Oh boy, life’s been busy.

I helped a bunch of Lulu’s friends get our homeschool group’s first-ever yearbook off to the press. There was a fair amount of  last-minute photography and proofreading to do. Then I spent all weekend coordinating baked goods sales at Lulu’s ballet shows.


what dancers do backstage

Oh, and I had a kid turn seventeen. How could that possibly be?

birthday boy

We cooked dinner for a herd of hungry teenagers on Saturday. In between all those ballet shows.

I’m not the only one who’s been busy. There are approximately 10,000 girls in my front yard, working away. The ultimate cliched description of busy.

new comb

They’ve been here for three weeks now, and it’s been an adventure already. We’re using foundationless frames, which you can read more about here. Basically, rather than having the bees build on wax or plastic comb, you give them a little strip of something to start on. We’ve inserted paint stir sticks–which fit quite nicely into the frames–with a little beeswax painted on them. Here’s a video showing just how to do this.

frames with starter strips

The frames are drying upside down in this photo.

The bees build smaller cells when left to build it on their own. Some think that this helps keep Varroa mite problems under control–although this is disputed by others. Some think bees prefer to make comb this way, so they build it faster. If nothing else, it keeps the comb free of the chemicals which are bound to be in wax foundation, and it makes for pretty easy harvest when using the crush and strain method. Check out this video to see that in action.

I’d like to raise these bees as unobtrusively as possible, so I thought I’d try it out.

When we opened the hive after the first week, we saw that the bees had started building comb alright. But in the wrong place. They’d built eight perfect rows of comb on a hive piece called the inner cover.

oh no! comb on the inner cover!

This was my mistake. I’d left some extra space in the hive by leaving a wooden shim between the hive body and that inner cover. The shim had been in there to accommodate a baggie filled with syrup, which is one way to feed the bees until they get their hive fully up and running. Trouble was, our baggie leaked because I’d done a few things wrong in that department too, so I’d gone back to feeding them via the can that came with the bees. In which case I should have removed that shim–if you leave any extra space in a hive, the bees will use it.

I went to the Beemaster Forum for help. The comb pieces were too small to tie into frames with string or rubber bands, which is what is typically done when repositioning comb. Someone who’d had a similar problem had cut the comb out with an uncapping knife and rewaxed it into the frame with some melted beeswax. We tried it.

It wasn’t easy. New comb is beautiful and white but very delicate and fragile. We had gloves on because the comb was covered with bees. The day was cold and I was just getting the flu. But we got some comb on every frame, and put them back in the hive.

waxing in the comb

It worked! When we checked last week, only one piece had fallen out; it was big enough to rubber-band back in place. On every other frame, the bees had continued building gorgeous comb. We saw eggs, we saw larvae.

they're making comb!

foundationless frame

We saw Queen Bee-atrice!

Queen Bee-atrice!

See her there, a bit right of center, with the longer abdomen?

I did a quick check yesterday. Most of the frames were nearly filled out with comb, and there were lots and lots of larvae, plus much capped brood, which are larvae cells that the bees have capped so the larvae can develop into pupae. And Queen Bee-atrice was walking circles around the center of a frame again, just like she’s supposed to be doing.

they're filling out the frames

Most of the frames were almost filled out this week.

Fun thing is, I’ve roped the whole family in. Chris got suckered in from the beginning, when I needed a partner out there, especially through the comb-transferring debacle. (Although he is not fond of wearing his geeky bee hat in the front yard.) H has become the beekeeping photographer, and he’s taken many great shots via telephoto. I can’t believe he got that shot of Queen Bee from the distance he did. Guess I should have realized his video-filming talents would transfer to the still camera. Lulu and Mr. T seem sufficiently fascinated by the whole endeavor, and my parents, who happened to be here on the last two Sundays when I opened the hive, are enjoying the ever-wacky antics of their daughter. Last night, when my dad asked my mom if she’d started the salad yet (they were making a birthday dinner for the family, at our house) my mom called back, “You do it. I’m watching Tricia and her bees.”

So hopefully the girls will stay busy, but I’m looking forward to life slowing down a little. Before my favorite month of May passes by.

17 comments… add one
  • Kristin May 19, 2009 @ 8:14

    Happy Birthday Patricia!

    I enjoyed your post and photos. I think the comb is so beautiful and you’re off to a fantastic start with your girls. When parents do something that they are interested in, a lot of times the kids join right in, and it seems that this has happened with your kids. Remember when you told me that H had no interest in bees? Now’s he’s the chief photographer of your antics. That was so funny when your Mom asked your Dad to go do it! Thanks for feeding my son, part of the herd, at H’s 17th birthday party.

    • patricia May 19, 2009 @ 8:50

      Thanks, Kristin. Your comment was a nice start to my day. 🙂

  • P-Cake May 19, 2009 @ 20:22

    Hi Trash! Cool Blog.


    • patricia May 20, 2009 @ 6:49

      Thanks, P-Cake, you nut. I like your fake blog “o”.

      Is it the Oprah blog?

  • susan May 20, 2009 @ 3:54

    The foundationless comb looks great! Amazing how fast they are filling up the frames. I’m very curious to see how it works out. will the comb all run together or will you be able to pull out individual frames? Happy Birthday to H.

    • patricia May 20, 2009 @ 6:48

      The comb shouldn’t run together, Susan. It should look pretty much like comb with foundation once they’ve filled the frames. At least that’s how it usually works!

      I clicked over to your blog and saw that you’re already having many adventures! I’m trying to meet a deadline, so I’m really behind on visiting blogs and leaving comments. But I’ll be back! I hope every day of your trip promises something new and fascinating.

  • Unka Bee May 20, 2009 @ 11:02

    I protest. You have a live-in helper and a great photog. In The Dale I have been limited to any untrained help I can lure in and a tiny camera.

    Very nice pictures and descriptions. One day I will find my Queen too but I am looking only for the bee variety. I will be trying to find someone more expert for the next visit in 10 day or so.

    I have had them join two frame together with frame which I did not like to cut but had to. I had an idea of licking the hive tool later for the first taste of their honey but latest assistant washed it off before i had a chance to sample it

    • patricia May 21, 2009 @ 10:08

      Well, the live-in helper and photographer don’t come without their costs, you know.

      If my parents keep visiting when I check the hive on Sundays, they’ll be able to help you with inspections when they visit. They’ll be old pros. But you probably don’t have another extra-long beesuit…

      I haven’t tried licking the hive tool yet. Maybe I can smear it on a little goat cheese.

  • stefaneener May 20, 2009 @ 17:05

    That’s wonderful. My passions feed my family but manage to leave them a little, well, uninterested. I can usually rope a photographer and a smoker re-lighter, but when I do a full hive go-through, it’s usually alone.

    On the other hand I did get my mom to veil up and look inside the hive the other day. I’ll be interested to see your percentage of drone comb. On natural foundation, mine seemed to run as high as 30%. We’ll see! Every single time I look in there, I learn new things. Usually I learn how little I know.

    The busy will slow down, as we all know. Hang in there.

    • patricia May 21, 2009 @ 10:10

      Yes, well I’m sure the novelty will wear off here too. But it’s nice while it lasts.

  • Emily May 21, 2009 @ 9:06

    We want to come see the bees!

    • patricia May 21, 2009 @ 10:14

      Oh do! R. can help me come up with princess names for them. You can get a great view of them from our patio–or you can don a veil and see them up close!

      When the lavender blooms out there in a month or so, it should be an otherworldly scene.

  • melissa s. May 21, 2009 @ 16:18

    i’m so impressed with your beekeeping. what a great learning opportunity. hope you’re feeling better and get some down time soon!

  • suzee May 23, 2009 @ 19:52

    You ARE having fun! And so, by the looks of it, are your bees.

    Happy birthday to that 17yo. Blows your mind, don’t it? Annie’s is in 6 days, and I can’t believe all the growing up that’s gone on just in the last year, let alone the last 17. And that’s just ME. 🙂

  • Barrie May 28, 2009 @ 16:51

    Hi Tricia,

    It was nice to meet you today at the park–wow, your website sure is an inspiration! I am fascinated by the beekeeping and all the other fantastic things you do with your family (including trips to Japan, one of my favorite countries), and it makes me more excited than ever for the future. I would love to keep in touch, and hopefully we’ll be at the park again in 2 weeks.

    As far as the beekeeping goes, we watched the crush and strain video and are interested to know if the “unfiltered” honey with cappings that you sometimes see at the farmer’s market was harvested this way.


    • patricia May 29, 2009 @ 7:30

      Hi Barrie,

      It was great to meet you at the park too! I’ll look forward to seeing you again. Now you have my email address–be sure to email me if you have any questions about the group.

      I’m afraid my photos might have misled you–our family hasn’t been to Japan. Just Japan Center in San Francisco! Though I’d love to go to Japan someday. Did you ever see the good-ness blog? http://goodness.typepad.com/goodness/
      She’s a Canadian who lived in Japan until recently. Before she left she did a bunch of posts on her favorite ABCs of Japan. Very charming. I’ll bet you’d like it.

      We have done a lot of overseas travel with our kids, though I haven’t written much about it here, because it was before my blog. That travel has been one of the best parts of homeschooling, and I think it played a big role in my kids’ educations and who they’re becoming.

      As for the honey, isn’t that video cool? I think you may be talking about what’s called chunk honey, and yes, you could harvest that this way. It’s just honey with a chunk of the comb in it. Or maybe “unfiltered” honey is just honey that’s been left with bits of comb in? I’m not sure why people would want it that way…maybe for more local pollen.

      If you’re taking your son for a pre-nap drive, you can look for our hive, since it’s in the front yard!

  • Janet Jun 8, 2009 @ 20:23

    So, I have been snooping around your life again–do you ever feel like people are watching? Well, I watch and I always learn. Another school year is ending at the Arbor School and we are all ready for a break and is ready for some more time together. I can believe that H is 17, we are right behind you! You have a great life and I am so glad you freely share your thoughts, good ideas and humor!

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