Know your Queen cells

Kirk writes:
I have noticed that new beekeepers have a hard time telling if a Queen cell is a queen cell. Now the books say it looks like a Peanut, and they're right. Here are some queen cells with some peanuts for all the New beekeepers to see. Notice the size—they are long, almost 3/4 of a inch.


Freeing The Bees

In the aftermath of the Bee 911 Disaster/Adventure, we had a chainsaw crew come in to remove the enormous Eucalyptus that fell in our yard and overturned our bee hive.

We wanted to put the hive back in its original location once the work was done, so on Kirk's advice I plugged the opening with cheesecloth and set the hive in the shade while the crew cut up and removed the tree.

Here's what it looked like when I let them out.


The Original "Bee Movie"

Backwards Beekeeper Phil sent the link for Bee City, a 1951 educational film that gives a thorough and knowledgeable account of life inside the hive. The photography is impressive for its time—and because it was made before commercial beekeepers started dumping all sorts of noxious chemicals on their bees, it also fits the Backwards Beekeeping philosophy pretty closely, except for its advocacy of queen excluders.

Best of all, though, is the voice-over. Editor and narrator John Kieran sounds like an easily-distracted grandfather after a couple of glasses of wine, regaling the family with stories during a home movie.

Via the essential Internet Archive.

UPDATE: A reader adds:
Love the blog. I have it linked from my own. Good stuff and very entertaining!

I am a second year beekeeper here in North Carolina, and we're on a winter weather watch for 5-8 inches of snow on Friday. I will be so glad when spring arrives. Wish us luck and that the snow goes away faster!

I wanted to send you a link to a theater short made in 1933 called "Her Majesty The Queen Bee". Its an oldie, but goodie...and it was filmed in Cali. Just thought you might want to share it with your readers.

Mark C.
Reidsville, NC

Thanks, Mark!


Viewer mail

A reader from Silver City, New Mexico writes:
I'm a recent subscriber to your blog, after reading about the insane (imo) behavior in the food industry regarding bees.

Great work, first off. Thanks.

I am wondering if you have any insight into setting up hives strictly for a permanent establishment of a hive, with no honey collection, and hopefully little to no maintenance. I'm mostly concerned with the bees being happy and self sustaining. Would there be anything that would be done differently? In nature, I would assume the bees would naturally achieve this balance.

Would love to hear any insight on this topic.

--Ed C.

Kirk replies:
Well, My Philosphy is to do what is best for the bees. For example, there is a Bee Log at Farmlab in downtown Los Angeles, where we have our bee club meetings. Those bees will be in that log for as long as they chose to be; no one will mess with them.

I have Hives I go check maybe three times a year, and sometimes remove no honey. We let all our bees draw their own comb. Backwards Beekeepers are low-impact beekeepers, and let the bees do the Managing.



Backwards Beekeepers TV: The ShopVac Bees

Backwards Beekeeping guru Kirk Anderson (aka Kirkobeeo) brings a ShopVac-turned-beehive over to Erik & Kelly of Homegrown Evolution..

Once there, he shows us how to do a cut-out, which is a live transplant of a bee hive from a bad location into a good one.

By the way, these bees continue to live happily in Kelly & Erik's yard (along with chickens, dog, and various urban wildlife).

Beekeeping On Portland's KBOO Radio

Carole writes:
You have a great website and resources down there in LA! I thought your group might be interested in this BEE SHOW we're airing here in Portland, Friday, Jan 29, 6-7pm. You can listen online at www.kboo.fm and, of course, feel free to call in to let Portland know what LA is doing about bees! On the show we'll have some local backyard beekeepers and do a honey tasting. Bee songs, too!

Carole Scholl
Bread and Roses Collective
KBOO Community Radio, 90.7-FM
Portland, Oregon

Let 'em hear you up in Portland, beekeepers.


Kirk Anderson, Reality TV Star

Kirk shot a segment for a reality show on USA called Character Fantasy about a month ago, and now the episode is here.

Kirk's going to need an agent pretty soon. Talk about a total TV natural (as if we didn't know that already).

Yin: My Beekeeping Experience

Backwards Beekeeper Yin writes:
My bees came to me several years ago. One day in my back yard in a ceramic jar I saw a lot of bees buzzing in and out, a bee hive settled down there. A couple of years later I found the bees abandoned the hive. I felt upset they left my yard. We cleaned the jar and put it back to the same place. Without paying any attention to it and to my surprise another hive came in there again. I was so happy to see them back again.

Last March I saw a swarm hanging in my tomato plant wire support , I called a beekeeper who always sells his honey at our school fair and asked for help. He gave me the instruction by phone and then I bought a box, and shook the bees inside the box. Luckily I got the queen inside the box. Since then the only thing I do to my hive is to keep adding the super on the top.

I am so happy to go to the urban beekeeping meetings and get to know the people there. I appreciate everyone who shared their experience with me. Kirk came to inspect my hive at the beginning of December and said I had a very healthy hive. All of this gave me confidence in my beekeeping. Kirk told me I could harvest honey at early Spring.

Can you believe my chickens gave me eggs for my Christmas gift and my sweet bees shared their honey with me at 2010 New Year! No gift is better than that!

When I took out the frame full of honey, my eyes were full of tears. Thanks nature and thanks to the busy bees!



Bee 911 Disaster/Adventure

Amy and I came home from today's bee meeting to find that an enormous Eucalyptus tree at the top of our sloping back yard had fallen down, taking another tree with it. (Click the photo to enlarge it, and check out the picnic table at the bottom of the frame for scale.)

That discovery was dramatic enough.

Then we looked up the hill to see that the Eucalyptus had fallen right on top of our bee hive, leaving scattered boxes and a cloud of very confused and pissed-off bees.

The impact had crushed the giant ceramic pot that served as our hive base, but the boxes themselves were in surprisingly good shape. The bottom box (containing the brood nest) was upside-down, and when I turned it upright the bees really went into defensive mode.

Luckily for us, we have Kirk Anderson in the neighborhood, and he came by to assess the situation.

"Holy shit!" said Kirk, upon seeing the size of the fallen tree. It's pretty unusual to get that much of a reaction out of him. But when it came to the bees, of course, he was totally unfazed.

We found that the brood box had four broken frames, and that the comb had fallen away from each of them. Working together, we tied the brood comb back into the frames with kite string and put everything back in the box as it was before.

We removed all the honey comb that had fallen out of the other overturned boxes. We'll do a crush-and-strain harvest of the cured honey, and feed the uncured stuff back to the bees.

On Kirk's advice, the plan now is to plug the entrance of the hive tonight after dark and move the whole thing up the hill a bit so that a tree crew can come in and get chain-sawing.

Amy caught one sting. I got away without any, and if Kirk got stung he didn't mention it.

Kirk's good instincts and matter-of-fact approach made the whole repair job easy and straightforward. So despite our yard being a bit of a wreck, we got another good bee lesson in today.

Here's Kirk's re-cap:


Viewer mail

A reader writes:
Hi Kirk,

I am a small Idaho, (tag along), commercial bee keeper. I currently have 27 hives in Calif. helping the almond crop...

The first year I started with 12 boxes that I bought from another commercial bee keeper, split the strongest hives and fed well all season and ended up with 21 hives.

This last year after splitting I cut back on the feed all summer to save sugar cost, did not check them enough and found that I had starved out what were strong hives. Hard lesson!...

I just recently found your web site and really like your approach to bee keeping. Do you think that it is possible to start converting my boxes to small cell frames with the nucs this spring?

When I split [hives], I place 3 frames of brood and 2 with honey in each box. If all of the frames are of the large cell, do you think that the bees will draw out and convert over time to the smaller natural cells, by moving their brood and honey to the new natural frames that they will draw out?

Also there is the question of will the larger bees over power and rob the smaller natural bees?

I know that's a lot of 'ifs'.

Any insight that you can offer would be appreciated.

I would like to convert all of my hives over time, to the natural bees.


Kirt M.

Kirk responds:

Bees in the almond orchards starve because there isn't enough in those Almond Blossoms to feed them. Feeding bees granulated sugar is used most times as an Emergency Feeding. Most commercial guys feed corn syrup because it is cheaper.

If you want to regress your bees, it is best to go to Michael Bush's web site and read it.

You can also join Organicbeekeepers on Yahoo.

Dee and Ed Lusby run 1000 hives, all small cell.

All chemical-free, treatment-free Natural Cell is naturally small. Natural Bees are Naturally small compared to Large Cell Bees. If you want to Have good Energy you have to Do What is Best for the Bees. If you are interested in Money, then work the bees to death and buy some new ones from Australia. If Nature treated me and you like Greedy Beekeepers treat their Bees, we wouldn't be here would we?



Next Meeting: Sunday, January 24th

The next meeting of the Backwards Beekeepers will be held on Sunday, January 24th.

Kirk's going to talk about reverting bees to small cells from large ones. We'll also talk about getting ready for spring, and the new Backwards Beekeepers t-shirts will be available for purchase at $15 each.

When: Sunday, January 24 at 11am
Where: Under Spring outdoor space at Farmlab in downtown L.A.

Farmlab Directions

You want to follow the above directions most of the way, but park on Aurora and walk through the alley (under Spring) to the meeting.

Check out this view to see what it looks like from the street.

Snacks/questions/newbies always welcome.


Warning Bee Emergency - Big Hive Tips Over in Rainstorm

Kirk says:

I got a call from Glenn this afternoon. My Big Hive had tipped over.

Pic #1: Upside down Bees = Pissed Off Bees.

Pic #2: Mad Bees on me.

Pic #3: You can see one of the trees that feel over during the storm, and the beehive upright again.

Pic #4 some of the bee stings in my Pants.

I had to rush over and set them back up. I had the wrong shoes on, the wrong color pants, plus they were very mad. I just picked them up and put them together...not much else you can do.

I had this happen in 1969 at my mother's house. That time I got stung on the top of my head. I remember coming to my senses laying on the back lawn and my dad screaming out through the screen door "you dumb @#%^%%$#^%^^"...it went better this time. If this happens to you be prepared for the worst.


Watch for falling debris, beekeepers.


Kirkobeeo: Swarm time is coming

Kirk says:

Yes, It's spring time. I put some old nuc's with comb in them for swarm traps.


Once this next bunch of rain clears out, I'm doing the same. I want freshly-swarmed bees!


Sue's hive inspection

Here's a cross-post from our Yahoo group.

Sue writes:

Hey fellow beekeepers,

Happy New Year, everyone!

I had been asking around for someone to help wimpy, gimpy me inspect my bees, but then I talked sternly to myself and decided that if I am really going to be a beekeeper, I need to be able to do my hive inspections on my own. So today I geared up and looked at both my hives---well, mostly. Following is what I saw; I welcome any comments or feedback.

I first looked at the newer hive containing the garage-wall cut-out that Erik and Russell and I did in November—the Garage Band hive. It consists of two mediums—with the six frames we cut out, plus four empty, in the bottom super, and all empty frames on top except for two into which I had tied honey comb from the cut-out. The frames in the top super are still empty—they cleaned out the comb but have done nothing with it. The bottom box has filled in a little bit, there is chewed string everywhere, and they've made a little new comb in one empty frame. There is a fair amount of honey and TONS of multicolored pollen, but almost no brood, except several clusters of drone cells. The brood comb we tied in seems to be unchanged (dark, capped, no signs of activity.) Among the drone cells on two of the frames, I found two supercedure cells (mid-frame) which had been opened—that is, they each had a large, irregular opening which looked like something had come out (as opposed to being ready for something to be deposited) and were empty. I thought I saw a queen, but then realized it was one of about 8 or 10 drones crawling around.

My (hopeful) conclusion: we probably didn't get the queen at the cut-out, but the bees are maybe strong enough to have made another queen, who has yet to mate (or show herself to me.) I am encouraged by the amount of pollen and honey that's present, and somewhat worried about the number of drone cells. But I'm not sure there's anything I can do right now except cross my fingers and hope for a new queen sometime soon (before they all die off.)

I thought for a minute that one option might be to steal a frame or two of brood from my big, established Arcadia hive—which has a billion super-active bees, ongoing re-population cycles, and an overpowering smell of honey on warm days—and add it to the small hive. So I smoked 'em like hell and pried open the big hive, which has three boxes tightly glued together with propolis. The top box has six frames of luscious looking honey, and four untouched frames—spaced out alternately, interestingly enough. I went through that box uneventfully, but when I got to the middle box, I was only able to pry out two frames that were absolutely laden with honey—some capped, some not, lots oozing and dripping down—before the bees started going all hostile on me, and I decided to quit while I was ahead (unstung, that is.)

Conclusion: I don't really need to do anything except harvest some of that honey! I don't know if I'll ever make it all the way down to inspect the brood chamber, at least not on my own, but I guess that's OK for now. Questions, though: Do bees get more angry the closer to the brood you get? Or do they just not like having their honey stores disrupted, with gobs of honey dripping on the frames, etc.? With enough smoke in my backyard that I was surprised the fire dept. helicopters weren't circling overhead, I didn't expect the bees to get quite so upset.

Well, it was an exciting day for this old lady. Bees are pretty wonderful, and I can already taste that honey!

-Sue in Echo Park

Kirk responds:

Well done Sue. I would wait a week or so then check the hive with the empty queen cells to see if the queen worked out. I would extract enough honey from the other hive so the bees have enough room to expand the brood nest.

You did good

call any time if you need help or advice


New bees in a log

Kirk has adopted his latest log o' bees, and they're looking for a home.

Here's Kirk:

Apitherapy News

This blog I ran into is dedicated to Information About the Medicinal Use of Bee Products and other bee-related issues:


From one article they link to:

Poverty stricken children in Uganda are learning bee-keeping skills to help support themselves, thanks to a Warwickshire couple.

Dave Bonner and Cath Tompsett, of Stretton on Dunsmore, visited the Soroti region of the country with Coventry charity Global Care.

The couple are both members of the British Beekeeping Association and were able to use their expertise to train staff at a centre run by the charity, who will pass their new skills to the young people supported by Global Care.

Ten new hives have been provided which will mean extra income for poor families, better nutrients for malnourished children, and eventually, a vocational training opportunity for young people supported by Global Care.

Dave, 57, a bee inspector for Leicestershire and Rutland, said: “The idea is to give the children another skill and another source of income.

If people can get a hive with the correct baiting, which introduces a smell within it to attract the bees, then it is easy to keep them.

“Bees are plentiful in Uganda. The land is lush and green and there is lots of forage.

“A hive built locally only costs about £20 but when the average worker there is only being paid about 30p a day, which is £90 a year, then they simply can’t afford to do it.

"What we are doing is raising money for the hives and giving people awareness of bee keeping and teaching the skills so they can be used as a local resource."

Poverty stricken Uganda kids learn bee-keeping skills (Coventry Telegraph)


Honey panic.

A commenter passed this clipping along:

U.S. officials say a suspicious material found in a passenger's bag that triggered a security scare at a California airport on Tuesday actually turned out to be bottles of honey.

The scare caused a shutdown at the Meadows Field Airport in the city of Bakersfield and a hazardous material crew and bomb squad were called to the scene.

My favorite part:

Two Transportation Security Administration officers were also treated and released from the hospital after being exposed to what were described as "fumes" from the bottles.


New York Takes First Steps To Legalize Beekeeping

I just came across an article on the legalization of bees in NYC.
New York Takes First Steps To Legalize Beekeeping

Back in 1999, the Giuliani Administration added bees to the list of animals prohibited within the city. The list also includes crocodiles, lions, and pit vipers. A violation of the ban incurs a $2,000 fine.

New York City Council member David Yassky introduced a bill that would abolish the ban, but the bill stagnated until local activists rekindled the fight by proposing to the New York Department of Health that the ban be overturned.

This is a good article and very encouraging but there are also a number of other articles linked to at the bottom of the page which is how I learned that the white house garden will have two hives! (has that already been mentioned here?)

White House Garden to Feature Bee Hives Too

and here's another good one:
How Backyard Beekeeping Benefits Everyone

Happy New Year! and happy reading!