writing and blogging

Today is income tax day; except it’s not

It’s a strange new world out there, that’s for sure. I am writing today to thank all of you who have written in the past few weeks asking how we are and wishing us well.

The truth is we are both fine, at least so far. Since I tend to be the more careful one, I’ve taken on the role of official jailer and have stowed all the car keys in an undisclosed location.

Posts: which way did they go?

I apologize for not posting lately. The delay is partly due to the pandemic, but mostly due to my being overwhelmed by other writing assignments, most of which require photos as well as text. Articles are a lot of work and I can only sit at a computer for a limited number of hours before I go stir crazy.

Also, since it’s April, everyone has bee questions, which I’ve tried to keep up with. And my own bees need attention as well. I spent the whole day yesterday cleaning honey supers, killing mites, preparing bait hives, and wondering why I never do all that busy work in advance. Just the usual April pandemonium.

Pandemics take time

As I’m sure a lot of you have noticed, trying to procure basic supplies takes a lot of time. When we couldn’t buy bread, I started making it. When we couldn’t get flour, I started milling it. When I couldn’t get eggs, I began playing with substitutes. On it goes. It makes me really appreciate things that I generally take for granted, but I wonder why I stopped keeping chickens. I know where a quail nest is hidden…but, no, I wouldn’t do that.

Excuses, excuses

So that’s it: all my excuses in half a page. If you have subjects you would like to see covered in an upcoming post, I would really like to hear from you. Deciding on a subject is the hardest part, especially once you have a couple thousand in the archives. I am currently experimenting with a few new pieces of beekeeping equipment that I will be able to review soon, and a few beekeepers have sent some innovative ideas which I hope to cover as well.

Unfortunately, all my bee safaris—those small trips where I collect enough photos and stories for the coming year—have been canceled. So, like everyone else, I will just have to take this day by day.

I can’t thank you enough for thinking about me. Please write any time and let us know how you are doing. Tell me your personal stories or your bee stories. As always, we can learn from—and entertain—each other.

All the best,

Honey Bee Suite

A little wild bee bee sits on a brick and enjoys the April sunshine.  Unlike my honey bees, this one is social distancing. © Rusty Burlew
A little wild bee sits on a brick and enjoys the April sunshine. Unlike my honey bees, this one is social distancing. © Rusty Burlew

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  • My only beekeeping story is that we had a lovely day and I psyched myself up to paint my two deadouts. I dressed in my walk clothes which are for hot & sweaty, and any other messy things. I read the paint can. I got my painting supplies and suddenly found I did not have a roller. I had my heart set on just rolling the outsides of the hives without any disassembly. I threw up my hands, put everything away, ordered a roller from Amazon because who wants to leave the house now, and went back to videos and puzzles. If I didn’t hate painting so much, this story might have progressed differently.

  • Hmmm, and I’ve been thinking I was the only person in the West (fashionable Davis, CA) busier it seems than ever managing my backyard hives – 3 out of my 5, unfortunately 2 older hives nursed from swarms in 2017 didn’t survive through last December. The pandemic days these past weeks have been a blur cleaning brood boxes, frames and honey supers.

    And helping our 15-year old son get setup with his computer for “distant learning”… feels very strange since most of his teachers live in Davis and his school is only 1.8 miles from home. He misses his classroom teachers and his friends – just not as much as me and his mother. :-]

    Stay well,

  • Hi Rusty,

    Reassuring us that you are safe and healthy, this the one and only post we’ve been waiting to see.

    Thanks for checking in.

  • Rusty,

    Good to hear you’re doing well. That swarm I lured to my bait hive finally decided to move into it. The first thing they did was reduce the entrance to two small holes at each end of the original 3/8th by 5-1/2″ slot. Do you suppose it’s because it’s a small group, about the size of a volleyball?

    I’m considering distancing my wife and myself to the west side of Lake Cushman. Thanks again for your tireless efforts they’ve been abundantly helpful, educational and entertaining.

    Stay safe and take care.

    • Luis,

      Thank you! And yes, it’s pretty typical for honey bees to adjust the size of the opening to what they are comfortable with. As the colony grows, they may enlarge the opening again.

  • I love everything about beekeeping except scraping built up propolis off the hive boxes, inner covers, and frames. It can take hours to clean up equipment and a lot of elbow grease as well. Out of the blue, my husband suggested I try this battery-powered “tool” of his. I’m not even sure what it is called, similar to a sidearm grinder but it’s lightweight, straight, with exchangeable tips on the end. He put a round wire brush on it and turned me loose. I spent a whole day grinding off propolis from every piece of bee-related items I could find. I had propolis dust and bits and pieces flying everywhere. At the end of the day my clothes, gloves, etc were embedded with it but it was such a great feeling that I had that hated chore out of the way.

    I didn’t realize till later that evening when I decided to wash my hair that I had also completely “varnished “my hair with propolis, no amount of combing or shampoo was going to get it out. I rubbed coconut oil all over, wrapped it in a towel and left it on overnight. Thank goodness the next morning, after 3 shampoos and a lot of conditioner my hair felt more like hair that strands of wire. Lesson learned.

  • Rusty, Thank you for your generous contribution and thoughts for your readers.
    Here in southern Australia we are packing down for winter after (for me anyway) not such a successful season. Due to the drought there was little fodder for the bees and even today I see them scrambling for the little pollen left around after a few heavy downpours. In addition to this, it’s hard to find time to give to your bees when we are home schooling our kids of varying ages, after being told to work from home ourselves, whilst living in small houses and flats. In many cases it will be thoughts and plans for our bees which will keep us sane! I’m sure people from many countries are feeling this way.

    Stay safe Rusty and I look forward to further posts when you have time.

    • Julia,

      I can’t even imagine having to home school your kids on top of everything else. Best of luck to you during this hard time.

  • Question for you Rusty and possibly a topic. My son wanted us to set up a Langstroth hive this year. I have no experience with them. All my hives are “Warre-sized” and as such very different. A single Warre box is half the size of a deep Lang. My question is on Lang management. In the PNW is it suitable to manage a Lang using a single brood box, queen excluder, and topped with any number of medium supers? Presently the new Lang has 7 out of 10 frames built-out with all stages of brood. 3 remaining to develop. Plan is to add the first medium super once those frames begin to show comb. April has been insanely lovely in SW BC. Bees don’t respect social distancing and have taken advantage of the weather. All hives are bursting and populations building fast. Can a single Lang hold off swarm impulse by providing lots of super space?

    • Vince,

      I made a note to address this more carefully in a post. But in short, I’d say it’s hard to keep a strong colony from swarming from a single deep. I put comb honey supers over a queen excluder over a single deep, but I’m constantly on the lookout for swarms. I like this configuration because it gives great comb honey, built fast, with tender comb. However, if I don’t want to keep a constant eye on them, I use a deep and a medium for the brood, then a queen excluder and shallows for honey. You could easily use mediums for honey if you prefer.

  • So glad to know you are still out there and doing well. I want to know why there is always “plenty of time” until the first swarm (March 28th this year) and now all the undone chores need to be done yesterday. The bears are awake and at the house so the fence needed attention, too. Some day I will learn not to procrastinate, but until then, I hope you take care and stay safe. Sharon

    • Sharon,

      I always feel like there will be time “tomorrow” to get those things done, but there never is.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Glad to hear you are alive and well. Other than checking on the bees, I am busy making shields (part of the PPE need).

    Update on our first hive to survive a winter: My beekeeper friend brings hives for my backyard when they are done pollinating apple orchards. One of the 4 hives survived. He brought pollen patties and some honey about a month ago, I added some honey a couple of weeks ago, checked today and it was all gone, so I added some more.

    The good news is they are still alive, and hungry! If winter in mid-Minnesota ever ends, we should start getting some pollen. Buds are starting to swell on the trees.

    Thanks again for entertaining and enlightening us.

    • Frederick,

      I’ve heard from an amazing number of people who are helping with the PPE needs of the world. Thank you so much for doing that! And congratulations on overwintering your first hive.

  • I am a health care worker and have also been very busy in our small community (Antrim NH). Our hives are coming alive! It always makes me happy watching the bees wake up and start to work. The tree pollen is out and I assume that is what my worker bees are harvesting. Glad everyone is well. Stay safe!

    • Lorrie,

      Yes, tree pollen is important for early brood rearing, and we seem to have a lot of it this year.

      Take care of yourself out there in the trenches. We need you!

  • Hi Rusty,

    Thanks for your update and glad to hear that you and your family are well. With an early spell of warm, dry weather here, all bee-related activities are in full throttle mode. This social isolation has been good for staying home and focusing on prepping for the upcoming season. Over the winter I built 4 swarm traps and will be deploying them this week. They are all baited and will be approximately 10 miles apart from each other. I would enjoy reading about your traps, their style, height installed above ground, orientation, and the bait you use. Hopefully, we’re all successful with our traps this season. Thank you again for writing. Bee safe!! Greg ????

    • Greg,

      Good idea. I added it to my list. You’re right about this being a good time to work on projects. I want to re-paint some of my hives and scrape the woodenware.

  • Thank you for the update. I’m glad you and yours are well! Loved the solitary bee photo. Yesterday honey bees were all over a holly tree that has just bloomed. We should have a lot of red berries this coming winter. I think the bee’s role in making ornamentals more beautiful is often overlooked.

    I completely identify with finding creative things to bake. I’m just glad I had some buttermilk pancake mix which makes rather good biscuits and cookies. Very thankful that I can get out and garden. My version of social distancing is that I see a neighbor dividing her lilies or irises from a distance as I’m taking a walk. She asks me if I want the extra plants. I say of course. She leaves them in a container at the edge of her yard and two days later I get the container and plant them.

    • Noelle,

      Sounds like you have a great neighbor. And thanks for the reminder to check on my holly trees!

  • Rusty,
    Would you please share your latest treatment regimen for mites.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I’m finding life busier than ever also, especially with good colony survival after a good summer ’19 and mild winter (so far). There are times I wish my job was considered “non-essential”, for a little time off, but actually thankful for it when I stop to think.

    I’ve found the bees a great distraction from life (as always) and have spent much more time this winter reading ABJ, watching Youtube bee “advice” from some of my favorites, and building or assembling hive hardware.

    I would sure love to see an article you would write (or perhaps already have?) on using double-screen, “Snelgrove” boards, especially for making early “hive-top” (for lack of a better name) splits. This appears to be the answer to our bi-polar NE Wyoming weather where bees will fly for a warm day or two, then be stuck in-hive for days of snow & cold. All the while they are building up numbers and a threat to swarm at the first opportunity. I had not considered this use until seeing the suggestion on Youtube and intend to do it to several packed colonies next warm day. Also, any pictures or advice on DIY double-screens would make a great “follow-up” article. I own one “store-bought” Snelgrove and am about to experiment w/ stacking 2 of my homemade dry feeders w/ screens in-place as a double-screen.

    Sorry this is so wordy. Please know that receiving your blogs in the inbox is a bright spot in my day.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Glad to hear you are well and thank you for your wonderful, informational posts. SIP here on the Mendocino coast is going well, too. Spring is finally here.

    I’m not a beekeeper, but I do my best for the native bees and other pollinators in our garden. A neighbor two doors down keeps bees so, of course, I’m feeding his as well and sharing extra plants. I’m seeing more native bees this year than last, which is a big relief. Before we went under SIP and the state parks closed there were a dozen or more places along the trail where we were greeted and circled a few times by what I assume were native bumblebee queens before they went on their way. It happens with the Bombus vosnesenskii queens here in the yard, too.

    Stay well and have a good year.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I had a double deep 8 frame swarm twice that I just happened to see both of them. They were 30 feet up and on trunks. They swarmed at different times. So I got 3 swarm traps set up 1 was a 10 frame hive about 30 feet on a stand. The others were in a tree about 8 feet up. With Swarm Commander in each. The next day there was a lot of activity with each so by the next day they chose the 10 frame hive. The second swarm was in another tree and 2 days later they chose the bait hive. I just put them a 10 frame hive today. Yeah.

  • Question for you: I am getting bees soon so I did a quick inventory of equipment and found a bunch of yellow “dust” on the tops of many frames located in my brood boxes – stored in garage. Did something get into them and removed stored pollen?

  • Rusty, thanks for the updates, the return to posting here. From the number of responses you’ve received, you can see how much we cherish the forum.

    This morning a lone bumble bee was attempting to get something from the frosted Nanking cherry blossoms. What an unwanted cold snap.

    Yesterday I spotted a very small “sweat bee” eyeballing me. Both times I was reminded of you.
    I walked the perimeter of our 1/4 acre pond and was delighted to see honey bees getting drinks of water around the entire pond. These are unquestionably from my 2 new colonies. I installed them in their top bar hives just the day before yesterday!

    Success! It’s great to have bees again here in southwest Colorado.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Greetings from Kenya. I have been following the blog for a while now and I’m glad you and yours are well. My beekeeping experience has really benefited from the information I find here. Due to zoning regulations in my country, I am unable to visit my bees but a little colony decided to move into an old iron pipe nestled under a hedge. The pipe is about 4 Inches in diameter so the most I can do is take photos from the entrance. I needed to move the pipe which made for a rigorous cardio exercise.

    Once again, thank you for rich and educational content. Stay safe.

  • Glad to hear you and your husband are doing well. Strange world out there, indeed. Brings out the worst in people, in my opinion. Bees on the other hand, don’t care. Lots of ground nesting bees on our property, my husband and I are so happy to watch them!

  • Spring has come early to the Pacific Northwest and swarm season is underway. Pandemonium in my apiary. In spite of the notes I’ve taken over the years, I find myself searching your site when I have a wonder. Honeybeesuite always leaves me smiling and more confident. Your lack of recent posts is hardly noticed; oodles of entertainment and education is already waiting.

  • I just want to say how thankful I am for your website and everything you share about beekeeping. I am a total newbee, just got my NUCS today. I’ve spent lockdown absorbing as much as I can about bees; I know the hands on experience will take a lot of time. So, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!!! Your website has been my most valuable resource. Thank you. ?❤️

  • Hi.

    Congratulations on the new president and welcome back to the climate treaty.

    I am like 3 years old kid (at age of 40) with millions of questions. One I can’t find an answer to is: can honey bees control wax production or they produce it involuntarily like we produce sweat?

    Peter from London, UK.

    • Peter,

      I don’t know. Based on photos and things I’ve read, I don’t believe it’s in the workers’ control and is probably regulated by environmental cues or perhaps pheromones. Still, I don’t know for sure. It’s a great question.