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  • Ella Hobler

The Weekly Buzz Vol. 1 - 2023 Season

Hello fellow bee enthusiasts, welcome to a new summer season at South Hill Apiaries! My name is Ella Hobler (she/her), and I will be your student head beekeeper for the summer of 2023. I am a senior environmental studies major here at IC with a minor in sociology. I have been beekeeping since the fall of my sophomore year and I’m very much looking forward to sharing what we have been up to with you all.

On my first day working as head beekeeper, one of our colonies swarmed. Since the swarm was in an accessible place, Jason and I were able to capture it. We did this by lifting a nuc box (a smaller version of our normal hive boxes) around the swarm, and then shaking the bees off the branches they were on into it. We are not always successful when capturing a swarm- sometimes the queen does not find her way into the box and so all the other bees in the swarm will leave to find her again. And sometimes the cluster is too high off the ground to capture safely! However, this time we were successful, and we now have another colony in our apiary. Many of our colonies have already swarmed this season, and since we only applied very limited swarm suppression this year, it’s looking like all of them will swarm at some point in the next few weeks. Swarming in the spring is the result of the natural instinct for honey bee colonies to reproduce. Honeybees swarm when they have lots of resources, and the population of a colony gets too large. You can think of swarms as new baby colonies. In the mother colony, the bee population will regrow and new queens will be produced. When a colony decides to swarm, the worker bees will begin producing queen cells. When an egg is laid in the queen cell, worker bees will continuously feed the developing queen larva lots of royal jelly, which allows her to grow into a new queen. When there are multiple queen cells in a colony, the first queen to emerge will kill the other queen larvae so that there is only one new queen. This new queen will take over egg production for the existing colony, while the old queen swarms with a portion of the existing worker population to create a new colony.

One of the swarms we have captured this year.

A nearly inevitable aspect of beekeeping is getting stung. Some avoid stings by wearing full protective gear all over their bodies, and for those who are allergic to bee venom, this is important for being able to practice beekeeping while staying safe. However, many beekeepers choose to not wear full protective gear because it gets very hot wearing long sleeves and gloves during the summer, but we know that by doing this we are at risk of getting stung. I certainly accepted this during my first week here. While I was wearing a bee jacket, I left my hands uncovered because I do not like the sensation of wearing gloves, and I also find that I have more dexterity when my hands are uncovered. However, when beekeeping, your hands are right in the hive with thousands of bees, and so they are an easy target for when a bee feels attacked by you. Reactions to bee venom can vary greatly from person to person, with some barely having a reaction at all to some getting very swollen and irritated. I definitely belong in the second group. I got stung on my right hand four times over two days, and, well, you can tell in this picture how my body reacted to that. One thing you can do to lower your body’s reactivity to the venom is controlled stinging*. This is when you sting yourself increasingly over time so that you eventually don’t have to deal with the levels of symptoms that can initially occur, such as swelling, itchiness, and soreness. It will still always hurt the same, however.

*Note: Do NOT sting yourself if you know you are allergic to bees or if you have never been stung before.

We have a very exciting addition to our apiary this year… A Slovenian bee house! As an educational apiary, we are always looking for ways to enhance the experiences of students and widen our knowledge as beekeepers. What better way to do that than to try a new form of beekeeping? Our apiary uses mainly Langstroth hives, which are the most common type of hive used for commercial beekeeping in the U.S. These hives utilize vertical space to allow bees to build their colony upwards, typically leading to the brood being in the bottom boxes and honey being in the top boxes. We also have top bar hives, in which the bees build their colonies horizontally. The Slovenian AZ hive is similar to the Langstroth hive in that the bees build their colony vertically, except instead of consisting of multiple, removable boxes (which get very heavy!), they consist of one large box that has three different chambers inside. We start by putting bees in the bottom chamber, and then remove a piece above it that allows the bees to move upward when they run out of space in the bottom. The Slovenian hive is a more accessible version of beekeeping than the Langstroth hive, because it doesn’t require the heavy lifting that the Langstroth does and you can even sit down while doing it. Slovenian beehives are not designed to withstand rain and other harsh weather, so a bee house is necessary to protect it. I worked with a group of Jason’s student researchers to design and built this new bee house over the spring semester and it was just finished a few weeks ago. This bee house allows our new hive to be protected from the elements and gives us storage for the necessary equipment to manage the hive. We at South Hill Apiaries are still novices with the Slovenian hive so we have not decided if we like it better than our Langstroths or not yet, but we are very excited to build our skills over this summer and give students the opportunity to explore different methods of beekeeping.

The front and inside of the AZ hive.

Last week we welcomed two new beekeepers to the apiary, Adriana Sulca and Eddie Santos! These two and I will be working with Jason this summer to inspect the hives, maintain the apiary, and provide tours and outreach to members of the community. Reach out to us by email: or on Instagram @southhillapiaries if you are interested in a tour or have any questions about bees. We look forward to hearing from you and stay tuned for next week's volume of The Weekly Buzz!

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