I’ve lived in Maryland since 2002 and have NEVER experienced a winter like this. The issue is not snow or days of cold temperatures but rather, the ridiculous windchill. Last weekend started the insane windchill weather: -25 F which is -31 Celsius, thankfully this would occur at night, but during the day it was -15F which is -26C. Wind gusts were 60MPH. I can’t even explain to you how cold this is. We would give the chickens water in their coop and it would be frozen solid in an hour. Faced with such marked cold windchill, I decided to wrap the hives. Not insulate them, just wrap to give them an extra layer of wind protection. As you know, wind markedly increases our perception of cold and very quickly strips you of any warmth. Any cracks in a hive, any drafts on chickens will greatly increase their experience of cold and “chill” them. Which is why it’s so important to build windows in a coop that are ABOVE the chickens’ heads when roosting–to avoid persistent drafts on the birds. This is also why bees use propolis, to seal any cracks. But if you’ve checked on the bees, then you’ve broken the seal.

It is very unlikely that you would NEED to wrap the hives, especially in Maryland. I didn’t NEED to as I knew the colonies were strong, there was only one I was worried about.

So we used ratchet straps to strap the hives down during those wind gusts and wrapped them with roofing paper. They were not tightly wrapped, plenty of air flow was allowed, I also have not closed off the screened bottoms to the hives–they’ve been open all winter as they have been since I started in 2011. No insulation, just hefty paper providing more windbreak.

Roofing paper wrapped around hives, no insulation.

Roofing paper wrapped around hives, no insulation.

We received about 12″ of snow yesterday and the kids are enjoying it immensely. This picture was taken yesterday in the middle of the snow storm.

When we had a warm day 2 weeks ago, I was able to get in the hives and add pollen patties, the bee candy was still being used though all hives felt very heavy with stores.

Adding pollen patties. Bees look good.

Adding pollen patties. Bees look good.

I actually overwinter my bees with bee candy sandwiched between each hive body, that way, no matter where they go, they’ll find food. So far so good.

Winter update

Just a quick update on the hive situation, no pictures though as we’re moving stuff to a new computer. I went into the winter with 4 hives, 3 of them are 2 deeps and one is 3 deeps (result of a combine after the large hive went queen less). All 4 still have bees in them, the 3 deep hive is INSANE with activity compared to the others. We have had quite a few very windy, cold and wet days. After particular bad stretches of weather, I check on them by putting my ear against the bodies and listening to them; to gauge their strength I’ll rap on the wood and that certainly riles them up. So far I think the orange hive appears to be the weakest in terms of “buzzing”. I’ve had sugar water out for community feeding when the days are warm. They (and other hives I bet) have taken in 3 and 1/2 quart jars. I plan to go in on Saturday and provide sugar patties (ready in the freezer) as well.

Wishing all of you a happy and healthy New Year for you and your bees! Merry Christmas!

This is disturbing

I had heard of this video but hadn’t watched it. It’s extremely disturbing. I watch European Hornets circle my hives, try to land on the frames when I’m doing an inspection, grabbing bees as they crawl along the outside of the hives. I’ve set up my hornet and wasp traps to hopefully lure them away from the hives, I’ve used 2 versions: one version uses the banana peels and the other uses turkey cold-cuts. I’ll let you know which one seems to catch more European Hornets. At least there’re not Giant Japanese Hornets.

Solar wax melter

I thought I had already written about my homemade solar wax melter. But as I responded to a question on beesource, I did a search of my blog and realized I hadn’t! So I perused my list of posts and found this one under “draft”. See? I knew I MEANT to post about it…

You can buy a solar wax melter and it will cost you anywhere from $60 to over $100, it will be fancy and bulky and you will have to find a place to keep it! Mine cost about $6 and is easy to disassemble. I don’t want to take sole credit for this, what I use is cobbled together from other people’s ideas I came across while researching the topic. One very important tip, do this on a very warm, sunny day, preferably in the 80’s.

I use the following:

-a pane of glass (edges taped to prevent cuts)

-styrofoam cooler

-a plastic bin

-paper towel


-dirty wax!

Simple parts + sun + yellow cake of wax in front.

Simple parts + sun = yellow cake of wax in front.

The plastic bin has a little water in it to keep the melted wax from sticking to the bottom. A paper towel is placed over the top and a rubber band is used to fasten it in place. Set the bin inside the cooler, like so:



Then the glass goes on top:



Set it in a spot that gets sun all day, it works better if the temperatures are in the 80º’s. The wax will melt and drip through the towel leaving the brown sludge you see above (that is after melting, the wax is in the water below). That yellow cake of wax is the result at the end of the day and the debris that remained in the paper towel is called slumgum. I use the slumgum for my smoker in combination with pine needles and it works like a charm. The whole contraption cost about $6 because I only needed to purchase a cooler and a piece of glass. You can increase the intensity by lining the inside with aluminum foil or by painting it black. It gets very hot in there and I have never needed to enhance the melter’s effectiveness, but it may help if you expect part of the day to be cloudy. The resulting brown sludge is a combination of cocoons from brood frames (plus poop as the larvae defecate before spinning their cocoons), detris from the hive, some pollen, whatever has collected on the wax. If you use only wax from honey frames there will be less slumgum. Try it out and let me know how it works for you.

Remember the blueberries?

So a few posts ago I mentioned that I saw honey bees eating the blueberry pulp of my backyard over-ripe blueberries. I took a few pictures that day and I wanted to share. There’s one of a wasp and one of a honey bee.



Cool, yes?

Honey Harvesting, Part Deux

Once the supers were inside, the messy part began: uncapping. Oh my goodness what a mess but at least it was contained, I happened to have a very large cookie sheet that served as the “honey catcher” fairly well: we uncapped the frames while resting the frames on the sheet, any honey that ran out was collected on the tray and later scraped into the strainer. My husband was excellent at that, he wanted every bit of honey we could get! We did 2 sessions of harvesting and the picture below is from the second one. Remember, all pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

You can see the cappings roller on the right, I think it's supposed to perforate the cappings but it gets so filled with cappings and honey that it was useless after the first few rolls. I went back to my capping scratcher. It was also a real pain to clean, if you wanted to keep any of the wac or honey.

You can see the cappings roller on the right, I think it’s supposed to perforate the cappings but it gets so filled with cappings and honey that it was useless after the first few rolls. I went back to my capping scratcher. It was also a real pain to clean, if you wanted to keep any of the wax or honey.

You can see how some comb was EXTREMELY thick. Some of it had been drawn out twice! Meaning the bees had drawn, filled and capped honey, then drawn, filled and capped AGAIN over the capped honey. Bizarre.


Wax and honey in the filter, in my canning pot., the only pot large enough to hold the filters. I let this sit in water over night and fed the resulting honey water back to the bees. Once I drained the filter, it sat on my counter with a rag underneath to catch any moisture. After a few days the wax was dry and ready for melting.

Wax and honey in the filter, in my canning pot, the only pot large enough to hold the filters. I let this sit in water overnight and fed the resulting honey water back to the bees. Once I drained the filter, it sat on my counter with a rag underneath to catch any moisture. After a few days the wax was dry and ready for melting.

This year, I've only packaged my honey in one pound jars.

This year, I’ve only packaged my honey in one pound jars.

The jar on the right is known as a victorian square and it’s my favorite. But it’s very pricey as I can only get it online and the shipping costs double the price of the jars. The muth jar (with the cork) is extremely attractive as it has an embossed skep on the back and also “One Pound of Honey” embossed in the glass. The middle jar is one that I bought for home at the request of my husband. He wanted an easy squeeze plastic bottle for using on biscuits, etc. I made bread yesterday using this bottle and I have to say it was extremely easy to just squeeze it out, rather than pouring it from a spout that would get sticky as a result. The lid is a dripless lid and you store the bottle on the lid with no leaks! But I’m not a fan of storing items in plastic, so we’ll see if I use these again. 

You can see I’ve added a shrink band to the muth jar: the cork makes me nervous when customers pick up their honey, I always worry the cork is going to come out. So I started using the shrink bands to ease my mind rather than as a “no tamper” indicator, though that doesn’t hurt.

The victorian square is sporting a tamper-evident seal from Brushy Mountain which I love. It says “USA Honey” on it, and I like that my customers know their honey has been untouched after bottling. I have a beekeeper friend who told me a woman came up to his honey stand, opened the bottle and stuck her finger in it!!!! Needless to say, she had to buy that bottle. Crazy people.

The plastic jar has a seal inside the lid that fastens itself to the jar when the lid is screwed on.

I’m seriously considering going with a regular queenline glass jar (shape is the same as the middle jar) and just buying black lids. Queenlines are the ones most beekeepers here use. But what I like about my honey is the packaging: it’s like nothing you normally see for sale at fairs and festivals. I think I’m going to take this winter and design my own labels too, ones that I can print at home. The labels in the picture are from also known as What I especially like about these labels is that they are waterproof vinyl, so if someone puts their crystallized honey jar in a pan of hot water to liquify it, the label remains intact. It is also repositionable, and that is an appreciated feature.

So much to think about this winter, jars, labels, and making my own soap. Next time: my homemade solar wax melter!

Foraging for berries

Going out to our backyard and “foraging” for berries and veggies is a favorite activity of ours. But guess who’s been joining us?

A week or so ago I saw yellow jackets on the blueberries splitting a few open and enjoying the contents of the berries. I happened to spot a honey bee working on the pulp of an already open berry. Figured it was a “sweet-fluke”.

I just went out to take a quick peek at the blueberries and saw quite a few little things flying about and worried they were wasps. As I got closer I was stunned to see honey bees! A few dozen working on the pulp of split blueberries. Sweet is sweet I guess. We need that goldenrod to start blooming now!

Harvest time! Post part 1

Well, I think you may know that my harvest over the past couple of years was paltry, a mere 20lbs each year. Folks, this is a banner year! Two Saturdays ago my friend Connie, her husband and mine all helped to harvest 65 lbs!!! Mind you we had to return uncapped honey for them to finish off but even with this initial harvest, it blows the other years out of the water.

I was telling some folks that I started calculating how much I had spent on this hobby since starting. Once I got to 2K I stopped counting, couldn’t handle it. Between buying frames, foundation, more supers, hive bodies, covers, ventilated inner covers, sugar, feeders, etc. it all adds up. I hope that a few years of selling nucs and honey will help even out the cost. I hope that at some point the hobby will pay for itself, I don’t expect to make a profit, but if it could just cover its own expenses, that would be appreciated.

Anyway, I need to tell you about the debaucle that occurred harvest day. I knew I had more honey this year so my old method of brushing bees off would be difficult due to the wonky comb they made and it would be very time consuming. I decided, to my great disappointment as you will learn, to try a fume board.

Fume boards, for those who don’t know, are essentially pieces of wood with metal on the outside and cloth on the inside. The metal (when used on a sunny day) will heat up the cloth and whatever nasty smelling liquid has been applied to the cloth will warm up and vaporize into the super, driving the bees down and away from the supers. In a few minutes you can remove the super confident that most, if not all bees, have vacated the super. As the nasty smelling stuff can taint the honey if left too long, I decided to use the pleasant smelling alternative which claims to be “Natural and bee friendly.” Uh huh.

Well, it was a lovely sunny day, mid-70’s, an ideal bee-working day. I applied the spray, put on the fume board. Remember that wonky comb I mentioned? When the nectar flow happened, I didn’t have enough drawn comb to add to the hives because I certainly never expected to need 80 frames of drawn comb (2 supers per hive)! So I added the foundationless frames I had on-hand and hoped they would drawn them out. I didn’t add them during the heavy flow so they never did draw comb on those frames, instead they built out the comb that was next to it and just made the cells super deep. Not really an issue PER SE but certainly messes up any honey super inspections.

Turns out that bulbous comb and the queen excluder were areas causing “log jams” resulting in masses of bees dying as they rushed to get away from the fumes. That explains why, when I lifted the board after a few minutes, a waterfall of bees came out of the hive as they tried to escape. And then I sealed their doom as I set the board back on, not understanding what was going on :( If I had only known… Typing this makes me angry at myself all over again.

I only had 2 fume boards so the teal and purple hive were spared this experience. After I removed the fume boards and found all those dead bees in the crevices of the comb and trapped in the queen excluder, I had to think of another solution but could only think of the brush. Connie suggested the leaf blower and that’s exactly what we did.

We took the super off of the hive and set it down on the grass a little away from the hives (end bars toward the ground) and blew them out. It actually worked really well, I was able to get most of them out and the cluster of bees in the grass dispersed and went home, there were some in the air too but they all left. No dead bodies. One person used the leaf blower, one brushed off any stragglers and then another person would cover the super quickly, any remaining stragglers would come to the top of the frames and when the cover was opened, they normally flew off. It actually worked really well.

We moved away from the hives and checked the boxes again because these were being brought into the house and I did not want angry bees in my home. Any final stragglers were removed and the frames checked for readiness to harvest. About half we put back to let the bees finish capping. The supers were left by the back door and were brought in when bees started investigating.

And then the mess began…. Will post more later!