Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Stung, honey.

On Monday we opened the 3/4 hive, we didn't identify any eggs but we saw plenty of nectar, some honey,  brood and larvae, and Malka herself. 

On Tuesday we opened the Flow hive, there was lots and lots of honey, we didn't identify any eggs or see Rachael, but we saw brood and larvae. We put an escape on below the top box hoping to concentrate the bees in the bottom three boxes to get ready to extract. 

We accidentally squashed more bees than usual, including one poor bee between a very laden box and Sean's tummy (he got stung), and they got a bit het up, I also got stung when trying to tidy up a little a few hours later. Last time I was stung it was somewhat complicated  http://susanharper.blogspot.com/2019/11/dont-worry-it-is-not-these-things-upon.html ... I'm hoping it'll be simpler this time. 

On Wednesday we removed Rachael's top box, saved it for extraction, and then put an empty box under the new top box. We were careful because we thought they'd still be cross, but it went smoothly. We then did the extraction. 

Today we are putting honey in jars. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Proud Beekeepers!

For the first time today we had our hives inspected by an experienced beekeeper, he was doing the official yearly AFB monitoring inspection: we don't have it so we don't have to burn our hives and bees. What's more, we saw no varroa today, though there was plenty of pink-eyed drone brood to look for it on, no swarm cells, and we did see eggs and were told both queens are laying well, and in good patterns. Malka's hive, that we harvested a bit of delicious Spring honey from, was low on stores so we gave them the 8 frames of honey that's been in a box on the back porch all year. Rachael's hive was looking a bit full of honey so we put an empty super on top for them to fill. 

I forgot to take any photos during the inspection so here's one of Malka from this time last year. 

If you haven't found her, look again at 7 o'clock. She's wearing green. 

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Plenty of bees, honey and space.

Lovely day, so we popped into the bee coop. 

In short it all looked good, bless: plenty of bees, honey and space. No queen cells. 

We had a quick look at the feeder we'd reaffirmed the cappings in on top of Malka's 3/4 hive, bees are still in it collecting their honey back. 

We inspected Rachael's 8-deeps boxes and removed her miticides (only 2 weeks late). We didn't see her but we saw plenty of her work. Her bees had built a fair bit of drone comb between boxes and she'd laid drones in it. Here's a photo of some after removal, very glad to say I have seen no varroa in them yet. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

New season's honey

This week the bees have found the pond we made for them last year! 

We took the space suits off the hives for summer, and wiped up lots of ants living between the insulation and the hive on both. We left the tin foil hat on Rachael's hive; they're not prone to conspiracy theories, as far as I can tell, they just don't have a warm hat otherwise. 

We checked inside Malka's 3/4 hive today, all smelt and looked good. I saw 3 day old eggs so sometimes laying, and capped worker brood, so that hive has a queen. We swapped out 6 frames of honey that looks dark and yummy for some clover honey and some drawn frames. 

I took the white baseboard out from Rachael's hive and it was full of water but smelt ok, I didn't see any varroa but it might be hard to tell with the water so I've cleaned it and put it back to check our 24 hour  varroa drop rate. We looked carefully in the windows and things looked fine but it was getting a bit late so we didn't go into the hive, instead we started the extraction process. 

I expect to add photos to this tomorrow. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Learning on the fly, bee-keeping so far.

A year ago Sean, Iris and I were about to start a beginners' bee-keeping course. We got our hives in November (roughly equivalent to Northern hemisphere May). I was just thinking about what I've learnt since then, not the bee stuff, the -keeping stuff. 

How much time?
For about 10 weeks before we got the hives we each spent 2.5 hours at a course, about 1 hour of homework and discussion and all our reading time on bee books and all our gardening/craft time on organising our bee yard and equipment. 
After we got the bees we inspected them about once a week, which was 2 hours work in each hive at first and is now more like 1 because we are better at what we're doing, and about 2 hours of preparation and follow-up reading and discussion (which is now more like 20 minutes unless we see something new). 

Honey extraction took us one entire weekend and we got enough honey for our extended family for the year.  

At first I spent about 1 hour each day popping out with my breakfast or hot drinks to the bee coop, looking at the hives and trying to understand bee behaviour with the help of At The Hive Entrance by H Storch, there's a pdf here 
http://biobees.com/library/?dir=general_beekeeping/beekeeping_books_articles or you can buy a real book here https://www.northernbeebooks.co.uk/products/storch-at-the-hive-entrance/

Now I glance out the window at them often, but only sit and watch "Bee TV" occasionally. 

As an activity to share with the family, I love it, but am very glad Iris was 15 and sensible and not a child when we started. 

Even new the bees took not nearly as much time as a puppy, but way more time than a newly constructed garden. 

Expectations vs reality
People often wonder about kinds of hives. We have had bees for nearly a year and we have two hives:

Our hives, naked above and in their winter coats below. 

All three Flow boxes actually contain 8x ordinary Langstroth deep frames each (we haven't put the Flow Frames in as we have been warned that our local honey is pretty solid and now I'm hesitant to because I'm not confident I could get them in and out really smoothly for inspections). The other hive has boxes that are 10x 3/4 frames. 
We love the ability to look in the Flow super windows between full inspections so we made a perspex ceiling for the other hive. 

I know a lot more now, including that the cost of an extractor isn't very different than a set of Flow frames. 
I think an attractive horizontal hive with some windows would be awesome, or maybe an A-Z if building it weren't an issue. 

If I were setting up anew I'd definitely go for 2 hives again but with the same frames in both our hives, so that moving a frame of brood across is simple in either direction, I'd like all 3/4 frames because they're light and robust and easy to work gracefully as the bees really prefer the calm of graceful easy movements. That is also why I think horizontal might be best; we have squished bees when stacking boxes even though we work together and try really hard to help all bees stay clear and I think horizontal avoids that problem. 

I wish I'd had the opportunity to try working different types of hives in my area before we bought. Bees in different places have different nectar and different problems so they need different care. 

Different hives make different things easier. Here in Wellington, New Zealand it is definitely the inspections that is the thing to make the easiest as extraction is a far less frequent process. Most importantly we inspect brood frames for American Foul Brood, but we also inspect regularly through Summer for varroa mites and to check our bees have enough room and are doing well. The ease of removing frames for inspection is less important if looking in from the sides and ends tells you enough about how the bees are to look after them properly. 

In Australia, where Flow Hives were designed, they have lovely runny honey, hot summers, and don't have AFB or varroa (problems that in New Zealand we constantly inspect our hives for), though they do have Small Hive Beetles which we don't. Near me we have thixatropic honey that the Flow Frames don't extract easily, a temperate climate, and AFB and varroa but not SHB. The Flow Frames being made of expensive plastic would be a bit of a problem if the hive were to get AFB, because one would have to burn it. 

Situations really vary but the bees are beautiful. 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

First visit (and miticide) of Spring

It was fine, still and fairly warm, so we went into the hives for the first visit of Spring. We took off the insulation and put two Bayvarol strips in each (due out on October 17th). There was brood in both, so there are queens in there. 

Rachael's hive (the Flow hive boxes with Langstroth frames on the right) seemed great, with a bit of room and some honey and plenty of activity. 

Rachael's busy bees seem to be using both the porch and a side entrance on the right between the pebbles. . 

Malka's hive gave us quite a surprise: when we took the insulation off there were ants living underneath! Some were even in with the bees. We wiped the ants up with wet cloths and left the insulation off on the hope they'll go somewhere else. We think that hive had almost all empty frames in the bottom box, brood in the middle one and honey on the top. 

We've swapped the bottom and top box so they have honey below and somewhere to go. Which is something that beekeepers do sometimes, I hope it goes well. 

Here's Malka's hive with heaps of pollen being brought in. 

Afterwards: fine and warm in the bee coop

Monday, August 3, 2020


I was diagnosed with arthritis in my hands in January 2020, it is now August. I remember that at the beginning of December my hands felt healthy and normal. I was using them as a vice for light carpentry and they didn't get tired or sore while doing that, or while driving, knitting or doing intensive pre-house-selling cleaning. By Christmas, they did. And then after Christmas I felt viral, but what ached was little joints in my hands, not big joints like usual. 

At some point it occurred to me that I might have arthritis, upon being asked, my doctor agreed and suggested I take paracetamol (aka acetaminophen) and do some research. 

He suggested I start with https://www.arthritis.org.nz/ as it's really good, and then look further afield and get x-rays if I wanted to. 

I haven't got around to the x-rays but here are the most useful things I've learnt so far: 

1. Strength is comfort: A study of retired British nurses scheduled for arthritis-related hip and knee operations were divided into two groups. Participants in one group lost 5-10% of their weight, participants in the other group didn't. The now-lighter participants' pain was so reduced that they often decided they didn't need surgery after all. Now, I'm not into losing weight, but I know that one thing that weight reduction did was make the load less in proportion to the strength of the joint, so my PT and I have been strengthening the muscles around my hands, wrists and elbows instead. I can knit all day again. 
2. Movement is prevention (sometimes even improvement): I heard at a hand arthritis seminar that the most arthritis-preventative thing one can do is move each joint through all of its comfortable range 10x every day. I made up my own ways of doing that and it feels like I've been helping some joints much more than others, so now I'm learning CARs (controlled articular rotations) https://www.coachmattmovement.com/morning-routine as they're supposed to be the best way of moving everything. My bad elbow is hurting less and for less long already. 
Matt doesn't demonstrate finger CARs in that video, there are some here https://www.invertedgear.com/blogs/inverted-gear-blog/finger-wrist-and-elbow-self-care-for-grip-fighters-and-keyboard-warriors 

3. And there are heaps of tools and aids, my current best tool is that Stuff Stays Put stuff. Y'know sort of blobby sheets that you line shelves with so things don't slide off? We leave a couple of 6" squares around the kitchen and open jars with it flopped on the lid. 

Oh, and Red Tiger Balm on the sore spots really helps too. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Picture This

In winter the bees cuddle up and take turns doing ab crunches in order to stay warm. We wrapped them with insulation to help out. I expected that not looking in would be quite tricky, but when I thought it would be like cruelly pulling all the blankets off them and would make them grumpy, I found it easy to leave them to their mysteries. 

I borrowed an infra-red camera and today we unwrapped Rachael's hive from its silver winter jacket. Looks like there is a nice warm cluster of bees at the sunnier end of the hive. Though, to be fair, this close to the solstice there is only sun on the bee coop first thing in the morning. 

We say "winter" but there have been a lot of calm days with 14°C highs on which I've been seeing a good number of foragers coming and going. Lately it's often been with almost white pollen (possibly from the Roy Street magnolia trees just down the hill), although the ones coming in when I wanted a photo just now must have been doing something else. The porch is still cute, however, and I think they like it. 

While the hive was unwrapped we quickly peeked in the windows and were pleased to see honey on the outside frames and a few bees working there too, so maybe these had found some early nectar.  

Picture This: https://youtu.be/QbdCpi4qTNY 
by Blondie

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Bees stay in their neighbourhood and work from home.

(Post from April 6th, may have got filed under August when I noticed a couple of typos). 

Autumn bees have a piratical life, they work as hard for their collective as bees of any season, but it's harsher work. They have to fight off more robbers (both bees from other hives and wasps from everywhere), they have to explain to the drones they're not allowed to come home anymore, and raise strong babies who can last the winter. 

Winter bees don't go out much, they #stayhome eating honey, cuddling close and keep their sisters and mother warm and safe. There's a lot of bees in each bubble though, so I'm glad they have their varroa treatments in. Today we removed the queen excluders so the bees can choose the very warmest and best spot in all the hive for that and not leave Malka or Rachael behind. 

Here are some photos of Autumn bees on our mānuka. I'm glad to see they have working from home sorted. 

The first couple I managed to get with the strong lens that I can plug into my phone. It's a fine thing, and though it excels at photos of stuff that doesn't move, I really like seeing the bees' fur. 

And below, at home. 

Malka's hive are bringing in lots of pollen to feed their babies. 

Here is one of Rachael's daughters doing something to a drone, maybe biting him, I'm not sure. Below them is a guide bee wafting the hive scent to the world so the field bees know where to come home to. 

They're bringing lots of pollen in too, the black mesh is the removed queen excluder. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Book shelves.

I thought I'd be taking photos of my bees today, and maybe I will, but first I have been taking photos of my bookshelves. 

For a few years now I've been "borrowing" books from my Aunt Ruth's shelf of mysteries. I don't actually borrow them because her shelf is a world away, but when I'm choosing a new series to download I look at these pictures and find an author. Occasionally I chat to her about what I'm reading (it's Amanda Cross and Faith Martin at the moment, both of whom have pleasingly intelligent protagonists). 

Now our public libraries have closed I have been taking photos of my bookshelves so my parents can choose books to borrow, and while thinking about how to share the photos with them it occurred to me that those of my friends who are doing health distancing around the world might like to "borrow" my books like I "borrow" Aunt Ruth's. 

Fair warning: just because we own it doesn't mean I recommend it. 

Above: study bookshelf, from the top it's theoretical cooking and practical coding, world enough and time. 

Below: SF and fantasy, 
Compilations and Aaronovitch to Card (top) and 
Bujold to Colfer (bottom).  

The piles to the sides of the shelf above are philosophy, mostly about Mind though there's some other philosophy too. 

Below: SF and fantasy, 
Crowley to Gaiman (top) and 
Gentle to Heinlein (bottom). 

Below: SF and fantasy, 
Herbert to McKinley (top)
MacAvoy to Paolini (bottom). 
 Above: The pile to the right is psychology. 

Below: SF and fantasy, 
Parker to Pratchett. 
Below: SF and fantasy, 
Rankin to Tolkien (top) and 
Tolkien to Zimmer (bottom). 
Maths, various science, astronomy and religion, politics, law, economics. 
Hallway bookcase
Top two shelves: general fiction by size.
Next two shelves: non-fiction categorisation L-R but shelved by size: Buildings and craft, gardens and plants, biology, animals (molluscs, insects, dinosaurs+ birds, mammals, humans). 

Above: lower shelf fiction including mysteries. 

Below: upper shelf bigger general fiction, 
Other shelves: art and craft, also biggest fiction. 
Top shelf music books 
Otherwise fiction and picture books for people of various ages, upper shelves for taller readers. 
Below: more fiction and picture books for people of various ages, upper shelves for taller readers. 
Board games: 

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Concerted action.

On Wednesday, Feb 5, The Wellington Bee Club suggested 
1. we all attack varroa at the same time (Feb 18) so it would be far less likely that we reinfect each other in robbing season and thus go into Winter all good, and
2. that none of us use flumethrin/tau-fluvalinate (brands Bayvarol and Apistan) because mites mutate and get immune to it so giving them a rest is wise. 
We were late and put in our amitraz (Apivar) today, but we did an extra summer Apistan treatment so we believe we haven't been a hot bed of varroa in the last twelve days. 

While there we saw Rachael but not Malka, though both hives were happy and there were teeny tiny larvae. Rachael's hive was noticeably more peaceful as a monarchy than they were when they were a republic. We took one last frame of honey from Malka's hive (because you spin them two at a time and 7 is an odd number). 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

A new friend.

I thought I wanted a Roman name for an Italian Queen. A name with resonance of not being barren, bellicose or leaving one's homeland with half the populace in tow. I read a lot of potted biographies and hadn't really found something. 

And then we met. 

I was so glad to see her that I needed her to have a name so I could greet her immediately! Isn't she bee-eautiful! Her little back is black and her lovely long abdomen is golden with no stripes. She stands out from the crowd with her style and presence, and as she runs (she's so fast) through them, the crowd loves her. 

So I called her Rachael, a name resonant with being a hard-working mum of fine daughters, a name that likes to do preserving, and that likes things nice and organised. 

Look at how well organised her brood is! So proud. 

Meanwhile, Malka is doing so well that we took another seven frames of capped honey off her hive. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Hippolyta's daughter has babies!

Those little white dots in the cells at the top of the photo are approx 3-day old eggs, which means that three days ago someone in the Flow Hive laid them. Most likely, since there is only one in each cell and they seem to be down the bottom, a queen bee. 


We didn't keep going because we thought that leaving her in peace at this stage was more likely to be a successful beekeeping strategy than looking for her would be. 

Meanwhile, Malka and her family are keenly making honey while the nectar flows. 

Thursday, January 30, 2020


They say not to expect the bees to make excess honey in the first year, and that each hive will need 10 frames full for winter. By that calculus, our bees made about twice as much as they need, and so we have harvested. We borrowed one of the Bee Club's extractors and spent a few days as a sticky cottage industry. We hope this might last us the year too. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Alternative Accommodation

Hippolyta and Hazel have moved out. 

My guess is that we weren't fast enough with that larval princess and the extra box and so Hippolyta took her best warriors and left, I guess this because we haven't found her corpse, and because I'm optimistic although we haven't heard of or seen a swarm with a green dotted queen around here. Good luck to them. 

Of course, that leaves the Flow hive queenless. 


But it might not be as awful as it sounds. It means they're making oodles of honey and we saw a capped supercedure queen cell, so they may well sort out a queen pronto, if they do, we'd like to mark her with blue for 2020. 

We also moved a frame of brood from the 3/4 hive, and will keep doing so every week because that's supposed to keep the force balanced, that is, the pheromones from the brood should keep the workers from starting to lay oodles and oodles of drones. 

Hazel has a room in tiny flat in Bidwill Street, her delightful flatmates seem to share an intention to live in serenity. Good luck to them too. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


Even though it's her first year building up the colony from a wee nuc, Sean and Iris found so much honey in Malka's hive they pulled out a frame to give her more room to lay in (and not get the urge to swarm). 

(Photo by Sean). 

Humans have various ways of getting honey out of honeycomb, I have seen my favourite at Thai hotels' breakfast buffets which often have a frame of honeycomb straight from the hive (shown here with a small Iris). 

So we read up about getting honey out without an extractor and tried to let it drip out overnight...

But honeycomb did not evolve to let honey drip out easily as that would be quite inconveniently sticky for the bees, and here in temperate Wellington it didn't come. So this morning Iris and I decided to put it in a more tropical spot, that being a car parked in the sun. 

Unfortunately, it got too hot and the wax melted off the frame. 



Looks and tastes like Clover, as does our lawn; and now also, a surprising amount of the kitchen. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


On Boxing Day Hippolyta's colony in the Flow hive were tense, warning us off: flying back and forth in front of my face and stinging our gloves a little, so we stopped the inspection after four frames as we already knew they needed more space and soon. Also that whatever mood they were in, we'd have to bother them again to give space to them. 

We thought about various options and decided to add an ordinary super of ordinary deep frames above a queen excluder. The next day I ordered frames from Ceracell and early the morning after, they arrived. We set up the super in a "brood box" I'd ordered previously from Flow. 

We inspected the Flow hive, it was teeming with bees and there was brood comb stuffed in everywhere, including into the middle of the feeder.  We took 3 or 4 frames of honey from the brood boxes up to the super and put naked foundation in instead. We also removed a queen cell we believe to be a swarm cell, no wonder they were acting tense, I expect they were feeling expectantly hormonal and Hippolyta would have been passing on pheromones with the added stress of preparing to move house. 

Sean and Iris also have put another super on the 3/4 hive, and we hope that with two supers they might have enough honey for us to harvest some! We made a lid for them that's framed transparent PET and so we looked in after a day or two but the new super was so full of bees that it was difficult to see what they were doing. 

Since the super went on the Flow hive, they have been happily building comb next to the windows in the upper brood box, and I also popped a wee comb receptacle above the hole in the middle of the Flow hive lid, in case they want to build up there in the middle again. It's a carefully cleaned wee box that came with commercial honeycomb inside it, upside-down on some foundation all wrapped in paper and with a hole for the bees to get into it. I have not planned how I'm going to harvest this wee box, but if the lid feels excitingly heavy, I expect I'll think of something. 

With a bit of space and the lack of the queen cell, the Flow hive colony must have been feeling much more serene because while I was adding the wee box with no smoke or suit (not my wisest moment, but I'm trying to keep this journal factual), the hive lid went a bit skew and, although a goodly number of bees spilled out and I squashed some putting it straight, none chose to sting me. 

 So tall!

So very tall! Note the second entrance. 

Top entrance, 3/4 hive. They seem to mostly be using it for climate control at the moment. 

 Back window, Flow hive. 

North window, Flow hive. This foundation has been being built up for 5 days. 

 South window, Flow hive. Only 5 days!