The Split

We did a split this spring, in an attempt to prevent our hive from swarming and to double our inventory.  Several weeks later, I can say officially (spoiler!) that it worked, but it was a long, uncertain wait.  Before I get into it, let me start by saying that there is SO much information out there about beekeeping it’s not all consistent.  We were constantly second-guessing ourselves, feeling like every little decision would be the one that doomed them all. But we learned so much! Here goes:
Week 1. It started out by finding more than a dozen queen cups with eggs.  We saw this

Queen cups. There is an egg and royal jelly in the one on the right.

coming, as the hive was super strong from the beginning.  As soon as we saw the eggs and then royal jelly, we moved all the frames with cups from the old hive (hereafter, Hive 1) to the new hive (Hive 2), leaving the old queen in her hive (1). At least 60% of the bees moved with them. The idea was to isolate the new queens from the old queen, and the strongest queen to emerge would take over the new hive.


Week 2. A dozen of the queen cups are now capped queen cells in Hive 2 (good! New queens a-comin!), and 3-4 uncapped emergency cells in Hive 1(agghh!). I cut the uncapped emergency cells out, hoping that I could still prevent a swarm.


Capped queen cell.

Week 3. Another week later and there are 4 new capped queen cells in Hive 1 (I must have missed them the week before), very few bees, and no evidence of the queen.  We realized that she must have swarmed, taking most of the bees with her.  Hive 2 still has more than a dozen capped queen cells that have to be getting close to emerging.

The weirdest thing happened this day.  While we were checking Hive 1, the bees in Hive 2  started swarming, and to my sheer joy and amazement, moved right next door into Hive 1!  To this day I have no idea whether there was a queen in that swarm, if we somehow instigated it, or why they moved.  Regardless, it was amazing to see-so many bees and so calm.

During and after a swarm, bees fan pheromones to signal to remaining bees their new location.
Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 11.31.32 PM
Our strange swarm where bees started pouring out of the yellow hive, and  moved next door into the green hive. 








Week 3 and 1 day.  7 queens emerged from the Hive 2; 3 of which we found sitting on just one frame.  We took two of them off (I am told that if a new queen isn’t quick enough to kill the other emerging queens, each subsequent queen can leave in an ‘after swarm’ with a couple thousand bees).  We also cut out a couple of the remaining capped queen cells and hoped that we didn’t accidentaly remove the dominant queen. Conversely, we didn’t want all of our bees to leave in a dozen after-swarms.

Week 4. No beekeeping this week while we wait for evidence of a laying queen. Feeling out of control and like we will probably end up with no bees when it’s all said and done. Just trying to remember that the bees are gonna do what they’re gonna do and they will be just fine.

Week 5.  Not a single capped brood cell in either hive.  So few bees.  No evidence of a queen. Very little honey stored. We have been feeding them since the split because there is so little honey remaining and the nectar flow hasn’t really started yet. Hoping she didn’t get eaten by a bird on her nuptial flight,  and starting to mentally prepare for the possibility of having 2 queenless hives.

Week 6. Hesitant to look in the hives yet, as it can take up to 5 weeks for a queen to emerge, mate, and begin laying. But we looked and THERE WERE LARVA in both hives!!! We have two new queens!!!  Woohoo!! What a relief. Now the slow slog back up to strong colony size, just in time for blackberry bloom. I have heard that splits can take most of the summer just building back up, so we will have to be extra attentive this winter with feeding, mite checks, etc…


We have since moved the hives to a ‘pollinator patch’ next our community garden plot. They are settling in nicely. We have also realized that we missed the perfect time to treat for varroa-while there are no capped brood in the hive. This is something I need to be much more mindful of.  Lesson learned.



St. Kate’s bee-shirt

Last summer, folks in the St. Kate’s biology department got wind of my insect drawings, so when I was in town I went in to talk about possibly drawing something for the Biology Club t-shirt.  If you didn’t know, I did my B.A. in biology at St. Kate’s, and in my last year there worked on the then-new green roof and designed my first bio club t-shirt. While we were catching up (I hadn’t visited since I left in 2009!), we got to talking about bees and bee habitat and I remember thinking ‘the green roof would be the PERFECT place for a honey bee hive.’  Well it turns out it is. The bio club will soon be the proud supporters of a bee hive, in collaboration with Beez Kneez Honey House (check them out! They are also selling my greeting cards!

You can read more about the hive at St. Kate’s here: St. Kate’s beekeeping article

IMG_0236AND, to spread the word about the hive, they used my honey bee drawing on their t-shirt!  I received my shirt in the mail earlier this week, and have already found it to be the perfect field shirt.




This is a drawing of an Agapostemon virescens I did a few months ago, a solitary bee often called a metallic green sweat bee.   As the name implies, it’s very colorful in person- Specimen Photoit’s head and thorax are metallic green and its hairy legs can be bright yellow. I haven’t figured out how to add color to my drawing yet, but have been experimenting with colored pencil and photoshop.  We’ll see what happens.

Bumble bee dissection

My friend and coworker Julie has been teaching me all about rearing bumble bees lately.  She is starting a few colonies in the lab, and every once in a while there are casualties.  And to my absolute joy, I get to dissect them so that they don’t go to waste 🙂  Typically when they die we look for parasites and signs of disease, but at this time of year, we are also interested in whether they are mated or virgin queens. So in this dissection, I was looking for the spermatheca, the organ where sperm is stored until it is released when eggs are laid.  In a virgin queen, the spermatheca is completely clear, like a little piece of perfectly round glass.  The mated queens have a milky spermatheca.  As you can tell, this one had mated.


There’s a lot of other stuff going on here, too.  You can see the intestines, the white ovaries extending up from either side of the spermatheca, the stringy white malphigian tubes (part of the excretory system), and lots of other good stuff that I will save for another time.

Blue Orchard Bees (BOBs!)

For the past couple weeks at work, one of the things I have been doing is rearing blue IMG_0163orchard bees to weigh them before they are released.  I also just got a new phone with awesome time-lapsing abilities, so I have been practicing on the little bees as they emerge. This is one of the better ones so far.  I have yet to capture the emergence itself in a way that is both stable and in focus, but I like this one because you can see a mite crawling around on the pupa case while it is starting to chew its way out.  If you catch it’s ‘mustache’ and long antennae, that is how you know it is a male. Pretty neat, huh?





Art Show

I have a couple pieces hanging in a gallery at OSU until January 17th.  They’re part of an art show with 100+  pieces by other faculty and staff; lots of landscape photography and watercolor, and a few sculptures and textile art.  I was the only one to submit insect drawings, as far as I could tell. I thought this might give me some momentum to do some more drawing, but so far that has not happened.  It was fun framing them, and I learned that I should start planning my drawings to fit in 8×10 mats so I don’t have to have them custom made…


Hive Products-making bee balm

Beeswax is possibly my favorite hive product.  There are so many things you can do with it, like making candles, salves, and lip balm. The wax I have collected has mainly been as a byproduct of the honey harvest, and from the inside of the inner cover where my bees insist on building comb between my visits.  Lip balm doesn’t require very much wax, which is perfect as most first-year beekeepers don’t get much.

Honeybees use wax comb to house their brood and store their honey.  The worker bees produce it in scales from glands in their abdominal segments.  The scales fall off and other workers put them to use by softening them with their mandibles.  The wax starts out clear, and then turns opaque once its been chewed- honey cappings are about the purest wax you will find other than the fresh scales.  If the wax is used for honey or brood, pollen and propolis can change the color to yellow or brownish shades.

Raw comb needs to be melted down and strained through cheesecloth to take out the impurities
Raw comb needs to be melted down and strained through cheesecloth to take out the impurities
So the first part of the lip-balm-making process is collecting and cleaning the wax.  After crushing the comb and getting any honey out of it, it needs to be melted down in a double boiler and strained through cheesecloth to get out any pollen or debris. Then, I like to pour the melted wax in 1 tblp containers so that when they cool, they harden into convenient pre-measured blocks.  I use an egg-carrying container, but an ice-cube tray would work really well, too.
I have tried a good few recipes at this point, and am still fine-tuning it.  I started by looking for a basic recipe online, and then reading the ingredient list of several other lip balm brands.
Lip balm ingredients
Lip balm ingredients

The basic recipe I have been using is:

  • 1 part coconut oil
  • 1 part beeswax
  • 1 part shea butter
  • few drops of peppermint essential oil
  • couple drops of vitamin E body oil
Some other things people use are almond butter, olive oil, or lanolin.  Each has slightly different softness and scent, and so which you use is simply a matter of preference.
I scoop the liquid balm into tubes using a small funnel
I scoop the liquid balm into tubes using a small funnel

Once I have all the ingredients together, I just put them in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until everything is liquid.  Then, I scoop the liquid into a funnel over the clear lip balm tubes I got from Amazon.  Once the balm starts to cool, you get a significant depression at the top of the tube, so I top each one off with a few more drops before I put the caps on and cover them with a sticker.  And that’s it! Feel free to send me a message if you would like to try one!

I designed some labels with my 'brand,' the ingredient list, and fun fact about bees :)
I designed some labels with my ‘brand,’ the ingredient list, and a fun fact about bees 🙂
and viola! yummy bee balm ready to use
and voila! yummy bee balm ready to use