Rescued swarm helps a queenless hive

Javier called the Bee Rescue Hotline after he found a very small swarm in his back yard.

Kirk realized that he could use these bees to help out a queenless hive:


When a swarm comes to you

Newcomers to our bee meetings often ask if it's easy to catch a swarm. As Bryan in Puerto Rico writes on our Yahoo group, sometimes it's very easy indeed:
Check out this video of a swarm that entered a nuc on my back picnic table a couple of days ago. The combs had some wax moth larvae and I had put the nuc back there to clean up and throw away the combs. Later noticed lots of bees around the house and suspected a swarm. Sure enough, when I looked back at the nuc it was filling up with bees...


Top-bar beekeeping in Rwanda

Backwards Beekeeper Kathryn writes:
Last year my husband and I traveled to Rwanda for gorilla trekking. At the entrance to the park was a long stone wall and along the top sat unusual bee hives. They were beautiful and interesting but this was before I had bees so I didn't know what questions to ask regarding how they work. . This picture doesn't show off the construction of the hives due to the awkward angle but I loved how they blended into the surroundings in a natural way...

Apparently Rwanda beekeeping is struggling despite massive amounts of foraging territory. Young people just don't see it as a career path. Sounds like a market in need of more beekeepers...


From our Newfoundland correspondent

We Southern California beekeepers who are complaining about temperatures dropping into the 40s at night should shut our traps, because take a look at what (very well-dressed) Newfoundland Backwards Beekeeper Phillip is doing right about now:

We wrapped both of our hives for winter today and did pretty much what David Burns does in his How To Wrap Your Hive for Winter video/beekeeping lesson...

As far as I know, each hive is packed with honey to keep the bees alive for the winter. The wrap acts as windbreak and maybe gives the hive some extra warmth when the sun comes out. The mouse-proof entrance reducer will keep the mice out of the hive. The insulation between the inner and outer cover will keep the hive warm and prevent condensation from building up and dripping on the bees and killing them. Bees can take the cold, but it’s the wet that kills them more than anything (so I’ve been told). The upper entrance will provide some ventilation for excess moisture to escape. Theoretically, I shouldn’t have to touch the hives until late February or March, when I might have to feed them pollen and syrup if their winter stores are running low. Whatever happens over the next few months, I can’t do anything about it. So I’m just going to relax.

Wrapping Hives For Winter (Mud Songs)

Extra points for the Star Wars reference, Phillip.


Making new beekeepers

Backwards Beekeeper Sam writes:
My son Eli recently took some freshly drawn honeycomb to his second grade class for show-and-tell. This prompted the predictable, “Wow - your dad is a beekeeper? That came out of YOUR backyard? That is SO cool.” Kids and insects: a natural combination!

His teacher asked me if I could come in and do a little presentation about bees. How could I not be thrilled for the opportunity? I borrowed an nice little observation hive from Kirkobeeo, loaded it up with a frame of busy workers, donned my veil and gloves, and headed down the street to Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary.

Walking into the classroom suited up was a great way to get the kids’ attention and start the discussion. Many wanted to try on the veil, so it and the gloves made the rounds. I asked what they know about bees: honey, hives, and stings, naturally. We talked about pollination and how bees are crucial to our food supply, and that one out of every three bites on your plate would disappear without bees. Everybody got a dab of honey on a popsicle stick to taste. Teacher Ms. Iffrig really liked it when I talked about girl power and how female bees perform all the work of the hive and outnumber the boys 100:1.

I passed around some empty comb so the kids could see how lightweight it is and we discussed what amazing engineers bees are, creating a structure that can support forty times its mass. That led to talk about the powerful mathematical skills of our apiarian friends and how they’ve evolved over 100 million years to be very good at solving the “traveling salesman” (most efficient forage route) problem. I’m pretty sure I lost ‘em on that one.

But then I brought out the bees and I had them all back. I thought the kids might be apprehensive, but they were fearless - every student wanted to get face to face with the bees! There was much jockeying for position, and everyone had plenty of questions. I encourage my fellow beekeepers to get out there and do some of this outreach. The look on those young faces is the best gift ever.

Sam Dlugach
Burbank CA
Nov. 2010


Backwards Beekeepers remote mentoring: Hive cut-out strategy

Here's a new feature we're adding to the blog: remote mentoring!

We have readers all over the world, and we know you often have questions about getting started with Backwards Beekeeping or helping your bees thrive without chemicals or any of the other nonsense that has trickled down from commercial beekeeping for the last 20 years or so.

In our first episode, Cristina from Florida gets some guidance from Kirk on how to cut out a hive that moved into a tree-mounted owl house. Cristina's planning to put the bees in a top-bar hive, but Kirk's tips apply just as well to the traditional Langstroth hive as well.

If you live far away from Los Angeles and need some Backwards Beekeeping mentoring, let us know. We'll set up a phone (or preferably Skype audio/video) call, and your session with Kirk will benefit beekeepers everywhere.


Cristina writes:
Well all I can say is no matter how prepared you are... it very quickly turned into complete chaos !!! ... but in a good way...

Bees are in their new home, I think we got most of it in there.

Chris' flight was well delayed and he only got in at 5pm and his brother Jason who built the top-bar hive picked him up and drove him like a bullet in rush hour traffic to get to my house with some light.

by the time we got the owl box down it was dark, but we set up some lights and worked away.

there was so much honey! and the combs were so long, that we cut them in half , unfortunately one of the brood combs dropped to the sandy ground.

but we did get most of it.



Here is a picture of these amazing boys, my husband Pete on the far left, who at the last minute got totally stuck in, and me, having a honey and beer celebration.


You can see more of Cristina's photos here.


Your Bee Rescue Hotline at work: Atwater Village

James in Atwater Village called the Bee Rescue Hotline when he noticed that a hive was established in his water meter again. I stopped by this afternoon and found a bunch of very busy but calm and easygoing bees.

I took the cover off the water meter and cut out four or five combs. I fastened the ones with brood into some empty frames using rubber bands. I scooped all the bees I could find into the nuc box with the frames.

But it was pretty obvious that I didn't have the queen. No bees were fanning their wings at the edge of the nuc box to tell the other bees that their home had moved. And I still heard a lot of buzzing from the perimeter of the water meter.

That's when I figured out that the whole outside gasket of the water meter could be pulled out of the ground. In the photo below you can see it sitting upside down on the grass—there were lots of bees (and, I assumed, the queen) lodged in the gaps around the edge.

Once I knocked those bees into the box I knew I had the queen. It's really amazing to see how the bees' actions change once you've got the queen where you want her. Everyone else marches into place, and your new hive is ready to go.


Roberta's death-defying bee rescue

Roberta sends this hair-raising bee rescue story.

Note: The Backwards Beekeepers do not recommend these kinds of rescues. Getting on a tall ladder is a quick way to end up in the hospital. But Roberta is an unstoppable force of nature, so what are we to do?

She writes:
We had another adventure taking down a couple of squirrel boxes full of bees this weekend. The second one had my heart beating as it was REALLY high. John called us because he had a squirrel box (custom built after he saw a few squirrels run over in front of his house) that was full of bees since spring. Dave needed bees and he and his wife came but all of us were shocked at the height.

John rented a 24’ ladder and I went up and was dubious about getting the squirrel box down. I thought we had less than a 50% chance of making it work since at one point I was bending backwards on the ladder. Luckily Dave had built a box to pulley it down. I slowly tipped the squirrel box into the Styrofoam one and down it came. A pure miracle. Dave will cut them out later.

Anyone have some ideas about making these boxes bee proof? Someone said WD40 on the roof, another suggested attaching astro turf to the ceiling. Any other thoughts?



Kirk rescues compost bin bees

In which Kirk finds a BIG hive in a compost bin; he also has some hot tips on cut-out strategy and on keeping a small queen-right hive around in case a cut-out hive needs a queen.


Ruth's hive report

Los Angeles Backwards Beekeeper Ruth says:
It had been a while since I looked in on my hives, and with all the talk about robbing and dearth, I just wanted to make sure everything was as good as it looks from the outside. Here is my report, from a bee yard that is near to a small wild canyon in the Palisades.

Looks to me like they created theri own entrance reducer out of newspaper pulp! (Newspaper was used for the several swarm-merges I did.)

I was glad to see so many bees. And a little surprised! Notice the beautiful pristine white comb they made on that last frame, upper right.

Pollen cells, with honey above. Notice the drone brood in the middle.

Here they built comb across the frames. I hate to cut it but, had to.

They got worked up and stressed out as we finished up and clustered around the entrance for a few minutes. Then all was back to normal.

View from the bee yard. They've got a ton of wild fennel and mustard. Sweet!


Viewer mail

Karen in SW Florida asks:

What do you do if you cut out a hive and the queen is nowhere to be found and the rest of the bees won't come out?

The Rest Of the Story: We did a cut out in a soffit and it went beautifully, except that I am pretty sure the queen was stashing herself behind a board we could not get to. There was a large cluster of bees in a corner that kept going behind this board. We collected most of the bees, brood comb went nicely into frames, but the owner now has this small cluster in the open soffit. Angle of the soffit made it impossible to get them unless we vaccuum.

Will they disperse if there is no queen? Or will she abscond with the leftovers if she is there? What do YOU do if you cannot remove all the bees and the queen seems to still be hiding where she cannot be "gotten"?


Kirk replies:

Ok—On cut outs...if you can't get them, vacuum them up. If the queen is in there she could start again if she has enough help. There are always bees left behind. Sometimes I go back the next early morning or evening to do this so as to get most of them.

When I do a cut out like I did yesterday I make sure I get some open brood so if I don't get the queen they have a chance to make a new one. I don't put honey back in the box, just brood. I then feed honey back in a baggie feeder. They have enough comb to repair as it is.

good luck


Bug mystery solved

A couple of days ago I posted photos of a big bee-like bug and asked for help in identifying it. The first two commenters identified it as a Valley Carpenter Bee, and that's now confirmed by Daniel Marlos, the "Bugman" at What's That Bug?:

Dear Backwards Beekeepers,

After firing back a quick response that this is a male Valley Carpenter Bee, we checked out your website and we are very intrigued. First, a bit more about your bee. Valley Carpenter Bees exhibit pronounced sexual dimorphism. The females are large black bees with black wings that live rather long. The short lived males are a pretty golden yellow color with green eyes. They are more active and have a shorter season. The male in your photo does not look normal. Perhaps he has neared the end of his life. Since we are neighbors, we may try to attend your next meeting...

Looking forward to seeing you at the meeting, Daniel—and thanks for the bug ID!

Next meeting: Sunday, November 21st!

Here's the plan for our next Backwards Beekeepers meeting.

When: Sunday, November 21st at 11am
Where: Under Spring outdoor space at Farmlab in downtown L.A.

    Come on down! Everyone is welcome, whether you're a newbee or not.

    There will be lots of hands-on opportunities at this meeting.

    If you have hive components that you haven't put together yet, bring them to the meeting (along with your hammer and nails), and we'll show you how to assemble them.

    Kirk has bought a bunch of chemical-free beeswax from super-beekeeper Dee Lusby, and he'll be demonstrating different methods of making and waxing starter strips. You can apply this wax on the starter strips of your own frames for 25 cents each.

    We'll talk about the mentoring database that Roberta has started on our Yahoo group, and how to get involved with that.

    Kirk will be doing an inspection of Farmlab's two hives, so if you want a close look, bring your protective gear!

    We'll also have Backwards Beekeepers t-shirts for sale—including size XXL! All shirts cost $15.

    It'll be an action-packed day!

    Click here for directions to Farmlab.

    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.


    Viewer mail

    Dario writes:

    Dear Mr. Kirkobeeo,

    First of all. Thank you for offering to take and answer questions regarding our lovely bee friends. I would really appreciate if you could help me with my concerns below:

    I am a beginning bee keeper here in Los Angeles...we installed a hive in the Hollywood hills on May 14, 2010 and checked the hive on 6/29/10 and the bees were buzzing fine and there seemed to be no problems. The bottom frames were beginning to be filled with brood.

    We checked the hive on 9/30/10 expecting to harvest honey but were surprised to see that none of the top frames had been worked on at all. The bottom frames were almost completely covered in brood and honey. While this seemed great for the future of the colony we were not sure if there was a problem because of the lack of honey production.

    I wanted to know if moving a few frames from the bottom box to the top would stimulate more honey production?

    —Dario P.

    Kirk replies:

    OK—everything seems fine to me. The common mistake new beekeepers make (and old beekeepers too) is managing the hive with the purpose to get Honey.....yes that's right to get honey. Your bees are on their first year. The first year do the following:

    1- Get the bees in the box

    2- See the queen is laying

    3- The queen is laying in a good pattern.....not a Drone Layer

    4- The bees get established and get through the August September Dearth.

    5- See that they have Pollen and Honey to get to spring.

    a- No reason to move a frame or two up because the bees are contracting not expanding this time of year

    b- Look around do you see flowers like you do in the spring...No

    c- Go to the blog click on Charles Martin Simon read his stuff

    d -Join the backwardsbeekeepers club on yahoo

    c- do whats best for the bees not what is best for the Human



    What the hell kind of bug is this?

    We interrupt this bee blog for a mystery that I hope one of our readers can solve. A friend found this bug in his garden yesterday and brought it over to show me.

    It looks like something that hitched a ride here on a ship or plane from another continent.

    And it's big—that's a US quarter next to it.

    Can anyone identify this critter?


    A couple of commenters suggested that this could be some sort of carpenter bee, but it's got a much creepier fleshy appearance than that. Maybe these two new pictures give you a better sense of it.

    Kirk mentors a new beekeeper

    Here's Kirk's recap of his Saturday bee tour, guiding a new beekeeper through the process:

    Dan has more on his blog.