Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve 2010, 50 Degrees and Buzzing

With temperatures about 50 degrees on the roof there was significant bee activity outside the hives.  One of the hives (Newport), however, did not break cluster although a few strays were seen entering the hive.  Of the other two large hives, what will be Westerly and Providence were flying vigorously. 

Sadly, our nuc looks dead...I did not peak in but I saw no activity at the entrance and the weather has been very cold.  I do not think the cluster was large enough to deal.

Of most fun was being witness to several bees doing their "cleanse," although these were not the cleansing 'flights' we have been told about in beekeeping references.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

PBS Show....Silence of the Bees

While the piece is a bit dated, the information about the biology and importance of the honeybee remains current, and very cool.  Here is the link:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wind-Damaged Hives

I was looking out our skylight to see if I saw any activity on the roof and was shocked to see the corner of my upturned hive stand lying across the window.  When I hit the roof it looked as if vandals had hit although fortunately only the unoccupied Wickford was in shambles and Newport and Narragansett had supers off-kilter and a hive top blown off.

Narragansett had plenty of action at the hive entrance, perhaps due to the missing top...but that action was in stark contrast to Newport, which despite the break in the cold (it was about 46 degrees) had only a stray or two flying.

The eastern stand, Westerly and Providence, was unharmed and the double stacked nuc that will eventually occupy these hives was very alive, as the photo above shows.

We've been contacted by several community gardens lately about beekeeping in Washington, DC where their operations are located.  I hope to get a couple of new installations out of these conversations.  Bee sting fears continue to be a hurdle.

National Public Radio Piece On Honeybees

NPR had an interesting show about the bee on their Science Friday segment.  The transcript and the audio can be found here:

and the start of some nice videos associated with the program is here:

Happy 200th birthday to Lorenzo Langstroth, inventor of the modern beehive.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day Spring Planning

The young humans had us up at 7 this morning and finished assaulting the presents under the tree within an hour.  Everyone happy and fed with breakfast, naps were next on the to-do list leaving me, now, some time to muse about the near future with our bees.

...And a bit of anxiety.  I received from my kids Kim Fottum's The Backyard Beekeeper as a gift.  He reminds us the per-hive honey yield one should expect to net from the hives - north of 100 lbs!  And while I relish the idea of harvesting and marketing the honey and including the young humans in the endeavor, I confess that neither the economics nor the effort are terribly compelling.  That said, at Christmas Eve dinner last evening at Clyde's restaurant we had some honey on a cheese platter that got the whole family talking bees.

And it got me wondering if bulk honey production to sell to local restaurants (as local Georgetown honey) would solve two problems with honey production: 1) sales distribution; and 2) time investment.  An added benefit might be some reference to our local honey on restaurant menu's to continue to improve our outreach, especially to a demographic we are probably missing right now.

Do not misunderstand, I am interested in cultivating honey, but with perhaps seven hives on the rooftop by April, that's a material amount of honey and time exposure.   So here is my plan:
  • Let the honey flow for a Carni, a Bee Weaver, and a new Russian hive.  This will give me some important comparative production data points;
  • The remaining four hives will be aggressively managed and split to produce nucs for mid-summer sale.
  • Our modest operation will fund it's mission with a focus on propagation of bee colonies rather than the sale of bee byproducts.  Those byproducts will be distributed strategically to provide outreach, education, and awareness of our mission.  Surplus funds (please let there be some!) from any of these activities will be used to donate installations.
Merry Christmas, and thanks for caring about this stuff.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Roof Visit, Christening of the Hives

Western party wall
 I have adjusted the hives on the roof to take them off the flat roofing surface and placed them on brick party walls that separate our house from our neighbors.  Several reasons for this decision:
  • It raises the hives up above the adjacent surfaces to reduce the risk of snow covering the entrance;
  • It gangs the hives on the most structurally robust portion of the house;
  • It partially obscures the hives from new homes going up across the street thanks to the chimneys against which the hives abut.
Eastern party wall
I have also finally labeled the hives to keep them straight in my head.  The western hives are: Narragansett (active), Newport (active), and Wickford (empty for now).

The eastern hives are Westerly (empty) and Providence (empty).  Our active but unlabeled double hive will transfer it's bees to Westerly and Providence after the last freeze.

Kaitlin prays over the bees
The western hives sit on leveled frames of 1 X 3.  The eastern hives are on similar framework that is then in turn sitting on some mechanical dunnage.

Christmas Eve is a day for reflection and faith, and it is my faith that gets tested as I go to the roof and witness the silence of the girls.  My concern is reinforced by entrances full of dead bees.  There were a couple girls flying around, perhaps to reassure me - not terribly effective.

Monday, December 20, 2010

New Beekeeping Partner

While not technically urban, the Fresh and Local CSA in Shepherdstown, WV ( has volunteered to help us get the honeybee initiative off to a bang.  They will try to arrange sponsorships to finance the hive start-up costs, and DC Honeybees will manage and tend the hives.  Given their 72 acres, I hope they get lots of sponsorship as that is a lot of terrain!  We will let you know how that relationship evolves, but I have high hopes.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Preliminary Fondant Results......

...Are not good.  I placed the fondant, while in a one-gallon container, upside down on some newspaper on the uppermost top bars.  The fondant was very firm and my expectation was that the bees would eat through the newspaper and get to the sugar.

My inspection proved otherwise.  The fondant had melted completely and had puddled first on the newspaper and then down through the hive, draining through the ventilated bottom board.  I can only assume that the bees had generated enough heat and moisture to melt the fondant into that gooey mess.  It has been very cold here, in the 20's, so heat outside the hive ought not have been the cause.

On my smallest hive where I place some more firm fondant I also saw significant moisture on that newspaper and some very still bees in on the fondant.  Some of this moisture could have been the result of snow-melt from yesterday's storm, I just don't know.

I placed the lemon-spiked sugar on the final two hives today and two bees came right up to it, so perhaps the infusion of zest will help.  I will check on their progress with the sugar in two weeks.

I have one more batch of the runny fondant and may place it RIGHT SIDE UP in the hive and see if they take any of it.


Wedge Top Bar and Divided Bottom Vs. Grooved Frame

Thursday, December 16, 2010

First Snow - Georgetown, December 16; 12:25pm

 One of the best reasons to live in Georgetown and forgo the seduction of the suburbs is the snowy day.  It is really beautiful and a great reason to get out of the house.

Today has been a great day to get ready for the coming spring with the bees.  I am putting together new frames for honey supers that I hope will be full of sweetness this summer, all while sitting in front of a roaring fire.  And thanks to several adventurous new urban beekeepers I am assembling hives for them for Christmas delivery.

It is probably too early for a glass of wine, but I can think of no better setting or weather system to pour one....


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bee Feeding Part 2 - Table Sugar

Part 2 of my winter bee-feeding experiment, today with simple table sugar enhanced with lemon zest.  If this wind clams down I will add this to my last two hives, placing a sheet of newspaper on the uppermost top bars, pouring the sugar on that, and then placing a shim above that so that the sugar has some space.  The hope is that the scent of the lemon will alert the bees to the presence of the food and they will eat through the newspaper to access if needed.  This is similar to other posts I have read that suggest using vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in pollen patties to improve the acceptance of that food to the bees.  I will let you know how it all turns out!!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Making Bee Fondant To Winter Bees

I tried my hand making fondant today...I think candy makers would be proud but worried how the bees feel.
Still feeling sticky!!!

QR Codes

A buddy of mine turned me on to these newfangled bar codes that can, among other things, link people to websites via a scan with a phone app.  so here is the QR Code....

I feel like I'm reading the Matrix

The New York Times Thinks We Are On To Something

Rooftop and backyard beekeeping in NYC.  Are we next?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Two New Honeybee Colonies Planned for Spring in DC

Exciting news...two new clients are putting our bees on their property.  One will be a backyard installation and the other will be on the roof of the house.  I was able to accommodate each with improved pricing thanks to free shipping deals being offered by my supplier.

For $200 you can get from DC Honeybees an assembled 10-frame basic hive, full of bees, for a spring installation.  And remember, DC Honeybees is mission-driven to propagate the honeybee.  All surplus proceeds from our sales activities go to purchase more bees, equipment, and supplies to further this mission.

The gentlemen both shared that selling the idea to their wives was not an easy task.  Cheers for new mid-life hobbies, and more bees in DC.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Nice Piece On Varroa and CCD

Community Gardens and Local Food Initiatives

I've reached out to this community as well as local universities to discuss our bee propagation and rooftop initiative and have been frustrated with the silence.  If  you know of possible DC-area benefactors of honeybees, please introduce them to us!

There is some urgency as spring will be too late for us to act.....

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Deals of Hives and Hive Bodies

BIG SAVINGS.  Some of the suppliers of the basics are currently running specials and free shipping for large orders, meaning there are deals to be had prior to the end of the year.  Please email me at:
if you are interested in ordering hives, frames, foundation, and hive bodies now for a spring installation.  Those saving also translate into saving for established hives (both garden and 10-frame), with bees, ordered now and installed in spring.  I know it's hard to think so far in advance, but don't forget that you will be germinating your vegetable seeds indoors in 45 days and hardening them off in 90.  Spring will be here before we know it!

Pray for the wintering bees.....


Monday, December 6, 2010

Local (Sort of) Source for Package Bees in DC

Miller Bee Supplies up in north Baltimore is selling packages for pick-up in mid-April.

He is bringing up both Russians and Italians, and even better, in 3 or 4 lbs packages.  I'm putting together an order if anyone wants to join me and I am looking forward to trying out the Russian bees after hearing about their productivity, mite resistance, and wintering ability.  Two of these packages are headed to the Mount Vernon Triangle for the CID's hives.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Where is the DC Bee Community?

Here is a copy of an entry I made to a DC beekeepers blog where I vented a bit on the weak activity in this critical policy-making city:

I'm feeling very alone in this market given the relative quiet on the local blogs regarding beekeeping, including this one.  The local beekeeping associations, to which I belong, are also short on outreach or even modest organization.  For instance, I wrote to one association asking about whether they are planning a bulk package buy for this spring, and I have received no response for 30 days.
I am please to offer the link to my blog which is updated regularly and which describes our initiatives and their modest success.
Come on, people.  The bee is dying and the beekeeper is aging.  We need new, young blood and outreach is the key, coupled with partnerships with like-minded organizations.

Was that like going postal, or what?  Tomorrow, I jaywalk.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter is Finally Upon Us

We had our first near freeze last evening and the girls are not flying today.  The mild weather from which the bees have benefited looks to be behind us and now the long wait-and-see begins.  Have I fed aggressively enough for energy stores?  Should I have fed more pollen patties (they were bringing in pollen as late as two days ago)?  Do I have the right breeds to overwinter?  Should I insulate?

Of course I’ve been doing all the wrong things to ease my mind.  The information on the net is all over the board on feeding and wintering with some saying they never feed and the other extreme describing copious pollen supplementation and sugar feeding.  So I am considering strategies to implement mid-winter to feed with sugar candy.  I will be anxious to see what’s under the cover, and moving, after Christmas.

One bit of good news is that I found a local supplier of package bees and he indicates he will have some in March.  That will let me get a head start on a few new hives I am installing for clients, and give me an early package in case I lose a colony. He still has packages for April and May and is located in Stafford, Va:  Rocky Hill Bee Farm.  Nice people and am looking forward to getting my kids down to see how the pro’s do it.

I’ve been getting confused about which hive has what bees in it when I describe them.  I have generally been unsupportive of “named” hives, thinking it a bit silly, but I have now caved to the idea.  In honor of my wife’s Rhode Island heritage I’m going to name them after Rhode Island towns, with Narragansett being Hive Number 1. I hope to make a couple of nucs up this spring and drive them to our home in RI where we can establish some colonies in that state.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mount Vernon Triangle CID Strikes AGAIN!

The Mount Vernon Triangle CID has partnered with DC Honeybees for an installation at the Farm at Walker-Jones (  This grass-roots agricultural effort is adjacent to the new and awesome Walker-Jones school at New Jersey Avenue and K Street NW.  The school serves children from nursery through eighth grade in modern facilities and lots of green-space.  The farm grew its first crops this past season and plantings will increase markedly next year.

The CID and DC Honeybees approached the farm volunteers this fall to see of they would like to improve their pollination and include beekeeping practices in their agricultural curriculum.  I am pleased to hear that they have accepted our offer of a donation of a hive which we will populate with bees in early spring.  DC Honeybees will provide support and management of the hive and teach the children of this urban campus the benefits and basics of beekeeping in the city.  The prize of course will follow in the fall when the honey harvest begins and the children can taste items made with their honey in the school's kitchen.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Late Fall Inspection

Probably our last view of flying bees until Spring.....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2011 Bee Packages are EXPENSIVE!!!

Pricing and reservations for April delivery are being established by most of the major suppliers I track.  When one factors in shipping of 3 lbs packages they are running about $90 on the low end to to $140+ on the high!  Screw honey, we should all be getting into the live bee business.  It is a shame that we don't have a more active commercial apiary environment in the Metro DC area that would allow us to buy local bees bred for this climate and flow, and from whom we could pick up packages rather than dealing with the post office.  I am hoping our local beekeeping associations are planning a bulk buy from Georgia so I can grab a few packages there.

That said, I just put a UPS-shipped order in at Rossman Apiaries for a package of Italians, a breed with which I have yet to work and I hear good things about that supplier.  I think the total cost was around $90 and was among the most cost effective I found.  Gardner's Apiaries, which is a little less internet-savvy, is still showing 2010 pricing that is very competitive but unclear what the total with shipping will be.  I'd love to buy a package from Long Lane Honeybee Farms as their bees seem gentle, accustom to cold winters, and David has been very responsive to my prior inquiries.  His packages are running $106 (shipped USPS - ugh!) which isn't too bad but hard to rationalize at this moment.

In the meantime, this weather has been a boon for our colonies, with continued and aggressive pollen collection and consumption of 2/1 syrup.  Five hives today, five in March?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Great Small Hive Beetle News For My Hives

I attended my first Montgomery County Beekeepers Assn meeting last evening where there was a presentation on hive beetles.  I learned that the beetle larvae, upon hatching in the comb, descend to the surrounding dirt where they pupate.  Since my hives are on my roof, the larvae will be unable to finish their life cycle so I should be beetle free shortly!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

And Some Good News on Colony Collapse Disorder

See this link:

New York Times Article

60 Minutes Colony Collapse Disorder Story

As we approach the fragile winter season, I thought some might like to review this story.  See this link:


Ordering Package Bees

I am starting to reach out to apiaries around the country to check pricing and availability of package bees in the following species:
  • Minnesota Hygienic
  • Buckfast
  • Italian
  • Russian
Apiaries typically begin taking orders in November and sell out quickly.  I am looking forward to testing out these different strains and providing colony splits to our friends and sponsors.  Key for me is taking delivery of the packages as early in the spring as possible to take advantage of our mild weather and early nectar flow so we can get some 1st season honey from these hives.  Two of these packages will go into our Sponsor hives in the Mount Vernon Triangle.

If you are thinking of starting a hive this spring please let me know at and I will make certain to order you a package.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Garden Hives Available

Have the most bountiful flowers and vegetable garden in the neighborhood by having us install a garden hive on your property, rooftop or balcony.  These hive are perfect for small scale pollination and are a great introduction to this hobby.  If you find beekeeping to your liking we can move the colony from this garden hive into a full-sized box and get your girls working on producing honey for your pantry and friends.

We have these 5-frame hives available today for installation, and can order additional hives in your choice of color, or natural.  These hives are hand-assembled with screws for durability and longevity.  Ordering today puts you in a position to be ready to accept a package of bees early in the spring.  If you reserve a package of bees today for spring we can pass along that discount to you and give you your choice of bee breeds.   I have some strong colonies I can install in these hives for those needing instant gratification, but I cannot guarantee they will survive the winter.  Please continue to support our mission of increasing the bee population in and around Washington, DC. 

Contact me at for questions or orders.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Let's Review Ahead of Winter

I introduced two more new queens from B Weaver Apiaries yesterday (one split, and one queenless hive), my last of the season.  

Of the original two 10-frame nuc colonies I purchased from in August, I now have:
  • Two colonies growing in those original nucs;
  • Two colonies growing in Langstroth equipment;
  • Three colonies growing in 6-frame nucs that I built.
Of these colonies all but the Langstroth hives have been queened with B Weaver queens.  One queen in an original 10-frame nuc seems to be on her last laying legs and I do not expect this colony to survive.  The balance of the B Weaver queens seem to be laying well.

In the Langstroth hives there is the original Carniolan queen in one hive, and one hive that is rearing a new queen.

I have been feeding these colonies rigorously with 1/1 syrup and homemade pollen patty substitutes. The healthiest of these hives have been taking 1/2 gallon of syrup every 2 days.  I have also been treating for small hive beetle with boric acid using the fatbeeman's innovative technique:

I will bring the nucs off the roof and set them out back when the weather cools so I can monitor and feed more easily during the winter.  I am hopeful that all the money I've spent to re-queen and split colonies will pay dividends in spring with surviving, healthy, and productive colonies.  I will move all frames to Langstroth equipment and permanent sites in early March weather permitting.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Our First Rooftop Beekeeping Partner

The Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District (MVTCID) has agreed to let us place two hives on the roof of their new office located at 4th and Eye Streets, NW near the CityVista development.  These hives will represent the commencement of the MCTCID's sustainably initiative that intends to enliven the urban environment by providing habitat for the area's fauna while promoting the planting of local, native vegetation.  We are proud to have the CID as our first sponsor!

We expect to be able to populate the hives with new bees this March.....stand by for our progress on this blog.

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Cut Me Micky!"

Being so cocky about managing these hives without protection has its drawbacks.  I thought I was supposed to get some immunity to these stings after a spell!!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Some Results of My Splits Experiments

  • On the split into the small nuc where the fail queen reappeared....dead colony and the queen has gone awol.
  • On the other half with the queen cells...cells now hatched.  I have not looked into that hive yet, but next week hope to see some eggs to verify we have a laying queen there.
  • On the splits with the original two B Weaver queen hive is going gang busters and the other is very quiet in spite of the queen running around.  I did not see any eggs so am fearful that this queen may be on her way out.  
  • On the split with the 3rd B Weaver queen I rescued from the ball of accepted by the colony, released from cage, and I will check for viable brood next week.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Queen Envy

Having a little queen envy.  I put the word out to a few apiaries that I was looking for two queens for one more split.  I was assuming that if they have an email address that they look at it regularly.  With no response from multiple sources within 24 hours I went to my go-to group B Weaver, which by the way has treated this beginner beekeeper with extreme kindness, to get my additional pair.

But I really want to try out so many other queens too!  Russians, Kona Queens, Buckfast, etc etc.  It looks like my spring will bring more hive splits than honey as I reconnect with those who kindly reached out in spite of my lack of patience.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Improving My Nuc Design

I have changed from using my four-frame nuc as shown in my earlier video to a six-frame nuc with stackable boxes to expand the hive.  I use 1 x 12 stock boards for the top and bottom, and 1 x 8's for the sides.  If anyone wants to see how this looks I will post some photos.  The dimensions of the pieces are listed below:

Bottom (1 X 12) 21 3/4
Top (1 X 12) 22 1/2
Sides 19 1/4
Ends 11 1/4
Plywood Inserts 9 3/4 X 6 1/2

Sides 19 1/4
Ends 11 1/4
Plywood Inserts 9 3/4 X 6 1/2

There Goes 30 Bucks

I did a hive split yesterday hoping to create one more colony before winter.  I used a queen purchased from B Weaver Apiaries of the same breed of my other splits.  When I released the queen after a couple of days of introduction to the hive, the bees went crazy on her in a way I had not seen in the last splits.  It turns out I had accidentally transferred the original queen in the split, and so the bees were attacking this rogue queen.

I was able to grab her and quickly introduced her, without a cage, to the queen-less split.  But I think they smothered her as she had not been properly introduced.  Beans.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Developments in My Split Hive Experiment

As you may remember, I split my weak hive in two, hoping that the brood and bees in the queenless half would produce their own queen.  Luck has not been with me here.

The frame I put into this queenless hive had a queen in development but this cell was damaged in transfer.  I hoped that other cells might provide good queen potential, and thus inspected the hive today to look.

I was surprised to find many cells that included multiple eggs, four or five in fact, which is an indication of a laying worker bee and the potential demise of the colony.  There is an uncapped queen cell that remains in development but info in the web suggests that even if a healthy queen hatched, the colony might reject her and dispatch her.

I hope to have two new queens sent this week....perhaps if I introduce this queen while protected by the queen cage and let the bees slowly accept her the laying workers may invite her to stay and begin laying.

Here's to hoping!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Follow Us

If you like what you've seen so far, it would be great if you could give us some feedback!  We have lots of new things to video and post, but don't want to waste our time if there is no audience.

Any potential urban beekeepers out there? 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Inexpensive and Homemade Nuc

Another Experiment

My weak hive has set several capped queen cells to replace the failing queen.  My hope it that these new queens will be as prolific as the older one was earlier in her life.  We should have enough drones from our original strong hive to provide the new queen some consistent and strong genetics.  These are Carniolan bees.

So I have two frames from these weak hives each with their own capped queencell.  I am going to further split this hive with following procedure:
  • Take one frame with the brood and queen cell, sweep off all the bees, and put it in an isolated nuc.
  • Take two frames of bees from our strong hive and include in the nuc.
  • Add pollen patties and feeder to strengthen this tiny colony while the brood hatches.
  • Watch the hive for the queen to hatch, then breed.
  • Hopefully this hive then produces new brood to grow to a healthy size.

I'm looking forward to see how this works!  I could get two healthy carni hives out of this failing hive, plus the split I did with the new queen last week.  A good investment I'd say if it works.  My new 4-frame nuc boxes that I built will come in handy for this effort.  I'm going to need to slow down on these little experiments now that the weather is getting colder.  These colonies will need to build up to survive winter.


Got stung on the lip yesterday evening, and it swelled up like a balloon.  First sting in a few weeks, however.  I'm still working with the bees without a veil so that's not a bad percentage.