A Beekeeping Diary

Of Earthquakes and Hurricanes

Corinne Anthony headshotWhat a week it was! It started with an earthquake and ended with a hurricane. Then we were without power for five days. The bees, however, seemed to take it all in stride.

I never expected a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in rural Virginia, but there it was. I was inside the house when the ground rumbled like a huge truck was driving by. Then the chandelier started to sway, and I could hear the glasses in the cupboard clinking. Outside, the bees took no notice.

I was more worried about the predicted wind and rain associated with Hurricane Irene when it roared up the East coast. The master beekeeper who provides guidance at our monthly beekeeping club meetings sent around an advisory by e-mail several days prior to the storm.

At that time the winds were projected to be in excess of 110 kts at times, which was much more severe than we’d had in a long time.  “Winds at that strength can really cause problems with our hives, and it is in our best interest to prepare the hives as well as possible before the onslaught,” he wrote.

He advised us to secure our hives to their stands by using a ratchet strap, or tightly pulled line.  The theory is that if the hive bodies are tightly bound, they stand a better chance of not separating even if they do blow over.  Then he suggested adding extra weight on top of the hives, like heavy concrete pavers and blocks.The lighter the hive, the higher the probability is of it turning over in high winds.

My one hive just sits on a couple of loose concrete blocks, so I was plenty worried. I rummaged down in the basement and found a tie-down strap of some type and tied it roughly around the hive body. Then I placed two concrete blocks on top. It wasn’t the prettiest of set-ups, but I hoped it would be serviceable. Then I waited.

By the next morning it began to drizzle. By afternoon, it became a downpour, the wind started to pick-up and the electricity went off. It was a long night of howling wind.

But by morning Hurricane Irene was gone, and I was relieved to see just a few limbs down on my property. My bees were also spared. I think they were more ticked by the rain that followed off and on the whole following week. The wet weather prevented the forager bees from making their rounds amid the smattering of fall-blooming flowers. 

The autumn nectar flow is much smaller than the spring’s supply. We have goldenrod, wild aster and a wild flowering clematis, but not a lot else in my part of the state. I continue to feed the bees their sugar water and will do so as late as I can before the weather becomes frigid.

Some of you have wondered about the cost of getting into beekeeping. I’ll give you full details in my next posting. But here’s a small preview: Like most hobbies, it’s going to cost you money, not make you money. You do it because you enjoy it.

More in my next posting. 

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.