I’ve been keeping bees for 4 years now. Between Darek and I, we manage 10-11 hives throughout neighborhoods in Chicago. In my time of keeping bees, I’ve been stung about 20 times. In the first couple years, reactions were local with redness and some swelling.
Towards the end of last year’s beekeeping season, I noticed my reactions to bee stings had been getting worse. To my understanding, they were still considered local reactions and not a sign of an allergy, however I did notice that reactions used to be a lot smaller and more local. For instance, when I get stung in the fingertip my whole hand swells up extending halfway down my forearm. Yes – this is considered a normal reaction.
This spring, I’ve been stung 3 times. The reaction from my first sting was not bad, but may have been because it had been 7 months since my last sting which lessened the reaction. Then last week a bee got under my jacket and stung me twice through my shirt. She did not lose her stinger on the first sting because the stinger did not fully insert into my skin. Swelling was mild and I felt fine, but hours later I started to have hives across my stomach. I actually didn’t notice, but Becky did. I didn’t think too much of it. In the above photo, this was right after the sting. The red mark was the second sting, the first was just below and a lot smaller. No hive reaction had yet occurred in this photo.
Days later after sharing this story with some friends at work, they had a bit of an intervention with me regarding their worries about me continuing to keep bees after hearing of my reactions to the stings. After further research I found that after having a reaction with hives, chances of an anaphylactic reaction greatly increase on the next sting. Pretty scary – and sad.
At the end of last season, I got a prescription for an epipen to have it, but never filled it. I will now be filling the prescription as I am convinced I have developed an allergic to bee stings. I might add that I wear full gear- hooded jacket, gloves, gaiters around my ankles. But it is inevitable that you get stung. In fact, I don’t get stung while inspecting, it is usually after I walk away from the site and brush off and remove my gear or get into my car.
Going forward, I have an appoint with an Allegist/Immunologist at Northwestern who may be able to get me on a bee therapy plan where I receive bits of allergens over a period of time (I’ve read anywhere from 12 months to 5 years). There is also something called rush immunology, which would take affect quicker but not last as long, still requiring the long term therapy.
Here I had two bees crawl up my pants and had to remove my pants temporarily. This was before I knew I was allergic. Boy that would not have been good!
I’ve grown quite fond of beekeeping and don’t want end my adventures, but also don’t want to put my life at risk!
Some newly installed bees building foundationless comb. Hard at work!
Here is some more newly built comb but it was between frames. It is referred to as burr comb. We made use of this and reinserted it into another empty frame.
Another fascinating observation- here are two queens from separate hives. The one on the right is far darker than the light colored one on the left. This is probably the darkest queen I have every come across.
When we received our new bees this year, we picked up 6 packages from Lee Heine in Waterton, WI. Darek and I drove up there one morning, loaded them up, and headed back to Chi-town for the installations.
For this method of installation, I placed the package directly in the hive in place of 10 frames. It was too cold to do the traditional pouring of bees. I would later return to the site and remove the empty package from the hive.
This is what you see more of for package installations. You’ll notice I left the frame after pouring because things got a little crazy. I was able to pour this one because at this point in the day, things warmed up a bit and the sun was shining. If I could get the package in there and not need to disturb them again for a while, that would be great.
And finally this is a queen cage covered in bees. The bees are simply attracted to the pheromone scent of the queen are probably trying to tend to her with food and cleaning. Wouldn’t that be nice!
It looks as if Spring is here, or at least on the horizon. No doubt we’ll have a few more cold days, maybe even a bit of snow here and there. Nonetheless I am ready for another season of beekeeping and gardening in Chicago.
This past weekend it was warm enough for me to check on all of my bees for any signs of life and here is where I netted out.
Active hives going into winter: 7
Surviving hives: 4
Hives lost: 3
Ok, 4 out of 7 hives is not terrible. Obviously, I’d like to see them all survive. Last year I had 2 out of 4 hives survive. The year before I had 0 out of 2 survive. So the numbers are improving. I think we can attribute this to a few things. First, we had a good summer of nectar flow and bees had plenty to store in 2014. Secondly, they had more frames of wax already built from the season before. This allows the queen to get started laying eggs quickly and not needing to wait for the workers to build cells, thus allowing the population to grow strong quickly. And then there were a number of different techniques we tried like putting a quilt box on the hives to control moisture, wrapping the hive with pink foam insulation, and closing up the screened bottom board. I’m not sure if any of those really had a positive effect on them, but they were worth trying.
We are still not yet out of the woods. We need to make it to a point in Spring where nectar is flowing freely and pollen is readily available. Until then, I will supplement the live hives with honey from the dead hives and potentially fondant or 1:1 simple syrup.
Another dead hive. I have not thoroughly gone the this hive, but we did notice the inner cover had potentially shifted during the winter creating a large gap on two sides which would create quite a draft for the bees to resist. However, seeing as they were towards the top of the hive makes me think they either ate through all their honey (and starved) or they left honey lower in the hive but by the time they were too far from it, they couldn’t collectively move down.
Looking ahead I would like to repopulate my fleet of hives back to 7. I may purchase 2 packages to replace 2 hives and then try splitting a successful hive of mine into 2 colonies. There are risks and challenges with splitting. For example, a split colony might not be able to produce a new queen for a number of reasons and the population would simply dwindle to nothing. Also, the parent hive with the existing queen may suffer from the population decrease and eventually collapse.
In addition to my 7 langstroth style hives, my beekeeping buddy Darek and I will be starting a top bar hive together. Top bar hives are a more natural approach to beekeeping. They do not use foundation and allow the bees to build up their comb completely from their own wax. Top bar hives best replicate how the bees would exist in nature (say, in a hollow tree). I do not intend to harvest honey from this and use it more as an observational and educational tool. I may take a bit of cut comb honey. More pictures will come as we build it and install bees.
Here are some dead bees in position where they were clustered. You can see they easily had access to honey.
I need to consider what to with all this leftover honey that the dead hives didn’t consumer over winter. It is still delicious and as fresh as ever. I probably have 6 supers of honey, which could be over 100 lbs of honey. I will certainly use it to supplement my other hives, but I may consider harvesting a few frames.
Here is another potential problems some beehives face. As we had the apiary fenced in to direct the flight of bees during the summer, we knew it had the potential to collect snow and block the entrance to the hive. As things warm up, the bees need to take flight and relieve themselves. Sometimes it takes snow a while to melt out of the sun. This could trap the bees inside. Luckily, this hive has survived to this point. In fact, the snow potentially provided a wind break to the colony.
Looking forward to posting more this season as last year I was kept busy in the field. Hopefully I’ll be able to share more happenings with you.
Typically, I’m used to presenting to clients in the design industry, pitching ideas, and preparing to field questions around consumer needs, brand relevance, cost, and manufacturing. Today I spoke about beekeeping to a 2nd grade class from Tolcott Elementary School in Ukranian Village here in Chicago.
As I was heading over to meet them at the Met West Community Garden, where I keep two hives, the thought crossed my mind that I should be prepared to speak about beekeeping to 2nd graders, not adult professionals who have business goals in mind. I thought “Ok, so these are 7-8 year old kids, I need to get them engaged. I’ll start by asking them questions about honeybees to see what they know and get them interested.” I was prepared with props like a hive body with 10 frames of built out wax, burrcomb, some capped honey, a couple hive tools, a couple pairs of gloves, and a couple bee veils and helmets for them to try on.
I discussed with the teacher to be there at 9:30am to speak on beekeeping. When I arrived, the students were calmly sitting on the brick patio listening to a fellow gardener speak about gardening. As I approached I could hear a couple students shout “Look it’s the beekeeper!” As I respectfully stayed towards the back of the group to let the speaker finish, one student came up to me asked “Are you Mr. Kyle?” I laughed and said “I sure am.” A few students started flooding me with beekeeping questions when the teacher finally said, “Ok, a few more questions with the gardener before we get to the beekeeper. Let’s listen up. Any more questions about gardening?” He calls on a student “Yes-“ The student asks, “Why do you use smoker for the honeybees?” The students were pretty anxious to hear about beekeeping.
Time to see what these kids knew about honeybees. I asked them “What do honeybees do?” A few hands shoot up. Trying hard not to call on the student waving his arms in my face, I call on a girl towards the back. “They make honey!” “Good, what else do they do?”
Another student says, “They collect nectar”
“Very good, and where do they collect that nectar from?”
A few students shout “Flowers!” But I still call on a patient student who says “Umm, flowers”.
I go on to talk about who is in the hive, the queen, “the girls” (who are the worker bees), and “the boys” (the drones). “THE DRONES!! ARGGH” grumble a couple of the boys and then laughing. “They don’t do anything!” one of them shouts. While that was not entirely true, I was impressed.
Then I took questions while I started the smoker. I was just amazed at their interest and their very specific questions. They asked me about how there could be two queens in one hive, what is killing the bees, why do bees buzz, and other very inquisitive and informed questions. Apparently, they have been reading about bees and had spoke to a beekeeper last week over Skype or something. As I continued to take questions, the teacher finally said “They could ask you questions for the rest of the day, let’s just take a couple final questions.”
We finished off by passing around my tools and gear, which the kids loved trying on. Of course there was that one student who kept asking to wear the beesuit I was wearing, who grabbed my hot lit smoker, and was running around with my sharp hive tool, but other that the kids were delightful. A couple students even said “I want to be a beekeeper!”
Next week I think we have 1st graders coming through.
Spring is finally here. It did snow today, but Spring is here. Last month we hit a warm 50 degrees and I was able to peek in at my three hives. My hive on the roof was alive and active that day. Success! Unfortunately, the two hives at the community garden did not make it through our brutal winter. I was disappointed and left the cleaning of the dead bees for another day. After a couple weeks without cleaning, mold quickly began to grow. Now not only did I have a mess on my hands, but 8-10 of my frames were molding. In order to remove the mold, I had to destroy a lot of built out wax that the bees spent a lot of effort to make.
This season I will be working with the help of an aspiring beekeeper, Darek. He’s already helped me on inspections and building equipment to replace molded parts. One of my goals this summer is to catch a swarm, either with a bait hive or by removing a swarm. A bait hive is essentially a welcoming home for any colony looking to move. More specifically, it is a box with some frames in them with a scented lure. I will likely use lemongrass oil on a Q-tip as it replicates the pheromones of a queen. Swarming colonies can smell this up to a couple miles away. Hopefully this summer we will be able to catch Darek his own hive.
These past few months I’ve been building new equipment. I have three new hives I am adding to my fleet in Chicago.
Two hives will be placed at the Roots & Rays Community Garden in Pilsen. One hive will be placed in the yard of my friends the Spiewak brothers.
Here are some of the bees’ new neighbors.
While I am installing these three hives, I will also be replacing two hives at the Met West Community Garden in Ukrainian Village. In total I will be installing five 3lb packages of bees. They should be coming any day now!
To get my surviving colony through this cool part of Spring I have prepared some fondant for them as their honey resources have run low. By feeding them a drier form of sugar, it prevents them from needing to fly and relieve themselves.
My hive was loving the fondant. They consumed a whole plate worth in a matter of days. My hive finished three plates worth of fondant before Mike’s hive even finished one plate. His hive population is approximately half the size of my hive.
Mike’s hive is hanging on. They have a very small population, but hopefully they will build back up quickly. You can see here there are probably 6-8lbs of dead bees sitting at the bottom. There were so many dead bees that they actually blocked the entrance to the hive. The live bees were able to wedge their way through the screened bottom board to exit the hive before we cleaned out the dead bees.
More to come soon on the arrival of the new packages!
When most people think about beekeeping, the big harvest is for the honey. Another byproduct of honeybees is of course beeswax. Beeswax is popularly used in candles, soaps, beauty products, and even as a wood finish. To obtain clean, pure beeswax, it is actually quite a laborious process.
It all starts during the honey extraction process. First, in effort to expose the honey, the wax caps are cut or scrapped off each cell. I like to scrap them into a tupperware container to collect them for later.
Last year when Mike and I extracted honey from our hives, I saved all the wax in a sealed bucket until now. Again this year Mike and I collected the beeswax during the extraction process. When you collect the wax you get everything that was in the wax including bee parts, honey, pollen, and propolis. Before beeswax is usable, it must be rendered to a clean and pure form.
As with everything in beekeeping there are different ways to achieve the same result. Because this was my first time rendering beeswax, I didn’t want to invest heavily in equipment or mess up the kitchen and cooking utensils. Instead I took the approach of creating a solar wax melter.
What I used for this was:
– a cheap styrofoam cooler
– a large ziploc container
– a sheet of acrylic (or plexiglass)
– aluminum foil
– duct tape
– a paint strainer (or panty hose)
I put the ziploc container in the strainer and tied the end off. The top needs to be pretty tight to prevent the wax on top from sagging into the melted wax. I then lined the styrofoam cooler with tin foil to reflect the sun’s rays.
I put as much beeswax as I could fit on top of the strainer and into the cooler. Then I cut the acrylic sheet down to size to act as the lid for the cooler, allowing sun rays in.
By duct taping the acrylic to the cooler, I have created a sun oven.
I know it’s hard to imagine in our current winter weather, but if you remember back to the hot summer days of August, there were many days that were perfect for solar wax melting.
Here you can see the mesh has filtered out all of the old wax, pollen residue, and any bee parts that were stuck in the wax.
As we see on the inside, it appears we have some clean wax and dark honey!
The amount of beeswax you harvest depends on what style of honey extraction you use. Because we rent and use a centrifuge to extract the honey, we are able to keep most of the comb in tact and simply scrap and remove the wax cappings. Alternatively, some people prefer the method known as crush and strain. In this method, you remove all the comb from the honey frame into a bowl or bucket and crush the comb and strain the honey. The problem with this method is that by destroying all that wax comb to access the honey, you are creating a lot more work for the bees to rebuild next time they want to store honey. Not only are you creating more work for them, but they must use precious resources to create new wax. For every 1oz of beeswax created, honeybees must consume about 6oz of honey for energy. On the positive side, this method requires very little additional equipment to be purchased or rented.
Nothing goes to waste. We were able to reclaim about 32 oz of honey that was caught up in the wax. Because this went through my solar over, it is no longer considered raw. I’ve started branding this as “cooking honey” due to the fact that it went through a heating process just as you would when using honey to cook. The color of the honey also became darker as it was heated.
In my harvest, I only ended up with about 2lbs of beeswax. This will go a lot further in making beauty products as opposed to something like candles. In my next post, I will share what I ended up doing with most of the beeswax.
I’ve been a bit delayed on posting about our rake from this summer. So here it is. This summer was a good summer to be a beekeeper.. for the most part. What a rainy season we’ve had, bouncing back from the terrible drought last year. While I took a significant amount of honey (23+ pounds), I could have had more if I did not have queen issues with both of my hives. At least this year the bees started with fully built comb in their frames from the work of the bees last year.
As I had mentioned, between my two hives I was able to take over 23 pounds. My friend Mike has the same amount of hives and was able to take almost three times that amount at 65 pounds. There are many factors and guesswork associated with why this might be. For one thing, location and available resources play a key role as to how much honey they forage. However, my hive and Mike’s hive are both on my roof right next to eachother. So that is not likely the difference maker. Sometimes it is just the productivity level of the bees from the genes they have received from their ancestors. While Mike and I both got our bee packages and queens from the same place, I happened to receive faulty queens for both of my hives. So, at a key point in the season when the bees should have been out foraging for the vastly available nectar, my bees were busy requeening the hive.
In this process, they must remove the current queen, transfer one of her eggs to a queen cell, and rear the new queen. Once born, the virgin queen must take a successful mating flight, return to the hive and start laying eggs. After the gestation period of about 21 days, new foraging bees will begin to emerge. This whole process can take anywhere from 3-5 weeks. In the meantime, no new bees are being born and the population takes a dip. With less workers, there is less production – simple as that.
Regardless, it was still a lot of honey we took. If you recall, last years harvest was about 1/3 of this years and we only took the honey because the hive had died. This harvest translated into 32-8oz jars, 38-4oz jars, and 3-16oz jars (our personal stash). I plan to leave each hive with about 60-70 pounds of honey to eat over winter.
My 23 pounds of honey were made up of 10 or 11 full frames of capped honey. I did have 1 foundationless frame that I was able to make cut comb honey out from.
Here you see the results: two nice containers of 5″x5″ cut comb honey. Delicious.
Over at Mike’s garden, his hive was super productive this year. However, for some reason they were much more aggressive than any of our other hives. Again, due to genetics. And that’s right.. there is a guy crouching there in a t-shirt and shorts. He was actually trying to get stung by the bees as a therapeutic measure (apitherapy). He lucked out and got stung 3 times as we stole honey.
As we had taken many frames out of the hive, we left a lot of empty space. The bees filled this in with bees and wax.
Here you can see the wax that they’ve built just within 24 hours of the frames being absent. This is a good example of their productivity.
As we moved honey frames around we accidentally burst some comb, spilling honey. No worries, the bees flew in to clean up after us. Nothing will be wasted.
Here Mike and I examine a frame we’ve uncapped, discussing how viscous the honey is this year.
And there’s the pure honey coming out of the extractor. There are bits of wax, bee parts, and pollen that will be filtered out.
Then finally onto the jarring. We washed all jars in the dishwasher in scolding hot water. Even if there was bacteria in the jars, honey is naturally anti-bacterial and would not allow the bacteria to spread.
Nothing beats honey like this- fresh, golden, delicious, raw.
Here is one of our 8oz jars.
Thanks for reading. Hopefully you were lucky enough to pick up a jar of our honey before we sold out in 3 days!
Over at the garden, we’ve encountered a number of issues this summer including a swarming hive, a queenless hive, and a virgin queen that missed her mating window. While we may be losing one hive, we were able to split a very strong hive into two hives about a month ago.
Typically, what happens is that the hive will become so strong and full of resources that they decide to swarm and reproduce as I’ve talked about in previous posts. As I noticed my hive was preparing to swarm, I decided to beat them to it and simulate a swarm by splitting the hive in two. Ideally, you take half the hive which includes frames of honey, frames of eggs, frames of larvae, and frames of capped brood to start a split hive. It is important to take bees in all stages of brood development to ensure that there have a consistent build up in population and avoid any dips in numbers.
What was unusual about my split is that I believed that not only did my bees want to swarm, but they also wanted to replace the current queen. I believe I had a faulty queen in both of my hives (roof & garden) due do negligent treatment from my bee supplier. If you remember, in my roof hive, they replaced the queen as well.
Luckily, when I was preparing to split, I spotted a virgin queen. You can tell that she is a virgin because her abdomen is short and not engorged with sperm glands from male bees.
Actually, after spotting her I decided I would not split the hives assuming she had killed the other unborn queens. The day before splitting I had done an inspection and found at least a dozen capped swarm cells.
You can see in the photo above, the queen never emerged from this cell. Instead, the virgin queen stung her through the cell wall, killing her. The worker bees must have been quick to remove her carcass.
By the time I made it down to the bottom super, I found that the virgin queen had destroyed most of the other capped queen cells with the exception of a few she missed.
Having found queen cells still in tact, I planned to do the split once again. However, there were not nearly as many queen cells as I had spotted the day before. The virgin queen may have emerged from one of these and killed a few off. It is also possible that the worker bees aborted some of them.
So treating the virgin queen as if she was the mother queen, I moved her to the split along with many of her undeveloped sisters (the worker bees, of course). After setting the hive up with the apiary, I did my best to make sure they had an even amount of resources. My hope at this point was that the split hive bees would acknowledge this as their new home and not retreat back to the parent hive. To help this, I put obstacles in front of the entrance to cause the bees to do reorientation flights. This was somewhat successful.
I was also hoping that the virgin queen would take a successful mating flight. Additionally, over in the parent hive, I was hoping a new virgin queen would emerge from one of the queen cells and also take a mating flight. Splitting hives is never guaranteed. A new queen might not emerge, might not mate, or might get killed on her mating flight (tasty snack for a bird).
Usually one hive contains the mother queen bee and the other contains her daughter queen bee. In my situation since the mother queen bee was rejected and probably destroyed, these two hives are actually sister queen bees.
I am happy to report that I saw signs of healthy mated queens in both hives. The older sister’s name is Beeatris II and the younger one is Gabee. The queen on my roof is Beeyonce II. The split hive was a little low in numbers, just as I had expected. To give them a boost, I took two frames of capped brood from my roof hive and put them into the split hive.
Hopefully they continue to rake in the honey and build up strongly before winter!
Oh the good times.. when the queen was laying and the worker bees were bringing in honey and pollen. Where did those times go? Okay, that is a bit dramatic. In reality, this summer has the potential to create some strong colonies and produce lots of sweet, sweet, honey.
*Over at the garden, we’ve already dealt with Spencer’s hive swarming. My hive has had a great start to the beekeeping season with a few issues along the way.
All the rain we have been having has been great as the bees have been raking in the nectar and making honey.
Before installing this hive, I converted my solid bottom board into a screened bottom board. This allows better airflow in the hive and also helps control varroa mites. When the varroa mites fall off a bee, rather than climbing back up and into the brood chamber, they fall through the screen and out of the hive. Unfortunately, the screen mesh I installed was just big enough for bees to squeeze through when entering and exiting the hive. When they squeeze through, the mesh scrapes their pollen baskets and flicks the pollen granule to the floor. What you see in the photo above is a pile of pollen under the hive. There has been a lot of pollen this year and I know they have also brought pollen in from the front, so I am not too concerned.
Bee pollen is actually a super nutrient. Some people take bee pollen as a natural energy supplement. It also has a very interesting taste and texture. The bees won’t recollect the pollen once it has fallen on the ground. Rather than let this pollen go to waste, I collected most of it and put it in a jar in my fridge that I snack on from time to time. Just another delicious byproduct of beekeeping.
Here is a great example of a good laying pattern. You can see a little white rice-shaped egg in each empty cell. When a healthy queen is laying properly, the pattern is densely clustered, with one egg per cell.
The egg develops into a larvae and eventually capped with wax. The capped larvae is the final stage of brood before hatching into a baby bee. Again this is a very dense pattern, which is great.
Honey is also capped with wax. After the bees bring in nectar, they wait until they have the right level of moisture in the cells before capping it off, which is when it is officially considered honey.
With a hive is thriving and doing great with resources, it is only natural that the bees start to consider swarming. Here are two queen cups the bees have created in preparation to swarm. Looks like I will have some work ahead of me.
The summer solstice has passed and I continue to see a lot of new things from the bees and continue to learn.
In the first few inspections of the hives, things couldn’t have looked better. I have 20 frames that already have comb built in each hive. This saves the bees some work as they begin foraging for nectar and pollen.
Initially, both queens were laying eggs like pros- very dense patterns of eggs and looking really healthy. However, the queen on my roof has since had some troubles. In fact, as of now I can confirm her absence. Three weeks ago I did an inspection and could not find the queen, but more importantly, I did not see any eggs. I did see some larvae, which tells me she was there days ago, but eggs would have been evidence that she was present. In my inspection two weeks ago and the one I did last week there were certainly no eggs and no queen.
There were some queen supersedure cells (as seen in the middle of the photo above), indicating the worker bees believe the queen is failing and want to replace her. Initially, I thought they were preparing queen cells to swarm, but now those cells are gone and only the supercedure cells remain.
I chose not to interfere and let the bees do what is best for themeselves. I was hoping the supercedure cells would result in a healthy queen bee. The only way for the bees to raise a new queen is to take a female egg laid by the previous queen and implant it into a queen cup.
Lo and behold, in my last inspection I spotted the new queen! She is a virgin queen at the moment, but soon she will take her first mating flight. If everything goes right she will start laying within 2-3 weeks.
Before spotting the queen I came across this one bee getting a lot of attention from the others. At first I thought I may have found the queen, but then I noticed the poor bee was paralyzed in her back portion of her body. The others are simply trying to help.
If the bees were unsuccessful at rearing a new queen, I could have ended up with a laying worker. Worker bees only lay drones (males), which are not productive for the hive other than mating with the queen. So this would mean the downfall of the colony.
Alternatively, I could have ordered a queen for $30 plus a rush delivery fee by mail and try to have her accepted by the worker bees. There’s always the chance they would reject and destroy her. Or a queen might have been born without me knowing and would kill the new queen. So I decided let the bees sort it out and that’s exactly what they did.
Here is a drone as he emerges from his birth cell. Those are some big eyes he has.
There is still a frame of capped brood from the previous queen, which gives me hope that there will still be enough bees to nurse the brood the new queen lays. Typically, the lifespan of summer bees are around 4 weeks. The gestation period of a honeybee is about 21 days. This means that there will be a lull in bee population for a few weeks while my new queens eggs/larvae are developing.
I really need this queen to get productive- and quick.
At least my bees are not likely to swarm at this point. They are pulling in nectar like crazy and I would love for this to continue. This could be a good year!
Hoping for the best!