too does the beekeeping activities (at least at the hive).  While I’ll still strive to have a weekly posting during the cooler months, please don’t be too disappointed if a week is missed here or there!  🙂

To tease an upcoming post, I’ll be preparing the hive for their first winter soon.  Check back to see what was done to protect the bees from both the elements and predators.

For now, this week’s interesting factoid comes from the 2 Cs and a Bee Beekeepers Association

It would take approximately one ounce of honey to fuel a bee’s flight around the earth.

Perhaps we found the next alternative fuel!  🙂

The Leaves, They Are A-Changing

At the beginning of this season, I began blogging with a post that gave a thumbnail of what a beginner apiarist should expect during the different seasons.  From getting my start during those first few weeks to the bump or two along the way, my first season thus far as a keeper of these amazing creatures has been an eye-opener – and I hope it has for you as well!

As we enter the autumnal months, the beekeeper’s task essentially begins to shift from optimizing conditions to promote a large honey harvest to preparing the bees for the long winter ahead.  Speaking of honey harvests, some may be wondering where the post is talking about our honey harvest this year.  Unfortunately, you will have to check back next year (hopefully) to see!  This is somewhat of a common occurrence for someone starting out fresh for two reasons:

  1. The bees have to build their home before they can store things in it!  Building the wax honeycomb structure that bees are so well-known for takes lots of time and resources.  Unlike bees that have been placed into a hive with ‘drawn-out’ frames (i.e. other bees have already created the honeycomb), the beginner’s bees only have a ’empty’ foundation such as the one on the right on which to start building their home.
  2. The population is small.  On top of having the big project of building all the honeycomb, a hive that began as a springtime package of bees is generally going to have a smaller population than that of a healthy hive that has overwintered.

Since a first season hive is behind-the-curve because of these reasons, making sure that they are prepared for winter become the priority during the autumn months.

Generally, a few of the important things that the beekeeper has to be thinking about during this season are as follows (aside from the routine inspection items):

  • Do my bees have enough honey to make it through winter?  According to, a hive such as mine in the northern climates will need about 60 pounds of honey to make it through the winter!
  • Should I be feeding and medicating my bees?  I actually began to feed my bees sugar syrup again towards the end of August to help them catch up since at the time it seemed like they were pretty well short of the 60 pounds they would need, and it looked like they were beginning to eat what was there.  Since then, I think I have gone through about 30 pounds of sugar syrup and the population is certainly more robust!
  • Do my bees have proper ventilation?  Remember from one of the earlier posts that it stays rather toasty in the cluster during the winter months.  Thus, one of the biggest dangers is the cluster getting chilled by dripping water.
  • Is the hive insulated and protected from the wind?  In the colder climates, Beekeeping for Dummies recommends wrapping the hive in tar paper while a number of suppliers offer insulated wraps.  Protection from the wind is also important.  One might consider creating a wind break to help cut down on the hive getting chilled during the winter months.
  • Is the hive protected from other animals?  As all the animals are getting ready for their long winter naps, the hive may be a target by animals ranging from a mouse (who wants a nice warm and dry home) to a skunk (who wants a free snack) to bear (who apparently loves the taste of brood).  This will required a ‘mouse guard’ (a wire shield) to be placed over the entrance of the hive and some precautions taken for the larger nuances (more on this later!).

According to, you can probably expect to spend about 7-8 hours altogether for August to November taking care of these tasks and the routine checks.

Check in next week, if the weather is good I hope to give my ladies a visit and start taking care of some of these items for my hive.  Until then!

Bees in the Valley of Fire

A few weeks ago my wife and I took a trip out to Las Vegas to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding and have a mini-vacation.  While we were out there, we stopped by the nearby Valley of Fire state park.  Here is a little show-and-tell, albeit somewhat tongue-and cheek, regarding some of the sights we seen.

Needless to say, the beekeeping connection soon began when we spotted a sign like the one on the right.  However, when we rolled through the ‘toll gate’ all we saw was the text in the large font.  My interested were obviously perked – the park service needed help finding beehives, after all!  Wanted - Beehives!
The excitement slowly began to wear off as we drove on past the guard shack. Part of the reason was that we spotted the sign on the left after we had driven about a half mile from where the shack was. In the back of my mind I couldn’t shake the that nagging question of, “Why do they need help finding beehives, they have a sign right here pointing us to where they are at?” 🙂  Beehives 
Needless to say, the ‘beehives’ in the street sign didn’t have a heck of a lot to do with bees.  However, what passed as a beehive in the Valley of Fire was unlike anything I have seen.  Per the website, these beehives (see right) are “unusual sandstone formations weathered by the eroding forces of wind and water.”  Well, with that mystery solved – where are the beehives that flyer was taking about?  Beehive
As we went about seeing some of the other sights at the park, I started to wonder how honeybees could survive out in that arid of a climate (since they do need a good amount of water to survive and create honey). This question was soon answered as we stopped by a picnicking area that had a leaky water spigot. If you look closely in the left-hand photo, you can see a honey bee grabbing a drink on the concrete foundation for this spigot.  Honeybee! 
We found a bunch more too!  Apparently honey bees are a sensible insect, since we found a bunch of them hanging out on the shaded side of the concrete foundation.  I suppose they figured there was no need to bake in the sun when the water was running over into this area as well!  🙂  Honey Bees In the Shade 
Towards the end of our visit, we stopped in the park’s visitor center, mainly to cool off and hydrate. 🙂 Aside from the neat exhibits they had, I caught the sign on in the left hand picture. The yellow flyer at the beginning of this post was also up in the visitor center. Putting two and two together it was clear that the park was trying to find hives due to the threat of having Africanized bees on the grounds. Hopefully preventative steps like these, coupled with education about the actual threats of Africanized bees will help people better understand the type of threat they pose and reduce those areas where man and bug might come into conflict (such as nearby the hives of Africanized bees).  Killer Bees 

The Bloggings of A Bungling Beekeeper

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