Ed Colby


Two Dollops of Honey

Ed Colby
Get On Board!

By the time you read this, it’ll be over. But right now, in the merry month of May, I wake up in the wee hours worrying about Paypal buttons and parking.

The occasion for my concern is the upcoming Colorado State Beekeepers Association Summer meeting. I’m the CSBA president, and we’re holding this event here in rural western Colorado, literally in my front yard.

For me, day one kicks off with an early morning trip to Grand Junction to pick up our main speaker, Katie Lee, from the University of Minnesota and the Bee Informed Partnership. She’ll bring a Dewar, or vacuum bottle, that we’re going to fill with liquid nitrogen. She’s going to show us how to freeze honeybee brood to test a hive’s hygienic behavior. I need to get her back here to the farm and checked into the little guest cottage behind the house, then out to Paul’s beeyard to get set up.

That afternoon the Porta-Potties have to be in place here on the farm, because we’re having a CSBA cookout and potluck. I’m going to need more grills, so we can cook up Jem, who only last summer contentedly chewed his cud in the orchard.

The gal Marilyn drives a school bus, and she just came back from a junior high band field trip. She said, “We should get the kids to play for the potluck!” I pictured a marching band clashing cymbals and parading up and down the driveway in snappy uniforms, as beekeepers chomped on Jem. But no. The local kids have a jazz band. Still, Marilyn knows the band director, so maybe . . .

Folks are calling here asking how to register for the meeting. Our website needs help. We’re hiring a webmaster, hopefully tomorrow, so that attendees can at least sign up and pay online for the events that take place in 30 days. But it’s not a done deal, and this is yet another matter I ponder in the middle of the night.

As for getting some sleep, I take my two big dollops of honey before bed, and it helps. When I eat honey, I have the most vivid dreams! I just had one about a nurse. I dutifully reported every detail to Marilyn, who merely chuckled. You don’t think honey before bed makes you dream? Try it! But I still wake up. Sometimes I have to tear myself away from lovin’ arms to re-arrange myself on the couch, where I generally tumble back into dreamland.  But what is it about the pre-dawn hours?

I drove down to the Capitol in Denver to watch legislators unanimously pass the Highway Pollinator Resolution. It designates the I76 corridor from Denver to the Nebraska line a pollinator-friendly zone. We can expect to see bee-friendly plantings and reduced spraying and mowing.

When I rallied beekeeper support for the resolution, I caught some flak from a friend who worries that drift from neonicotinoid-treated fields might poison the pollinators we’re trying to help. My response: At least maybe they’ll die with a full stomach! Look, we do the best we can.

Right now I’m dividing my strongest colonies. Here’s how I do it: I pull the top brood super off a two-brood-super colony and set it aside. It should have some brood in it. It generally will. Then I pull a couple of frames out of the lower super. This leaves a hole in the hive. I pull each frame out of the top super and give it a good shake into that hole into the lower box, knocking off the bees. I then lean those frames against another hive. When I’ve emptied all nine frames of bees, I bang the empty top super on the lower one, knocking off any remaining bees.

So now all the bees, including the queen, are in one box.  I put a queen excluder on top of that box and put the empty top super on top of that. Then I replace all the frames. I give these bees an hour or two to repopulate that upper super. Then I pull it off and take it at least three miles away, so that forager bees from this new hive don’t get confused and return to the wrong hive.

The next day I put in a new queen, the easy way. I expose the candy plug in the queen cage and let the bees release her. I put the cage between two frames in the middle of the hive and push it down with my hive tool. I don’t touch that hive again for ten days.

By splitting my hive, I’ve reduced the chances it will swarm, turned one hive into two, introduced a new queen, and halved my mite load. Not bad!

A box of Carniolan queens sits on the kitchen table as Marilyn bakes rhubarb bread. The little darlings piped for us at supper – long, plaintive, high-pitched tones, followed by a series of short toots. It was music to this beekeeper’s ears. Tonight it might even lull me to sleep.

Ed Colby practices beekeeping in Aspen Mountain, Colorado, where he lives with his partner, Marilyn.