top of page

A Beekeeper's First Year

IMG_9340.HEIC

THURSDAY APRIL 29, 2021

Our beehive equipment arrived that we ordered online from Mountain Sweet Honey Company of Georgia. In these boxes was our starter kit and beekeeper accessories! This included a hive stand with frame holder, the components (unassembled) for a deep (10 frames) and two medium (10 frames) boxes, a telescopic top cover, 10 frame screened bottom board, queen excluder, and inner top cover. (Cost approx. $300). We also received a Beekeeping Jacket and tools combination that included a jacket, gloves, hive tool, hive smoker, and bee brush and more (Cost approx. $200). We moved the boxes into the garage and waiting for the weekend to start looking at all the goodies!

I am thankful that my family agreed to my "crazy" idea of having a beehive on our property. I can't wait to get started!

SATURDAY MAY 1, 2021

Watch the beekeeping supplies unboxing video here!

IMG_9440.jpeg

SUNDAY MAY 2, 2021

Soon after the supplies unboxing, my dad and I got to working on assembling the hive components. This was way more work than I had anticipated and carried over from Saturday to Sunday. There were 30 frames to construct. Each frame joint was first glued and then nailed. Before the final nail, the plastic waxed frame foundation slid into a groove. Once the 30 frames were put together, we moved on to the boxes.

 

One of the sides of the screened bottom board was damaged from shipping, but we were able to glue the break together and repair it. The telescopic top cover was already assembled. Things were starting to come together and actually look like a beehive. By some miracle, neither one of us got any splinters!

My sister and I spray painted the exterior of the hive boxes, top cover and bottom board with two coats of blue exterior paint.

MONDAY MAY 10, 2021

We ordered an additional full beekeeper body suit and gloves. Watch the unboxing video here.

WEDNESDAY MAY 26, 2021

It's the big day! Our package of Italian bees (Cost approx. $190) arrived from Mountain Sweet Honey Company! The bee package included a screen box, sugar water container, 3 lbs. of bees (approx. 10,000 bees) which included nurse bees, forager bees, guard bees, and drone bees.  The queen bee was in a wooden and screen queen cage.

 

Believe it or not, the package was shipped via the United States Postal Service in an open-air screened box! We received a phone call from the Montville Post Office telling us it was ready to pick up. When my dad arrived to get the package, he was amused to see that the postal workers were happily taking selfies with the bee package.

As soon as we got home, we installed the package in our new hive. We had to work quickly because a thunderstorm loomed and the temperature was cooler than the bees prefer. You can see in the video here that the bees were very active and healthy.

IMG_9832.jpeg

SUNDAY MAY 30, 2021

Now that it has been a few days since we installed the bee package, we did a quick inspection. We needed to make sure that the queen and her attendants had eaten through the candy cap on her queen cage. When you install the package, you do not release the queen from her cage because the bees need to learn her scent and accept her as their queen first. In the time it takes them to eat through the candy, the queen should be accepted.

 

It was still a little chilly and the bees were clustered in the bottom deep box of the hive to keep warm. During the inspection, we saw that the queen cage was empty. Even though we used a smoker to calm the bees, one of the bees didn't like our inspection interruption and attempted to sting me through my leather glove. Poor puppy!

THURSDAY JUNE 10, 2021

The bees have had almost two weeks to start establishing the hive. The video of our first full inspection, with text explanations, can be found here

IMG_0719.jpeg

THURSDAY JUNE 17, 2021

A quick inspection of the hive revealed that our queen is doing very well! We saw a good laying pattern with eggs, larvae and capped brood. We also added an additional medium box to our hive so that the bees can build out some more comb to store honey for the winter. We do not plan to harvest any honey for 2021. Our hive needs to fully establish itself, so all of the honey they produce this year will go to them.

IMG_1081.jpeg

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30, 2021

Today's inspection has revealed the first capped honey along the top edge of this frame of brood. This is the perfect location on the frame for the honey when there is brood.

By July, a mature hive should have several frames filled with honey. Our hive is a little behind schedule, but this makes sense because we did not install our bee package until late May. Progress is being made, however.

I also wanted to mention that we are making sure that there is a water source need to the hive (we filled a wheelbarrow with water and with stones for the bees to land on and drink).

SATURDAY, JULY 3, 2021

We installed a top feeder on the hive today. The 4 galloon top feeder ($50) holds a 1:1 sugar water solution that is readily available to the bees to supplement nectar gathering. We are heading into what beekeepers call dearth. Dearth refers to the time during summer when nectar sources are greatly reduced. Because the top feeder is within the hive, it is less prone to robbing during dearth. Robbing is when another bee colony steals honey from a weaker colony. Watch the top feeder installation video here.

IMG_1219.jpeg

MONDAY, JULY 5, 2021

I did a quick "peek under the hood" to see how much sugar water there was in the top feeder. The bees have definitely consumed a lot! The bees climb up the center of the top feeder and then use the wire mesh to walk down to the sugar water's edge. They then move the sugar water into combs on the frame and begin the process of dehydrating it (by moving air with their wings) to store it for the winter. 

ready for population explosion.png

THURSDAY, JULY 8, 2021

I was fortunate to be able to do a full inspection of our hive with my mentor and Certified Master Beekeeper, Landi Simone today! Our inspection was quite efficient, and was approx. 15 minutes in length.

 

The bees have started to build out the comb on a few of the frames in the new medium box. Landi showed me how we could move the built comb to the sides of the box so that the bees would be encouraged to build comb on the frames that haven't been touched yet. The bees like to work from the center vertically, and then out horizontally. She cautioned that in the brood box (where the queen lays eggs) the weather is a key factor in whether or not you can move around the frames. Capped brood is more sensitive to the cold than eggs and larvae, so if you do move a frame to the outer edge, make sure that the side with more capped brood is facing inwards.

Landi also suggested that we relocate our hive away from the adjacent trees so that we could surround the hive with an electric bear fence. I'll write more about this in a later log entry.

SATURDAY, JULY 24, 2021

Neighboring bees are attempting to rob honey from the hive! See it here. Not good! We immediately grabbed a fist-full of tall grass to shove in the hive entrance so that none of the intruder bees could enter the hive. We put the wooden entrance reducer to the smallest setting. It did not take long after plugging the entrance with grass for the intruder bees to get bored and fly away (thank goodness). It seems like a silly thing to do, but plugging the entrance with grass really worked. We are lucky that it isn't too hot though, because blocking the air circulation within the hive for too long is not a great idea.

July 28.png

WEDNESDAY, JULY 28, 2021

Another full inspection. Progress is being made with building out the comb in the medium box. The brood box is continuing to produce new bees. 

SATURDAY, JULY 31, 2021

I'm just enjoying watching the coming and goings of the bees. Check out all those full pollen pants coming into the hive!

SUNDAY, AUGUST 1, 2021

Another full inspection reveals great progress. Our constant 1:1 sugar feeding, and a strong queen, is growing the population and strength of the hive. View a video of the inspection here.

IMG_2502.jpeg

TUESDAY, AUGUST 3, 2021

We set up a bucket open-air feeder for the bees so that they do not get too lazy just using the top feeder and forget how to forage for nectar in the wild. This is essentially a bucket filled with straw and the 1:1 sugar water mixture. There are also two sticks (paint stirrers) that act as a bridge for the bees to walk on when reaching the sugar solution. The bees need to "forage" for the sugar water. They think this is just one huge, perhaps strange, flower. The open-air feeder must be at least 100 feet away from the hive, otherwise it will attract bees from other hives to our weaker hive (and increase the chance of robbing).

SATURDAY, AUGUST 7, 2021

I'm just enjoying watching bees (that I dream are from my own hive) happily foraging on the Russian Sage and Marigolds in our garden. I have noticed that the bees are bringing in a lot of pollen lately, especially bright orange pollen that I suspect is coming from our marigolds. I have also seen the bees on our Sedum. 

While nectar and the resulting honey provide the bees with carbohydrates, pollen is the bee's source of protein. Unlike hornets that commonly feast on other insects, honey bees rely on pollen as a protein source. 

SUNDAY, AUGUST 8, 2021

We had a birthday celebration for my sister and my grandpa today and my extended family from Long Island wanted to see the hive. We gave my uncle one of our extra bee suits and did a mini-inspection to show the hive to him. I don't know when it happened, but as I was showing him one of the frames, the queen must have fallen off the frame. It is rare for a mated queen to fly away unless she is swarming. Well, I was lucky enough that I caught movement on the ground out of the corner of my eye before I stepped on the queen! Seriously; it was truly lucky that I didn't accidentally step on the queen and create a whole mess of a situation for the hive. We were able to place the queen on a leaf and get her safely back inside.

Lesson Learned: always look at the brood frames OVER the hive so that if the queen falls, she just falls IN the hive!

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 18, 2021

My family and I started to work on preparing the new location for our hive in our rear yard by mapping out the location of the bear fence. As we get closer to winter, it is a true danger to the hive that bears will smell the bee's honey and want to have a feast. Winnie the Pooh may be a lovable cartoon character, but bears really do love honey. According to New Jersey regulations, we are allowed to have up to six hives on our 1/2 acre property (I'm hoping to expand to more hives in 2022.). The bear fence will be electrified, but the width and length of the hive must be large enough that a bear cannot reach in over or through the electrified fence to swipe at the hives. A minimum of 3 feet is required between the hive edge and the fence. Our fence will be approximately 12 feet x 28 feet (we are including a small raised garden bed within the fence.

 

Constructing the bear fence is no small task. Because the fence involves a solar battery and wires that will be electrified, I'm not going to go into too much detail here. It is best that you seek out an expert (Landi Simone was heavily involved in the design and build of our bear fence!).

SATURDAY, AUGUST 21, 2021

This was another regular full inspection with (thankfully) nothing unusual or concerning to note. We did our first alcohol wash to test for varroa mites. We discovered no mites. We can hold off on performing any varroa mite treatments for now.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2021

My mentor, Landi Simone, and I did a full inspection today. See video of the inspection here. In addition to the inspection, I was honored to be included along with my hive in photographs taken for a biographical article of Landi Simone for Bee Culture Magazine! The article, written by David MacFawn was featured in the February 2022 issue. View the article here.

moving the hive step 1.png

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2021

I started the journey of moving the hive from its original location to its new location (within the bear fence that we are constructing). When relocating a hive, you can move a hive overnight if the new location is at least 1 mile away.

 

If the distance is shorter than that, you can only shuffle the hive daily 3-9 feet from the previous day's location. The bees will fly out of the hive and return based upon where the previous day's location was. They will return to the old spot and realize it is not there. They then will look around in the immediate vicinity and likely re-find their hive. It was truly comical to witness this. I watched the bees come back to the original location (on top of the pavers) and pace back and forth before moving over to the hive beside the pavers.

 

A trick to try to get the bees to re-orient themselves as they leave the hive in the morning is to place a board in front of the hive exit. The bees will "hit" the board as they leave and that initiates a re-orientation of the hive. It will take at least two weeks to slowly migrate the hive to its new location!

IMG_3479_edited.jpg

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2021

Landi and I finally installed the solar powered battery for the bear fence thanks to drilling a few holes in a wooden plank and the use of zip ties to connect it to a metal T post!

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2021

For the record, yes. I have been stung. The first mishap was the result of trying to move the hive another 9 feet WITHOUT the calming use of the smoker when it was already dark. I was stung twice on my ankles, and my mom was stung 12 times in more places than one. Lesson learned!

IMG_3624.jpeg

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2021

We did it! Landi and I finally completed the wiring of the bear fence. With a flip of the switch, it is now electrified. The last step (other than completing the move of the hive to its new location) is to bait the middle live wire with bacon. 

Why are we using a bacon bait? If a bear just brushes up against the fence its thick fur reduces the strength of the electric jolt, but if the bear bites the electrified wire to eat some bacon, you better believe it will feel it! That bite will train the bear to stay far away from the area.

IMG_3647.jpeg

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2021

My dad had this brilliant idea of putting the hive on a tarp and using the tarp to drag the hive its 9 feet. This is so much easier than what we had been doing, which was to lift the extremely heavy hive and move it inches at a time. It is also much less disruptive for the bees. 

In this picture you can also see the board that we put in front of the hive to help the bees re-orient themselves each morning. By midday and right before the foragers start returning to the hive, the board is removed.

IMG_3665.jpeg
IMG_3665.jpeg

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2021

After an inspection, we did an alcohol wash to test for varroa mites. While we did not see any mites, I am not convinced that I did it correctly. As a preventative measure, we applied the first varroa mite treatment, Formic Pro, to the hive. The two pads are placed above the brood box and under the first medium box. The vapors from the Formic Pro will penetrate throughout the hive and hopefully kill most of the varroa mites..

IMG_6605.jpeg

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2021

Formic Pro can be really rough on the bees as well as being tough on the varroa mites. It was quite startling to see how many bees were overcome by the Formic Pro vapors and died. It does look like quite a lot, but in relation to how many thousands of bees are now in the hive, the sacrifice is worth saving the overall hive.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2021

The hive has finally reached its final location inside of the bear fence!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2021

I performed a post-Formic Pro alcohol wash. Found 3 mites which equates to .877%. There is no need to do any more immediate varroa mite treatments.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2021

I helped my mentor, Landi Simone, do alcohol washes at one of her apiaries in Pine Brook. I learned a lot about how to select the correct type of bees for the test. You want most of the bees to be nurse bees (they can't fly yet) because they are the kind of bees that have the most contact with varroa mites.

 

Watch a video of one of the alcohol washes that I performed here.

IMG_4573.jpeg

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2021

As the weather is getting colder, it is necessary to add a mouse guard to the hive entrance. The wire mesh was available at Home Depot and I cut it to the correct length and width. The mesh is then folded and thumb tacked into place for the duration of the winter. Without the mouse guard, it is likely that a mouse would love to build a nest inside the warm hive. During the winter, the bees cluster together to maintain warmth and would not break that cluster to chase out a mouse and her family.

65798800925__6845C48A-8F02-441B-A7DE-B940D7B90F30.jpeg

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2021

It is time to winterize the hive. We reversed the top inner cover and put a shim under the top cover to aid in air circulation. This is important so that the water evaporation from the bees activity does not condense on the inside of the cover and rain down on the bees.

 

We also made sure that all the frames in the top medium box are filled with capped honey. This is the source of the bees food throughout the winter months. Going into winter, the average colony needs at least 60-90 pounds of honey to survive. Each medium frame of honey weighs approx. 6 pounds, so a full medium box of 10 frames should have approx. 60 pounds of honey.

IMG_7286.jpeg

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2021

Several members of the Essex County Beekeepers Society, Landi and I did our final varroa mite treatment of 2021 called Oxalic Acid Vaporization today. The machine used for Oxalic Acid Vaporization is costly. The Essex County Beekeepers Society decided to purchase a machine to lend out to its members starting in 2022, however as the process is VERY dangerous (note that all of us are wearing serious protective equipment including organic vapor and acid respirators) in order to borrow the equipment a series of training classes must be completed with an expert (Landi). I was honored that the club came to my apiary to perform this varroa mite treatment.

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2021

I had not seen the bees outside of their hive in a while, but it was warm enough today that several went out for cleansing flights (so they could remove waste from inside the hive and also go to the bathroom).

IMG_5024.jpeg

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2021

It's officially winter, and the ground and the hive are covered in a dusting of snow. After this picture was taken I walked over to the solar charged battery, turned off the power, wiped off the snow from the panel, and turned the charger back on. Merry Christmas Eve, puppies!

BONUS CONTENT:
Highlights from the Second Year of Beekeeping

TUESDAY, February 8, 2022

It has been a long time since I saw activity at the beehive during the winter, but today it was warm enough and some bees ventured out of the hive! This is good news to see the activity!

Feb 23 pollen pants.jpeg

WEDNESDAY, February 23, 2022

I spied some bees coming into the hive today with pollen pants! I had to zoom into the photo quite a lot, but even though it is blurry, you can see the pale yellow blobs of pollen stored in the forager bees' corbiculae, or "pollen baskets" on their back legs. I suspect that it may be from skunk cabbage.

IMG_5590.jpeg

SATURDAY, February 26, 2022

The first year of beekeeping was so rewarding! My family agreed to allow me to expand the apiary with two more hives to help our local gardeners, including those at the Garden4Good, to grow vegetables, flowers and fruits. The shipment of additional equipment we'll need for the two hives arrived today. I can't wait to unpack it all! 

IMG_5593.jpeg

SUNDAY, February 27, 2022

I did a quick "look under the hood" today to check on the bees. They were clustering together to keep warm (normal behavior) on the side of the hive facing south. Everything looks great! The hive was definitely lighter indicating that they have been consuming their stored honey. This is all normal.

March 6 start sugar feeding.jpeg

SUNDAY, March 6, 2022

Today was another quick inspection. We also fed the bees granulated sugar over a perforated newspaper layer. It is still too cold to feed the bees sugar water. You know it is too cold for sugar water (essentially anything below an average temperature of 50 degrees) when the bees need to cluster to keep their temperature warm enough. The sugar water adds too much moisture to the hive and it can cause the bees to suffer from dysentery (too much feces/waste in their gut) because the weather is too cold for the bees to fly.

March 14 sugar newspaper removal.jpeg

MONDAY, March 14, 2022

Another day, another inspection. The hive is definitely coming back to life with flying activity. I observed eggs, so the queen is getting back in business. There was evidence that the hive definitely has hygienic bees, as in addition to eating the sugar crystals, they have started to chew the newspaper to remove the pieces from the hive. Clever little puppies!

SATURDAY, MARCH 26, 2022

Hail! It is officially spring, yet the hive had to keep toasty warm inside because of a hail storm!

IMG_5934.jpeg

TUESDAY, APRIL 5, 2022

Today's inspection revealed that the bees have eaten more of the sugar, and have removed almost half of the newspaper from the hive!

April 23 nucs arrive.jpeg

SATURDAY, APRIL 23, 2022

I purchased two nucs from Gooserock Farms of Montville, NJ. A nuc is a smaller hive that includes bees in all stages of development (eggs, larvae and capped brood), capped honey and open nectar, a laying queen bee, and worker bees. There are at least five frames of bees in a nuc.

For my first year of beekeeping, I started my hive (the blue hive) with a 3 lbs. package of bees, so this process of expanding the apiary was different.

These two nucs will be transferred to their new hives in a few days after they get accustomed to their new location and then they will be able to grow to a full hive.

April 25 Queen cups.jpeg

MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2022

The two nucs were transferred to their full boxes today. My mom and I did a full inspection of our original blue hive and the bee population has exploded! The hive is obviously preparing to swarm because there were multiple queen cups that were visible.

 

The queen cups are the larger cups that you see along the bottom of this frame. Once a cell is in the queen cup, the nurse bees will feed them a special diet of royal jelly. Those eggs will then develop into a queen. The queens that emerge will battle each other to the death.

 

In order to prevent an actual swarm, we will set-up another hive. We will take half of the blue hive's population and stores and move the existing queen to the new hive. We will leave the best three queen capped cells to develop in the blue hive.

April 25 FullSizeRender.jpeg

HERE'S TO HAPPY HIVES!

Here are all four hives in the apiary. I can't believe that what started out as one hive in our apiary has turned into four hives practically overnight!

We have given each of our hives a nickname. From left to right we have CLIFFORD (named after Cliff Omoruyi our favorite Rutgers basketball player and a favorite childhood cartoon character), GROOVY (a.k.a. Crystal Comb or the Mystery Machine), the "WHITE HOUSE", and HOUSE OF BLUES. 

FRIDAY, APRIL 29, 2022

The four hives are just one happy family. Not only is a beautiful and sunny today, the weather is perfect for cleansing flights and for teaching the new bees how to fly!

This video was taken right after I completed a day filled with Earth Day presentations. It was a fun yet exhausting day that was rewarded with seeing all these bees in flight.

MONDAY, JUNE 20, 2022

The hives have progressed as they were supposed to over the past several weeks, as confirmed by bi-weekly inspections. Today was the first time we harvested honey from one of the hives! The honey was harvest from The House of Blues. Find more details here

July 12 bearding IMG_0355.jpeg

TUESDAY, JULY 12, 2022

It has been HOT! I thought that it would be fun to show a picture of bees "bearding" outside of the hive entrance. This may look scary, but this is absolutely normal. Bees do this to keep cool and to reduce the overall temperature of the inside of the hive. The bees keep the inside of the hive between 94-96 degrees year round. Yes, even during the winter.

SUNDAY, JULY 24, 2022

This is a fun video taken during the inspection today. The bees had built comb between two boxes and started to store honey in the comb, so when the box was removed the honey spilled out. 

Watch as the bees use their proboscis, a thin, strawlike appendage, to slurp up the honey. The bees store the honey in their honey stomach in order to safely transport the liquid to a comb within the hive to be stored again.

Watch the full-size video here.

SUNDAY, JULY 31, 2022

It looks like the CLIFFORD hive has decided to raise a new queen to replace their existing one. This is called a supersedure. The CLIFFORD queen is the 2021 queen from the original package of bees that we removed from the HOUSE OF BLUES when it was obvious that they were going to swarm. During the inspection today, this queen cell was discovered and this video of nurse bees feeding the larvae was filmed.

 

It was fascinating to watch as one nurse bee after another visited the yet to be capped cell to feed the larvae. We will keep an eye on the hive, but it does not surprise me that they are raising a new queen. Each queen only has a limited number of eggs, and their existing queen is over a year old.

Watch the full-size video here.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 14, 2022

I have noticed there have been a lot of tree frogs in our yard this summer, but imagine my surprise when I found this tree frog under the outer cover, but above the inner cover of THE HOUSE OF BLUES. The bees were literally grooming the frog! It was a tree frog spa! 

Watch the full-size video here.

September 2 propolis peaks IMG_1304 (1).jpeg

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2022

Our HOUSE OF BLUES hive really LOVES to glue everything tight and seal drafts with propolis! When I removed the top box to do an inspection, the propolis literally created peaks!

Bees mix saliva and beeswax with sap and resins gathered from tree or other botanical sources to make propolis. For humans, propolis is thought to possibly have medicinal properties, especially as an anti-fungal.

September 2 festooning IMG_1318.jpeg

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2022

During the inspection of the GROOVY hive, this example of the bees in a "festoon" was photographed. It isn't clear as to why bees festoon like this, making a bridge by holding onto each other's legs. One theory is that they do this to measure the distance between two objects.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2022

Two weeks ago on September 4, I put Apiguard, a varroa mite treatment, on CLIFFORD. We didn't have another 2" shim, so we had to put an empty medium box on the hive over the Apiguard so that the bees could get to the Apiguard. The way it works, is the bees gather the Apiguard crystals to remove them from the hive (it is hygienic behavior to keep the hives clean with no outside substances). As they remove the Apiguard, the varroa mites that are on the bee's body are exposed to the treatment and die.

I knew that using the medium box to provide that space would result in the building of crazy comb, but I had no idea that it would be this much during a two week time frame!

Watch the full-size video here.

September eggs larvae capped broodIMG_1482.jpeg

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2022

This is a picture of a piece of comb that was cut from the CLIFFORD hive's Apiguard treatment crazy comb. I thought it would be interesting to share because in this piece of comb you can see eggs (at the bottom), larvae (middle) and a few capped brood. (top) 

Bees never cease to amaze me!

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2022

It's our first snowfall of the season. I hope the bees are snug as a bug in a beehive!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2022

I am proud to report that today, Monday, December 12, 2022, I was notified by the Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey that my final Gold Award Project report is approved. I am an official Girl Scouts Gold Award recipient!

bottom of page