Monthly Archives: March 2012

Stress Testing the New Suit

One easy way to test that your suit is indeed bee proof is to simply knock over your hive. I find this gets the bees rather worked up and in fighting spirits. In my attempt today to confirm or deny Knives’ status, my hive slipped off the hive stand. Luckily there were only 3 medium supers remaining on the hive at the time, and I was able to use my cat-like reflexes to catch it before it tumbled to the ground. I had a heck of a time getting the hive wrestled back on the stand which was made slightly more difficult with a bunch of angry bees in my face.

The good news in all of this is my new suit’s reputation for being bee proof came through with flying colors. I obviously do not advocate kicking over your hive to test the integrity of your suit, but I’m trying to find the silver lining in today’s almost disaster.

I also believe I confirmed that my hive is indeed queenless. I had tons of drawn out frames with nothing in them. Considering it has been 30 days since I last saw eggs, it has been long enough that a new queen could have been raised and laying.

It was fortunate that my new queen arrived today. I first wanted to replace my existing hive stand with something more stable. The stand was nice, but the plastic made it very easy for the hive to move around when pulling off supers which is what caused the almost disaster today.

First, I broke down the hive.

Breaking down the hive.

After I removed all the supers, I was able to take the old stand away and lay down two cinder blocks and level them. I then put the hive back together again to introduce the new queen. Here is the new queen attached to a frame ready to go.

New queen on frame.

I then added the frame to the hive. I’m hoping the hive will quickly accept her, free her from the cage, and she can start pumping out some brood.



Filed under beekeeping, queens

The best-laid plans of bees and men…

I believe Knives’ hive may now be Knives-less. I inspected the hive this past weekend and didn’t see any sign of the queen and, more importantly, no signs of eggs either. I didn’t see any the previous weekend, but my inspection was cut short by a rain shower before I got too deep into the hive.

Here’s a shot of me in my fancy new Ultra Breeze suit going frame by frame looking for some sign of a laying queen.

Karl experiences the "pigpen" effect

My only other thought is perhaps the hive swarmed and the new queen hasn’t started laying yet. I did checkerboard the hive in late February, but perhaps that didn’t do the trick to suppress the swarm instinct.

Luckily, I have a new queen coming next week so all his not lost with Knives. After the Large Marge incident, I decided it was best to go ahead and requeen this hive with known gentle stock. I should get one more inspection in this weekend to hopefully confirm or deny if my hive is queenright. If I do find eggs, I can look forward to the fun task of finding an unmarked queen to “retire” before introducing the new queen. Otherwise, I can be fairly certain I can requeen with a minimal of fuss.


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Sunshine Community Garden Site Prep

In a few short weeks, I’ll be starting a hive at the Sunshine Community Garden in central Austin.


The hive is going to be behind the garden’s offices and away from the main planting areas.


The first step was to weed and remove brush from the area.


I then put down a layer of decomposed granite to create a level base. Here’s a shot of me using my amazing upper body strength to tamp a level surface.


I’m using two cinder blocks as a hive stand. You can see that my B.S in Architectural Engineering is finally paying off as I level them.


After getting the site prepared, a wander around the gardens makes me think the girls will be very happy here.





Filed under beekeeping

After my wife watched me go from an obscure beekeeping blog to an international success (seriously, I had three views from Indonesia this week), she obviously wanted in on this blogging action.

She has now started her own blog titled Game of Thorns where she chronicles her love of gardening with a special emphasis on antique roses. Her latest post made it easy to use in this shameless plug as it relates to native bees using our roses for their nesting materials.


Game of Thorns

After the rains, the roses in the garden are blooming in a rainbow of colors.
Souvenir de la Malmaison is blushing pink.

Valentine unfurled its velvety red petals.

Perle D’or is living up to its fancy French name.

I’m not the only one who has noticed the roses. For the past week I have seen these shiny, dark blue-green insects hovering frantically over the rose bushes. Here is the clearest picture of one I could get.

Leaf Cutting Bee

Now I would say that I have an above-average experience with insects, but I couldn’t nail down a positive ID on this one. That was when I noted some peculiar things about the mystery bug. First, it kept flying under our outdoor teakwood table. Karl, being adventurous, crawled underneath and saw these man-made holes on the underside of the table that the creatures found delightful to hide away in.


I then noticed that…

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I think my suit is actually -5 against bees

After 4 solid days of wet cold weather in Austin, the sky opened up Sunday afternoon to clear blue skies and sun. I took the opportunity to check in on Knives’ hive as there is the potential for more wet weather later in the week.

The girls were very cranky which I’m hoping was due to them being cooped up in the hive for most of the week. Nowhere near as bad as Marge’s hive (who has set the bar incredibly high), but hotter than they were the previous weekend.

I got stung on my neck again in pretty much the same place as a few weeks ago. At least this time, it was just one instead of the 3-4 I got last time. I really feel that my suit and more specifically, my veil, is just not cutting it. I originally opted to go with a zipper suit and veil seen below as I thought it would be cooler in the summer as well as offering better peripheral vision.

Smoking Myself

However, I’m finding that the veil tends to bunch up in odd ways which tends to trap bees. It will also not always stay flared out so during an inspection so the veil will sometimes be right up against parts of my neck and hence the stinging.

I’ve decided to purchase one of the Ultra Breeze Suits. Several folks in Austin highly recommend them for being cool even in the summer and very sting proof. I’m hopeful it will arrive before my next inspection so I can put it through the paces.


Filed under beekeeping, equipment

Where’s Geraldo When You Need Him?

I may be seriously dating myself with this reference, but after Konrad picked up Large Marge’s hive from Baab-Brock farms, he had one more “hive” pickup for the evening.

A vacant home in North Austin had a suspected hive in an old large trunk. Upon arriving, the trunk was indeed occupied by bees.

Here is the trunk loaded up to be taken away. You can see Marge’s hive in the back.

Finally, here is a closeup of the trunk.

The question is, what else is in the trunk?? It’s a great mystery with only a few clues. From a hole in the bottom and a broken seam in the front, all that can be seen are an old bag of marbles, a few plastic toy figurines, some booklets (comics?), and some military medals.

Round Rock Honey will host a special trunk opening and bee transfer (into one of their new cedar hives) from 5:30-7:00pm on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 14. If you would like to sign up for this rare event, please email Admission is $19 and includes a free Round Rock Honey lip balm. Attendance will be capped at 35 persons. If you have already signed up for the long-term beekeeping class, you can attend for free.

I”m not sure if I’ll be able to make it up there after work this week, but I thought it was a pretty fun idea and wanted to share it on my blog.

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Bees love electricity!

Ok, so maybe they don’t love electricity, but swarms of bees do love a lot of the man made structures around homes that we use to house our electric and water meters.

My Aunt Sherry out in California had some bees take up residence at her home not too long ago. Imagine the surprise of the poor city worker who opened up this panel to read the electric meter.


Here’s a closer shot.


Luckily, she called a local beekeeper who came to remove the bees instead of destroying them. My Aunt even got to suit up and help with the removal:


Here’s the local beekeeper:


Beekeepers will often use a bee vac to suck the bees out of the hive and into a nuc or package. Here is a shot of the vac used going into a small hive.


Here is the bee vac cleaning off a piece of comb from the hive. Looks like a bunch of capped drone cells on this one.


Swarm season is in full swing in Austin right now, and we are getting a bunch of calls of swarm sightings. If you do need to report a swarm, you can refer to my page here for further information.


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Thanks for the memories…

Large Marge has now officially joined the Round Rock Honey empire. Last night, Konrad and Lance came out to Baab-Brock farms after sunset to get the hive all trussed up and ready for transport to a remote location where they can split and requeen the hive safely.

The first step was to give the hive a big blast of smoke to get all the bees hanging out at the entrance back inside. We then immediately taped up the front entrance to prevent any of the girls from deciding they weren’t going out without a fight.

We then applied a wrapping of tape along the seam of each super to prevent them from slipping while the hive was being moved. We started at the bottom and worked our way up until the bees decided to get smart and come out through the top inner cover. We had to quickly tape up around the telescoping outer cover and then we were good.

After all the supers were taped up, we then wrapped the hive in 4 straps to keep it securely together when we picked it up.

After that, we felt we were in no immediate danger from the hive. I’d also like to thank Knives for being chill during the whole procedure even though we were stomping around her hive as well.

Then it was just a matter of the three of us picking up the hive and making our way through the backyard and up to the truck. A six super hive is heavy, and it took all three of us lifting to make it work.

Here’s a final shot of me with Large Marge. I learned a lot about beekeeping with this hive, and it definitely makes me a little sad to see her go. I feel good though knowing she’ll be part of an excellent beekeeping operation


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Lessons Learned

While we are still putting together a game plan on moving Marge’s hive, I thought it would be a good idea to run a post mortem on my experience with this hive. Not only will it help me formalize my approach to urban beekeeping in the future, but hopefully it will help some new beekeepers out there avoid an experience with an agressive and possibly AHB hive.

Talk to Beekeepers in the Area
If possible, get in touch with beekeepers who have hives in the general vicinity of where you plan on placing yours. Ask about the prevalence of AHB in the area, and if they personally experienced problems before. When I spoke to Konrad about Marge, he said that his hives south and south east of the river always seem to run hotter than his hives up north. Having this information ahead of time can help you make decisions on hive management and/or factor in to your decision on placing a hive in a certain area.

Requeening Philosophy
My initial game plan was to let my hives requeen themselves the old fashioned way with the thought of taking advantage of the feral bee population that had the genetics to survive the often extreme Texas seasons. In the case of Knives, this worked out well. The hive overcame a lot of initial hardships (pesticide poisoning, worst drought in 50 years, etc.), survived the winter, and is still mostly calm during inspections. Marge, not so much.

My new game plan is to requeen with known genetics for all my hives in urban areas. I’m lucky that Marge’s hive is in a location with no real neighbors on the sides or back of the property line otherwise the situation could have ended up a lot worse. My beekeeping friend said it best, “Queens are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” This is especially true if they are mating with drones of unknown and potentially AHB origins.

While it will be more expensive to buy new queens, the expense totally outweighs the pain (literally) and heartbreak this hive has caused. It can also give you a chance to experiment with a lot of different breeds that are now available to see which works best for your style and area. I mean, who wouldn’t want to tell their beekeeping buddies about the new Tiger Queen you just installed.

Urban Beekeeping is a great hobby, and I hope my posts about this hive don’t discourage anyone from picking it up. I’ll be sure to have a follow up on moving Marge, and if I decide to requeen Knives this spring or wait until fall.

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I Can Has High Five?

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Filed under Fun