Origin of my beekeeping blog

We all make mistakes. And if you think you don’t, you’re a liar, ignorant, delusional or all three.

In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves, we make lots of them, especially when we’re new at something.

It’s not whether you’ll make a mistake; it’s when. You can let it disillusion you, or you can learn from it. I choose the latter.

That’s why I started my beekeeping blog – to log all my errors and mistakes and learn from them.

You might even say this Blog of Blunders is my gateway to success.

My blog is called The Hive Mind. I called it that because of the obvious connection between bees, hives and working together as a team, and also as a nod to Star Trek, since I’m a hardcore fan.

The address is beehivemind.com because hivemind was taken.

Why a beekeeping blog

Why did I decide to do a blog in the first place?

First, my initial reason was as a place to keep my hive inspection logbook. Paper gets lost, and I wanted a platform that I could access from anywhere.

Second, I like new stuff, electronic stuff, social media stuff, etc., and I like learning about them. So why not combine them. In addition, I really need to have more than a passing knowledge about social media as part of my day job, and the blog provided me a way to learn more.

Third, I’ve never been real disciplined when it comes to keeping a journal. I knew my intensions were good to keep regular beekeeping notes and blog them regularly. I also knew my track record didn’t necessarily indicate future success. Frankly, I thought long periods of inactivity looked bad. Still do.

Fourth, even though I initially thought of this blog as a place to document my hive inspections, it turned out I was more interested in learning new things. I wanted to talk about that, too.

Yesterday also marks the first day I attached my name to my blog. Before, I was always simply “beehivemind.”

Why the change? Mostly because I’m going to a WordPress conference at the end of the October. I also signed up for an online blogging fundamentals workshop from WordPress’ Blogging University, both of which required a name.

Past blog subjects

As indicated, my blog soon became an eclectic mix of beekeeping subjects ranging from how my hives were doing on a particular inspection, to a book review, to how I dealt with finding out I was deathly allergic to bees.

My posts have been pretty varied.

They’ve also been pretty infrequent. The main reason is that I write for a living. By the time I get home, I’m all written out, and there are plenty of things I need to be doing around the house.

Subject and audience for future posts

I’d like to continue presenting a mix of materials that interest me as a relatively new beekeeper. The more I know, the more I have to learn. I suppose many other beekeepers – novice and experienced alike – are the same.

In addition to myself, this blog is for them.

Beekeeping is as much art as it is science. As such, there are multiple opinions on how to do any one thing, depending on who you ask. Personally, I like seeing different opinions and learning enough about them to pick the one I think will be most effective for my situation.

In return, I want to connect with other beekeepers to learn from their inevitable mistakes. If they’re anything like me, I’ll be learning LOTS from them.

Creating a water source for your bees

Water bee

Bees like the flat top on my fountain. It gives them a place to land without getting anything other than their feet wet.

The weather is going to kick it up a couple notches this weekend. And you need to protect your bees.

With temperatures expected to be over 100 degrees, bees need water. They will most likely find it. But its best they find from a source you’ve created than from your neighbor’s pool, hot tub or equally inappropriate spot.


Leaky sprinklers provide an excellent source of water, too.

All you need to create a water source is a relatively clean source of water and support for the bees so they don’t have to land in the water. Support is crucial, or you’ll have lots of dead bees. 

There’s some disagreement on how far away from the hive to locate your water sources. Some say to locate it as close as possible. Others say to locate it at least 30 feet away.

I’ve had much better luck locating it further away. My bees didn’t touch a birdbath located next to their hives or after I moved it about 20 feet away.

They loved my hot tub, which was a disaster. They found an opening in the cover, but couldn’t get out. That made for a lot of dead bees. They found my neighbor’s hot tub about the same time with the same results. In that case, we had to completely close off access to create a new source.


Don’t forget to fill your water source regularly. Or equip it with an automatic filler, such as this one.

Some say the minerals in pool and hot tub water attract bees to those sources. I read once that making minerals available bees is one way to attract them.  

I’ve got a couple of salt licks in my pasture. The bees are all over them when they are covered with dew early in the morning. I wouldn’t put mineral salt in my created water source, though.

Speaking of creating a water source, it doesn’t have to be creative. I’ve got two birdbaths, two leaking sprinklers and one fountain.

The birdbaths are filled with rocks. But some people get creative with shells, sphagnum moss, bright baubles. And not only with bird baths.

A member of Portland Urban Beekeepers uses a bathtub that is pretty tricked out.


If you want to rejuvenate, grab an old piece of equipment and put it back to work.

Sphagnum moss, which you can get at most garden centers, is good because it wicks up water. The bees can land on it and suck up the water from the moss.

Some people use burlap instead of moss. Seems like it would decay and mold easily. Moss was born wet.

The main point is to provide relatively fresh water and landing spots for them.

Book Review: Garden Plants for Honey Bees by Peter Lindtner


Not all plants are created equal. Forsythia bush by http://www.plantright.org

This year I started keeping a calendar of flowering plants. My purpose was to see what was blooming when so I could plant a variety of pollen- and nectar-producing, bee-friendly flowers, bushes and trees around my house.

Spring comes early in eastern Washington. And one of the first on my blooming calendar was the Forsythia with its bright yellow blossoms. It’s always a sure sign spring is here.

For me, it’s also been a sure sign my bees are getting a good supply of pollen and nectar.

How wrong I was.

The pollen and nectar may have been flowing, but not from Forsythia. As pretty as it is, it has no pollen and no nectar.

Bees totally ignore Forsythia and many other flowering plants – a fact I didn’t know before reading Garden Plants for Honey Bees by Peter Lindner.

I assumed most, if not all, flowering vegetation provided pollen and nectar for bees. Unlike me, Lindtner observed that no bees were buzzing around his Forsythia. That’s when he realized not all plants are created equally.

Garden Plants for Honey Bees by Peter Lindtner

Garden Plants for Honey Bees by Peter Lindtner

His new book (2014 Wicwas Press) is a month-by-month, alphabetical listing of bee-friendly plants. It’s richly illustrated with plant and pollen photographs, including scanning electron microscope images of pollen.

In addition to providing photos in each plant description, Lindtner has evaluated each plant by its nectar and pollen resource – one star (*) being the least resourceful and five stars (*****) being the most resourceful.

Plants not listed may still be a source for honey bees and bumble bees, but they are considered of lesser value. According to Lindtner, “their flowers produce nectar with less sugar or they don’t secrete nectar at all, like Forsythia. Or they produce pollen poor in proteins, like grasses and evergreens. Even attractive plants with big colorful petals, like the Magnolia soulangeana, can be useless.”

As beekeepers, we need to ensure our bees have access to adequate supplies. I realize the limits of what one can do if living in the city on a quarter-acre lot. But be aware of what’s in your neighborhood and what you can recommend to people who want to plant bee-friendly flowers, shrubs and trees or should be planting them.

Fortunately, I have the room to plant bee-friendly plants. Unfortunately, I need to replace dozens of old, dying poplar trees. Fortunately, I discovered Garden Plants for Honey Bees and can dispense with my own calendar. It’s an excellent source of the best of what blooms when. It’s also a good resource for beekeeping clubs and personal libraries.

The only thing I would have liked to have seen is a list of plants to specifically avoid. But that hardly detracts from the book’s value.

I purchased my copy at Ruhl Bee Supply in Gladstone, Oregon, for $34.It lists for $47, but it’s available from the Wicwas Press, Amazon.com and, I’m sure, other book retailers and bee supply companies for $34 or less.

Oh, and Wicwas says it’s “suitable for the coffee table.”

Bee stings are part of the job


My new beekeeping tools

A week ago, I started bee-sting allergy immunotherapy. It’s supposed to help desensitize me to bee stings.

Last July, I learned the difference between a bee-sting sensitivity and a bee-sting allergy – the hard way.

With a sensitivity, the area around the sting can swell up, turn red, hurt, itch, and it can be mild or quite bad.

With an allergy, body systems start shutting down. That too can be mild or it can kill you.

I’ve always been sensitive to bee stings. The only thing I didn’t like about summer was going barefoot and stepping on a bee. Oftentimes I’d swell up to my knee.

I’ve been stung several times since I started beekeeping in the spring of 2013. They weren’t pleasant, but nothing I didn’t expect. I’d have some itching, redness and the swelling would take several days to subside. I’d also rub them with lavender and chamomile oil to help reduce the symptoms.

Only one of those times was I wearing my suit.

July 12, 2014, was a warm day, and I was going to put out some sugar-water out for the bees. My only task would be to open the outer cover, lay a Ziploc bag down on the inner cover, slice holes in it and replace the outer cover.

Usually, when I got stung, I’d pull out a credit card and scrape away the stinger and get back to work.

This time, I opened the outer cover and a bee flew out, like a guided missile, and stung me on the eyebrow.

This time, I felt like I’d been struck by lightning.

The credit card didn’t work because of the hair in my eyebrow. Fortunately, my son was there to pull out the stinger.

I went into the house to take a couple of Benadryl and rub on some lavender and chamomile oil. I went back to the garage and figured I’d put on my suit and finish my work. By that time I was feeling very warm, especially in the face.

I sat down on the stool to rest for a minute and my son asked me if everything was ok. I said, “Yes.”

My new Ultra Breeze bee suit is thicker than the original cotton suit.

My new Ultra Breeze bee suit is thicker than my original cotton suit.

I put my legs in my pants and had to sit down again, this time with my head between my legs. I was feeling dizzy, my face was flushed and very warm. My son said, “You don’t look well. Are you sure you’re ok?”

He’s a drug counselor. When I told him I was ok and just needed to rest a bit, he said, “If you were a patient and you came in looking like that, I’d make you see a doctor before you left. So cut the bullshit and tell me what’s going on.”

At that point, I decided it was time to go to the hospital. By the time I got there, I was having trouble breathing and swallowing. I had a tightness in my throat, which would ease when I swallowed, but when I swallowed, I would become slightly more nauseous.

They hooked me up to IVs and did an EKG to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack. The doctor said one of the medications I was on could interact with epinephrine, but they didn’t have much of a choice. So they brought in the crash cart. That was ominous.

When they started adding stuff to the IV, my blood pressure went up and my pulse dropped. The automated blood pressure monitor apparently couldn’t tell I had a pulse and kept squeezing harder to the point I thought it was going to pinch off my arm.

This suit is much cooler, especially when there's even a slight breeze. It's also thicker, providing better sting protection.

This suit is much cooler, especially when there’s even a slight breeze. It’s also thicker, providing better sting protection.

They finally started reading my blood pressure the old-fashioned way. My pulse got down to about 35 beats per minute before heading back up.

I was pretty depressed laying there thinking I was going to have to give up beekeeping. It didn’t take me long to come around to the fact that I didn’t have to.

Why should I give up something I love because there’s a little risk involved? Everything has risks. You can die from water, electricity, radiation, driving to work – if you’re not careful and are not wearing proper PPE or personal protective equipment.

Now, before working with my bees, I take a Benadryl, wear my suit, have a phone and EpiPen in my pocket, have somebody else standing by and have a plan for what I’m going to do.

Since this is getting lengthy, I’ll talk about “The Plan” in a future post.

Badger Canyon bees had a good winter

FullSizeRenderI opened up my two remaining hives for the first time this year and was pleased. Both had capped and uncapped brood. Both had viable queens roaming around laying eggs.

Bees in both looked like they were bringing in nectar.

In February, they were bringing in pale yellowish-green pollen. Now, it’s bright yellow.

My original, remaining hive from 2013, seems to also be my most productive and docile.

It’s also the hive that sent a bee, like a guided missile, to sting me in the eyebrow, sending me into anaphylactic shock. That adventure will be the subject of another post.

I couldn’t figure out how to combine frames last fall, since frames in all three brood chambers contained brood, honey or pollen. So that hive has three boxes.

When I looked the other day, the top box was about 30 percent full of honey and had bees that seemed to be drawing out the comb, but no brood.

The middle box contained the queen, brood, pollen and honey.

IMG_0613The bottom box contained bees drawing out comb, but the comb was empty.

My other hive is only two deep with the top box very full of brood, pollen and honey and the bottom box with empty comb being drawn out.

Both looked health. My only question is whether or not I need to consolidate the three-box hive into two, or just let nature take its course.

Taking Michael Bush’s advice that you’re better off doing nothing than something wrong, I’ll probably do that latter.

The bee-friendly lavender is in

Bee food for next year is in the ground. On Mother’s Day, we planted 90 lavender plants. We planted 30 each of Buena Vista, Dilly Dilly and Gros Bleu.

They came via Karen Grimaud, Blue Mountain Lavender Farm, who helped me select them.

My daughter makes a great lavender lemonade and lavender lemon bars. So, I specifically wanted  lavender for culinary use, as well as aromatic lavender.

English lavender is better for food, since the French lavender contains more camphor, which tends to be bitter. In my case, that would be the Buena Vista.

The lavender is planted on a southwest-facing slope on our property. They are starts, which means they are very small.

The family plants lavender on Mother's Day 2014.

The family plants lavender on Mother’s Day 2014.

To promote root growth, I’m supposed to clip any blossoms that form, which means no lavender honey this year.

I may plant a few larger lavender plants just to get have something to look at this year. I’ll probably also plant sunflowers so there is more late summer/early fall pollen available.

My 90 plants are on a 1/2-gallon per hour drip irrigation system. For the first month, they should be watered every day. After that, they get watered every couple of days. When it’s really hot, I may have to supplement with the existing overhead sprinkling.

The drip irrigation was intimidating because I’d never worked with it before. But once I got into it, I found out how easy it is to use. It’s so easy that it’s going to become an integral part of my landscaping from here on out.

Lavender is a full-sun, dry-climate plant. At seven inches of rain and 400 days a year of sunshine (according to the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau), and many days over 100 degrees, it’s a good plant for eastern Washington.

It also needs well-drained soil, which we don’t have on our property. We have a soil that is hard and high in clay. When rototilled, it turns into a very fine powder. To compensate, my buddy Floyd Mohr, from Mobile Farm Services, rototilled sand into the soil and form raised rows to promote drainage. We’ll see if that works.

Karen also directed me toward Dunning Irrigation in Lowden, Washington, which stocks drip tube with built-in, half-gallon emitters every two feet.

Planting one of the three 30-plant rows of lavender.

Planting one of the three 30-plant rows of lavender.

With the periodic removal of my dead poplar trees, I have an abundance of chipped wood. That will go on landscape fabric to keep weeds down between rows of lavender.

I guess I’ll have to weed the rows themselves until the lavender grows enough to cover the ground space.

My next project will be to identify some bee-friendly trees to replace some of the poplars.

My spring beehive check was good!

I checked my hive thoroughly a couple days ago for the first since last fall. I thought it looked pretty good, but definitely have question being a new beekeeper and all.

There used to be two hives, but one swarmed and was abandoned last summer. The second one entered winter with a brood chamber in the bottom super, an empty honey super and then a regular super full of honey.

In my check on Sunday, the top super was almost full of honey, capped and uncapped. I’d guess it was about 75 percent full. The middle honey super did not have any honey, but it looked like the bees were beginning to draw comb out on the plastic foundation.

Most of the frames in the upper super had capped honey left over from last winter. It also has a lot of what looks like new honey.

Most of the frames in the upper super had capped honey left over from last winter. It also has a lot of what looks like new honey.

The bottom super had mostly bees, some honey and some pollen. I would say that bees might have been covering three of the frames. Most of the frames, if not all, had drawn comb, but most of it was empty. There was some honey and some pollen in the outer frames.

Also in the outer frames were bees lodged in the cells with their tails sticking out. One of these areas seemed to be covered with something that looked like mold.

This frame had bees that looked like they starved and some mold on the comb.

This frame had bees that looked like they starved and some mold on the comb.

I found the queen in one part of the hive. She was not marked, so clearly she was a newer queen since the one I purchased last year was marked. She seemed to be laying well. There was a lot of capped and uncapped brood. Although there was probably not as many bees/brood in there as I was expecting.

So here’s what I did. I removed the middle, empty honey super, which was probably a mistake, since it didn’t give the bees a whole lot of room to expand.

But here’s what I’m going to do. Tonight, I’m going to add a third super and stagger full honey frames with empty farms in both of the supers.

I don’t know what that moldy looking stuff was near the other starved bees. And, I’m assuming the bees will remove the starved ones once they need the space for brood.

So here are my questions? Should I have more bees at this point? What’s that mold stuff? Do I need to remove that part? And is there something I need to do to keep them from swarming?

In the bottom super was the queen, capped brood and larvae.

In the bottom super was the queen, capped brood and larvae.


Don't know if this is old or new drone comb.

Don’t know if this is old or new drone comb.

Time to open them up

It’s 63 degrees outside. I’m inside. I’ve got my knee propped up after knee surgery.

But, it’s too nice out there, and I’m going to have to go out and make a hive inspection.

I only have the one hive left after having lost my other one to swarming last summer. As of about a week ago, there were a couple of bees flying around.

Probably the first thing to look for are eggs and larvae when opening the hive. That would definitely tell me if there’s a queen about. I’d say to actually look for the queen, too, but I haven’t had much luck spotting queens.

Beverlybees.com also had a good post on How to Autopsy a Honey Bee Colony. It would probably work as a good inspection resource for spring, too. Tomorrow I figure I’m ready to hobble up to the hive.

The bees are flying

It was 51 degrees today. I went out to clean out the bottom of the hive so the bees could get out and fly if they wanted, but there were some already out flying.

There was a pile of dead bees there from when I cleaned them out last. I moved them away so I can see how many they shove out the entrance next time I look.

I’ll post some photos for comparison.

Second-guessing the bees


Dead bees at the entrance in December

In September, I was at a workshop in Seattle sponsored by the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association. The featured presenter, Michael Bush, said bees are pretty smart and know how to take care of themselves better than we do. That makes sense.

He also said if you’re not sure what to do, the best thing to do is nothing. If you’re unsure, you might do more harm than good.

I remembered that about an hour after checking out my hive today.

Earlier in the day, we had been having a discussion on the Portland Urban Beekeepers Facebook page about all the dead bees around our hives. That’s when I learned I wasn’t a complete failure with my second hive and that dead bees after a cold spell are normal.

Portland being on the western side of the Cascade mountains is much warmer than east of the Cascades where I am. They have actually been having reasonable weather and can check their hives. Here, it got up to about 37 today and is about 30 now.

I had dead bees around my hive before Thanksgiving but haven’t been able to open it up because the temperature has been too low. It got down to 5 degrees right after Thanksgiving.

Today, I went to take a look. There were a couple of dead bees blocking the entrance. I thought I’d remove them and discovered a lot more in there, too. So, I removed the entrance reducer and used a metal wire to scoop out the dead bees from the bottom of the entrance. There were a lot of them…hundreds.

A few bees left the hive immediately and a few more later. It was clear I had stirred them up because I heard a buzzing start. This was music to my ears. I thought maybe the original pile of dead bees outside the hive signaled another failure.

It was after I’d scooped out the bees that I though, “Maybe all those dead bees around the entrance were serving as a door cozy for the hive, keeping it warm and the draft out.”

I guess I’ll figure it out, but if anyone has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

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