On my birthday in late March this year, I noticed a large swarm of honeybees in my neighbor’s yard. The weather was warm and perfect for the overpopulated hive to release some of its citizens to find a new home with their new fertile queen.



Then on April 8–Easter Sunday, my own Italian honeybees swarmed. Our hive had made it through the winter although the bees had battled hive beetles. But just as hubby and I were on ladders that Easter afternoon building a new trellis for our grapes, I heard the low hum of thousands of bees lifting skyward.




Grape arbor

Grape arbor



Sure enough, the new swarm had emerged from our hive. We dropped our drills, screws, and lumber. He banged on cooking pot with a wooden spoon (to disorient the bees and encourage them to land in a nearby tree) while I set up the extra hive box with empty frames.




Healthy bees on a frame

Bees on frames in a hive box


Suited up in beekeeper gear, my hubby clipped a couple of branches from the pin oak tree to make it possible to do a hard shake on the one limb the bees had coalesced around. He placed the prepared hive box beneath the tree. Our beekeeper neighbor joined us and helped. Then, a hard shake and boom…the entire colony dropped into the hive box.



We waited until after dark to ease the hive box lid in place and then take the entire box to its permanent location in a sunny, dry spot in the garden.



A healthy hive box with lid removed

A  hive box without its lid. The bees do a waggle dance to tell the bees still in the air that this is their new home



The work on the trellis that will serve as our grape arbor was nearly complete when the swarm occurred. Now the finishing touches will have to wait for another day.






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Autumn Brings A Honey Harvest and Hive Treatment

Author: Meera, November 24, 2017

Harvesting sweet-tasting, amber-colored honey from my hives has become an autumn ritual. This past Sunday, my beekeeper neighbor and I opened, inspected, and removed ten frames of honey from the one hive I have left.


The other hive succumbed to stress, a hive beetle infestation, and a steady march of ants. This despite me keeping my hives (and the apiary) pristine, dry, and facing the sun.


Honey and comb

Honey and comb



I found a beetle (no larvae) in the super we removed from the hive box when I scraped the frames clean of wax and bee glue. The tiny black insect had established itself in a crack under a plug of wax. Bees can’t sting through the beetle’s hard shell.


Without a powerful way of combating an infestation of beetles, the hive becomes stressed.Thank goodness, my neighbor had just the treatment to eliminate any other unseen beetles from my hive box.


Beetle Bee Gone sheets are an all natural and chemical-free method for treating hive beetle. Bees munch on the sheet that then becomes a fuzzy trap that ensnares the beetles. The beetles die.


In cool weather, which is what we have now, the hive beetle moves to the interior, above the brood, and/or under the hive cover. When the weather gets warmer, the pests move downward and so the placement of the sheets must be moved down.



The treatment packet contains sheets

The treatment packet contains sheets




My neighbor also inserted under the hive box lid a small plastic trough (as long as a pencil) with holes. He poured vegetable oil into the trough until it was half full. This, too, is a natural treatment against the hive beetle. The pests drown.


I’m optimistic that these treatments (along with others I’m using for mites) will keep the hive protected over winter so that in spring, I’ll get a new swarm to grow my diminished colony.



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

Ten frames of honey await separating and straining into buckets



With the bees tended to, I turned my attention to the honey harvest. In all, the single super of ten frames produced roughly three gallons of honey once I’d prepped the frames and put them in the extractor. That’s more than enough  honey to get my family through the winter and to present as gifts to friends along with jars of fruit jams and homemade sweets come Christmas.




If you enjoy reading about backyard beekeeping, caring for chickens, or growing organic vegetables, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of books. All are available  through traditional and online bookstores. To see more, click on the link.





The third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series is out in time for holiday gift-giving

The third novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series is out in time for holiday gift-giving









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A Hive of Homicides or Hive Demise

Author: Meera, June 21, 2017

The title of the third novel in my Henny Penny Farmette series suggests loss of bees and murderous intent. No beekeeper wants to lose a hive, regardless of how it happens–whether some invader wants to kill the bees, go after the honey, or use the hive as a host for proliferation of its own species.




A healthy hive box with lid removed

A healthy hive box with lid removed


I’m not one-hundred percent positive why I lost a hive this year. My best guess was that the demise was due (not to homicide but rather) to a tiny little pest, possibly a beetle that weakened it so that the bees and queen fled leading to the hive’s demise.



My beekeeper neighbor and I spotted a small beetle and treated for it. My best efforts to keep my small bee house and the area around it clean as well as doing frequent hive inspections wasn’t enough. Now, I’m considering moving my remaining hive onto a higher, drier, sunnier location.



Bee garden in June bloom

Bee garden in June bloom



I’ll do it at night which is the correct time to move bees. You just put a little strip of packing foam along the hive entrance, gently move the hive, and place it in the new location. Remove the foam strip so the bees can leave at dawn and make sure there’s a water source nearby.



These honeybees will visit a backyard fountain throughout the day

These honeybees will visit a backyard fountain throughout the day



The bees will likely accept the move if there is water and food in the area. I like planting perennial bee gardens and flowers and bulbs with high nectar value for bloom throughout the year.



Since hives can be compromised by wax moths, hive beetles, and other pests (as well as parasites and diseases), frequent inspections to decipher a problem and treat it before it destroys your hive is imperative.


With supers (smaller hive boxes with ten frames each) on the hive in June, the bees will forage on abundant flowers and produce honey that can be taken off in July. That’s also the time to inspect for mites because these populations tend to swell during summer.






If you’re interested in beekeeping and other farmette topics, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries. All are available to order online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailer sites as well as traditional bookstores everywhere.



Murders at a N. California winery is a catalyst for ex-cop turned farmette owner Abigail Mackenzie

This third novel in the series will be released Sept. 2017









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Harvesting Honey–A Labor of Love

Author: Meera, October 16, 2016

Sitting in the middle of my kitchen is a three-story hive box with thirty frames of honey that needs to be extracted, filtered, and poured into jars.


My apiary is small–just two hives. Taking the honey is quite a labor-intensive activity. But it brings its own kind of joy. As pollinator populations decrease, keeping bees is a small thing I can do for all of us . . .  for our planet.



This electric honey extractor holds four frames; honey is spun out through centrifugal force

This electric honey extractor holds four frames; honey is spun out through centrifugal force and drains through the spigot



The stainless steel honey extractor, washed and scrubbed, has been pushed over by the oven to make a little space in my already-small kitchen.


Today, I washed the countertops, my stove, and even the sink with hot soapy water and bleach. Then after a thorough wipe-down, I stretched sheets of aluminum foil over the countertop. The extraction process started with four frames.


It’s a simple process. I set the four frames of honey on the foil-covered counter. Using a hot knife, I open the capped cells on both sides of the frames and put them in the honey extractor. Beneath the machine’s spigot, I’ve already positioned a five-gallon bucket with strainer attached. I start the machine on a slow speed and open the spigot.


Each of the five gallon and two-gallon buckets were previously washed and covered with strainers. These are held in place with heavy duty duct tape wrapped around the mouths. Switching out a full bucket for an empty one is easy when the buckets are prepped for use before the extraction starts.


Springtime honey appears golden whereas autumn honey is often darker (depending on what's flowering)

Springtime honey appears golden in the frames whereas autumn honey is often darker (depending on what’s flowering, but often star thistle and eucalyptus, in my area)



I expect a yield of  about thirty-five gallons this time. I lost one hive . . . more on that later, but, in all, it looks to be a good honey harvest for our family and friends.


As soon as I extract all the honey, I’ll start bottling it and affixing labels. It’s a process that will take several days to complete.


The frame I'm holding contains a queen house, honey, and brood

The frame I’m holding contains a queen house and baby bee food



Tasting, smelling, and seeing all this golden, delicious honey that the bees created warms my heart. When we take care of them, they take care of us. And we always leave plenty of honey in the hives for the bees to eat throughout the winter.


*          *          *




If you enjoy reading about farmette topics (including gardening, beekeeping, and delicious recipes), check out my Henny Penny Farmette cozy mysteries series from Kensington Publishing.


These novels are chocked full of recipes, farming tips, and sayings as well as a charming cozy mystery.



The first novel in the Henny Penny Farmette series

See, http://tinyurl.com/hxy3s8q


This debut novel launched the Henny Penny Farmette series of mysteries and sold out its first press run. It’s now available in mass market paperback and other formats.





The second cozy  mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Sept. 29, 2016

See, http://tinyurl.com/h4kou4g


JUST RELEASED! This, the second cozy mystery in the Henny Penny Farmette series, is garnering great reviews from readers and industry publications.


My books are available through online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, and Walmart as well as from traditional bookstores everywhere.








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Lemon Oil for Luring Honeybee Swarms

Author: Meera, April 15, 2016


Call it my sixth sense at work, but after my bees acted aggressive (which they usually are not) as I cleaned the water fountain, I prepared the swarm catcher and put it in the apricot tree nearest my office window. Mid-morning on Wednesday, I got my first swarm of 2016.



April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette

April 13, 2016 bee swarm on Henny Penny Farmette



Lemon oil is often the ingredient that lures the honeybees to a swarm catcher. I mix the lemon oil mixed with water and spray the swarm catcher with a pump sprayer. It usually works better to capture the bees in the swarm catcher than having them coalesce en masse on an inconvenient limb in a tree, say, fourteen feet up.




You can use lemon oil as a salve or in the oil form–apply the salve onto the swarm catcher around the opening for the bees or use the oil in a small plastic vial that gets inserted into a swarm catcher orifice.



Bear in mind that not all lemon oils are equal. Some are more “lemony scented” than others. Lemon oil is cold pressed from the peel and contains 3 to 10 percent citral (considered the most powerful of components that contribute to the lemon scent). Lemon myrtle contains 95 percent citral and, if it’s the scent you want, lemon myrtle is superior to all others.



So, when I realized my bees were swarming, I suited up and prepared a hive box with ten frames, eight with wax from previous honey harvests (where I left the wax intact) and two that I had in the kitchen where I was draining honey from them. It would provide an immediate source of food for the bees in their new home.



Today, I visited my favorite shop for all things honeybees and stocked up on a couple more hive boxes, just in case of another swarm, although the bees are quiet and non-aggressive again.



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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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