Posted by: Pam B. Newberry | December 15, 2011

So What Have We Learned?


Well, we learned….

Everything, but still not enough!

Yep, that just about sums it up…we learned so much, yet we feel as though we know nothing…kinda like being a parent the first time.

These first six months of honey bee keeping have been one of mixed emotions, frustrations, and pure joy.

The initial days of starting out and tending to the bees were not so bad. We took the plunge and began to put into practice all the things we learned from reading and hearing advice of fellow beekeepers.

After we gave the bees an initial sugar syrup feed to help them begin to adjust and to reduce the shock of the move to their new hives, it seemed that within hours the bees had devoured the sweet juice and were happily on their way to living at Hobbit’s Bend.

Hobbit King and I wondered if we should feed them more as we weren’t certain just how much they should receive. Everyone we talked with shared we were fine and advised us to wait and feed them in a couple of days. That was so hard to do. As a parent you always want your children to eat and be healthy. For us to not feed the bees almost seemed as though we were being bad parents. We had to remind ourselves that the point of feeding them is to encourage the bees to begin foraging and learning about their new surroundings. One of the biggest problems for us was timing — due to it being the end of May, there was not enough good foraging plants in bloom when we received the bees to make it easy for them to bring back pollen and nectar.

I worried the bees would starve before they even had a chance. Hobbit King reminded me that the bee hives had four frames of food and brood. He assured me that the bees would be fine and we were doing all that we could do. Yeah, I’m that type of parent. Some would say a “worry wart.” I reluctantly relaxed and decided to wait and see.

The full frame of capped honey (See Picture 1) was shown to us this past February during a honey bee class. It shows what we needed to see in our hives by the end of the summer or as early in the summer as possible. The more capped honey, the more stores, and the more likely the bees will make it through the winter.

Picture 1: Fully capped honey frame ready for bees to eat or to be extruded

We also need to have a healthy set of brood to carry the hive on. Remember, a summer honey bee lives only for about 27 to 30 days. So, the queen must lay eggs often in order to have a steady supply of honey bees to come along throughout the summer season to keep the hive viable.

Picture 2: Two frames showing honey being placed around the brood section of the frame

When bees begin to work a frame, they initially build out the honey comb (See Picture 3 of “new” frame in early stages being worked). After the honey comb is developed, the bees begin to work part of the hive for storing honey to feed the brood as the babes begin to emerge and the queen will lay the brood in an arching pattern on the lower two-thirds of the frame. (See Picture 2 for examples).

Picture 3: New frame beginning to be worked by bees.

 The foundation will be “extruded” by the honey bees into a hexagonal comb.

After adapting to opening the hives and learning to check them, you can see the difference between the honey and the brood. Picture 4 shows the bees capping the honey for storage. The white caps are what will be eaten away when the bees begin to delve into their stores during winter. While in Picture 5, the capped cells are brood cells. If you look closely, you can even see where some larva are starting to emerge as “new” bees.

Picture 4: Honey being capped Picture 5: Brood and new bees emerging

The bees work so hard to prepare each cell and to manage the honey stores as well as tend to the emerging bees. There are two distinct groups of bees that conduct these chores. The worker bees are those who tend to the honey, while the nursery bees tend the brood. In Picture 6, you can see them working and almost can see their different efforts.

Picture 6: One frame showing two different groups of bees working. Notice the honey cells full of honey prior to being capped.

The queen is typically marked with a dot of color on her back to make it easy to spot here when checking hives. This is generally done with a marking pen in the beginning of the season or when a new queen is placed into the hive. The queen shown in Picture 7 is working at laying a brood while the bees around her are tending to the brood cells as well as tending to her. Generally, a cluster of bees are assigned to tend the queen by feeding, grooming, and general protection of her as she goes about her work.

Picture 7: Queen with yellow marker on her back Picture 8: The Queen is slowly filling in the brood chamber area of a hive.

Notice the honey capped above and the comb worked out of the foundation down near the bottom edge

Picture 8 shows a frame where the honey has been placed and position to allow for the brood to be laid by the queen and worked by the nursery bees. If you look to the far right of the picture, you can see the brood section slowly being worked across the frame. Notice how the comb has been built on the foundation. You can see the hexagonal pattern the bees formed when they first built out the comb from the foundation.

So far, the hardest part of learning about being a honey bee keeper is keeping my hands out of the hives and leaving the lovely ladies alone to do their thing. They are so fascinating to watch and I find each time we check the hives that I just want to sit and watch them.

Now that it is winter, we don’t go into the hives unless it is a warm day, and then we are very quick to get in and out. We hope the day will warm enough this weekend that we can provide the ladies with some sweet syrup support.

Honey Cheers To You and Yours!
Hobbit Queen


  1. […] So What Have We Learned? ( […]


  2. as usual, ms hobbit queen, fascinating! and to think all this drama is going on right in front of us!! c.


    • Oh Thank you! Here is hoping you have a “honey” of a holiday season! Merry Christmas to you and yours!


  3. How fascinating, HQ! It’s like a drama on television. I was particularly touched by the team of attendants for the queen to groom and feed her, so she can carry on her work. Everyone should watch bees – they could get a better idea of what they are here for. No one greater or lesser – just here to do a job and learn our lessons along the way.


    • I, too, thought the Queen having her personal entrouage was pretty cool, too. Just goes to show you, once the queen, always the queen! 🙂

      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you in all kinds of “bee”tiful ways!


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