Wednesday, June 27, 2012

To Veil, Or Not To Veil....

We get a lot of inquiries about our use (or lack thereof) of protective gear when we work the bees.  And it is true, I do not own a bee suit or gloves, and use my veil sparingly.  You are likely to find me in the hives in shorts and a tee-shirt in summer, and on my roof generally in bare feet.

There are a couple of reasons for that:
  • I'm lazy;
  • Vision is hampered in a veil, especially if one is looking for eggs;
  • Our mission includes promotion of bees as gentle and non-aggressive.

Do I get stung?  Absolutely.  Sometimes I can get into a hive and have no problems, just a little smoke and they are quiet as mice.  Other times, they hit me repeatedly like kamikazes.  The former is more generally the outcome.

Does it hurt?  Sure, a little, but the lingering affects of swelling are the greater aliment.  Thankfully, after hundreds of stings (yes hundreds) I am finally building up a modest resistance to the bee venom.

Note that we take a lot of our cues from the FatBeeMan Don Kuchenmeister who is similarly fearless around his hives.
During our classes, we provide veils for folks to wear around the hives, which they do.

With our kids, it is a different story.  If you have a child, you know how difficult it is to tell them what to do, and if they don't want to wear a veil, like tough love, I leave it up to them.  And it has consequences:

This is Kaitlin (our No. 1) after she entered a hive to pull a frame for a bee display she was managing.  Note the swelling around the lip, eye, and ego!

And this is Maddie (No. 2) who got stung on the finger while carrying a nuc and who then had a bad enough reaction that it warranted the emergency room.  Note the irony of the "Got Bees" t-shirt she is wearing!  Obviously, a veil would not have mattered in this case, but this is for illustrative purposes...

So bad parenting?  I'm more of the view that raising a kid in a plastic bubble is both unkind and belays the realities they should expect when they reach maturity.  So a little controlled pain is not necessarily a fault.  Maybe they will wear a veil next time?

Then is it do as I say, not as I do?  I think you should decide for yourself what feels most comfortable for you.  I think requiring oneself to put on a bulky suit in the middle of summer before hitting the hives might hinder one from spending time there.  But at the end of the day it is about personal preference.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We Try To Make a Few Queens - Video

Queen rearing is as much of an art as science, and although the bees do all the work, it is the help of the beekeeper that ensures success and manages the outcome.

As we put together nucs for our bee-supplying services one of the biggest risks is the availability of queens that can manage our climate, be resistant to hive pests and diseases, and be gentle. Oh, and honey production!

We have had great success with queens we have purchased from suppliers, from whom we receive queens in the mail.  But we also have many hives that have successfully overwintered here treatment-free and we would like to consider breeding queens with stock, have them open-mate with feral survivor stock, and introduce these queens to our nucs.

Thus, this new adventure into queen rearing!

Our foray began with elements of queen rearing from videos by the FatBeeMan and Long Lane Honeybee Farms with our own twist.  Here is the video.  SPOILER ALERT - we were unsuccessful on this try, but we are now putting together another video with a more foolproof method, and we will also retry the FatBeeMan method again.

Here is the video:

More Urban Beekeeping Coverage - VIDEO

Here is a recent report done by Voice of America on our DC bees.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pulling Nucs, A Trip to the Smithsonian - VIDEO

Today we pulled some nucleus colonies, and hived a couple young ones, at our secret apiary in SE DC.

Of the three we pulled (all Don the FatBeeMan's small-cell stock), one was destined for a very special place, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum on Constitution Ave.

The museum has an observation hive of rather ingenious design, and they have been having trouble with their colony for a couple of years.  You may remember that last year we provided a couple of honey frames for them in order to boost the health of the colony.

We were pleased to be able to help them out again, with a fresh and thriving colony produced in Lula, Georgia by the great Don Kutchenmeister.

Here are some excerpts from our day:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summer Splits Season - Nuc's Coming Soon

With the flow almost over we have begun splitting up our robust hives into nucs for introduction into new hives.  Generally, we take three frames of brood, a frame of honey, and a frame of foundation and introduce them into five-frame nuc boxes, like the ones in the picture above.  We then introduce a queen from one of our queen purveyors: Russell Apiaries or Long Lane Honeybee Farms.

From Russell, we use the Sunkist variety for queening.  From their site:

They are of Italian origin, and have been selectively bred since 1951 for heavy laying, low swarming, honey production, distance of foraging, mite and disease resistance, gentleness, comb building, and early build up. They were created for his use as cell builders and for package production. They produce a much higher than average number of bees per hive.... with swarm levels around 100-120k. 

Having run several hives with these girls, I can attest to their huge hives and plenty of honey.  They also survived last year's winter in a single 10-frame deep box, so they are hardy, although last winter was not a brutal test.  Given their large numbers, these girls may not be ideal for an urban setting, however.

From Long Lane, we import their Pioneer Queens.  From their site:

We finally decided to name our queens and call them "Pioneer Queens". There are several definitions for pioneer in the dictionary. One says, "Leading the way; trailblazing". We hope to join many others, like us, who feel the importance of seeking greater diversity within the queen genetics, traits and characteristics that show resistance toward pests, diseases and harsh winters. Most of our pioneer queens are dark in color, more along the line of being Carniolan or Russian.  

These queens have done great over the winter and have provided a significant honey crop.  Their Central Illinois background has them hardy and stingy of resources during the winter and they have been raised treatment free.

We should have a few of these nucs available in the coming weeks, they are now "ripening" by which I mean I want the new queen to have a cycle of brood under her belt, and have the hive bursting with bees when we sell.

Please email me at if you would like to reserve one.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Moving Hives Off the Roof - VIDEO

As you may remember, we began our urban beekeeping adventures like many city-dwellers in placing our first hives on our roof.  Since then we have done countless rooftop installations in DC for our new beekeepers.  Never, however, have we had to do the reverse, and take a hive off a roof.