Disaster averted!

Dateline: February 13, 2019

A bulletin via FaceBook Thunder Bay Beekeepers  informed that fellow Member Rudy has lost 3 hives. Bees have starved. Rudy is the “European expert” with many years of beekeeping. Rudy has many hives and sells honey from his acreage on Oliver Road.

Eegad. I was worried before I heard about Rudy. We, meaning all of us (Husband, Kaya (the magnificent Dog) and the bees, made it through January and those Arctic Vortexes but I noticed over the last 2 weeks Hive No. 1 “looked quiet”. No bee casualties were to be found laying on the stomped down threshold. I am diligent to sweep aside or shovel snow around the BeeYard.  Hive No. 2 always had a few bodies and when I poke their upper exit to clear the ice someone inside gives notice: buzzzz!

I have been suspecting an icy “Attic” in No. 1 and have been preparing a new Cedar chip burlap pillow to change up, what I expect will be a ?frozen? one that needs replacing. Luckily, today climbed to minus -5° with that particular February sunshine and I opened  No. 1 up, fearing the worst . . .although in the morning I had found 3 bees on the threshold and hoped it was a sign.  It was!  (and not just stray bees from No. 2)            After I lifted off the layers of construction: Roof, top tray of cedar pillow, and top handhold cover of the upper super . . . Ta-Daah! behold the brown mat of bees, quietly buzzing, the candy board still full of white sugar fondant and that’s how you spell joy.

The top cover went back on quickly, my toque was stuffed into the hand hold,  a quick dash inside for a mohair blanket to substitute as temporary insulation while I cleaned off the ice and dried out the roof interior. It is obvious that the building science performance of this hive is not working, not enough airflow and the resulting condensation is icing the upper levels of the hive. It could be the opening of only 1 inch is not wide enough to draw air at the base. *note to self next year: use 2″ cleat and re-think the straw bale surround . . .I may have created a cold sink also. 😦 Tomorrow’s forecast will also be as warm but with snow. No. 2 will be checked if weather allows and then I have to think of jimmying another design of candy board to slide between the frames of No. 1’s super and No. 2’s situation, whatever I find there.                                                                                                                            Beekeeping . . .  one must have their wits about them and be ready to improvise. But seriously: whew!

The Busiest of Bees

Busiest of bees 2

The Busiest of Bees  (The Queen Part II)

Scouts, Inspectors and the  “Shakers”.  AS IF bees haven’t been observed enough during our time on this planet, there is and seems there always will bee,  more to learn.     Dr. Heather Mattila’s fifteen years of research at Wellesley College in  Massachusetts continues to define different classes of  worker bees and their specialized jobs.

Musing sidebar about research data gathering- the x-y axis of a graph: this high, this big, this far, time elapsed, is the graphic proof of scientific research. The numbers of data simplified to a crooked line (or a wavy one), some coloured apartment towers, dancing dots. In the watching and counting of the bees by a crew of research students, unquantifiable surprises are revealed. Ethology, the study of animal behaviour, is a word Professor (Dr. M) and Hobbyist (RitaK) stumbled over. Entomology being the Study of insects. Latin . . . it happens. If the Queen has been “well mated” with the biggest, strongest and fastest drones,  she will provide offspring who will be the best of the foragers. The success of the hive depends on the efforts of the foragers and those graphs illustrate the benefits of diverse genetics.

In the ‘zoo’ of bees, we learn of three classifications of the foragers resulting from Dr. Mattila’s research: There are the scouts, those bees who zoom away to find the sources of nectar- and don’t necessarily bring back anything, because they are on a quest with their sense of adventure and return long enough to relay the co-ördinates of location vis-á-vis the bee dance. Then we observe the inspectors (yes, we have bureaucrats and critics in the Hive) who ascertain the quality of the nectar payload. How the students observed this behaviour is still sketchy in my memory and notes from the lecture but what caught my imagination were the shakers. Yes, we have sleepy bees and those obnoxious early risers. How do you know a bee is sleeping? their antennae are drooping! and along comes one of those early risers, who climbs on top of sleepybeehead and begins to execute pounce-like movements and the day begins. So the Scouts, the Inspectors and the Shakers, remember that, I will.

The End Part II.


The Queen

Golden crown isolated on white - 3d renderThe Queen – Part I


The Bees in my hives are wrapped around the Queen in tight balls. I can hear the hum. Winter it is a time of study for Beekeepers and I throw my name into this tribe with emotional humility. With thousands of years of observation , there is a lot to learn and much information to share about these creatures, Apis, the Honey bee.

It came to the attention of Thunder Bay’s Beekeepers’ Association that we have an expert in our midst- a Dr. Heather Mattila, from Wellesley College, Department of Biological Sciences in Massachusetts returns home at Christmas to visit her parents and we had our own exclusive ‘Ted Talk”.                                                                                                                              The Topic: “Why do well mated queens produce the busiest bees?”

The language of science from a Phd Biologist keeps a person on point.  I have new information to share from Heather’s work over the last 15 years from her students at Wellesley  (of notable Alumnus: Clinton, Albright, Sawyer) and colleagues from Cornell.

Slide No. 2 of the Power Point show gets right down to the nitty gritty of the subject; an airborne Queen with the ripped off genitalia of a Drone dangling from her bottom. Imagine that visual!  My own musings (of a wannabe biologist) before the lecture were generic answers:

– because there is some selection going on                                                                                        – couplings are planned                                                                                                                         – drones have been selected.

The definition of a ‘busy’ bee, also explained in the Lecture will be explored in another instalment, Part II

Polyamory is a new word in my vocabulary. Today’s women are seeking more than one sexual partner but remaining in their marriage, apparently and Polyandry in Bees ensures genetic diversity, hence stronger . . . busier . . . bees.

The Queen’s flight away from the hive may occur up to three trips (maximum) in search of an aerial drone congregation travelling many dangerous kilometres to follow the scent of those minute pheromones on the wind. Once located, a mating comet of drones begins to swirl around her and the chase is on. The biggest, the strongest, the fastest Drone wins. Nothing new there >wink<.

Back in the hive, the Queen returns and worker bees are reassured by the ultra violet light emanating from the Drone’s still attached genitalia. The workers chew off the package and the colony is restored.

The End Part I



Drone package 2.jpeg


Illustration from C. P. Dadant’s “First Lessons in Beekeeping” 1918

Chemotherapy for Bees




Dread. I am filled with dread. In all the winters I have known thus far, this winter ahead will be daunting. The challenge: To keep my bees alive!                                                         Today, on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon (the weather has just been awful for over two weeks now, cold rain everyday!) our Bee Club hosted a workshop demonstrating the Hive wrap-up and treatment of Oxalic Acid, the medication to ‘arrest’ development                                                                        of the dreaded D-E-S-T-R-U-C-T-O-R Varroa Mite.

A ‘drip by syringe’ applied between the frames was voted nay by the also wet and cold membership and we witnessed a demonstration of  ‘the vapours’. A heated wand powered by an automobile battery fried up the crystalline version of oxalic granules.  The toxic gas was inserted into the base of the hive. A few Bees were able to get the hell out of dodge by flying out, skirting the edges of the noxious plume while others trudged out on their death march. The cure for Cancer, chemotherapy, known as worse than the disease, is the analogy that came to mind.


On a happy note, I learned how to make a ‘candy board’. A paste of white granulated sugar, some water and a touch of vinegar is patted into a wood frame with a metal mesh. The hardened sheet of “candy” offers emergency food should the little creatures (those that survived the gas attack) eat themselves out of their honey stores.

The bees are already forming into balls in the hives and I can envision those fat drones providing the BTU’s. Some relief is in sight on Thursday when +10 is forecast. I will continue to provide syrup until the end of the month but I will get busy and prepare the custom fit winter cover of 2″ styrofoam @ a value of R10.                                                            Both hives are presently waterproofed with white tarps over heavy wool blankets.  There is room to innovate in this . . . profession.

fyi: Oxalic acid is like the compound found in Rhubarb leaves. Remember you are not supposed to eat Rhubarb leaves.


Photo Credit: Royal Kenyon Beeworks, Flagstaff Arizona

Himalayan Balsam

SIGH< Summer is really over. Tomorrow night they predict minus 3 . . . that would be celsius nomenclature for fellow BeeKeepers in shining America (26.6F). We had a lot of action at the hives over the summer, even a swarm. The melon shaped form covered with the rogue bees is high up in a spruce tree. ‘Let them go’ says Rudy, it’s in their DNA. You don’t want those kind of bees anyways. I just feel rejected, having made a nice clean wooden home for them. They didn’t even go ‘upstairs’ to store their honey or create brood . . . Rudy also doesn’t use a Queen excluder, neither did I when I got the kit(s). My intuition told me: “No, you don’t really need these” (yet another layer to get all gooped up with propolis and comb) Must be those European Genes 😉

Himalayan Balsam. Rogue plant from, yes, the Himalayas.                                                         My bees have been arriving with white ‘spots’ on their backs and I was freaking, “Oh nooo, now what scourge is this??” Friends of Mr. Google told me not to worry, it is just pollen from the Himalayan Balsam flowers. As the bee enters the pollen stamen(s) scrapes over their backs! Well thank goodness there is still something nutritious out there for the bees, non-native invasive species or not, at least it doesn’t sting a rash onto you like Giant Hogweed and their ilk.

On October 13th, the experienced BeeKeepers of Thunder Bay will be giving a demo on how to wrap up the hives for our gruesome winter. Can I wait that long? I have been feeding them 1:2 sugar syrup and changed up the Mason jars, large bodies with the smaller caps, so there is more of an opening around the handhold lid of the hive cover. My meagre innovations. I also purchased rolls of reflective insulation (the bubble wrap stuff) I was going to make temporary tea cozy-type things until the 13th, I’ll let you know how THAT project materializes. A happy shoutout to Sassafras Farms in the Carolinas https://sassafrasbeefarm.wordpress.com/ , I hope your Farm is OK after the Hurricane, I am almost afraid to ask.

Politics of the Hive


This is a Drone. He has very large eyes that I surmise cover a 270° radius  (just a guess, I’ll look it up) so he can see the Queen for the mating flight. All those drones taking up space in the hive and eating up all the goodies, the bee bread and honey stores. Bee bread is a combo of honey and pollen. Can you taste the polleny-breadiness?                        I have now read the colony allows them to hang out to ‘keep the brood warm’ but the entomologists don’t all agree on this.  They are larger than everyone else, kind of ‘chunky’.

‘First Lessons in Beekeeping’ published in 1918 by  Charles Dadant arrived recently from Amazon’s trove of ‘lost books’. This book is considered one of the ‘bibles’ of beekeeping.  We got it right back then and bees were and still are and always will be it seems, the most studied creature on the planet. The book begins immediately with the reproduction equipment (and that stinger) of this fascinating society of insects. Dadant could draw!(next time I’ll show you the etching-like diagrams)

The soaring heat has displayed some new behaviours at the hives but yesterday things escalated. I had to consult Mr. Google to check if a swarm was brewing. Another cursory inspection informed that WE HAVE HONEY!!!! oozing all over the place as they started building comb on top of the frames. Therefore, when I removed the cover where that ‘magical’ syrup jar sits, the honey combs broke open. I will be ready with clean jars in a few days and scrape off all that errant m-e-s-s. I am relying on intuition and stop the inspection when the volume of the buzzing rises. That can’t be good.

After I shut down the inspection and put the rocks back on the roof covers and slowly vacated the site with my kit and smoker, all hell broke loose. Bees buzzing everywhere. Angry buzzing?  The air space filled with bees at the front of the hive. There was a certain amount of bearding going on too (everyone chilling outside the hive although temps were quite reasonable) Is this a hatch? The first flights of new workers? It is the drones who make all the noise. What is going onnn??

All the ruckus died down just as mysteriously in a matter of minutes but I spotted a lone drone  trudging away from the hive, along the recently cultivated grapevine bed. His large beady eyes obvious in my sightline. Had he been ‘ousted’ by the Workers? They do that from time to time, ruthlessly escort them out. I should have picked him up.           Note to self: always carry a jar when in the Bee Yard.

Honey bee face.jpg

Ms. Worker Bee. She means business.

Heat Wave

Bees fanning hive

With temperatures rising and hovering in the high 20’s, the bees have started to fan the hive. Today things got so extreme many workers came out of the hive and began ‘bearding’.  Some of them formed a beard-like clump to hang under their threshold . . . possibly it is cooler by the concrete block. Tomorrow I will remove their doorway, called a cleat, entirely. Let’s see if that improves their situation.Bearding bees 2.jpgNote the birch branches, also helping to shade their abodes in the Grapeyard.

The Foragers are streaming in loaded with pollen bags, sometimes they seem to be so heavy they cannot adjust their flight speed and crash into the grass, only to rise and make another attempt into the hive ‘door’. A relentless pace for these little creatures but when it gets too hot, the work stops, just like us.