Grit Blogs > A Beekeeping Diary

Beginning Beekeeping: Bees Do What Bees Do

Corinne Anthony headshotTime has passed since I wrote my first post, and I’m happy to tell you that my second queen bee has been laying eggs successfully, increasing the bee population in my hive. And here’s how I know!

From the time a queen bee lays an egg, to the time a fully-formed bee emerges from its capped comb, takes 21 days. I took off a month to head north and get out of the hellacious summer of Virginia. During that time, a gracious (and brave) neighbor fed sugar syrup to my bees every other day.

My colony of bees was small and reigned over by a young queen. The life expectancy of a worker bee is six weeks or less when they are actively foraging for nectar. By the first week of July, the nectar and pollen flow slows down to a snail’s pace. There’s not much blooming in mid-summer. I needed my queen to lay eggs and lay fast. So to make it less stressful for the bees, they got their sugar water from a simple feeder.

The feeder is a quart jar with tiny holes pricked in the cap. When set upside down in its wooden stand, the bees are able to enter through an opening and reach the syrup oozing out the holes. The recipe is one part sugar dissolved in one part hot water, with a tablespoon of wine vinegar mixed in. This “bee brew” is the best formula for stimulating egg laying.

Bee at feeder
Chow time at the bee feeder. 

Upon my return home, I needed to open up my hive and check out how all was going. It had been a hot spell, and I thought it would be best to do my inspection early in the day, before the heat became too intense. First mistake!

There were a LOT of bees in the hive. The forager bees had not headed out in search of nectar yet.

I was too complacent about my protective garb. Second mistake!

Up to this point, the bees had been so docile because they had little to guard. I neglected to tie the cords around my pant legs. I failed to wear a long sleeve shirt under my gloves, so bare skin was visible through the mesh ventilation cuffs.

And then I skipped lighting my smoker. Third mistake!

The smoker creates a smoky mist by burning either store-bought inflammable fuel or tinder-dry leaves off the ground. When puffed out over the bees, it masks the scent of the hive, temporarily confusing them so they remain calm.

So, thus ill-prepared, I took the top off the hive, pried off the inner cover and started to check out the individual frames of comb in the top box. The bees were not pleased.

Suddenly I was surrounded by mob of angry bees. My face was protected, but not my arms where the mesh was. Then I became aware that bees were climbing up my legs. I was getting stung! After all, bees do what bees do!

I threw the tops back on the hive and ran like the wind, whooping and hollering, and swatting bees left and right! I must have looked pretty funny.

When my escape was complete, I surveyed the carnage. I’d killed a number of bees in my flight, and with 15 stings on my arms and legs, that meant 15 more dead bees. Oh, the humanity! I shall not make that mistake again.

On the other hand, I can certainly say I now have an active hive. Tomorrow I shall try opening up the hive again. You can be sure I’ll be dressed appropriately and properly equipped.

I’ll keep you posted!

New bees bringing home the goodies
New bees, bringing home the goodies.