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Preparing the hives for installation

Every April, the GW Apiary receives a shipment of bees from Georgia to install in our rooftop colonies. Preparing our apiary for installation involves constructing 10 hives that each include a hive stand, a solid bottom board, a super filled with 5 new frames and 5 drawn-out frames, a solid inner cover, and a top.

Installing the hives

Our annual Installation Day is always excitingly chaotic! The honeybees, which arrive at the GW Apiary in packages we teasingly refer to as “bee boxes,” are first sprayed with sugar water in order to calm them and allow our beekeepers to more easily maneuver them. Then, we carefully shake the bees into the hives and allow them to do the rest!

Preparing the Observation Hive

Located in Bell 205, the “Obs Hive” is used for introductory biology lab students to observe the honeybee queen and her dutiful workers in action. If they are lucky, students also witness the forager bees performing their signature waggle dance to communicate the location of a food source to the other worker bees! A PVC pipe connects the base of the Obs Hive to the outside world through a window, thereby allowing the bees to fly outside and return to the colony freely. When the honeybees are not being observed, the glass of the Obs Hive is covered with poster board panels in order to simulate an enclosed hive and to prevent the bees from becoming agitated by the artificial light of the classroom.



How to Harvest Honey 

Uncapping Frames

The first step of harvesting honey is uncapping frames of honey! This means taking off the wax "caps" honeybees place on-top of honey cells to preserve the honey for future consumption. The uncapping process is done using spiked "pikes" to remove the thin film of wax caps without removing honey. 

Using the Centrifuge 

After both sides of a frame have been uncapped, the frames are placed in a centrifuge to spin the honey at of the cells. Just like a kitchen mixer, the centrifuge is placed on a low speed and gradually increases to ensure that all of the honey stays within the centrifuge. After one side of the frame is completely emptied, the frame is taken out and turned to repeat the process for the other side of the frame.

Draining and Straining

After the spun honey has fallen to the bottom of the centrifuge, it is filtered, drained, and strained. In addition to a built-in filter within the centrifuge, the honey is also strained before being placed in a storage bucket.


Lastly, the honey is transferred into easily usable individual containers and are ready for use! In the case of the GWbuzz lab, our honey is then transported two blocks over to our Founding Farmers partners and to be used in their dishes!


Beekeeping Tools

The most essential tools of a Beekeeper are:

- Smoker

Since bees release pheromones (specifically isopentyl acetate and 2-heptanone) when they are           alarmed or feel threatened, smokers are used to interrupt their communication with one another and therefore keep them calm. This translates to a decrease in the risk of honey bees stinging beekeepers as they examine the hive.

- Bee Brush

The brush is used to gently move bees from a specific frame so beekeepers can document                 how cells are being used (ie. for honey, eggs, etc.). They can also be used to move bees off of clothing or into another location.

- Grip tool

This tool is used to used to carefully remove frames from a hive. 

- "L" or "J" Hooks

These hooks are used in a variety of ways. First, the hooks can be used to pry frames of a hive apart which have become caked together with wax. Secondly, they are used to reuse frames by cleaning off accumulated wax and honey. 




Bee Brush

"J" Hook

Grip tool

Carpenter Bee

Weathering the elements


Rain limits productive pollination and affects the bees' ability to gather loads to feed themselves and the brood. Bees and water are an equation for a rough time for beekeepers. Opening the hives even on a cloudy day usually causes aggressive behavior against our beekeepers and a few sore stings.

Winter / Snow

Winter time for the bees can be very similar to how some of us feel about the season: dislike of going outside, huddling for warmth, and a sincere desire for honey (maybe in some nice tea!). Bees do not hibernate and remain active during the winter, but at much lower levels. Bees will leave their hives occasionally on warmer days and during the warmer parts of the day to clean out fallen sisters from the bottom and defecate. Unfortunately, winter can also be a season of loss which is sometimes due to a lack of preparation for the winter caused by summer honey harvests. Other causes could be due to the spread of viruses in the hives from Varroa Mite. 


What is it?

A Carpenter Bee is roughly an inch long with a black abdomen and fuzzy yellow thorax.

Why do they enter honey bee hives?

Carpenter bees eat nectar and pollen, and a honey bee hive is a goldmine of food for them. Not to mention, carpenter bees build their nests in wood and burrow into the wood to lay their eggs, which make the honeybees' wooden frames, suppers, and hive boxes, perfect targets.


What happens to Carpenter bees inside of the hive?

Honey bees will actively surround, sting, and even suffocate the invader bee to save the hive and its resources. They later expel the carpenter bee from the hive in a Prague-style defenestration.

Watch Below to See our Hive Respond to a Carpenter Bee Invader!

Murder hornet

What is it?

Currently, there are two Asian giant hornets, fondly known as “murder hornets,” within the United States. The Asian giant hornet, or Vespa mandarinia, is the largest hornet in the world, with its female workers growing to approximately an inch and a half in length; in comparison, the average length of a female worker honeybee is only 12-15 mm. In addition, the Asian giant hornet has sizable mandibles which allow it to decapitate and dismember approximately 40 honeybees in a single minute. After slaughtering the colony, the hornets then proceed to fly the thoraxes of the deceased honeybees and the defenseless developing larvae to their own colonies to feed their young. 

Normal Reaction

Asian honeybees, or Apis cerana, whose native range overlap with that of the Asian giant hornet, are equipped with defenses that protect them from being massacred by these predatory hornets. After finding a honeybee colony, a “messenger” Asian giant hornet will release a pheromone to signal to other female workers the location of the hive. However, the Asian honeybees also respond to the pheromone. The honeybees will form a “bee ball” around their predator and begin to vibrate their flight muscles. This collective movement orchestrated by the entire colony, which may contain up to 400 honeybees, raises the temperature of the hive to 114.8℉ and elevates the carbon dioxide concentrations to harmful levels. At this extreme temperature, which is only 1℉ less than the maximum temperature honeybees can withstand, honeybees can effectively kill the hornet and save the colony. 

Local Threat

European honeybees or Apis mellifera are essential for our nation’s economy since they contribute approximately $15 billion to the agriculture industry through their pollination of over 90 different crops. Similar to trends nationally, we have noted the decline of our campus’ honeybee population as a result of varroa mites, viral diseases, and neonicotinoid pesticides. Unlike their Asian relatives, European honeybees lack defenses against these predatory insects. The European honeybee’s prey naivety ensures its inevitable decline if the Asian giant hornet is able to spread throughout the country.

Varroa mite

What are they?

Varroa mite are a harmful parasite that hide in the crevices of honey bees and suck their blood. 

How to protect against them

Powdered sugar can be applied on hives to protect against varroa mite. Honey bees will lick one another to clean themselves from the sugar which removes the varroa mite from their bodies.


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