Saturday, May 30, 2015

"The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them." ~ Saint Francis de Sales

Finally, as promised - my bee post! My sister Robin, and her husband Mike have ventured into bee-keeping! They live in a community outside of Burlington, VT, and their bees arrived right before my visit a few weeks ago. It was quite rainy during my brief stay, and between the rain and wanting the bees to settle in, I did not walk back to where they were located. Robin and Mike have graciously forwarded the pictures below in order for me to share them with you.

First, I asked Robin and Mike to provide us all with some information about why they decided to go into bee-keeping; how they prepared for the bee's arrival, and what their short and long-term plans are.

Why we got into beekeeping

I've been interested for quite awhile. Our high school offers evening classes for the community and I took a 3-evening class on beekeeping. It was really just a brief overview. There is so much to know and not just one right way to keep bees. Mike was not involved at first but I brought him to a Vermont Beekeepers Association meeting and he was in! We both have our own interests but the bees we are doing together.

We're excited about getting honey but the more we've read and gotten into bees, we realize how much they do out in nature, and how much what we eat depends on pollination. We are starting to pay more attention to plants that are in bloom. Many people have heard of colony Collapse Disorder which has been plaguing bees for several years now. The current thought is that it is caused by pesticides on the plants that the bees pollinate ...... another problem for bees is the Varroa Mite. The bee community is encouraging new beekeepers in part to help the survival of bees.  In addition to the concerns of mites and collapse we have to watch for swarming. The main reason this happens is the bees start to feel crowded, so we have to watch the first hive body and when it's about 80% full we add another hive body on top of that.

In preparation for the bee’s arrival

The location is important- they should get good sun and not much wind in the winter and we didn't want them visible from the road. Besides getting all the hive equipment- hive bodies, frames, wax, smoker, veils and coats, and a few other tools, we had to put up an electric fence because we have bears that are occasionally present in our neighborhood. We also have skunks and raccoons, but the bears are the big problem. That was a lot of work and Mike did most of it. We had to clear an area - lots of rocks and roots- lay fabric cloth, mulch and dig the holes. Mike did a lot of reading on installing the fence. We didn't want the hives near the house so we had some decisions about powering the fence- rechargeable batteries or solar panel. We went with solar.

Depending on where you live, beekeepers look for early signs of blooming plants to know when there will be spring activity. Around here, dandelions are often the first sign. Beekeepers want to check the hives in the spring to see how they did through the winter. When the daytime temps reach 40, it is safe to open the hive. Spring and fall are busy times. We hope to get our first honey in late June/early July and then another run in the fall.

Summer honey is usually lighter in color and flavor than the fall honey. Sometime in November, we'll put the bees to bed for the winter- we'll weigh the hives, and leave some honey and food in for the winter, make sure there is proper ventilation, then wrap the outside with either tarpaper or a insulated wrap made for hive bodies.

Short term- this year we hope to learn as we go and get some honey. Then we hope we can get them through the winter. The first year is often the hardest because it's all so new and there's so much to learn. If we are successful, we'll have enough honey to share with friends and family. We don't have plans to sell it, but who knows?!

Longer term- we don't have plans to go big time, but we'd consider going up to 4 hives. We are on a waiting list to get some Russian bees, which are supposed to be resistant to the varroa mite. We are at the top of the list for next year. If we get them it would mean more hives. Right now our bees are a blend of Italian and Russian.

Their Arrival!

We bought a bee "nucleus" or "nuc". It had a queen and 5 frames with active bees. We put them in the center of our hive box , put the lids on, and wait for the bees to work from the center out filling the frames.

These photos were some of the outer frames we placed for the bees to work on. The frames have a wax sheet with the outline of the honeycomb. The bees draw it "out" or build mini 6-sided tubes/ You can see that happening in these photos. The side with more activity is the side that faces inward in the box,as they work their way out."

"We had trouble finding the queen bees in the swirl of activity of bees. To make sure the queen is still healthy and laying you look for eggs and young larae. The eggs look like white rice grains, and the larvae grow ina "C" shape and at about 7 - 9 days old get "capped" by the worker bees. (They cover the cell until the full bee emerges). Most of the new bees are female worker bees. Their brood cells are capped with a reddish brown  smooth "cover".

In these two photos you can see the larvae. In the second one you can see some eggs at the right.  The picture with the lighter colors is one of the frames we aded and they created the cells and the queen laid the eggs. The photo with the darker covers is one of the frames we bought form the beekeeper. The bees hatched in some cells and the queen is still laying around the edges."

This is the center frame from one of the 5 frame sets we bought and is probably the "oldest" (first laid) frame in the hive. It was full of "brood" or larvae chambers for female worker bees. You can see many of the cells are open - the bees hatched. Hopefully, the queen will now come back to this frame and re-lay more eggs.  She must keep pretty busy shuttling around laying as fast as the bees hatch!. 

As we checked the hives, the bees had worked up the foundation for just about all sides of the outer frames in the single boxes we checked. If the bees get too cramped/ run out of space, they can swarm.  We thus added the second "deep"  frame box to each hive - it gives them a place to keep working.  Once that box too is nearly full, we then start to add the honey boxes next.

We are glad we have the bear fence. Some neighbors of our friends were testing their luck going "fenceless" and just lost all of their hives to a bear. 

We are like babes in the woods on this.  But as you can see we are having  fun w/ the bees !"

Hive Entrance

I am going to add a bunch of other pictures that Robin and Mike sent to me, and will close out the post with some links that they shared, and a really awesome video on the first 21 days of a bee's life.

Thank you so much Robin and Mike for sharing your new venture! What a wonderful endeavor and I am looking forward to your honey and finding out where this road will take you!



  1. Wonderful project. The photos and narrative are great! Thanks for posting this Tracy!

  2. Fascinating! Wishing Robin, Mike and the bees much success!