Sunday, March 19, 2023

Hungry Young Bees

We've seen many more bees doing their orientation flights and we checked the hive yesterday. They had not drawn out any of the new frames so we gave them 5 frames of honey we'd saved from Malka's work. 

They were pretty upset in the moment: the pitch and volume of the buzz went up like a guitar solo, the air filled with bees and the landing board looked like a mosh pit, but they were greeting, not fighting. We imagine that suddenly finding their hive smelling Wrong they all rushed around searching for the Wrong Bees they could smell, but for each bee, each other bee they checked was friend, not foe. Things calmed down a bit later. 

This morning, the concert is over and under the hive are plenty of neatly removed white cappings, I wonder if they're eating the honey we gave them or checking it in, relabelling and processing it. 

Late Summer

The new bees in the Eastern Hive (was called 3/4 Hive) have been making a lot more bees lately, we've been seeing lots of bees and laser Saturday (11 March) we had a look in. The queen has laid a lot of brood in both boxes and so we added a top box in the hope they'll find enough nectar to make honey for winter, otherwise we'll feed them. 

The other hive didn't do as well. 

On 27 January we saw heaps of wax moth in it. A healthy hive will not let this happen. We saw remnant bees, still bringing nectar in but there was no brood and no queen. We let the old bees live there until they died.  

We don't know what happened. 

We had our bee mentor post mortem with us and there was no sign of AFB or anything. 

Back then the Eastern Hive was a small 2 box colony but healthy. It didn't need another box, had no wax moth, but didn't have much honey (it's been a bad year). 

In late January our mentor's suggestion was this possible plan for the future: 

We probably want to feed the Eastern Hive in the next couple of months so they can eat the sugar syrup in Winter and make floral honey in Spring, we have kept some honey frames, which is nicer than sugar solution. 

We want to end up with two hives, both with 3/4 frames (hence the name change) so we'll need to get a second 3/4 set up ready for Spring. 

Towards that end we should check frames, get rid of black or mothridden wax and re-wax. Also, get rid of anything we don't want to keep. 

Sunday, November 27, 2022

New Bees

On Saturday we dropped off a box to a beekeeper in Johnsonville who put some frames of bees in it, including a laying queen (still to be named). Next morning we collected it and put it in our bee coop. Sunday was wet and they stayed in, complaining about the weather over here in Newtown, but now it's sunny and here they come creeping out of their hive, flying around in front of it to take a good look at it and then pottering off to check the new neighbourhood out. 

The other hive's new queen's name is Becky. She's named after Genghis Khan's peace-making and successful daughter while also thinking of Becky who is one of the calmest and clearest communicating players that I've coached. 

Friday, November 4, 2022

Good health, and a new Queen to name.

These bees are from brood that has been officially inspected and declared to be fair, not foul. Hooray! We don't need the worst kind of Guy Fawkes bonfire today. 

It seems golden Rachael and her old guard have probably swarmed (it's rare that could have happened without us knowing about it, so maybe they went to the Folk Festival too) and also she has been superceded by a beautiful brown daughter (or possibly granddaughter) whose laying pattern is just fine. 

We put in ApiLife Var wafers to protect Rachael's daughter's brood and took off a whole box of dear hard-working Rachael's spring honey. 

Here is the bee coop today, with plastic tubs of honey frames we hope to extract and a wee hive where Malka's was which we hope to have a nuc move into.  

Summer has begun. 

Monday, July 18, 2022


We are back living where the bees do, hurray. I ran out of honey so I got the first frame of Malka's posthumous harvest out of its box in the bee coop. It's midwinter so it had completely crystallized and our renovations aren't finished yet so I didn't want to make much mess. 

I scraped the cells of crystallised honey, put them in a glass jug, carefully microwaved them until the honey was melted and the wax wasn't, mixed it, let the wax float, poured the honey out under a scraping paper, and then cleaned up with cold water. It's not Malka's most delicious honey by a long shot, but I'm using it for lemon and honey drinks anyway, because we've had covid and I have a colony of frogs in my throat. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Bee news

1. Malka's hive died sometime last week, alas, she was elderly and maybe the new queen didn't make it home from her mating flight. 
2. Rachael's hive is fine and Iris and I insulated it for winter tonight. 
3. No matter how pleased one is to see them and how helpful one feels insulation would be, beehives don't want hugs. 
4. This outfit ... 
It is very practical for keeping the underarm bee sting cool, and I rather like the look of it, but I haven't thought of any other occasions it'll be useful for. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Bees, getting by without me very well.

We got into the hives (in bee coop at bottom right of picture) yesterday and put in Bayvarol to help them stay healthy while growing the bees who look after everything over winter. They are looking good, we didn't see either queen but there were young brood, pollen stores and honey and no mites in the drone brood I looked in. 

We haven't harvested this season because the honey-house (centre, it'll also be the laundry and back porch) is still being built. As depicted, the house is full of builders, and will be for a while yet; though the end is starting to be imaginable and we've been deciding all the colours (purples and blues outside, yellows inside mostly). 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

The bees are in good shape!

Bees just had their annual AFB inspection: 
They are fine! This is not the year we have to work out how to burn them. No varroa, or evidence of them, probably treat in 3 weeks or a month. No real queen cells, one little play cup. Proud! 

Her 3/4 hive had a  empty bottom box, so we put it on top with a queen excluder under it. 

Rachael's (Flow) hive: Lots of honey in it, a good deal from last year because we had a mild winter and they just kept on foraging. Added queen excluder and box on top: 4 full honey frames up to it, 4 empty down from it. Didn't see Rachael but everything looks like she's good. Could harvest some honey. 

Also, the fish survived the winter too! The one on the left had a moustache when it went on so it's called Hercule Poisson and the other one had a yellow face and had been hiding ever since it went in so it's called Chicken. 

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 ... 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 or you can buy a real book here

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 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) 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 

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: 
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: