Posted by: Pam B. Newberry | May 4, 2014

A chance for a new hive…maybe???

Just a quick post to let you know that we may have a swarm that we might be able to capture.

Cluster of bees knocked off the tree during storm. These bees managed to rejoin the hive before the hive departed for parts unknown.

Cluster of bees knocked off the tree during storm. These bees managed to rejoin the hive before the hive departed for parts unknown.

If all works out, we’ll have a new hive!!!

Bees organizing themselves and marching into the nuc box where the Queen is now located.

Bees organizing themselves and marching into the nuc box where the Queen is now located.

Keep your fingers crossed!!!

Another swarm on 4-13-12. We were becoming experts at catching swarms.

Another swarm on 4-13-12. We were becoming experts at catching swarms.

Hobbit Queen

Posted by: Pam B. Newberry | March 7, 2014

About 150,000 Lives Lost…

It’s taken me about two weeks to even consider how to write this post. The mere thought of writing this news, and then sharing it with you causes tears to well up in my eyes. Yes, I’m a sentimental fool. As Hobbit King says, “Hobbit Queen, you wear your feelings on your sleeves.” And, sadly, he is right.

We lost all five of our hives.

Sunday, February 23, 2014 was a nice, warm day to explore in our honey bee apiary. As we approached the hives, we became skeptical about how our bees might have fared. They were too quiet.

Originally, we were going to peak at the bees, head back up to the house, put on our bee suits, and go back down to the apiary to check out the hives. But, our fears were confirmed when we moved into the apiary, without bee suits, and the noise was deafeningly silent. We knew from past experience that the apiary should have been humming with life. It wasn’t. We saw a single bee flying. We couldn’t confirm if she was one of our bees. After opening up a hive, we figured that the bee we saw most likely was a visitor coming to rob an empty hive.

Yes, all five of them were empty. Deathly empty. The following pictures show what we found. I think the pictures speak to what we saw and felt much better than any words I can use to describe as we moved from hive to hive. They were all the same.

Honey bees dead on top of hive

Honey bees dead on top of frames of a hive.

Small cluster of bees dead on a frame.

Small cluster of bees dead on a frame near a brood area.

Honey bees dead on bottom of hive.

Honey bees dead on the screened bottom board of a hive.

What happened?

We really don’t know. We suspect several things came together for the perfect death sentence for our bees.

  1. The hives probably went into the winter weaker than we realized.
    1. We had a very damp spring and summer. We had repopulated four hives with packages and five new queens.
    1. If pollen and nectar are not available when the honey bees forage, then the queen senses the potential for starvation and backs off laying brood.
    2. Was this the cause? We don’t know, but we think it probably contributed to the beginning of their death.
  1. We had very cold temperatures with brutal winds this winter. The deep cold temperatures lingered longer than a couple of days.
    1. If the hive is weak, the cluster will naturally fall off in numbers and a vicious cycle begins of those bees on the outer fringes of the cluster dying off. The cluster gets smaller, and more bees die as a result of the cold reaching into the hive.
    2. The small cluster remaining on a frame (See the middle picture above) and the large number of bees on the screened bottom board (See the last picture) suggests the bees froze to death because the cluster of bees was not strong enough to sustain the hive’s required temperature.
    1. Four of the five hives had nice stores of honey above the brood chamber. However, in all cases the frames down near the brood chamber were empty. Based on what we’ve been able to ascertain, this tells us that the bees may have starved, but we can’t say for sure. Despite food being only inches away, the honey bees will not leave the brood. The ladies will do all they can, including to die, to keep the brood warm and protected.
    1. There may have been an unusual draft issue with our hives. Our apiary sits down in a valley. The wind whips through. This winter the wind was especially voracious. We use a snow fence to block the snow and to break the wind currents. However, this may not have been successful.
  1. There could be other factors, such as varroa mite issues. But, we do not have any evidence that this was an issue.

What will we do next?

We are taking a break this year to reassess. There are many honey beekeepers that have lost hives. The cost to restock is at a premium. We think we will wait one year, as we also understand that this spring and summer will be another wet year for our area. We don’t want to repeat receiving bees late in the season, as we did last year, and then set the hives up for failure before they even have a chance to prepare for winter. We plan to continue to participate in our local bee association and to continue to learn about the honey bee, while we prepare to tackle raising bees next year.

What does this mean for this blog?

I will post to this blog as I acquire new knowledge, find leads on good resources that my followers will find helpful, as well as share updates on our plans. I know from comments I’ve received from many of you that my prior posts have been helpful. I do have several people who use the Hive Building 101 blog post as a reference to teach others.

Hobbit King and I are still saddened by our loss. For me, it is almost as though I’m going through the grieving process, as silly as that may sound to some. I thought of our little ladies as anyone would. I loved them and took great pride in trying to do my part to offer them a place to forage and prosper. They brought joy to me as I’d watch them work and thrive. It breaks my heart to think I may have done something, or worse, not done something that I should have.

With that, I sign off and wish all my honey beekeeper friends great success this coming year!

Please post about your ups and downs, leave comments, and keep Hobbit King and I in the loop as you learn this year. We want to hear from you, too!

We appreciate all honey beekeepers everywhere and look forward to getting back into the apiary real soon!
Hobbit Queen

Posted by: Pam B. Newberry | February 4, 2014

Learning How to Harvest Honey

During the fall of 2012, our first full year with our bees, it was time to harvest our first honey off of five hives.

We were so thrilled.

The experience was full of learning opportunities.  After many hours of study, asking questions of our fellow honeybee keepers at the Mountain Empire Beekeepers Association (MEBA) meetings, and multiple phone calls to our bee mentor, we had no clue as to what we were doing when we started, but we gave it the old Hokie try.

Yes, I’m a Hokie, a VA Tech graduate. Hobbit King is a graduate of Averett, and, we take in Hokie football every chance we get.

We trudged forward.

We used our basement as our staging area with a place to stage the frames, a place to scrap the cappings (the little seals that close the honey into the comb), and a place to store equipment as we transfer the frames  into the extruder. We also needed a place to let the honey sit for 24-hrs. to filter the debris from the honey and a place to bottle the honey when ready.

Prior to harvesting, it is important to check the moisture content of the honey. If it is not correct, it means you shouldn’t extrude and bottle the honey as it can ferment and go bad. This is the reason you only harvest capped honey as it is very rare for honey bees to cap honey if it is not cured. (I will write more about checking honey for harvest readiness in a future blog.)

Hives prepped for harvesting.

Hives prepped for harvesting using a bee escape.

Staging frames for de-capping.

Supers placed on a nearby table readied for de-capping.

De-capping honey frames using a cold knife.

Removing caps from honey cells using a cold knife.

Frames placed in an extruder.

Frames placed in a 9-frame extruder.

Extruded frame with comb.

Extruded frame; notice the honeycomb remaining for bees to use again.

Honey flowing into bucket.

Honey flowing from the extruder into the honey bucket fitted with two filters.

Transferring honey to jars.

Transferring the honey from the bucket to a storage jar.

Muth jars in two sizes

Two sizes of Muth jars, corked, and readied for labeling and packaging.

When all was said and done, we had harvested about 90 lbs. of honey from five hives. We were delighted and so proud of our little ladies.

Jar labeled Sept 2012.

Jar labeled with the Hobbit’s Bend label stating the honey was bottled on September 03, 2012.

Our labels looked okay. After we had used up the initial sheet of labels, we adjusted the printing so that it wasn’t lopsided.

Packaged honey jar.

We then wrapped the jars in honey tissue paper for the final packaged look.

We stored our honey jars in the basement, thinking it would be a good place to keep them. This worked fine until the bitter cold of January and February of 2013. Our honey crystallized!!!

Crystallized honey

Honey that was allowed to get too cold resulting in crystals of honey along the sides of the jar.

We didn’t have a lot of jars left, about 10, but we were sad just the same. Yes, you can still use crystallized honey, but it is not the same as putting a spoon of the smooth heavenly concoction in your mouth to taste. It does make for a great way to sweeten a nice cup of tea or to cook with, however.

Then came spring time 2013. What a heart-break. We lost all but one of our hives.

After making up five new hives (see my previous post I’m Back….Burrrr it’s cold for more details on what we faced ),  we then struggled through the rainy spring and summer. When fall of 2013 arrived, we prayed the hives were strong enough to make it through the winter.

Each day during December 2013 and January 2014, I found myself looking down at our apiary and silently saying a prayer of strength and protection for our little girls. Winter in December was not too bad, but we did loose one hive. It was weak going into “bee” winter, so we had secretly worried it wouldn’t survive, yet we were hopeful. (Look for a future post on the effects of moths on a hive). We were resilient, you might say, like our bees.

January 2014 changed our hopes to doubts with its serious cold temperatures and horrible winds. We did not receive a lot of snow during January, but the cold was terrible. Even a very strong hive would have trouble in those frigid temperatures; we worried.

February 1, was finally warm enough, the temp got up to 54°F (12.2°C) and some of the ladies were out taking a cleansing run.

Hobbit King decided to put a feeder on each hive while trying not to disturb them as he went along. He said that he did not try to lift each hive to check its weight as he didn’t want to cause the bees alarm and break their cluster. Sadly, we are expecting more cold weather with ice and cold rain.

Six more weeks of winter was predicted and we hope that our ladies are able to persevere.

In the meantime, we are learning that there are a few fast rules of beekeeping and it seems that the rest are a type of “magical” touch that you learn through experience. In the end, we are learning how to be honey beekeepers; to persevere.

Honey Bee Love until next time…

Hobbit Queen

For more opportunities to read my writing and to learn about my recently published book The Letter: A Page of My Life, visit her writing blog at or my Author Page on Amazon.

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