Another Reason to Keep Bees

A friend's daughter made this display for her career day entry. Can you tell her Mom keeps bees??

A friend's daughter made this display for her career day entry. Can you tell her Mom keeps bees??

Another Reason to Keep Bees

"A-pi-a-rist."

Would you please use that in a sentence? That was my first thought when I saw the word, as one would ask if one were in a spelling contest. Not that "apiarist" doesn't make sense since Apis is Latin for bees. If you've been in beekeeping for any time, you've come across a number of reasons why people have bees, and a variety of terms used to refer to people who chose to regularly be around bees.

For example, there are the traditional bee"keepers," the ones who are held to a higher standard than the bee"havers," who place a hive on the back 40 and let the bees fend for themselves. You can start a small war between two beekeepers about whether their beekeeping practices fall into which one of these categories on how they manage hive pests.

Now there's the "apiarist," described in vocabulary.com:

"Apiarist is a fancy word for a beekeeper. An apiarist enjoys working with an unusual kind of pet, the honeybee. Because bees and other pollinators are so important to a healthy environment scientists encourage “bee-spotting” to improve fruits and vegetables."

So to my beekeeping colleagues, here is proof that there are indeed four reasons people keep bees:

1. For pollination;

2. For honey and other products out of the hive;

3. For more bees and, for the reason I periodically give, 

4. As pets!

And that now makes me an apiarist as well as the crazy bee lady. 

Charlotte

 

Wax Cappings Value

One the left, wax cappings from extracting honey, this is the primo wax.

One the left, wax cappings from extracting honey, this is the primo wax.

Wax Cappings Value

Most beekeepers know beeswax is more valuable than honey but then the question becomes, so how valuable IS the wax?

Some estimate it takes 8 lbs of honey to make 1 pound of wax. If you factor in how far bees have to travel and how many flowers they have to visit to make a pound of honey - two million flowers per pound - the value keeps going up.

This year, I kept my saved wax in a container so that when it was full, I boiled it down into a solid block of wax. It still amazes me how little actual wax there was on frames once all of the extra additives were removed.

Someone did the same thing and brought their results to the Missouri State Beekeepers Association fall conference in Springfield, Missouri. The examples showed a couple of things: first, the difference between plain wax and the wax from the wax caps that keep honey stored.

Secondly, there was a price associated with each. Not surprisingly, the wax cappings were more valuable than regular wax:

These are the prices for wax at Missouri State Beekeepers Association Oct. 27-28, 2017.

These are the prices for wax at Missouri State Beekeepers Association Oct. 27-28, 2017.

Wax from cappings, on left, I'm told is the wax saved and used for lip balms and other cosmetics as well as premier candlers.

The wax on the right would be wax that could be melted and used to resurface plastic foundation.

Charlotte

Freddie Honeybee

Freddie Honeybee is the pet of a friend now living in Florida. They have bees, too!

Freddie Honeybee is the pet of a friend now living in Florida. They have bees, too!

Freddie Honeybee

Halloween is the second largest holiday in terms of spending only behind Christmas. Of the total spent, about $350 billion is spent just on pet costumes.

Now I live with cats and I can't imagine any of them tolerating any kind of costume. They barely put up with their identification and flea collars, and even some of those are periodically found abandoned through the house.

When I search for honeybee-related items, though, I have found more and more bee costumes for pets, especially dogs. 

Most of the dogs in my life were large. We didn't dress them up or put costumes on them, although my St. Bernard did like to remove her cotton scarf and carry it around in her mouth. The red scarf was to keep the collar from rubbing against her skin but she had other ideas.

Last year, a friend of mine shared a picture of her dog Freddie all ready to trick or treat. I laughed out loud when I first saw it.

I have to admit, Freddie sure makes a cute honeybee, don't you think?

Charlotte

Worker Bees

Worker bees in one of my hives at Bluebird Gardens.

Worker bees in one of my hives at Bluebird Gardens.

Worker Bees

Of the three kinds of bees in a colony, worker bees are the most amazing to me. Nothing against the queen, or the male bees drones, but the worker bees are the ones that keep the colony going.

Besides, doing all of the hive housework, and they keep the hive very clean - the worker bees are also responsible for making key decisions for the success of the colony. It's the worker bees that decide when it's time to replace the queen. They also raise the male bees, and kick the out of the colony when they need to ration hive food supplies.

During their average six-week life, they produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey after visiting thousands of flowers to bring back nectar and pollen. Besides flying, worker bees flap their wings to keep air moving through the hive. When they die, they die because they have worn their wings to tatters.

Worker bees have one of the most complex languages, communicating through a dance that tells their sisters direction of pollen and nectar sources. They still can find the shortest distance between two points faster than any computer.

When observing my colonies, it's fascinating to watch how they relate to each other, and at times, to me. They do recognize me, and if I am late getting a start in the garden, I will find an entourage waiting for the sugar syrup feeders to leave the garage. They are old hummingbird feeders with slots on the bottom where bees can easily get to the sugar water.

Although I have read conflicting information, worker bees seem to work most of their lives, making them one of the hardest creatures I know.

Amazing little creatures!

Charlotte

 

 

Checking Bee Colony

Meet my beekeeping friend Kelly and his one honeybee colony living in his back yard.

Meet my beekeeping friend Kelly and his one honeybee colony living in his back yard.

Kelly with his bee colony before we started the inspection. Note how high the hive is here!

Kelly with his bee colony before we started the inspection. Note how high the hive is here!

Checking Kelly's Bee Colony

One of the interesting things we do as a bee club is help our regular members with their bee colonies. This particular day, we were going to inspect a bee colony that had not been checked in several weeks to add small hive beetle traps and make sure the colony had enough space.

2017 has been a very productive year, so far, for honeybees. Many of my colonies have been nectar and honey bound because we had a mild winter and a very long mild spring, which means the honeybees have had good conditions for making honey for their upcoming winter stores.

Before opening this bee colony, we borrowed some of my extra woodenware and frames; we also made sure to have enough small hive beetle traps filed with a lure in the center box and mineral oil on either side.

In the photo, Kelly S. Bracken, the beekeeper of the colony we were checking, is getting his small hive beetle jails ready.

That basket in front is my beekeeping inspection basket, it has my basic tools for conducting a hive inspection.

Kelly gets small hive beetle jails ready. Turkey feathers make a great tool for gently moving bees.

Kelly gets small hive beetle jails ready. Turkey feathers make a great tool for gently moving bees.

Although I tend not to use a smoker, it's good to have one ready and handy, just in case. 

Tom Miller volunteered to get the smoker started and to be responsible for keeping an eye on it during the hive inspection.

The pile of kitchen towels? We use them to cover the open hive boxes, helps keep the bees calm while we inspect the frames.

Tom Miller gets the smoker started before we start the hive inspection.

Tom Miller gets the smoker started before we start the hive inspection.

Meanwhile at the hive itself, David Draker is checking around the hive to remove any items that may be unsafe for bees, and beekeepers. alike.

To the right you will see a blackberry bush I pinned to the side so that we wouldn't be caught in its thorns during the hive inspection.

David Draker checks around the hive to make sure conditions are safe for a hive inspection.

David Draker checks around the hive to make sure conditions are safe for a hive inspection.

Ok, telescoping lid is off and we expect to find busy bees pulling out wax and making honey. Sure enough, the top two boxes were full of frames of honey and newly-drawn comb.

Kelly holds one of the frames from a top box where bees are pulling out new wax.

Kelly holds one of the frames from a top box where bees are pulling out new wax.

By the third box, we found baby bees. Each frame was carefully inspected to determine how well the queen is laying and whether she has enough room in the hive.

From left, Tom Miller, Kelly S. Bracken and David Draker checking a frame of brood.

From left, Tom Miller, Kelly S. Bracken and David Draker checking a frame of brood.

Here is a closer photo of the frame of brood. So what do you see?

Close up of one of the brood frames. White substance are uncapped baby bees.

Close up of one of the brood frames. White substance are uncapped baby bees.

Here is another frame of brood. Anything you notice about this frame?

Another frame of brood from this box shows bee bread stored in the center.

Another frame of brood from this box shows bee bread stored in the center.

One more frame up close, this one is clearly nectar-bound, all cells are full of nectar.

Usually the queen would lay eggs in the center spot of this brood frame now filled with nectar.

Usually the queen would lay eggs in the center spot of this brood frame now filled with nectar.

We also found drones, or male bees. The cells stick out more and look like pencil erasers.

Male bees, or drones, on a frame with bee bread and honey.

Male bees, or drones, on a frame with bee bread and honey.

Another sign of a colony needing space, they build comb on the bottom of frames.

Drones hatch from these cells added to the bottom of a frame because the colony needs room.

Drones hatch from these cells added to the bottom of a frame because the colony needs room.

As the colony boxes are put back together, additional boxes with room were added. Each box was also given two empty frames so the bees can easily expand.

Tom Miller helps David Draker lift hive boxes back on Kelly S. Bracken's now taller hive.

Tom Miller helps David Draker lift hive boxes back on Kelly S. Bracken's now taller hive.

In the top boxes, frames full of honey, bees winter stores. Some beekeepers go ahead and harvest honey now, counting on bees being able to collect more for winter. Kelly chose to keep the honey in the top boxes.

Top boxes of hives this time of year are full of frames with capped honey.

Top boxes of hives this time of year are full of frames with capped honey.

Now that all of the boxes are back on, its time to put on the lid.

Kelly S. Bracken helps put the telescoping lid on the top of his hive.

Kelly S. Bracken helps put the telescoping lid on the top of his hive.

Here is the new, taller hive with the added boxes and extra room for the bees.

Kelly S. Bracken, left, and David Draker, right, after the colony is back in their expanded hive.

Kelly S. Bracken, left, and David Draker, right, after the colony is back in their expanded hive.

Two small hive beetle traps were added to each of the boxes at a diagonal, reversing their location with each box. I didn't get a photo, it was my job to add the traps so you will just have to take my word for it.

Ok, Kelly, you and your bees should be all set for a few weeks!

Charlotte

 

Want Bees?

A lovely frame of baby bees found during an inspection of a friend's hives.

A lovely frame of baby bees found during an inspection of a friend's hives.

Want Bees?

There are 5 misconceptions people have about keeping honeybees. Although some of these sound similar, each has its own set of unique challenges so I often advise people to go into beekeeping only after giving these much consideration.

There is only one way to keep bees.

Not only are there several ways to keep bees but how you keep bees depends on the reason why you want to have honeybees. Sometimes the equipment you choose, or the techniques you pursue, are based on how you first learn to keep bees but they may not fit your later needs. Ask questions, be open to new techniques and concepts and understand why someone is taking one approach over another one. The why is sometimes more important than the what.

They don’t know why they want to keep bees.

There are also several reasons to keep bees and for every reason, there are a variety of different techniques you may use.  So why do you want honeybees – for pollination, to have honey, to get more bees, for pets? Mine come closer to the latter than most but I started keeping bees for pollination. Extra honey goes to my bees first and my garden is now re-arranged to support their pollen and nectar needs.

 It’s also important to know that the advice you get on how best to do something depends on why the person giving the advice keeps bees. Ask the person giving you advice, or instruction, keeps bees. Try to match up your interests with those of the person you follow or who mentors you, it will be frustrating to learn how to keep bees for honey production if all you want them to do is pollinate a garden.

They want to learn everything they can before they start.

Learn the basics – beekeeping terminology and typical monthly beekeeping chore schedule, then lift that hive lid for a closer look and start to get to know your bees, they are the best teachers. And don’t be surprised if they keep changing things, they have a tendency to do that so try to keep up!

I am currently transitioning to 8-frame hives at Bluebird Gardens, easier to manage.

I am currently transitioning to 8-frame hives at Bluebird Gardens, easier to manage.

Try a lot of different equipment.

You can but that ends up being expensive and frustrating when you don’t have a special piece you need. Ask to visit a couple of area apiaries and lift a super full of honey to see how much that weighs. That weight may help you decide what kind of hive equipment to pursue. Also keep it as simple as you can so you can interchange parts and make sure you know the correct terminology before you order.

They look to keep bees on the cheap.

To get into beekeeping, it takes $700-$1,000 and an extra freezer. You also won’t get the amount of honey you expect in you first couple of years, either, and honey sales will not be worth the investment you will need to make to be a successful business. Keeping bees has many other benefits but, in general, making money is not one of them.

Charlotte

 

New Beekeeping Gloves

On the left, my newest addition to my beekeeping gear, on the right, my current gloves.

On the left, my newest addition to my beekeeping gear, on the right, my current gloves.

New Beekeeping Gloves

Not that I didn't need a new pair of beekeeping gloves but once you break in a pair, I at least prefer to stick with them. Even in beekeeping, I have a preference for using the same gloves.

But knowing that I also want to keep a set of beekeeping equipment in my car for those emergency calls, I decided to buy another pair of gloves. Nothing fancy, just something that was relatively close to my size.

It was a bit of a shock to put the brand new gloves down next to the old beekeeping gloves I am currently using. Have I really made such a mess of the current beekeeping gloves?

My first pair of beekeeping gloves really don't fit; they are a bit larger than I need so I tend to be messy when I try to grab things. I also tend not to wash them because I never know when I will need them.

At least with my favorite gardening gloves, I do get those washed at the end of the day. Most of the time. If I remember to take them inside...

Charlotte

Loosing a Swarm

My bee buddy David just as the swarm started to leave us, we followed them across the roof.

My bee buddy David just as the swarm started to leave us, we followed them across the roof.

Loosing a Swarm

After years of catching swarms, it was bound to happen: we were overdue letting one get away.

On this particular sunny spring 2017 day, we had just climbed three sets of steep temporary stairs to the roof of an old machine factory to where a swarm had landed the day before. The factory workers needed to start air conditioning units and were concerned once they started those close by units, the bees would get sucked in and die.

With our swarm equipment deployed and a box ready for the swarm, I looked up to see bees literally running through the clustered bees. Scouts, telling the colony it was time to go.

Sure enough, bees started to peel off the side of the building, quickly forming a gentle cloud and they made their way across the top of the roof. We followed, trying to watch them as long as we can. 

At the edge of the building, we lost them as they floated over tree tops and an Interstate highway.

Disappointed?

Maybe a little but we were actually more thrilled to have seen the swarm in the opposite mode, packing up and actually leaving one location for another one.

After checking parking lot trees, and cars, we notified the factory the swarm was gone and to call us if they heard it was still in the area.

I still think standing in the middle of the swirling bees, watching and listening to them move off the building and down the roof line. Did we loose something? Hardly, we gained yet another amazing beekeeping experience!

Charlotte

First Swarm of 2017 Season

First swarm of 2017 was about 15 feet off the ground in the tree in front of a county home.

First swarm of 2017 was about 15 feet off the ground in the tree in front of a county home.

First Swarm of 2017 Season

Most guides to swarm catching will say it’s best to catch bee swarms on warm sunny days so don’t do what I just did and end up catching the first swarm of this season in a gray, dreary day in the pouring rain.

Bees swarm in spring for a variety of reasons but basically its nature’s way to ensure the species survives. A swarm is the old queen taking part of the colony to a new home leaving the old home to a new daughter.

Most swarms have little to protect so are not aggressive, Hollywood’s version of swarms notwithstanding. Bee swarms do have a short lifespan to find a new home so sometimes end up in awkward places as they wait for scout bees to find new real estate, such as the side of cars, or buildings, or tree branches.

This bee swarm was about 15 feet high at the end of a tree branch, the ball of bees hanging onto each other as rain started to fall. My two rookie assistants were too excited to notice so I said lets move the truck bed under the swarm while I go get my equipment and wait until I get back. I thought with a little luck, we will have this swarm in a box before they know it.

Instead of waiting for me to put a sheet down on the truck bed and move the hive to the side right under the swarm, my two eager assistants had cut the branch down and knocked bees – well, everywhere. Cold, wet bees were in globs all over the truck bed, on the sides, on their shoulders, in their hair.  I looked from one to the other, then to the mess of bees all over the truck.

By now it’s a steady rain and they look at me helplessly as if this is a lost cause. I hand out turkey feathers and demonstrate how to carefully scoop up globs of soaking wet bees and put them into the hive. We cut the branch down to size and fit it inside the hive, add a second box and top, wrap the sheet around it and head home.

Once at my bee garden, I added sugar cakes to help absorb moisture I changed every couple of hours and kept separating globs of cold, wet bees. By late that afternoon I had more dry bees moving around the hive and both rookies had texted me their apologies with a promise that they would remember to wait for further instructions next time.

One happened to be helping at the bee club meeting the following weekend where we simulated catching a swarm, the white sheet getting whipped out almost immediately after I said now let’s pretend you have a swarm hanging from this corner.

When I turned back, the sheet was squarely on the ground with a hive ready to welcome imaginary bees. Now that made this first swarm catch a good one!

Charlotte

Thinking About Swarms

Found this charming garden flag at a local home and garden store, the first swarm catch!

Found this charming garden flag at a local home and garden store, the first swarm catch!

Thinking About Swarms

The countdown has started. It's a little early, maybe by about three weeks but reports are trickling in that drone brood has been spotted in colonies. It's just a matter of a few warm days before they will be hatching and bee swarm season will be here.

Swarm season is when bee colonies decide to split, nature's way of ensuring a bee colony propagates itself. The old queen takes 1/3 of the bees and takes off, leaving a daughter and the remaining bees behind. Frankly, I love catching swarms, from getting the call to settling them into a new home and then waiting to see if they actually settle in.

It's still early to be talking about catching swarms but my bee buddy David and I are getting ready. We are talking about getting our cars packed, hives set up, checking supplies, bee suits cleaned. Well, David finally washed HIS suit. It's been a longstanding joke that his suit was standing because he had not cleaned it for a very long time :)

Once a call comes in, one doesn't have a lot of time to dilly dally around, it's off we go to locate the bees and hopefully get them into a box and back to a new home.

As I was walking through a local farm supply center, I ran across this garden flag with a swarm on it and smiled. It's perfect to have on the flag next to where David parks his car when he waits for me to grab my bee suit as we head out for a swarm call.

Bee garden banner is out next to my swarm call pick up point!

Bee garden banner is out next to my swarm call pick up point!

It may be a little early to be going on a call but it's never too early to be thinking about catching bees, even ones on fabric!

Charlotte

 

Wanted: Experienced Nucs

Good deal, experienced nucleus boxes on sale for $5 at a fall beekeeping conference.

Good deal, experienced nucleus boxes on sale for $5 at a fall beekeeping conference.

Wanted: Experienced Nucs

One of the challenges in beekeeping is labelling. There's a tendency to try to divide beekeepers into categories; hobby and commercial, mentor and mentee, beginning and advanced - all terms attempting to define a level of experience that has no industry standard but means well.

At one of our state fall beekeeping conferences, I heard one of the speakers describe an experienced beekeeper as someone with at least 7 years experience keeping bees while another one said an experienced beekeeper was one with at least 5 years. During a question and answer period, someone asked the two about the difference in their definition and there ensured a lively interesting discussion about how long does it take for the average beekeeper, who has a pretty steep learning curve, to pick up enough of the basic lessons to be able to say they know the fundamentals. 

No beekeeper, by the way, will every claim they will know it all because the final teachers are the bees themselves and no two years of beekeeping are ever the same.

As I was leaving this interesting discussion, I headed for the vendor area and found a pile of used nucleus boxes in a corner for sale. I had thought about picking up a couple for swarm-catching but put off hauling these nursery boxes back to my room until later.

The next day, I was back to see if there were any left and laughed. I had missed the original sign that said "experienced nucs," and this time the price had been slashed in half. Regardless of the label, the half price was certainly right!

Charlotte

Hives Still Wrapped

The last cold spell of winter has hit mid-Missouri and my hives are still wrapped.

The last cold spell of winter has hit mid-Missouri and my hives are still wrapped.

Hives Still Wrapped Against Winter Cold

Beekeeping is as much an art as science, and when it comes to when to unwrap hives, I tend to put it off as long as possible.

The decision has very little to do with bees and most everything to do with Missouri's even more erratic weather patterns. As our rapidly changing weather continues to change, it is becoming harder to forecast temperatures and trends. One week temperatures are in the 60s, the next week below freezing temperatures and snow, and we should just get used to these extreme fluctuations.

For bees, it's not the cold that kills but condensation, or getting wet. So going into winter, I have my hives wrapped in an insulated black lined plastic that absorbs heat with a white liner that keeps hive seals dry, just in case the girls have missed a spot when they have sealed up the hive with propolis, a glue-like substance they produce from tree sap.

I also tie down the lids to keep rain from getting in, and add dry sugar bricks inside to help with absorbing moisture. The sugar blocks give them an extra food supply in case they run out.

This mild winter, other beekeepers were unwrapping their hives end of February but I wasn't so sure. 

Mid-March, a week of below freezing weather hit. I still had not opened the hives and broken the propolis seals so I wasn't too worried about them getting wet. I was also glad to look out the windows to see them still wrapped up against the cold.

As temperatures head up into the 60s, now I have to decide if spring has actually arrived. All of the signs in nature indicate we may be as much as 3-4 weeks ahead of schedule this year. Maybe once I start seeing more garden flowers blooming I will feel more comfortable taking those wraps off, we'll see!

Charlotte

First Check of the Season

My girls have been busy, this is a frame of brood and honey almost full on both sides.

My girls have been busy, this is a frame of brood and honey almost full on both sides.

First Colony Check of the Season

With nature signs a good three weeks earlier than usual, I decided to peek into my bee hives to see what my girls were doing. I didn't break the propolis seals they had installed; I just went in through the top, under the feeding shims, to see how far along they were in the top box.

Usually this time of year, the cluster is moving down from the top box and expanding quickly as the queen bee increases her egg-laying. When I pulled out my first frame, it was packed with honey, only to be followed by a second frame full of baby bees, or brood, almost solid across the frame. Over the top of the frame, the rainbow of honey on both sides.

There were two small hive beetles on each frame, which I killed as I set the frames on the side of the hive.

Nowhere in the box was there room for the queen to lay so I moved a couple of honey frames into a new super on top; gave the bees two empty frames on either side of where they currently are and added another floor to the top of the hive. I didn't break up the brood, I kept those frames just the way I found them.

A closer look at the almost solid brood pattern on this frame.

A closer look at the almost solid brood pattern on this frame.

No guarantee that this will prevent them from swarming but after the next cold spell forecast for mid-March, I should be able to unseal the hive and check under the frames for queen cells, a sure sign of swarm preparations.

I will save those cells. I want to split a couple of these colonies so having extra queens will come in handy but the queens need drones to mate.

I found drone brood but no drones yet so it's still early for swarm season. New queens need to breed with drones to be able to successfully establish themselves with a colony,

Overall, these frames full of brood look like what my colonies used to look like in April. These girls are definitely 2-3 weeks ahead of their previous year's schedule.

Charlotte

Testing Oxalic Acid Application

Setting up to test an oxalic acid treatment to an empty bee hive on a sunny winter day.

Setting up to test an oxalic acid treatment to an empty bee hive on a sunny winter day.

Testing Oxalic Acid Application

Besides comparison shopping, my bee buddy David is a meticulous tester and sampler. So last year when at a beekeeping conference he gave me a determined look and said he was going to treat his bee colonies with oxalic acid, I knew we were going to have long conversations about this new adventure.

Oxalic acid is one of the latest tools in the beekeeper's arsenal to fight varroa destructor, a tiny red mite partially responsible for the record decline in the honeybee population. Combined with the loss of habitat, which speaks to the quality of bee food, and overuse of pesticides, these three major factors are now considered main contributors to the continued honeybee population decline. Among other contributions, bees pollinate one out of every three bites of food we eat.

Whether to treat, or not treat colonies with oxalic acid continues to be a major debate among beekeepers. Statistics show if bees are not treated, a majority of colonies will be weakened by their 3rd year and will die, not necessarily from the mite but from viruses carried by the mite.

On a warm sunny winter day, David invited me to his apiary to test his oxalic acid applicator and related equipment. I didn't need to bring anything, he assured me, he had everything set up.

The testing of the oxalic acid application included the testing of an old car battery.

The testing of the oxalic acid application included the testing of an old car battery.

When I arrived, bees were out enjoying the sunny, warm winter day. I meandered from hive to hive, checking how the girls were doing and asking David if he could see how the colony was flying.

David stands away from his hives, not because he doesn't want to be closer but because he has the worst luck when he does. Whereas I can sneak by without a mishap, as soon as David tries to look around a hive, a guard bee will land a sting, or two, on him. 

After David made sure everything was set up correctly, I took a few photos and started to share our grand experiment with a couple other beekeepers.

The response was quick and unexpected. What are you doing? What do you mean you are testing a new applicator? 

I smiled. I told David I thought we had their undivided attention now and texted a few more photos. Then I added:

We are two retirees on a sunny winter day with a new piece of beekeeping equipment and an EMPTY hive. What's not to love?

Test results? Oxalic acid vapors covered the left-over spider webs inside the old bee hive.

Test results? Oxalic acid vapors covered the left-over spider webs inside the old bee hive.

And the verdict?

The oxalic acid should be applied early spring and late fall but on this winter day, it was more of an excuse to be outside in the sun, enjoying the day. We figured regardless of the time of year, the verdict is - the car battery would work just fine.

Charlotte

California-Bound Honeybees

My first two bee colonies arriving at my Missouri apiary.

My first two bee colonies arriving at my Missouri apiary.

California-Bound Honeybees

The first winter after I started keeping bees, I received a call from someone who asked if I wanted to move my bees to California to pollinate almond fields.

I was new to keeping bees but the offer was intriguing. It had never occurred to me how almonds got pollinated, let alone that bees, some years as many as 3/4ths of all bee colonies from around the country, moved to California for a few short weeks to pollinate the thousands of almond trees. 

One of the articles I read said last year, there would have been a shortage of bees to pollinate the almonds had it not been for the California drought. 

How much would they pay me per hive, I had asked the caller. It was an impressive amount, although at the time I was not comfortable even with the thought of letting Gertrude and Mildred, my hives named after my Mom and Grandmother, even out of my sight.

This was 2011, several years before small hive beetles were found in hives in the Missouri county where we live. Wax worms and the related pests and viruses associated with varroa were the main threats, although I had not yet met the little red vampire-like mites.

The caller asked if my hives had been moved to other fields. Many beekeepers, he said, moved their hives to provide pollination services. I assured him my girls had only been pollinating my garden and had been under my watchful eye the whole time they had been with me.

When he asked how many hives I had, I confessed, only two. But if they were going out west, I said, I was going with them. First class.

He laughed. He had found me through my blog about beekeeping and was trying to find beekeepers to get more bees out west.

I said I appreciated the offer but I wasn't particularly fond of almonds. I thought it was best that we should stay in the midwest for now. 

Since then, there have been online discussions about the impact of moving bees around the country half a year. After pollinating almonds, bees move to Texas to pollinate apples and peaches, then out east to pollinate blueberries and cranberries.

Exposure to new diseases, changing weather conditions and increased stress on the colonies have been among the factors cited for cutting down, if not stopping, the practice of moving bees long distance for pollination. Not to mention what less pollination would do to the lucrative commercial almond market.

Maybe it's time to mediate our almond consumption and appreciate the local nuts we can grow. After all, bees can pollinate those, not have to travel as far and it minimizes their exposure to stress and diseases. 

Charlotte

 

Love in the Garden

One of my honeybees in spring moves pollen among the flowers in my compact pear tree.

One of my honeybees in spring moves pollen among the flowers in my compact pear tree.

Love in the Garden

Bees really should replace Valentine’s Day cherubs. Bees are among a number of pollinators that provide nature’s match-making services, and they are much less obtrusive than those little round, pink, vintage Valentine's Day mascots.

Without bees to spread pollen, many plants, including food crops, would die off. One out of every three bites of food we eat are pollinated by bees.

Although they perform their match-making differently, both honeybees and native bees significantly contribute to keeping many plant species alive. If you have good habitat, which means a variety of flowers succeeding each other with blooms, you will also have a good place for both native and honeybees to live.

When a bee visits a flower, it is focused on gathering nectar and pollen to feed the colony back in the hive.

Bumble Bee Buzz Pollination

Bumblebees, also significant crop pollinators, have a specific name for their matchmaking. It’s called “buzz pollination,” or sonication. As they hold on to a flower, bumblebees rapidly vibrate flight muscles without moving their wings.  This vibration shakes electrostatically charged pollen out of the flower anthers and the pollen is attracted to the bumblebee’s oppositely charged body hairs. For bumblebees, electricity really is “in the air.”

The bumblebee later grooms the pollen from her body into bags on its legs and takes it back to the nest in the ground.

Bumblebees pollinate tomatoes, green peppers and a variety of other specialty crops. Some commercial producers have either bumblebee hives in their greenhouses or leave a 1-inch opening at the bottom of their covered growing areas so bumblebees can more easily access plants.

Bumblebee hives are available for purchase but the colony lives only one year. At the end of the season, only the queen bee survives in the ground to start a new colony the following year.

During winter, I give honeybees pollen substitute so they have protein when nothing is in bloom.

During winter, I give honeybees pollen substitute so they have protein when nothing is in bloom.

How Honeybees Pollinate

Honeybees pollinate by concentrating on one plant species at a time. Honeybees have compound eyes so they see the world as a series of small windows, which would make the world even more complex than it already is to me. For a honeybee to more easily see a flower, it is best to plant flowers in large groups or swaths so a bee can better first spot them.

I also spray sugar water syrup on plants when I want to attract the attention of a bee. Honeybees navigate more by scent so the sugar is a good calling card.

As honeybees move from one flower to the next, pollen falls out of their body hairs and gets moved among flowers.

Honeybees also have pouches on the side of their legs. Once the leg pollen bags are full, honeybees return to the hive, sometimes so heavily laden they literally crash land at the hive entrance.

It’s interesting to watch them coming home at the end of the day. I try to guess what flowers they were visiting based on the color of the flower pollen they are carrying.

During warm days in the middle of winter, bees look for a protein source. They raid bird feeders for cracked corn dust. Until oak flowers and dandelions start blooming, I may either make or provide a pollen substitute so they have a nutritious protein source.

This time of year, nothing is blooming except for spring dreams.

Charlotte

Bees in Cracked Corn

For a short time in winter, my honeybees raid my bird feeders for cracked corn dust.

For a short time in winter, my honeybees raid my bird feeders for cracked corn dust.

Bees in Bird Feeder Cracked Corn

Every winter for a short period of time during warm days, my honeybees get into trouble. Well, actually, it's more like they get into my bird feeders looking for dust from the cracked corn I add to sunflower seeds.

It's usually after December 21, when winter officially begins. Daylight starts to get longer and the queen bee starts her countdown to spring. The longer daylight triggers the queen to start to lay eggs to increase the colony's population, which means worker bees need to find protein to feed the new babies.

My bird feeders are safe until sunny winter days start to pop up over 45F. I know my girls are working on the nursery when I start to see, a few bees at first, around the edges of the hanging feeders, where the leftover cracked corn is left. They are easy to spot, they look like flying globs of caramel in the sunshine.

Honeybees start to work the leftover cracked corn at the bird feeder's edge for the corn dust.

Honeybees start to work the leftover cracked corn at the bird feeder's edge for the corn dust.

If you look closely, you can see the bees diving into the seeds, sometimes only their back sides sticking up in the air in the middle of the sunflower seeds and corn.

I wasn't sure at first what they were after until I started to see their leg pollen sacks packed as they rummaged through the seeds.

This honeybee has a pollen sack on her leg packed with goodies from the bird feeder.

This honeybee has a pollen sack on her leg packed with goodies from the bird feeder.

One morning, I also found a good dozen bees moving inside the bird feeder. I couldn't see how they could get out so I carefully dumped the seeds into a plastic lid so they could get out and rummage to their pollen sacks' content.

Having the seeds and corn on a straight surface also meant they could more easily pack away the corn dust they wanted to take back to the hive as a protein food source for the nursery.

Sunflower seeds and cracked corn from the bird feeder temporarily on a plastic lid on the ground.

Sunflower seeds and cracked corn from the bird feeder temporarily on a plastic lid on the ground.

These are some of the bees that were stuck inside the bird feeder covered in corn dust without any way to get out.

Can you see the bees all covered in cracked corn dust? They were inside the bird feeders.

Can you see the bees all covered in cracked corn dust? They were inside the bird feeders.

After I gently dumped them out, at first they seemed dazed and were moving very slowly. After a few minutes out of the confined area, they started walking around until enough cracked corn dust fell off of them so they could fly. And guess what they were carrying.

This honeybee was inside a bird feeder and had enough room to pack her pollen bags.

This honeybee was inside a bird feeder and had enough room to pack her pollen bags.

This bee walked into my hand with her leg pollen sacks full of the corn dust she had picked up inside the bird feeder. I waited for her to get cleaned off enough so she could fly off with her stash, then put the bird seed and bird feeder away.

It was the right time. The next day, although temperatures were warm and sunny, not a bee was at the bird feeder. 

The rush to the cracked corn dust was over. The bees were starting to find real pollen somewhere else in my garden.

Charlotte

Warm Winter Beekeeping Days

Watching one of my honeybee colonies during a warm Missouri winter day.

Watching one of my honeybee colonies during a warm Missouri winter day.

Warm Winter Beekeeping Days

Well first, this is a bit of an oxymoron. It's the middle of a Missouri winter; we shouldn't be having warm days to be beekeeping. Nevertheless, this has been a warmer than usual winter. One of our local weather forecasters said on the average, our temperatures this winter have been 10 degrees warmer than average, a fact that gives me pause as I think about all of my little fruit trees trying to set buds on the warm days that pop up in between the more cold, wintery ones.

On this particular day, I chose to set all of those worries aside and putter around my bees. Maybe puttering is not the best word to use, it was more like sitting back and relaxing while I watched them putter.

On warm winter days, bees house clean. Between dragging out dead bee bodies and taking cleansing flights, they also forage for food. Without any blooming flowers, I sprinkle a little pollen substitute on their hive entrances to give them something to pack back inside.

My honeybees were packing the pollen substitute I left at the entrance to their hive.

My honeybees were packing the pollen substitute I left at the entrance to their hive.

If you are new to beekeeping, this is why I suggest you carefully consider where you are placing your hives. Although it is tempting to place them as far away as possible, I prefer to have mine close so I have easy access to them and can see them from my house. I can't imagine not visiting my colonies every day, even in cold weather.

What is there to see? I check hive entrance reducers to make sure they are secure, and that the black wind break wrapping is still on tightly. I know, poor excuses, but I once had a telescoping top fly off. I still find solace in looking out of a window on a cold morning and seeing everything is safely covered up.

When I have the chance to be outside on a warm, sunny winter day, no need for an excuse. There is something quite special to be able to watch them at a time when both of us should be holed up inside our respective homes.

My favorite moment, when bees land on my foot so I can see them up close!

My favorite moment, when bees land on my foot so I can see them up close!

As I enjoyed the time in the sun, so did my bees. One stopped by to check out my old gardening shoes. Just as I was wondering what bees do when they don't expect to be out, I am sure she was wondering what I was doing wearing gardening shoes when I was not out gardening and planting more pollen sources for her.

Wonder what kind of waggle dance bees do to express an oxymoron. Maybe a backwards dance??

Charlotte

Candy Cane Bee Food

These peppermint candy canes were marked down after Christmas and priced at .54 cents a box.

These peppermint candy canes were marked down after Christmas and priced at .54 cents a box.

Candy Cane Bee Food

"I read this somewhere" - a popular way some beekeepers start their latest tip or experiment. For me, it was something I read over the holidays from other beekeepers talking about how they help their bees through winter.

It's been a very odd winter in Missouri. Weather conditions have varied a lot, swinging some weeks from record high temperatures for the season to more typically cold, winter conditions. Over the weekend, a weather forecaster said our Missouri winter temperatures this year, on the average, has been 10 degrees higher. That explains why my bees, and some of my trees and shrubs, have been showing signs of new growth earlier than usual.

Most bee colonies don't die from cold, they die from humidity, pest and diseases, and starvation. Having lost a colony several winters ago to starvation, I decided that was not going to happen if there was something I could do about it.

This year, with a record warm winter,  my bee colonies have been out flying, using up their winter honey stores at a much faster rate than they have in the past. I have been giving them sugar patties I make to supplement food supplies, I started at Christmas, almost 2 months earlier than I usually feed them the extra food. I also read that peppermint candy canes make for good emergency food and picked up a box on sale.

It does make sense. Candy boards, another way to make winter bee food, are homemade candy, like candy canes. The peppermint is an essential oil from herbs, which bees love in their natural form. Some people also have told me peppermint oil is also a hive pest deterrent.

Okay, so I spoil my pets. And yes, that includes my honeybees.

Charlotte

 

Bring It, Winter!

My honeybees checking a bird feeder for pollen.

Bring It, Winter!

I may be one of the few people you know who wants it to be cold again. It’s not for me, it’s for my honeybees.

Bees don’t hibernate. They cluster in a ball inside the hive, shivering to keep warm. That’s why they store honey, to give them carbohydrates over winter to generate heat. If they don’t have baby bees to keep warm, they keep the inside of the hive at around 70F. If they have the nursery going, they raise the temperature to 90F.

When outside temperatures go above 40F, bees leave the hive to relieve themselves.  With temperatures in the 60s, bees think it’s early spring and look for pollen to take back to the hive for food. The flying around and lack of nectar and pollen means they also consume more of their stored honey, 

Based on past winters, beekeepers make sure their hives have enough honey to get them through at least February. This will be a year when a lot of us will be way off estimating how much honey our bees needed.

On Christmas 2016, when the temperatures were in the 60s, my bees had already moved into the second story of their hive, a good month earlier than usual. They also had most of their honey consumed, so I gave them sugar cakes I make as supplemental food. I usually give them the sugar cakes early February but I didn’t want to risk them dying of starvation if cold weather ever returned and I couldn’t get into the hives to feed them.

The warmer temperatures have also meant my bees have been out foraging, looking for pollen. Their favorite spot has been my birdfeeders, where I have sunflower seeds, cracked corn and a dash of sand mixed together. It’s been fun watching and photographing bees burying themselves in the bird seed trying to find the cracked corn dust. My birds haven’t been too amused.

Pollen substitute at the front of one of my hives.

I have also been feeding my bees pollen substitute in small buckets on the ground under the bird feeders. The buckets have sticks inside so the bees can safely land, load up on pollen in their back leg pouches and carry it back to the hive.

The pollen substitute is a mixture of soybean flour, brewers yeast, milk powder, vitamin C and brewers yeast.

Just to make sure everyone was getting a supply, I also dabbed pollen substitute on the front of the hives, next to their little front doors.  When I first checked back a couple of hours later, it was all gone, carefully packed and carried into the hive so I just kept adding more.

If temperatures ever go below 40F, the bees will huddle again inside the hive and not eat as much honey.

On the other hand, having bees out and about hasn’t been so bad. I love having them around and they do a pretty good job of scaring squirrels out of my bird feeders.

Charlotte