Beehive Smoker

Beehive Smoker

I’ve never liked smoking my bees. Smoke calms them down all right, but they aren’t quite themselves for a day or two. I figured a few minutes of bee panic is better than several days of befuddlement.

I’ve never smoked when installing a new package of bees.  It hasn’t seemed necessary. They’ve been more than happy to get out of that dreadful packing box.

Likewise I haven’t smoked when I’ve opened the hive for only a few seconds to feed or stick in a frame or two.

Smoking a Hive

Smoking a Hive

Today I pushed the envelope. Big mistake!

I wanted to switch out frames in a new hive from one deep box to another. Not for a good reason, mind you, but because I liked the paint color of the second box better. It wasn’t going to take very long.

It turns out that from the bees’ perspective it isn’t so much how long the disruption is but how distressing. Moving a frame with the Queen on it is apparently very distressing!

My gentle hive stung me five times through my bee suit and then went after the landscapers working next door. Thank goodness the landscapers did not get stung!


I quickly closed up the hive and ran inside, followed by a few angry girls. My dog, the Noble Bayard, ate them with gusto. All is quiet now.

I’m going back out shortly to finish the job. Needless to say, I’m going to smoke from now on. It’s better for all of us!!

Portrait Of The Blogger, Accompanied By Bees

As a rule, I avoid having my picture taken.

I am not photogenic.  My eyes are usually closed. I always have a look of impatient suffering on my face.

Plus, I agree with those remote jungle tribes people that a camera steals one’s soul. (In a few years, that will be scientifically proven.)

This past weekend I made an exception to my rule.  I let Loyal Yard Dude Alex take a bunch of pictures of me in my bee suit. Yes, really.

I’m a sight to behold.

No, I'm not really handling Plutonium...

No, I’m not really handling Plutonium…

Is there any garment less flattering than a bee suit? I don’t think so.

I volunteered to be a source for an article about women taking up pursuits outside their comfort zone. Theoretically, that was beekeeping. Truthfully, being photographed made me way more uncomfortable than the 10,000 or so bees I was handling.

And then the Loyal Yard Dude got stung on the forehead by one of the Mean Bees.

Just another Saturday on Columbia Parkway!  🙂

Do Bees Get Grumpy?

Do bees have bad days? Do they get angry? Irritable? Even vindictive?

I don’t know any beekeeper who doubts that bees get grumpy. My bees don’t like wet weather or having their honey taken.

After my spring honey harvest, one extremely pissed off girl chased me for three days until she finally caught me and stung me under my eye. I looked like Popeye for a week.

According to the December 26, 2011 issue of Scientific American, some scientists now believe that bees actually do experience something resembling emotions.

Using simple behavioral tests, Melissa Bateson and her colleagues at Newcastle University in England showed that honeybees under stress tend to be pessimistic, a conclusion few beekeepers would dispute.

Another reason to let our bees be bees and do what they want to, not what we want them to do.

What’s Blooming In The Garden On July 3rd

It’s broiling hot, and we have to water almost every day. Thank goodness for flowers that like the heat and humidity! Lots of nectar and pollen for the pollinators…


Monarda With Bumble!

Old Fashioned Hydrangeas

Everlasting Peas


Geranium ‘Rozanne”

Hydrangea ‘Limelight’

The Noble Bayard tried to drink out of the Italian Bees’ birdbath and got roundly spanked!  I will be administering Benadryl with his kibble tonight!!

The Noble Bayard

My Visit To The Ealing Apiary

I’ve been saving my favorite experience in London for last — my Saturday afternoon visit to the Ealing apiary in the charming English village of Perivale.

When I started writing this blog back in January, I quickly became blogging friends with two lovely young British beekeepers, Emma Sarah Tennant of Miss Apis Millifera and Emily Heath of Adventuresinbeeland’s Blog.

They are both experienced beekeepers and bloggers, and they really took me under their (bee) wings! I’ve greatly enjoyed reading their informative posts and chatting with them on various beekeeping topics.

When they found out that I was going to be visiting London, they generously invited me to visit their apiary in Ealing. I was quite excited about my visit, having followed their successes and setbacks in what has been a very challenging year for English bees and their keepers.

In the meantime, I had also emailed John Chapple, Chair of the London Beekeepers’ Association and the Queen’s beekeeper, about the possibility of a chat and maybe even a visit to the Royal Hives. I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t hear back from him. He undoubtedly thought I was a crazy person or a terrorist or both.

On Saturday morning, I woke up with a rip-roaring case of jet lag.  I knew I was going to be running behind, so I declined both Emma’s and Emily’s kind offers to personally escort me to the apiary.  That was a big mistake on my part!

After many interesting adventures involving bus fares, Off Track Betting Parlors, and my inability to coherently ask for directions,  I finally arrived at the Ealing apiary.

It was like a scene from Alice In Wonderland. And presiding over tea was Royal Beekeeper John Chapple and his Royal Assistant Andy Pedley!!

John Chapple and Emma Sarah Tennant

Andy Pedley and Emily Heath

Both John and Andy have many years of beekeeping experience, and tend Royal Hives at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House. They also keep other hives all over London, including the charming Ealing apiary.

They apologized for not being able to give me a tour of the Royal Hives, but explained that they are not allowed to bring visitors.  Even Royal visitors are restricted to the likes of the Dalai Lama, who toured the hives recently.

John and Andy themselves must undergo extensive security background checks every several years.  Security at the Royal Residences is very high, especially when the Royals (aka “The Principals”) are in residence. According to Andy, “there are lots of shooters around then.”

Everyone tasted my honey, and pronounced it palatable.  One little lady bee was a particular fan.

Bee Enjoying My American Honey

Not surprisingly, John disagreed with Steve Benbow about the sufficiency of forage in the City of London to support the growing number of urban beekeepers. However, everyone agrees that it is important to plant more bee-friendly trees, shrubs and flowers within the City, and reduce the use of herbicides and pesticides.

After tea, I helped Emma inspect her bees and feed the apiary hives.  I could see the toll the inclement weather has taken on the colonies who live there. I was glad to hear that they were expecting better weather in July.

Andy was kind enough to take a picture of Emma and me after our inspection!

Emma and I had an uneventful trip back to London, chatting all the way!!  It was a great day in the country, and I can hardly wait to return!!


Since my recent honey extraction, I’ve been stung twice, both times on the face. I swelled up like a balloon, and I’m not even allergic.

My daughter practiced her considerable makeup skills on me this weekend, so I don’t look quite so much like the Elephant Man today.

In fact, the swelling in my face smoothed out a few wrinkles.  I’m calling it “Beetox.”

But the fact  I was stung in the first place by my usually gentle girls made me wonder — Why now? Why on my face? Why did I have such a bad reaction?

I did some research. The answers were, as usual, mostly  “Me-” rather than “Bee-” related.

1.  I didn’t have my bee veil all the way on.  Bees are alarmed by carbon dioxide, hair, and dark colors because common predators of bees (e.g. bears) are hairy, dark colored, and exhale carbon dioxide.  This  is also why bees are drawn to attack the face and head.

2.  Bees are cranky after a honey extraction.   They don’t like anyone taking their honey.  I haven’t noticed this before because this is the first year I’ve had enough honey to extract in the spring. Usually I extract in the fall, right before my bees start closing down shop for the winter.  Also it was warm, rainy and humid.  Bees get cranky for some of the same reasons people do.

3.  I swatted at the bee and hopped and flailed my arms.  Big no-no. Bees are attracted to movement and swatting only makes them more determined to sting.

4.  I pulled out the stingers out with my fingers. This squeezed more venom into the wound. Instead,  I should have scraped the stinger out sideways using my fingernail, the edge of a credit card, a dull knife blade or other straight-edged object.

I’m sure my girls will settle down to normal once they get over the shock of being robbed and the weather dries out a bit.

While I would’ve preferred to have learned the above a different way, a few stings are a part of beekeeping. And I do look a little younger…