Christy Hemenway

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since Nov 16, 2010
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Recent posts by Christy Hemenway

Jerry Ward wrote:Hello,

I live in S.E. MI and have 10 acres of mixed grass, brush and trees. I have some areas that I cleared the end of last year and am wondering what I can plant that will help bees this year. I'm getting a package in a week or so.

I do have some White Dutch Clover seed that I will be throwing down, but any other advice would be helpful.


Most things bees and agricultural are local - meaning very specific to the location they are in. A good resource near you would be your local Cooperative Extension office. (Just ignore their bit about the use of chemicals. There are organic alternatives.)

Have fun!

-- Chrsty
6 years ago

Natasha Turner wrote:We have a plethora of beetles in our hive right now. It has just been moved from a farm about 20 miles away. Most likely, the bees were stressed for a few days, because we had a makeshift entrance reducer on during the move that we were nervous to pull fully off. The bees were extremely active after the move, in the middle of the night. Hubby pulled off as much as he could and took off running. A day later, he went to see about pulling it out again, but they were still very active. Two days after that, when he was away at work I heard the bees very loudly from far away and upon approaching noticed they were in a columnar form from the hive to the top of the tree above them.

I thought they were swarming, so I manned up and got geared up to check the bees myself, for the first time ever. When I pulled away the shirt [makeshift entrance reducer], the folds were filled with beetles. Some ran back into the hive, others dropped to the ground. I tried to research what to do, but the opinions are so mixed that I finally went with the opinion of letting the bees deal with it themselves (since I had at least gotten our mess out of the way).

Was this a good way to "deal" with it? Should I do more? They are considerably calmed down now. There are active bees still there. I don't think I have the guts to open the hive myself. Would it change anything?

Seeking more knowledge than I have . . .

It's almost always an okay choice to do nothing, when it comes to bees. But it's hard to say exactly what is going on with your hive. A swarm is an intentional event by bees - it's how they reproduce. One hive turns itself into two - and you can't mistake the sound - very very loud, sort of a freight train sound, or a low-flying airplane, or a blow dryer way up close...

Bees that are "extremely active"... well I guess I'm not sure quite what that means - but bees that are moving through the air in a column, that sounds like a swarm... but you should have seen them coalesce into a tree or a shrub or off some structure. If you are a little more experienced in future, you will likely have a bit more of an idea of what is going on in the hive before it gets to that point. A hive that is about to swarm will have queen cells, drone brood, and plenty of worker bees in the hive. They may also be feeling short on space, or crowded if you will. It takes less than two weeks for a colony to swarm from beginning to end, so you will have plenty of opportunity to learn about inspecting in future, that's my bet!

-- Christy
6 years ago
Hello Permies --

Well it's about 11pm on Friday. I've enjoyed spending time here on I hope I was able to offer some answers, and I certainly thank you for the astute, thoughtful questions.

So proud to have four copies of The Thinking Beekeeper - A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives given away to people who participated this week, and if by chance you aren't a winner, please know that the book is available at lots of local bookstores, local libraries, and at Or you might walk in to your local Tractor Supply Company store and ask them if they have it, or where their beekeeping department is... *grin*

All the best to everyone - good luck to all of you who have got bees this season - please be sure to visit Gold Star Honeybees online, on Facebook, on YouTube, and if we can connect in person - well that would be very cool too!

Thanks again for having me here this week.


-- Christy Hemenway, author, owner
Gold Star Honeybees
PO Box 313
Gardiner, ME 04345
Gold Star Honeybees
6 years ago

Nicholas Heindl wrote:Do you prefer traditional or top bar hives? Is one better to prevent CCD than the other?

Hi Nicholas --

It's ALL about the WAX. I don't care which box you use - provided you don't use foundation. There is probably no "one" cause for CCD - because everything is so connected, it could be said that everything (especially everything agriculture-related) is tied together and could be a cause for CCD. If we try to do things just a little bit less wrong as we go forward, and then a little bit less wrong than that, I think that eventually we can get close to setting things to rights again.

What do you think?

-- Christy
6 years ago

david tyler wrote:Hello Christy
Thank you for your time and sharing your knowledge.

I am curious as to the pesticides that they are claiming to be responsible for CCD, are these chemicals that are killing the hives off making it in to the honey supply therefor being consumed by the public?

Hi David --
In brief, here is my take on systemic pesticides. If you paint a toxic chemical on a seed, and that chemical them becomes "systemic", that means that as the plant grows, the chemical goes into the stem, the root, the seed, the leaves, the bud, the flowers, the fruit... that would mean that it's also in the nectar and the pollen as well, of course. And so how could it possibly not end up in the honey?

We forget too easily how tightly things are connected.

-- Christy

6 years ago

Jude Calhoun wrote:hay,

another beekeeper i know is having issues with his Langstroth hives, and i need to help him if i can. he sent me some photographs of the abandoned comb, which i've attatched below. i've got more photos if you'd like to look at them for more evidence of the issue.

in one hive, there seems to be a papery nest of some sort in the lower middle part of three frames. he hasn't seen any non-honeybee critters emerging from it. doesn't look like a wasp's nest, but maybze it's another bug? or some kind of mould??? we don't know when the bees ghosted, or when this nest thing appeared (so it could have been after they left or something)

the second hive, and this one I'm real nervous about, could be a virus of some kind that i haven't had personal experience identifying. when he opened the hive to check 'em, the bees were gone. even though they were a relatively new colony (about a year old), their comb was very dark. he is afraid it's American Foulbrood, and did the 'toothpick test' in some cells, but when he pulled the toothpick out of the cells, the tip wasn't brown or nasty or gooey. WHEW. So. what could it be?

He's located in Scranton, near Florence, South Carolina, and doesn't have much free time to be part of beekeeping groups down there, or be a mentee to any more experienced keepers.

ya'll were the first forum to come to mind when i thought about posing this question, and i felt it was high time i became part of the forums. also, it'd be real cool if i got a chance to receive a free copy of Christy Hemenway's book, The Thinking Beekeeper. cuz' i'm definitely thinking, and sharing those thoughts with novice bee enthusiasts (who are in turn sharing their strange thoughts with me) around richmond. there's a real movement buzzing here!

i'd appreciate any help with this, the dewd is becoming discouraged, and i don't want him to lose hope or give it up, cuz it's very very important to his mental/spiritual/everything wellbeing, and he's been having a tough go at it the last couple of years.


hi-5s & honey,

Hi Jude --
Yay! Virginia! I used to live in Hampton Roads... and a few years ago I spoke to a group in conjunction with a showing of Vanishing of the Bees in Richmond... there are definitely some top bar beekeepers in the area!

I don't see anything that looks like AFB in the comb you showed the photos of. The thing to look for is "sunken, perforated cappings" along with a "foul" smell (thus the name) and then the toothpick test if sort of the deciding factor. Brood comb, by the way, turns brown. Part of that is age and oxidation, part of it is that the bees, when they pupate, spin a thing silk cocoon around themselves and when thye hatch out, they leave that behind. It's brown. The older the comb, the darker brown it is.

The lumpy bit is just a weird thing - could contain a nest of some animal but I wouldn't worry much about it - just cut it out like tel suggested.

Also - the thing that beekeepers needs to realize is that there are many, many variables that are connected with the demise of a hive - the beekeeper is only one... So the first task is not to take it to heart - that's almost like thinking a bit too much of yourself. Except that I know it hurts to lose bees, so believe me I get it.

-- Christy
6 years ago

Deb Stephens wrote:Welcome Christy!

I have a two-part question for you...
We have considered trying to raise bees on our homestead for years, but always decided against them because we were afraid they might out-compete native pollinators for the same resources. However, with so many of the pollinators -- native or not -- falling victim to environmental degradation, disease, etc. maybe ANY bee is better than none? Also, I do wonder if the thinking about competition between natives and introduced bees is not something of a myth anyway. It certainly seems as if there is plenty of pollen to go around. What is your opinion on that score?

Looking forward to your answer. Thanks!

I don't know that there's a whole lot of competition. Different bees pollinate different plants. For instance - a tomato plant needs to be pollinated by a bumblebee, because the frequency of the bumble's wings is what opens the pollen. Honeybees have little to do with the pollination of tomatoes. Other plants have similar stories to tell, and the honeybee has its limitations. The thing that is semi-amazing about honeybees is their "monofloral" habit - meaning that when they venture from the hive, they visit only plants of the same species on that trip. They don't go from dandelion to apple to pear to clover. And you don't get dandy-apples. A honeybee goes from dandelion to dandelion to dandelion to dandelion to back to the hive. Or apple to apple to apple to apple. So their efficiency as pollinators is high in that way.

So if you are interested in keeping honey bees naturally, on their own natural wax and without chemical treatments, I think you're taking a big step in the right direction, and that's probably a helpful thing.

-- Christy
6 years ago

Blythe Barbo wrote:Have you heard of the "false floor effect?" Any idea why it happens?
A Warre hive of ours swarmed the other day - I figured it must have been completely full of comb; however, when I opened it up to add a box at the bottom, the last box was completely empty (the top 2 were full). I have been talking with other beeks who say sometimes the bees don't want to go to the lower box. I went ahead and added an extra box anyway; I figured it would help with air circulation at this time of year. We've had one of the wettest springs on record, and moisture has been a bit of a problem. I noted some moisture collecting on the landing board at the entrance prior to the swarm, but just thought it must be because there were so many bees (more bees, more respiration - more moisture, right?) - and also figured they'd be close to swarming, but I was quite surprised to find that empty bottom box. Ideas?

None. Sorry - I can see them filling the lower box when needed, but then again you don't say how long it was there either... so hard to tell.
6 years ago

Aaron Althouse wrote:I'll add another question - about predator control. We have black bears that come onto our property during apple harvest time, and I am looking to deter them. Is there any benefit to using a top bar hive as opposed to a vertical one? We're mainly using bees for pollination and don't necessarily plan to harvest their honey. Will this increase the likelihood of bear activity? What have others done?

Thanks for any insight!


I can't say there's any bear prevention advantage to one hive type over another... They are both pretty easily tossed over by a bear. Though perhaps it's a slight deterrent to the bear if you run a strap over a top bar hive roof and down to an anchor placed in the ground - in my beeyard I usually run a "dog corkscrew" into the ground beneath the hive and run the strap through there. Probably though that only deters the honest bears...

-- Christy
6 years ago

Patrick Mann wrote:Adding to the original question: what size hive do you consider optimal for overwintering? I have lost several colonies overwintering in full-size top bars. Now I am thinking about overwintering in top bar nucs; or splitting a single top bar into 2 colonies for overwintering. My thinking is to reduce the amount of space that the bees need to thermo-regulate.

That's the best reason I can think of for having two follower boards and a side center entrance - that way you are effectively moving the ends of the hive in so they are occupying a smaller area, and aren't struggling to heat the whole box!

Though... your idea of nuc-sized colonies has been successful in the Langstroth world - Mike Palmer and Kirk Webster seem to do well with that in Vermont.

-- Christy
6 years ago