In the bleak midwinter….

… it’s time to get ready for a new beekeeping season!  For the first time in a while, we’re having a snowy, wintery day in Colorado.  This winter has been very dry and fluctuated from highs in the 60’s to highs in the teens.  On Thursday, it was close to 60° F and a local beekeeper reported that here bees were bringing in pollen.   Today it’s 14° F and snowing.  The bees are clustered in their hives waiting for the warm weather to come back.

14.2 degrees.  Brrrrrrr!

Bee yard draped in snow

The first meeting of the Boulder County Beekeeper’s Association for 2018 happened last Wednesday and beekeepers were busy ordering packages and nucs of bees.   There was talk about the upcoming season and how to make sure your bees have enough carbs and protein to survive until the flowers start blooming.   With the overall warmer weather this winter, the bees have been more active.  They have probably been eating more of their stored honey than usual, so it’s important to make sure they have enough food for the wild spring weather ride.

The snowpack for skiing has been pretty bleak this year and today would have been a good day to get out and enjoy some fresh snow.  But I’ve been skiing for almost 50 years now and I don’t enjoy skiing in cold weather so I decided to stay in and make some candles and lip balm. I’ll wait until the sun comes back out and it warms up a bit.

I’ve been rendering all the wax I’ve stored up over the years and have started making candles this winter.  We used to buy pure beeswax tealights for use when we meditate.  The best I’ve found are from Blue Corn (a local Colorado company), but at $8 for 6, it gets pretty expensive (we meditate a lot!).  So, I figured I’d try my hand at making my own (and not burn down my house in the process).

The hardest part has been trying to find the right sized wick.  I’ve tried a variety of sizes but never found one that burned well.  My friend Julie over at Happy Hour at the Top Bar sent me some candles recently and told me that she got her wicks from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm.  They work pretty well, but I’m not fond of the smoke they give off when you blow them out.  Most recently, I’ve tried ones from Betterbee (which are a little cheaper).  They are a bit thinner (1/0) but still give off more smoke than I’d like when you blow them out.  The Blue Corn ones don’t do that.  So, I’ll keep searching, but am using the Betterbee ones for now.

For candle making equipment, besides a couple of molds and a pouring pot that I bought commercially, I mostly picked up pots and pans from thrift stores. I put one pot inside another to make a double boiler to melt the wax.

Melting wax in the homemade double boiler.

A couple of safety notes.  Beeswax is extremely flammable.  You should never leave melting wax unattended. It can catch fire and ruin a perfectly fine kitchen.  Ideally, you would do all your melting outside on a hotplate, but given the weather (and the fact that I don’t yet own a hotplate), I use my kitchen stove.  Also, wax is very waxy and getting it off of surfaces you don’t want it on is difficult.  So, make sure you don’t get wax where you don’t want it and protect all surfaces.

Wax mostly  melted

For dirty wax (newly rendered, old candles, etc), you need to filter the wax.  I was using an old sweatshirt for that purpose, but I used that up and don’t want to use my Patriots sweatshirt just yet, so now I use paper towels (away from any flame).  The nice thing about paper towels is that since beeswax burns very well, you can use the leftover wax-infused paper towels for fire starters.  Now all I need is a fire pit.

Straining dirty wax

For dirty wax, I add a bit of water to it so that the honey, pollen and other impurities (bee parts) precipitate in the water and separate from the wax.  I use old milk containers for it to cool in.  Once the wax has been cleaned, I still filter it one more time into my pouring pot before pouring the candles.  Any impurities in the wax can cause uneven burning.

I use an old cookie rack (well now it’s old because I got wax all over it)  for holding the candle containers and put parchment paper under that.  Parchment paper protects the surface underneath (e.g. my kitchen table) from drips.  Any drips of wax pop right off of it when they cool so they can be melted down and used again.

Tealights and forms with parchment below

I generally let the wax cool a bit down to about 150-160° F before pouring so it doesn’t melt the wax on the wicks and also the candles set up faster.

My son got me a Rob Gronkowski football bluetooth speaker for Christmas this year.  So, to set the mood for candle making, I listen to Shiva’s Garden on the Gronk Ball while making my candles.  A little “Cowboy Hare Krishna” does the trick.

Making candles with Shiva’s Garden on the Gronk Ball

Once the candles are poured, for me, the hard part is waiting for them to cool.  The pillar candles take a while, but the tea lights are pretty cool in about an hour.   Then I like to squeeze the plastic to make them pop up – it’s almost as much fun as bubble wrap!  I found you can’t rush the pillar candles – last time I almost pulled the wick out of one removing ti from the mold because the candle hadn’t hardened in the middle yet.

Testing the wick size

Candles need to cure before using, so I generally let them sit for a couple of weeks.  Also, you need to make sure that the wick size you used fits the candle.  I find the online information to be a bit sketchy because most of the time they are rated for soy or non-pure beeswax candles.  The way to test the wick size is to burn the candle and see if it burns evenly or if you end up with a tunneling effect.  Tunneling means the wick size is too small.  You  don’t have to burn the whole candle if you see tunneling – just melt it down to use for the next candle with a larger wick!

So, today I was able to make 35 tea lights for about 5 bucks.  I think that’s a pretty good savings.  And, that should last us for a few weeks of meditation!  Now on to lip balm!

As I was writing this post, the snow was falling so beautifully.  So, I’ll leave you with a short clip of the snow and some sacred music (and a brief comment from Yoda the cat).



Posted in Bee Products, Weather | 5 Comments

Thanksgiving Gratitude

Today, Facebook reminded me that I published a post on gratitude on this blog 2 years ago.  At that time, I was in the throes of my prostate cancer treatment and just starting to learn more about meditation.  It had been a pretty difficult time for me, but no matter what the circumstances, I had plenty to be grateful for.  In that post, I talked about going to a meditation intensive and giving a talk on gratitude.  A lot has changed in those two years.

Prostate Cancer:

At the time of that post, I had finished my radiation treatments and I was under the thumb of the Evil Lord Lupron – a drug that eliminates the testosterone that feeds the prostate cancer.  Hot flashes, weepy episodes, ED, loss of memory – it all just sucked.  (I have a much better appreciation for my wife going through menopause now).  While I still have some lingering side effects (I don’t do math in my head anymore), I’m happy to say that I’m cured.

I’m grateful for the openness that I felt during my flirtation with womanhood.  My heart was much more open then than it is now (something I’m working on though).  My kids knew I was back to my old self when I started cursing out drivers on the road again.  But even there, these days, I just let it go.  It takes too much energy to be angry.


Two years ago, I went to my first meditation intensive at the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram.  That was the beginning of a new spiritual path that continues to this day.  Since that day, I’ve started a practice of meditating twice a day (morning and evening) and have also become a certified Shambhava Yoga Meditation Teacher.

Meditating with Ganesha

Yoda the shakti kitty who meditates with us every day

One of the things I remember clearly from that meditation intensive is a young man, Govinda, who talked about his sankalpa of doing a gratitude practice every day for a year.  I told Diana that we should try that. To this day (and probably for the rest of my life), we end every meditation with a gratitude practice.  As I tell my students – gratitude begets gratitude – the more you are grateful for what you have, the more you exude that gratitude and other people feel that energy.  Every day, just for a minute or two, stop and think about what you have to be grateful for.  It’s a powerful experience.

An image I found on Facebook that sums it all up

An image I found on Facebook that sums it all up

I’ve since left the church I was attending and am now a member of the Shambhava Yoga community.  I still cherish my time at the church and keep in contact with the many friends who met over the past 20 years.  I love the new friends I’ve made in the sangha and look forward to new journeys with them.

In that previous post, I talked about how sore I was from sitting all day.  Recently, I attended a 4 day meditation retreat up at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat.  Even though I am a more experienced meditator, I wanted to deepen my practice and connect with the people up there.   Let me tell you, 4 days of meditating really takes a toll on your knees.  I skipped one of the sitting sessions to do a walking meditation to the Buddha rocks on the property.

Buddha rocks

The weekend met all my expectations.  I met some wonderful people who were there for the retreat, connected with the staff up there and deepened my desire to grow.  If you are looking for a place to grow, I highly recommend spending some time at Shoshoni.


At one time, the folks up at Shoshoni tried keeping bees.  They had a top bar hive and a couple of Langstroth hives.  However, being at 9000+ feet with cold winters and wicked winds, it was pretty hard to keep the bees alive.  Even feeding them and trying to make protection around the hives didn’t work. My friend Karvari, who had lived up there at one time, told me that they still had the equipment up there but weren’t using it.  I thought maybe I could help them out and see if we could make a go of it, but now just wasn’t the time for them to try again.  They offered me the equipment, so I brought home the remaining Langstroth hive (Karvari had already taken the top bar hive).  Our plan is to set up the top bar hive in a new bee yard that I’ve acquired and the Langstroth hive in the Left Hand Hive yard.  I plan to donate any honey from these hives to the ashrams. 

So, this year, I’m grateful for my cure, my meditation practice, the prospect of new bees and this wonderful world we have before us.  Even in these troubled political times, there is still plenty to be grateful for.  Every day, the sun comes up and a new day is presented to us.  Sit back, be present and look for the wonder that is there.

Sunrise from my back porch

Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted in Bees, Gratitude, Meditation, Spirituality | 6 Comments

Sharing the joy of harvesting honey

For many (if not most) beekeepers, harvesting honey is one of the most enjoyable times of the year.  Your bees survived the winter or you got new bees in the spring, you tended them with care through the summer to make sure they were happy and healthy. If you are lucky, they made enough honey to get them through the next winter and maybe a little (or lot) extra for you to to enjoy as well.  If they did, then late summer is harvest time!

Before I started beekeeping, I didn’t think much about honey, nor did I eat much of it.  Even now, my primary purpose for beekeeping isn’t to get honey.  I’m more into it as a way to help pollinators and connect with nature. But I do know that some people, like my colleague Kelly’s son Cal, think it’s one of the best things in the world.  Here he is with some honey I gave him for his 3rd birthday.

Cal's Honey

“I want this. Now. I want to eat this now.” “Where are the bees? I want the bees here too.” (photo by K. Mahoney)

One mistake that some new beekeepers make is harvesting more honey than they should, especially the first year.  Bees need the honey for food during the winter months, and if you don’t leave them enough to make it through the cold weather, they’ll starve before spring.  In Colorado, we can have late spring snows when the flowers are just starting to appear and the bees rely on the surplus honey to make it through these cold snaps and possible loss of forage from the snow.  For example, this past spring, we had a late freeze which killed all the fruit tree buds, right around the time that the bees needed that food source.  I tend to leave more honey than I need to in my hives (at least 16 total bars in my top bar hives).  I figure that if they don’t eat it all, I can harvest what they don’t need in the spring or use it to feed splits and caught swarms.  I don’t feed my bees sugar – honey is a much better food for them.

While harvesting honey can be fun, processing it can be tedious.  In the crush and strain method I use, I have to cut the comb from the top bars, mash it all up and strain it.  Then I have to bottle and label it.  In the process, I end up with honey over most surfaces in my kitchen – counters, door handles, floors.  It’s quite a sticky mess.

This year, I decided I’d break up the tedium by inviting people over to watch the process and help out.  It’s a good excuse to get people together and give them treats – something my wife and I love to do.  I’ve had Duncan and his family over to help in past years, but this year I expanded it to others.  I knew my little buddy Cal would be into it.

In late July, Laura’s hive filled up all the bars in the hive so I needed to take out some honey or else the bees might swarm.  I invited some friends over (including Cal and his family) to help out processing the honey.  I set up the observation hive too, so the kids (and adults) could play find the queen.  To avoid unwanted stings, I pulled the frames out of the hive before most people got there with my helpers, Duncan and Karvari.

Karvari ready for action with her cool hive tool.

Lots of honey combs in the back of Laura’s hive

Duncan ready for harvest.

I always think I have a good plan for harvesting that will make it quick and easy.  My plan was to harvest 4-5 combs, brush all of the bees off, put them into a nucleus hive and then cart them back down the street to my house. The combs at the very back of the hive were full of unripe nectar, so I had to temporarily move these to the nucleus hive, which I hadn’t planned on.  Karvari had brought her cool hive tool and a bee herder device to move the bees off the combs. While the hive tool was great,  I decided it would be easier to just shake the bees off the combs instead of using the bee herder.  That made them mad and they got a bit defensive. One went straight for Karvari and stung her on the thigh through her jeans!  In addition, the bees had attached some of the ripe combs to the bottom of the hive and I made a mess trying to detach them with a homemade tool I had (note to self – have to get a better tool for this).  Honey was dripping into the hive, bees were drowning in it, angry bees were flying all around, so my best laid plans were thwarted.  We persevered, and eventually, we did get 5 combs out and into the nuc, and most of the bees stayed behind.

My honey house is just my garage (or basement, depending on the day).  I clean up the half where I do the processing first.  We had new wood floors installed in house this summer, so I had leftover cardboard boxes that I put down of the floor, in hopes of making this a less sticky process (or at least to make cleanup easier).  All the equipment gets washed and sterilized beforehand.  I was trying out a new harvesting bucket this time – one where the top bucket has holes drilled in the bottom.

The crowd arrived about noon and we set about our business.  First we cut the combs from the bars.

Explaining the process (photo by K. Mahoney)

Next, the combs were crushed up.  Duncan is an expert at this and this year came up with the excellent idea of putting rubber bands on the gloves so they wouldn’t drop down.

Duncan the expert masher

Then the mash gets poured into the strainer in the top bucket.

Pouring the mash into the strainer (photo by K. Mahoney)

Then we let it sit. 

While we were waiting, we had a honey tasting of various honeys I have and looked for the queen in the observation hive.  After about an hour, enough honey went through the strainer so that I could give everyone who came a little bit of yummy sweetness to take home with them.

Cal bottling his own honey, others tasting honey in the background. (photo by K. Mahoney)

Cal deciding whether he likes the bees or honey best (photo by K. Mahoney)

Karvari happy even with a sting! (photo by D. Shellenberger)

The end result:

Yummy goodness all bottled up

In August, BnB2 filled up with honey, so I took some combs from that and a few from BnB1 and harvested that myself.  Then, later in the month, we harvested some honey from Duncan’s hive and had another honey harvest party, this time with friends from work (and Duncan’s family).

Another day, another harvest (with Duncan’s sisters, Caitlin and Larry watching).

Slicing up the combs

Another fun day!

Laura’s hive continued making more honey combs, so on Labor Day weekend, I harvested four more combs from that.  Duncan’s hive had lots of cross-combs in the back, so I decided to harvest some of those also.  That turned out to be a mess because there were many bees in between the combs that I couldn’t get out and they ended up in the mash.  In retrospect, I should have just left the honey there until spring and then harvested when there were fewer bees.  This harvest was just between me and the bees and they obliged with some stings to the stomach and the cheek.

Out of 7 hives this year, 4 produced honey (Laura’s, BnB1&2, and Duncan’s) for a grand total of 84.6 pounds (about 4 1/2 gallons) (mostly from Laura’s – 35 lbs).  I’ve been able to sell some and give the hive hosts their shares,  but mostly I give it away to friends and family and my ashram.  I love to spread the sweetness around.  

And I still have more!  It’s never treated with chemicals and it’s pure flower nectar. I can’t ship it outside CO, but if you live here, let me know if you are interested in buying some!  I gotta pay for my jars somehow!




Posted in Bee Products, Honey | 7 Comments

Meeting of the minds

When I started beekeeping 4 years ago, besides taking a class, I started looking around the internet for any information I could find.  You have to be picky – some information on the intertubes can be sketchy. Since I was using top bar hives, the pickings were kinda slim – most information is about Langstroth hive keeping.  One of the first sites I found was the Backyard Bee Hive blog, where I found information about Marty Hardison and his hive design – the first I used for my hives.  And, HB, the blog writer, lives in Colorado, so her information on plants and seasonal beekeeping tasks was relevant to me.

Another site I found was Happy Hour at the Top Bar.  I thought the name was pretty cool, and as I perused the site, I saw that it had a lot of good information about top bar beekeeping and beekeeping in general.  The blog creator, Julie, started beekeeping about the same time I did.  She is much more adventurous than I about trying new things like making splits, moving brood/eggs between hives to keep them vibrant and making single piece wedge top bars without losing fingers.  She posts great summaries of talks that she attends with information from prominent beekeepers.

Happy Hour at the Top Bar Apiary

Happy Hour at the Top Bar Apiary

I started leaving comments on her blog, and she started following my posts and we developed a virtual beekeeping relationship – sharing information, ideas and laughs.  I even won a raffle that she had!  HB also chimes in on Julie’s blog. 

I knew Julie lived in Connecticut, where I lived for a brief time.  When I was back there for my father’s funeral, we took a hike at one of the lakes near where my sister lives.  Soon after that, Julie posted a picture of a lake near her house and it looked pretty similar.  So, I contacted her offline, telling her that I wasn’t trying to be a stalker, but was wondering if the lake was the same as the one I had just been at.  It turned out it wasn’t the same lake, but was pretty close by.  

Over the years, our virtual friendship extended to Facebook and even my wife has become her FB buddy.  So, besides beekeeping, we keep up with each other’s lives through that venue.  Julie was very supportive of me during my cancer treatments and has nudged me along as a beekeeper – I’m not sure I would have done my first split without her support and instructions.  We share many of the same tastes in movies.  Julie’s hives are named after queens and princesses and my favorite is Princess Buttercup – from The Princess Bride.

Princess Buttercup

Last week, I went to a family reunion back east, and part of the time was spent in Connecticut.  As I was planning my trip, I thought it would cool if Julie and I could meet in person, so contacted her and set up a plan to visit.  Last Friday, Diana and I finally got to meet Julie (and her family) in person.   We had such a good time – eating a delicious lunch, talking about bees, meeting her new chickens, swapping ideas about comb storage and observation hives, and finding 4-leaf clovers.  And of course, there’s the honey exchange – sharing the fruits of our bees labors. 

It was a wonderful afternoon and the only downside was that the time went by too fast.  There are so many questions I forgot to ask – but those will keep until the next time we meet – maybe in Colorado!

Julie and me

For all the disdain of social media, this is an example of the positive power of the internet.  Here’s to many more years of friendship and swapping ideas!


Posted in Bees, Friends, Travel | 2 Comments

Teach your children well….

The Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram holds a kid’s summer camp each year where kids learn about yoga arts and nature in a beautiful setting at the mouth of Eldorado Canyon.  This year, I offered to do some sessions to teach kids about bees and other pollinators and the problems they are encountering these days.  The camp agreed,  so every other Monday, I’m giving 4 half hour presentations to groups of kids ages 5-10.

Once the camp said yes, then I had to figure out what I was going to do with the kids.  Being a geeky engineer, I don’t always relate to young kids very well.  Fortunately, I work with some talented people through the Longmont Coalition for People and Pollinators (LCPP), who do presentations to kids all the time.  One of the members has an observation hive that she brings to many events.  She recently bought a new one and at our last event at a local farm, she had the kids paint the outside of the hive.

Painting the observation hive at Olin Farms

I’ve always wanted an observation hive of my own. The commercially available observation hives are all set up for Langstroth equipment, and since I have mostly top bar hives, I would have to build my own if I went that route.  There are plenty of plans on the internet, but I was worried about the stability of a top bar frame during transport.  I’ve broken off enough combs in my hive – I felt it would disastrous if that happened in an observation hive and I crushed the queen!  Since I do have one Langstroth hive, I decided to purchase the same hive as my LCPP friend from Mann Lake.   I like this particular hive because it has good secure latches so the bees are less likely to escape.

The first week I went to camp, I brought my friend’s observation hive with her bees, since it was the day after the farm event and her hive was already loaded up.  I also brought some frames in varying stages of development in one of my cardboard nucleus hives, so I could explain how bees make comb, raise new bees and make honey. 

Talking to kids about bees at Eldorado kids camp

It’s fun to see how much the kids know about bees already.  I always start out asking them what they know about bees.  One little girl knew the three body parts (head, thorax, abdomen), others had teachers or neighbors that were beekeepers so knew a bit already. Most of them think that bees are out to sting you, but I explain that bees only sting as a last resort since they’ll die when they do.  It’s the wasps that sting most people.

I explain to the kids why bees and other pollinators (butterflies, moths, birds, beetles, wasps and flies) are important. I also explain that they are having problems from people using too many pesticides which either kill the pollinators outright, weaken them so they are susceptible to disease, and kill off or poison the plants that the pollinators need for healthy forage.  I brought a bowl of fruits and vegetables that we wouldn’t have if there were no pollinators, each with a little sticker showing what pollinates them.

Fruits and veggies that need pollinators.

I had the younger kids make bees and butterflies out of pipe cleaners and when their attention waned, we did the bee breath pranayama to calm them down.  I also brought some of my honey and gave them each a taste. But the thing that kept their interest the most was the bees in the observation hive.  They all wanted to know where the queen was and unfortunately on this day, she was pretty elusive. 

After watching the kids paint the hive at the farm event, and since the kids camp is an arts camp where they do a lot of painting, I thought that maybe the kids at camp would want to paint my hive.  The camp director is an amazing artist and I was hoping maybe she’d be able to do some painting also.  So, I brought my newly acquired hive and asked if they’d paint it and she said yes.   This turned out to be more of a chore than either of us planned on.  The kids have their own projects that they can take home and painting this was something extra that there really wasn’t time for.  I felt bad that I dumped this on them, but in the end, it all worked out.  I’m sure it took a whole lot of “Om Namah Shivayas”.  Between the camp director, the kids and some of the talented staff, they got the sides painted!  One side has Ganesha, pollinators and flowers, the other side has Buddha and the bees.

Ganesha side of the observation hive

Buddha side of the hive

This week, I took my newly painted hive down to camp.  I filled it with bees from the Left Hand Hive this time.  The tricky thing was finding the queen.  Ideally, you’d like to have her in the observation window because everyone wants to see the queen.  I went through all ten combs the first time and then found her again looking at them all a second time.  She was on some new comb which had mostly eggs and new larva and a cap of honey across the top.  In the bottom, I put 5 frames of brood, honey and pollen. 

Getting the observation hive populated from Left Hand Hive

It’s tricky to take a picture of the bees in the hive due to the reflection of the glass, but I got a good shot with the reflection of my bee yard in the window.

Reflections of the bee yard in the observation hive

This week, I talked a bit more about the types of honey bees (queen, workers, drones) and what they all do.  I explained that the queen lays the eggs and talk about the different stages that they go through in their development (egg, larva, pupa, bee).  I tell them that most of the bees are girls (workers) and that they do all the work.  I tell them that the boys (drones) are typical males – lying around the house, eating all the honey – the girls all like that.  They only have one purpose in life – to mate with the queen.  I always struggle with explaining what “mate” means with the little ones, but one little girl came up with the idea that they “marry the queen”.  So, I’m going to use that from now on.

The queen was out and about laying eggs and the kids had fun finding the her.   When I put the frame in, there was only one capped cell, but the bees had capped some of the larva cells overnight, so we got to see all the stages of development.  All in all, I was happy with my first foray with the observation hive. 

Kids camp enjoying the newly painted observation hive

I’m looking forward to my two more events in July.  I feel it’s important to teach kids why pollinators are important,  the dangers pesticide pose to pollinators and that we need to make sure they have enough flowers and trees to provide them food so they’ll thrive.  Hopefully they will realize that a perfectly green lawn is a food desert for pollinators and that they will let the occasional weed, just bee.  My truck sums this up well.

My bumper stickers tell the story

I’m grateful to Faith, Aloki, Kalidasi and the campers for getting the hive painted, to Rajani for helping me set things up for each session, to all the camp leaders for spending time with the kids, and the kids for their inquisitiveness. 




Posted in Bees, Education, Pesticides | 6 Comments

Busy as a bee

Springtime is always a busy time for a beekeeper.  I’ve been so busy keeping bees and keeping life, that there hasn’t been time for me to collect my thoughts for a post in over a month!  For those who may have been wondering why I’ve been silent (you know who you are), rest assured that things are good, I’m just busy as a bee!

In the last post, I was trying to do a split, but ended up catching a swarm.  Since that time, I did split BnB2 and caught 2 more swarms!  I’m back up to 6 hives, which means more time watching these new colonies grow – despite my intent to be more hands off this year.  So here’s the rundown.


After a slow start where I didn’t think this colony was going to make it, they have rebounded and are making comb faster than all the other hives.  I have a bucket of water close to the entrance, and I watch the bees going from the hive to the bucket and back in a steady stream.  For me, that’s a sign that they are doing well and expanding their domain.  I think this queen knows that if she has a slow start with very little brood, it will keep the mites at bay.  If they keep going at this rate, there will be some nice comb honey to harvest.  Here’s a comparison from early in the season to later on for the amount of brood she’s laying.

Not much brood in BnB1 earlier in the season

Good brood in BnB1 later on.


After a failed try at a split because I couldn’t find the queen, the next weekend, I tried again.  BnB2 had plenty of queen cups, but still none had larvae in them, but, I made the split anyway. This time it took me while to find the queen, but then I did and moved her over to smaller hive with some brood comb and some bees.  Unfortunately, she was on a comb that had the newest eggs which would have been best for the old colony to use for a new queen.  But, the deed was done, so now I just had to wait.

Bees reorienting after the split

I checked a week later and they had obviously found some eggs or young larvae to make some queens because there were 8-10 queen cells.

Queen cells, BnB2

I waited another week or so for the queens to emerge,  but the queen cells were still intact.  As someone once said, “Things take time”.  Another week and all the queen cells were opened.  That meant that either a queen or two had emerged, or none were viable and the workers opened them.

Opened queen cells in BnB2

Now it was time to wait to see if there was a new queen and whether she got mated or not.  I’m never good at waiting long enough for this to happen.  On top of that, we had a a lot of rainy weather and even a snowstorm while she should have been out getting mated!  It was so wet, a pair of ducks came to check out my yard!

Ducks in the back yard

Finally, after a couple of weeks, I found some eggs in the hive, so that means I have a mated queen.  Now, I’ll wait a couple more weeks to see how well she does at making new bees.

Sarah’s Hive

I put the first swarm I caught into Sarah’s empty hive.  I’ve been checking on them only occasionally, but went over yesterday for a peek.  This was a pretty big swarm to start with, but they are really filling up the hive.  They are only a few bars from filling up and haven’t even started making honey yet.  I think I’ll need to split this hive.

Brood and Bees in Sarah’s hive

Laura’s Hive

The split with the queen from BnB2 eventually found it’s way into Laura’s hive.  I moved the nuc down to Laura’s yard in the evening after doing the split earlier in the day.  Even though it’s only a few houses down the block, moving a hive full of bees is no small task.  Rather than carry it, I loaded it into my truck and drove it down the street, then placed it on top of it’s final resting place of Laura’s hive.  It went pretty smoothly.

Nuc hive at Laura’s, ready to put into the big hive

After a week, I moved them into the larger hive.

Transfer complete (almost)

I checked on them a couple of days ago and they seem to be doing well.

Swarm #2/Hello Kitty (aka Duncan’s) Hive

Swarm #2 was found in a lamp post on a cold, wet afternoon.  This was a little trickier than swarm #1 since I couldn’t just shake them into a box.  Ideally, I would have had a bee vacuum (new project!) to suck them out of the light, but I just brushed the bees from the outside into a box hoping the queen was on the outside.  I also scooped as many of the bees from the inside as I could with my hand.

Bee swarm on light post

Cap off, now to get the rest of the bees

After I got most of the bees in the box, the stragglers started flying in which made me feel good that I had captured the queen.

I left the box there until evening and when I picked it up, it was raining.  Most of the bees had gone into the box, but there were still some stragglers on the lamp post.  I brushed as many as I could into another box and took them home.  I immediately dumped the bees in Duncan’s hive so they could cluster up and keep warm.  I had some old comb and honey in the hive to make them feel like it was a home they wanted to stay in.  Just as I got back to my house, we had a snow shower, so I got them in there just in time.  I felt sorry for the bees that I wasn’t able to get into the boxes.

I checked on them yesterday and they are building up their numbers.  They had a little bit of cross combing but the queen is not laying a very good brood pattern.  I think I’ll need to requeen this colony.

Swarm #3/Left Hand Hive

My third swarm came from a hive that had already swarmed a week earlier.  Since the original queen should have gone with the first swarm, this one should have a virgin queen.  It was another easy capture – they flew to a branch resting on the ground a few feet away from their hive.  

I lifted the branch and shook the bees into the box and then scooped up another clump that was on the ground and put them in the box.  There were bees fanning at the entrance and then most of the rest of the bees started marching in, so I figured I got the queen.

After most of the bees were in, I was looking around on the ground and saw a clump of several bees lying around.  When I looked closer, I found that there was a virgin queen there!  Crap!  She was barely moving and wasn’t looking too good.  I tried to coax her into the hive, but then I just picked her up and dumped her in.   Now, the question was whether she’d recover, or if not, whether there might be another queen in there.

I got the swarm home and put it in the Langstroth hive.  I wanted to make sure that I had a viable queen before moving the hive out to the Left Hand farm.  Just to make sure, I took some brood and eggs from Laura’s hive (which was the most productive of my stock at that point) and put them into this hive so they could raise a new queen if need be. 

Since Laura’s hive is a top bar hive, it required that I wire the bar into a Langstroth frame (fortunately my bars from this hive are the perfect width).  The comb was too deep for the frame, so I had to cut the bottom off (which is where the best eggs were) and wired that into another frame.   After a few days, I peeked inside again to see if they had started making queens, but they hadn’t so either the queen I found survived, or there was another queen in the swarm.  A couple of weeks later, I found some eggs in the new comb, so the queen had been mated and was on her way.

Eggs in Left Hand Hive swarm – look like grains of rice in cells in the center of picture.

I finally moved the hive out to the Left Hand farm last week.  When I checked on them the other day, the queen was laying nicely, but they didn’t have much in the way of honey or nectar, so I dropped in a couple of combs of honey to jump start their development.

So, another beekeeping season is well under way and now I have six hives.  For the first time, I didn’t have to buy bees to increase my colonies. I did it all through swarms and splits.   – using survivor stock which hopefully will be hardier than bees shipped in from California.  I’ll probably make a split from Sarah’s hive and be back up to the same number (7) I had last year.


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No split, swarm!

When I was a kid, I used to tell this nonsensical joke to people:

Two ducks are sitting in a bathtub.  One duck says, “Pass the soap.”  The other duck says, “No soap, radio!”

I’d laugh and they’d look at me like I was insane.  I still get a kick out of that joke. As my wife frequently says to me, “You’re an idiot.”

Yesterday I planned to split BnB2.   My new friend K came over to see my “operation” and provide assistance.  She had some experience keeping bees a while back, but not as intensely as I have.  My apprentice,  Duncan,  also came over to help. 

BnB2 had lots of bees and the last time I looked, had plenty of brood and there should be some drones that should have emerged or just about to. The plan was to split into Laura’s hive which I had cleaned out last week.

Ready to split BnB2

Ready to split BnB2

I was hoping to find some queen (swarm) cells with larvae which meant they were already raising some new queens.  The plan was to move the old queen and capped brood into Laura’s hive, add some bars of honey that I have stored up and let the queenless hive continue rearing the queen larvae and crown the first to emerge as queen of the hive.

We started in the back and found that the moldy comb of honey was mostly cleaned up.  They have been eating through their honey stores as their numbers have increased, but there was already new nectar being stored in the combs and they still have plenty of honey.

As we worked our way forward toward the brood nest, I pointed out the different things on the combs to K.  Duncan was doing most of the explaining – he’s really taken in what I’ve been teaching him.  He pointed out all the queen cups before I saw them.  Like I told K – my first year I couldn’t tell the difference between pollen and capped brood.  Newly laid eggs are the hardest to see, but K and Duncan were finally able to see them after several tries.  There were a few new drones and some patches of drone brood, so they were coming along.

There wasn’t as much capped brood as I was expecting for a split, the two queen cups Duncan spotted were empty and we never found the queen (though the eggs proved she was around).  If we had found the queen, I probably would have done the split and let them raise a queen from one of the eggs. But I decided since there wasn’t as much capped brood as I would like to move over and no queen to be seen, I’d postpone it for a bit.  We could get snow next weekend, so the weather might no cooperate with my plans.  I don’t want to wait too long since I would like to have a queen raised, mated and laying in time for the honey flow in May.

Since we didn’t have to take the time to do the split, we also took a peek in BnB1.  Her queen hasn’t been as productive this spring with only small patches of brood.  This time when we looked, there was a little more brood and uncapped larvae, and we also found one whole side of a comb with new eggs.  So, I think she’s just been slow to start increasing and there’s hope yet for this hive.

Later in the day, just as I was going to do my afternoon meditation around 5 pm, the phone rang and it was a call from the manager of the swarm hotline saying he had a swarm for me to get in Boulder if I wanted it.  As much as I enjoy meditation, the choice to pass on this opportunity and meditate, or go catch a swarm was a no brainer.  I called to make sure the swarm was still around, gathered up my equipment and took off.

When I got there, I found the swarm about a foot off the ground.  It was a good sized one  – probably 5-6 pounds of bees.  They were just hanging out, waiting to decide where to go next.  I could see some scout bees doing their waggle dance, pointing the way to a potential new home, but I was going to thwart their plans.

Swarm a foot off the ground

Swarm a foot off the ground

My biggest dilemma was which box to put it in.  I have a banker’s box that I keep in my truck as a swarm catcher with screen over the holes, but I wasn’t sure if the swarm would fit in there.  I had also brought a small top bar hive that I had built as a swarm trap, but realized that wouldn’t be practical because the bars might move as I was transporting them.  I also had a cardboard nuc, but thought that might be too small. And, since I was going to dump this into a top bar hive, I didn’t want them clinging to the Langstroth combs in the nuc.

In the end, I used the banker’s box.  I put a tarp down under the swarm and had to lift up the branch to slide the box underneath since it was almost touching the tarp.  A couple of good shakes knocked most of the bees into the box which ended up being plenty big enough. But now I had a mass of bees climbing up the insides and out over the outside and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get the lid on to transport them to their new home.  I eventually scooped them up with my (gloved) hands into the box and put the lid on.  I had two clusters of bees on the outside covering the handholds, but was sure that the queen was in there.

I put the box with the bees on the outside into the cab of my truck and drove to Sarah’s house with my bee jacket and veil on.  My veil kept falling down over my eyes and it wasn’t that easy to see the road. I figured I could get out of any ticket for speeding or erratic driving once the cop saw that my cab was filled with bees.

I got to Sarah’s, dumped the bees into her hive (which filled it up pretty full), added a couple of bars of honey that I had brought and they seemed happy.  It was around 6:30 pm and getting cool, so I figured they’d hunker down for the night which will help the acceptance of their new home.  I’ll drop over later today with some more bars of honey and see how they are doing.

All in all, a fun bee day!

Two beekeepers are in the yard.  One beekeeper says, “Let’s make a split”.  The other beekeeper says, “No split, swarm!”.  My wife’s right.  I am an idiot.   Happy Spring!

Posted in Bees, Splits, Swarms | 2 Comments

Springing ahead

March has been pretty dry and warm in Colorado and we finally got our first precipitation of the month yesterday.  Luckily, we missed the snow which went south of us and today it’s supposed to be back up in the 60’s again.  With all this warm weather, flowers and trees are starting to bloom.  The flowering crab apple trees are in full swing as are the hyacinths and daffodils (crocuses are already past) and the tulips should be springing up soon!  Another bee keeping season is upon us!

Hyacinths coming up

Hyacinths coming up

Last weekend the weather was nice, so in addition to cleaning up the yard, I took the opportunity to do the first inspection of the year into my two remaining hives, BnB1 and BnB2.  Over the past several weeks, there has been much more activity from BnB2, but now it was time to take off the insulation and have a look-see inside.

BnB1 still insulated

First up was BnB1.  The queen in this hive could be the original from 3 years ago and if so, that means that she’s almost ready for the nursing home.  Queens generally live 3-5 years, but these days, most beekeepers replace their queens after 1 or 2 years.  I never saw any signs of supercedure in this colony over the years, so I think she’s the original, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.  She came over from BnB2 in the split last spring. 

Opening up the back there was still plenty of beautiful capped honey and then some combs with capped and crystallized honey.  In the brood nest, there was not a whole lot of new capped brood, just a couple of frames with some small patches on the west (warm) side of the hive, surrounded by pollen.  I moved some of the crystallized honey to the front of the hive, per Les Crowder’s suggestion for springtime management and moved the nice capped honey far to the back so I could take it if needed for other hives.

Not much brood in BnB1

But there were some signs of mite droppings, also, so maybe that’s why they aren’t building up as quickly.   This hive had a pretty high mite load last fall and I was experimenting to see if these bees could survive the winter with the mites.  They did do that, but I’ll have to wait to see if they can continue thriving, despite the mites.  The queen looked good and there were lots of new eggs, so I’m hoping that they will start building up their numbers.  But that also means the mites will be building up their numbers as well.

BnB1’s queen

So, although it survived the winter, BnB1 doesn’t look like she’s going to be ready to split anytime soon and the jury is still out on whether she’ll make it with the mites.  But I’m committed to not treating for mites and we’ll see how this experiment plays out.  I have 5 frames of nice honey in the back and if the bees don’t need it, I’m sure I’ll find something to do with it.

BnB2 is the “daughter” hive from the queen in BnB1 and also had a lot of mites going into the winter, but was showing a lot of activity at the entrance.

BnB2 still insulated

Starting in the back, there were lots of dead bees on the bottom from the winter and there was still some capped honey.  On a couple of the combs, there was some mold that had me concerned.  I posted some pictures to a treatment free beekeeping Facebook page and was reassured that the bees would clean that up once their numbers got big enough to expand into the back.   They’d also clean out the dead bees, but I helped them and got rid of most of them during the inspection. 

Black scale/mold on honey comb in BnB2

Black scale and mold on comb in BnB2

There was lots of pollen, brood and bees so this hive is doing much better than BnB1.  I even found a queen cup on one of the back frames, but didn’t find any drone brood.  In the spring, the queen will lay drones as the hives prepare for swarming – the reproduction of the colony.  Once there are some capped drone cells, or even hatched drones, it will be time to think about splitting this hive.  Other beekeepers in the area have reported drone brood in their hives and there reports of swarms in Denver already.  I’ll check back in a couple of weeks for signs of drones, swarm cells and to see if they cleaned up the mold.

Pollen and queen cup, BnB2

I found the queen in this one also, merrily going about her business laying eggs.

BnB2’s queen

This year, I’m not buying any package bees.  All my package bees that were bought and brought in from California died from mites last year.  I’m trying to build up some survivor stock that can last here in Colorado.  So this year, I plan to split BnB2 at least once, maybe twice and catch a few swarms.  I’m going to build some swarm traps to put next door and at Sarah’s house and I’m also on the swarm hotline list, so hopefully I can get a few more bees through swarms.  I am also going to buy a nucleus hive (nuc) from a local beekeeper who has survivor stock, but that won’t be until late May or early June.  And, I might try my hand at queen rearing if I have the time, to propagate the good genes of BnB2.

And this year I plan to inspect my hives less and just let them just go about their business.  I’m now at a point where I can judge the health of the colony by watching the activity at the entrance and I have windows in most of my hives if I need a quick peek inside.  I won’t be totally hands off, especially with new colonies from swarms and splits – I have to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to.  But for the established hives, it’s time to let them just bee.

Bee hives unwrapped and bee yard ready for spring cleanup

Posted in Bees, Hive inspection, Mites, Queens | 2 Comments

Meditation and Gratitude

This is not a post about bees (but I might mention them in the course of things).


After I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, my urological oncologist suggested I use meditation as part of my therapy.  Meditation has been scientifically proven to help people with certain medical conditions, like high blood pressure (which I had) or emotional stress. I had watched my wife meditate for years, but it wasn’t something I thought I could/should do.  Leave it to a life threatening situation and advice from someone other than my wife to change my mind.  I took up meditating through the Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram and found it was something that resonated with me.  It took me a while to get into it, but eventually, I settled into a twice daily practice and have been doing that for the past year and a half.  My blood pressure went down and I find that I am much more centered in my approach to the world. It helped me deal with the emotional stress of my treatment until I was cured.

During our daily lives, our minds are constantly going as we interact with the world. Sometimes it’s not pretty. The goal of meditation is to still the mind so you can search for your Inner Self – which is a state of being described as sat-chit-ananda (being, consciousness and bliss).  Yogis have been searching for that Inner Self through meditation for thousands of years. But, meditation is not the property of any religion or nationality – it is universal. There are many different ways to meditate. For example, some Christians use contemplative prayer as a form of meditation.  And it’s not something you have to do at a set time, in a special place, wearing special clothes.  You can do it anywhere, any time.  I frequently use my practice while driving – it’s really cut down on my penchant for road rage.

Many times, we seek happiness through the accumulation of stuff, but eventually, the stuff gets old and we aren’t as happy with it, so we get new stuff.  In this quest for happiness, we never really find true happiness. Swami Muktananda said, “The truth is that the joy you find in all things is simply a reflection of the joy of your own inner self.”  Truer words have never been said.  If it was the thing that gave us our joy, then we wouldn’t feel the joy in us when we remember that thing, even several years later.  By stilling the mind through meditation and looking inside, you can find that inner joy. Just like anything else, it doesn’t happen right away – it takes practice.  You need to practice, practice, practice to build your spiritual muscles.

This past weekend, I completed a Level 1 Meditation Teacher training program, another step in my journey.  I’m now a certified Shambhava Yoga Meditation Teacher – something I never would have imagined!

I passed!

I passed!

Besides learning how to teach meditation, it really helped me deepen my own practice.  I learned almost as much from my fellow students as I did from my teachers.  Most of them had been doing this practice for many years – I was just a newb.  Each had a special gift that they brought to the class – it was really amazing to hear their takes on a particular practice or sharing their experiences.   I shared some honey and lip balm from my bees with them to express my gratitude for all they taught me.

At the start of each class, we would chant a blessing, part of which is the Om Sahana Vavatu mantra.  Lately, this has been popping into my head all the time.  I find it comforting in these troubled political times. It goes like this:

Om saha naavavatu
Saha nau bhunaktu
Saha veeryam karavaa-vahai
Teja-svi naa-vadheeta-mastu
Maa vidvishaa-vahai

Om Shantih Shantih Shantih

Translation (one of many):

Om. May we all be protected. 
May we all be nourished. 
May we work together with great energy. 
May our intellect be sharpened (may our study be effective). 
Let there be no Animosity amongst us. 

Om, peace (in me), peace (in nature), peace (in divine forces)

Here’s a version of this from George Harrison and Ravi Shankar:

I still have a long way to go on my spiritual journey, but I feel I’ve got a good start.  I hope to share what I have learned with others.


One of the practices we learned is a gratitude practice which I’ve written about before.  For those of us living in the USA, we have so much to be grateful for.  Most of us don’t have to worry about where our next grain of rice is coming from or whether we have clothes to keep us warm.  We often take these things for granted and don’t spend our energy contemplating gratitude.  For the past year and a half, I’ve been spending a few minutes at the end of each meditation session doing a gratitude practice.  It’s not always easy – some days I don’t feel particularly grateful.  But just the intention, cultivates gratitude.  And gratitude begets more gratitude.

In our teacher training, we learned to be grateful for the teachers that came before us and gave us these practices.  That is something to be truly grateful for.  But it got me thinking about other teachers in my life and the gratitude I owe them.  They have come from all walks of life – school teachers, co-workers, relatives, beekeepers – all bringing me something to learn.

This past Monday would have been my Dad’s 89th birthday.  He was an avid skier and last skied on his 85th birthday – a year before he died.  To celebrate, my wife and I went to Steamboat and skied on his birthday.  I was thinking about all he taught me in life and was grateful for his life and the lessons.   I remember when I was just learning to ski that I was afraid of riding a chairlift.  My dad went up the lift with me, trying to make me forget my fear of heights.  He told me, “The fall never killed anybody – it’s just the sudden stop at the bottom that gets you.”   That actually relaxed me.  I learned many other lessons from him and give thanks for him (and my mom) almost every day.  I missed skiing with him, but know that there’s more skiing for him in the next life.

Dad skiing at 82.

So, for all the teachers in my life, the good times and the bad which have all led me to this point, I just have to say, “Thanks”.  And I look forward to new teachers and life lessons in the future.

Posted in Gratitude, Meditation | 4 Comments

Late-winter notes

We’ve had some unusually warm weather in Colorado for the first half of February.  On February 10th, I hit 77.4°F in the bee yard (Denver broke the record high temperature for the month at 80°F that day) , but most days have been in the low to mid 60’s for much of the month.  Heck, today it was 70 according to my weather station (I was off skiing in the mountains where it was warm, but not that warm!).  But, this is Colorado, and we are expecting a good snowstorm on Thursday, so winter isn’t done with us yet.  And our snowiest months are March and April anyway – typically it snows the week after package bees arrive in mid to late April.

So, what does this have to do with the bees?  Well, it means that spring is on it’s way and these warm days are a chance to gauge how your colonies are doing.  Of the 7 hives I tended last year, only 3 made it going into the winter – the 2 in my backyard (BnB1 and BnB2) and Laura’s hive down the street.  All had plenty of honey stores, but as I noted in a previous post, Laura’s colony didn’t have their honey very well distributed.

I had been seeing activity in the hives in my backyard on the warm days – first from BnB1, but later more from BnB2.  I asked Laura to check on her hive. She said she didn’t see any activity, but there were some dead bees on the landing board.  I asked her to clear those away and see if more appeared – that would mean someone was cleaning up the hive. Then I got a text from her saying she was seeing bees going in and out of the hive!  It was a couple of days before I got down there, but when I did, I also saw bees going in and out.  However, Laura’s bees were golden Italians and these were darker.  So, I guessed they were robber bees and that the colony was dead.  I took off the insulation to look through the window and sure enough, this colony was toast.  There were dead bees all over the floor and just a couple of the robbers running around on the combs.  I blocked the entrance and took out the good honey combs to save for a new colony.  So, I guess not having honey bands at the top of the combs was a bad idea after all.

As HB at Backyard Bee Hive Blog noted, the silver maples are blooming in our area.  I also had a Facebook friend post a picture of some crocuses in bloom.  Sure enough, my backyard bees have been bringing in pollen for the past couple of weeks. 

Bees bringing in pollen in February to BnB2

Most of the pollen I’ve seen is grayish/green, but the past few days, I’ve been seeing some yellowish or orange pollen (I’m colorblind) coming in like on the bee going through the entrance – maybe more crocuses are blooming somewhere?

I also looked through the windows of BnB1 and BnB2 in the past couple of weeks. It can be deceiving at first because the bees eat the honey along the comb edges so when you first look in, the combs look empty.  But when I peered in between the combs, I could see plenty of honey in there.  It’s still been a bit too cold to open up the hives, but I think for now they are okay.  I need to do a heft test to see how heavy the hives are – heavier means more honey.  I have lots of honey combs stored in my basement for spring feeding if need be.

But now that we are going into winter again, it’s time to start monitoring the remaining hives more closely to make sure they have enough honey and if not to give them some more.  It’s also time for me to start building some new equipment – I need another nucleus hive with the Hardison dimensions and I think I’ll build a couple of swarm traps.  And I need a couple of new supers and frames for the Langstroth hive.  Plus, I’ve still got some bee books to read!

Posted in Bees, Hive inspection | 1 Comment