Beeing a Beekeeper

“The bees have a secret, but they are not telling us.  Whatever it is they are not telling us.”

–Peter Loring Borst

Peter Loring Borst

Sometimes photos do a better job at telling a story than words.  I’m often a wordy person, but here I think that that may be the case.

A brief background: This past Saturday, before heading out to Grassroots I headed out to Danby to meet up with Peter Borst, who had put out a notice over the listserve that he would be doing a simulated swarm for a film maker who was coming to town from Rochester.  Intrigued, I went out only to find one other beekeeper from the club there with Peter, the lead film maker and her assistant.  She proceeded to film an interview while I ran around taking photos and helping out where I could.  It was a beautiful day and another great experience.  Have I mentioned that I love being a beekeeper?!  Ask questions, leave comments and forever be curious about the world around us.

The camera crew from Rochester.


“The Giver”

The bees really are quite calm; no need to fear the bees.

I bet this felt really cool.

What. a. moment.

A man with his bees.

They had a particular affinity for Peter’s head. The queen was in a cage by his neck so I expected them to cluster there.

No cotton balls, no goggles, just pure bees.

River of bees returning home. I presume happily.

Throughout the whole process, in t-shirt shorts and no veil I got only a few stings, but one good one in the lip. Worth a sting or two!

Let me know if you have any questions about what we did and stay tuned for posts about the installation exhibit that this will be a part of.

Bzzzz….. !

–Max  : )

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It’s a Swarm, No it’s a Hive, with a TWIST! Giving another colony of bees a home:

Hi again all,

The summer has been continuing along rapidly and actively.  With a trip to New Hampshire coming fast I got a call from a friend: a potential swarm on the side of a building just outside of Ithaca!  Ah the calls always come at the most busy of times.  Oh well!  Cue the music, it’s bee time!  I took a look, called some friends who I knew might be interested and moved in.  As usual it was an exciting afternoon interacting with bees, full of new experiences and memorable moments.

The twist?  The bees were hanging in a large ball from the eve of an abandoned house, but my contact knew they had been there for a while making me suspicious from the start that they were a true swarm.

Bees hanging from an abandoned house in Ithaca.

Stopping to check the ‘swarm’ it looked huge, furthering my suspicions that that it was actually a swarm that had failed to find a suitable cavity.

Close shot of the very large ball of bees.

After getting a ladder set up and suiting up a few puffs of smoke rapidly revealed that to be the case:

Ah yes! A hive without a cavity! The bees had already built 7 large combs of wax, full of brood and honey.

I actually witnessed this same scenario earlier in the year and was thus prepared for it, fully suiting up with gloves and lighting the smoker.

Putting on the full suit and gloves for this one.

Lighting up the smoker.

Unlike a swarm which is typically pretty calm, these bees are likely to defend their comb vigorously, possibly even more than a typical hive since they are so exposed.  I should also give a shout out here to my tow expert helpers!  Marc has helped me a few times before but had to leave earlier, but for my other helper it was her first time working with bees.  No worries though!  Not only was she an awesome assistant, calmly working around the bees even though she had on shorts, sandals and no gloves, but she also got some good photos while I got covered in honey – Thank You!

Once we were all suited up and set up it was time to get to work.  I had decided to take the comb down one comb at a time, looking for the queen as I went.

Going up to get me some honey and bees!

Removing the first comb.

Careful coming down the ladder! The inner combs were quite full and heavy!

Another thing to think about when hiving bees like this was what to do with the comb; much of it was full of brood that I wanted to save.  Some beekeepers use rubber bands to hold the comb into frames which they they put into a hive box.  I borrowed some old frames from Duane that had nails along the top and bottom with string run between them.  Rather than having foundation, these empty frames started with string on one side that I laid the comb against as I brought it down, then once full wrapped string on the other side to hold it in place.

Saving the brood by stringing the comb into frames.  Great brood pattern too!

Not too bad for my first time! : )

If you do this be sure to hang the comb in the same orientation that it was originally in since the cells are at a slight angle to prevent liquid from running out.  Over time I will transition these frames up out of the brood chamber and eventually out of the hive since they are likely to be messy and have lots of drone comb added once fully drawn out.

As you may have noticed in some of the photos, the house wasn’t quite fully abandoned – coming out from between the boards on the corner of the house was the entrance to another colony of bees living in the walls!  There were tons of bees coming and going from two different entrances, as well as many bees hanging out around the entrances and hundreds of dead bees on the windowsills inside the house.  I suspect that the bees I hived were from a swarm that issued from the hive living in the walls of the house.  There is a parking lot next to the house (where my friend parks who saw the bees) and I’ve been told that there have been bees living in the house for a few years now, and that the house might possibly be slated to be deconstructed next year.  If so it might be a great opportunity to do a club organized demonstration wall extraction.  Just a thought for the future.

After many trips up an down the ladder we were all done.  Whew!  I ended up with 5 full strung frames of brood and put them in a deep box with 5 other undrawn frames.  Excitingly, I found the queen (to exclamations of “I found the queen! I found the queen!”) with 2 combs to go and managed to grab her, putting her into the new hive myself, so I knew that I had the queen and was therefore able to be more confident that the bees would stay in their new home, which so far they have (writing this 2 weeks post removal).

The bees sitting outside of their new home.

I’ll end with two of my favorite photos, as well as another declaration of the many reasons that I love beekeeping!  Not only did I get to eat and share with friends some super fresh honey (a la hunter gatherer style) (yum yum yum!) but it as also just a beautiful experience that I would not have otherwise had.  It was a beautiful day, with fantastic company, and left me with just a great feeling overall.  This first photo I find particularly beautiful; the second I find just downright fun.  Both courtesy of my expert helper:

Bee Bar! : ) Cleaning up some spilled honey.

The Beauty of Beekeeping.

Hope you enjoyed and keep checking back for updates on the hives!


–Max : )

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Hive Check and Management – Effectively Honey Bound Bees (?)

Installing a nuc – removing queen cups before installing the nuc.

Hello!  We’ve been having beautiful summer weather with lots of flowers in bloom, and thus great weather I would think  for making honey!  Daily outside checks on the hives have shown lots of activity and bees can be seen all over the property working flowers.  Yay!

And a beautiful weather means beautiful days for checking the hives!  However a brief check of the hives last week revealed some issues that I sought advice on an addressed this weekend.

Minor issue #1: Earlier this year I caught a “swarm” that had begun building comb, hanging on the eaves of a garage.  I did it at night and for a while had been suspecting that I had not gotten the queen.  We had made up a series of nucs at Duane’s and he was kind enough to let me have one, which I brought home Friday night after visiting a friend in Geneva : ).  So first item of business for the day, installing this nuc!  The few remaining workers from the swarm had begun laying eggs and attempted to raise a queen, so before installing I went through and removed queen cups, then moved the frames from the nuc into their new hive.  They were looking strong and happy!

Lots of happy bees in a nice strong looking nuc that we made up a few weeks back.

The nuc frames had a nice solid brood pattern.

A worker bee hatching from her cell!

I made sure to find the queen to ensure that this time the hive would be queen-right.  She was nice, big and active, hopefully a good queen for years to come!

Her majesty with a retinue of attendant workers.

More major issue: Issue #2:

From there it was time to move over to my 2 stronger hives which originated from nucs installed in the spring.  Both of these hives have been going nice and strong with lots of bees. About 4 weeks ago now I went ahead and added a med. depth super to each hive full of frames with undrawn foundation.  Under one I put a queen excluder, leaving the other without as an experiment.  However frequent checks revealed that the bees were not moving up into either super, even after I removed the queen excluder from the other hive and despite both of their deep bottom boxes being full.  Hmmm…

I thus concluded that the bees were effectively honey bound.  Even though they had space they were ignoring the undrawn frames and filling every space they could in the bottom boxes with honey, slowly eliminating space for the queen to lay eggs.  I’m wating both excess honey and ever strong hives though, so I went in to try to chance this!

Opening up one of the strong hives, full of honey and bees!

One of many nearly full frames of capped honey! Yum yum!

Honey and nectar just starting to get capped.

Honey comb and bees are beautiful. One of many reasons that I enjoy being a beekeeper!

In Hive #1, Turtle Hive, from which the above photos come, the bees had filled the entire food chamber (top deep box) with honey, much of which was already capped!  (A side note on my hive naming: Each hive has a stenciled image on the front of it, which will become it’s name so that for note-keeping or when referred to in the blog it can be tracked).  In the brood chamber below it the frames were nearly solid brood, fantastic solid pattern and lots of eggs indicating a very much alive queen.  With the goal of getting the bees to move into the supers and continue drawing out comb I had two options: reverse the two boxes (bees often like to put honey above brood) or put some frames of brood or honey up into the supers, thus hopefully drawing the bees up.  Since I didn’t want to move the bottom box I went with the latter.  To do this required adding a second super since I have med. depth supers and deep brood/food chambers so that the deep frames would have enough space in the supers, with some ‘open’ space below them.

In Turtle Hive I tried just moving honey up into the supers, moving 3 frames of honey, partially capped, up into the supers and putting 3 undrawn frames down in their place.  All moved frames were in the middle of the boxes.

In Hive #2, Gecko Hive, both the food and brood chambers contained brood and honey, however I could see where the bees had begun to fill hatched brood comb with nectar.  There were no eggs in the upper box but in the bottom I found two frames full of solid egg pattern and larvae, so she too seems to still be going strong!  This time I moved 1 frame of honey and 2 frames of honey + brood up into the supers.  Each hive is now composed of 2 deep boxes with 2 med. depth supers on top.

Going deep into Hive #1 (Turtle Hive) to check for the queen / eggs. She is definitely there, lots of eggs!

Solid capped brood (center of frame) immediately surrounded by solidly capped honey (outside of frame). Hatched cells are being filled with honey, leaving the queen little room here to lay new eggs.

Brood and bees in Hive #2 (Gecko Hive).  Can you find the queen? (she is there : )

With all that rearranging done I re-assembled everything and stepped back from the hive with a great feeling.  The bees from the nuc could be seem flying about, presumably on orientation flights, while the others gathered about their entrances and resumed their work.  Throughout all of the working of the hives the bees were super calm, happily buzzing and going about their work.  I was wearing a full bee suit but two others present only had on veils (with t-shirts and shorts) and another with no veil, and no one got stung.  We all got to taste some suuuper fresh honey and since my hives are in the middle of a raspberry patch eat some raspberries as well.  In addition it was a beautiful day, if your like me I find the hives both beautiful and fascinating and I love the smell of a little fresh sumac smoke combined with the sweet smell of the hive and the breeze.  Ah yes this is why I love beeing a beekeeper!

This morning I went back out to check on the hives and all looked well from the outside with lots of bees coming and going.  I take a peak inside in the next few days to see if wax building has been stimulated, with the hopes of finding lots of new comb filled with honey!

My bee yard: The two strongest hives on the far right, from right to left Turtle Hive and Gecko Hive, then Cobra Hive (a swarm I caught this year, also looking good) and then the new nuc / re-queened hive, Iguana Hive. Go Bees!

Here’s to the continuation of a good beekeeping season!  As always let me know if you have any questions/ comments/ etc. and check back again!


–Max : )

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American Basswood or European Linden; What is the Difference?

Hi all,

Over the past week in NY I’ve noticed a ton of different flowers in bloom being heavily worked by honey bees (and all sorts of bees, insects, flies and moths).  Among these are milkweed, sumac, a huge patch of cilantro in our garden and what I casually refer to as basswood or linden trees.  However it has recently been brought to my attention that there are two species of linden / basswood to look out for, American Basswood and European Linden.  From what I can tell, it appears that one is in bloom right now and is going strong, while some are not fully open everywhere, and the tree is very abundant, but I cannot tell the difference between the two (yet!).  Here are some photos of bees working some of the trees yesterday evening, and then some of a tree with blooms that are not yet open.  If you can help me learn to distinguish the difference please let me know!


A tree in downtown Ithaca with blooms looking to be going past prime or already done, the ‘pea’ like fruit already developing.


A closer shot of some of the flowers.


Heart shaped, asymmetrical leaves.Image

A close up of the edges of the leaves.


The bees are definitely working the flowers.  Even though many of the flowers are past their prime they still had a very nice fragrance.



This is a different tree, one up in Lansing where the blooms are not yet open.  So what are the distinguishing differences other than the blooms are not open yet?


Flowers buds getting ready to burst.  Hope it makes for a good honey flow!


Incidentally, I hung a swarm trap in the tree before it had leafed out this spring and before I had identified it as a Linden / Basswood.  It is in an old hedge between fields and is a very large tree with multiple trunks.


I hope you enjoyed the photos and let me know if you have any insights, comments, questions, etc. and in the meantime I will continue to take a closer look at the trees and look for more differences as they continue to bloom!



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Bees from the West to East


I know that it has been a while since I have posted, but in the interim I have gathered many photos, experiences and much more bee knowledge that will make it on here in due time!  For now though some photos, updates and present stories, having just returned to Ithaca from a crazy trip out West!

CrazyI say?!  Well, that is subjective so I’ll let you decide for yourself.  What I did just return from though is a trip to CA, AZ, UT and CO to crew for an ultraendurance bike event called Race Across the West (RAW), a part of Race Across America (RAAM), which is a bike race from California to Colorado or Maryland, respectively.  As crew you are in charge of driving, navigation, nutrition management and everything related to getting your rider safely from start to finish.  Last year I crewed for a 4-person RAAM team, but the real essence of the event is in the solo division and this year I returned to crew for a successful RAW solo attempt, 860 miles from Oceanside, CA to Durango, CO in 3 days, 4 hours and 53 minutes.  Way to go Jim Ryan and a stellar crew!!!  Bees and beekeeping followed me thought the trip, though, so I’ll just give one more congratulations here to Jim and the rest of the crew (!) and now I’ll transition to how this journey of a trip connected to bees.

I began by flying into San Francisco to visit my brother.  While there we went to a local farmer’s market where I got to try all sorts of desert and western flower honeys (unfortunately no pictures) before meeting up with Jim and driving down to the LA area.  Along the way we passed miles and miles of California agriculture along with huge stacks of beehives.  Again no pictures, but google commercial California beekeeping and it should give a  pretty good idea of the huge industrial scale some beekeepers are operating on out there.

In Oceanside I finally got my camera out for the bees.  There, less than 50 feet from the Ocean and the start line for the race I observed honey bees working the ubiquitous Ice Plant, Carpobrotus edulis, an invasive which grows all along the coast.

From there we headed East into the hot desert, where the temperature would remain above 100F until we reached Colorado.  As we entered Arizona we became surrounded by magnificient tree-like Saguaro cacti, a personal favorite.  395 miles into the race at Time Station 8 (every ~50 miles there is a time station where you call in to report your progress) there was a particularly massive Saguaro cacti:

These giants can weigh over 6 tons, sometimes over 100lbs per foot.  Not to be messed with!

To my surprise not only were they were in bloom, making for a magnificient sight against the blue desert sky, but they were also being worked on by honey bees!  The blooms open at night and are largely pollinated by bats, but during the day bees and other insects will work the flowers as well.

It was neat getting to see bees work on flowers so different from those back here in upstate NY.  As we stopped on roadsides along the way I also saw bees on more familiar flowers such as yellow sweet clover, white clover and various berry plants.  Eventually we got to Colorado, and from there I flew back to Ithaca to complete a great trip!

Thoughts of escaping the heat though were premature! (Actually, to be honest I love the heat)  Now not only is it nearly 100 out, but the humidity is high as well!  The bees seem to be loving it though and the hives are looking strong!  For me now I just need to find a swimming buddy and some good shade to lay down in with some honey sweetened iced tea : ).

An update on my apiary from the last post: now in addition to the two nuc started colonies I have caught two swarms.  The swarm on the far left is looking suspiciously weak, and since I caught it as it was getting dark I’m still not sure if the queen is there or not.  The hive to left of it though is looking pretty good.

The two nuc-derived colonies are looking very strong though!

My plan now is to open up the hives this coming week/ weekend and do a full inspection for eggs, queen, brood pattern, disease hive strength, etc. and to add at least one medium depth honey super to each of the two strongest nuc-derived hives.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

Thanks for reading and I’ll try not to allow too many long intervals between future posts so continue to check in.  Until next time, happy beekeeping!



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The Bees Are Here – Installing the bees!

Shout it to the mountain tops, the bees are here!

In case it is not already evident, nearly everything bee related makes me super excited, so while I will refrain from doing so nearly every statement could be closed with an exclamation point – ! Yes! So yes and yippie the bees have arrived, they safely made it through their journey to their new home and I am now an official beekeeper!  Or as some might prefer beefriender : ).

Last Wed. night I drove out to Wixsons in Dundee, NY as the sun was setting and picked up two nucs that I ordered through them from Kuticks bees.  It was a spectacular evening to drive through the fingerlakes region and on my way over it began to drizzle lighthly.  This was actually perfect since it meant all the bees would be home and ready to move.  Nearly all went smooth, ecxewpt I did drive out in our family hatchback, a Honda Fit, meaning that the bees would be riding home in the cabin of the car with me.  Yes, two boxes each containging ~6,000 bees, tucked behind the passenger seat.  They were not screened in and I was talked out of plugging the entrance with paper, not wanting to suffocate them, so I turned up the ac and headedback towards fair Ithaca.

Well, you may have guessed it but I didn’t get far before there was a buzzing in the car – yup, a few bees decided to come out despite the cold ac to see what was up.  Only two or three were buzzing about, but it was not long before one got caught up in my hair and from there you can imagine, just like a cartoon I was rusing to pull over, jumping out and hopping about because there was a BEE IN MY HAIR! : )  This lovely lady panicked before I could get her out, and so there I was with a nice sting in the top of my head!  Doh, I saw that coming!  So I threw my shirt over the bees for the rest of the ride home and played them some Enya and Coldplay to calm them down (yeah, for reals).

This temporary discomfort was all off set though by one of the most spectacular double rainbows (DOUBLE RAINBOW!) that I have ever seen, cast by the setting sun into the light rain over Seneca Lake on a lush early summer evening.  Luckily I had the camera with me and did what I could to capture a fraction of its essence, which was truly a gorgeous site to be encompassed in:


It was pretty incredible, which is definitely the word of the week, and I would drive in a car full of bees to experience that nearly any day.

Well, from there I made it home in the dark without any further issues and took the bees out into the backyard where I set the nuc boxes on top of the previously set up hives.  I left them there for a few days to orient to their new homes, then on Sat. morning a few freinds came out and joined me and we transferred them from their 5 frame nuc boxes into the full 10 frame langstroth hives that will be their home for the rest of the summer, and hopefully for a long time!  I’ll be straight up honest and acknowledge that I can be a bit wordy, so for the rest of this post rather than write an entire narrative I’ll just put up some photos from the morning’s activity and explain different aspects of the process in more detail in future posts.  Enjoy!


Getting out the new bee suit!  Dang it is so clean and white; we’ll see how long that lasts!  (The one I wear regularly at Waid’s is nowhere near as crisp, but well used).

Not a bad fit (although not perfect, either. I’m too dang tall, but oh well because I love bees!) (and honey, too!).

Lighting up the smoker for the first time!

It too is super shiny!  I used dried sumac flowers and newspaper to light it – the sumac smolders nicely and gives off a pleasant, slightly sweet smelling smoke.  And since it grows along most upstate New York roadsides it is a good free, local fuel!


My apiary!  Two freshly painted and newly set up hives with two newly arrived nucs sitting on top, ready to install!  The beginning of what I hope to be many exciting years of beekeeping to come!


Action shot – Checking to make sure that the queen did not get left behind in the nuc box.  At this point the camera batteries went ka-poot, so that is all for now.  But check back in coming days for more details on smoker lighting, what nucs are, building the actual equipment, wiring frames, swarms etc.!  Hope you enjoyed and keep coming back – yay for beekeeping!



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The Bees Have Arrived!

Hi all,

Back from a trip to Maine (which was incredible, incredible!) and the bees are here!  As this is my first year actually managing my own hives in my own equipment I ordered 2 nucs to ensure that I would have bees to work with, although I do plan and hope to catch some swarms this season as well!  That said, the nucs are waiting for me to pick them up in Dundee, NY, which I am planning on doing tonight, and so it is time to really get this blog going as well as the bees!

I’ll be driving out to pick them up once the sun has set tonight (it is preferable to pick them up either very early in the morning or at night since the nucs are not screened in, and thus the bees can fly freely, so if you moved the hives during the day any foragers or bees out flying would be left behind).  The nucs consist of a box containing 5 frames of ~5,000+ bees, brood and some food stores along with a queen.  My plan will be to drive out and pick the bees up and bring them back to my place tonight, where I will set them on top of the hives that I plan to move them into.  Then, likely this coming Sat. morning due to scheduling I’ll don the bee suits and transfer them into their new hive with some undrawn frames (many people will add a few frames containing honey or already drawn comb for them, however these are my first hives so they will just receive frames with undrawn foundation).

I also spent my work day today working with Duane Waid setting up and installing 14 of the nucs that he ordered, and will have pictures from today as well as of my own hives once I really get this blog going and formatted as I like best!

Until then, yay the bees are here and if you are interested please do keep checking back as I improve this site and post new info!


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