Catching Swarms

 A little worker bee takes a break from flying around scouting new bee home locations. (Photo by Tom Miller)

A little worker bee takes a break from flying around scouting new bee home locations. (Photo by Tom Miller)

Catching Swarms

Every spring, beekeepers you may know will get just a little giddy at the mention of “swarms.” While members of the general public conjure up some low budget Hollywood disaster movie at even the thought, to a beekeeper a swarm is everything from “free bees” to an invitation to an adventure.

First, honeybees swarming are not something to be feared. In most cases, bees in a swarm are at their most docile. Full of honey before they left their last home, these bees are waiting for scout bees to locate new possible houses while they literally hang out – on your fence, the side of a house, maybe a nearby tree.  The scouts return to the bunch of bees, describe the potential home and the bees “vote” on which one they like best. Once the consensus is reached, the swarm will leave their spot and follow the scout bee to their chosen location.

Swarms have a very short life span, 3 to 5 days so if you see a swarm, please don’t spray it or swat at it, visit rollabeeclub.com for a list of area beekeepers who will come out to catch the swarm.

To go after swarms, beekeepers are like first responders, vehicles packed with extra bee suits, possible helpful equipment like a ladder and empty hives in various sizes.

If one is lucky, a beekeeper can entice a colony into a new home with ample space, hive frames already with places for the queen to lay and maybe a whiff of honey. To say that swarms are “free bees,” however, dismisses the work associated with catching a swarm.

To be successful in keeping a swarm in a hive, a beekeeper has to feed the colony sugar syrup, simulating nectar bees find in flowers in nature. In more than half the swarms caught, the queen also has to be replaced since most queens are old and past their prime in terms of laying eggs.

Even with good care, the national figures indicate 40% of all caught swarms make it through their first winter so in spite of all of the work, there still is a good chance the bees won’t make it.

Some beekeepers are also unaware that varroa mites travel on bees and small hive beetles travel with bee swarms, continuing to cohabitate with bees once they settle in their new accommodations. Stressed bees generate a pheromone that triggers the ladybug-size, black sub-Sahara African small hive beetles to go on an egg-laying spree, each female bug laying up to 1,200 eggs a day. At that rate, these imported bugs can easily take over a bee colony in less than a week.

 Muslin kitchen towels are very helpful in swarm-catching, they help show what bees are doing. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Muslin kitchen towels are very helpful in swarm-catching, they help show what bees are doing. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

In spite of the challenges, catching swarms are a lot of fun, especially those from one’s own hives. The secret is to find the queen and get her inside the new possible home. Once the queen is inside, the rest of the bees will quickly follow her inside.  All the beekeeper has to do at that point is wait until dark, close up the hive and move it to its final destination.

Charlotte

 

 

                                                                                                                                                          

Bottom Hive Debris

 This is the debris I found at the bottom of one of my honeybee hives this spring.

This is the debris I found at the bottom of one of my honeybee hives this spring.

Bottom Hive Debris

So what do you think, debris from a dead or still live honeybee colony?

During one of our few sunny and warm days yet this spring 2018, I opened one of my hives for their first spring checkup and this is what I found on the screened bottom board.

Good news, the bees were flying in and out of the top feeding shim but no bees were using the bottom front entrance through the entrance reducer.

When I removed the bottom board, it struck me how as beekeepers we become amateur sleuths, looking at clues to determine what may have happened inside a hive. This 10-frame bottom deep was originally a brood box or nursery so take a closer look at what was on the bottom screen, what do you see?

 A closer look at the hive debris shows undeveloped white drone bodies.

A closer look at the hive debris shows undeveloped white drone bodies.

I also see little pieces of the sugar cakes I made and installed early winter to give the colony an extra food source in case they ran out of honey. Those can be re-used.

The undeveloped white drone bodies suggest the worker bees may have been removing the drones, a desirable hygienic behavior. The question is why, did the drones have varroa mites inside their cells? That is where varroa like to hide to reproduce while the drone larvae is developing.

 What else do you see in this bottom of the hive debris, this is the debris on the right.

What else do you see in this bottom of the hive debris, this is the debris on the right.

This is when a magnifying glass, or even a field microscope, would come in handy. If this were a dead colony, I would also be looking at the frames to see what symptoms I could see on the wax. What I would look for are the signs that look like little specks of sugar in the cells which are varroa excrement.

Another key to look for if this were a dead colony is to look at the wings to see if any are deformed, another sign of varroa mite presence.

Luckily this colony is doing quite well, they had established themselves in the top boxes and left this bottom box empty, typical of later winter/early spring spacing in a hive. That's why some recommend "switching boxes" as long as you're not breaking up the brood when you do it.

With this colony, I was moving them into smaller 8-frame boxes so I carefully kept all of the frames in the same order and moved the brood into the new bottom box hoping spring would arrive any time.

Spring?? Any time would be great, we're ready!

Charlotte

New Beekeeping Jacket

 Doesn't this sound like instructions for how to wash clothing for bees??

Doesn't this sound like instructions for how to wash clothing for bees??

New Beekeeping Jacket

After 8 years of wearing and wearing out my first cotton beekeeping jacket, I found another similar one and finally have it in hand. 

What I liked about the first one is that it had a front zipper; the hood, or veil, was round, giving me a better field of vision, and it was cotton so it was relatively lightweight.

 My first ever beekeeping suit has definitely seen better days and is ready to be replaced.

My first ever beekeeping suit has definitely seen better days and is ready to be replaced.

I have other beekeeping jackets but after trial and error, I like my beekeeping jackets to have the following:

Round hood with veil for better view

Front zipper as opposed to a pull over

Cotton, and I will add

Veil that is easy to re-attach.

There are a number of other features beekeeping jackets can include but these three are the basics that work for me, especially the front zipper. I have one of the heavier, supposedly cooler beekeeping jackets but it's hard to pull it on, then harder to take it off without completely disrobing.

Although the idea of a cooler jacket sounds nice, the basic cotton beekeeping jackets work just fine because they are lightweight. The supposedly mesh, lightweight beekeeping jackets are much heavier so I'm not sure that they are better in the long run, I seem to be hotter when I wear that beekeeping jacket than my normal cotton canvas one.

If you are just starting out in beekeeping, it's tempting to get the full bee suit but you will end up with a jacket so try on both before buying. Most clubs will have beekeeping suits available for you to take them for a test walk so you can get a feel for what it is like to see the world looking through the black mesh. Don't forget to add a pair of gloves, then decide which beekeeping suit you can maneuver in best.

In terms of washing, most are best hand washed, especially the veil. The lightweight cotton canvas jackets definitely dry faster than the other ones.

Also make sure you can re-attach the veil once you take it off, my original one is hard to re-attach so I have to ask for help after I wash it. And it's not a good idea to try to get it attached once you're a visitor in an apiary, get it attached before.

Here's my new beekeeping jacket, ready to be inaugurated this spring:

new beekeeping suit.jpg

This is from Pidgeon Mountain Trading.com. PM9980 $49.95 not including shipping.

One sweet little feature, there are bees issued with every beekeeping jacket:

 The back of my new beekeeping suit has a sweet design including its own little bees.

The back of my new beekeeping suit has a sweet design including its own little bees.

We like to joke in our bee club about not trusting anyone wearing brand new beekeeping equipment so I'd better get to getting this one to work!

Charlotte

 

Heart Pillow Gift

 This heart pillow was a gift from one of our January 2018 beginning beekeeper students.

This heart pillow was a gift from one of our January 2018 beginning beekeeper students.

Heart Pillow Gift

During our January 24, 2018 beginning beekeeping class, one of the students snuck this little heart pillow under my arm and said thank you for all you've done to set up the class.

Turns out Jesse made the pillows for all of the class instructors out of fabrics from a favorite skirt of her mothers, which makes the re-purposing sweet. The button is from one of her mom's coats and Jesse said the button reminded her of the shape of bees.

I was so busy with the class I didn't notice the second, smaller heart until I got home and pulled the pillow out of the bag.

True to form, my little yellow cat Shirley Honey was batting the pillow around within minutes of finding it on the sofa so I now have to find a safe place to keep it unless its to become the latest cat play toy.

Thanks, Jesse, good luck with your bees!

Charlotte

Beginning Beekeeping Class February 24, 2018

 One of the new photo displays at our January 24, 2018 beginning beekeeping class.

One of the new photo displays at our January 24, 2018 beginning beekeeping class.

Beginning Beekeeping Class Coming Up February 24, 2018

We are getting ready for our second beginning beekeeping class in Rolla, Missouri Saturday, February 24, 2018 this year. While my dining room is still a disaster area with partially assembled diaries, to the delight of one of my cats, it's fun to take a time out to remember what it was like to be someone just getting started.

There are a lot of different classes around, some 3 hours long promising to teach everything you need to know to be a beekeeper to special weekend long courses for one technique. Our day long course 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. is designed to give students what we wished we had known when we started, just the basics on what to buy as start up equipment and how to manage honeybees through the first winter. We even joke that they can't call themselves beekeepers until they successfully pull a colony through a winter.

And to make sure they are successful, my bee buddy David and I also started the Rolla Bee Club, which meets the fourth Sunday of the month at the same location as the classes, 1341 California. The monthly club meetings review what is happening with the colonies, what tasks are coming up, addresses issues and hopefully provides a support network for area beekeepers to be successful. The website also lists upcoming meeting dates, references and other helpful information.

No two years of managing honeybees is exactly the same. Having opportunities to share information, compare notes and keep track of what is going on with other beekeepers is very important to be successful. And who wants to miss out on all of the stories!

 Not quite sure what story Kelly S. Bracken is sharing with a new student but it looks like a good one!

Not quite sure what story Kelly S. Bracken is sharing with a new student but it looks like a good one!

When David and I first started beekeeping, and yes the dinosaurs I'm sure where still around somewhere - we had to scrounge for information so we give our students a better experience with a basic beekeeping book we have sourced ourselves; a custom beekeeping diary to emphasize the importance of record-keeping with check lists to guide them in key decisions to set up their apiary; a catered lunch from St. James Marketplace Cafe; a natural events calendar to monitor when food sources will be blooming; several catalogs and a tube of special oatmeal "Stop the Sting" to handle their first bee stings. Cost for class registration is $50 to cover the class materials.

We also bring in equipment then can try out including beekeeping suits.

 Beginning beekeeping class students get to try on beekeeping suits to get the right size.

Beginning beekeeping class students get to try on beekeeping suits to get the right size.

Now one of David's pet peeves is having to undo what people pick up watching you tube videos so we have a simple rule about that. We say don't trust anyone wearing a brand new - suit, gloves or aprons.

 Let's see, yes David's apron most definitely qualifies, not too clean!

Let's see, yes David's apron most definitely qualifies, not too clean!

In addition to being able to try out equipment and discuss the pros and cons of various types of equipments, beginning beekeepers at the end of the day have the option of visiting a nearby working apiary so if you are taking this class, plan on bringing, or borrowing, a bee suit.

To pre-register, contact David at (573) 578-0561 and email rollabees at gmail.com.

"We think that being exposed to bees is an important part of the educational experience," David said. Since this is his apiary, I tend to agree. I also love to see the faces of people who want to keep bees having the first honeybee land on their heavily gloved hand. Priceless!

Charlotte

 

Honey Bees in Wood Pile

 This is the wood pile where the caller said he had seen bees flying.

This is the wood pile where the caller said he had seen bees flying.

Honey Bees in Wood Pile

It's cold and possibly snowing again so here is one of the bee rescues David Draker and I completed a couple of years ago. The caller worked at a St. James Industrial Park business and noticed bees flying around one of their scrap wood piles, telling us a swarm had moved in.

When we arrived, it looked relatively quiet but then we were also there early morning, before the sun was up for very long, and before anything had warmed up, including us.

As we checked out the wood pile, some little faces popped up.

 Honey bees appear in between wood pieces in the scrap wood pile as the sun hits them.

Honey bees appear in between wood pieces in the scrap wood pile as the sun hits them.

And then a few more. On closer inspection, we found the honey bees had not just moved in, they had been busy for awhile.

 Beautiful yellow comb had been built on the wooden pieces piled into the wood pile.

Beautiful yellow comb had been built on the wooden pieces piled into the wood pile.

Basically we were looking at a makeshift top bar hive where the top bars were 1x4 inches wide.

Time to suit up!

 The president of the company where we were removing the bees suits up to lend a hand.

The president of the company where we were removing the bees suits up to lend a hand.

Luckily this wax comb was hanging down nicely, one piece of comb per wood slat, so it was relatively easy to carefully remove. I draped the kitchen towels over the remaining bees and comb while we carefully removed each wood slat at a time. Much better than using smoke, especially when the honey bees are as calm as these were.

 Honey bees built their wax comb on the bottom of the wood in the pile.

Honey bees built their wax comb on the bottom of the wood in the pile.

Here's another piece of comb hanging from the last piece of wood we removed from the wood pile.

Bees in wood pile corner comb.jpg

The piece of comb gets fitted into an empty frame and secured with rubber bands. I settled the wax comb into the frames when I wasn't taking photos, in case you were wondering. :)

 A makeshift work station nearby is used to cut comb into frames and held with rubber bands.

A makeshift work station nearby is used to cut comb into frames and held with rubber bands.

Once all of the wax comb was removed, and the queen caged, we brought in a hive into the wood pile to leave for a couple of days so the bees would settle in before moving.

 David sets an empty hive with a queen in a clip inside to attract bees to the new home.

David sets an empty hive with a queen in a clip inside to attract bees to the new home.

 After a few minutes, bees start going into the hive after the queen's welcoming pheromone.

After a few minutes, bees start going into the hive after the queen's welcoming pheromone.

In the video you will see the bees moving into the hive all by themselves. They are following the queen pheromone into their new home.

We left the hive in place for a couple of days, then went back after sunset to pick it up. By going after sunset, most of the foragers were back so we had most of the colony.

We settled them in David's apiary.

 The new colony settled in David's apiary on concrete blocks for a base.

The new colony settled in David's apiary on concrete blocks for a base.

 David pulls out the rubber-banded frames to see if the bees are building wax to attach comb.

David pulls out the rubber-banded frames to see if the bees are building wax to attach comb.

This turned out to be much more than a swarm, it was a nicely-established, and large colony that nicely made the move.

Bees in woodpile in new home hive corner.jpg

Charlotte

Winning Bees Photo

 My photo of some honey bees flying into bird feeder won a second place ribbon at state contest.

My photo of some honey bees flying into bird feeder won a second place ribbon at state contest.

Honey Bees Flying Winning Photo

This was a last-minute pick for the 2017 Missouri State Beekeepers Association photo contest. Since it was the first time the photo contest was being held, I tossed in a few of my favorite photos. Being on the Missouri State Beekeepers Association board, I do what I can to help the volunteer board members help Missouri beekeepers.

These honey bees were doing what a lot of bees do this time of year. With the queen bee starting to lay, the foragers are looking for pollen. These found some corn dust in my front bird feeder on a bright sunny day. It was a lucky shot to catch the bees all in focus flying in formation into the feeder.

There will be another photo contest during the March 2-3, 2018 Missouri State Beekeepers Association spring conference in Warrensburg. Here are the photo contest rules:

Missouri State Beekeepers Association Spring Conference March 2-3, 2018 in Warrensburg

1. Photos must depict a beekeeping theme including but not limited to bees, beekeepers, hives,
honey, brood, etc. in the photos.
2. Photos can be in color or black and white. Those that have been digitally altered beyond basic
editing and toning will not be accepted.
3. Limit 3 photos per person
4. Photos must have been taken within the last 2 years
5. Cannot re-enter the same photo used in previous (fall 2017( MSBA Photography Contest
6. Photos must be in printed form. They may be mounted, framed, or in protective plastic sleeve
7. Your name must be on the back or attached to the photo in some way
8. You are responsible for picking your photos up.
For more information, email Erin Mullins: emullins93@gmail.com.

Photos must be entered at the conference site by 11:30 a.m. Friday, March 2, 2018.

So what photos do you have to enter? Have one that will beat mine?

I'd love to see it in Warrensburg!

Charlotte

 

Snow "Honey Bee"

 This metal garden decor was covered in snow, suggesting the visitor was a bee.

This metal garden decor was covered in snow, suggesting the visitor was a bee.

Snow "Bee"

Ever since I started keeping honey bees eight years ago, my perspective on life continues to change.

I was already sensitive to nature, enjoying the passing of time through what was blooming, or migrating, through my certified wildlife garden. It's more than noting the weather forecast, it's becoming in sync with nature's evolution and making it part of one's personal awareness, and schedule. When monarchs were scheduled to migrate through my property, I scheduled time on my top house deck to enjoy seeing them fly by.

It's not for everyone. One of my friends lives in Washington D.C. in a huge building apartment. She walks to the subway system through the building basement, then gets to her office through another underground labyrinth, never seeing, or feeling, the daily weather conditions.

I spent a week with her and although I enjoyed the quality time, I didn't enjoy the lifestyle. I missed seeing the birds and bugs that keep me company in my garden and my regular chores of taking corn, adding suet and pouring seeds into feeders.  In winter, I look for footprints through the snow, or mud, to see what creatures have been moving through and eating. In summer, it's wonderful to sit at one of my reading nooks and watch birds bathing in bird baths and checking out bees in my bird baths and bird feeders.

I also enjoy seeing the different shapes my flowers take when they are covered in snow, I call those snow flowers. When we had our last snow, I laughed when I saw my garden dragonfly sculpture covered in snow. If when it snows my plants transform themselves into snow flowers, why not a "snow honey bee"?

Charlotte

My Honeybee Stockings

 Honeybee stockings that hung on the first two hives I had when I first started beekeeping.

Honeybee stockings that hung on the first two hives I had when I first started beekeeping.

My Honeybee Stockings

The first year I started beekeeping, I had two hives I named after my mother and grandmother. It was fun to sit and watch the bees going in and out, and I would have learned faster if a mentor had been available which is why years later I started a local bee club to support students from my beekeeping classes, at their request.

As it was, I had read a ton of books before starting, was attending a beekeeping club run by a commercial honey producer and, at times, found my beekeeping technique preferences at odds with his recommendations.

Killing my queen bees every year, for example. But I don't keep the colonies for honey-production, I would say, I just want them around for pollination. You still should kill your queens off every year and replace them, he would say.

Well that didn't happen, and now 7 years later it still doesn't happen unless I inadvertently squish her somehow. Even most of the older, slower-laying queens get to live out their lives in my hives or nucs and, in most cases, the worker bees know when it's time to literally grow a new one.

This first year in beekeeping, though, everything was so new and exciting. I can still remember the thrill of the daily discoveries - still have some of those today. And as the year wrapped up, I literally wrapped the two hives in styrofoam to help insulate them from the cold winds that hit my limestone hillside. It was suggested I could try roofing insulation but I liked the idea of the styrofoam better, especially against the cold winds.

One morning a couple of days before Christmas, an old truck stopped in front of my house and a man knocked on my door to ask if I wanted the "refrigerators" in the garden hauled off. It took me a minute to realize he meant my nicely-insulated honeybee hives!

Inspired to add to the neighborhood holiday decor and make sure others didn't think I had abandoned refrigerators in my garden, I made fleece Christmas stockings for each of the hives. They hung on the front where everyone could see them, six little booties for each of the colony queens.

 The green honeybee stockings were hung on Mildred hive, named after my mother.

The green honeybee stockings were hung on Mildred hive, named after my mother.

 The red honeybee stockings were hung on the front of Gertrude hive, named for my grandmother.

The red honeybee stockings were hung on the front of Gertrude hive, named for my grandmother.

I almost forgot about the stockings until spring, when one of the neighbor boys was riding by on his bicycle and he asked if Santa had found the stockings hanging from the hives. Looking into those young blue eyes, I said "yes, he did, and he took the little jar of honey I left out for him, too." The neighbor nodded and rode off on his bike, hopefully another year of believing still ahead of him.

 My hives today are colorful and wrapped in black insulated material to still provide a wind break.

My hives today are colorful and wrapped in black insulated material to still provide a wind break.

I have more colonies now. They are painted to look like houses and have a black insulated wrap around the middle so they don't look like abandoned apartment refrigerators. Those first bee stockings hang on my den fireplace mantle, a wonderful reminder of the awe, and excitement, of getting into beekeeping, and the promise of the new adventures ahead.

From my hives to yours, Merry Christmas!

Charlotte

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Orange Pollen

 My niece Rachel suited up to visit my apiary and see the orange pollen the bees were bringing in.

My niece Rachel suited up to visit my apiary and see the orange pollen the bees were bringing in.

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Orange Pollen

We had another dry fall and mild Thanksgiving this year. With the continued mild temperatures into Thanksgiving, I left two boxes of honey on most of my hives when I started getting them ready for winter mid-fall.

Last year, also with a very mild fall, I found my clusters had eaten through their honey by Christmas so I had to add sugar cakes on Christmas day to make sure they didn't starve.

This Thanksgiving, I found one bee colony cluster at the top of their one box of honey so I added a second box of honey. I also decided to make sugar cakes a month early to add to the feeding shims I keep at the top of the hive boxes most of the year. The shims give the hives a top entrance and make it easier to add either extra food or insulation, depending on what is needed.

While inspecting the top of the hives, I noticed bees were bringing in bright orange pollen.

My niece, visiting for the Thanksgiving week from college, had never seen orange pollen so she put on a bee suit and headed out into the apiary to observe the bees bringing in pollen.

 We dubbed the orange pollen Thanksgiving pumpkin orange, seemed appropriate for the day.

We dubbed the orange pollen Thanksgiving pumpkin orange, seemed appropriate for the day.

After observing the pollen haul, we did a walk through my garden to see what might still be blooming with pollen that color. Although we have had several frosty nights, some chrysanthemums are still blooming as are native goldenrod but both have a lighter yellow pollen. We didn't see anything in my one-acre hillside garden that might be generating pollen this deep orange color. Whatever they were visiting to locate that pollen, we decided it wasn't close to home!

Charlotte

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