My jar of beeswax

As a first-year beekeeper I get to enjoy the adventure of keeping honey bees, of learning about them, caring for them, and seeing their day-to-day lives up close. Meanwhile are two things I don’t get, and they’re kinda biggies.

Honey and beeswax.

Back in May I started out with five frames of bees, which house 10,000 individuals. Today, that number has grown to about 15 frames, or about 30,000 bees.* You might assume that 30K bees can produce a lot of honey and wax, and you’re right. But since this colony is still establishing itself, they’re going to need all of it to get through the winter. In other words, no excess for me.

I can, however, take “burr comb.” In fact, I should.

Bees store pollen, nectar, honey, eggs and larvae in honeycomb, which they build with beeswax. A new colony like mine spends a lot of time and effort building honeycomb from scratch, and they need every bit to support their growing numbers (in the peak of summer, the queen can lay up to 1,000 eggs per day). They’re meant to build the comb on the frames, which you can think of like hanging file folders in a filing cabinet. Every now and then, however, they get a little overly ambitions and build comb on *top* of the file folder, or frame, and that’s called burr comb.

I don’t want them to do that for a few reasons. It can make the hive difficult to inspect, become a real mess and prevent me from closing up the hive properly. So I always scrape it off and put it into my jar, which you see here.

Soon I’ll melt this down, get the impurities out, make sure it’s good and clean and then let it solidify into natural beeswax, which I can then use to make candles, lip balm, all sorts of interesting things. I hope to collect some more before the season ends, and of course I’ll show you what I make and how I make it. Wish me luck!

*Do you know what honey bees are really good at? Making more bees.

Time for an entrance reducer?

Ok today was the third consecutive day I’ve seen my bees fighting yellow jackets at the hive entrance. It’s not a full-on robbing situation but this is a first-year hive that I established in May, and they’re still building comb in the second brood box. It may be an overreaction but I put an entrance reducer on this evening at the 3″ setting.

The bees seemed a little confused at first, walking over to the newly-sealed side and even started hovering in front of the hive as if it were an orientation flight. I’m guessing they were checking out this new “feature.”

Hopefully I did the right thing by putting the reducer on (I can always remove it of course). As a young hive it’s not a strong hive and with the dearth coming I don’t want them to get overwhelmed and robbed.

Aug. 1 bee hive inspection

First beehive inspection in 14 days. I added a second brood box a few weeks ago when my first box was about 80% full. Today the bottom box is completely full and they’ve drawn comb on 50% of the frames in the top box. Lots of nectar in the top box, as well as capped brood and uncapped larvae. I also saw the queen today in the top box, walking around and looking lively. That was a relief as I hadn’t seen her on my last two inspections.

Two concerns however. I did see a hive beetle walking around. I do have a trap so I’ll put that in tomorrow. Additionally, the other day I posted here about seeing my bees defend themselves successfully against a single yellow jacket. This evening I saw three more yellow jackets on the ground in front of the hive and hovering around the landing board. The bees were on high alert, in a tight cluster at the entrance. I could see them inspecting every bee that landed, and lunging at the yellow jackets if they got too near.

I’m worried this is building up to a robbery. I don’t know if yellow jackets send out scouts or if they’re simply finding their way here by chance. Maybe they have a nest nearby. I’m going to put an entrance reducer on the 1″ opening (didn’t want to do it tonight as there were many tense guards on the board and I didn’t want them coming at me). I hope this isn’t a robbery waiting to happen. 

Yellow jackets versus honey bees

Amazing scene at my beehive just now. I stepped outside to watch them fly around. I saw several flying in and out as usual. All typical stuff.

Suddenly a single yellow jacket showed up and landed on the landing board. The girls went nuts. Immediately two bees jumped onto the yellow jacket and all the three of them rolled into a ball off of the landing board and onto the ground. They were stinging the daylights out of each other* and neither let up until the yellow jacket wasn’t moving anymore.

I watched for quite a while longer to make sure it wasn’t the start of a robbery but no other yellow jackets showed up. The girls were kind of agitated but not too badly. That was amazing. I never saw them put up a defense before like that. Well done, girls!

*It turns out that a yellow jacket’s hard body won’t cause the honey bee’s stinger to come out once it’s used, versus our soft bodies. That means a honey bee can sting a yellow jacket over and over, not lose their stinger and hence, not die. Science!