Bee puns and hive parts

Update: March 5, 2012 – It appears that many folks are finding this post in the hopes of locating top notch bee-humor; if you happened up on this page with the hopes of finding awful bee jokes, please check out: BEE Prepared to Groan: BEE Puns and Jokes


hive parts

The apiculture world is rife with puns, and I will admit that I am not immune from putting some really awful ones to use. All throughout the week, I would bring up bees or bee-culture things with co-workers; always throwing in a pun worthy of a resounding “boo!” (not the scary kind of boo, but more of the booing of one off of a stage).

I was excited; my hive parts were being shipped. “Sam, you should get bees; they’re all the buzz!,” said I to my co-worker; he looked at me like I was slightly crazy. I checked UPS tracking – a large, 70 lb (32 kg for the 90% of the world’s population that is on the metric system) package was to arrive on Wednesday (today). That was Monday; the puns continued throughout the day. Most of the puns revolve around exaggerating the ‘e’ sound in words with ‘be’; I’ll spare you the pain of listing them…

My heavy box of high quality hive components arrived this evening. It is unfortunate that:

  1. It is February
  2. It is February in northern Minnesota
  3. It is February in northern Minnesota and we have three feet (about a meter) of snow on the ground

I will, however, set to work on painting and assembling the supers and hive bodies. But, in the mean time, I will probably order those Pink “Blue” Berries from Hartmann’s Plant Company.


Blood Oranges
Blood Oranges

Seville oranges, Blood oranges, and Meyer lemons are all in season and there are fun and tasty things you can make with them, including marmalade.

In the English language, marmalade is any fruit preserve with bits and chunks of citrus peel in it. This would include such creations as lime marmalade, lemon marmalade, the traditional orange marmalade (using Seville oranges), sweet orange marmalade, mandarin marmalade, or even grapefruit marmalade. You can mix, match and combined, as well.

The process of making marmalade is relatively simple – boil fruit juice that contains bits and chunks of peel. Nuances lie in the amount of pectin (for the curious, pectin is a polysaccharide – long carbohydrate molecules of repeated monomer units joined together by glycosidic bonds). Pectin is needed in the marmalade (or any jam or jelly) to give the final product a firmer, less liquid (semi-solid) consistency. Commercially, pectin is produced from citrus peels — so, we are in the right realm for marmalade jelling or setting just by the fact we are using citrus fruits.

First up on my marmalade quest, traditional Seville orange marmalade. In my opinion, this was the simplest form to make. What you will need (not inclusive):

  • Two (2) pounds (slightly less than a kilogram) of Seville, or Bitter oranges
  • Food processor
  • Large four (2) quart (four litre) pot
  • Cane sugar
  • Fresh water

Wash oranges, then using a sharp knife, remove any blemishes or dark spots that maybe on the peel. Do not remove the peel. Cut the oranges in half; remove any seeds you see. Cut each half in half, again, and remove any seeds (whether on the surface or just visible beneath); repeat the halving of pieces and seed removal until you have seedless, one inch (two centimetre) pieces.

Meyer Lemons
Meyer Lemons
Put a small saucer or plate into the freezer; you will need it later.

Next, in small batches, put the cut orange pieces into your food processor. (Helpful hint: make sure the cover is secured on your food processor; if not, you will end up with orange juice sprayed around your kitchen — like I did.) Pour the chopped oranges into your four quart pot; add a cup of sugar and a cup of water; begin to bring to a boil.

This is where it turns into less procedural recipe and more into cooking; without burning yourself, begin to sample the mixture. Too bitter, add more of sugar. Appearing too thick, add more water and turn the heat down slightly.

You will want to boil the delicious orange mixture for at least 30 to 45 minutes; this will give the pectin in the peels time to leach out.

Take out the plate you put into the freezer earlier, and take a teaspoon of your hot mixture and drip it onto the plate; if the mixture "wrinkles" up or appears instantly firm, your marmalade is done. If it still appears slightly runny, boil it down for a bit more.

Once you feel the marmalade is complete, put it into clean jars.

The other varieties of marmalade, I have not quite mastered, yet. The Meyer lemon marmalade had to be reboiled and pectin added; in the end the result is quite edible, but has a slightly gritty texture.

The blood orange marmalade required a little extra pectin, but the mixture frothed toward the end of the boil and resulted in air bubbles being trapped; it is not quite appealing in looks

Winter Hive Check – Jan 2012

Snow Tracks
Snow Tracks

It is late January, and it is time to check in on the hives; see how things are going for the bees. The winter, to date, has been relatively mild; very little snow with many days above freeze with the exception of several days of -10 degrees F (-23 degrees C).

During the winter months, unlike the spring, summer and fall months where bears and errant children tend to be a hive’s major foes, the major foes of a hive are moisture (condensation), temperature (cold), and food (or lack there of). Moisture is most easily controlled through adequate ventilation – leaving an entrance open at the bottom of the hive (with a mouse guard in place) as well as having a top entrance of some sort usually allow for things to be well ventilated. Moisture plus cold are a certain death for a hive. It is very similar to a wet human in the cold – hypothermia sets in quickly followed by death.

We deal with cold by adding insulation to the mix. Our hives at the Ahrens’ Bee Yard are encased in a polystyrene tomb (with entrance holes). All of our hives at the location are back to back or side to side (we have eight hives at this location). Two hives deep by four hives wide, this rectangle is encased by two inches (51 mm) of polystyrene insulation on all sides (including underneath). in addition to giving the hives an extra R value of about 9, it acts as a fantastic wind and draft break.

Food is a long term planning item for the bees. Because they spend all spring and summer gathering for the fall and winter, under normal circumstances, they should have an adequate store of honey and pollen – if they were left to their own devices. However, we, the keepers, add another variable to the mix when we harvest the sweet goodness of honey. Luckily, we did not harvest honey from the Ahrens’ Bee Yard this past season. We wanted to establish the colonies in their hives and be able to start this coming season with fully drawn out comb with seasoned, over-wintered queens. If we had harvested, we would be concerned, going into February, with whether the bees had exhausted their food stores. This is why we perform winter checks — to supplement, when needed, the food stores of the hives.

Hive Check Video

Rolling into the Ahrens’ Bee Yard in the truck, it was apparent that they had received more snow than at our house thirty miles (48 km) to the south. Looking in the rearview mirror, I could see two paths cut through the eight inches (20 cm) of snow by the tires. We pulled up over the hill, and tucked up against the pines at the edge of the field was our polystyrene sarcophagus. Melissa helped with the initial snow removal from the top and disassembly of some of the panels, but she quickly made it back to the truck when it came time to break into the bee-chamber.

The first hive to check was my beekeeping partner’s hive. Upon pulling off the inner cover, the hive-scent hit my nose and the feisty Russian bees began to trickle up toward the surface. The sugary syrup in feed pail had crystalized — a quick slit of with my knife and the lid was freed. The lidless pail was returned and the hive buttoned back up.

The second hive to check was the Canadian bees. Upon removing the inner cover, I was greeted with emptiness. No hive smell, no hive sounds – just emptiness. I removed all but the bottom deep set of frames – empty. Just dead bees. There was very little honey in the frames, which made think of robbery by the other bees in the sarcophagus.

Dead Mouse
Dead Mouse

Hive three’s only special attribute was a dead mouse suspended face down in the remaining heavy syrup in the insulation/feed box. Hive four revealed an extremely strong, extremely feisty lot of bees. With the inner covered removed, I found an empty feed box a multitude of bees cleaning the remaining sugar crystals out. Removing the feed box, the hive foamed over with bees and the alarm pheromone of the bees, which smells a lot like bananas, wafted up in my nose. I worked quickly, and frequently puffed smoke at the hive to calm them. I replaced several empty honey box (“super”) frames with frames containing fondant.

The remaining hives were uneventful; no other dead hives, no other dead mice, and no other angry, banana-scented hives, just bees keeping busy in the depths of winter.

Beer Bread [Recipe]

Cuisinart Stand Mixer
Cuisinart Stand Mixer

   + 3 cups bread flour
   + 4 Tbsp. Honey
   + 1 Tbsp. Baking Powder
   + 1 Tsp. Salt
   + 4 Tbsp. Oliver Oil
   + One (1) 12 oz Beer (preferably, an ESB or IPA)

There is an unfortunate side effect to being on an autoimmune disorder drug: I am not supposed to consume alcohol. To sate some of those missed tastes, I cook with alcohol. Wine in soups, flaming bourbon’ed potatoes, and, of course, beer bread. The following is recipe for a beer bread, that, when an Extra Special Bitter or India Pale Ale are used, the resulting bread is a delicious, citrus-esque and hoppy sandwich bread that goes excellent with tuna or a likewise strong tasting protein. Aside from the delicious taste, this bread is damn-simple to make.

Set your oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C); while the oven is heating, assemble the bread. Start by putting all dry ingredients into your stand mixer’s bowl.

Next, add the oil, honey and beer. Throughly mix all the ingredients; place batter/dough into a well greased bread pan and place into oven. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. The top crust will be golden brown when done; double check by stick a toothpick into the loaf – a clean, doughless toothpick means your loaf if fully baked.



It is late January and that means it is cold outside. Single digits below zero fahrenheit (in the -20s C) are the norm. Today we are a bit on the warm side – low 20s above zero fahrenheit (-6 C). Even with chilly outside, inside, we are starting to get moving on spring plans. The ground is rock-solid and frozen with several feet of frost, but garden and yard layout can still be imagined with something as simple as pencil and paper. For now, though, I am attempting to root a grape vine.

We have two basset hound puppies that for all practical purposes, are like nematodes with legs. I do not mean this in a pejorative sense, but more a physiological sense: nematodes have a strong digestive tract with openings on each end.

We did (past tense) have a lovely, four year old riverbank grape vine growing up the side of our shed. This was until the youngest nematode, err, puppy, discovered it was a large "stitch". The lovely vine was reduced to a stump. I did manage to save a length of vine. Wrapped in wet paper towel and placed in the refrigerator, the length rested.

Rooting Powder
Rooting Powder

Rooting a clipping or piece of stem is the process where you help or force roots to develop; basically it is a simple form of cloning. I am by no means a rooting expert. But, you will basically need:

  • A dormant, vine cutting with a few bud-points
  • Root powder/hormone
  • A heat mat
  • Potting soil mixed with a little sand
  • A pot
  • Stiff wire
  • A sheet of heavy, clear plastic

Start by trimming both ends; identify which way the buds are pointing, pointing up – that is your top (bottom is the opposite end if you were wondering). Cut the top at an angle and the bottom straight. Between the top and bottom, you will want several bud-points and little leaf scarring.

Plastic Tent
Plastic Tent

Prepare your potting soil mix by mixing in a little bit of sand. The sand helps to lessen the moisture slightly and, in theory, helps to lessen bad molds. Whether this is true or not, I am not sure. It sounds sensible, though.

Dampen the bottom end and dip into the rooting powder/hormone. Tap off any excess. Push the cutting, bottom first, into the soil closer to the pot’s edge than the middle. With two pieces of wire make a hoop-cage that goes up and over the cutting. Drape your clear plastic over after having watered a bit. Rubber band around the pot, and set the whole thing on a heat mat. And now wait. You will want to water the pot now and again if the soil is looking dry, but do not over water.