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Apisocial Saturday color inside

This weekend’s storm brought so much snow that I could actually ski to the bees.  My neighbor, Amy, and I skied the Southwest Corridor to Forrest Hills where we met Amy’s colleague from work – and the three of us hiked up Weld Hill to the garden.

I didn’t know what to expect since supplying the ladies with the candy board – and had a feeling of panic that they maybe ate every last bit of the 16lbs of sugar and were starving.  It was a cold few weeks in early January.

The garden was gorgeous- blanketed with at least 3’ of snow.   With our skis we trekked over to the hive.

I was sure I would see the ladies buzzing in and out- as the temperature was warming up quite a bit.  But nothing – not a stir.  I grew worried – it’s not a good sign if all is quiet in the Apis mellifera world on a warm sunny day – even in post-blizzard conditions.

I brushed the snow off the hive, removed the bricks and opened the inner cover .  The candy board was fully intact as if I put it in yesterday.  My heart sank.  This was clearly the worst sign – no one is eating – and that could only mean one thing.

I lifted the candy board – and there was the cluster – albeit lifeless – balled around two frames – frozen in time.  They indeed starved to death – but with 16lbs immediately above their domain and two full frames of honey inches away it was a total mystery to me.  How?  Why?

February loss

February loss 2

The loss is an odd sting.  Certainly there’s disappointment, followed by blame – and at some point an internal debate trying to rationalize that they’re just insects.  And, yes, they are insects that you rarely have control over – but they are also a beautiful living system in my charge.  There’s so much I learned from them through observation, maintenance, care  – and the patience I gained was a gift (not to mention the honey, pollen and wax!).  No matter how I think of it – it’s a sad day when your hive dies – and it took a few days to really sink in.

As a whole – the Apis mellifera are suffering tremendously.  Hives are dying at an alarming rate.  My apiary mate lost her two hives earlier this winter, a beekeeper I know in in the suburbs of Boston lost over six hives this winter  (he keeps 10), and similar stories just go on and on. The bees are weakened by a whole host of threats: diseases, pests, environmental factors, perhaps even the industry (of bee breeding) itself.  The only thing to do is to keep keeping bees.  I had quite the year with my loss and gains between Mavis and Sally – and have certainly learned a ton.  Of course I will continue.

To be honest, I anticipated the loss.  I had placed an order for two nucs [a nuc is a small bee colony established from a larger one – it consists of a few frames with brood, worker bees and their Queen] from a farm in Northern Vermont on New Year’s Day – one to replace Sally – and one as ‘insurance’ should anything happen to Mavis.  Mavis was pretty weak in late fall, and the chalkbrood didn’t help.  I’m curious to see if the Vermont ‘stock’ of bees is hardier – Mavis and Sally came from Georgia – where most hobbyists get their bees.  Obviously my southerners didn’t adapt too well – so I’m thinking overwintered nucs with naturally mated VT Queens might be stronger.  We’ll see.

For now the hives are quiet, empty – awaiting the potential of spring.

In Blackwater Woods

by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

 of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Winter greetings!

Save the dates!  There are few upcoming bee events in early February: Organic Bee School Saturday, February 9th and Sunday, February 10th

and FESTOONiNG  – The Inflatable Beehive invites you to OVERWiNTER w/ APiSOCIAL SATURDAYS @ BU’s 808 Gallery Feb 9 & Feb 23


Photo by: Justina Wong

Organic Bee School will run two consecutive days (Saturday 2/9 and Sunday 2/10 from 8:30am-4:30pm each day).

During this two-day Bee School, Jean-Claude Bourrut will go over the basic techniques of organic beekeeping, including materials and equipment, beehive structure, the life cycle of bees, hive development and dynamic, seasonal apiary work, honey and hive products, common pests and diseases, and their organic management.

For those who are thinking about getting bees or are new to beekeeping, this is a great way to learn the Hows, Whys, and Whens of organic bee management.

 The Saturday class will be held at the

Nate Smith House; 155 Lamartine Street; Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

The Sunday Class will be held at The Food Project:

555 Dudley Street; Dorchester, MA 02119

Pre-registration required.

Cost: $125 members/ $145 non-members.

Books will be provided on the day of the class, for an additional $12.

About the Instructor: Jean-Claude Bourrut is the Assistant Director for the Natick Community Organic Farm. He has been keeping honeybees for 20 years in urban and suburban settings, and currently manages a dozen hives in two apiaries. He is also the co-founder of the Boston Beekeeping Club and Tour De Hives, an annual bike tour of local apiaries in the Greater Boston Area.

For more information, please contact Drew Love by email at or by phone at 330-801-0389.

Inflatable hive

*FESTOONiNG // The Inflatable Beehive invites you to OVERWiNTER w/ APiSOCIAL SATURDAYS @ BU’s 808 Gallery

Feb 9 & Feb 23 // 2013

This series is part of the Alternative Visions/Sustainable Futures programing as well as the exhibition System ECOnomies which runs January 24-March 30

(Opening reception Thursday January 24, 6-8pm)

As the chilly season approaches don’t succumb to brainfreeze or anti-socialites. February 9th and 23rd, you are called to cluster, honeybee style, in Boston University’s 808 Gallery to learn a little something new about beehavior, community, and contemporary environmentalism. Keep the energy and ideas circulating as you rub elbows and antennae with an exceptional array of beekeepers, designers, community builders and apicultural experts.

Teachers’ Pets // An Introduction to Apiphilia
Saturday, Feb 9, 2013 // 12-5pm

Ok Cupid, your classic pick-up “Save the bees!” only got us so far with environmentalism. We’re ready to take our relationship to the next level. Today’s speakers offer a drop of science, pinch of art history, and spritz of classic sex-ed – an intriguing brew that may leave you hooked on Apis mellifera. Learning to understand these ladies may help us identify our own needs. A mere teaser will introduce us to the world of honey beehavior, social (super)organisms, api-architecture, and communication as it may be perceived by and reflected in human nature.

1pm // Love Stings // Dean Stiglitz and Ramona Herboldsheimer of Golden Rule Honey
Fatal exploding penises? Sperm with wings? Queens mating with other queens? If you don’t believe your imagination gather around the Inflato-hive to learn more about bees on bees. In two parts knowledgeable beekeepers Dean and Ramona would like to share the surprising and the often tragic facts regarding sex and honey bees, honey bee genetics, and the “Family Values” that dictate and rule over the honey bee democracy.

3pm // Life of the Party // BU Beekeepers invite Kathryn E Spilios Ph.D
The social life of bees is quite complex, but beautifully organized. Through a series of dance steps, the bees are able to communicate complicated information about their environment and encourage other bees to visit the flowers and bring back more food to keep the party going. Boston University’s very own Kathryn Spilios joins us from the Department of Biology to share her research focused on colony-level organization and communication in bees.

4pm // The Double Decker Dodeca  // Beekeeper Ron Breland
Why not make a hive out of Frozen Music? Ron’s experiments with alternative hive design for over forty years have convinced him that if we are to put Art back into the “Art of Beekeeping,” we must learn how to understand what Leonardo da Vinci meant when he spoke of The Shape and Form of the Invisible. With the help of a little Sacred Geometry from Pythagoras and the “Endless Columns” of Brancusi, we will have a look at the various factors that may, quite possibly, consign the modern bee hive to the dust bin of history.

Urban Hex: Honeybees & Community in the Urban Landscape
Saturday // Feb 23, 2013 // 12-5pm

As troubling news of Colony Collapse Disorder sweeps the planet, there is not only a rise in environmental awareness, but an effort to encourage fewer hives in the care of more individuals. In an attempt to restore the potential for biodiversity and refocus beekeeping from a dominant industrial realm, urban beekeeping has taken the spotlight with an array of innovative solutions. Today you’ll hear about the importance of community, urban agricultural spaces, and mentorship in cities stretching from Massachusetts to the Netherlands!

Herban|Urban Honey Flow // Leland Street Community Garden
The lineage of Boston beekeepers at the Leland Street Community Garden in Jamaica Plain spans 15 years. The latest apiarist duo to share hive space are Sadie Richards and Addy Smith-Reiman.  Their approach to keeping bees in an urban communal community garden is focused on educating the local community about urban beekeeping in a public place. Along with one of the garden founders, Kathleen Robinson, they’ll share their tales of urban apiculture, communal gardening and the traditions established by the forethought to establish and encourage the keeping of bees in the garden.

Banks of the Charles & Tour De Hives // BU Beekeepers
The BU Beekeepers is a group of undergraduates who maintain three hives on the banks of the Charles River. Student members will discuss the founding of the club, the challenges of sharing bees among many members, and the joys of training new beekeepers every season. The group will also talk about Boston’s annual Tour de Hives, a cycling tour of local bee hives now in its third year.

Bees over Boston // Golden Rule Honey
The interface between honey bees and an urban environment (population, infrastructure and flora) is a fascinating lens through which to look at our alteration of natural environments and how powerfully nature pushes back. From the roof of the Intercontinental Hotel and the historic Fenway Victory Gardens, to an organic farm in the Boston Harbor’s Long Island, Golden Rule manages bees in diverse Boston locations. They will discuss some of the challenges, rewards, and surprises involved in managing bees, breeding bees, and teaching beekeepers within the city limits.

Hailing all the way from the Netherlands is a cooperation of beekeepers and designers searching for new ways to stimulate and enable beekeeping in a contemporary living environment. This collective, hailing from the Netherlands works for a broader understanding of the function and functioning of bees, brings together next generation beekeepers in a network and invites people to become a beekeeper. One of their products, the Sky Hive, enables beekeeping legally in urban, public spaces throughout Europe.

Happy New Year!

With an amazing snow day on Sunday, and a few days off for the New Year holiday Josh and I were able to made a candy board for the ladies.

Sadie found a post on the Beverly Bees blog that shared details of how to construct such a thing – and as a result – found a solution to getting us out of making fondant!

So… with a 50 lb. bag of sugar* – some handy work in our woodshop in the basement – and 24 hours of dry time – the board was made (and yes, Bow, Wow, Wow’s I want Candy was our soundtrack – I highly recommend listening to this while looking at the following images!)


Josh cutting up some pine for the edging


Cutting the pieces on a 45 degree angle


Measuring against the inner-cover


Wood glue on the ends of the board


Lucky to have this handy dandy corner brace (perfect for making frames – and now candy boards) – Josh nailed each edge after he glued the ends


Screwing in the queen excluder to the pine edging


Making a 5/8″ hole in the board so the bees have an upper exit hole in the hive, as well as added ventilation for the hive


50 lbs of sugar…  I only used 16lbs


Quite a sight…


The make-shift lab:

board frame – check

mixing bucket – check

vinegar – check

trowel – check

3 cups of water – check

wax paper – check

4″ x 5″ block – check


We’re ready!


Mixing in 3 cups of water with three tablespoons of white vinegar*

The vinegar does two things: it raises the pH of the sugar (making it easier for the bees to digest) and it helps prevent mold.



Packing the sugar in the board. I lined the queen excluder with wax paper from my foundations I bought last year.  Some make boards with or without – I chose to use them this year – if it’s messy later in the season I’ll rethink this.


Packing in tight and smoothing out with the trowel… that’s 16 lbs of sugar packed solid!


Testing how dry the board is after 24 hours – it’s pretty solid (and heavy)!


Ready for transport


The bees!  It was such a treat to peek in and see my ladies  – I missed them!  They look good!

But didn’t want to get them too cold – so I moved fast… I lifted the inner cover, put down the candy board, and then sealed her up!


Snug and well fed… one can only hope Mavis survives the rest of the winter!

I hope this finds you snug and well fed!  Enjoy these snowy days – and think spring!

Today was bitter sweet as I finished ‘winter prep’ for Mavis.  I will miss visiting the ladies and anticipate their survival!

It was just warm enough to consolidate the two hive bodies to one, clean out the bottom board of any bee debris (and I saw no signs of chalk brood – hooray!), and screw on the metal mouse guard.  The ladies looked great – healthy and vibrant, clustered and defensive – all good signs. Sorry so few photos – I was acting quickly!


My next visit will be during thaw in early January when I’ll feed them fondant.  But even in that scenario I won’t really see them – I’ll just maneuver as fast as possible to give them a good batch of feed that will hopefully last until the nectar flows in early spring.  I anticipate the first thorough inspection of the new year in March.

winter hive 2012

I debated whether or not to wrap the hive – as some beekeepers in cool, wet climates do.  The main killer over the winter months, besides starvation, is moisture, not cold. Some beekeepers feel it necessary to cover the hives to prevent moisture from seeping in – while others suggest letting the hive breathe – I’m following the lead of the latter. We’ll see how it stands up to the elements!

The winter months, while quiet in the field, will be busy inside with next year’s planning.  I plan to build new frames to replace some rickety ones, and will melt down some wax to create my own foundations.  I’m building up quite the library of beekeepers books and journals and I just finished Sue Hubbell’s a book of Bees (thank you, Leslie!).  She lists so many references that I’ll follow up on during the deep dark days.

I’m also planning on transferring ‘bee-mail’ to a blog – that both Sadie and I will manage – and post to.  Keep a look out for an announcement with a link!

In February there will be a two-day Bee Extravaganza:

OVERWiNTER w/ APiSOCIAL SATURDAYS  2/9 & 2/23 – where Sadie, Kathleen Richards and I will host a panel on beekeeping at the garden.  Both days are chock-a-block with amazing programs and I encourage you to attend!  Here’s a link:

AND – last – but most certainly not least – The Leland Community Garden is hosting their annual Solstice Celebration of Friday, 12/21.  This ‘not-to-be-missed’ event is a long held tradition with candles, hot mulled cider, caroling and a beautiful community celebration of winter.  Activities begin around 6:30P and go on well in to the night.  I hope to see many of you there!

What an adventure!  It’s been an extraordinary 8 months of learning, observation, frustration, awe, and even drama!  It has been such a pleasure to share this with all of you! Thank you!

Have a beautiful holiday season – and I will write again in the New Year!

What a gorgeous afternoon to spend at the apiary!  It was wonderful to share it with Sadie and her partner Waylon, Kathleen Robinson and my friend Andrzej (who took some amazing pics – see at bottom of post!) and his family (all the way from Arlington!).  It’s always a curious adventure and we were not disappointed with the findings –- some good, some not.

Andrzej and fam, Sadie and Waylon

First the highlights:

I have a small but healthy hive– I’d guess about 40,000, with decent honey reserves in the top hive body, and some pollen and brood as well.

The bees were active, healthy, and no sign of the varroa mite (wheh!) or wax moth!

happy, healthy ladies

healthy honey reserve - double-sided

This is good!

BUT – Now come the low points…

As I was rearranging the hive bodies I had a chance to inspect my screen bottom board (the bottom of the entire hive structure) – and noticed what appeared at first to be small pebbles.  How did those rocks get in there – by an intruder (i.e. rodent?)  Nope… Sadie came over and told me it might be chalkbrood… urghh… really?!?


So… what is that?  Well – the little pebbles are actually mummified larvae that the bees clean out of the comb – called either stonebrood (hard pebble like larvae – caused by the fungi Aspergillus fumigatus and Aspergillus flavus – which is what mine were) or chalkbrood (more chalky/crumbly larvae – caused by the fungus Ascosphaera apis) – both are caused due to a high moisture content in the hive.  I am guessing it was my late autumn feeding that contributed to this as I introduced an insane amount of moisture with my syrup (usually having a minimum of 6 24 oz. jars in the hive at a time).  Considering I stopped feeding a while ago the moisture levels may have returned to ‘normal’ – because I didn’t notice anything amok in the hives – and there was only a small amount of the pebble/mummified larvae.  I’m a polyanna, though… and think the best.  But – there is nothing I can do about it – supposedly it corrects itself if it is a strong hive – and I trust my ladies have everything under control.

I am also a little concerned about the lack of honey reserves and activity in the bottom hive body – there is a lot of empty comb… ripe territory for an intruder or pest.  So I switched the hives – and placed the heavy healthy one on the bottom and moved the light /empty one to the top.  I’ll go out in a few weeks to see if the top is still empty (and by that time looking a little more sinister).  If so, I’ll just consolidate the hive to one deep frame for the winter and keep a close look out in the early spring (February) – when the queen starts actively laying her eggs again and will need more room to expand.

By mid-December I plan to feed the hive fondant.  I’ve never made fondant before… so I anticipate the ‘cooking party’ will be chock-a-block with ridiculous mishaps – and, of course, chaotically fun!

Enjoy these last few days of beautiful weather!

Andrzej’s photos:








This is my favorite time of the year as I welcome the crisp weather, the start of sweater season, and all things apple!

Mavis is bracing for the cold as well!  I just had a quick inspection on Sunday and sure enough – with my supplemental feeding – the honey supply is being replenished.  It’s not at the capacity I’d like – so I will continue to feed the 2:1 until it gets too cold for liquids – and then it’s on to fondant!

I am happy to say that there was no more evidence of the wax moth!  That’s a sign of a strong hive – and the ladies look really healthy!

I will be visiting the hives more frequently as I need to keep an eye on their honey production, intruders and pests, and general well-being heading in to the winter.  These visits will be quick – especially if it’s cold – as I don’t want to disturb the temperature of the hive.  At some point I’ll do a major fall inspection and winter prep – and if you haven’t been to the hive this might be the best time.  I’ll keep you posted!

Lastly – a side-note: I am happy to say Sadie and I will be part of a Bee-Extravaganza at Boston University this winter as part of the curated program of the Inflatable Beehive ( in the exhibit Alternative Visions/Sustainable Futures.  Other participants will include Dean and Ramona of Bee Unto Others (and the apiarists at the Victory Gardens), Ron Breland and his dodecahedron hives (, the BU Beekeepers Club, SkyHive, and a few others!  Dates tbd – but it will be sometime in late February/early March!  We’re looking forward to representing The Leland Community Garden!  More info to follow!

In the meantime – stay warm – and be well!