More cheese bees, and a tree hive

What could be the connection between bees in a commercial space on Laurel Canyon (please admire the warning sign, by the way) and a tree colony in Bell Gardens?

Why, the fact that Kirk's birthday is coming up on Monday, of course!

That's Backwards Beekeeping for you.


Sue pushes the reset button.

Here's how the equation goes:

Sue's queen poops out.

Sue and Kirk find a flower pot full of bees in Arcadia (enough to fill 5 deep frames).

Sue and Kirk collect those bees.

Sue is happy.

And by the way, callers (as Kirk will explain): keep in mind the time difference before you give those of us on the West Coast a ringle jingle in the morning.

If at first you don't succeed....

.....try, try again.

OK, so wish me luck—I'm steadfastly trying again [see the post above for pictures].

I installed my nuc box at Camp Waterloo on Easter Sunday (I know at least Curtis remembers this!) It consisted of two deep frames of what seemed to be a decent amount of brood, a couple of medium frames barely started, and a reasonable number of bees. And, what looked like a nice queen cell.

Six-plus weeks and four inspections later: Same old same old. Nada mas. Zip. Just one quarter-sized bit of new comb in all that time. Lots of bare-naked frames. A handful of larva in sorry-ass cells. Queen cell is gone, but I have never seen a queen. And believe me, I looked. Bees are coming and going, and I'm loving watching them do their thing, but there seem to be fewer and fewer of them. Plenty of drones, though, which makes me worry. I am trying not to be jealous reading posts from all my fellow beekeepers who have to keep adding supers because all their frames are filling up. The fact that my apple trees, tomatoes, and blackberries are loaded with blooms and fruit is of almost no consolation to me.

Finally, fifth inspection last weekend: Aaaaargh! Drone cells everywhere!!! No queen to be seen. That same old ratty brown comb. And a zillion ants have taken over, lined up dozens deep all over the sugar water baggie.

Emergency call to Kirk. He suspects a dud or absent queen is the cause of all this failure-to-thrive. (I prefer my own alternative scenario, about a rogue rebellious lesbian feminist bee who wanted nothing to do with the pampered diva lifestyle, being royally f***ed while 300 feet up in the air, endless childbearing, etc.—so she gathered up a bunch of her home girls and took off to set up a little rural commune with leadership by consensus.) OK, whatever—so now what do I do? Beekeeping for Dummies (and boy do I feel like a dummy) says to dump them all out on the ground far away from the hive and start all over. Dump my bees?? This can't be good for whatever's left of my karma.

Another call from Kirk: bees in a flower pot in Arcadia, and if I can drag myself out of bed at the crack of dawn on Wednesday, I can come along and do the cut-out with him. Carpe diem, I tell myself, and set the alarm. The flower pot is in the back of the backyard, upside down and half-buried in the dirt and debris from the redwood tree it is under. It's a nice big terra cotta bowl, CHOCK full of comb and bees.

I am excited. Kirk is calm, cool, and collected, and armed to the teeth with the smoker and a huge butcher knife. I have come prepared with 5 deep frames, which we quickly (but calmly and cooly, of course—I think Kirk could do a cut-out in his sleep) tie up with big slabs of brood comb cut out of the bowl. These go, with many bees attached, into a cardboard nuc box. Huge numbers of flower pot evictees are massed on the ground and on the adjacent cement wall. Kirk places the nuc box next to the wall, and we give them a half-hour or so to do their nassanoffing thing. And wonder of wonders, mostly all of them eventually stream (or are brushed) into the nuc box. Duct tape it all tightly shut and off we go.

I've neglected to wear my high boots, and somewhere along the line a suicide bomber has gone up each of my pant legs, so I come home with two painful souvenirs (now they just itch like crazy) along with my big box of bees. We transfer the new frames into the deep super that I built for my original group (in a vain attempt to encourage them to DO something,) squash the larva in what might pass as a supersedure cell on one of the old frames, add an empty medium as a shim for the baggy, sweep away some ants, and I'm on my own.

The bees flood out into many masses on the hive and the fence, caucus actively for an hour or so, and then get started on some serious housekeeping. Lots of squashed corpses are dragged out and dumped overboard, many bits of redwood tree debris are carted away, and—I have to tell this part—I believe I saw a large number of perfectly healthy drones being murdered right there on the front porch. Sorry, guys, but there really were WAY too many of you. And as for the Royal One, Kirk swore to me that she is in there somewhere. Or will be. I have absolute confidence.



From our correspondents

Brock, a Backwards Beekeeper in Louisiana, first got in touch with us a couple of weeks ago. Here he is in action—first rescuing one swarm at a bed-and-breakfast, then another at a strip mall.

Thanks for the photos, Brock!

Are you a Backwards Beekeeper? Send us your photos; our e-mail address is in the right-hand margin of this blog.


Viewer mail

Bruce writes:


I'm a first year beekeeper in Kentucky and I've been reading your blog all spring and really enjoying it. I've looked at some of the trap outs you've been doing and I am now in the position to try one of my own. Bees, about 6 years ago, moved into cinderblocks behind bricks high up on a church. They apparently swarm twice a year and I tried and failed to capture a swarm a few days ago. They showed me where the parent colony lives and basically said I could try to get them out of the blocks or they would finally call the exterminator. I can't take the blocks apart, on the other side is a nice ornamental sign and bricks.

I've read about the method of taking a nuc with a queen in it up by the entrance and use a trapout but I don't think they'll let me bring in more bees to get rid of bees. So I'm thinking about setting up a trapout on the entrance with a tube connected to a box below it and going up every few days, switching for an empty box (expect for a few frames) and combining the bees I get with a smaller split I have using the newspaper method.

Any thoughts or suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.


The Local Whale

Kirkobeeo responds:

For more information about trap-outs, by the way, see this post.


Watch your bee meter.

Today's rounds took Kirk to this power meter:

I wonder what could possibly be inside?

That's right: power! Oh, and also bees.

These bees and their comb are headed to new and more luxurious pastures.

The White House bees

Backwards Beekeeper Stan sent a great link to this post on the City Bees blog that gives a bit of background about the First Family's organic garden and resident bees.

On Tuesday, March 24, the first known hive of bees at the White House arrived at their location on the South Lawn. You don't have to count on my crummy photo to see them: just stop by the fence on the Ellipse (south) side: two deeps and a medium of Maryland mixed breed bees, with known Russian and Caucasian genetics.

The White House beekeeper is Charlie Brandts, someone who has been a quiet beekeeper in this area for three years now. His reserve is probably why he asked me to do some of the talking about his idea to include bees in the White House Victory Garden project.

During the 2008 campaign, Michelle Obama emphasized healthy, local food, and since arriving here has tasked her family's personal chef, Sam Kass, with putting a garden in to supply fresh produce for the Executive Mansion and educational events for the community. Charlie realized that this was a chance to include bees, and to show their important role in putting one of every three bites on your plate. Charlie allocated (free of charge, people!) one of his own hives for the White House Victory Garden, and it will both provide hive products and an teaching opportunities.

An Excellent White House Bee Adventure (City Bees)

Also, here's a more recent City Bees post about visiting the White House bees.

Undercover of the bees.

Yesterday Kirk and Sebastian were secret agents, operating undercover to save a hive.

Also, Stan and Kim got their bees, and there was much rejoicing.

Kirk's story is a good one:


Next Bee Meeting - Sunday, June 14th

Our next Backwards Beekeepers meeting will be at 11am on Sunday, June 14th at L'Tanya and Curtis's house. We'll also do a hive inspection with their bees after the meeting part, so bring your bee suit if you'd like to check that out.

Further details (like the address) will be distributed via the Yahoo Group. Click on the link on the right-side of this blog to go there.

Hope you can make it!


Is it an apiary yet?

As you probably know, we've had some bee ups and downs lately. We found a bunch of swarm cells in our hive a couple of months ago, so we split it up in order to convince the bees that they had swarmed.

We thought that worked, but then it appeared that we had no queen in either hive and our numbers were dwindling rapidly. We were saddened by the potential bee-lessness.

So, we decided to get two new nucs with the hopes that at least one of them would be healthy at all times. Kirk captured a swarm and brought it over.

Then Russell and Kirk did a BBQ cutout in Redondo last week.

They went to install it in our main box and discovered a capped queen cell. There is hope for the original hive after all!

We pared that hive down to the frame that has the queen cell, a bit of brood and some honey & pollen. There were boxes and frames everywhere, but the bees were pretty mellow throughout.

We had 3 extra frames of capped honey lef over from the original hive. We crushed, strained and tasted...it's our best yet.

It now appears that we have 3(!) healthy hives going. Long live the bees.


Kirk spreads the gospel

Today Kirk showed L.A. Backwards Beekeeping to a visitor from Houston. I believe Texas is now on our team.

Trap-out in a tree:

The visiting team player:

The day's work:


The Queen is dead... long live the queen?

I went by the old theatre for my weekly bee check on Saturday morning, and much to my dismay, when I poked my head around the corner, my hive seemed awfully quiet for such a warm day. My first instinct was that perhaps my bees had absconded! But after a few seconds, I saw a few bees buzzing back and forth, which meant that they couldn't all be gone.

I quickly geared up and began checking to see what could be wrong.

The top box had about 6 frames of capped honey, so that was a good sign that at least my hive was in a decent place for production. But that much excess honey plus the fact that there were still a few empty frames made it clear that they probably didn't swarm. I continued on through the lower hive box to find that what few capped brood I had were all drone cells, and there were multiple eggs in some of the cells. This, of course, means: laying workers!

As you probably gathered from the title and from Kirk's last post, I figured that my queen was dead, and I don't think there were any fertilized eggs left in the frames I had. There certainly weren't any supersedure cells growing, meaning there was little chance that my bees could create a new queen with the eggs they had.

So I called up Kirk to see what I could do. He suggested that, if I were in a hurry, I could order a ready-made queen from a company, and she'd be ready to lay within a couple days. Otherwise, I could get some frames of eggs and wait about 40 days before I started getting new bees...

Well, after the horror stories of getting bees through the post, I decided to go with the latter option. I'm not in that much of a rush, and I'd rather not have my little queen enduring the indecency of being carried around in a hot leather pouch for a whole day, only to be squished and shoved into my post box. So a frame of eggs it was. Kirk said he was heading up to check on a swarm trap in Studio City anyway, and that I was welcome to tag along and maybe get some frames from one of his hives. SuperKirko to the rescue!

So, as per Beekeeping for Dummies I shook out all the frames I had, in order to get rid of possible laying workers, and then added an extra box with the eggs and nurser bees. Hopefully when I check back in a couple weeks I will have little peanut shaped queen cells.


Kirk's action-packed Saturday

I'm not even going to attempt a synopsis of Kirk's adventures from yesterday. Just listen to the story and follow the pictures; you'll be glad you did.

Bees in tree:

Trapping out bees in tree:

Beekeeper Jonas in tree:

Swarm trap:


Avocado honey!

Viewer mail

My name is Brock and I'm a newly emerging organic farmer in south Louisiana. I just wanted to touch base with you and and thank you for getting some great info on the internet. It was especially your starter strip video on YouTube that well illustrated a fundamental aspect of natural beekeeping. When I first started keeping bees earlier this year the only guidance I had was from old timers in the area who were trying to lead me astray. When I mentioned foundationless beekeeping to an experienced keeper he said "whoever said that doesn't know sheep shit from shinola about keeping bees."

Anyway I now have 5 hives, 3 of which I foolishly bought from bee breeders, I caught one swarm (not from my hives) which seemingly sought me out and landed on a tree I recently planted. My 5th hive came from a swarm coming from a very old bed and breakfast. The owners said the hive has been there for at least 104 years!!

I still needs lots of info Kirk, I'd love to see you put a video up about how to respectfully harvest honey. One thing sheep shit from shinola guy said is that a foundationless frame would never hold up in an extractor, is that true? I'd also like to respectfully collect pollen as well. I hear pollen traps are harmful to bees by knocking off legs and wings. A video or blog about how to produce comb honey would be great as well.

Well you've got yourself a new backwards beekeeper who's spreading the gospel in Louisiana.

Are you a Backwards Beekeeper, or do you want to know more about what we do? Let us know! Our address is in the lower right margin of the blog.

Brock, thanks for your great e-mail. Send photos when you can!


Who invited these bees to the BBQ?

Kirk and I traveled to Redondo Beach today to cut a hive of bees out of one very neglected BBQ.

Kirk gives them a bit of smoke...

...et voila!

A commenter pointed out the beauty of the freestyle comb. Here's a closer look:

We tied brood comb into ten frames and put them in the Earlimart box (Amy and I name each of our boxes after bands we like. Yes, we're nerds).

Then Kirk and I spent some time scooping bees and dropping them on top of the frames.

But each time we did, most of the bees would scuttle across the top of the box and climb down the side.

We wanted to get the queen inside the box, and we knew that the best way to do that was to find where all the bees were.

Then Kirk had the bright idea of lifting up the grate in the bottom of the BBQ. Sure enough—clinging to the underside was a huge cluster of bees that must have weighed 5 pounds.

"I think we found the queen," said Kirk.

We put the Guided By Voices box on top of Earlimart and dumped that massive clump of bees into it, then taped the whole thing up with a screen on top so that the bees could breathe on the trip home.

Here are the bees in their new lair. Let's hope they stick around.

To learn more about cut-outs, by the way, check out this video.

Here's Kirk's wrap-up:


Beekeepers: Expanding like Ghostbusters!

Kirkobeeo and Sebastian had great success in spreading the Backwards Beekeeping gospel today:

Kirk's bee adventures, 5-12-09

Tuesday's rounds left Kirk tired. But it's a good kind of tired: