Wednesday, June 5, 2019


Here at Fairy Dell Farms we started beekeeping this year with a single beehive.  Conventional wisdom says we should have started with two as the annual survival rate for a beehive in Connecticut is 50%.  Despite this caution we persevered with one.  We found the most commonly given advice is to sit back and let the bees tell you what they want you to do.  Being possibly Bee Deaf, we decided to improve our hearing by installing a small datalogger that records the temperature, humidity and weight of the hive along with ambient environmental data.   We also installed a small camera at the entrance as well.

The datalogger is from a design supplied by the Center for Honeybee Research that also supplied the software.  The data we collect is displayed on an iPad in the kitchen and is also forwarded to the CHR where they make it available to all.   You can view a chart of our data here (FairyDellA). [To see data from beehives all over the globe go here (Global Beehives)]

Our experience so far is that the datalogger makes us better bee listeners and it gives us an insight into what is going on behind the walls of the hive.  The data has helped us quickly identify and fix problems before they become critical.  More importantly, daily increases in the beehive’s weight have gone a long way in telling us the hive is healthy and doing quite fine without us.  Embarrassing, I will  add it has also contributed to our being ‘helicopter beekeepers’ where we have been knowned to step in to do something like open additional vents to improve cooling in extremely hot weather.

In this blog you will find additional information such as activity and observation logs, other research notes as well as a running commentary of events surrounding this project and beekeeping in general.  I cannot say there won’t be musing on other topics along the way.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

In The Beginning

Shortly after Christmas of 2017 my son learned of an introductory beekeeping course offered by the Connecticut Beekeepers Association and asked if I was interested in raising bees.  I hadn’t ever thought about having a beehive but being an environmentalist I was well aware of the importance of bees and knew they were being threatened.  The idea of raising bees wasn’t the craziest thing I had ever done and in the spirit of father son bonding I said ‘sure, let’s take the class‘.

Years ago I proffered the idea that if we ever managed to kill off the bees, we might have to send people armed with camel hair brushes into the fields to pollinate our food plants.  At the time it was what I thought was an exaggerated, cautionary tale with a warning that pollination is an essential job and if nobody wants to replace the bees, they better protect them.  Of course I was slightly wrong in what might replace bees.  I recently read that someone is working on tiny bee drones to do their pollination task.  God bless technology and the creativity of people that use it to produce solutions to problems often created by technology.  That last statement was a bit of self-described angst from being an environmental technologist myself.

But I digress.

The students in the lecture were a mix urban, suburban, agricultural, young, old, male, female, all having every immaginable reason to raise bees.  Of course there were the farmers interested in bringing bee husbandry to their farm but a good majority were people like us that just wanted to have a backyard beehive for all the good reasons.  I cannot say the lecturer made it seem easy to raise bees.  In fact we were told that in Connecticut the annual beehive survival rate is only 50% and there was a good chance the we would fail at our first try. People starting on a new venture often say "At the time I started my venture, if I had known what I know now, I might not have started it."   So far, as of this writing (June 5, 2018) I've found quite the opposite.  While there is a responsibility in being the caretaker of living creatures, you always have freely given advice from fellow beekeepers and more importantly, you alway have skilled educators by your side.  And by skilled educators, I mean the bees.  They know what they need to do and how to do it.  A beekeeper has only to step aside, let the bees do what they are born to do, and you do only what the bees ask of you.  

When I talk with friends about beekeeping the first subject of the conversation is the personal risk of beekeepers and how beekeeping must be like lion taming, putting on a suit of veiled armor and driving them into submission with smoker in hand.  It's just not that way.   Everyone knows about Africanized bees and while they are a problem, it is not widespread and is one that can be dealt with in managed bee colonies.  In fact, honeybees are actually very docile creatures.  Sure they can sting you and yes it hurts but to a bee a sting is not some capricious act of violence. After stinging you, that bee is going to die so it has sacrificed its life for a reason.  Stinging is done because you had done something stupid and upsetting to them and they are simply training you as to how they want you to act in the future.  Be polite and considerate and they will literally eat out of your hand.

 Let me step back and say something else about beekeeping.  In working with bees it is easy to become anthropomorphic and begin to think of them as thinking beings that have created a cooperative, hierological society using a modicum of rational thought.  That is absolutely not true.    In terms of thinking, they are as dumb as any creature could be.  But, having said that, they do have encoded in there DNA and gene expressions some of the most complex social structures of any insect I can think of.  Edward O. Wilson has spent a lifetime studying and describing how ants use pheromones and tactile interactions to create complex societies.  Personally, I believe bees have ants beat hands down.  True, they use pheromones and tactile interactions similarly but for one thing bees can have ambitions and the chance to improve their life and stature in society.  Ok, this is an anthropologic joke because while a bee's job description evolves with age they could not possibly have ambitions but saying so is a good example of how we as homo Sapiens can be so easily fooled by a mere insect.  In no way will I describe bee colonies as an all inclusive democratic society where major decisions are decided by a consensus vote of members of select working groups assigned to specific tasks.  While I might not describe them as such, Thomas Seeley did document swarming bees doing exactly that when selecting a new home.  ['Honeybee Democracy' by Thomas Seeley]   For my part, I'm just going unapologetically describe bees as intellectual thinking beings because it's absolutely more fun to do so and you just have to know that I'm laughing at how stupid it sounds when I do.

Next:  Bee The Best That You Can Bee

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Logging Starts Here

From this point in time onward, we will be adding contemporaneous notes documenting the activities of the bees as well as our actions as beekeepers.   Do not EVER consider these notes to be activities that we recommend be copied by others.   We are not beekeeper experts.  You will not find  YouTube videos on the Internet where we pontificate on how one should be doing something.  This blog is an internal documentation of the activities of my son and I around one single beehive and the associated data being collected from a small data acquisition system.  Our intent is to use the recorded data to help us better understand our bee’s activities but more importantly, provide clues when something is wrong and intervention needed.

There is some obsurdity in our situation.  Beekeepers may have hundreds of hives and for the most part are left to survive on their own.  We are the ‘helicopter parents’ of beekeepers having one sole child.  You are welcome to observe and definitely welcome to comment on anything you see here.  I would ask that you not use bees as a proxy for current political events.  It would be a huge disrespect to bees.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Hive Check

I hadn’t checked on the hive for a few weeks so I opened it up this morning.  Three weeks ago, the upper frames were not completely filled with comb and little activity was noted.  Today all of the frames on the upper hive body were fully built out with comb and many were filled with honey - about 1/3 were capped.  It was way passed the time to add another hive body so I added a queen excluder and medium super.

The extra weight shown on the chart is that of the added medium super with ten plastic frames and no comb.

An experiment: I could hear the bees busily fanning at the hive entrance to increase airflow, so I put a small shin under the top to give more ventilation..  Since this is another more-of-the-same heatwave day, I’ll watch the peak hive temperature.  If the temperature peaks at the same level and one knew the before and after air flow rates, one could calculate the BTUs (Bee Thermal Units).

Thursday, June 21, 2018

System is Down for updates and battery replacement

Last month I replaced the battery being charged by the solar panel with a smaller one.  Unfortunately, the new battery doesn’t have enough reserve capacity to  power the system during long periods of incliment weather.  I’m disconnected the system for some upgrades and installing a larger battery.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday 2018-06-17

Hive was very active yesterday with the majority heading SW over the house.  Hive weight is still rising during the day with a falloff in the evening. and todays temperature is expected to be 88 degrees.  The current (8:00 AM) temperature is 88 degrees. Tomorrow's weather will be intermittent clouds with 71/81 temperatures.   

Yesterday, the hive temperature flattened in the afternoon.  Thinking the bees may have started to cool the hive in the afternoon,  this morning I opened the vent under the screened bottom (304  to see if it has an effect on the afternoon temperature.  Of course the 62 +/- deg low temperatures last over a longer period and may cause the hive to go into heat mode so I'll watch the nighttime temperature.  

Hive temperature sensor needs its calibration checked but I will wait a few days .  Scale's 0 has yet to be checked but its weight deltas are correct.  Still running the latest software (0.8.0 rc5) 

Camera removed yesterday for charge. May try to switch to powered one this afternoon.   

[Helicopter Beekeeper]

Friday, June 15, 2018

Thursday, June 14, 2018. 10:30 PM

 The hive is watched using a small security camera.  Other than possibly a bear, there seemed little need to enable the motion detection alarm.  I did start to turn it on at night as the bees are inactive and who knows what might be lurking around.  Last night, the alarm started to send messages to my phone that motion was being detected - an unusual occurrence.  I turned on the monitor to take a look and saw a rather large group of bees milling around at the entrance.  Other than the fact that they were there, I didn’t see anything unusual happening until I noticed a small, thin bug with long antennae scurrying around the entrance.  Moving much more quickly than the bees, it was soon apparent that the bug was trying to gain entry to the hive and was being blocked by bees positioned  in the entrance.  There were probably two or three bugs that were making attempts to enter but as each approached they were quickly met by a group of bees.  Like a bouncer, a bee would step in front of the bug and it would stop in its tracks only to scamper off and attempt an approach at a different location.

Being the all powerful beekeeper, I decided to tilt the advantage toward the bees by using a wood strip to reduce the size of the entryway of the hive.   Reducing the size of the  entrance gave the bug fewer entry points and those left were easier to defend.   I saw one bug hanging around the entrance and I couldn’t see any others trying to enter the hive.   With an admonishment for them to get some sleep, because tomorrow is a workday, I left for my own bed.


Here at Fairy Dell Farms we started beekeeping this year with a single beehive.  Conventional wisdom says we should have started with two as...