Kirk checks in on some grumpy bees

Kirk went to check on Jacques' hive today, and he brought new beekeeper Elisha along to pick up some knowledge.

Kirk writes:
Here we are at Jacques' house to check his hive.

Elisha is all suited up.

We went through this hive to check it out. Jacques said the number of bees went down last month when it was cold. We found the cluster, and there were eggs and bees, so we took a box of winter honey. We left them 6 frames of honey.

Now last year I moved these bees—they were really mean, man. So I just left them till now. The numbers are down this time of year, plus it was cold so hard to fly for the bees. This makes for an ideal time to check a hive that has been too mean to deal with.


Here's Elisha's description of her day:


Ruth & friends save a hive, make new beekeepers

LA Backwards Beekeeper Ruth sends this story about a cut-out she led earlier this month:
It was one of those super cold days, but the home-owners, Sam and Alexys, were building some retaining walls on their hillside and they needed the wood from the stack the bees had made their home in. It couldn't wait!

There was a ton of comb! I took some brood comb and put together with a swarm I captured earlier, to give to another new beekeeper trying to get started.

Here's how it went:

Alexys really got into making beautiful frames while we waited for the day to warm up as morning passed. I actually left late in the morning to come back later when the sun was warmer and shining more directly on the hives. It was a cold day.

We made up two deeps worth- 20 frames.

Sam had his supers assembled and had made a nice hive stand. The plan was to move the bees only about 20 feet, from their feral home into the new hive.

The bees had lived here for a few years, but the now pallets were sorely needed for a construction project on the property.

A lot of comb, and such long pieces of it!

We couldn't even use all of it.

We put some of it in a box to keep the scooped-up bees happy while we tied the rest of it up as fast as we could. It was quickly getting towards evening and the temperature was dropping...

Sam's dad helped with the comb cutting. We tied the comb into the frames with the same orientation the bees had created.

It was a group effort!

Alexys is looking forward to keeping bees!

The new beekeepers, Alexys and Sam.



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Backwards is the new forwards.


Roberta leads a BBQ bee rescue

LA Backwards Beekeeper Yvonne writes:
I had the pleasure of getting some BBQ bees with Roberta, Ruth and student Julian.

Roberta found out about a small bee swarm that moved into a BBQ. With just a little sugar water, we were able to scoop these friendly guys into a shoebox.

We took them to my house and added them to my small hive. Thank you Roberta and Ruth!



Roberta gets a new beekeeper started

LA Backwards Beekeeper (and mentor extraordinaire) Roberta writes:
The Bee Rescue Hotline got a great call today from Melanie in Long Beach. It was the best kind of call because it was from someone who was thinking about beekeeping and then all of a sudden a swarm came to her doorstep! This one was bigger than a football and had landed 9 feet up in her Camellia tree.

I could tell from the call she wanted to keep them. It would be my first swarm of the year and their first hive. I took the nuc that Henry (also in Long Beach) had made and lent me (I had been saving it for just the right moment).

Both Melanie and her kids, especially her son Noah, thought the bees were great. The kids got the whole experience as they saw the bees swarming. Noah hadn't realized there were bees swarming by the tree and walked right through the swarm!

They all climbed the ladder to get a good look at the swarm before I lent Melanie my good suit so she could help rescue the swarm. Noah was the camera man. Once we cut the branch, we positioned the big branch over the nuc box and gave a few good whacks. There were alot of bees.

They immediately started fanning at the top of the nuc and at the entrance, which was a good sign that we had the queen. We scooped up some that had wound up on the side of the nuc. Then, in a few minutes, most had crawled in and we added some frames. Melanie looked pretty happy with her new bees and we found a perfect spot for them in her backyard.

I warned her that they may not decide to stay or the queen may not successfully mate. Either way she seems determined now to get her hive boxes and gear and rescue the next hive on her own! She needs a hive quick—the neighbors are already asking for honey!



Viewer mail

James in Tennessee writes:

Hey Guys,

You have a great blog, and I am now a follower of the BB blog. I've been around beekeepers for a while. I had always seen people medicating and feeding artificial food. I just never felt that it was the right thing. Thankfully, I have found your site. It has been most helpful. I love the vids and the quick witted humor of Kirk.

I am just getting into beekeeping this year. Actually, I just built my hives this winter and have started my own blog to document my experiences. I've read through most of your post and can't help but wonder how many swarms the BB members catch? I've never seen many swarm pics during a season. Are there that many colonies in CA?

Also, If I may ask another question. Honey Bees can only sting once, and then die. If that is the case, how can a queen emerge from her cell, search the hive for other queen cells, sting through queen cell wall or fight and sting the already emerged queen and still live to carry on her duties?

Thanks so much for your time and your blog.

James B. from Tennessee

Thanks for the note James! In answer to your questions:

—We get tons of swarms here in Southern California. In spring and summer there are so many that the county vector control (which considers all wild bees dangerous) kills dozens of them every week. Since the advent of the Bee Hotline and the publicity it's received, we're managing to save quite a lot of them. But this area (and Tennessee, I would think) is such a bee paradise that there are always going to be far more swarms than available beekeepers.

—A stinging honeybee only dies when it stings something that the barbs of its stinger get stuck in, like a mammal's skin. A bee can sting other bees over and over again with no harm to itself. The queen's stinger isn't even barbed, so she wouldn't die from stinging in any case. The drone (male) bees have no stinger at all.

Keep us posted about your Backwards Beekeeping!


Yvonne's tiny hive makes progress

LA Backwards Beekeeper Yvonne sends this update:
I started attending Backwards Beekeepers meetings in June. I have always been interested in bees but I was a bit—as Kirk says—"concerned" about having the wild creatures in my own yard. I was worried about my kiddo, the cat, the dogs, the hens, the neighbors, liability, etc. Kirk recommended asking my neighbors before I got bees. To my surprise, my neighbors weren't worried at all. I also had trouble envisioning what 65,000 bees would look like. I was much comforted by seeing other people's hives, including the ones at FarmLab and Ceebs' house (who also has dogs and chickens!). I was also comforted by the knowledge that if I "bit off more than I could chew," there was a list of able volunteers willing to whisk the bees off my hands.

Even so, I wanted to be sure that I had a good idea of what I was getting into. On the groups' advice, I read the Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping from cover to cover and attended BB meetings for several months. I also went on a cut-out adventure and captured a swarm. Finally, I decided I was ready to plunge in after returning from a trip in the Fall and I got my box of bees in mid-October.

Since I got my box of bees at the onset of winter, I have been feeding them (thanks, Maurice for bringing the honey yesterday! I think it's the last bit of food I will have to give them.) But I have been nervous to handle the bees since I got them three months ago. I knew I still had activity at the hive but I had no idea what was happening inside. And with Spring coming, I knew if I didn't transfer them from the 5-frame nuc to their permanent home, they would swarm soon.

Thankfully, Roberta offered to come help me after the meeting yesterday. Roberta cut open the tape of the nuc box and started pulling the frames out for me. After pulling out three of the frames, she encouraged me to pull the last two with the most activity. After separating the last two frames, Roberta inspected them and was able to immediately identify my queen. My queen and her workers are gorgeous and are building beautiful (if not a little crazy) comb with brood and honey! I can't believe I was nervous because the bees were so gentle. We didn't lose a single bee yesterday! Thanks, everyone, for the fantastic support!



Organic Beekeepers Conference, March 4-6, 2011

Organic & treatment-free beekeeper extraordinaire Dee Lusby has announced the 4th annual Organic Beekeepers Conference, which will happen in Oracle, Arizona at the beginning of March. If you're ready to step up your beekeeping game and want to learn from some real experts, you should check it out!

Here's the information from Dee:

As the Organic Beekeepers yahoo.com discussion group has now grown in numbers to over 3700+ members, we have put together our 4th meeting for an American Beekeepers Association, for beekeepers into Organic Beekeeping, to come together to associate for clean sustainable beekeeping with ZERO treatments and getting off the artificial feeds and artificial inbreeding parameters.

Meeting to be held in Oracle, Arizona at the YMCA Triangle Y Ranch Camp and Retreat Center 4 - 6 March 2011. Meeting will start Friday afternoon with Friday Night Hello's/Dinner, run all day Saturday, and thru Sunday afternoon with keynote presentations, general sessions, breakout sessions, hands on workshops, with 6 catered meals. Dinner for Friday night Hello's will also have speakers. Vendors welcomed. Speakers so far confirmed: Don Downs (Apitherapy), Sam Comfort, Dean Stiglitz, Ramona Herboldsheimer, James Fearnley (UK), Bruce Brown (CC Pollen), and Dee Lusby.

The fee for meeting includes: accommodations in Lodges (with up to 4 per room dorm style each with own bath....with bring your own sheets/bedding/blankets) for $175 per person, plus six catered meals, access to all meetings/talks/workshops, snacks/break refreshments, and also a camp liability coverage (form required to be filled out). Also no fee for vendors other then normal lodging costs for meeting/catered meals.

For more information contact Dee Lusby for information/registration at: 520-398-2474 eve. For payment of registration per person of $175, due in advance of attending, send to Organic Beekeepers % Dee Lusby, HC 65, Box 7450, Amado, Arizona 85645, with stamped self address envelop for returning receipt and more information on YMCA to sender, plus liability/medical form to be filled out. Note: $175 fee is a straight fee whether sleeping/eating at camp or not.

For general information concerning the meeting other contacts are Keith Malone (Alaska) 907-688-0588, and Ramona/Dean at 978-407-3934.

—Dee Lusby


New beekeeper moves her bees

LA Backwards Beekeeper Kathryn checks in with this story about moving her rescued bees:
I have this box of rescued bees from Arrowhead Water that Kirk brought me and the box was looking pretty sad. It had weathered the insane downpours the past month and the bees were thriving but something more substantial was overdue. So it seemed high time for a hive transfer.

The box had long frames in them and my hives were medium so Kirk brought me a box and frames with old comb in them (overnight a skunk or raccoon had a little snack of old comb but it was essentially intact). It still needed a top and bottom so I went to Honey Supply and picked them up. Here's my new setup. I was ready to go:

I recruited my dubious husband to document my first hive transfer as a newbie Backwards Beekeeper. Big points for getting that close to that many bees! Here we go...

The chickens came by to see what all of the fuss is about. Since there was no bird seed involved their interest didn't last.

I set up the new long box and install the old comb in the spot where the old paper box was. Figured the bees would be less disoriented if things didn't change too much. In this shot is my medium hive from which my original colonly absconded. So there it sits empty except for the comb which I put back in after freezing (to kill off wax moths) hoping a swarm will move in.

Now it was time to start putting the hive in their new box. It really is true that bees just aren't that picky. This colony was happy and thriving in a cardboard box, essentially. But us humans must always intervene.

Much activity from the girls as the frames start going in. They went right to the box so hoping that means the queen is already there and safe.

The landing pad looks pretty active as the last of the frames start going in.

Success! Bees transfered!

Checking out the new digs....

Look at the pollen on the girl near the right. Loved seeing that.

Another shot of newly moved bees figuring it out and an even better shot of pnacked pollen saddlebags

And here they are ensconced in their new wood box, much safer from the rain, ants and predators. Enjoy, girls!



Roberta finds a table hive

LA Backwards Beekeeper Roberta writes:
The bees are definitely waking up and working like crazy. And now the calls are coming in after a couple of months of winter. I planned on following up a call from a couple of months ago. Someone had called about a neighbor's bees in a shed and I was going to check it out Sun. Then I saw a Craigslist offer for "free bees" and emailed Kat who said someone had already claimed them. Bummer. She started to tell me the story and lo and behold, these were the same bees!

She wanted to keep them but thought they would be better off in a location with sympathetic neighbors. Ryan wanted the bees as his first hive and was already planning on going to the backwards beekeeping meeting this weekend!

So I came along to help with the cut out. It looked like a small hive attached to a table leaning against the shed wall. When Ryan turned the table around, boy, did it look big! Kat and Ryan posed for a quick pic before we started the cutout. The bees had started building up with lots of nectar being stored and a fair amount of new brood. It looked like all capped workers. Maybe one drone cell.

When we were done it was wonderful to see the bees marching into the hive like it was always home. Ryan came back at night and all the bees (we think) were inside. We checked them out the next day and there were lots of bees and each frame was covered with bees. They looked great in their new location.

FYI, Kat is an insect wrangler for film but had never worked with honey bees. She suggested that we check out the Lorquin Entomological Society, which has a meeting later this month.


P.S. Here are some videos of during the cutout.

Wrangling the Bees into the Hive:

Setting up the Hive for the Bees to Return to: