The Healthy Honeybee

Learning about Beekeeping

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It’s been quite a few years since pennies held any fascination for me, but beekeeping has brought them once again to a significant place in my life. My first sting as an adult was in Ken’s beeyard, and right away Steven put a penny on it for me. No swelling or pain. Weird! But wonderful. I started telling everyone who had the potential to be stung by a bee, that they should put a penny on it because it really works. My second bee sting, same story. Penny to the rescue yet again.

Along the way, people questioned what it was about the pennies that gave them these magical bee-sting-soothing powers. Some wondered if it mattered whether it was Canadian or American, or whether older or newer pennies were better. I had no idea, I just knew it worked for me.

Then…. my day of foolishness, tearing apart a beehive with only a veil as any significant sting protection. Well, the pennies didn’t work so well that day. I thought because I had so much venom pumping through my system, perhaps the pennies were no match for it.

Well – here’s a new piece of information from my fellow beekeeper Margaret, who also started beekeeping this spring:

I discovered the copper content of pennies is less than 5%, except the older coins (pre 1982 for the American ones) are 95%. I’m still skeptical about the copper cure.

Perhaps the level of copper makes a difference, or maybe it’s all in my head, but I’d rather put a penny on it than a piece of onion. (That was Todd’s trick.)

The photo above is of Margaret, scraping off the inner cover of one of her beehives. She rides her motorcycle to check her bees, and finds that the leather makes a good bee jacket!

ready for battle

Yes, I tucked my pant legs into my socks, geek that I am. I was not interested in bees flying up my pants. This was my first visit out to the bees after being stung 9 times at once, so you can understand that I was taking every precaution. Including wearing my husband’s winter gloves. Yes, now I have to wash them because they’re sticky. It was worth it. I think I would have been stung otherwise, judging by the number of stingers I saw ready to strike, and the bees that were crawling on the gloves.

I opened the lid, and there were about 20 bees there with their stingers in the air, just daring me to come any closer. There were others around too, but they weren’t as protective. Most of them were moving very very slowly, due to the cold I imagine. There was no activity at the hive entrances when I got there. But when I left – the one hive had bees around the entrance, so I must have stirred them up enough to take a look around outside for a bit.

Here’s the end frame of one of the hives. The other side is mostly filled with capped honey. The other end frame is fuller on both sides, so I was happy about that! I want them to be all filled before winter. When I looked down into the bottom brood box, it looked like one end frame didn’t have anything on the outside yet. I couldn’t do anything about it, though, because I couldn’t lift the top brood chambers off the bottom ones! Even with trying to pry with my hive tool, I couldn’t budge them. I’m considering using single brood chambers only next year, for ease of use. And because I’m a weakling….

Anyway, the other hive was chock-full, so I was happy with those girls. They turned out alright after all. I was worried initially because they were populating the colony really well, but didn’t seem to be making honey. Now, it looks like it’s mostly honey they’ve got going on, so they’re taking care of themselves. Of course this is all judging by what I could see just taking off the covers. I tried and tried and tried to pull out some frames, but only succeeded in breaking a frame. And even that one wouldn’t come out.

So… I’m procrastinating. I will leave them be for the winter, and deal with it in the spring, when I want to split the chambers anyway. How’s that for an executive decision?

taking a break

I haven’t done much with bees lately. First, I was recovering from my 9 stings. Now, I seem to be having some sort of reaction to something that touched my face. No one really knows, or has any concrete answers for me. I’m slathering (sparingly) the itchy red swollen stinging burning oozing parts of my face with a corticosteroid/antibiotic cream combo, and taking two kinds of antihistamine (sleepy and non), prescribed by my doctor. Needless to say I don’t really want to come into contact with potential allergens right now, especially since I’m just over the bee stings. I’m hoping it’s just (!!!) poison ivy, and not anything related to bees. But I’m staying away for now, just in case.

I hate using the cream, because it just grates against my anti-antibiotic sensibilities, but really. If you saw me you would realize why I actually want to use it regardless. No, I’m not posting pics.

So – what’s with the pot of tomatoes? It’s that time of year: tomatoes by the bucketful coming in from the garden, ripening on my dining room table, and being turned into sauce. Mmmmm….

The recipe?

Ingredients: lots of tomatoes

1. Wash tomatoes and remove anything inedible.
2. Cut them in half and throw them in a big pot.
3. Mash them a bit with a spoon to release liquid.
3. Cook them (simmer) until they’re soup – uncovered.
4. Cook them some more, to reduce the amount of liquid.
5. Blend them. I use my immersion blender right in the pot.
6. Use a food mill to take out the seeds. Or leave them in.
7. Freeze for cold winter nights. (This step is optional.)
8. Add stuff to make a sauce you like.

1. Cooked and blended, still with seeds:

2. Using the food mill:

3. Lots of seeds:

4. Seedless sauce, ready to chill:


counting for now

Well, the results of the poll are tied between counting until my age, or counting forever. So I guess I’ll keep track for now. If I’m going to keep accurate results, though, I should mention that I actually had 9 stings last time, not 8 as previously posted. Once they all started to swell I noticed I had another one that was overlooked in the original counting.

I think I’ll be wearing more protection next time I do some radical shifting – so the numbers should stay low for awhile.

Speaking of which – Ken checked the hive that I was worried about, and he thinks I’ll get away with leaving them as is, and not re-organizing their home. Yay!

guest pic

This picture comes to you courtesy of Todd, a fellow newbie to the world of beekeeping. He and I, along with a few others, met at Little City Farm when we attended a small workshop on beekeeping. Those few of us that went on to take a more in-depth course at the Townsend House, University of Guelph, keep in touch on a semi-regular basis. We thought it might reduce the collective number of painful mistakes, if we could share our newbie experiences with the group of us. Still, we’ve all had our own ‘learning moments’, and it’s been good to grow together in this endeavor.

Anyway, back to the pic – this was Todd’s experiment: he tried using some top bars, rather than frames with foundation, to allow bees to build their own comb. This method is used by beekeepers who want to go even more natural with the bees. Unfortunately it seems these bees were a bit confused, and started to build from the bottom frames up, instead of heading up to the top and building from the top down like they would normally do in nature. I asked Todd if I could use the pic, because I think the comb is pretty. Functional? No. I would tear it up too, as Todd did, but I like this pic because it represents the more wild and natural side of the bees. It’s a good reminder that the bees are still wild creatures, after all our attempts at “domestication”, and they do have minds of their own, however small.


Not much happening with the bees – other than me trying to figure out what I’m going to do with them. I’ve been talking to Ken about how I should deal with the hives – well, the one hive in particular. My two hives have very different personalities, which I think can be attributed to genetics in a large way. The first hive does a really good job of reproducing – the queen lays eggs like no tomorrow, and the workers take care of them. Not so much honey, though. The second hive, full of honey! But not very many workers, when I compare it to the first hive.

So – the second brood chamber that I put on top of the second hive may not have been the best idea. They’re so slow to fill it. AND – they haven’t even filled the bottom chamber yet. So, I think I may have to rip apart the hive, yet again, to rearrange the insides and squish them into one box for the winter. It’s better for them to be crammed than have empty space that can be invaded and has to be kept warm. This was the same hive that went kamikaze on me, so I’m not really looking forward to this event, scheduled for tomorrow morning.

I’m hoping for rain.

new experience

One of my favourite things so far about the bees – showing them off! Bees are so important to our food supply, it’s essential that as many people as possible learn why. I really enjoy taking people to see them, and explaining how they live together and stay alive, while keeping us alive as well.

There’s much talk of the declining bee population, but I’m not sure how many people realize how this will affect our lives if allowed to get much worse. Bees (and other insects) pollinate a very large portion of our food supply. Yes, fruit, but also ‘vegetables’ that are technically fruit, like squash, cucumber, peppers, eggplant, etc. With no pollinators we would be in serious trouble. And that’s just the vegetables that are technically fruits. Others may need pollinators to make seeds, even though the vegetable is a true vegetable.

This is part of why I’m getting into beekeeping – the more people with bees, the better chance they have and the more other people will hear about why bees are important.


The above photo doesn’t much relate to the exact topic of this post, other than to show how wonderfully peaceful the bees were before they turned into suicide bombers.

The results of the penny experiment: well, I reacted more than I usually do, and I think it’s because I got so many stings at once. My forearms were swollen between my wrist and elbow joints, and my upper left arm (stung quite close to my armpit). Two of the three of those stings had pennies on them, but that didn’t seem to help as much as it normally does. Other places, like my leg and back, didn’t swell up that much, but still more than usual. Again, I think because I got such a high dose of venom. I’m taking some allergy meds to keep the swelling down – I don’t want the swelling to move past my joints.

That’s why there’s no pic of my popeye arms – it wouldn’t show up very well due to the medication keeping things under control. You’ll all just have to imagine my pumped-up, muscular-looking forearms.

Take my poll, if you haven’t yet!! …. to the right in the sidebar:

still counting

So… had an eventful time in the beeyard today. Apparently bees don’t like it when you take apart their home. 8 stings today brings my running total to 10. When do I stop counting?

Take my poll!!! ….in the sidebar to the right.

Should I explain myself? I was on a mission to get rid of some burr comb between the frames of the upper and lower brood chambers. They had sealed together and it was hard to put them back into the hive once I took them out to inspect them. I took the upper brood chamber off, smoked the lower chamber, started doing a bit of gentle scraping, and ended up with a bunch of stings – right through my jeans, even!!!

I didn’t have enough pennies to cover all the carnage, so we’ll see how the stings compare.

The worst part? Putting the hive back together, dodging the indignant sisters.


Are there beekeeper fairies? Or elves? We came back from vacation today, and I found 3 beekeeping catalogues in a bag on my front door! They look interesting, I’m looking forward to giving them a proper look once the camping clutter has disappeared from my dining room. And by ‘disappeared’ I’m referring to the process whereby I am the one who cleans said clutter. Hopefully it won’t take too long.

We should have camped out for a few more days, I think. I find it takes about a day on either end of camping to transition in and out, so the longer we go the more worthwhile it feels. Although, I’m glad to be done with the Pinery. There is Poison Ivy everywhere you look. I was getting tired of hearing myself tell the kids not to play in the bush for fear of coming into contact with it. Next year: somewhere else. Suggestions welcome! Beaches and bike trails are mandatory.

I should also mention – I didn’t see a single honeybee. A few bumblebees, though. Can’t wait to see my bees tomorrow!

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