A Visiting Swarm

Last Wednesday Felix came running inside to tell us there was a huge group of bees hanging off of a branch in the yard. We all RAN outside as fast as we could and saw that it was, indeed a large bunch of bees hanging, shoulder-high, on a branch very near our actual beehive.

I remembered that swarms are not dangerous because they have no hive to defend so we went up close to examine it. It was really amazing to see this huge mass of bugs all clinging together. Jem & I ran to assemble an unused beehive to catch the swarm, as we headed back, they all seemed to be taking flight and within a few seconds we realized they were flying up up and over the top of a tall pine tree towards the woods.


It was the perfect height for us to catch it if we had only gotten there in time.


They’ve just left their other home because it was too crowded there (swarming is a natural part of life for honeybees), after they find a nice place to hang out for a short while, they send out scout bees to find a new home. When a particular number of scout bees return recommending the exact same location, then they all take flight together.

“The term ‘swarming’ is applied to the act of a family of bees leaving their home to establish a new home elsewhere.” –The ABC and XYZ of Beekeeping” A.I. Root, 1878

The other side.


Below is a video of them taking off.

This is where we moved the beehive to before we installed the new package of bees in April, they seem to like it better here. This is immediately to the left of where the swarm was.


Cousin Alex was visiting! and can be heard yelling to the bees in the video ‘Where are you going!?’


Long live the Queen!

hivesJuly The hive that swarmed lost their queen when she led the workers to a new location (see my brief blog post on that here). BUT when we opened the hive this week we saw that there were eggs and ‘brood’ which means that the worker bees have MADE a new queen, she has mated (!) and is laying eggs. Bee books say that queens can lay up to 1500 eggs a day in the high season, this is a bit hard to comprehend. In any case, we were so relieved to see that the colony is thriving and would continue after the swarming. Whether they make it through the winter is another matter entirely.



Extracting Honey

combWe extracted our first honey this past week! It was really fun. Here’s an empty comb in all it’s mathematical beauty & precision.


This is the frame (the wooden part) filled with capped honey. The bees cap the honey with wax to seal it. The comb is irregular because we only put a half sheet of wax foundation into each frame and let the bees do the rest. Master beekeeeper Chris Harp of Honeybee Lives taught us that.


Here we are uncapping the comb. This basically involves cutting off the wax so that the honey inside can be drained or spun out in an extractor.


Jem & Felix are spinning the extractor, it works on centrifugal force. The uncapped comb with honey inside faces the outside of the barrel and the honey spills out as the frame is turned.


When all the frames are done we opened the spigot at the bottom and the honey poured into a clean bucket with a fine filter fitted on top. The filter just ensures that no wax makes it into the honey. The honey itself is still raw and untreated.


Here’s the honey dripping into the filter.


The honey!! Note the light color. it may be Catalpa or clover honey, we’re not sure. it is very flavorful and clover honey is supposed to be mild so we don’t really know where they got their nectar.


We thought these little bottles would make nice gifts, they hold 8 ounces each so we ended up with about 7 lbs total. The little bear was a gift from Megan at Hudson Valley Bee Supply where we get lots of our supplies.

IMG_0201 copy

Our ladies seemed to really loves these drumstick allium. I think I’ll plant more this fall.

IMG_0176Summer in the Catskills has a lot to offer, and Felix was a huge help with our adventures in honey collecting.

Amazing vintage beekeping videos.

This is a series of beekeeping videos made in 1979 about ‘skep beekeeping’ in Germany. They are really awesome and worth watching if you are interested in beekeeping. It is especially cool to see how they used to keep bees in the ‘olden days’ since I imagine a lot of this knowledge is now lost. These master beekeepers don’t use gloves, smoke the bees with a special pipe and are masters of all sorts of cool old crafts related to skep-making. Skeps are basically inverted baskets with an entrance for bees. They can be easily moved for pollinating and winter protection. They are so well-made that they can last as long as 100 years. Amazing craftsmanship is at work. The videos have a very slow pace and an English narrator with a wonderfully Monty-Python-esque quality to them. Enjoy!

Heathland Beekeeping on YouTube from the late 1970s, click below to see videos…

1 – Spring Work in a Heather Skep Apiary

2 – Preparations for the Swarming Period in a Heather Skep Apiary

3 – Work in a Heather Skep Apiary during the Prime Swarming Period

4 – Work in a Heather Skep Apiary during the Cast Swarming Period

5 – Summer Work during the Heather Blossom in a Skep Apiary

6 – Autumn Work in a Heather Skep Apiary

7 – Harvest of Heather Honey in a Skep Apiary

8 – Bees’ Wax Pressing in a Traditional Apiary


Master beekeeper Georg Klindworth in the skep apiary.

A new name for this blog?

You may have noticed that I changed the name of the blog to ‘Monkey’s Wedding’. This is a phrase that my late father-in-law used to describe the weather when it was raining and sunny at the same time. I always loved this phrase and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it is a good metaphor for the existential dilemma that is so much a part of human existence. Life is beautiful but finite, both happy and sad at the same time.