J&N Homestead

Our Urban Homesteading Story

Category: Bees

OH MY! The queen is dead!

IMG_20160516_121949037_HDRSo during the hive inspections today I found some terrible signs in one of our bee hives. One of our packages has lost its queen! She was in there last week but it looks like she has been gone for several days, no eggs or young larvae were present and after two separate inspections, no queen was found. There were lots of signs to support the fact that the hive was queenless, queen cups were everywhere but I suspect the loss was sudden as they had no capped queen cups or emergency queen cells since they clearly didn’t have young enough larvae to rear into a new queen. Luckily there was some capped brood and brood of different ages present to help the population through the process of introducing a new queen to the hive. The only question was how quickly I could get a new queen and where should I purchase one?

Well, I decided to make the short drive and pick up a queen from the same great guy who sold me my nuc this year. She’s an Italian/Carniolan mutt and unmarked but she was ready and available to be put into the hive on Monday. I may go through the pain of marking her myself, but at this point, I’m happy to just have her in the hive and getting acclimated to her new home. Being a new beek and having to go through this was a tad stressful but it’s part of keeping bees and it’s a great learning experience!

I posted a rather long video on youtube of my process of introducing a new queen to the hive. The most amazing and interesting part starts at 13:43.

Roughing up the hives…

I’m a big fan of David Burns who is a certified master beekeeper and runs Long Lane Honeybee Farms and the nice online store www.honeybeesonline.com. He also has a really good YouTube channel where he posts all kinds of beekeeping videos, one of which struck me as odd. In this video post, he suggest roughing up the inside of your boxes to mimic the texture the bees would normally find in the wild inside trees and other potential places they may call home. The idea is that they will cover the inside walls more vigorously with propolis which helps act as an extension of their immune system. Clearly science and beekeeping have come a long way on the subject of propolis and there does appear to be some good science around the subject and it’s not like it will hurt anything. Since I have the two new hive boxes built and ready for spring, I figured I’d experiment and rough up the insides of one and see what the differences would be between the two with one roughed up and the other not. I’ll come back and update this post with my findings in a few months.

Below I’ve got some before and after shots of the inside walls of one of the supers I’ve roughed up. David Burns says he as some sort of proprietary tool which he uses for the purpose of roughing up the interior walls of the boxes, unlike David, I’ll share my super secret tool, it’s a 5″ hole saw from lowes, but honestly, you should just use whatever tools you have laying around.

Inside wall before getting roughed up.

Inside wall before getting roughed up.

Inside wall after being roughed up with a hole saw.

Inside wall after being roughed up with a hole saw.

My "open source" non-proprietary hive roughing up tool. I'm looking at you David Burns.

My “open source” non-proprietary hive roughing up tool. I’m looking at you David Burns.

Building the beehives for the homestead…

IMG_20160205_185230737The woodenware from Dadant finally arrived on Friday and I couldn’t wait to get started building all the supers for the bee hives. I chose Dadant because they honestly have some of the best woodenware out there, it was a toss-up between them and Walter Kelly but the free shipping from Dadant tipped the scales in their favor.

I had long ago decided to use only medium supers for all my hives and in this order, I got 8 medium supers, bottom boards, top covers (copper for Natalie) and frames. I opted for the unassembled because I wanted to save some money and I figured it would give me an opportunity to learn. I’ve watched nearly every video on beekeeping on YouTube so I needed to try out my new skills!

Well, as you can see from the video below, building the supers was easy, staining them was a choice Natalie and I made today, I had some trial and error but ultimately decided on a cedar-tinted wood protector and a dark walnut stain over that. It leaves the wood with a nice light brown with strong orange highlights. I quite like the look and I think it compliments the copper nicely. I also picked up a wood toolbox which you can see me testing the staining method on about mid-ways through the video.

I started building the frames today after I built the supers but only got 25 of the 50 completed. Not too shabby for a day’s work, I think.

Bees, a love affair finally realized.


As a kid, I was deathly allergic to bees, anytime I got stung it was an immediate trip to the doctor to get treated. I was always fascinated by bees and my interest only peaked as a teenager when I got a chance to be around them through a beekeeper who went to our church. I was no longer allergic to bee strings and had learned enough to know they were one of God’s most amazing gifts to mankind. I can say I was really mesmerized by the complexity and beauty of honey bees.

I finally found my opportunity after 25 years to take a stab at being a beekeeper when Natalie decided we should start the homestead project with a garden. A garden’s best friend is pollinators, obviously, my favorite pollinator is the honeybee and with Natalie’s blessing, I began my research.

For north American beekeepers, there really are only three breeds of honey bees to choose from, Russian, Italian, and Carniolan. I opted for Italian bees because based on my research they were docile and overwintered well. Having two young kids made being more docile the single most important factor for which type we should keep. I’ll be keeping the hives behind a fence so I’m not terribly worried about the kids getting mixed up with a swarm of angry bees but I’m also not interested and pushing my luck. And as luck would have it, Walter T. Kelly, one of the nation’s most respected beekeeping supplier companies is right here in good ‘ol Kentucky, albeit two hours away from the  house.

I ordered two packages of Italian bees and I’m set to pick them up on April 23rd. I really can’t wait for that ride home!

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