Tucking in our Bees for Winter

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Psalms from the Hive

by Jeannie Saum

Should we or should we notmuskoka trip day3 374

Insulate the hive and top?

Feed them syrup?

Block the wind?

What’s the best way 

For us to tend?

Clover, Bee, and Revery

Reverie (revery) –(n.) state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing; a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea

Last year ago in the fall, we argued back and forth about what to do to our bees to prepare for winter.  Just as every beekeeper you talk to has different ideas about how to prepare hives for winter, so, too, Steve and I had differing opinions.  We had lost 2 out of 4 the previous winter, and I thought we should do something proactive to the hives.  Steve, on the other hand, felt that if bees can survive in nature, in a tree, through the winter, that the less done to them the better.  Round and round we went over this.  Our county bee inspector came in the fall, and he felt the hives looked good, and that even the small hive might make it, since they would need less honey stores.  He made a few recommendations about how many boxes to reduce down to and how many frames of honey they would need.  In the end, Steve’s way won out.  We did nothing except leave honey in the hives and feed them some sugar syrup in the fall.

Winter came with a vengeance last winter, as you all may remember.  We had long periods of time with temperatures well below freezing, many days of below zero weather, lots of wind and snow.  Then suddenly, for a day or two, it would warm up to the 50’s and then – Wham! – back to below zero.  This weather played havoc on trees, shrubs, perennials and the bees.  

Bees stay warm in the winter by forming a tightly packed cluster around the queen.  By quivering their flight muscles to generate heat, they keep their cluster and the queen in the middle at close to a toasty 90º!  The bees in the outer layer stay between 48º to 57º.  The bees on the outer layer eat honey from the frames for energy, then move toward the center to get warmer, while the bees in the core move toward the outside to get honey.  But if the body temperature grows colder than 48º, they can’t move their flight muscles, and fall off the cluster and die.

Last winter, with the wildly fluctuating temperatures and the periods of bitter cold, our bees did not fair well.  When the weather warms up to 50º, the bees break cluster and go out for a cleansing flight (they do not defecate in the hive).  Then when the temperature drops rapidly to below freezing, as it did last winter, the bees often can not get the cluster formed and warmed quickly enough.  We lost all but one hive at both the Saum’s  and the Dotson’s apiaries.  We were bummed!  At $95 for a package of bees, beekeeping is an expensive endeavor, especially when they die every winter.

So, this year, Jeannie will get her way.  Doing nothing last winter resulted in a 92% loss, so th20140615_135218is year, we’re doing it my way!!  I wanted to try several things we have heard about at beekeeping conference we’ve been to this past year.  Steve and I made hive blankets on day on my lovely dining room table!  These are shallow boxes with a screen bottom and filled with wood chips.  They go on the top of the hive to catch condensation dripping from the lid.  This condensation  forms in the winter when the heated air from the cluster rises and hits the cold lid of the hive.  If this moisture drips on the bees, they die.  So we are hoping this blanket of wood chips will absorb the moisture and keep the bees dry.

One day in early November, Laurie and I went out and wrapped hives in black roofing tar paper, while Steve cooked more  sugar syrup for the bees.  The black paper helps the hive stay warm through solar gain from the sun on the black paper.  We had intended to staple the tar paper on with our pneumatic stapler, but found it went right through the paper.  So we ended up tying it on with string around the hive.   We added buckets of more syrup to feed until the temperature dropped below freezing, and then moved on to Laurie and Pete’s apiary to do the same.

A few weeks later, we added Styrofoam sheets inside the lids, to further insulate, and drilled a top entrance hole in each hive to help with ventilation – to further control the moisture.  Steve and I also added a T-post and tarp wind break about 3 feet behind the hives, on the west side.

I’ve heard a beekeeper say that the bees are dying  a “death by a thousand cuts” – meaning that there are so many factors that hurt the bees from pollution to pesticides to weather, to lack of forage to viruses and mites, ,.   Hopefully, we have reduced the “cuts” a bit by preparing our hives with these winterizing tactics and are giving our bees a little better chance.

And now we wait…


 Deuteronomy 30

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.

16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them,

18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live

20 and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.


Spring is Finally Here

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Psalms from the Hive

by Jeannie Saum

Come out! Come out and play little bees!

The weather is warm.  There’s buds on the trees

Dandelions blooming, just waiting for you

And chickweed, and clover and dead nettle, too!

Clover, Bee, and Revery

Reverie (revery) –(n.) state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing; a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea


After a long and cold spring,  the weather has finally changed and warmer weather is here.  The bees can come out and gather pollen and nectar.  No more sugar syrup necessary.  Time to go inspect our 6 hives and see how they are doing.

Steve and I went out one morning while it was still relatively cool, since we always wear our bee gear and it can get hot under all that protection.  We gathered up some propolis traps, inner covers, a can for wax and a can for propolis, lit the smoker and headed down the yard.

Inspecting hIve 3

Inspecting hIve 3

As we inspected each hive, we removed the hive top feeders, looked for brood, larva, the queen, any problems like mites or beetles and just generally looked to see how the hive was doing.  If the hive was doing well, we put a propolis trap on top.  If the hive was not doing too well, we did not – figuring that we didn’t want the bees working on plugging up holes with propolis if they needed to be doing something else.

A frame of brood

A frame of brood

Of our 6 hives, we found 3 that were doing well, but could only find the queen in one.  We found no eggs in 2, couldn’t find the queen in either one, but did see larva. One of these hives had several empty queen cells, so we figure they re-queened.   We’ll check these 2 in a week to see if they have eggs.  One hive, our 8 frame that made it through the winter, did not have much of a bee population and we didn’t see any capped brood.   We think this hive either doesn’t have a queen or the queen is not laying.  This hive had the same queen since we got it 2 falls ago from OSU, so guess it is time to re-queen.  We had to order one that will be here in a week, from  our bee supplier.  Hope this hive can make it.

Honey in the corners, brood in the middle - perfect!

Capped honey in the corners.

The last chore on the list was to collect some bees in a jar for use in bee sting therapy.  I got our mason jar with a honey soaked coffee filter in it.  I pulled out the coffee filter and set it on top of the frames in one of the hives and left it.  Later in the day, when we headed down the driveway on an errand, I hopped out, pulled the coffee filter, now covered in bees, out, and put it in the mason jar.  Now we are ready for bee sting therapy!! More on that next time!

Romans 1

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.


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Psalms from the Hive

by Jeannie Saum

If you don’t watch them

Pay attention to signs

They’ll get crowded

And head for the pines!

Clover, Bee, and Revery

Reverie (revery) –(n.) state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing; a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.

the swarm in the hazelnut tree
the swarm in the hazelnut tree

And that is just what they did! Only it wasn’t the pines, it was the hazelnut trees!  One day, while Steve was out mowing the front yard around the hives, he made a second pass beside the row of hazelnuts trees and saw something that wasn’t there 5 minutes ago – a huge cluster of bees hanging from a branch about 7 feet up in the air.  He ran in to get me and anyone else in the house who would come out to see.  We all trooped out to stand around and look up at it and wonder what to do.  Steve was convinced that as fast as it had formed, it had to have come from one of our hives – most likely the 8 frame that had made it through the winter.  Truth be told, we still hadn’t established a routine schedule of inspection and had been kind of lax.  I’m not sure we would have even know the signs of swarming at that point.  There’s just so much to learn and remember.

Steve was all excited and pumped up about capturing this swarm.  He realized it would mean another hive to add to the apiary!  But how to do it?  Sure, we had read about it briefly in books, but it wasn’t one of those details we’d remembered all about.  Don’t know it ’til ya need it!  So back  into the house we trooped, to look it up on the internet!

After reading some how-tos and watching a few You-Tube videos, we started gathering supplies – an extra hive box a make shift bottom and top board (since we didn’t have a 5th set yet) a cardboard box, a sheet, and a ladder. And of course, we called our partners in crime, the Dotsons, and they rushed over to share in the excitement!  Then out we trooped, again.

Steve was going to try the process we had learned about online.  He climbed the ladder with the cardboard box and I spread the sheet on the ground in front  of the hive box and sandwiched one edge of it between the bottom board and hive box, making a wide sheet-ramp.  We didn’t yet have a bee brush, so Steve used his gloved hand and tried to brush as many bees as he could, off the swarm and into the box.  They didn’t cooperate very well and got MAD.  Steve got about 1/3 of them into the box and gave up.  The swarm was still a ways above Steve’s head, making this more difficult. So, he got down and dumped the box of bees on to the sheet.

bees marching up the sheet to the hive
bees marching up the sheet to the hive

The bees used the sheet-ramp to march up to the hive box and go in.  We didn’t know if Steve had gotten the queen, but theoried that if the worker bees had found this great new home, they would go back and signal to the queen and she would leave the swarm and follow them to the hive.  This theory proved to be in error, because after leaving them alone for an hour, we went back out to find all the bees back up on the swarm in the tree!! Man, you give ’em a beautiful new mansion and they don’t even appreciate it!

On to Plan Two.  The only other choice, we decided, was to cut down the branch the swarm was on , and shake it into the new hive box, much like you do with a package of bees.  The only problem was that the swarm was 7 feet up a tall, thick branch.  So, we had to wait for our son to get home and come down with his chain saw.  This proved to be the trick!

the swarm all settled in their new home
the swarm all settled in their new home

Nate came down about an hour later and with three of us holding onto what proved to be a very heavy branch, he managed to cut through it.  We tapped it several times over the open hive box, and then propped it over the box for a while.  We must have gotten the queen into the box, because this worked! After about an hour, most of the bees were happily in their new home and we had an extra hive!  Pete and Laurie, our techie friends, got it all on video and had it posted on Facebook before we were even done!

Psalm 91

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High  will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[a]
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;  his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

You will not fear the terror of night,  nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,   nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,  ten thousand at your right hand,   but it will not come near you.

You will only observe with your eyes  and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”  and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,  no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you  to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he[b] loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble,  I will deliver him and honor him.

16 With long life I will satisfy him  and show him my salvation.”

Bees on the Way

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Psalms from the Hive 

by Jeannie Saum

Strange boxes

Piled in the yard

Covered in paint that looks familiar.

Eager anticipation on husband’s face.

He can’t wait for bees to get here.

Clover, Bee, and Revery

Reverie (revery) –(n.) state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing; a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.

I came home from work today to see two piles of boxes stacked on the back porch.  I could hardly get in the door!  When I asked what the mess was, Steve informed me that he and the Dotsons had visited our local beekeeping supplier and bought their first hives, and hats, and 20140615_135218
gloves, and a smoker… and he got a hat with veil for me, too – just in case I would want to watch!!  AND THE BEES WERE ON THE WAY!!  Slapped in the face with reality – my husband has followed through and he is going to be a beekeeper.

The next warm days, Steve spent out on the screened porch painting the hive boxes with any leftover exterior paint he could find.  At least he found a use for ¼ full cans of paint.  Once this prep work was done, he proudly stacked the hive boxes with their frames about halfway down our 400 foot long front yard.

Now, he waits.  Our local beekeeping supplier takes orders from customers and drives down to Georgia each spring to pick up a truck packages1-300x225load of Italian bees and queens.  Steve missed the cut off for the first truck load, so he expects to get his bees in the second truck load a few weeks after the Dotsons.  He’s beside himself with excitement.  Bees are all he talks about and he wants me to be as excited as he is.  I work hard at staying aloof!



I do not need one more thing to do….I do not need one more thing to do…I do not ne..

 Psalm 62

1 For God alone my soul  waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

2 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

3 How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

4 They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. Selah

5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.

6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

7 On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah

Back from the Bee Yard

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 Psalms from the Hive

 by Jeannie Saum

Interesting!  Cool!

Guess what we did?

You should have gone!

Dad put in a bid

For a hive from the bee yard.

At the end of the season

It will be his to keep on pleasin’.

Clover, Bee, and Revery

Reverie (revery) –(n.) state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing; a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.


They’re back from the Bee Yard  – Steve, and our daughter and son, Sarah and Nate – and IMG_0022bouncing off the wall.  They are so excited by what they saw and learned and spent a full hour regaling me with their enthusiasm.   They watched hive inspections, learned to identify different members of the bee colony, looked for evidence of mites and moths and saw a bar top hive.  Many of the new hives were built by COBA and were up for dibs, to buy at the end of the season, after being used for instruction.  Of course, Steve had to have one,  the benefit being that at the end of the summer, he gets a strong healthy hive that has been well taken care of.  So come fall, he will be the proud owner of a third hive! It’s official, he’s in deep!

How to Perform a Basic Beehive Inspection

By Howland Blackiston from Beekeeping For Dummies, 2nd Edition

Beekeepers always follow certain procedures and always look for certain things. After a few visits to the hive, the mechanics of all this become second nature, and you can concentrate on enjoying the miraculous discoveries that await you.

Removing the first frame of the hive

Always begin your inspection of the hive by removing the first frame or wall frame. That’s the frame closest to the outer wall. Which wall? It doesn’t matter. Pick a side of the hive to work from, and that determines your first frame. Here’s how to proceed:

  1. Insert the curved end of your hive tool between the first and second frames, near one end of the frame’s top bar.
  2. Twist the tool to separate the frames from each other.
  3. Repeat this motion at the opposite end of the top bar.
  4. Using both hands, pick up the first frame by the end bars.
    removing a frame
    removing a frame

Now that you’ve removed the first frame, gently rest it on the ground, leaning it vertically up against the hive. It’s okay if bees are on it. They’ll be fine. Or, if you have a frame rest (a handy accessory available at some beekeeping supply stores) use it to temporarily store the frame.

Use your hive tool to pry the wall frame loose before removing it.

Working your way through the hive

Using your hive tool, loosen frame two and move it into the open slot where frame one used to be. That gives you enough room to remove this frame without the risk of injuring any bees. When you’re done looking at this frame, return it to the hive, close to (but not touching) the wall. Do not put this frame on the ground.

Work your way through all ten frames in this manner, moving the next frame to be inspected into the open slot. When you’re done looking at a frame, always return it snugly against the frame previously inspected. Use your eyes to monitor progress as the frames are slowly nudged together.

work through all the frames
work through all the frames

Holding up beehive frames for inspection

Holding and inspecting an individual frame the proper way is crucial. Be sure to stand with your back to the sun, with the light shining over your shoulder and onto the frame. The sun illuminates details deep in the cells and helps you to better see eggs and small larvae.

hold it up and look at fro all angles
hold it up and look at fro all angles

Here’s an easy way to inspect both sides of the frame:

  1. Hold the frame firmly by the tabs at either end of the top bar.
  2. Turn the frame vertically.
  3. Then turn the frame like a page of a book.
  4. Now smoothly return it to the horizontal position, and you’ll be viewing the opposite side of the frame.

Knowing when it’s time for more smoke

A few minutes into your inspection, you may notice that the bees all have lined up between the top bars like racehorses at the starting gate. Their little heads are all in a row between the frames. Kind of cute, aren’t they? They’re watching you. That’s your signal to give the girls a few more puffs of smoke to disperse them again so that you can continue with your inspection.

Understanding what to always look for in your hive

Each time that you visit your hive, be aware of the things that you always must look for. Virtually all inspections are to determine the health and productivity of the colony. The specifics of what you’re looking for vary somewhat, depending upon the time of year.

Checking for your queen bee

Every time that you visit your hive you’re looking for indications that the queen is alive and well and laying eggs. Rather than spending time trying to see the queen, look for eggs. Although they’re tiny, finding the eggs is much easier than locating a single queen in a hive of 60,000 bees. Look for eggs on a bright, sunny day.

Storing food and raising the bee brood

Each deep frame of comb contains about 7,000 cells (3,500 on each side). Honeybees use these cells for storing food and raising brood. When you inspect your colony, noting what’s going on in those cells is important because it helps you judge the performance and health of your bees.

Inspecting the brood pattern

Examining brood pattern is an important part of your inspections. A tight, compact brood pattern is indicative of a good, healthy queen. Conversely, a spotty brood pattern (many empty cells with only occasional cells of eggs, larvae, or capped brood) is an indication that you have an old or sick queen and may need to replace her.

Recognizing foodstuffs in your beehive

Learn to identify the different materials collected by your bees and stored in the cells. They’ll pack pollen in some of the cells. Pollen comes in many different colors: orange, yellow, brown, gray, blue, and so on. You’ll also see cells with something “wet” in them. It may be nectar. Or it may be water.

Psalm 92

1 It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,

3 to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.

4 For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

5 How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!

Choices, Choices

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Psalms from the Hive

by Jeannie Saum

To go, or not to go?

That is the question.

Class in the Bee Yard tonight.

But grading and lessons are

Pressing down on me

Think I’ll stay home and fight

The piles.

Clover, Bee, and Revery

Reverie (revery) –(n.) state of dreamy meditation or fanciful musing; a fantastic, visionary, or impractical idea.

Yep, bees are interesting, but I can’t show too much enthusiasm, lest I get sucked into helping in this endeavor of Steve’s.  He’s going to a meeting of COBA in the OSU Bee Yard tonight with Pete and Laurie.  They’ll watch as Master Beekeepers instruct in the inspection and care of the hives.  And, he’s talked daughter Sarah (30) and son Nate (26) into going, too.   I suppose they’ll all go out to dinner afterward and have lots of fun.  Oh, well, guess I’ll have to sacrifice this for my job and to protect myself from too much involvement!

Maybe, when I’m done with grading and planning, I could look up some things about honey and bees, online. .   .  .

Honey Bee Facts

information provided courtesy of ABF member Lance Sundberg, American Beekeeping Federation – http://www.abfnet.org

      About the Honey Bee

  • Approximately one third of all the food Americans eat is directly or indirectly derived from honey bee pollination.  Some crops pollinated are cucumbers, almonds, carrot seed, melons, apricots, cherries, pears, apples, prunes, plums, pluots, seed alfalfa, cantaloupe, seed onions, avocados, kiwi, blueberries, cranberries, etc.
  • There are three members of a honey bee colony:
    • Queen – mother to all the bees in the colony; she is a fertile female.queen in hive
    • Worker – an infertile female that performs the labor tasks of the colony, including feed preparation, guarding the hive, feeding the queens, drones and brood, and heating and cooling the hive.
    • Drone – the male that starts out as an unfertilized egg.  Its only purpose in the colony is to mate with a virgin queen.  They live to mate with the queen, but not more than one in a thousand get the opportunity to mate.drone bee 2
  • On average, a worker bee in the summer lasts six to eight weeks.  Their most common cause of death is wearing their wings out.  During that six to eight-week period, their average honey production is 1/12 of a teaspoon.  In that short lifetime, they fly the equivalent of 1 1/2 times the circumference of the earth.
  • The peak population of a colony of honeybees is usually at mid-summer (after spring buildup) and results in 60,000 to 80,000 bees per colony.  A good, prolific queen can lay up to 3,000 eggs per day.
  • Drones fly on United Airlines.  This is a corny joke amongst beekeepers because of the way queens and drones mate.  When a queen is five to six days old, she is ready to mate. She puts out a pheromone scent to attract the males and takes off in the air.  The males from miles around smell the scent and instantly volunteer in the mating chase, which is performed in the air.

    Basic Beekeeping

  • Basic beekeeping simplified is having:
    • New, viable queensbeehive open
    • Feed (natural or artificial)
    • Good, sound equipment
    • Disease-free hives (good medication program or integrated pest management)
  • When processing honey from a beehive, a good rule of thumb is for every 60 pounds of honey produced one (1) pound of beeswax will be made (1 to 60 ratio).
  • In order to manipulate population dynamics, the timing of hive management is critical, such as the splitting of hives just prior to swarming season.  Also, feeding syrup and pollen supplement at least 21 days prior to a pollination inspection or honey flow induces the queen to lay eggs.

Psalm 25

4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

 5 Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

6 Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.