Bee Colony Rescue Helps Promote Sustainable Farming on San Juan Island

Bee Colony Rescue Helps Promote Sustainable Farming on San Juan Island.


Her Highness Takes Flight!

Her Highness Takes Flight!.

Hopguard, Honey B Healthy and Yummy Smells of Lemon Balm

June 24, 2012

The sun is out today!  We’ve had almost a whole month of gloomy weather that many on the island have dubbed the month “June-u-ary!”    Perhaps the next few weeks will be warmer and the overcast skies will clear.

Last week when I checked my hive, I noticed I had the dreaded varroa mites.  My new queen is doing fine though and the bees have cleared out all of the old drone brood that was the result of my first queen.  I have no idea what became of her, but the operation in place now looks healthy…except for those mites!

Varroa mite

My day today is a full one.  I have been baking and preparing food for my daughter’s high school graduation potluck supper this evening.  While in the kitchen though, I thought I’d take care of some bee hive tasks as well.   Since the jar of sugar syrup I have inside the hive was looking low, I made up a new batch.  This one I made with a teaspoon of Honey B Healthy, a feeding stimulant that contains essential oils that “helps your hives to thrive!”  Did I mention that the lemongrass oil in it made my kitchen smell ten times better than the brownies I was baking?  No wonder my friend and bee mentor, Colleen, who recommended it, said that it makes the bees go crazy.  This stuff smells so good I’d take a bath in it if I could!  Maybe I’m turning into a bee?  They say you end up looking like your pets.  I suppose I might look like a bee when I get my new glasses!




I also got something called Hopguard from Colleen as well.  Hopguard is a miticide made from organic acids in the hop plant, Humulus lupulus.  It contains 16% potassium salt of hop beta acids and comes in these long gooey strips that are made from food-grade products.  It is safe for my bees and the bee brood, so I don’t have to worry about dangerous chemicals.  All you do is take a sticky strip and hang it over one of your frames draped like this:



I only hung one strip in my hive since I only have about 5 frames that have been drawn out.   I plan to put in a new strip in about ten days, as the one I put in today won’t work as well as it dries out.  You can read more and watch a video about controlling varroa mites with Hopguard when you visit these sites:

I also put a sheet of sticky paper under the screen in my bottom board.  The mites will fall off the bees and stick to the paper.  It has a grid that makes it easier to count the number of mites, so I can see how heavily infested my bees are as well as an idea of how well the Hopguard strips are working.   I will try a quick check perhaps tomorrow and then again before I put in a new strip.


Bee back soon with an update!


Housekeeping, kickboxing and the marionette dance!

Housekeeping, kickboxing and the marionette dance!.

Bee Drama! A Queen Flies the Coop!

Bee Drama! A Queen Flies the Coop!.

Combining the hives! June 4, 2012

Combining the hives! June 4, 2012.

Hummingbird Wars!

I went out on the deck today to relax.  Had one of my beekeeping books in hand, my floppy hat, reading glasses….and do you know what?  I had just gotten comfortable when the warriors buzzed over me all a-twitter.  Flashes of green and red whizzed by, suddenly high, then low, and all of them congregating at my hummingbird feeder.

Now backing up just a little….yesterday they were out of syrup.   So a friend of mine asked me about what I fed them and I’ve read that they need vitamins in their diet.  I’m no bird expert, but I started out feeding them a mix bought at the store.  All I had to do was add water and stir.  It had all the added vitamins but the sugar ingredients were vague.   I am always skeptical of some of these mixes, expecially sweetened mixes, since high fructose corn syrup is laden with chemicals that are unhealthy.  This is on my radar because I keep honey bees (see my honey bee blog at  Corn syrup has recently been found to interfere with honey bees’ ability to navigate back to their hive.  They leave home, get confused and end up lost.  Could it do the same thing to the hummingbirds?  Well, I soon switched (out of concern) to making my own syrup from organic cane sugar and water.  No added vitamins, but hopefully no harmful chemicals in the mix.  Yesterday though the vitamin thing got to me and I thought I’d supplement one feeding with the mix to make sure I wasn’t depriving the birds of needed nutrients….

Big mistake!  They turned their beaks up and wouldn’t have a drop.  I thought I could outwait them and maybe they would change their mind.  No such luck!  I found myself putting out my home recipe again this morning and within minutes they were back…all 15 or more of them.  I actually have two feeders outside, but they seem to prefer one over the other….and they fight.  We are talking wars going on.  The chattering and twittering would undoubtedly translate into all kinds of unprintable material!

And me?  Well I never got my reading break.  I went back inside to get my camera.  You can see for yourself they weren’t very nice to each other.  This poor little guy got his feathers pulled.  He was pretty ruffled after that!

Can you say headache?


One Day At a Time

I’m reminded constantly of the need to take my life one day at a time.  To turn off the worries about what is out of my control and try to find moments of peace and gratitude for the beauty around me.  To treasure the friends that offer kind words and support when life sends you sour lemons and to know that sometimes those lemons spark your culinary skills into mixing up the best lemonade ever. 


Using those hurdles in life to make your muscles stronger.  Turning obstacles into opportunities for stretching yourself into a hardier opponent…so that in the game of life, you don’t give up and quit before you even get started.


They say that creativity is born out of necessity.  Sometimes out of absolute desperation, but often in the quiet moments when, feeling depleted, we sit down to rest.   Listening to the birds and breathing in the fresh air can restore us to a place where we can begin again.  Savoring the sunshine in the morning or taking our lunch break outside with a midday stroll.  Accepting that not every day will be the same and that the challenges actually help us to appreciate the days when things are “perfect.” 


If we never cried, could we find the joy in sharing laughter? Perhaps life’s meaning is discovered in the experiences, good and bad, on our journey…one day at a time.

My little sick bee


The bees are “bee-coming” my new obsession.  I have had them for 13 days now and my morning routine has incorporated a new daily “buzz” along with my cup of coffee.   Listening to them waking up as the spring rays of sunshine warm their home and watching as a brave little forager peeks out and flies off into the sky…soon to “bee” whereabouts unknown.


Thus begins my new worry!  I found a little bee outside the hive this morning.  She was still alive, but obviously affected by the chill air.  I scooped her up in my hand (no, they don’t sting unless they feel threatened) and took her inside to give her a dose of sugar water in hopes it might revive her.  Watching her closely though, I became concerned as I noticed she seemed to have difficulty moving her back legs – almost like they had become partially paralyzed.  She also kept wiping her antennae and face, going over and over her eyes again with her forelegs like she was trying to clean something off that I couldn’t see. 


Sadly, I placed her in a plastic dish with some tissues and set her in a warm corner of the kitchen.  Fearing that my efforts to help her were in vain, I set out for a morning walk to get some fresh air.  The sun was out, hopefully forecasting a good day


Rounding the last corner in my neighborhood walk, I noticed a strange odor in the air and saw someone spraying a driveway.  Taking a detour to investigate, I asked the people working what they were spraying.   The lawn company owner told me it was “a generic brand of Round-UP. “  He assured me that it was totally safe and wouldn’t hurt anything.  “Everyone uses it!”  But I wondered more about this as I walked home.  The driveway angled right down to the ocean.  Even if the active ingredient, glyphosate could be stable in soil, what other ingredients had been mixed in to act as a wetting agent.  Often times, these supposedly “inert” ingredients are as harmful or more harmful than the active ones.  Some mix the glyphosate with surfactants which are very harmful when they get into marine ecosystems and dangerous for bees that might come into contact with them. 


Back at the house, I thought more about these chemicals in our environment.  What about my little bee that was sick?  Had she visited a site where someone had sprayed toxic chemicals?  I probably won’t know where she traveled (they can visit area between 5-8 miles from their hive) or what made her sick, but I felt awful that she was obviously in distress and there was nothing I could do to help her.  Maybe though, someone reading this will change their habits and help out our friends, the bees.  But not only bees…birds, fish, and other living things that share our environment will benefit when we begin to change.  Weeds in our driveways will seem silly one day when we don’t have fruits or vegetables to eat or clean water to drink.



Hiving the Bees!

Hiving my First Bees


    by Cynthia Brast

San Juan Island, WA


They’ve arrived!

The bees came today – April 11, 2012, after shipping from Oroville, CA on April 9.  I picked them up this morning at the Friday Harbor Post after they called at 07:30 a.m. to let me know the bees had arrived.

My package of Italian bees was calm and quiet when I put them into my vehicle, but I noticed more activity as I drove the 12 miles to my house.  Upon arriving, I sprayed the package with a mist of sugar water in a 1:1 ratio.  I was mesmerized by the energy coming from the package.  There was a natural heat radiating from the box, and a rhythm…almost like a heart beating.  I also noticed a sweet, fragrant, bees-waxy smell diffusing from the package.

My plan is to hive the package today after 4:30 p.m.  I am waiting for my daughter to come home so she can observe…and take photos!  The bees have spent the afternoon in the basement area of my house where it is about 60 degrees and quiet.

Unfortunately we’ve had some rain here today.  Outside right now at 4:13 p.m., the temperature is at 50 degrees.  We have a light drizzle.  I misted the bees again about an hour ago.

My hive site is actually up against my house.  Partly for convenience for me and partly because that spot has a good overhang from the roof where the hive will stay dry and also to help the bees stay warmer since we are in the Pacific Northwest.  The added heat will be especially helpful in the cold winters here.

To prepare for my installation, I have one deep super with 9 frames inside.  I am going to mist the frames lightly with the sugar water solution beforehand.  When I am ready to start, I’ll mist the package of bees, turning the box carefully to make sure I’ve covered them.  This will keep them from flying out and also distract them as they will be eager to clean the sugar water mist off themselves.  Then, I will remove the can of sugar water in the package and take out the queen.  I definitely want to check to make sure she’s healthy and look for her mark.  I have a cardboard piece to cover the hole left in the package after I remove the can of sugar syrup so the bees don’t start to escape before I’m ready to put them in the hive.

So, after the queen is out and checked, I am going to take out the cork that seals her queen cage and stick a marshmallow there to allow the workers to release her on their own.  Having the marshmallow there allows the rest of the bees to “accept” the queen while chewing through the marshmallow.  In a couple of days, the marshmallow will be removed by the workers, giving them time to get acquainted with the queen inside and set her free.

The queen cage will need to be hung, marshmallow end up between two of the frames in the deep super.  There is a metal strip that I can bend over the top of the frames, providing a nice, secure hook.  Then, my plan for the best release given the wet drizzle outside is to stack two empty shallow supers on top of the deep and gently turn the box of bees upside down over the bottom deep super.  The shallow supers will allow me to leave the packaged bee box inside the hive overnight and will be kinder to the bees than shaking them out where some may try flying off in the wet weather.  I also plan to put my Boardman feeder jar inside the hive, placing it on top of two wood strips over the deep hive frames.  This is so the bees won’t have to crawl down through the deep super and into the Boardman feeder at the hive bottom tonight, and will make it easier for them to access the sugar syrup after their transition from the package.  I also have a 2nd jar feeder that I am going to place along with the other, giving them plenty of food for the night.

Did I mention???  The bee suit I ordered still hasn’t arrived.  I have a pair of gloves and a veil.  That’s all the gear I will use this evening.  Hopefully the bees will bee-kind!



How it went!


Hiving the package went surprisingly well for me as a new”bee.”   I encountered only one small hitch in the process and actually could have installed the bees sans the veil.  There was quite a hum from the package, but the bees must have sensed the evening was upon them and had clustered pretty well together.

I had all my equipment/supplies at hand:  spray bottle of sugar water, hive tool, the hive supers, a small nail, marshmallow, cardboard, and a small screwdriver.   After misting the bees, I carefully opened the package.  The tape was cumbersome and I took care to peel all of it off the box.  I used the small screwdriver to pry the edge of the feeder can up and carefully removed it, covering the opening with my piece of cardboard while I set the can aside.

Next, I removed the queen.  Her wooden cage was hung in the package with a small metal extension that hooked into a groove at the top of the package.  I slid the metal through the groove and then removed the cardboard makeshift cover over the top to allow me to bring the queen cage out.   I replaced the cardboard over the package opening and set my hive tool on top to hold it in place while I checked the queen.

The queen was in the cage alone with no attendants.  She was active and looked to be healthy.  My “hitch” in the installation came at this point though as I realized she was not marked.  I also did not have my reading glasses on under the veil and it was impossible to see if she was clipped.  I should have taken the time to remove my gloves and veil and go into the house to get my glasses.  It was raining and the gear was cumbersome, the porch had become slippery because some of the mist from the sugar water drifted, so in hindsight, I should have just made sure my glasses were outside and handy.  This is good information for me as the next time I will feel more confident in the process and probably ditch the veil if not the gloves.

I went ahead with the queen installation and removed the cork from her cage using my small nail to pry it out and carefully replacing it with a marshmallow, so the bees will be able to release her themselves.   I hung the queen cage over one of the 9 frames I had spaced in the deep super except that I hung her with the marshmallow side down.  This shouldn’t be a problem as there were no attendants inside her cage to block any exit if they died.

Next came the bees.  As outlined earlier, I had two empty shallow supers I set on top of the deep and I inverted the box, slid the cardboard covering the opening away and the bees were able to come out onto the frames.  This went really well.  There were a few fliers, but I gently misted the bees again to keep them from escaping.

After positioning the package so I could leave it in the hive overnight, I then set the jar feeder I had prepared next to the package.  The jar feeder I inverted and set on two small wood pieces that would elevate the jar just enough to allow the bees easy access.  This also went extremely well and I was able to complete the installation by placing the inner and outer cover on the hive.

My last steps were to take my extra Boardman feeder jar and place it on outside holder of the hive.  Originally, I had intended to put both feeder jars inside the hive, but changed my mind in the process.  I had trouble getting the Boardman holder to stay in position and had to wiggle it in next to the entrance reducer.  At first, there were some bees coming out under the Boardman feeder and this allowed me to see that it wasn’t pushed in all the way.  With that corrected and my entrance reducer in place, I had finished and the bees were ready for their first night in a new hive.


My daughter was great and assisted me in the installation by handing me equipment as necessary, but most importantly, she documented the process by taking photos and video.  Some photos can be found below and are also available to view on Facebook at


With Yvonne at the Friday Harbor Post Office

San Juan Island, WA 98250


Donning my gloves!


Removing the Queen Cage


The Queen!


Putting the package of bees into the hive.


Inside view


All Done!

The End!

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