Archive for May, 2008


May 28

Just a quick note–our state registration information has arrived, so I’m now an officially registered beekeeper. Not that I think that’s a necessary distinction, but it means we’re all legal now. Thankfully, the bees are doing a good job of keeping out of the way, and flying pretty high from the roof.



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Bees, bees, bees

May 25

The queens in both hives have been busy. More on that in a bit.

The weather looked uncooperative again today. Started out nice, then clouded over, and just when I was supposed to go meet Helen to check the hives, it started raining. But weather radar showed just a thin band of rain, so I headed over anyway. By the time Helen and I settled in for a cup of coffee at the restaurant, it already had started clearing up.

Mike showed up just as we were getting set to go up, so he came up and took a few pictures as we started checking them.

South has made even more progress, but hasn’t really started drawing out the comb in the second brood box yet. It probably has six frames of brood or newly hatched brood. We noticed a little drone brood, but the amount covered by it doesn’t seem to have increased from last week; the drones appear just about ready to come out. There were three queen cells in South this week, but only one active one. The queen in South seems to be laying fine, so I don’t think the girls are dissatisfied with her, and hopefully ridding them of the queen cells and adding the extra box will calm them down.

On this check, both hives clearly had more bees than last time, although South still ranks above North in strength. The most exciting development was seeing newly hatched bees, some of them so young they were not yet dry. There were a few cells where bees appeared to be chewing through the wax, but I saw none actually in the midst of emerging. In part, I’m sure some of the added numbers were due to the iffy weather, but there definitely were many new bees.

Both queens laid good brood patterns, except in the middle of the brood chamber, where nectar, pollen and brood all compete for space on the first frame or two the girls drew out. Each hive also had a couple frames from which it looked like bees had recently emerged; there was brood around the edges, and some newly emerged bees, but a number of empty cells in the middle.

Helen fed them in between our checking South and North.

The bees continue to be extremely docile, although because of the rain that had just finished a few minutes before we checked them, the hives seemed to need a little more smoke than on previous visits.

Our new bees also are clearly more Carniolan in character than many of the ones that came in the packages. They look more like this and less like this. In fact, they look very grey in comparison to the bees I’m used to.

The only disappointment so far is that they don’t seem to have made as much progress in building new comb as last week. But they’re moving pretty quickly, so we shall see.


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An unrelated post

My mother sent a short essay about my grandfather, Paul Henry Ziemer, and I think I will share it:

Things my pappy taught me:

My dad taught me that a poll tax was wrong because it kept the poor from voting and because it kept black men and women from voting.

My taught me that segregation was wrong because it ruined the self respect of the children sent to inferior and distant schools. He taught me that institutionalization was wrong because it broke the hearts of mothers, fathers and children. As it turned out I needed to know both those things.

My dad taught me that Siegmund and Sieglinda were the parents of Siegfried. He taught me to love Wagner. He taught me to suspect the German culture and to decry the arrogance that touts a master or a master race.

My dad taught me to make deviled eggs, pork hocks and sauerkraut, and navy bean soup. He taught me to use only cold water for potatoes. He taught me to sweep a floor.

My dad punished us when we left fireflies in a jar overnight without air holes: he taught me that we must be stewards of the living creatures on this earth because God placed us here to watch over the land and its beings.

My dad taught me to dig and plant and weed a garden, to bring in tomatoes to the windowsill before the frost, and to make wild berries into pies.

My dad taught me that Protestants and Catholics argue over faith and works but that since faith presumes works there is no worth in that argument. He taught me that Lutherans call their pastors but that Catholics believe God calls the priest. He taught me that John XXIII prayed the priestly prayer of Christ — “that they may be one” — in the agony of his death.

When my dog died my dad taught me that after awhile you just remember the good times and the pain fades. He told me he knew because his own father had recently died. (He was right about dogs, but wrong, though, about fathers; for me the pain never faded.)

When some of our dog’s puppies died my dad told me about the baby our mom was expecting. He taught me that that baby “will be much more wonderful than puppies.” Again, he was right about the dogs, and he was right about the baby, too.

My dad taught me that sometimes it’s good to keep your head down and take care of business: he shaved his beard off before he interviewed Joe McCarthy in 1951 because he knew that as a former Socialist he would be vulnerable to investigation. He didn’t win the longest beard contest for the Onalaska town centennial, but he did stay off of the blacklist.

My dad taught me that life is darn close to meaningless before your morning coffee.

My dad taught me that when the door opens in a moving car you shouldn’t reach for the handle. He taught me that in Pampa, Texas, in the moving car as the door opened and I was reaching.

My dad taught me never to put in writing what you don’t want others to find out.

My dad taught me that sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut or your typewriter unused, because once upon a time he libeled someone in the morning paper, was sued, and lost.

My dad passed on something he was taught by Henry Maier, a Wisconsin politician who became mayor of Milwaukee. Confronted by Dad about a scandal in the Wisconsin State Senate, Maier said he had no intention of digging into the problems beyond what was already known. When Dad asked him why, Maier replied with one of Dad’s favorite political truisms: “The more you kick shit, the more it stinks.”

My dad taught me what the word “schmuck” means and not to say it.

My dad taught me that there is more to everything than meets the eye, or at least that is true if you read T.S. Eliot.

My dad taught me to organize books according to the Dewey decimal system. He had a list. This proved to him that he was German, I think.

My dad taught me several songs about sheep. He taught me that “The large stars are the sheep. The little stars are the lambs, I guess, and the big round moon is the shepherdess.” Now I am a shepherdess.

My dad taught me to love horses by making me a rocking horse named Rochester out of stove pipes, a mop head, and some old rocking chair rockers.

My dad taught me to express what I learned and knew by taking me to sing “Jesus Loves Me” on Radio Station WKBH, La Crosse.

My dad taught me that you have to go to work “so the Man will give you money.” Also, if you work extra hard, you’ll be “rich and crabby.” He taught me the meaning of overtime and respect for the guild.

My dad tried to teach me to read notes but failed. He taught me that to play the piano and to sing, year after year across a lifetime, is no less wonderful because one will never master either.

My dad taught me another rule of politics and life: “The guy with the gun always wins.” He taught me not to try to hard to catch a man you plan to kill, because the chance is too great you’ll go to jail. As part of that same tale, the story of the burglar who got away, my dad taught me that you should not keep a gun unless you would kill a person if called upon. He decided he would not, so he did not.

My old pappy taught me that in the end we can finally say it: “Thy will be done.” He taught me to revere the burial places and the history of my family. He taught me that you ought to be able to ride your bike to work at midnight in Detroit, Michigan, but if you do you will come close to death. He taught me that if a teacher mistreats your child you go straight to the pastor and you make sure it does not happen again. He taught me to take my library books back and to open a new book carefully so I wouldn’t break the spine. He taught me not to acknowledge a whistle or a wink, to wear gloves and a hat downtown in Chicago, and to always expect a gentleman to walk on the outside of the sidewalk so he can dodge the shit that rains from the sky.

Penny Ziemer Ford
String Prairie, Texas
May 20, 2008


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Working hard

Ann after checking the bees

Ann after checking the bees

May 17

With so much completely out of my hands with the bees, I’ve fretted over when our two queens would start laying. On the first check, both hives seemed to be doing well, but I found no evidence that the queens were laying.

That worried me a bit, but not too much. The weather had been bad, and last week the bees in both colonies were coming in laden with pollen–usually a sign that a queen is laying and the bees are raising young.

Today, Ann and I went and checked the hives together. Ann got to see the bees in their new homes for the first time, and we both felt duly excited. South had drawn out all but the frames at the farthest ends of the hives. Among the first things I saw in the hive after removing a less-busy frame were cells filled with eggs and brood. The next frame had some capped brood, but then I saw the hive actually had several queen cells, a sure sign the bees were feeling pinched. They also seemed to be raising a few drones–in other words, they were preparing to swarm, as I’d been warned Carniolans might decide to do rather quickly.

Here’s a close-up of a photo Ann took of one of the frames of bees and brood in South. (Looking at it now, the part of the frame that doesn’t have bees on it has a large number of drone cells; there were plenty of regular, capped brood cells under the bees, however.Closeup of drone brood

Although there are other ways to avoid swarming, like splitting hives, they’re not really an option at this stage of starting a new colony, and I’m not really set up for them; unfortunately, I had to
destroy the queen cells. Fortunately, we had a second hive body to use to add space for south.

Through the whole process of checking the hives, the bees were extremely gentle, one of the many advantages of Carniolans, according to their boosters. Unlike many of the hundreds of times I’ve checked Italian honeybees, even in honeyflows, I got no bees dive-bombing my veil the whole time we were checking them.

We did see the queens in both hives. A sample photo is below. (She’s the big, dark one with the red dot.) Both hives have a good start on storing nectar and pollen.


The queen in North Hive.

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First real check!

Helen and Joe, on move-in day.May 10

Spring seems incapable of arriving this year, so the bees haven’t been out as much as I’d like. Saturday the weather hardly broke above 50 along the lakefront until midday. But it got warm enough for us the check them, at least. They were busy–despite the cold, a good number of bees, laden with pollen on their hind legs, were landing in front of the hives.

I’ll finish this up tomorrow night, but suffice it to say that we saw both queens, and both hives are doing pretty well.  North definitely isn’t as strong as South, but they’ve done a lot of work, have decent amounts of pollen and honey and sugar water, and building comb quickly.


To finish up:

Both the hives were working pretty hard for a cool day, and there was a good bit of movement in and out of the hives. North, while it’s built up less comb, has started capping some honey. Both hives seemed to have a good bit of stores coming in, including both pollen and nectar or sugar water, but I didn’t see any eggs, although I didn’t look very carefully. South had some burr comb still. I saw several bees excreting wax, and several others depositing pollen in cells.

 They’re extremely gentle, as predicted by those I’ve talked to who use Carniolans. If they do well, they’ll be good bees to work with. Although we have them on a rooftop, they will be shaded in the midday by a nearby tree, and the lake breezes should help.  We may have to do a few things to make the comfortable–they’re mountain bees, after all–but I think they should do fine. I’m having a good time with them, and Helen seems to really like learning about them. At the top is a picture of her and Joe, from when we installed the girls.


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May 5-9

Checked the bees most nights this week, one morning. When I could, I cruised by in the morning to see if they were flying. If I’m stopped at a red light near the restaurant, I can look up and see them taking off and landing.

They ate pretty well this week, sometimes close to a quart a day of sugar water a day. One evening it was warm enough that a few were hanging out on the bottom board on South, so I took out the entrance reducers until the next day, when it was colder.

A couple random beekeeping links. First, a four-language beekeeping translation dictionary. And a dictionary of beekeeping terms.


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May 2 to May 4

On Thursday night, a few of our errant bees got into an exhaust fan leading out of the restaurant’s prep kitchen–all the way into the basement. Helen called, and Joe and I went over to the roof Friday night, and moved the bees a little farther away from the vents. They’re exhaust vents, and so the bees shouldn’t be able to get it, but one of them apparently had a weak damper or something. So to be sure no one in the restaurant would suddenly get a bee invasion when they were slicing strawberries, we moved them farther away from the exhaust fans.

Saturday was forecast for bad weather, cold and rainy, and the exhaust repair people were coming, so I closed up the hives until later Saturday and made sure they had enough sugar water.

It’s essential to give the bees enough to eat as they’re establishing the hives, both pollen or pollen substitute and sugar water, so they can start building up their populations for when a real honey flow comes in. Both hives had eaten their fill Friday.

Saturday night, I checked them again and fed them, although the northern hive didn’t seem as hungry as it should have been. That worried me a bit, but I let it go until I could do a quick check on Sunday.

On Sunday, my sister Dolores and I went over and checked the bees. Both hives were buzzing with activity, and had started to draw out comb. South built burr comb on the queen cage, which when you put it in is suspended between two frames, in the place where you’d usually put a 10th frame. If you keep only 9 frames in while the bees are first filling the hive with comb, you’ll get all sorts of burr comb. And that makes it hard to work with the hive, defeating the purpose of a Langstroth hive.

Anyway, both the queens were out, and the girls were doing well, so we didn’t linger.

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