De-Bugging My Honeybee Hive Box of Beetles

Author: Meera, February 18, 2018

I’ve been dealing with a beetle problem in my honeybee hive since fall. When my knowledgeable beekeeper neighbor called to suggest opening the hive, I readily agreed.


The hive box "super" with ten frames of honey awaits separating and straining into buckets

Frames of honey in a hive box




The dreaded hive beetle–tinier than a honeybee–can destroy a hive. Its destruction isn’t on the bees themselves, but rather the comb, honey, and pollen. As the population of hive beetle increases and the destruction mounts, the bees will abandon the hive.



Previously, my neighbor had used two types of hive beetle traps in my hive–Beetle Bee-Gone was an all-natural, chemical-free sheet that looked like a fabric softener product for the dryer. We had placed this on top of the frames before closing the hive last fall. The other product was a narrow plastic tray inserted between the frames that held vegetable oil.



The drone (male bees) are vital for mating with the queen; after that, they are unnecessary and are elminated

The white hive box bee entrance; also an access for the hive beetle



We discovered that the sheet worked well, trapping lots of  hive beetles. But the frame with oil had no beetles. I dumped it. We checked the brood box–and were excited to see it full of unborn babies.



After harvesting eight frames of honey, we reversed the brood box, scraped away the burr comb, and positioned a super on top of the hive box with empty frames for spring honey. Before closing the hive, we inserted two clean sheets of Beetle Bee-Gone.



Today, the bees are active and out foraging for pollen. Flowers are everywhere and the fruit trees in the neighborhood have broken bud. It remains to be seen if the Bay Area gets any more rain or bitterly cold days ahead. Probably by April 1, I’ll hang the swarm catcher and hope to add a new population of bees to my colony.





If you enjoy reading about keeping bees, growing heirloom vegetables and fruits, caring for chickens, or self care for healthy living, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries: A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and HIVE OF HOMICIDES. Click on the URL below. Also see newest nonfiction for healthy living: RITUALS FOR LIFE.

All available online and in bookstores everywhere

All available online and in bookstores everywhere





More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

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Ants in the Freezer . . . Seriously?

Author: Meera, July 23, 2015

Well, this is embarrassing. I found ants, a big pile of them, in the bottom of the freezer side of my double-door  fridge. I thought it was a mound of spilled coffee grounds. But that made no sense. Why would ants venture into the freezer in the first place. Crazy as it seems, I have an idea.



A knife is used to uncap wax cells to allow honey to flow from the frame

A single honey frame with wax and honey . . . right out of the hive box



A few weeks ago, my beekeeper neighbor told me about a little trick to sterilize frames before putting them into the hives. He said after I have drained a frame of honey, I should hang it outside in a tree near the hives for the bees to clean (they will eat the honey but leave the wax).


Then, I should put the frame of wax in a freezer so that any tiny pest like the larva of a wax moth or mites or ants will be killed.



After 24 hours, I can remove the frame from the freezer and store it until I’m ready to put it into a hive box. When I harvest honey, I can easily replace a honey-filled frame with an empty frame that has been sterilized in the freezer and already has beeswax. It’s less work for the honeybees to use that frame for brood or honey. Sounds good, right?



Well . . . I wrapped two frames with aluminum foil before putting them in the freezer. But I got lazy and just inserted one frame into the freezer without first wrapping it. It seemed very clean–just white wax left by the bees after they had devoured all the honey.



The unwrapped frame I put in my kitchen freezer must have leaked a drop or two of honey that I didn’t see. It drew those ants. Serves me right.



Now I have a designated freezer to be used only for honeybee frame sterilization. It will stand outside on my patio. I’m pretty sure the ants won’t be visiting my kitchen again. At least, that’s what I’m hoping.



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Time to Open the Hives, Check on the Bees

Author: Meera, January 19, 2015
Honeybees make a nice sundown snack for marauding skunks and raccoons

Worker honeybees on a frame of wax



My honeybees have become surprisingly active for the dead of winter. Local forecasters tell us that the Bay Area temperatures may reach 80 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the week. My apple and early peaches won’t wait; they’ve already blossomed.


The warm weather, time of year together with the fact that almond trees will be blooming in a couple of weeks and the lavender around my farmette is already blooming tells me I have to open the hives. My beekeeper neighbor says that his bees are already out collecting pollen–lots of it–and that means we have to get to work.


The hives have to be checked now for mold (that long period of hard rain in December caused some of my neighbor’s frames to mold). Moldy frames can’t be renewed; they have to be tossed. Honeybees can get nosema (with diarrhea), which shows up as spots at the base of the hive.


The bees are finding flowers on their forage runs and are returning to the hive laden with pollen.



The honeybee queen's "house"

The honeybee queen’s “house”



Bee queens will be busy laying eggs in the coming weeks, if they aren’t already. This is the time for beekeepers to purchase new queens.  By the first week in April, it’s possible we could see swarming.


So here’s the plan. If the hives have a lot of honey, I’ll harvest some. Strange to be doing that in winter, but the hive will need  space for brood. I’ll have to remove frames of honey and insert empty frames with wax (put in the freezer first for a period to kill any pest they might be harboring over).


I’ll put bee food patties in the open hives, so they’ll have plenty to eat (once I take some of their honey). My beekeeper neighbor tells me this will get the hive “heated up” for the queen to do what she does best–lay the eggs.


With so much activity, I’m confident that everything will turn out well, but you never know until you’ve inspected the interior of the hive and checked out everything, including the possibility of mold or the presence of pests or illness.



Golden honey draining from a frameinto a glass dish

Golden honey draining from a frame
into a glass dish



Mother Nature didn’t ask me, but I would have preferred she wait another month before removing her winter robes and dressing in spring florals. It just seems like now everything to do with the hives is on fast forward!



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Swarming Season Has Arrived!

Author: Meera, April 11, 2014


Honeybees cluster in a temporary location (apricot tree) during a swarm

Honeybees cluster in a temporary location (apricot tree) during a swarm



What’s not to love about spring? It’s only the middle of April and already we’ve seen several honeybee swarms. Swarming is how the bees reproduce their colonies and most often occurs during the warm days of early spring.



My neighbor, whom I’ve often called a world-class beekeeper (his father kept honeybees in Lebanon and taught him well) permitted me to keep his bee swarm that alighted in my apricot tree. He also generously donated a super (hive box) with some frames that already had wax, honey, and capped brood–all from his own apiary.



Honeybees outside the hive box on a hot day

Bees outside the hive boxes on a hot day



The newly housed honeybee workers delight in foraging on the various types of lavender (Spanish, English, and French perfume) that I’ve planted around the farmette. The colony will build up the wax and make honey while the nursemaid bees will care for the brood.



My husband, the architect-turned-farmer/beekeeper, has constructed a unique bee house for the hives. It will keep the bee boxes  dry during winter rains and out of reach of marauding animals (skunks and raccoons). Resting on a platform that Carlos built on top  of a newly installed brick floor, the hives are not within easy reach of the ever present ant population.



Alas, the bees weren’t about to wait until Carlos finished building their house. The swarm happened when the bees were ready to take flight (some 60 percent of the workers with their old queen) flew into our apricot tree.



Queen cell that houses the queen who is feed royal jelly until she emerges

The thimble-shaped cell houses the special bee who is fed royal jelly until she emerges as queen



If you see a swarm, call your local beekeeping association (or any store that carries local honey) for the name of a beekeeper. Avoid the temptation of spraying water or anything else on the swarm. Permit the beekeeper to safely remove the swarm.



For a beekeeper, rescuing a swarm is a truly exhilarating experience. Often a swarm consists of thousands to tens of thousands of honeybees. Beekeepers routinely rescue swarms from where bees have temporarily clustered while the bee scouts seek a permanent home. The beekeeper can shake them into a prepared hive box, leaving the box at the hive cluster site until all the bees are inside. At that point, the beekeeper takes the new hive to his apiary.



The beleaguered honeybees (whose populations have been decimated by the Varroa mite, weakened immune systems, and Colony Collapse Disorder) need help to survive and increase their populations. We need them, too! Without their pollination of fruit, nut, and other crops, our own food sources diminish.



Saving the honeybees is a good practice whenever possible because doing so ensures abundance and diversity in the plants we eat. Whenever I see a  cluster of bees in a tree I feel joyful and celebratory. Is it any wonder that swarming season is my favorite time of the year?



Two beekeepers rescue a swarm from high in a pepper tree

Two beekeepers rescue a swarm from high in a pepper tree





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Food for Bee Babies

Author: Meera, January 11, 2013
Beleaguered honeybees can have a difficult time making it through winter

Beleaguered honeybees can have a difficult time making it through winter




The bee suit I’ve worn this morning smells like smoke from the smoker. My neighbor opened his hives today to check on the status of the bees and I was happy to help. I learn something new every time I work with him. We’ve had freezing nights with the temps hovering below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, not good for bees.



Upon opening the first hive, we could see the bees were docile. After all, it is winter. The bees must work hard to keep heat in the hive and they aren’t expecting us to be intruding into their world. In fact, my neighbor didn’t bother with putting on either the beekeeper suit or the elbow-length leather gloves. He loves his bees and has no fear of being stung.



Our work today was putting into each super a patty of brood building food (mainly high fructose corn syrup, soy flour, and other nutrients) as a substitute for pollen, especially necessary to feeding bees. Beekeepers often feed their bees in late winter or early spring since there is little pollen to be scavenged from flowers. Flower and blossom pollen comes later in the spring.




Queen house on the honeycomb surrounded by babies

Queen bee house on honeycomb–photo courtesy of Carlos Carvajal



We must do all we can to help the beleaguered little honeybees. We have even covered their hives with blankets, reducing the necessary labor of the worker bees in keeping the hive humming and warm.



So I don’t mind smelling a little like smoke for a while to help the bees, and I’m hoping the bees won’t mind that I took one little frame of honey from their hive to my kitchen.


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Missing My Chickens

Author: Meera, January 5, 2013
Tighty Whitey sunbathing

Tighty Whitey



My next door neighbor welcomed us to the neighborhood when we bought the Henny Penny Farmette. He gave us produce from his garden, honey from his hives, eggs, and even the chickens that laid them. We didn’t even have a chicken house back then.



That didn’t stop us. It was summer, I was married to an architect/builder, and we put “build a chicken house” on our list of things to do.



It took about a week to build out the chicken house. The best time to transport chickens are at night when they are calm. You go into their old roost after dark and carry them to their new dwelling.That way, they awaken at dawn in their new home, and the move is a fait accompli.



Mystery, black Cochin hen

Mystery, black Cochin hen



After the six laying hens moved in, I named them. The white one seemed especially flighty so she became flighty Tighty Whitey. There were two brown hens, Click and Clack; two Mediterranean hens, Henrietta and  Heloise; and Mystery, the large black Cochin, who wouldn’t lay many eggs but loves to sit on them.




Houdini, the escape artist

Houdini, the escape artist



Since my neighbor believes that every hen house needs a rooster, he brought over a cute little whipper snapper that I named Houdini. What Houdini lacked in height and weight (he was after all a Bantam), he made up for in attitude.



Carlos outdid himself building that chicken house. He insulated it, tiled the floor, put in nesting boxes all along one wall (with little windows that could be opened so you could reach in to gather eggs), and a red thermal light for heat.



One day, inspectors from the city came out to look for standing water before mosquito season began and spotted the spiffy new chicken house. One fellow joked, “If those chickens don’t like it, call me. I’m looking for a new place.”


I grew attached to the chickens; so much so that when I lost two because of prolapsed cloaca, I mourned them as if family members had passed. Then last year, each time I cleaned the chicken house I suffered an asthma attack. This occurred in spite of wearing a mask the entire time I cleaned it. The chickens needed a clean house, but I could no longer be the cleaning lady.



I could not find takers for that job, so with a heavy heart I decided to give my chickens to a Lebanese lady. She wanted the chickens and had family members who would help her take good care of the brood. All the chickens except Mystery moved to the lady’s chicken house. Mystery moved back into the coop next door.


I miss the contented clucking of the chickens as they scratched their way around my yard. I miss Houdini’s gravely cockle-doodle-doo that awakened me before dawn. And I miss the fresh eggs that I would happily gather each morning from the splendid chicken house that Carlos built.


I’m fortunate that my neighbor kindly supplies me with organic eggs from his chickens. When I really get to missing the chickens, I popped over the fence to visit Mystery. Maybe she misses me, too. When I call her name she still answers.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about building a new chicken house with room for one or two chickens. I’d like to be able to move it around the yard on wheels. It would have to be tall enough to contain a roost and it would have to accommodate a nesting box or two, and include a wired section like a big box that could be detached. The whole thing wouldn’t need much cleaning. So, now I I’m trying to find the right time to broach the subject with my architect in residence.







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