Bittersweet Bees

It’s a frog-drowner of a rain storm, but the toads or frogs are trilling. A wonderful company of lusty, bawdy songs that are not aimed at me, but I am a happy recipient. My garage smells wonderfully of bees-wax.

Where to begin? I did a check yesterday, red-neck bee keeping at its best. Photos should be viewed by those with a sense of humor and a warning, “Don’t try this at home kids!”  It was hot. I conceded to the veil so I wouldn’t offend the ladies, but nothing else resembling proper bee keeping equipment.


The goal was to give hive number two a new layer to build out and to exclude the queen from the top-most box so I could steal honey and still get them through the winter. I made short work of getting a deep box with ten luscious wooden frames of new waxed foundation. They were curious but relaxed at my intrusion and though I didn’t dig down to find the queen, her presence was obvious in the amount of brood.


Don’t laugh at the glasses, my contact lenses make it strange to focus through the mesh of the veil…

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The trip into hive number one was more out of curiosity and to rob some spring honey. This hive created a new queen and she is not marked. We have never met, so to speak but I am impressed with her court. The hive was heavy with honey through the top two layers. I took off four frames of capped deliciousness and felt I could have easily taken four more without stressing the colony. But what appeared in the photos that evening was arresting. Swarm cells. The sign that my unmet queen was too cramped and she was preparing to abscond with most of her court.


Pure capped deliciousness!


“Wilson?  I need some smoke over here now, please!”


Those droopy things are swarm cells – new queens in the making.

A quick email to my bee mentor – Jodi – and what followed was a night of worry over insects. That’s right, things that I used to swat and be fearful of. The advice, contradicted and applauded at the same time by my extensive google search results, was to remove the queen if possible (fat chance, we’ve never met and I’m flying by the seat of my pant at 5:30am with a large population of ladies who weren’t ready to get out of bed at this hour). My alternative was to remove the frames with the swarm cells and add more clean, wooden wax frames to distract them. That I could do.

At 5:15am I was squatting in my garage, slapping together said wooden frames with wax foundation. Let me just say, delicate work such as that is best done with a clear head and a lack of urgency. The smoker fired up and with the addition of some well aged pinecones from our wreath-making efforts earlier this year, it cooked along nicely adding an interesting perfume to my attempt at civility today in the store.

I wrangled the top off, cinch-straps are something men created and women will never understand, and took off the first layer without even looking inside. I needed to get to those swarm cells and get this done. I had lain awake most of the night envisioning an empty hive and starting over. By luck, I was able to cobble together a NUC body and cover so the frames with the swarm cells could be segregated and ultimately moved to beneath the Elderberry bush at Wilson’s house. Pleasant surroundings when your home has just been devastated.

Later in the day,  Korey was headed to Nashua to buy frames for his exploding bee yard. He and Kim stopped by the store with a NUC I could borrow and five lovely new wooden frames of wax foundation. Tonight, they and my stolen honey lent a warm aroma therapy to the garage as I closed it to the thunder.

Bee keeping is not for the faint of heart, but then, neither is life…

11 thoughts on “Bittersweet Bees

  1. It sounds like once you have a thriving colony, you have to keep adding hives to keep them happy. I looked up swarm cell, since I didn’t know what it was and found this – “It’s good to realize that swarming is the normal response of a hive to success” Way to go! Glad you were able to recognize it and take action!

  2. Martha, Terri and I were thinking of you today. We’re on the road to visit family and were listening to Fresh Air on NPR. The guest was Laurence Packer, author of the recently published “Bee Keeping.” I’m sure you’ve heard of his book, and it’s probably already on your bookshelf, but we were fascinated. Thinking about your post, and the comments from another expert, I realized that beekeeping is about managing a civilization – no small responsibility. You have a very interesting hobby, and you’re right, it’s not for the meek. ~James

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