Update from the Farm – The New Russian Queen

My bees are not happy. They were so unhappy, half of them up and left.

I shouldn’t say they weren’t happy. Its not like I speak the “buzz” language and asked them. As a matter of fact, it could be that they were TOO productive for their own good and had to leave the hive to prosper.

What the heck am I talking about? I’m talking about what’s called a swarm. In everyday language, we say ‘swarm’ when we mean a large group gathering. But in bee speak, a swarm is when the bees actually form a whole new colony – queen and all – and leave the hive for another spot.

This could be for many reasons. Perhaps the queen is old and the bees need to start a new colony. Sometimes it happens when there isn’t enough room in the hive for all the bees to prosper. Or when there’s a lot of nectar flowing, meaning lots of food to go around, the bees may split to get their share of the good stuff.

I’m no honeybee expert, so I don’t know why they split, so I’m sad to see that they did. And there’s another problem that occurred with this that’s far more detrimental to my bees than them swarming.

My bees have no queen.

Nope. Nada. No queen. No leader of the pack. No one to tell the hundreds of worker bees what to do. No one to lay eggs to help the hive get through the winter.

How did this happen? Again, I have no idea! But I have found a solution.

I bought a Russian Queen!

The Queen is the one with the visible wings…her body is almost double her wing length!

Queen bees, much like dogs, are breed based on their temperament. Some varieties show resistance to disease, others are gentler or produce more honey. Some are just breed for looks (JK! It’s not a beauty contest with these ladies!)

My bees now are Italians. I’ve done a little research on the difference between the two, and the Russian variety has all positive attributes for life in New England. You can see an article explaining that here.

The biggest problem may be introducing her to the hive. This may sound funny, but bees are incredibly particular to scent. A Russian Queen has different hormones than an Italian Queen, and they may not accept her.

Beekeeping is hard. It’s like adulating – a lot of the time, we wing it or use Google to get by. (Yes, seriously, I google everything! It drives my DH crazy!)

We put the new Queen in yesterday in hopes that the bees accept her and they make it through the winter. At this point in the year, it’s a slim shot, but it’s worth a try. I will keep you all updated on how it goes!

Would YOU ever try beekeeping?? Let me know in the comments!

One of our honeybees pollinating a Clematis flower


The Homestead’s been Ransacked!


Living in New Hampshire, we get a LOT of interesting animal situations. Bears, moose, deer, crazy birds, raccoons…you name it, we got it. Sharing the neighborhood with such wild animals helps remind us that we humans are in THEIR backyard, not visa versa. Mother Nature is an amazing thing to be respected. And boy, she sure demands respect!

A teenage bear strolling through our driveway last fall
A teenage bear strolling through our driveway last fall

Two years ago, we had a mama bear (with her 3 cubs) destroy our grill. We’ve also had a family of broad-winged hawks nesting in our back yard for the past few years, and they help keep the chipmunks and squirrels in check. The chipmunks are awfully cute, but they still get feisty. And they just ransacked my greenhouse!

I had LITERALLY just started my pumpkin and spaghetti squash seeds yesterday. I like to start things from seed for a few reasons…I can be as organic as possible, using heirloom and non-GMO seeds. I can also control the amount and types of pesticides (none) and fertilizer (all organic). It’s also very therapeutic to get your hands in the dirt and watch something grow and flourish. Gardening is a huge mental and physical release for me, and starting from scratch is the best way to get the most out of the hobby.

So I planted these seeds in my small compostable peat pods in the greenhouse. Yesterday. JUST yesterday. And this morning, I come out to a disaster!

The chipmunks dug out the seeds and had a midnight snack! They also dug holes in the strawberry containers, making me believe they tried to find a good spot to bury the seeds they didn’t eat. Are they already getting prepared for fall?!? I mean, seriously! These are MY seeds, you darn buggers!


Just last week, we had an invader at the honey bee hive, too! The bee feeder (a sugar water liquid feeder) was tossed down the hill one morning, broken into pieces and the top was punctured. A new large scratch at the front of the hive shows that they tried (and failed) to get in – thank goodness!

The bees were safe, but shaken up. They were a little more reactive than normal to our presence at the hive the next day. Based on the holes, the critter was bigger than a squirrel, but smaller than a bear. Our best guess is that it was a raccoon. Stealing our bee’s sugar water!

Raccoon scratches?
Raccoon scratches?

Message: received. So now, we have a nightly routine to share our homestead outdoor space. Every day at dusk, we close up the greenhouse completely, checking for any stowaway critters, and bring in the sugar water from the hive. The living, breathing homestead has nightly needs…a nightly “get ready for bed” routine. Who would have thought?

Mother Nature. Coming to get ‘cha.

Mom Love

I met a wonderful lady today who reminded me of myself.

I was sitting in the oncology waiting area, and she was nearby sitting by herself, reading a book. She was probably in her 70s, thin, small, and wearing a Red Sox baseball cap. She commented on my blue and white Sperrys, and we instantly bonded over shoes (how typical, right?). She said “I only wear Docksiders. Once you have cancer, who cares how you look. I want to be comfortable.” A woman after my own heart!

She was incredibly friendly and before I knew it, we were chatting about all kinds of things….shoes, the Red Sox, weight loss and nutritionists, her grandkids, surgery and cancer. She talked about her Wipple procedure, which means she probably has pancreatic cancer, which is one of the most deadly cancers. And yet she was so matter-of-fact, so calm talking about everything. It was almost as though she had already been there, done that, made it through, and still had a smile on her face.

We started talking about Mother’s Day, and she began to tear up a bit. She had called her son in Wisconsin the week before, telling him she didn’t want to be alone this Sunday. She asked him to visit over the weekend. All the appointments, all the surgeries and treatments for her cancer she’s undergone without her family nearby, but she drew the line at Mother’s Day. She didn’t want to be alone.

He didn’t make it.

We all have to be tough as nails to endure this beast. We all have to make sacrifices and endure physical and emotional pain. But we absolutely CANNOT do this without our loved ones. My husband has propped me up more times than I could ever imagine. My family is my rock to lean on, my safety net. I don’t tell them everything I go through because I don’t want to worry them. But they know and they care.

Please, go hug your family right now. No…not tonight, not tomorrow…now. We couldn’t get through this without them. So give them a little extra love every now and then.

Happy Mother’s Day.

My broccoli flowers for the bees!

The Bee’s Knees

There is something about spring. I’m not sure if it’s the sunshine, the weather, everything blooming, or that I feel like I’m coming out of hibernation. But I feel sooo much more alive! Like the fog has lifted, and I can see clearly now (cue the music!)

It has been a week since my treatment, and I’m feeling great! Aside from dry mouth, I have no side effects. My oncologist predicted the first week would be the most quiet. I’m grateful I’ve had a few weeks to get the Sylatron out of my system before going on Ipi/Nivo. I was constantly tired before, and now I’m up and getting stuff done. This along with the spring weather has really made me quite the busy bee.

The Hive!
The Hive!

Speaking of bees…we are now beekeepers!! I can’t believe it!! We got our bees last Sunday, and I have been AMAZED at what they can do. Our package came with a separate queen bee, and we did everything by the book to get the hive started. But when we opened it up today, we found that the bees had built a huge burr comb off one of the frames. Of COURSE I hadn’t seen this in my readings, so to the internet I went and did my research. Based on advice from the magical internet, I scraped off the comb and rearranged the frames.

Burr comb from the bees
Nature at its best. Burr comb from the bees

The burr comb is amazing though…it’s like holding a miracle in your hand. It’s incredibly delicate, perfect, and yet somehow sturdy. Every bee has its place and its role, and they all work together to create this amazing thing. How do they do that?!? Plus, they make honey. And who doesn’t love a little sugar in their lives? 😉

Good vs Evil
Good vs Evil

On another note, the kitties are beginning to get along. Frankie is such a love. He just follows Tamarin around wanting to cuddle. She, however, has other plans, and tends to run away. I caught them getting close the other day (much to their dismay). I’m sure time will improve their relationship and increase the cuddle time!