We waited and waited, impatiently expecting a vast sea of bright colors.DudPrairie003 Then later we more modestly hoped for a lake of limned vegetation. But we would settle for just a puddle of pastels since it is the first year. Oh, surely at least a few drops of hue?

Indeed that last, as the mid-August picture at left shows, is our meager reward for all our tilling and sowing and mulching. Having succeeded at this sort of project once before, we have no idea what went wrong this time. Reputable seed source? Check. Directions followed? Check. Results? Piddly squared. The few plants we added have done adequately but of the seeds sown only a few have made an appearance and that a cameo. The remainder of the occupants consists of volunteers of morning glory, buckwheat, Queen Anne’s lace, and many of the weeds we had tried to cleared away.

In a thousand square feet we find one, count it, one lance coreopsis. Clicking and zooming on the earlier picture will show it as the only bright color in the area. LanceCoreopsis005
Unseen among the green is a small, pale blue Ohio spiderwort. Just one. It is rather pretty. Would that there were more. OhioSpiderwort 007
And three hyssop. They may be lavender hyssop from the seed mix or they may be some other hyssop volunteering from around the corner. We shall give the seed mix the benefit of the doubt. MaybeHyssop 006

So three kinds of plants; five specimens in toto. Where is the nodding pink onion, butterflyweed, sky blue aster, smooth aster, new jersey tea, canada milk vetch, white prairie clover, purple prairie clover, shootingstar, pale purple coneflower, purple coneflower, rattlesnake master, roundhead bushclover, rough blazingstar, prairie blazingstar, wild quinine, smooth penstemon, great solomon’s seal, black eyed susan, brown eyed susan, or stiff goldenrod?

Meanwhile the plants not from seed are likewise few but that is to be expected as we planted but a few plants and not handfuls of seed.


In the left corner is the Russian sage we planted. It is blooming nicely but the bright blue is hard to see from a distance. Perhaps when it is larger?

In the right corner the shrubby St. John’s wort has provided a less orange kind of yellow but is not blooming now.


Most popular with the bees (see picture) have been the two calamints, gifts from a friend, which we planted on either side of the large rain gauge midway along the front edge.

Almost as popular is the one of two mountain mint (not shown), which troubled itself to bloom. The other is doing less well but has not died.

Overall a disappointment. We shall not be reseeding this area but will add plants directly. There is butterfly weed and coneflower available in other beds for transplanting. And Native Plant Nursery can supply many of the others. We shall yet have a feast for our eyes and for our bees.


The bees came back. We thought that they were swarmers.

But the bees came back on the very same day.

The bees came back. We thought that they were gone-ers.

But the bees came back and we want them to stay.

This dreg of poetastry is set to the tune used in this film about a fellow with a feline although our sentiments towards our pets differ as much as possible, of course. ’twas inspired by the following event.

On Monday of last week a loud buzzing moved one of us to step outside and be surprised by a large cloud of bees near the front of the barn. In the few seconds it took to get the other of us, the bees had vanished.

We were in a state of shock at the thought that one of our hives may have just swarmed. Weeks ago we noticed that Clarissa and Dorcas were looking rather crowded so we gave them several empty top bars. Then as we observed a very slow rate of comb construction we feared that they would not be much drawn before winter. So, thinking fewer, more complete combs better than many, small combs, we removed most of what we had given them. Had that recrowding triggered a swarm?

We went to look at the hives. Except for a much larger-than-normal number of bees orienting in front of Clarissa, nothing seemed unusual. Peering in the windows showed the typical crowd of bees. Had the colony decided to swarm and changed its mind? The observer’s last impression of the cloud was that it had started moving towards rather than away from the hives. That would be good news. We thought it too late for a swarm to overwinter and for the remnant to raise and mate a queen. Rather than open the hives to our ignorant gaze we called Dr. Milbrath for advice.

She was able to come the next day to open the hives for inspection. In Clarissa she found properly laid eggs indicating that a queen was present as well as very many newly hatched bees. Likewise in Dorcas. Beatrix, uncrowded, was left unbothered. Dr. Milbrath‘s hypothesis was that indeed one of the hives was triggered into swarming by a very large hatching of young bees. The sudden population increase with insufficient time for queen pheromone to be passed around at a time when the lighting resembles springtime all combined to trigger an attempt at swarming. But when the swarm paused for assessment before proceeding to seek its fortune, it realized that it was queenless and simply returned to the hive. For the queen had not been prepared; not trimmed down to flying weight and prevented from laying. So she could not accompany the swarm.

All we can say is that we hope the girls have gotten it out of their system.

FlowFrameIf you are a beekeeper then, of course, you have. Ad nauseam. One weekend last February you could not swing a LOLcat without hitting an enthusiastic article about the apparatus at left, part of a system to drain honey from a hive without opening it. The articles were mostly the same few news reports being repeated along with excited blog posts by non-beekeepers with many links to the marketing video. Beekeeper opinions seemed harder to find except for a few surprising testimonials on the company site. Perhaps, as we were, the beeks were getting emails from friends and family asking for an opinion.

Before we could finish researching and mulling for our readership the energetic Emily Scott scooped us with a detailed report including a link to the the patent and a poll of her readership. Other bee bloggers slowly and thoughtfully chimed in, such as Rusty at Honey Bee Suite or globe-trotting beekeeper Kris Fricke or this beekeeping vlogger or vlogging beekeeper whose work we shall be watching.

That left little for our inexperienced selves to add to the discussion and the furor seemed to die down. No doubt there will be more once the early adopters start using the devices but until then it is beekeeping as usual.

But then the flow hive was brought up during a question and answer session at the SEMBA conference in March. We ourselves were asked about it at the April meeting of Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers. A co-worker emailed us in early June. A friend asked our niece the week after. Someone asked our beekeeping host at a party near June’s end. A week ago a store-owner brought it up to us as we were chatting at the register. It appears with such regularity that we went looking fruitlessly for a widget to add to our layout that would show "Days since anyone mentioned that flow-hive".

So for the sake of our non-beekeeping readership who does not regularly read all the bee blogs we do, we should at least point to a few references, which we have just done two paragraphs ago, and perhaps organize our own bullet-pointed summary after all if only to show off the cute little animated gif on which we spent so much time. The longer we delay this post the less of its dwindling relevance it will have and we will have completely wasted our time on the rough drafts. So here we go, succumbing to the sunk cost fallacy for any of our readers who still may care:

  • First of all, we give the inventors (in a warm, sunny part of varroa-free Australia) the benefit of doubt in believing their reported experiences. They are surely honest beekeepers but just as surely someone has committed marketing on their behalf.

  • Honey flowing into an open jar (or onto a stack of pancakes as in the video) seems to be asking for a robbing frenzy in the beeyard although the inventors claim their bees take no notice. The patent mentions the more credible draining into sealed containers.

  • Not all honey flows readily. Ivy and heather are notoriously difficult to harvest. Even more common clover or multifloral honey can be reluctant to flow in cooler temperatures.

  • How can the beekeeper decide if the frame is ready for harvest? Peeking in the device’s window just shows the edge of the comb. Hefting the box to judge by weight is not quite opening the hive but neither is it leaving the bees undisturbed.

  • It seems to be promoting the wrong-headed notion of a beehive as just a noisy honey jar with a tap like a beer keg. This is probably what provokes the most visceral negative reaction.

  • flowFrameIt is, one must admit, mechanically clever. There, we have said something nice about it.

  • The mechanism is expensive. If it catches on one would expect the price to drop but it is unlikely to become inexpensive. For a commercial beekeeper one per colony would be a significant investment.

  • Plastic mechanisms are prone to wear and breaking. How long before an expensive replacement is needed?

  • Bees have a well documented reluctance to use plastic foundation. How well will they take to these plastic cells? One could counter this pessimism by pointing out the success of some beeks at using entire polystyrene hives.

  • For a high price it seems to merely make more convenient the least difficult part of beekeeping. Honey harvest can admittedly be messy and sticky but becomes less so with practice.

As keepers of non-conventional beehives it is hard to see how we could retrofit this device. And, as the skepticism in our comments indicates, we are neither inclined to try nor tempted to go Langstroth for the sake of using it. Perhaps this will sweep the world and revolutionize beekeeping as the marketing claims but at risk of being old sticks-in-the-mud we only foresee a brief wave of badly kept bees before the idea is abandoned.

And you kids should get off our lawn.

Last Tuesday was a good bee day. Dr. Milbrath delivered two nucs of her Michigan bees, helped us hive them in Beatrix and Dorcas, and inspected Clarissa, whose original five frames, a mix of brood frames and food frames, and the four empty bars we had added have become nine combs full of brood. We at once added another four empty bars and today replaced the empty baggie of syrup with a fresh one. There is a population explosion due and much comb to be built.

The other bit of good news is that our experiment of chamfering the ends of the ridge on our top bars seems thus far to be successful. There was no attachment to the sides, not even on the beautiful rectangular sheet of comb that came to within a perfect bee space of each wall and floor. (Sorry not to have a picture.) Even Dr. Milbrath was impressed. We shall not yet declare victory but preliminary results are most encouraging.

a2b2We finished the day packing a chicken-raspberry-chèvre salad and dining with our beekeeping niece (who was also getting a nuc) al fresco at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, followed by a meeting of the Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers. Before the meeting proper Dr. Milbrath demonstrated how to monitor varroa using a soon-to-be-available kit for performing a sugar roll. The main speaker for the night presented information on Russian bees and the breeders who raise them. Concluding the meeting was a quick review of varroa treatment options. Then homewards, happy in again having all hives occupied.

QuinceBudsNow that we are no longer beeless and Michigan spring is truly upon us (although frost is not out of the question) it is time for one of those tedious inventories of our various plantings. We begin with the joyful observation that, three bloom-less years after planting, the quince tree has a great many rosy buds. We can hardly wait to see our bees on the coming blooms. And then dare we hope for a small crop to poach?

By contrast the apple trees are disappointing with one mere blossom on the Fuji and none at all on the Calville Blanc d’Hiver. All three of these are getting large enough that we ought to remove their protective cages while we can still somewhat easily lift them off.

Among the Asian pears our Shinseiki, having survived the winter, is leafing out nicely while the recently replaced Hosui, the original having died during winter, has finally grown tired of its pretense of being a stick and its lone green bud has developed into a few wee leaflets. Unfortunately a tiny green caterpillar reduced their number before we crushed it.

BushCherriesGreenBushCherriesRipeningThe bush cherries happily survived being transplanted and some of them finally bloomed for the first time. Alas our bees did not get here in time to take advantage. Nevertheless we see fruit forming on two of the shrubs, one riper than the other in spite of all getting the same amount of sun. With so small a crop the birds are sure to get them all. Not that we mind too much.

The mulberry has not yet leafed out but the green buds promise it shall. We seem to have neglected to mention that our first mulberry, Wellington, did not make it through its first winter and was replaced by the current Oscar.

The lindens are both looking good although the tupelo seems to have died. The tiny remnant of the shortened-by-nibbling, more-twig-than-tree locust has sprouted greenish growths and, as Granny Weatherwax might say, aten’t dead yet. Sadly the same can not be said of the even tinier and much more shortened-by-nibbling bee bee tree. It is now a been been.


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