There is an autumn chill in the air – and a whole new season for the hive.  Let the planning and preparations begin!

When I visited the hive on Saturday I found extremely low reserves of honey.  This was surprising as weeks ago there was capped golden sun aplenty.  Either they are being robbed (by other bees – it does happen) – or they are depleting their supplies due to their activity with the new brood.  I really have no clue.  What I did know, though, is that I had to act quickly to supplement their food source – and that meant feeding with syrup.

In the spring – with the new hives – I fed the bees for about a month with a one-to-one sugar:water syrup (with a splash of white vinegar to alter the pH to be more like nectar).  Each hive was set up with 3 24 ounce mason jars that they went through every few days. 1:1 is A LOT of sugar – and it has to be pure cane sugar – white and processed (not organic or raw).

For the fall leading in to the winter the ratio is 2:1.  And, gosh, I thought 1:1 was a lot…  Today I bought six 4 lb bags of Domino Sugar from my local Stop and Shop… that certainly made for a fun conversation at check-out.

Two bags yielded 5 jars of syrup.  I figure they’ll be done with it in a week or so.

I’ll go back next Saturday because I also have to monitor for pests looking to settle in to the warm hive for the winter.  I spotted a long, gross 1” white worm wriggling around in one of my frames.  Oh, the horror! It was the larvae of the wax moth – urghh – a dreaded beast that can seriously damage the hive.  Thankfully I caught this early – and it wasn’t an ‘infestation’ per se – as I didn’t notice frass or webbing  –  but this is another thing to fret over!

My hive seems strong enough to protect itself – but I did take some extra measures.  I consolidated and moved hive bodies around.

rearranging hive bodies

I pulled all the frames with empty comb out, put the hive body with healthy brood on the bottom and the hive body with pollen and honey on top.

entrance reducer

I put back my entrance reducer and added the super for the syrup.

fall syrup

It’s so strange to have a set-up so similar to what I started with 5 months ago!  What a game of musical hives: from the independent Mavis and Sally, to the combined mega hive, to a modified hybrid, back to just Mavis (Sally is empty and will be prepped for a new package next spring)!


As the season gets cooler there will be more hive preparations, concoctions to be made and of course a myriad of unanticipated happenings!

Stay tuned!

I HAVE EGGS!  While I thought my Queen was acting a little ‘lazy lady’ – she is finally doing what she does best…laying eggs.   And I love her for it!  I was so worried – two weeks w/out eggs – but I have learned there’s a gestation period – and she must have just returned from her virgin flight when I photographed her on 7/28 – after she mated with god-only-knows how many drones (some Queens mate with up to 15!) – and now she’s filling up the comb!  Wheh – looks like I will have a fantastic fall season after all!

eggs 8.11.12

The eggs look like rice – and the queen places them perfectly in the center (see attached) – they’re hard to spot at first – but once you know what to look for it gets pretty easy!

some highlighted eggs

Sunny thoughts on a warm summer day!

As always a hive visit is never just a standard, straight forward inspection.  It is often filled with mystery, anxiety, confusion and wonder – and yesterday did not disappoint.

Something was amiss in the royal hierarchy of Sally – I can guarantee my original queen is no longer – whether she was succeeded by the newly reared queen from Mavis many weeks back, or there was yet another mutiny, one will never know .  BUT there was a ‘changing of the guard’ shall we say – as evident by an extremely productive work force – but limited if any –  new brood.

I know the queen slows as the summer days wane – but it was certainly alarming to not see any larvae or little eggs.  There is an insane abundance of honey – all of which I’ll leave for the hive to winter over – but – to not see eggs?!?

can you spot the queen

Observing in the field is no easy task.  Burdened with long-sleeved clothes and heavy protective gear (unbearable on hot days), battling the foliage around (in my case thorny rosa rugosa), and hoping not to get stung (which I always do – right under my right arm – without fail – they LOVE that spot) – I tend to sometimes overlook the obvious.  I took a bunch of photos in the middle of my meddling and it was only this morning that I noticed… hmm… what is that?  Is that an unmarked queen?  It is!

capped honey

here she is!

That could mean a few things 1) she has just returned from mating, 2) she’s just hanging with the girls and not really laying right now; or 3) I have no idea.  But in any case – I am way more hopeful I will have eggs by next week’s visit.

I also modified the hive a bit – consolidating from four hive bodies to three.  When I first combined the hives there were a few empty frames (frameless) that I was expecting the bees to build on.  But over the last six weeks they didn’t – so I removed 10 frames scattered throughout all the hive bodies (boxes) – and it’s fantastic – it’s so much easier to manage!

One of the frames I took was partially built with a small amount of honey –oh,  what a treat!  It wasn’t capped – so it wasn’t fully developed/aged –and its very light – but from a small chunk of comb I managed to fill a small jam jar – and it’s delicious!   I’ve heard many beekeepers refer to sun caught in a jar – and now I truly know what that means –

liquid sun

the comb from where the sun came

I will be out again next Saturday – probably at the same time (2P)– as it was nice to not have the older ladies (the foragers and more wiser of the bunch) defending their hive – they certainly were less aggressive (or defensive if you prefer) – than in past visits!   You are always welcome!  Sadie and I were excited to see Mary and a new friend at the garden – curiously watching (at a distance!) –

And- again – I am plugging Queen of the Sun – I just got the dvd and rights – so it’s a definite!  Friday, 8/17, 8:30P at the garden!  Various list-servs and friends will also be posting event details (i.e. Urban Homesteaders, The Boston Beekeepers and Follow the Honey in Cambridge)

Greetings friends, gardeners and beekeepers!

It has been quite some time since my last dramatic bee-mail update! I know some of you have been waiting on the edge of your seat to know if there was a battle of the Queens… Did the combining hives survive… Will I have a super hive… ???

Well – I am happy to report – no news is good news – and that means my bees have been doing brilliantly well – combined – into one mega hive! I had bee-guru Jean Claude come out to visit and inspect the monolithic structure (see attached) – and the Mavis/Sally combo is GREAT!

Back Camera

He and I doused them with powdered sugar (a preventative measure to protect against the Varroa mite) – and then I left them alone – for awhile… BUT I am planning a major hive inspection this Saturday (7/28) at 2PM – and would welcome anyone should you be curious! I may even wrangle you to help out, too – as the hive bodies are extremely HEAVY – ladden with late season brood and honey. So – come on by!

Also – please mark your calendar for the weekend of 8/17 – 8/18!
Sadie Richards (the other apiarist) and I will host an outdoor screening the documentary Queen of the Sun ( at the Leland Herb Garden on Friday, August 17th at 8:30PM to kick off National Honey Bee Day – And on Saturday, 8/18, The Leland Herb Garden will have their own Honey & Herb celebration – a 15 year tradition where the gardeners and beekeepers share tales and wares – from 1 – 4PM.

I hope you are all well!

Look forward to seeing some of you soon!

All my best,

Hello beenthusiasts!

Wednesday afternoon’s visit to the hives with 6 high schoolers from Boston Day and Evening Academy went well (greetings from Deborah, then an intro to plant & bee sex discussion, followed by thorough hive inspection and honey tasting). Bees were hatching/emerging from their cells (having metamorphosized from pupa into adult insect) as we watched (quite a sight to see!), but the hive we went into had signs indicative of the queen having died (absolutely no eggs or larval bees). There were numerous capped queen cells, however, so the bees are well on their way to raising a new matriarch!

Some facts you my find interesting: It is the worker bees who decide which eggs become workers and which become queens. Both are genetically identical, but queen bees are distinct because they have complete reproductive organs, which comes to pass simply because she is fed a nutrient-rich diet (called royal jelly) for her entire larval development (and the workers enlarge her “cell” so that it can accommodate her larger abdomen). The first queen to emerge (within 6 days of her cell being capped, which happens at the end of her larval stage and beginning of her pupal stage) will start making a piping noise by reverberating her body against the comb. The other queens that the workers have raised (they always raise numerous queens when something happens to their old queen, or when she is laying poorly and the workers decide they should replace her) will begin “quacking” in response to the first emerged queen’s “piping” The one emerged queen will then typically proceed to sting and kill the remaining queens who have not yet hatched. The new queen will then spend 7-10 days going on her nuptial (mating) flights (she never mates in the hive). Once she has mated with ~half a dozen drones from other colonies (who die in that process) she returns to the hive and begins to lay (she stores the sperm from her mating sessions in an organ called a spermatheca, and can decide when to lay a fertilized egg – which will become a worker or a queen, depending on what the workers feed her (both are female) or she can lay an unfertilized egg which will develop into a drone (aka male bee). Yes, that’s right, all male honeybees develop from an unfertilized egg and are thus haploid clones of the queen’s genetics.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed reading my rambling update and learning a bit more about honeybee life. I am optimistic about the future of this hive, but because of this changeover of queens it will be imperative that I continue to feed supplementally through the summer and not harvest honey from that hive (it already has much less drawn comb and honey compared to her sister hive).

Below are a few photos from the trip.

IMG_4648 (800x600)

IMG_4646 (600x800)

Sunday’s inspection gave me quite the scare!

Sally is doing great – thriving – in fact – and making the most beautiful straight combs – I couldn’t be more proud. This is exactly what I was hoping to find!

Sally new comb

But when I went over to Mavis all was quiet and still – with only a handful (about 3,000) of recently hatched brood. I was heartbroken – where did my bees go? It was not a collapse – as I thought it could be – but either a swarm, an absconsion or I killed the queen in Mavis when I added a new hive body a few weeks ago. In any event the hive was weak – and I thought it was a goner.

But I was too distraught to inspect carefully – and waited until Monday night to go back with a second pair of seasoned eyes.

My apiary-mate, Sadie, and I discovered a supercedure cell (meaning a number of things – but basically an emergency queen reared from a per-existing worker egg) –

AND – in addition – we found THREE queen cups – hatched – meaning the original queen left (or died) and the ladies got right to work replacing her.

Mavis - empty comb

more queen cells found in Mavis


But there was still no sign of a queen – no eggs – and the 3000 recently hatched bees were directionless. I knew there was a virgin queen out there – trying to mate – and trying to return to her hive – but I had to think of the larger unit – and think quick – so I combined the remainder of Mavis with Sally.

close up Mavis queen cell

newspaper method

You can’t just pour the bees in to another hive – the stronger hive would kill (in defense) the intruders. It takes about three days for the new bees to acclimate and have their scents/pheromones merge with the others – so some genius discovered that if you put a few sheets of newspaper between the hive bodies of differing hives it takes about three days for the bees to eat through the newspaper and merge. The bees from Mavis are trapped in this hive body until they can break through so I supplied some syrup – and I go back daily to make sure all is right in the apis mellifera world.

combined hive

This isn’t a ‘done deal’. I could have made a grave mistake IF the new queen was in the old Mavis hive body when I combined (and I just didn’t see her), then all hell will break loose and the two queens will fight it out to the death. This will surely upset the beautiful rhythm of Sally’s progress and I will most certainly have even more of a mess on my hands.

BUT – best case scenario is that the hives merge – are healthy – and I have one strong super hive for this season which can possibly mean a stronger hive going in to winter (barring any infestations of mites or other disease).

AND I will learn how to split a hive next year and purposely rear a new queen! (maybe)

The bees certainly know how to take care of themselves – it’s the human intervention that screws things up – and I have never felt so amazed, helpless, lucky and awestruck at the same time – beekepping is blissfully humbling and I’m so glad I can share this with all of you!

I will return to the apiary for a full inspection this Friday (6/22) after work – around 6:30P – if anyone would like to join me!

Happy solstice!

I will be working in the apiary at the Leland Street Herb Garden this

Sunday around 10A. All are welcome to visit and see what Mavis and
Sally (my hives) have been up to!

*For those visiting for the first time here is a map:


Last week I added additional hive bodies as the girls were expanding
beyond their capacity – and I have no idea what they’ve been up to


I may have a mess on my hands as I am rearing my bees on
foundationless frames – a more organic/natural method.


It’s tricky – bees don’t tend to build linear combs unless prompted… so come on
by and discover with me!

Also – next Saturday, 6/23, is the 2nd Annual Tour de Hive – visit for more information!