Yes, it’s possible. 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 a dozen times. In the first couple years, reactions were local with redness and some swelling.
Towards the end of last year’s beekeeping season, I thought my reactions to bee stings were potentially 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, which is very normal. 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 present.
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 it is possible to develope an allergic reaction 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 as a beekeeper. 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.
After this occurance, I made an appointment with an Allegist/Immunologist at Northwestern. Her opinion on it based on the photo and description I shared with her was that I was not allergic, but yes an allergy is possible to develop. Those who are allergic can start a bee therapy plan where they 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. 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!
As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have started a hive in a community garden this spring. Following the installation on my roof, Mike and I headed over to the Met West Garden with the remaining package of bees to do the installation. This was very similar to our earlier installations.
After removing the queen cage from the package, I replaced the cork with a marshmallow that the worker bees will eat through and release the queen on their own. You can see in the image that she is contained on the inside of the screen. A worker bee is on the outside tending to the queen. Given that the bees have spent several days, maybe even a week in the package, they have started to build some burr comb on the outside of the queen cage. The queen’s pheromones tell the bees where home is, so naturally if the queen is trapped in this small cage the bees will start building their home around the cage.
After removing the can of sugar syrup from the package, there remained a cluster of bees hanging to the bottom sucking for some syrup.
Here I am wedging the queen cage between the frames.
After placing the queen cage in the hive, I dumped most of the bees on top of her so they know where she is and will keep her warm.
Again we left the package in the hive for a day or two to allow all the bees to come out of the package and into the hive as opposed to leaving it in front of the hive. This way they are less exposed to the cold weather and make it into the hive with no problem.
My hive at the garden is right next to Spencer’s hive. It will be interesting to track the development of the two hives given that my hive had 2 full supers of built out comb with honey and pollen stores while he is starting fresh with empty frames. Typically starting from scratch in a hive’s first season won’t produce any honey for harvest. I am hoping that since my hive has a bit of head start, we will see some honey this year.
Special thanks to Mike for taking some these pictures, which came out great. In this last image, one of the bees is clinging to my windshield as I drove away. I guess she was already attached to me and sad to see me go 😉
This Spring I started a new honeybee hive at the Met West Community Garden where I will also have a plot to garden. Over the winter I had contacted a handful of local community gardens in hopes of starting a new hive. Coincidentally, Met West had been recently talking about getting bees for the garden. The above photo is of the site where the bees will be located. You will see in later posts how we have fenced off the bee area with bamboo fencing.
The idea of having bees was put to a vote among the garden members and it was almost unanimously approved. The garden will actually have 2 hives. I will manage one hive while mentoring another beekeeper who is starting his first hive. His bee package came first and we installed it smoothly. It was so nice to see bees flying around again!
As for my hive, I decided to build it from scratch. With the help of my buddy Mike Hansen, I built 5 hive supers. He is in all the pictures because I was the one taking them.. also because he did most of the work ; ) Hah, thanks Mike!
The building process took 4 or 5 sessions of a couple hours of work. I selected to use a mid-level quality pine wood as I do not need premium wood for a hive. Looking back there are many things I would do differently in building the supers.
For example, rather than teeth the edges of the wood together, I would simply miter the edges.
This is how we cut the teeth.
Mike matching up the teeth edges- ready to be glued and nailed.
Everything came together pretty smoothly, with no major hickups. I was very happy with them.
After building the supers, I stained them with a semi-transparent white. I also created a stencil of the garden logo and some bees to paint on the hive. Unfortunately, my can of spray paint was clogged because it was so old. You cannot buy spray paint in the city, so until I make it out the burbs to buy some, I’ll have to hold off on the stencil.
I decided to buy the inner cover and telescoping cover because we had enough on our hands already. I had a spare bottom board and simply converted it to a screened bottom bottom.
I’m excited to have more than 1 hive going (one on my roof, one in the garden). It will be interesting to see their differing activity and hopefully the hive in the garden will increase the crop yield. Looking forward to it.
The honey is here! Well, actually it’s been here since the fall, I just have not harvested it until now. Originally I was not going to take any honey from the bees, but since they died I figured I might as well make the most of it and get some honey.
This was the first time I had extracted honey. The extraction process requires some serious equipment if you want to do it right. We were lucky enough to have a connection with a more mass-produced local honey operation who they let us use their equipment. The extractor alone runs anywhere from $2000-4000. Yikes! Then there was the uncapping tub which goes for another couple grand. As small operation beekeepers, we were more than happy to have access to professional equipment.
After ridding the hives of dead bees, we began to examine each frame for capped honey and determine if the frame was worth extracting. Some frames had very little honey. Other frames had some honey and a lot of sugar syrup (fed to them in late fall). We didn’t use those because we wanted to keep our sugar syrup content to a minimum in our raw honey.
In total I took 5 frames of honey. One was nearly completely capped honey- the rest were anywhere from 50-75% capped honey. From Mike’s two hives he took 20 frames of honey, although some were from earlier in the summer when he pulled some honey frames. One of Mike’s hives had made it through the previous winter and started last spring strong with built out comb, honey reserves, and a good population.
After we had our honey frames collected, we set them aside until the morning that we would extract. The honey extraction was a laborious 5 hour process between the two of us. We suited up in hairnets and latex gloves. We sanitized the bucket and tap we would be extracting into.
To start, we uncapped the honey on all of the frames. To do this we used a heated knife and careful sliced away at the wax cappings to reveal our golden honey.
The wax cappings fell into a sort of trough that collected all of our wax throughout the process.
Once I had uncapped all of my frames, I inserted them into the 12 frame extractor. This machine uses centrifugal force to spit out all of the honey from the frames onto the walls of this giant stainless steel tank. At the bottom sits a tap where the extracted honey would dispense.
Look at it go!
From here the honey drained through a mesh filter removing any wax, bee parts, or other particles that shouldn’t be there. For me I had about 0.75 gallons of honey and it had mostly gone through the filter in about an hour or two. Mike’s filter for some reason took days for the honey to pass through.
Once our honey was in the buckets, we cleaned up and hit the road. I also gathered our wax cappings in a smaller bucket to be dealt with later. These cappings still need to be rendered in order to create usable beeswax. I could use the beeswax to make candles, lip balm, soap, lotion, or facial cream to name a few possibilities. This will be another project.
The next step was jarring the honey. In a last minute scramble for a bucket before extracting, I gathered a bucket and a tap from Brew & Grow in the West Loop. Unfortunately, the tap I put on the bucket was intended for bottling beer (meaning the opening was very small). This meant each jar of 4oz of honey took 15 minutes to fill. So this took a while.
By the end of it, we totaled 26 jars of honey- 24- 4oz, 1- 5oz, and 1- 2 oz. The 2oz is for my mom when I go to visit as I can bring it as a carry-on under 3oz. Interestingly enough, days after jarring the honey it seems to have crystallized or creamed a bit as its settled. With that said, it is still extremely smooth- smoother than any honey I’ve bought before. This stuff is fresh!
Over time all honey naturally crystallizes. It’s still edible and delicious, just in a different form. You can even return it to liquid by heating it. However, if you cook the honey, you may kill the live enzymes and nutrients. I like to take a jar and put it in a bowl of warm water (almost boiling, but not). I leave it in there for a few minutes and even stir the honey, returning it to a liquid state.
Time to go eat some honey. Mmmm..