Wednesday, May 19, 2010

White House hit by swarm of bees...

(CNN) – The Secret Service is always on the alert for aerial assaults - but on Thursday, White House grounds were hit by one unexpected airborne threat.

A swarm of honey bees took over a bush located between the Northwest security gate of the White House and the area where television networks stand-up positions are located early Thursday.

CNN photojournalist John Bodnar said he came through the Northwest gate around 12:30 pm and was warned about the bees by Secret Service on duty in the guard post. "I walked out and thought it was a swirl of blossoms blowing in the wind, but turns out it was a swarm of bees," he says. Half an hour later, they were still issuing warnings."

White House carpenter Charlie Brandts, who is also a beekeeper and will be managing two bee hives in Michelle Obama's garden, came over to the area around shortly before 2 pm wearing protective gear and carrying a cardboard box. Brandts was reportedly able to get the queen bee in the cardboard box and many, though not all, of the other bees followed. CNN has not yet been able to confirm the capture of the winged invaders.

The picture above is of one of the hives in the garden of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Change of Blogspot and website address...

Greetings beekeeping blog followers:

Just to let you know that I changed my Blogspot URL and I have a new website address too. In case you want to continue to follow my blog, you will have to go to my new blog and add me again.

It appears that when I changed my Blogspot address, it didn't update so now I have to start all over again with followers.

You can still follow me at: or at

If you have any problems, feel free to email me directly at and we'll see what the problem is.

Thanks! And I look forward to hearing from you soon!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Two OLD supersedure cells + Eight NEW supersedure cells = TEN CELLS!

If anyone ever says that honey bees are not industrious creatures, they're liars. I know they're a helluva lot smarter than me and they know what they're doing in their own house, but I can't help but wonder why they do what they do. Maybe a part of it is my years in law enforcement and I know much of it has to do with my fascination with these little creatures.

I decided to give the bees in the new lime colored hive (a split from the yellow hive) a week free of any interference from me so they could adjust to their new surroundings. As you recall, when I first moved the frames from the mother hive to the lime green hive, they had four swarm cells on the bottoms of the frames. But a week later, the bees tore two of those down and made two sealed supersedure cells in the middle of the frames instead. That was last week, so I figured I would give them a week and check on them.

Fast forward to Saturday.

So I decided to get inside the green hive and see how things were doing and if anything had hatched from the two supersedure cells. And the answer is no, the two original supersedure cells were still intact. But there was something new that had popped up in the last seven days. Eight, that's right, eight NEW supersedure cells joined the previous two cells -- so now this hive has a whopping ten cells. Apparently the girls thought two may be seriously lacking -- so they made a whole bunch of new ones to fall back on.

I didn't make the picture to the right, and I didn't carry my own camera with me (honestly I didn't think I would need it) but the picture shows you what classic supersedure cells look like. On one of the frames in my hive, it had three cells; another couple had two cells each and one just had a single cell like the others from last week. All of them were very prominent and jutting out from the middle of the frames. While I was a little shocked to find so many new cells, I remembered that Richard Underhill of the Peace Bee Farm told me that it only takes four days for bees to make and cap queen cells. So while this colony is queenless, they have still been busy building new queen cells -- and they have been bringing in some nectar and pollen too. 

I took the one frame that had three queen cells and cut them off. My mother hive is in need of empty comb so the queen can have room to lay, so I removed every queen cell, shook all the bees off, and put it in the yellow mother hive. The bees in the yellow hive are making honey like crazy and they have made it in frames that I prefer the queen would use for laying eggs. So while they make comb in the shallow supers, and they , I added more deep frames for the queen to lay.

While I was at it in the yellow hive, I removed two frames of old honey that the bees made last year but didn't use over the winter. I scraped the dark honey and comb completely off the frames and then put the frames near the hive for the bees to clean off. Once the frames are clean, I'll put them back in use again -- thus rotating them and keeping cleaner, newer comb in the hive. 

Just what will happen with the lime hive, I just don't know, but it should be interesting. While I'm toying with the idea of letting them raise their own queen, I've read that emergency or supersedure queens are pretty much substandard and weak -- so maybe allowing them to raise their own may be a big waste of time. I will have access to a mated queen or two this coming week, so I may cut all the supersedure cells down, leave them queenless overnight, then put a caged queen in for slow release. I have several days to think about it and mull it over and that's what I plan to do.

By the way, I think it may be time for yet another split from the yellow hive. I have a brand new hive from Brushy Mountain that I've painted orange, so that will be the next hive that I fill with inhabitants. And since I will have access to mated queens soon, I may just go ahead and get another and just make the split now.

More later. Until them, bee happy ya'll!  

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mark's Silent Screen Classic: "Bees and Spiders" (1927)

Butter up the popcorn and settle in for this silent screen classic titled "Bees and Spiders" -- a vintage educational film from 1927. I really can't tell you much about it other than what I found online which said, "Life history of the bee, the economic value of bees through honeymaking and pollinization, and the habits and appearance of the garden and trap door spider."

While I'm not crazy about spiders (I was bitten by a brown recluse and had to take shots and antibiotics for a month...not to mention the bite wound that basically rotted out) -- I am fascinated by the beekeeping aspect of the movie. And really, there was nothing new or shocking there either, but I'm just excited by the art of beekeeping.

Oh, and check out the young lady at the beginning of the film who walks right up with her smoker, no veil or anything, and opens the hive up and starts pulling a frame. And she's wearing a dress too. I'm scared to death that a bee is going to crawl up the leg of my coveralls -- and she wears a dress! What nerve! 

Again, it is a silent feature, so don't try to adjust the sound on your computer or fiddle with your hearing aid.

Got another swarm call! This colony moved into an apartment!

Wednesday is normally a relatively mild day for me. I like Wednesday because not too much is usually going on at work and then the weekend will be here before you know it. But my office called and said that the manager of a local apartment complex, West End Plaza Apartments, wanted to know if I would like some bees they found on the property. So I took the number and called them back but got no answer, so since the complex is about five minutes from my house, I decided to ride over to see where the swarm was located and what equipment I would need.

When I arrived, I met Tammy, who is the complex manager. I also met Dave who is the maintenance manager who took me to see the bees. When I got the call, I was thinking that maybe the bees were on a tree limb or maybe a swing set at the complex. Boy was I wrong. No, the bees in question had become squatters on the apartment complex property and had moved -- into the building! Apparently they found a hole at the corner of one of the buildings and liked it so much that they decided to move in. 

Knowing that the project was more than I really wanted to do, I politely declined. But I told Dave I knew someone who would probably take them, so I called my good buddy Jared Watkins in Winston Salem, who had previously told me he would like to do a cut-out sometime. Jared's been itching to use his homemade bee-vaccum and to do an extraction -- so when I called him he agreed to come up and sure enough, he got here about an hour later.

Upon Jared's arrival, here's the greeting he got! The bees in the apartment were in full swarm mode and piling out of the hole. Remembering the story that noise will settle swarming bees, the people that lived in the apartment gave Jared some pots and pans, and he banged on them to settle them down. And luckily, it worked. When I arrived a few minutes later, the bees were hanging on the bricks and headed back into the hole in the building. Knowing that dusk would arrive soon and that it was going to take awhile to get the bees out of the building, Jared decided it would be best to come back on Thursday and remove the bees.

Here I am looking out the window as the bees settle back into their home in the wall. Dave the maintenance guy pulled back the carpet so we could try to listen and find their exact location (we could hear the buzzing through the carpet) -- and when he did, Jared pointed out a bee who was making her way through a hole in the floor. So it was obvious that they were right there between the floor joists or along the wall somewhere. And we were right, when they pulled the floor up on Thursday, the bees were in a relatively small space in the corner.

Due to prior plans, I couldn't be there on Thursday. But Jared was able to get some help from Greg who is a fellow beekeeper in Forsyth County, and Dave, the apartment complex's maintenance manager. So when the three pulled the floor boards up, there they were. Jared told me later that it was a small colony, maybe three to four pounds or the size of a package you would buy. And believe it or not, even with all the pulling and prying, he said they were pretty laid back. And get this, he also said that this wasn't the first colony that had inhabited this small corner space before; they found old comb there that indicated that prior squatters had checked in before. And the old comb had signs that a mouse had been there. Maybe the old comb is what attracted the bees to the spot this week.

Using the homemade bee-vac, Jared and Greg were able to vacuum up the girls from the floor space and later put them into the 8-frame boxes that Jared prefers to use. They also cleaned up what old and new comb was there and then all that would be left to do would be to take them to their new location which is near the Smith Reynolds Airport in Winston Salem (named after the son of tobacco magnate, R.J. Reynolds). Jared said that while the bees were laid back while being evicted, their mood changed and they were a tad testy once they got to their new home. Well you do have to admit, they had been through a rough day with being sucked into a vacuum cleaner and eventually evicted from their nice apartment complex. But maybe once they settle down they'll like their new home in the country better. Besides they'll never have to catch a cab to get to the airport.

To keep future bees from moving in the space again, Dave the maintenance guy filled in the opening with expanding spray foam. As you can see, a few of the returning foragers found their entrance blocked off...and I'm sure they were totally confused by it all. I mean, you leave during the morning and when you come home, this white foam is blocking you out. I am sure it was a "what the heck" moment.

While I was there on Wednesday, I praised Dave and the staff at the apartment complex for calling a beekeeper and not killing the colony. Come to find out, Dave's uncle is a beekeeper in the county whom I've met before and is a really nice guy, so he knows the value of helping the honey bees. And Tammy, the manager, once had three honey bee hives herself! So good job to Dave and Tammy and the staff at West End Plaza Apartments. And great job to Jared and Greg for taking the time to catch a wayward swarm and giving them a new home.

And an extra thanks to Jared for sharing his pictures so I could tell the tale!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Can swarm cells turn into supersedure cells? (Cue "Twilight Zone" music)

So it had been a week since I moved the four swarm cells from my first colony to an empty hive. As you recall, I found them during a routine inspection, scattered on the bottoms of four different frames in the upper deep. Following the advice of several longtime beekeepeers, I moved the cells with some capped brood, eggs and larvae and pollen and nectar to an empty hive, along with a generous sprinking of bees, and closed everything up. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday was extremely quiet and very little coming and going was happening at the new hive -- so little that I became concerned that something was very wrong.

But when Thursday rolled around, I found a lot of flying in and out and I could see some orientation flights underway too. This made me feel better but I knew that I wouldn't truly feel better until I took a good look under the lid to see what was going on inside.

Without using smoke, I opened the hive and as I was doing an inspection, I found two of the four swarm cells almost gone. I had the frames with the swarm cells placed where I could easily find them, and the precious cells were practically gone. Truthfully I thought I picked the wrong frames out, but then on closer examination, I realized I had the right ones after all. It was obvious that the bees had torn the cells down, I knew it wasn't me because I'd been extremely careful about moving the frames as to not tear the cells. And a third swarm cell was completely empty. I didn't even look at the fourth, because after all of that disappointment, I closed up the hive. When I got in the house, I started calling around to try to find a queen without delay. The queen I have on order in Chapel Hill is still a week or more away and no one else I called in the immediate area had any ready to sell. One had them but the waiting list was at least three weeks. With all these disappointments, I knew I was headed for trouble. I kept thinking that if I don't do something soon, I am going to find myself with a laying worker and then everything will be a total mess. Needless to say, I called everywhere and no luck was in the cards. 

Looking to buy some time, I spoke to a local beekeeper who told me to take more eggs from the mother hive and put them in the new hive and the bees should take them and start making new queen cells again. And since the queen I have is a laying machine, I knew I should be able to find more donor eggs. So the plan of action for Sunday would be to move some eggs over and keep my fingers crossed.

So Sunday rolled around and I opened the mother hive to look for eggs. Taking my time, I found a frame with some eggs scattered around, but since this is honey flow time here, I also noticed that the hive was scattered with lots of nectar and pollen and becoming honey-bound. So I grabbed up a shallow super to put on top of the hive so they can move the honey up and give the queen room to lay. And then I opened the new hive to find a frame to swap out -- but I found something that perplexed me totally. It was something new, something I never saw before in the past week, and something that has me totally confused. I found two new queen cells -- two supersedure cells.

The supersedure cells were in the middle of two different frames situated next to one another. In all my examinations of these frames, I never, ever saw these supersedure cells...and I honestly believe they are new and created in the last week. No eggs were in the new hive, so there should be no other queens there, at least not a mated queen anyway. And since I found eggs in the mother hive, it is obvious that a queen is there and working. So I don't quite understand why the bees in the new hive tore down the swarm cells and moved up the frame and made supersedure cells instead.

Is it because they realized that they had no reigning queen and created emergency cells? Is it because they have changed plans to swarm (since they're not in a crowded hive box anymore) and decided to create a different queen instead? And why did I not see these cells when I've examined the frames on two occasions in the past week?

I carefully closed up the new hive and took great care to not bump or rub the supersedure cells. And after adding a honey super to the mother hive, I closed it up as well and don't plan to disturb them again for a week or two. They've been stressed enough this past week so now I'm going to give them time to get back to being bees.

Without a doubt, I plan to keep an eye on the new hive to see what is going on there. If all goes to plan (at least the bees plan anyway) -- a new queen should emerge soon. But I'm not so sure that I should leave an emergency queen there or go ahead and replace her. I have read that emergency queens (by supesedure) are sometimes inferior to mated queens from a dealer. Maybe these are just the stories that some dealers tell just so beekeepers will buy their products, or maybe there is some ring of truth to it. I plan to mull it over in the meantime and do some research.

Anyone with experience with this kind of situation or your ideas on what you think is happening are more than welcome to offer comments. I would love to hear what you think is going on.

ADDENDUM: Beekeeping expert, Richard Underhill at the Peace Bee Farm, just sent me a note about my swarm cells turning into supersedure cells: "The swarm cells being replaced by supersedure cells is an interesting occurrence, but I think there is a simple explanation. You moved in a frame with swarm cells. The first one to emerge killed the others inside their cells, and the workers chewed out the sides of those cells. Now you find supersedure cells on the sides of frames. These may have been started as emergency queen cells by the workers when you started this new hive. The first day the new hive would have detected that it was queen-less. If there were eggs on one of the frames that you brought in, the bees would build emergency queen cells by extending worker cells and turning them downward. You did not see them on your previous inspection, because it only takes four days for them to build and cap a queen cell."

As always, thanks Richard! So if I understand this, there exists the possibility that my new hive could be queenright after all. Richard's scenario is that one of the queens in the swarm cells may have hatched and killed her sisters. The frames that now hold supersedure cells were a result of the bees realizing they were queenless and so they panicked and started building. Makes sense. I've always read that a queen-less colony is hard to work with, moody and irritable. But I've noticed that in the times I've been in this hive this past week, I never used smoke and they were really gentle -- so maybe the colony really is queenright. Now the search begins pretty soon to see if I can find a queen or eggs in the the new hive. 

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Forget catching swarms! I found FOUR swarm cells in my own hive!

Today was just plain muggy. The temperature made it up to 92 degrees here, and the relative humidity held out at 47% -- meaning it was sticky hot. As I mentioned before, we've gone from a hard winter to summer, then back to spring -- and now back to summer. Since the weather was hot, I decided to go ahead and do an inspection since it had been a couple of weeks. Good thing I did because I found some interesting developments since my last peek under the cover.

Even the beginning beekeeper should recognize this -- a swarm cell.  Not one cell, but at least four of them. Two of the cells were on one frame, and the other two cells were on individual frames. Was I surprised? No. This colony has been absolutely booming after making it through the winter, so I knew that the congestion would eventually lead to swarming. I was hoping that they would hold out until I could do a split with a bred queen from the apiary in Chapel Hill, but as you can see, the bees had a different idea.

A few of the frames I pulled out had burr comb beneath them, some attached the frame in the middle chamber to the frames on the bottom chamber. I did the best job I could of not pulling the comb open and exposing the larvae and pupa, but it wasn't meant to be in some cases. No matter how hard I've worked to keep the burr comb to a minimum, just letting them go a couple of weeks can leave a mess for you to clean up. But as you can see in the picture to the right, this burr comb is intact including the obvious swarm cell. The pupa I did expose was collected and dumped into the creek behind the house. The creek is full of small fish so they had a nice Sunday snack.

Here's one of those frames I mentioned above with the exposed pupa. But you can see yet another swarm cell on the front, and when I looked up into it (it wasn't capped) there was a very lively larvae inside. So making sure as best I could that the queen wasn't on this frame, I moved it over to the empty hive next door. I did that with all the frames holding swarm cells. Doing the best I could to make sure that the reigning queen wasn't anywhere on them, I placed them in the empty hive along with the bees on those frames. I'm just hoping that her highness is still in the mother hive and didn't get moved over. I'll have to check in a few days to see if there are new eggs in the mother live.

A mixture of cells, what I believe to be drone cells and swarm cells too. The one on the bottom had a larvae inside and was almost completely capped. Some of the cells above that are drone cells. But to the other side of the frame, it appears that the oblong shaped cells were swarm cells as well. So now we're up to at least four swarm cells on the bottom of the frames, all of them in the middle chamber of this hive. The box I placed above it weeks ago, including frames with Plasticell foundation -- the bees had already started drawing out with comb. Two of the frames were drawn on one side and they had started on a third. And that's without me feeding them syrup.

So what did I do? As I mentioned above, on the advice of beekeeping guru, Richard Underhill of the Peace Bee Farm, he said that if I found swarm cells, I needed to move them to a new hive and do a split. Some other beekeepers told me that a split should also include capped brood and eggs too. So acting on the information I had absorbed from everyone, I moved the frames with the swarm cells to the new hive, and I added some capped brood and egg frames. Some of the capped brood frames had larvae too which was even better. I also found a nice frame of newly laid eggs, so I put it there too. And to top it off, I added some pollen frames and one full frame of honey for them to use.

I would be lying if I said that I'm completely comfortable with everything I did. I just pray that I did everything right. Even if the queens don't emerge or they don't make it, maybe they'll still have enough in this new hive to make a new queen. Although I included pollen and honey frames, I decided to go ahead and add sugar syrup to give them more food since the nurse bees have never left the hive. Then when I check it again in a week or so and things hopefully look okay, I'll possibly add another chamber with empty frames so they can start drawing comb. I placed the empty frames that are partially drawn back on the yellow hive which is the mother hive, so that should possibly keep them busy now that the swarm urge has hopefully dissippated with the disappearance of the swarm cells.

I am open for critiques here. Let me know if you think I handled this okay. With great advice from longtime beekeepers like Richard Underhill and others, I feel like I did the right thing. I'm just hoping that the bees have the same idea. So let me know what you think.

I'll BEE waiting to hear from you!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Here's a story about the BIRDS and the BEES!

So for the second year in a row, an Eastern bluebird has decided to build her nest on top of the bird house at my parent's residence. That's right, on top! The bird house is attached to a pole under the metal awning that covers their basement door, and evidently it is just too cramped inside. So what does she decide to do? The next best thing...just build it on the roof. Honestly she is too big to go inside anyway, but since it is 7-feet off the ground and inaccessible to cats, she's pretty safe there. The problem is she is easily frightened. If you get within 20-feet of the nest, she flies away. I tried to wait her out and get a picture of her sitting on the nest, but she didn't come back, so I put the camera over the nest and snapped a picture of three eggs in the nest. As you can see, she has three beautiful eggs that she's tending. My dad says that she always comes back when the coast is clear. I'm going to keep a check to see when the babies hatch and maybe get a picture of them too.

And now the bees. Today was a nice, sunny, balmy 90-degrees with the humidity at over 60%! Yeah, we've gone from a hard winter to early summer, back to spring, and now back to summer..and its just the beginning of May. When I got home from dinner, I noticed a dark blob on the front of my hive, and when I checked it out, I found the ladies were having a front porch social. They were fanning so much that I could hear them while standing away from the hive -- it sounded like a fan running on low speed. While some might think this sight is unusual, actually it is the bee's way of keeping the hive cool since some of the bees come outside and avoid the congestion inside. This hive has a screened bottom board to aid in air circulation and pest management, and the inner cover has an air notch too. I have a feeling that I'll see lots of this throughout the next few months since I have a feeling it will be a long, hot summer.

In other news, the Busy Bee Apiary told me that their new queens won't be ready for pick-up for another couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I plan to break this hive down and look for queen cells, and if I find some, I plan to go ahead and split it. If I don't find any queen cells, I plan to put a queen excluder between the boxes in about a week -- that way I can corral the reigning queen and not move her in the transfer of frames to the new hive. That tip was given to me by beekeeping guru, Richard Underhill of the Peace Bee Farm. Then all I'll have to do is transfer the frames, wait for 24 hours so the new hive will realize its queenless, then I'll introduce the new queen in her cage. That method should make it easier for the new packaged queen to be accepted. I just hope I don't goof it up and do something wrong. I've practiced it over and over again in my head. Now if all will go according to plan, everything will be fine!

I'll update everyone when I do my inspection to let you know what's shaking.

Until next time everyone, BEE happy!