Fun Gift Ideas for Everyone on Your Holiday List

gift ideas from mastersons

I’m not a shopper, and as a general rule I do not like to be in the vicinity of a mall or shopping center between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m sure there are great gifts out there, but I prefer to shop at small stores and find handmade, unique things.

Here’s my gift to you…a bunch of gift ideas for everyone on your list! Stop in and we’ll help you find something for even the hardest to buy for person., no lines, no crowds, just cool stuff!

This  fire globe  is my favorite thing in the store! We have a few styles and sizes, and they are all amazing. Beautiful  tool sets  are a great gift that gardeners don’t buy for themselves. More of a DIYer?  Terrarium kits  are fun and easy. And  Christmas cactus . Because.

This fire globe is my favorite thing in the store! We have a few styles and sizes, and they are all amazing. Beautiful tool sets are a great gift that gardeners don’t buy for themselves. More of a DIYer? Terrarium kits are fun and easy. And Christmas cactus. Because.

Chicken people love their chickens. (Ask me how I know.)

Chicken people love their chickens. (Ask me how I know.)

These blown glass ornaments are beautiful, and need to be hanging on every beekeeper’s tree.

These blown glass ornaments are beautiful, and need to be hanging on every beekeeper’s tree.

Bringing a bottle of wine is cool and all, but step up your host/ess gifting this year!

Bringing a bottle of wine is cool and all, but step up your host/ess gifting this year!

The Gift of Learning

How about s really unique gift for someone special? We have our Beginner Beekeeping Classes scheduled for early 2019. A new beekeeping hobby is a gift that keeps on giving! We have beginner classes, and also a hive building class. Check out our events page for more info about what we’re offering.

Swarming in the Observation Hive

If you've visited our store, you probably noticed the observation hive located in our beekeeping department. This hive is really neat because it gives us a chance to watch the inner workings of a live hive right in the store.

The hive only contains 8 frames, which is a small size relative to a typical set up that would contain 16 - 20 frames. Because of the small size, we expect this colony to swarm regularly. (We're ok with that. More on that in another post later...) Well, the hive swarmed this week and we want to share the story.

On a very simplistic level, here's how normal swarming behavior typically works:

  • the colony reaches capacity in their space (or sometimes I think they just decide they want to swarm for reasons I do not pretend to understand)
  • the bees begin to form queen cells
  • the old queen and up to half of the workers leave the hive in an initial flight and settle nearby while scouts go out and find a new hive location. 
  • the swarm picks a new location and moves in
  • the queen cells in the old hive develop and a new queen hatches out, mates, and the colony lives on

For weeks, the hive had been looking very crowded, wall to wall bees, we couldn't see much of the comb through the bees because there were so many. We saw a queen cell being formed about three weeks ago. We knew swarming was imminent. 

But they didn't go! For two weeks, we kept thinking, "Today's gotta be the day," but they stayed and the hive just kept getting more and more crowded. 


Finally, last Sunday, they swarmed out of the hive. They ended up congregating in the giant silver maple just outside the front doors of the store. About 50 - 60 feet up in the air. We decided that we were not going to try to collect this particular swarm, but wave goodbye to a really great queen.

The next day, as I was at the counter in the store, I heard a buzz coming from outside and went out to see the swarm mobilizing.

They flew around for a bit in crazy circles...then went right back into the observation hive.  Not what we expected.

There were a few hundred or so bees that did not make it back into the hive, and they began to congregate on a pallet in the parking lot. Rain was coming, and I didn't want to just leave this tiny cluster out and exposed, and for several reasons I suspected that there was a queen in that cluster.


With my hand, I just scooped up the little cluster of bees and was putting them into a nuc box with no plan other than to get them out of the rain. Guess who was sitting right in my hand with the second scoop of bees? The queen, of course! Putting her back into the hive isn't really an option, so Mike took her and her small group of friends home with him that night and added some brood frames from another colony. The good queen will live on.

But what about the STILL overcrowded observation hive? Well, they swarmed again on Tuesday, just about 24 hours after they had returned from their first attempt. Again, waaay up in the silver maple.

observers swarm 2018.jpeg

This time, they hung out in the tree for another 24 hours or so, then started the crazy flying and buzzing that meant they were on the move. Normally, this would mean that the scouts had found a great new hive location and they would all move there. Not these bees! They decided to drop down to the ground and just hang out there. Again, not what we would expect.


At that point, Mike used the bee vac to gather the bees from the ground and has since re-homed them. There were A LOT of bees in this swarm. But maybe no queen? Or maybe there was a second one in the hive and she's with the swarm now?

We'll wait and see what happens!

Here's what the observation hive looks like now. If you saw it before they swarmed, you'll recognize that the number of bees in here is dramatically less than before.

Now we watch for queens (or signs of them) in the observation hive and in the swarm!

Swarm Season Is Here

We've spent the last two weeks talking about swarms. People spotting swarms of bees in their yards. Beekeepers wanting to prevent swarms in their hives. Other beekeepers trying to figure out what to do now that their hives have already swarmed. Here's what we hope is helpful advice for all of those situations!


Don't Panic.

That's our best advice, no matter what the situation. Swarms are not dangerous nor are they a death sentence to a hive, so no matter what you've got going on it's going to be ok.

What's a Swarm?

A swarm is a natural part of the life-cycle of a honeybee hive. When a colony begins to outgrow the space it is inhabiting, it will begin preparations for swarming. The old queen and a portion (up to about 50%) of the workers will leave the hive to form a new colony elsewhere. They leave behind a complete colony with a developing new queen. This new queen will go out and mate and the old colony will continue on. 

The stage of swarming that we usually see is when a cluster of bees is hanging out somewhere, like on a tree limb or a fence post, voting on where to go next. This cluster is often referred to as a "swarm" of bees, and is incredibly docile. These bees are not defending anything, so have no reason to sting. Bees typically stay in this cluster for 24-72 hours before moving on to their new residence. 


If You See a Swarm (and don't want it)

Again, remember our "don't panic" advice. Please call a local beekeeper to see if they can come and remove it. Many beekeepers will provide this service at no cost. We have a list of local beekeepers and the areas that they service right here. Remember that this is very different from a hive removal, or a cut out, which is much more complicated.

If You See a Swarm (and you DO want it)

This is a pretty cool way to get "freebees!" The process is pretty simple. Once you identify a swarm cluster, you simply need to put the bees into a box and move them to a suitable location. We say simply, but it's really only simple when the bees are located within easy reach. If they are, then it's usually just a matter of shaking the branch that they are on and knocking the bees off into a box. 

Once the queen is in the box, the bees will give you some good clues that she's there. Watch for "fanning," which is indicated by bees lined up at the entrances to the box, sticking their butts up into the air and furiously fanning their wings. They are spreading pheromones to call the rest of the bees to the queen's new location. Once this message is out, you will see the remaining bees move toward your box. When everyone is safely inside, it's fine to go ahead and move the box to another location. 

At this point, the bees can either be installed directly into a hive or left in a nuc box (always with frames!) until they are more established. You'll be watching for signs of a viable queen. In the unlikely event that there is no queen captured, you could purchase a new, mated queen and introduce her to the new colony.

If Your Bees Swarmed

If your colony did indeed swarm, then there are a few things you will want to check on to make sure that nature has indeed taken it's course and the colony will be no worse for it. Remember that the old queen has left with the swarm, leaving behind a number of developing queen cells. These queens will begin hatching out and one (often the first) will become the new queen, disposing of the remaining ones. You will often see remnants of the queen cells upon your next hive inspection. If you do, then this likely means that a queen has hatched out and you will begin looking for signs of her presence in the hive.

Once a new queen hatches out, she will go out on mating flights, returning to the hive fertile and ready to begin laying worker brood. It's not necessary to spot the queen, and it's often difficult to find a new queen because she isn't quite as large as she eventually will be. You'll want to look for proof that she's there. Eggs are the proof that we always look for in our hives. We look for single eggs in cells, as this is an indication of a healthy, fertile queen.


Remember, it takes time for a new queen to begin laying and eggs are sometimes difficult to see. We get many reports from new beekeepers of queenless hives after a swarm, only to find a hive full of brood a week or two later. Nature works pretty well, and the vast majority of colonies do just fine at making a new queen. That said, it does happen that a queen is eaten up by a bird or something during her mating flights and never makes it home. In cases like this, the beekeeper will need to intervene and develop a plan to requeening the hive.

Preventing Swarms

While swarming isn't altogether bad, it is something that most beekeepers want to prevent. There are steps that the beekeeper can take to reduce the risk of swarming. I'll publish another article on preventing swarms through proper management soon...

Bears in the Beehives

This is a post that I'm incredibly irritated to have to write. Not because I don''t like bears, but because I'm not excited about the prospect of having to protect my bees from Winnie the Pooh. We typically don't have to deal with this issue here in the East Aurora area or in places north, but we've had numerous bear reports over the past few weeks...and we had a visit to our own apiary last week.


Bears are largely harmless to us but can do real damage to an apiary. If you live in the Southern Tier, you've likely already thought about this and have protective measures in place. For those of us that haven't had it on our radar, here's some tips about protecting your hives from your neighborhood bear.

Bears eat bees, particularly the larvae. In order to get at the treat they're looking for, they will typically knock over the hive and start removing frames. This causes a huge disruption to the colony, obviously, but can also destroy your equipment. Many times, a single visit from a bear can spell disaster for an apiary.


Bears must be physically deterred from the hives, as there are no repellents that we are aware of. A physical barrier can be either structural or electrified. If you're handy, a bear-proof structure can be built to surround your hives. 


Our solution to the bear problem was to surround our hives with an electric fence. It took about an hour to set up, and was up and running the day after the "bear incident."

Electrified bear fencing is different from horse or cattle fencing because it is comprised of a net-like fence. This is because a bear needs to feel the "zap" on his or her snout in order to encourage it to back away. A zap that hits the bear in the legs or shoulders will usually cause it to push forward, plowing through the fence and reaching your hives anyway.

Electric fences consist of the fencing material and an energizer that will power it. These energizers can be either wired, battery operated, or solar powered, and are sized for the length of fence you need to electrify.

We stock a variety of fencing solutions and can help you figure out what will work best for your apiary. 

Honeybee Pick-up Day: What to Expect

Honeybee pick-up day is a pretty exciting day around here. Now that we've been doing it for a few years, we've got it down to a pretty smooth operating procedure.

The colonies will begin making their way to us from their winter vacation location mid-week. Once the bees arrive here, we inspect each one to make sure they look good. We'll check for a healthy queen, plenty of bees, and food stores. The evening before pick-up day, we will head back out to the bee yard and seal up the entrances of each nuc to keep the bees inside for their transport in the morning. (You're welcome.)

Before pick-up day

  • Be sure you have your hive equipment ready to go. You will need, minimally, a deep hive body to place the nuc frames into. They won't fit in a medium box, so be sure you've got a deep!
  • Scope out the location of your hive. You don't want to move the bees once you place them in your yard, so be sure that the hive is located just where you want it.
  • Have your protective gear and tools ready. You might not need it on pick-up day, but you will want it when you move the frames into the hive.
  • If you plan to feed your new bees (your probably should), have a feeder and liquid feed ready.

On Pick-up Day

  • Pick-up hours are from 6:30 - 8:00 am ONLY
  • You will pull into our parking lot and one of our staff will check you off of the list and hand you a pick-up ticket. 
  • You'll drive up to the loading area. You can absolutely wear your new beekeeping suit if you feel more comfortable. No judgement here.
  • We'll load up your bees and you're on your way!
  • Check out our nuc installation guide for on that part of the process

Live Installation Demonstration  |  7 AM

At 7:00 am, we will do a live demonstration in our apiary. All new beekeepers are encouraged to attend and watch as we move bees from their transport box into their new hive. We'll share some tips and hopefully alleviate any last-minute worries! There is no cost to anyone picking up nucs, but you MUST bring your own protective gear.

Should I Order a Nuc or a Package of Bees?

nuc or package.png

If you're a new beekeeper, it can seem like there are an overwhelming number of decisions to be made when setting up your first apiary. Do I need a bee suit or just a jacket? Plastic frames or wax foundations? Carniolan or Italian bees? There's no right or wrong answer to any of these questions, just like there's no right answer to give when new beekeepers ask us if they should order a nuc or a package.

Here's how we like to explain the difference, and our recommendations for when each is appropriate:

What's a nuc?

"Nuc" is short for nucleus colony, and it is easiest to think of it as a small version of a working hive. 

Top 10 Perennials for Bees

Top 10 Perennials for Bees

What is a perennial? The term "perennial" refers to an herbaceous plant that typically dies back in winter but comes back year after year. Perennials are a great addition to the landscape for a variety of reasons. There are so many varieties to choose from, and there is almost certainly a perennial plant that will solve a garden problem. Some love hot, dry places. Some love damp, shady spots. Some grow tall, some form ground covers. There is likely a perennial that will fit nicely into almost any area of your yard, even a container! 

    Read More

    Langstroth Hive Setup

    My winter project? Make a bunch of short videos answering the basic beekeeping questions we get all of the time. Here's a preview:

    So, you bought all of the parts to put together your new hive, and now it's time to actually put it together. And that's where it can get tricky!

    What part goes where? It all makes a lot of sense when you see it set up in the store, but can get pretty confusing when you have to do it again at home. Here's  a quick video that we think should help.

    Do you have an idea for a video you'd like to see? Let me know!

    Honey Harvest Festival Contest Winners


    Wow! What a weekend! We want to extend a huge thank you to everyone who came out this weekend to celebrate the Fifth Annual Honey Harvest Festival with us! The festival is bigger and better every year, and we had a great time meeting new people and chatting about bees all weekend.

    honey jars.jpg

    The Amazing Volunteers

    A huge thank you to all of our volunteers who spent their time helping out with the event. Beekeepers are pretty great people, we've found, and we have an amazing network of folks in our area. 

    Steve mastered the uncapping process with a smile.

    Steve mastered the uncapping process with a smile.

    Kim got a workout as she extracted honey with the hand-crank.

    Kim got a workout as she extracted honey with the hand-crank.

    Local Vendors

    We are so grateful to the local vendors who joined us this year. Without them, the event wouldn't be nearly as much fun. This year awe had such a wonderful variety of folks here and we hope that you'll continue to support these local businesses.

    hhf vendors.png

    Honey Taste Contest

    And finally...the results from everyone's favorite part of the event!

    honey contest

    and the winner is

    Maria Weber of Orchard Park

    Maria submitted sample #10, which received 21% of the votes cast throughout the weekend. 

    Wondering about the other honeys? Here's the breakdown of where they came from and the percentage of votes each won.

    1. 14% - Orchard Park
    2. 13% - Angola
    3. 4% - Alden
    4. 7% - Hamburg
    5. 9% - West Valley
    6. 9% - Newfane
    7. 10% - Lockport
    8. 5% - West Seneca
    9. 7% - Holland
    10. 21% - Orchard Park

    As you can see, every single honey in the contest had some fans, so what this means to us is that ALL honey is awesome. Thank you to all who participated by submitting samples and voting! We'll do it again next year...

    Cell Count Guessing Game

    In our kids area, we placed a single medium frame out with the instructions to guess how many honeycomb cells the bees could build on it. We had lots of guesses (some great, some not so close!) and the winner with the closest guess was:

    Mika Walten

    The actual cell count for that frame was 2,772, so Mika's guess of 2,750 was the closest! Congrats!


    Plant Hardy Mums for Fall Color


    Ever since I was a little kid working here at the garden center, the arrival of the mums meant fall was really here. The smell of the mums as they come off the truck is still one of my favorites, and the bright pops of color throughout the greenhouses are welcome after all of the annuals have faded away.

    Three reasons to love hardy mums

    fall mums
    • Mums do well in containers. Whether you need to spruce up some tired annual planters on your front porch or need some pops of color for fall entertaining, mums are a great choice. 
    • Mums bloom when most other stuff is done. While some annuals are still looking good at this point in the season, many have passed their peak bloom times and there's not a whole lot of color left in the garden. A border of hardy mums adds fall interest.
    • Hardy mums are perennials. Yep, that's right! Those beauties you buy in the fall can be planted in the ground and will reward you with fall color for years to come. Some simple routine maintenance is all that is required to keep them looking great from year to year. You can even divide them.

    Planting and care tips

    Hardy mums are perennials, meaning that they will come back year after year. In order to keep them looking their best, follow these simple steps:

    • Plant in a sunny location, receiving at least six hours of direct sunlight per day.
    • Water regularly until established, making sure leaves do not wilt. Avoid wetting the foliage, as this can promote disease.
    • Pinch back growth by about one half every three to four weeks until the Fourth of July. This promotes branching of the stems, which results in more blooms and a more appealing overall shape.
    • Divide mums in the spring, just as new green grown begins to emerge.

    Beeswax Soap Recipe

    When you're a beekeeper, you find yourself with lots of beeswax laying around and you find ways to use it. One of my favorite uses for beeswax is in soap making. We'll host a soap making class a little later in the season, but here's the recipe I've been using for a few years now and it's my favorite.


    • 360 g olive oil

    • 225 g coconut oil

    • 175 g palm oil

    • 32 2 castor oil

    • 7 g beeswax

    • 264 g distilled water

    • 114 g sodium hydroxide

    • about 1 tablespoon honey

    • 1 – 2 tablespoons fragrance or essential oils, as desired

    This recipe has worked well for me, creating a creamy colored bar that does not turn to mush in the shower while still providing good lather. 

    Not into making your own soap? We sell it here in the store.

    Explore Our Wildlife Habitat

    Last year, we updated our nursery yard to create a wildlife-friendly environment. Almost immediately, we saw toads move into the stream bed, bees and butterflies visiting the pollinator gardens, and so many species of birds visiting the feeders. It is such a peaceful place to visit!

    We want to encourage little explorers to wander through the yard and see what wildlife they can spot, so we've created a scavenger hunt checklist. The lists will be available in our Kids Garden area, and anyone who completes the scavenger hunt can return the list for a Wildlife Explorer Badge. (Ok, it's a sticker, but who doesn't like stickers?)

    Bring your little ones in and go on a wildlife scavenger hunt together. Hopefully you'll feel inspired to invite nature back into your backyard!

    Getting our Website Back

    A few weeks ago, our website was hacked, flagged, and then shut down by our server. We've been, inconveniently, offline since then.

    Rather than remaining angry about this disruption during what is a very busy time for us, we decided to look at the bright side and take this an opportunity to re-design our site and bring even better content to you.

    Please bear with us as we add more information back to the site, and don't hesitate to give us a call at the store if you have any questions at all.

    Also, a HUGE THANKS to everyone that came out to see us at the Plantasia show this weekend! We had a great time, and we're feeling excited for spring!