Busy Little Bees

Every grain of experience is food for the greedy growing soul of the artist.  ~Anthony Burgess


A little bee humor at our beekeepers picnic / meeting 8/9/15

I love our bees!  I simply find them fascinating!  What’s been going on with my newest hobby?  A lot!

At the end of July, Dad and I added the super to our bee hive.  What does that mean?  Ultimately, it means honey for us!

Our hive is two boxes high.  Those boxes contain honey strictly for the bees to keep the hive going and healthy, especially since winter is right around the corner.  Dad and I added a smaller box, called the super or sometimes the medium, to the hive, since our bottom boxes were nearly full.  Plus, let’s get real, we couldn’t wait any longer.  Before adding this addition to the hive, we placed the queen bee blocker between the boxes, so the queen can’t enter the top box and lay eggs.  She’s confined to the rest of the hive, while the worker bees, who are a lot smaller in size, can enter the top domain to make honey for our consumption.  The Piper’s honey and not the bees.  Pretty simple.

Adding the super to the bee hive 7-26-15 Aunt Heather PiperPrior to adding the super to the hive, we had to do a mite treatment.  Evidently, there are different methods for destroying the mites in the hives.  Mites, really?  Yes!  It’s a huge problem, one that is unavoidable, yet maintained.

To do this, we have a contraption that contains a metal plate and two electrical cords.  I added two scoops (one for each box) of this fine powder material to the metal plate.  This treatment is actually wood bleach, better known as oxalic acid.  Seriously?  Yep.  Then, we took the plate and hooked it up to a car battery to give it a charge.  Really?  True!  The plate heats up and creates a smoke that’s not toxic to the bees but kills the mites.  The procedure only takes about two minutes for the actual smoking process, and about fifteen minutes to allow the smoke to settle.  This process is repeated a few days later, about a week before a super is added to the hive.  Do the bees like it?  Not at all!


Beekeepers come in all sizes, even young. Great beekeepers picnic & meeting. 8/9/15

The first time we treated the bees for mites, Kyle assisted.  We waited till nightfall, to ensure the bees were snug in their beds.  Dad and I dressed in full suit, while Kyle argued and said, he wasn’t entering the hive area, and that he’ll be fine.  We needed him to help time the process.  However, what Kyle didn’t realize, was bees don’t stay in a certain area, they’ll fly ten feet from the hive and certainly the five foot distance from were Kyle was standing.

On a side note, it’s pretty difficult moving around in the pitch black, wearing bee suits with a black mess intercepting our vision and leather gloves.  I’m just saying.

As with everything in life, we learn valuable lessons through experience, some faster lessons than others.  Dad and I didn’t smoke the bees first to calm them down, assuming the treatment wouldn’t be so negatively received.  Well it was!  As Dad and I stood there, the bees were actually hitting us, bouncing their bodies off of ours.  We didn’t get stung, but it felt like someone was throwing tiny rocks at us.  This chest bumping is a warning from the bees saying “I’m going to sting you if you don’t back off, I’m not happy.”  Next thing I heard was Kyle screaming, “Ooouch!”  and he took of running down the hill.  He even dropped his precious iPhone 6 were he once stood.  I’ve never seen that kid move so fast, not that I was able to really see him, but I can only imagine.  Dad and I thought he was being attached by a herd of bees.  Was he?  No!

Bee mite Treatment 7-17-15 Aunt Heather Piper

After things settled down and we completed our mission, we returned to the house.  I asked Kyle if he was alright and how bad was the attack.  Kyle pointed to a single spot on his arm.  I about died laughing.  Not because he was stung, I agree that hurts and that doesn’t make for a good day, but because he sounded like he was being mulled by our flying friends.  Even Dad joined in on the humor and all that fuss for a single sting.  Of course, if I was in his shoes, the fear of not being able to see and not knowing what to expect, would have been the worst part.  Then, naturally we added, “Why didn’t you wear the extra bee suit?” and “I guess you wished you were wearing the bee suit.”  Kyle simply snickered and ignored our teasing of the truth.  Originally Kyle argued and claimed he’d be fine without the suit.  I guess he was wrong.  I did tease him and mention, “Is that what it takes to get you off of your phone?”  Kyle only responded with a grunt.

Beekeeper Meeting Twitter feed 8-9-15 Aunt Heather Piper

What really happened, was Kyle freaked out over a single bee that landed on his arm and he swotted at it, resulting in a sting.  I’m guessing the bees weren’t even concerned with him in the slightest.  I told Kyle, “You shouldn’t have swotted at the bee.  Leave them alone and they won’t hurt you.”  Granted, that’s a general rule, but truly one worth trying.  The honey bees are pretty docile and don’t go attacking for no reason.  Again, this isn’t a one-hundred percent guarantee.

Do we have honey yet?  Alas, no.  We just checked recently, but they’re beginning to make the honey combs!


At the beekeepers picnic / meeting in Stahlstown. To the left with her back towards us is my cousin Pat Piper. 8/9/15

Last weekend, I was able to discuss our bee experiences with others of like interest.  I was able to attend my first bee keepers meeting. This one happened to also be a picnic on the president of our organization’s farm.  What a great day!  They taught us about all things bees, the topic of this meeting was harvesting queen bees.  A subject I have no interest in, at least not at this stage of my beekeeping experience, but information worth noting.  They also gave a few life hacks and supplied information on wild flowers.  Dad was right when he said, “They’re all above our level of understanding and experience.”  However, everyone is really great and helpful.  These group of people are a wonderful resource.  Thanks to my cousin Pete (David) Piper, who got us into bees and supplied us with our first hive, we’re able to hang with him and his wife Pat at the meetings and discuss bees alongside others.

Kyle joined us at the picnic, but I don’t think he has an interest in bees.  Maybe later in life, or when his iPhone dies.

As you might imagine, the bee community is close-knit.  Recently, we received an email stating a bee keeper from Stahlstown was getting out of the bee business and was selling all his equipment and supplies.  Naturally, every bee keeper in the area swarmed to his house and raided his stock.  Dad and I were no exception.  Why not?  It’s a way to build a back log of needed material at a low investment.  We scored an electric bee extractor and bunch of boxes and inserts and even some plastic containers to bottle the honey.  Not only is obtaining these pieces valuable because they’re at a great price, but talking to an expert helps us learn.  He was a great guy who offered us a lot of advice.


Wild flowers that bees LOVE! It’s good know this stuff! Beekeepers picnic / meeting 8/9/15

While speaking to this gentleman, who I know will miss his bees, I made him do a double take.  We were talking about wearing our bee suits, (he only ever wore his mask) and the number of times he was stung.  I mentioned that I’m allergic to bees so I always wear my bee suit.  He almost fell over with surprise.  Relax, I have yet to go into anaphylactic shock!

I know my garden is really flourishing and our fruit trees are producing so well because of our bees.  They’re a much needed asset to our existence, and they’re a truly interesting hobby.  I can’t wait till we get our very own swarm!

posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Education & Learning,Family,Farming & Planting,Hiking & Outdoors,News,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Random Fun Facts,Reminiscing and have No Comments

What’s All the Buzz?

Okay, I’ll admit it, I totally cracked myself up with this headline!  If you didn’t get it, read on.


This is my first look at our bees, they’re buzzing around, even though it’s a bit chilly (high of 50’s, low 60’s) 6/1/15

On Monday, my new hobby arrived.  It’s no secret I keep myself pretty busy with my eclectic interests and hobbies.  Such as what?  I love to read and I really love to write.  In addition to my blog and my freelance work, I’ve also written a book for Kyle (I thought it’d be neat to write a book for him that includes his interests, minus the video games.  Perhaps one day I’ll give it to him) and began a few others, but that’s not the big news.  Unbeknownst to some, I’m an outdoorsy person.  I spend a great deal of my summer mornings and evenings in the garden, and tending to the fruit and nut trees, and raising our chickens and turkeys, but that’s not the big news.  I enjoy fishing and during the winter months, I snowboard and hunt.  With all this rugged activity, I do have an artsy side to me.  I enjoy photography, mostly shooting nature and documenting family traditions through imagery.  In my past life, high school and college, I used to express myself through pottery, throwing on the wheel was my favorite, but that’s not the big news.  I do try and be active, either going to the gym, running, or hiking with the dogs, but that’s nothing new.  And everyone knows all these activities are usually spent with Kyle and my family, except the exercising part.  So what else could I possibly add to my hobby portfolio?  Bees!

Yes, honey bees!  I’m a beekeeper!  How on earth did I get into bees?  Along with my dad, I’ve always had an interest in bees, being a huge fan of honey, especially honey on the comb.  I LOVE honey!  Maybe not as much as Kyle, but regardless, it’s a staple in our household.  Ironically, I wrote a blog post about these buzzing pollinating creatures in 2013 Random Fun Facts:  Bees.

How does one become a beekeeper?  Well, I’m very blessed to have my cousin Pete, who is a beekeeper, who tends to about eight hives of his own.  Not only did he give us our first hive from a swam he gathered locally, but he’s been teaching dad and myself everything he knows about bees.  He even introduced us to an organization of beekeepers that he belongs to, in this area.  They hold monthly meetings to inform and educate local beekeepers on bees and everything associated with this activity.  There’s an organization dedicated to beekeepers?  In the Latrobe area?  Oh, YES!  Unfortunately, I missed the first meeting this year, but I’ll bee (pun intended) sure to attend the next one, which is around the corner.


The bees arrived Monday thanks to my cousin Pete. Even though the bees were slightly ticked off from the car ride there, I just had to lift the lid to the bee box and look inside… 6/1/15

How much is there to learn about bee keeping?  A lot!  First and foremost, bees are very delicate creatures.  We can’t use anything unnatural on the garden or fruit tress for fear of killing them.  Mites are also a very real danger.  Believe it or not, they can wipe out an entire hive!  Dad’s been doing a lot of reading on bees and our new hobby.  He found a natural remedy for the mite problem, dust the bees with powered sugar.  Seriously?  Yes!  Well, the bee knowledge list goes on and on.  Similar topics are addressed and discussed at the bee meetings, to learn from the experienced beekeepers.  Very exciting if you ask me!

Did you know consuming local honey actually helps the body build up an immunity to local allergens?  That’s the word on the street.  I know I’ve mentioned it before, but ingesting honey over long periods of time, will decrease allergies.  At least that’s what I read in an article.  In a way, I wish our bees would hang around the poison ivy, to build up my immunity.  Regardless, how can anyone go wrong with such a natural sweet treat.  It’s great for all meals in just about anything.

On a side note, did I mention I’m allergic to yellow jackets?  Not terribly, I’ve never gone into anaphylaxis, but I guess there’s always a chance.  I do swell considerably and get huge, I mean huge, three inch diameter hives, all over my body.  I know it sounds silly for me to be a beekeeper, but bees are so very interesting, and nothing beats fresh honey.  I’ll just have to be cautious.  Who knows, I might not even have a reaction to the bee sting.  After all, bee stings are said to be good for arthritis and those suffering with multiple sclerosis.

Bee (again pun intended) prepared for more bee talk in the near future.  I have a feeling this is going to be quite the adventure!

Happy Beekeeping!

posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Cooking with Kyle,Education & Learning,Family,Farming & Planting,Hiking & Outdoors,Hunting & Fishing,News,Observation & Imagination,Patience,Pets,Random Fun Facts and have No Comments

Random Fun Facts: Bees

If the bee disappears from the surface of the globe, man would have no more than four years to live.  ~Albert Einstein (attributed)

honeybee Aunt Heather PiperIn this digital age, does anyone really read magazines?  I mean the real deal.  I do!  Now let’s not get silly, anyone who knows me, knows I love my books, the real printed pages of complete escapes into other worlds, yet I mostly read magazines and newspapers online.  That is until I had to use up some frequent flyer miles and chose to order a few magazines.  Among my mix, Money, Inc., Entrepreneur, Entertainment, Fortune and Time.  Do I read them?  You bet I do!  Why not, there is a lot of information in those pages.  Do I actually read the articles?  Yes I do!  Now granted, sometimes they pile up until I have the opportunity to address the piled stacks of printed pages, but I really truly try to give them attention.  Some articles interest me more than others but I do at least skim through those pieces.

Recently, I got Kyle into reading a few found articles.  One was the Auntie Anne’s franchise, since Kyle is such a fan of the soft pretzels.  It told of how one women created herself an empire, starting off at the farmers market with her little idea.  He loved it!

honeybee on flower-Aunt Heather PiperI also had Kyle read a few articles in Fortune about the Apple company.  He loves their products and was very interested to hear about any new technologies, how the company is doing and such.  Pretty cool coming from a twelve year old.

Anyway, why my dissertation on magazine articles?  Simply because I came across one that I found so interesting, I couldn’t just let it go.  It was in the August issue of Time magazine.  It was an article on honeybees and their demise.  This article was pretty thorough and I found it very intriguing, maybe because I am a fan of honey, as is the rest of my family, especially Kyle.  Dad loves to get the honeycomb and eat it.

Years ago I read an article that stated, when consuming honey over long periods of time, it was said to decrease allergies.  Since then, Kyle has held that near and dear to his heart.  So when any one of us gets sick or seems to be filling the effects of seasonal allergens, Kyle becomes the honey pusher.  Literally!  Once he made me a bowl of oatmeal and there was so much honey in it, I swear he invited an entire hive to stop by and regurgitate into my bowl.   Love that kid!

According to Hannah Nordhaus “Honeybees are the glue that holds our agricultural system together.”  I hope you enjoy this information as much as I did.  It was pretty much taken directly from the article.  Enjoy!

Random Fun Facts:  Bees     

Bee History 

  • Bees are not a natural resident to North America
  • 17th century bees were imported to the continent
  • The oldest known honeybee specimen dates from 100 million years ago
  • During the 17th century, Ian Swammerdam discovered that the king bee had ovaries and was in fact a queen
  • In 1923, Rudolf Steiner, a scientist predicted that within 100 years artificial cultivation of honeybees would have a sever consequence on the bee population
  • There’s an Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern in Switzerland
  • Honeybee, also known as Apis Mellifera
  • There are more than 20,000 species of bees worldwide, only 6 main types are kept commercially (Italian, Russian, Carniolan, Caucasian, German, Buckfast)


Bee Basics

  • There is the worker bee, drone bee and queen bee
  • Worker – construction, storage, keeping the nursery, guarding, care-taking, scouting and foraging, lives 20-30 days
  • Drone – mates with virgin queen in midair, can fly backward, rotate and flip, dies after mating
  • Queen – lays up to 1,500 eggs a day, secretes pheromones to control workers, lives 3-7 years
  • Honeybees can fly as far as 5 miles (8km) in search of forage
  • The queen bee communicates by dance
  • 1/12 teaspoon is the amount a worker bee will produce during its short life

honeycomb-Aunt Heather Piper

The Hive

  • A colony typically has 20,000 to 30,000 bees
  • The colony creates a winter ecosystem during the winters months and lives off honey
  • Bees use their wings to generate warmth
  • Middle-aged worker bees build by attaching each comb to the walls of the hive, requires more than 2lbs. of wax
  • A worker bee can visit 100 flowers and carry more than half its weight in pollen in a single trip
  • To produce 1lb. of honey, hive workers fly a collective of 55,000 miles, while tapping 2,000,000 flowers


Bee Anatomy

  • Bees have 5 eyes (2 large and 3 ocelli used to detect light intensity) The workers have nearly 7,000 lenses
  • Bees have 2 sets of wings.  The rapid flapping generates warmth and evaporates water from nectar to make honey
  • Bees have wing hooks, which enable them to attach 1 of each set of wings together during flight for maximum efficiency
  • A charge on the bees hair attracts pollen, known as electrostatic charge
  • The proboscis is an airtight, strawlike tube that sucks up nectar and also works in reverse to feed offspring from a honey stomach
  • Bees’ jaws help bite and pack pollen as well as shape wax for building honeycombs
  • Bees have a 2nd reservoir where nectar is temporarily stored before being regurgitated
  • Bees have a pollen basket, this is a sac attached to the rear leg.  The legs scrape pollen from front to back and is collected there.
  • Bees have wax plates.  They secrete the wax from beneath plates on their abdomen and use it to build honeycombs
  • A bees venom (a unique mixture of chemicals) has been known to destroy HIV
  • A barb prevents a bee’s stinger from being pulled out.  The bee tears its abdomen while freeing itself before dying

Flying honeybee Aunt Heather Piper.jpg

 The Dance

  • Scout workers locate food and alert fellow foragers location with a series of dance moves
  • Through the number of turns, the duration of the dance and the moves themselves, the scout can communicate the distance to the food, the angle of the food to the sun and whether it is near or far
  • The scout dances in a figure-eight shape to tell other workers to fly toward the sun
  • Number of dance patterns in a given time indicates distance
  • The angle to which the scout dances gives the angle (relative to the hive and the sun)



  • Bees bring in $15 billion in value for farming each year
  • In the winter of 2012, 1/3 of U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared (42% increase from the previous year)
  • Normal winters beekeepers experience 10% to 15% losses
  • California’s most valuable agricultural export, the almond ($4 billion) is at risk of decline or collapse
  • Almonds are totally dependent on honeybees
  • Honeybees increase the yield of fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupes, cranberries and cucumbers
  • Bees (unnatural to the continent) are a  man-made, mercantile ecosystem that helps bring big revenue for grocery stores, super centers and such
  • Studies have shown that honeybee pollen was contaminated on average of 9 different pesticides and fungicides
  • European Commission put a 2-year restriction on the use of some neonicotinoids

Suggestions for the disappearance?

  • Agricultural pesticides
  • Bee killing pest like Varroa destructor (a parasitic mite)
  • Bacterial and viral diseases
  • Neonicotinoids
  • American foulbrood, a bacterial disease
  • Hive beetle, a pest that can infiltrate and contaminate colonies
  • Fungal infections like Nosema ceranae
posted by auntheather in Common Sense,Cooking with Kyle,Education & Learning,Family,News,Observation & Imagination,Random Fun Facts,Reminiscing and have No Comments
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