A Gift Of Liquid Gold From The Bees!

Although spurts of snow and freezing night temperatures persist, signs of spring are starting to appear. Besides the robins that engulf the yard en masse, one of my favorite signs is the buzzing of bees around their hive, beginning to explore for open flowers and fresh pollen. Although a bit early yet, it’s almost time to start feeding them with spring syrup to ignite their drive to make comb, brood, and honey.

Beehive Condo

Early last fall, after finding the most spectacular bee hive configurations and two queens, I was able to pull two frames of honey to attempt extraction of my first honey harvest. Not having a fancy automatic extractor, heated elements for cutting comb, or other tools that one might use for processing large amounts, I went the old-fashioned route.


With a sharp knife, I ran across the tops of the honeycomb, uncapping the cells to release the honey. I simply let it drain overnight into a colander, catching any large pieces of comb. With a final strain through a fine-mesh strainer, I had a beautiful quart of unfiltered raw honey.


And you can only imagine the first taste. The flavor was not only rich and complex, but I felt so triumphant having been patient for these past three seasons of loss, splitting colonies, and keeping these two hives protected and nourished.

With just two small frames as payment, the return was far more rewarding than I expected.  While it’s amazing on toast, my preferred way to enjoy it is simply with a spoon. Here’s to the upcoming season and more honey!


Two Queens Are Better Than One!

If there’s one thing people remember about the farm and this blog, it’s the bees. People love the bees, and it’s often one of the first questions I get. I often answer with something like, “Oh, they’re great!” But deep down inside, I know I’ve been neglecting my hive duties for one-too-many months.

One of my last attempts to manage the hives left me with countless stings covering my legs, even through my canvas pants, and on my hands, through my gloves. It was a painful experience because I’m slightly allergic to them, and frustrating because it occurred due to my poor choices. I wasn’t careful about the time of day, air temperature, and adequate smoking.

After a few weeks of sulking and walking the long way around the bee yard so I didn’t have to face them, I finally tried again. With no stings this time, I realized how much I needed an experienced beekeeper to walk me through hive management after many weeks of neglect. It was time to get them ready for winter.

Help Is on the Way!

I called Mike Church, King George County’s resident bee expert to help me out. Mike taught the beekeeping class through the Gateway Beekeepers Association that got me inspired and trained to take on my first hives. In fact, my first hives came from Mike. Now, he would help me gets things back to a manageable level.

Can you find the queen? Click on the picture above to zoom in.

As we dug into the first hive, we found a vibrant colony with lots of brood but little honey. This will be the first one to boost, giving them as much opportunity and food stores to survive winter. The second, and largest, hive was a bit more challenging. It contained a lot of honey, good brood patterns, and then something unusual… evidence of two queens! As we got to the bottom of the hive, we realized that the second queen had to be in the last box, but she was no where to be found.

As we lifted the bottom box, there it was, a beautiful “underground” hive built beneath the larger bee city. There’s something so beautiful about free-form comb that reminds you how both scientific and creative bees are. Complex structures with no template other than the innate blueprints with which each is born.

Mike and I decided to give each hive a chance to survive. Working with a little ingenuity, we fashioned a structure that would allow the lower hive to move into one of the boxes. The upper hive would still remain above, with its own queen.

Thanks to Mike for helping me get reacquainted with my hives and for teaching me countless new things along the way. If you’re ever interested in keeping bees, I highly recommend taking a class through your local beekeepers association.

Beehive Condo

As we roll into fall, I’m already lamenting the loss of summer. Thankfully, there is one dozen ears of sweet corn left from Locustville Plantation Farm, after a pass through Ottoman, Virginia. If you’re in the area, check out the old house from 1855 and the little farm store with interesting local goods. You won’t leave without a story or two!


Hive Split

It was a rough winter on many fronts. There were nights of below-zero temperatures and the two bee hives struggled to stay alive. Although one hive eventually lost the good fight, the second hive came through with a renewed energy as temperatures began to rise.

Lost Hive


As you can see from the above picture, the scene was shockingly gruesome upon first look – all hive boxes were full of dead bees. It was unpleasant to sweep them out to start over.

And then there was one

Thankfully the second hive got strong quickly enough in late winter, with early pollen collection and brood development, that the hive was viable for splitting. In fact, it was probably just a week or two away from swarming. My mentor, John, came over just in time to help me perform my first hive split.

Hive Split
Mango is watching with intense curiosity! (At least he’s smart enough to stay far enough away.)

At the end of the split, there are two hives again! The queen was successfully placed in the new hive with sugar syrup to help the new colony grow. The old hive had already begun to develop a new queen, which hopefully put it further along in the process to re-queen the hive. On the hive that was split, a medium super was placed on top for honey collection and I suspect it will be a short time before it’s time to add another. I’m going to have my first honey harvest this summer!

Rebuilt Hive
The two hives are back in business again. The nectar flow is in full swing and it won’t be long before honey is ready to harvest.


Three of Bees


Whenever I see friends and blog readers, the first question is almost always about the bees. I’ve learned that people are very curious about them and yet most people don’t know very much about bees. Admittedly, I didn’t either when I started. So, here’s an update on the bees.

I added my third box to each of their hives this week. They are both booming and taking over every available space within each hive. And they are still eating a lot! I keep their sugar syrup jars consistently available, hoping it will help them maintain comb and nectar production. I still don’t know if I will get honey this summer, but they sure are moving quickly.


Bearding Hives

This picture is of them cooling themselves on a really hot and humid day this week. The weather is finally changing to a consistent muggy temperature, and the bees do everything they can to stay cool during the hot parts of the day. I’ve seen this called, “bearding” when they form a beard-like screen, almost dripping off of the hive and each other.

The bees are currently mesmerized by the magnolia blooms that are just opening outside of the “girls” guest room. (It’s called the “girls” room because it features some interesting hand-painting of flowers and birds from the 1940s. Most of the ladies that visit claim it as “their” room.) This picture is a quick centerpiece from Friday – the huge size and amazing fragrance of the blooms needed no pairing!


“This Beehive’s a Honker!”

To set up my second beehive, I bought my second nuc of bees on Sunday and got them all settled into their new home. I bought these from Mike, the beekeeper that taught our class. He is very knowledgeable and has four bee yards all over the county. Mike has a lot of favorite sayings, and as he called it, this beehive’s “gonna be a honker!” When he took the top off at his yard, the bees were literally spilling over the sides.

They were ready for a larger home, and I had to work hard on Saturday to stain and seal the second hive components and also build their frames with foundation. I used the same method that I used with hive one and love how they look. I have been very happy with the Brushy Mountain Bee Farm equipment. By today, I have already put on the second super for them. This hive is very strong and the queen is moving quickly – she’s a beauty too! Thankfully, she won’t require any of Mike’s “mash therapy” as long as she keeps performing well.


Now I just have to do my best to keep up with them – I’ll need a lot of sugar for the next few weeks! And who knows, maybe this is the hive that will give me honey in my first year.

Bees at Home

The first colony of bees has arrived and they are feeling quite at home in their new hive. My mentor, John, came by and we transferred them from his wooden nuc box into my eight-frame super. After only three days, they had already begun drawing comb on the new foundation, had eaten quite a lot of the supplemental syrup that I had given them, and the Queen had already laid eggs in almost every available cell.


I gave them another jar of syrup and will check on them next weekend. Their pollen baskets were all full, some light yellow and some a very deep orange – they have been exploring the yard and found a lot of new flowering plants. The black locust, iris, holly, chickweed, and all of the wildflowers have been top of the menu.

And as if things weren’t rolling already, I got an email tonight that my second nuc is ready for pick-up. I guess I better get the second hive painted stat.

IMG_5428In other news, the King George Farmers’ Market is open and everyone is selling jam. I bought a muscadine and a blackberry – Sunday was about jam tasting. You know I love a good jam – any flavor (within reason) – bring it on!

King George Farmers’ Market

The Bee-man Cometh

Well, that day is close at hand. I got the email that my bee nuc is ready to be picked up. I finally got the hives prepped and the hive stand will be built this weekend. I really think that they will like their new home at White Plains – everything is in bloom from the orange trees, the black locust, to the unknown fruit trees. They will have quite a feast. The cool thing about my first nuc is that I helped my mentor, John, with the final steps of his nuc splits – I will be getting one of his, likely one that I helped with. Below is a picture of us working on them last week.


When trying to decide whether to paint or stain/seal my hives, I read countless forums, talked to my bee mentor, and debated whether or not I was willing to touch them up each year, or more. In the end, I kept remembering my bee teacher’s guidance that bees are about trial and error. There are few absolutes. Try something, see if it works, and either replicate it the next time or find a new opportunity. So, I decided to stain the woodenware and seal it. I’m really happy with the results and hopefully the bees will be also.


And so goes life – we try things and hope that they work. Sometimes they do, and we celebrate. Other times, we learn how to do it differently next time. Either way, it’s about the experience.

The Hives Arrive!

BeehivesThe beehives arrived today from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm! After two months of classes, I’m armed with just enough knowledge to be dangerous. I have textbooks, hives, a mentor willing to walk me through my mistakes, and hopefully some very patient bees.

The weather was also perfect today. The peonies are about 1 inch high, the daffodils are opening up, and the crocus are perfectly blue.