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Mass Mortality in the Spring :[

Well, to date we had escaped big winter losses. But after four years of beekeeping under our belts, we finally saw a 60% overwintering death loss.

On February 27th the weather was nice and we headed to the bee yard. Two hives were abuzz. Three hives were suspiciously quiet. Sure enough, three of the five were deceased. We suspect starvation. We knew that at least one was going into winter on the light side, but didn’t expect three to to die off after all the fall feeding. (hoover, or click, curser on photos for captions)

As per the norm, mice were having a heyday in the empty hive bodies so we pulled all the hardware back to town for storage.

And, that’s a wrap on these three. We’ve order three bee packages and will restart them this spring, hopefully with splits from the two remaining hives.


Truck is loaded with empty hardware, headed to storage.

And then there were two.


Kind of lonely-looking, eh?



Winterizing, CHECK!

This is a short post on a short subject.

The winter weather in December is not very wintery, thankfully. We got out this weekend and finally winterized the hives. We do this by adding waxed cardboard boxes that are big enough to allow for one inch insulation board on all four sides and the top. To ensure the hives are vented we add a chunk of PVC tubing to keep the insulation in place and a clear path for the bees to enter/exit from the upper hive body.  And, we throw in a couple winter patties as a Plan B nutrition source for the bees.

It was on overcast day and the ladies were not thrilled with our actions. Stinging ensued . . . *sigh*

winterizing 12-2015 1winterizing 12-2015 2winterizing 12-2015 arm 3

Honey Harvest: Done.

sweatbands 10-2015

Prove we’re old/give a darn is busted = we post unflattering, sweaty pictures on the Internet.

Waaaaay back, September 6th, when it was approximately the same temperature as the surface of the sun, we pulled the honey supers out of the bee yard. The honey-filled supers then rested comfortably in the basement near the dehumidifier. We had frames with a good amount of uncapped honey so this is how we get our honey crop dried down to the appropriate moisture for storage.

beeyard post harvest 10-2015


We also pulled the final plug on Lili vonShtupp. We had treated for foulbrood earlier in the summer, but we couldn’t keep the colony queen right. The wax was very dark so we gave it all the heave-ho and will start anew next spring on new frames with new wax with fresh bees.



We had a unnamed nuc that went nuts earlier this summer. The queen crawled out, and took up residence UNDER the nuc in the middle of the pallet. [insert profanity here] We named it Dumba$$. Weeks ago I pulled us much comb out as I could and put in a hive body to see if they’d move over to the wax frames. They are an obstinate lot and refused all human intervention. They laid down even more brood and honey in the middle of the pallet. We gave that colony one more chance to move up into a hive body that we put on top of the pallet. It didn’t work. It was robbed out and dead by early October.

We had planned to spin out the honey the next weekend. But, the better half of our dynamic duo fell prey the ill effects of a double hernia, so it was delayed until October  Meanwhile, we’ll got mite treatment rolling, and started feeding because there is clearly not enough honey stored for winter.


aronia berry 10-2015 Check out the seven gallons of aronia berries in our freezer (shout out to Tom & Liz Kurt for the berries!). We are now combing the internets for a mead recipe for these beauties.




Iowa State Fair Ribbon!!

Iowa State Fair Ribbon!!


BY THE WAY, we entered two different meads in the Iowa State Fair earlier this summer. A couple weeks after the Fair a nondescript enveloped arrived at our house WITH A RIBBON (!). A bronze ribbon, which I think means ‘we feel super sorry that you have to drink this stuff so here is a ribbon the color of poo for almost-last place to make you feel slightly better‘. Actually, we didn’t finish dead last, but more of the middle of the pack. While the ribbon is cool, is is not as cool as the tasting notes from the judges. We are proud to say that the word skunky was not used, not even once, to describe our mead. But, we have a sulfur issue, probably due to the yeast issues we had the start of fermentation due to too-low temperatures. So, in short, the judges told us it looked really, really nice, but didn’t taste quite as nice. We can live with that. Also, we like our mead, so we have that going for us.

Hot knife


On October 11th we finally fired up the new-to-us 20-frame extractor and went to town. Up the upside, no one burned off a hand with the hot knives. It was a pleasant day. Rich Pope (shout out to The Pope!) stopped by and watched the insanity. And third, we harvested ~96 pounds of honey from three hives. It’s not the greatest yield in the world, but after our many queen issues this summer, we’ll take it. Also, we learned the honey extractor needs a new motor. Robin wants a motor that could fire the space shuttle to make harvest go faster. We’l have to see what is actually doable.

Sorry it’s taken so long to post this. Life is nuts.

Tall prairie. Short beekeeper.

Tall prairie. Short beekeeper.

I Blame it on Monday.

HOLY COW, I really don’t think there could be a more incompetent set of beekeepers in North America than us.

Robin hasn’t been to the bee yard for a couple of months due to work commitments. Mark has been carrying the load, supering and generally taking care of the place.

The nuc we started in early June with queen cells gathered from our colonies went bust. No queen appeared to be home as no eggs could be found. We knew it was time to wave the white flag and buy a queen. Then, Lily von Shtupp appeared to go queen-less last weekend. In early June we tried gathering up queen cells from other hives that were planning a swarm and switched them in with a frame of brood. It didn’t appear to be working.

Two queen cages.

Two queen cages.

So, today we drove over to Mt Vernon and picked up two new queens. You know, $56 worth of queens and came home to install. And I’ll be danged, we opened the nuc and found eggs. And then we opened Lily and I’ll be danged again – also found eggs. So then panic sets in – we bought these queens, WE HAVE TO USE THEM. Arrrgggggg.

So there we are, opening up the hives that we thought were going gangbusters, to swipe some brood and honey to start new splits and I’LL BE DANGED AGAIN, they were now queen-less. Hey, good news – we just happen to have a couple spare queens laying around.

Ultimately, we put a new queen in Ole. And then we made a new split (which shall remain nameless until it proves itself) with the other new queen. – I know, it’s like a weird Who’s On First game with the queens.

At some point in time I seriously considered just just lying down in the prairie and weeping from all the ridiculousness. But, on the upside, I didn’t get stung (for once) so no shots needed. And Mark managed to wander around the bee yard for half the day with his hood/veil entirely unzipped and he didn’t get stung but we realized the oversight when he suddenly declared there was a bee in in veil. Following us around is like watching a Far Side cartoon come to life.

The beeyard.

The beeyard.

MEAD UPDATE. We have our bottles ready to go for the State Fair. Check-in is next weekend. — Well,  unless we just drink it all before it gets to the fairgrounds. 

One of THOSE days

The top box goes to the bottom and the bottom to the top!

The top box goes to the bottom and the bottom to the top!

It was supposed to rain later in the day on Sunday. So, early in the day we tore out to the bee yard to flip hive body boxes. What do I mean – well, you break the two hive bode boxes apart and put the bottom box on the top, and top box goes to the bottom. Bees have a tendency to like living in the penthouse. In the spring they’ll crowd the top while there is room down low, so we trick them.

Things were going well, we dumped out the old sugar syrup, rinsed out the feeders and gave the girls all new tasty syrup. We did a little spring housecleaning, cleaned off the bottom boards and putting everything back together. And then we got to Lena, and possibly you remember my past rumblings on her temperament … well, that’s when the bees really took issue with our activities. Badda-bing, two bees shot up Robin’s veil while Mark got off scott free. It was one rock solid sting and a second sting that was more of a grazing. So, we got everything done, packed up and headed to town for a shot in da butt. And some more antihistamines. And then a long nap.

Are you happy now? You're dead, in my veil and yet I am going to smash on you some more.

Are you happy now? You’re dead, in my veil and yet I am going to smash on you some more.

And, we  officially declared Thor to be passed on to the bee afterlife. She is clearly queenless and the comb is very dark. The remainder of the bees in Thor were spread among the other thriving colonies and all the comb is going in the trash. We’ll try our hand at splits again this spring and see if we can whip up a new batch for the three empty hives in storage.
— Also, three dead mice in Thor. Which made me wonder, what is the record for number of dead mice in a hive?!

So, five overwintering hives became four, putting our 20% loss right in the ballpark with what I’m hearing from others.

And then there were four.

And then there were four.

Come On Spring!

This weekend we hopped out to the bees and ‘unwinterized’ and fed the girls. Ole, Lena, Thor, Lars, & Lili Von Shtupp all had live bees, tho Thor is on the slim side. All the hives had put a good dent into the patties I fed a few weeks ago. And, today we filled the feeders with 1:1 syrup as it is warm enough during the day for the bees to fly, but there is no pollen nor nectar for them to hunt up and bring back to the colony.

Busy bees.

So, the insulation came off and was hauled back to town.

3-22-15 unwinterized

It’s the adult version of pick-up-sticks, but with insulation and boxes.

Murphy’s Law rides again … at the very end of chore time, and minute after I took off my gear, an angry bee decided that my cheek was an excellent place to plant her stinger. Ug. She barely got me so  no shot, just see if I can grit my way through it. Did Mark get stung? Of course not – his gear was also off, yet he escaped yet again.

And now for something completely different. Saw great beaver damage not too far away from our bee yard. Aren’t beavers amazing creatures?

CAUTION: Beavers at work. (Are they on coffee break right now?)

3-22-15 beaver chip

Check out the size of just one beaver chip. Amazing!

Amazing lumberjack skills. They know exactly where they want that tree to fall, and they pull it off flawlessly.

Momma Said There’d Be Days Like This . . .

The weather guy predicted a high of 40 today! The reality was more like 33, but that’s close enough, and besides that, the only moderatly-viable time in the foreseeable future to feed the bees. So, Robin was flying solo and figured she could knock this task out in 45 minutes.  Phhbbbbbbbbbt.

The path to the bee yard wasn’t as bad as I imagined, but 4WD was very handy.

[reevvvvvvv] Let’s do this!

A sight for sore eyes! Hives still in place!

We’re still standing!

Uh yahhh, suit up, even in the winter, because I’m a sting magnet. And true to form, Lena was a royal nag and the net was a good thing.

2-15 RP net

Safety first, safety always … or a shot in da butt.

All five colonies were looking good! Didn’t want to leave top off for more than a few seconds, to conserve heat, but here was a quick photo of calm bees after I threw a few winter patties on the dinner table.

2-15 inside hive

Dinner is served.

And then there is Lena. Lena is grumpy even when I bust my tail to tromp out in the snow and feed her troops.

2-15 Lena


And here is one of the ~20 bees from Lena that decided by gloved hands MUST DIE.

2-15 sting


Yep, the mice are still enjoying the insulated confines of the winter hive set-up.


It’s always good to see live bees guarding the breathing tubes.

2-15 bees in tube

Bees in da tube.

So there I was, only about 30 minutes into my task, feeling good about seeing many bees in healthy-looking clusters. Time to pack up and go home!  But wait, my spider senses tell me that something is amiss here…

2-15 flat tire

[insert profanity here]

And here is where the beauty of small town Iowa comes into focus. While stranded in the middle of a prairie a couple miles away from town, I put out a ‘ahhhh, I’m in a bind out here‘ Facebook post, and a short time later the calvary rides over the hill and saves the day!

My hero! Brent Smith gets free honey! (Assuming the bees decide to make honey in 2015…)

Here ends the story of winter feeding. And everyone lived happily ever after – including the tire-fixit guys at Trickles.  *sigh*