Monday July 14, 2014 – The Queen Returns

Beneath gray skies on a warm, windless day, we inspected both hives at the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP). This inspection was very important since previous looks inside of the hives had revealed a weak split and a main hive without a queen. A couple weeks ago, Anne Marie had located a queen in the main hive, but during inspection, the queen took flight and disappeared. The best possible scenario would be to come out of this inspection with a strong split and a returned queen.

After five of us stepped into the bee-suits, grabbed our hive tools, and lit the smoker, we proceeded through the maze of tall grass to the hives. Beginning with the main hive, we noted quite a bit of activity at the entrance. Field bees were carrying pollen back into the hive, which is a good indication of a queen.

We then removed the outer and inner covers to reveal five frames with honey in the top medium. The second medium consisted of honey, open cells, and some capped brood. There were also about six queen cells. All but one queen cell was open. If our hive had a queen, then we would expect all of the queen cells to be empty. However, the bees may have known something that we didn’t know.

Up until the deep box, the bees were relatively calm and quiet. There was an apparent sense of organization in the hive, leading us to believe that a queen would be found soon. When we revealed the deep box, however, the roar of the bees became notably louder. Anne Marie said that the bees were beginning to show behavior of a hive without a queen. Nevertheless, we remained hopeful.

As the inspection of the deep box continued, the presence of a queen became more apparent. This was great news! There were eggs and larvae at various stages in development. The eggs were difficult to spot in the gray light, but could be seen with the rotation of the frame. Then, slowly moving about a frame, was our green marked queen who had taken flight during the previous inspection.

The marked queen had returned!

Organization in the main hive is underway. We have a laying queen and the main hive is rebounding.

We also inspected the second hive. Anne Marie turned this inspection over to the students. In the top medium, no comb was drawn. In the second medium, we found capped honey, eggs, capped brood, and uncapped brood. This hive was looking good. In the deep box, we found the queen with the perfectly round green mark. The hive was calm throughout the inspection. In the deep box, there was also a medium frame to which the bees were building their own comb. This served as a natural varroa mite trap, although no varroa mites were seen in either hive.

All in all, this was a very successful day of hive inspections. We came out of the inspection with a strong split and a returned queen. We couldn’t have asked for much more. I was so engaged for the duration of the hive inspections that I hadn’t even realized how hot it was in the bee-suit. But this surely won’t stop me from suiting up and visiting our bees again. There are days in your life that you’ll never forget; this was one of those days for me.

Kali Smolen


Wednesday July 2, 2014 – Adventures of a Green Marked Virgin Queen

Well, I can’t say the news is good, but I can’t say it is bad either. Last inspection revealed a weak split and a queenless main hive. I needed to check on the combination and queen situation. I was in Allendale with my son Simon and there were periods of cool blue skies so I decided at the last-minute to check on the status of things.

I have been finding it difficult to organize planned inspection with the troubles we found last time. I hope to remedy the situation and get back to a ‘schedule’.

Under the inner cover I found the top medium now mostly open to the second medium as the bees had chewed up the paper I used to separate the then 2 different colonies. Top one is now mainly honey but nowhere near full. Second one is honey and open cells, some spotty old capped brood.

The bottom deep box is where it got really interesting. Second frame I pulled out, what do I spot? A beautiful big and fairly light-colored queen. I placed the frame down on top of the box, reached for my marking pen and cage. The bees didn’t sound too happy with me. I blamed it on the wind and cold temps. I placed a sloppy green dot on the new queen. Good news!!!

Not so fast… as I pick the frame back up and slightly tap it on the side of the box inadvertently, my big green dot queen takes off flying!!! Shoot, where did she go??? No idea… How can this be? No idea… As I picked up the next frame and the next desperate to locate her or find her in the bottom of the box, what do I see? A bunch a big beautiful queen cells!!! Now I am scratching my head.


Observation 1: No eggs in sight

Observation 2: Nervous bees

Observation 3: Flying green dotted queen

Observation 4: Queen cells (at least 6-8 of them)


Interpretation 1: Big beautiful queen is still a virgin, just hatched and has not destroyed other queen cells yet. (I swear she was big and round, she looked nothing like a virgin) This would also explain the nervous bees. Now, the question is, if she does find her way back to the hive, can she go out for mating flight with a big green dot without attracting too much attention to herself? It seems to me I made it really easy for birds to spot her, might as well have place a flashing target on her!

Interpretation 2: Mated and in ovary development… but that doesn’t explain the queen cells still intact… unless… too complicated. Usually the simplest explanation is the most likely…

Interpretation 3: I am loosing my mind, which is the simplest and most likely explanation!

So we closed everything up, what else was I to do. Now I wait again? Best case scenario: green dotted queen finds her way back to her hive, goes on mating flights, finds many genetically strong suitors, uses green dot for camouflage and escapes predators, finds her way back to the hive again and starts laying a great progeny in time to give rise to a strong fall population for autumn nectar gathering for plenty of stores for the winter.

When probabilities that an event occurs depend on the outcome of a previous event, each chance is multiplied by the next and so on… In short, there is a very slim probability of success in this case. But to borrow the timely soccer chant: I believe!!!

We will peak in there again in a little over a week and hope to find eggs. If it is not the case, there will be no more time to let the bees save themselves, we will step in and gift them with a mated, tried and true laying queen from Randy’s yard.

I am hoping to inspect (weather permitting) Tuesday July 8th at the earliest or Monday July 14th at the latest!

Saturday June 21, 2014 – Good News, Bad News

It’s been over a year since I visited any hives, and Anne Marie gave me quite the reintroduction last Saturday when I met her at the SAP.

I was super excited to step back into a bee-suit and I caught myself having some of the same apprehensions from my first experience in a hive three summers before.  “Will this cloth really keep me safe?” I couldn’t help but wonder, but I knew I would be fine and silenced those silly, nervous thoughts.

Anne Marie led me to a thicket in the back corner of the SAP that was home to the bees.  Before we could do any work with the hives, Anne Marie cut away the tall grasses that had shot up around them.  We worked with the smaller hive first.  The outer frames were full of honey, but the middle of the hive had a lot of empty brood cells.  It didn’t seem as though there was a queen currently laying any eggs, and led Anne Marie to believe that there was a virgin queen hiding amongst the bees, unable to take her mating flight due to the recently awful weather.  The larger hive also lacked any fresh brood, but it contained several queen cells.  It was pretty clear that this hive was completely queen-less.

It was a tough decision that took some discussion, but in the end, we chose to combine the two hives.  Two weak hives at the point in the season is not a good thing. We placed a sheet of paper over the deep super from the queen-less hive and placed the deep super from the hive with the virgin queen on top of the paper.  The paper will hopefully allow for a more seamless integration of the two hives.  With some luck, the queen-less hive will accept the virgin queen and, once mated, can begin building up the hive’s numbers.  If there is no virgin queen, the bees will raise a new queen from the original hive containing the queen cells.  Either way, there is a laying queen in the near future… HOPEFULLY!

So what happened to the original hive anyway? I was told it was strong and thriving just a few weeks ago… Well, Anne Marie had a hypothesis but in the end, as it is always the case with bees, we will never be certain. During the last inspection, queen cells were found in the medium super and some frames were removed to make a split. The inspection went down to the deep box but only looked at a few frames. If more queen cells were present (which is more than likely), the potential swarm plans might have been carried out despite the split. Indeed, the new observations support this evidence. There were not as many bees and the brood was at least a week old. How quickly a strong hive can be set back…

We also inspected the nuc.  It didn’t take long for us to find the queen.  After painting a vibrant green dot on her thorax, we decided to give these bees some more room and put them in a hive, and even spoiled them with some already drawn-out comb.

It ended up being a very hot and very sweaty late morning of lifting heavy supers, chopping down swaths of grass, and leveling the palettes that the hives are housed on.  At one point I thought a bee just did not want to leave me alone, until I realized this bee was inside my hood.  I somehow kept myself from panicking and got the bee out of my hood without incident.  Even with this minor scare, and puddles of sweat I had an incredible time visiting the bees and I can’t wait to go back.

Jennifer Holt

June 13, 2014 — A Quick Look!

I just got back into town, catching up… so Linda offered and I took her up on it. She will go check quickly if Smart hive need another box. What would I do without her?

Here is the text she sent following her visit: “I only looked at 3 frames. They were full of honey and mixed with a little bit of drone brood. On the 3rd frame, I saw the queen and didn’t want to mess with anything else. The other 5 frames looked like they were packed with honey, just as I saw with the others. I added another box and they didn’t waste any time going in it. I also removed the entrance reducer. Bees were backed up!”

We are on track and ready for a good honey flow in this hive…

June 16, 2014 — Medium super added to SAP hive as well!

Friday June 6, 2014 — Letting go…

I had to go out of town unexpectedly this week and I was so happy Prof. Aschenbach agreed to lead the inspection at the SAP in my absence. I do hope that we will build a crew of people to manage the hives. I need to work on a schedule. I have to admit, I had a hard time letting go. I sent poor Todd a long e-mail with all the background information and added potential scenarios he might walk in to, along with option decisions he could make… I hit send and held my breath until I received his email the day after the inspection. A little overboard I realize…

“We checked out the main hive yesterday with some SAP folks and a group of students from Western MI. In short, I’m amazed at how big and fast-growing that colony is.  As of last week, my 2 personal packages were active on only 4 frames each.” Here is a summary of the inspection:

Top Medium: We noted 9 of 10 frames filled with comb and active bees.  We also noted swarm cells on a couple of frames, so…..we made a new split in medium box.  5 total medium frames: 2 frames with swarm cells, 2 frames of brood, 1 frame of mostly capped honey.  Replaced the med 5 frames from the original hive with 5 med foundation only frames.  That should give the bees enough to work on for a while, but they should probably be checked in a week to see if they need another box.

Bottom Deep:  We found the queen!  Lots of brood in the deep (we only looked a couple of frames).”

I will check on them A SAP!!!


Friday May 23, 2014 – Messy mess of a split

I was so curious to inspect the SAP hive. Professor Henke from the Art department and Professor Thompson from the School of Communication joined me, Youssef and Casey from the SAP for our first visit to the newly installed hive on the Allendale campus. We lifted the inner cover to discover a beautiful mess. I had left the 2-inch spacer with the sugar block and the bees built gorgeous burr comb hanging from the inner cover. I didn’t smoke the cover before I placed it on the side to deal with later. From there, we started from the far side to inspect every frame. We were all impressed with the thorough and broad brood pattern on the many frames. Again, no queen cells yet. We did the same thing as in Holland, we choose a few good eggs and larvae frames, along with capped brood, pollen and honey and filled a 4-frame nuc. The difference is that we never spotted the queen and therefore cannot be sure it didn’t make it to the nuc. Oh well, one of them has her (hopefully) and the other will have to raise a new queen. I can’t remember if we ever marked her last year after the hive pulled a surprise supersedure on us.

 We cleaned up the burr comb, removed the spacer, replaced the frames we took away and closed everything back up hoping for the best. Now we go in a few days to spot queen cells without damaging them, and then we leave them to hatch, mate and start laying again if all goes well… These next steps are a beautiful yet fragile natural process, which never fails to excite me.

This nuc is destined to replace the Holland winter loss one (Glass hive). The nuc will remain in Allendale for the new queen to pick up local Allendale drone genetics and bring diversity to the Meijer Campus apiary. We will check on this nuc in 4 weeks in hopes to find a laying queen.

Thursday May 22, 2014 – Enough to go around.

The SAP hive was moved as planned on April 25, 2014 without a glitch. The weather has been darn right cold and rainy and therefore, we just left them to adapt slowly to their new environment.

Close to a month later, we paid the Holland (Smart) hive a visit with high hopes to make a split. Linda and I found a strong nest over the span of 2+ boxes with 10+ frames of brood. There were no queen cells yet but we still decided to make a split. We choose a few good frames of eggs and larvae, another with capped brood, one filled with pollen and the last with honey. Nucleus hive destined for the SAP done!

In addition, we swapped out another 3 frames of eggs, larvae and capped brood into an empty makeshift box. You see Linda lost her bees over the winter. When she decided not to purchase a package to replace them, I wanted to encourage her decision. If you have been following this blog, you know that Linda has been instrumental in the success of the Meijer Campus in Holland Apiary. She has given much of her time and energy for the past 2 years to help raise awareness for the honeybees. It seemed natural to help her, give back in some small way. That is what beekeepers do after all.

And so we have an original hive recuperating from the extensive disturbance, a nuc going to the SAP and a few frames installed in Linda’s 8-frame hive at home. She has since peaked in and found 4 queen cells already well on their way.

We will leave the SAP nuc in Holland in hopes to have the new queen breed with some Holland backyard drone genetics and bring a bit of diversity to SAP. We will look in 4 weeks with the hope to find a new laying queen.

A Long Winter, A Slow Spring and 2 Live Colonies – Saturday April 19, 2014

It was a long, cold and gray winter. Did I mention it was LONG? Of all 3 hives, one did not make it, in fact, I don’t think it even made it to January. Interestingly enough, the boot camp reformee bees were the ones to kick the bucket. Cleaning the dead out revealed a medium size cluster, 6+ inches in diameter, dead in the first brood box. We did not find an excessive amount of dead bees on the bottom board either. The colony was small for the time of year. There were no signs of disease and plenty of stores above. There was still a bit of uncapped brood… maybe they didn’t want to leave the brood and ran out of food in the immediate area? Experienced beekeeper Randy did say he thought something was not quite right in this hive back in the fall. We will never know.


Winter Preparation Recap:

I don’t think I described my wintering ‘efforts’ back in the fall. This is probably a result of the highly non-scientific approach we took. The literature is clear, the winter evils are moisture and the lack of food. This winter in particular, with the number of high heating degree days, stores and access was of utmost importance. So in the fall, we left a full medium super of capped honey on all hives. We built (well, really, Randy did the building) 2 inch spacers, which we set above the top box and placed a sugar block (approx. 10 X 4 X 1 inches) mainly for moisture control and secondly for emergency feed in the spring. We shimmed the inner cover giving the whole inner and outer cover combination a ¾ inch incline from the front to the back of the hive for condensed water to escape without dripping back onto the bees. This incline also provided a good size top front opening. Then we crossed our fingers and gave the girls a long motivational pep talk.


The Survivors:

The other 2 hives, the SAP hive and the scale hive (Smart hive) made it strong to the long winter marathon finish line. With the breeze and the low temperature, Linda and I moved fast through it, cleaning out dead bees, swapping and removing empty boxes as well as assessing the state of affairs.


The SAP hive is in 10-frame equipment with a solid bottom board (I am a fan of a screened bottom board but the winter results seem to indicate that it really doesn’t matter does it?). We cleaned it all out, removed an empty super, and placed the super with 3 frames of brood at the bottom with an empty deep brood box on top. We saw the queen, long and fat she was fairly light in color. We kept the extra spacer with the remainder of sugar block, which still seemed to be a popular hangout. We closed it all up ready for the big move to the Allendale campus next week.


The Smart hive on top of the mammoth scale is in 8-frame equipment with a screened bottom board. We also cleaned it all out and rearrange the boxes too. We stacked from the bottom, a medium super with 4 frames of brood, an empty deep brood box on top and an extra super with honey and left over goodies.


Scale updates

How about the scale data through the winter? Well, the snow was an issue, not as much a weight issue as a solar panel coverage issue! As you know, early in the winter, snowfall came fast and thick. It came so fast in fact that we were not able to keep up with the panel clearance duties causing the scale to stop working early during the winter. Last year we had a working scale with a dead colony, and this year we had a live colony with a dead scale… The scale built by the engineering students was a great working prototype. We now need to reconsider the long-term sustainability of the maintenance demands on the engineering department and field practicality. We are seriously considering purchasing a new scale. My colleague Prof. Jonathan Engelsma and his students in the Computer Information System department developed a new web portal ready to launch in the next few weeks. The commercial scales used for the project development are meant to hook up to the new server directly linked to the Bee Informed Partnership. To be continued…


Coming to an apiary near you!

The plan is to move the SAP hive to its new location at the Sustainable Agriculture Project on the outskirt of the Allendale Campus on Luce Street, next Friday, weather permitting. Next, when the bees have enough brood and they start raising drones – probably just around the time the dandelion spring up – we will make a split from each survivor hive. The Allendale SAP hive split will repopulate the empty hive in Holland and the Holland hive will populate a second hive in Allendale. This way, we hope to preserve a little bit of genetic diversity at each location. We know that the Smart hive has a local queen from Randy Slachter’s bee yard and the SAP hive was a late fall locally mated queen right from the Holland Campus backyard.


That is the plan, but as we have learned over the years that when it comes to bees we should keep our options open…

September 24 – October 4, 2023 – Ukraine and Apimondia

I wrote this article for Walter T. Kelley November newsletter, but I thought I would post it here too for those of you that do not have access to the link.

 Like a duo of scout bees, my travel partner Therese and I set out to explore a new bee land far from the comfort of our local flower patch. We oriented with a variety of bee aficionados from around the world, huddled as a small swarm in the ‘bee’ bus and set out to discover Ukraine before attending the 43rd Apimondia.

Like a duo of scout bees, my travel partner Therese and I set out to explore a new bee land far from the comfort of our local flower patch. We oriented with a variety of bee aficionados from around the world, huddled as a small swarm in the ‘bee’ bus and set out to discover Ukraine before attending the 43rd Apimondia.

 We were welcomed into the hives of local beekeepers, which in general run small scale operations. Commercial operations average 500 hives in Ukraine, these family run businesses were colorful and spotless with modern feeding/harvesting techniques. The traditional single layer 15-16 deep (Dadant) frame hives are still in use, while Langstoth hives seem to slowly be gaining in popularity.


 We foraged marvelous apitherapy beds where an individual is healed by sleeping with/on beehives. Upon one luscious whiff of the hive scent and the lulling buzzing sound of the bees, we instantly planned backyard installations for next year.


 The Agricultural University was scholastic yet revealing in the socio-economic agricultural ways of Ukraine. An eco-settlement was enlightening.

 Our ‘Bee Doctor ‘ rolled out the royal carpet to share the tastes and techniques of procuring drone milk and royal jelly, which he ships around the world.

 We were greeted like queens with the traditional gift of bread and salt by enthusiastic, traditionally dressed children at a K-12 school. For more than 20 years, school children have enrolled in an integrated mandatory beekeeping program. Many of the children graduates are now beekeepers.


 And finally, a small city beekeeping supply store gifted us honey bears while we bought their bargain colorful veils and suits.

 We were amazed by the innovative and integrative nature of beekeepers throughout Ukraine. We were also struck by the amount and variety of bee products produced and used both locally and worldwide. The Ukraine ranks fifth in the world in honey exports. Especially, we were touched by the endearing Ukrainian beekeepers we met on our tour.


 On to Apimondia, the international bee congress and its scientific program.

 Back in Kiev, our small swarm was suddenly combined with a much stronger colony. The organizers of Apimondia forgot to remove the entrance reducer as 8 thousand delegates and exhibit hall participants bearded at the registration desk. Like diligent little bees, foregoing any personal space, festooning and at times even levitating with the crowd, we waited between 4 and 6 hours, many of us in the rain, to gain our registration badge. It was indeed a scary nightmare… but we must admit that the rest of the congress experience was successfully pollinated by this memorable queue. Pressed extremely close together for hours, we quickly bonded with people from all over the world, exchanged bee stories and areas of interest and passion.


 Once in, we of course divided the labor.  There were 7 themes; Apitherapy, Bee Biology, Bee Health, Beekeeping Economy, Pollination and Bee Flora, Beekeeping for Rural Development and Beekeeping Technology and Quality. Each of us went out to survey the different rooms and presentations, and brought back the valuable food for thought. For the next 4 days, the information flowed like the nectar on a sunny day in August.

 Colony losses and varroa destructor were hot topics and coveted by many, with the exception of new friends from Colombia and South Africa dealing with scutellata and capensis bees respectively who have no such problems.  These issues are felt almost worlwide although the survey numbers are significantly higher in the United States. The Swiss documentary More Than Honey directed by Markus Imhoof was showcased on the first day following the opening ceremonies. The main message strongly hinted at the intensive beekeeping practices in America as a cause of the demise of our bees.

 Tom Seeley’s keynote presentation forced us to look at honey bees surviving well in the wild and reconsider our current approaches to beekeeping. His conclusions might advise us to think about smaller colonies, spread further apart and allowed to swarm regularly. And we might want to keep them 30 feet high, if only we can figure out a practical way…

 Another keynote presentation by Koos Biesmeijer from the Netherlands approached pollination as a complex interaction system. He concluded that a sustainable pollination system requires integrated and holistic data collection and modeling to assess where pollination deficit will occur, involving managed and wild pollinators and landscapes. We were fairly sure vast monoculture areas don’t fit his area of study.

 There were also many talks about selection, the variety of crops and GMO’s in the environment, much about pollen and other bee products, as well as a variety of pesticide residues in the hive, honey adulterations and hive monitoring.

Apimondia 2013 covered just about everything bee. The experience was fascinating and overwhelming all at the same time.

 Now back in the nest, we will revisit and digest this new found knowledge, stored and capped to sustain us through the cold winter days while we long for the eternal hopes of the new season to come.

 Anne Marie Fauvel

Grand Valley State University

September 21, 2013 – Who is the STAR of the Show?

Filming crew came to do a little ‘blurb’ on the apiary today. Experienced beekeeper Jack Hartman and Randy Slachter, GVSU beekeepers Club students, faculty, staff and community members came out for the occasion. I was so excited, this is exactly the exchanges I want to happen, the education and opportunities to take place! What a beautiful day. We were all suited, performed inspections, interviewed and such for over 3 hours. In the end I believe the ‘blurb’ will be approximately 3 minutes… I will post the link as soon as it is available.

 In the mean time, the Smart hive saga continues… During our inspection, Linda noticed something odd about the queen. I couldn’t believe my eyes! The queen was behaving the same way Superstar had the day I put her to rest. We ‘noticed that eggs were coming out of her before she could lower her abdomen to secure them in a cell while workers would furiously cannibalize the extra eggs destined to fail.’ After consulting with both Jack and Randy, this queen to was put to rest. I did keep my composure this time.

 Now one mystery was elucidated, the queens cells were not in preparation for a fall swarm but rather for the supersedure of a failing queen. I rudely interrupted the process and now it was getting even later in the season. Lucky for us, Randy can always come up with a spare queen and we would have to do an emergency introduction.

 Randy will bring a baby nuc over, complete with a queen, a few mini frames with brood and some nurse bees,  he will set it on the colony atop a sheet of newspaper. The queen will make her way down in a few days. He has great introduction success this way.  Linda will have to assist because I will be on my way to Apimondia 2013 in Ukraine in 3 days!

 My question to the beekeeping world out there is: Have you ever witness this uncontrolled egg production before? It seems really odd to me that both of my failing queens this year had the same issue. What is this???