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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

Portable Observation Hive

 One of Rolla Bee Club's students checks out a visiting observation hive full of bees.

One of Rolla Bee Club's students checks out a visiting observation hive full of bees.

Portable Observation Hive

There are a number of portable observation hives on the market. Most of the ones I have seen add one frame of bees to the visible area, leaving the rest of the colony behind. The challenge with that design is that the bees are separated from the queen and, within a short period of time, become agitated when they can't smell her pheromone. That means whatever is being observed is not regular behavior but stressed behavior.

Two of my beekeeping friends came up with this improved model. The observation hive is basically a nuc full of bees, or five frames of bees in a box that fits the frames. Four the frames are in the bottom box and the fifth frame is in the observation area.

The colony is intact and the bees are going about their business in a much more normal way.

 One of the favorite beekeeping past times, trying to locate the queen.

One of the favorite beekeeping past times, trying to locate the queen.

When not in use as an observation hive, these bees can be left outside just as they are.

The handles on the sides make moving the observation hive box easier.

 These observation hives are fun to watch.

These observation hives are fun to watch.

We often have an observation hive at our spring and summer club meetings so anyone thinking about beekeeping can watch the bees up close.

Heck, even experienced beekeepers enjoy settling down in front of the observation hive and watching the bees!

Charlotte

Honeybee Latte

A sign with honeybee at a local deli store.

Honeybee Latte

In case no one has said anything, keeping bees definitely changes one's perspective on life. In addition to the big picture shifts - realizing the role pollinators play on our planet - there are the little perspectives, too.

One of the more controversial is the actual word, "honeybee." As a beekeeper, I tend to focus on whenever I see the word, in this case on a menu of a local deli. But I also recall a very heated debate between two experienced beekeepers about whether the word is one word, as in honeybee, or two words - honey bees.

Since honeybees are the only bee in the world that produces enough honey to share, it makes sense that they would be called "honey bees." However, joining both words into one also makes sense.

The Oxford Dictionary, thankfully, says both spellings are acceptable.

Drink up!

Charlotte

 

The Honey Makers Book by Gail Gibbons

 This charming children's book easily explains the role of bees in our ecosystems.

This charming children's book easily explains the role of bees in our ecosystems.

The Honey Makers Book by Gail Gibbons

If you are looking for a bee book for a child, the Honey Makers by Gail Gibbons is an excellent choice.

The colorful paperback book has charming illustrations of bees and beekeeping. The explanations are simply clear, and the concepts cover the basics from the role of bees in pollination to the various places they live.

 One of the pages in Gail Gibbons "The Honey Makers" showing the various bee homes.

One of the pages in Gail Gibbons "The Honey Makers" showing the various bee homes.

Even if the gift recipient is young and can't read, the illustrations convey the relationship bees have to flowers.

When my brothers were growing up, they loved well-illustrated books and would make their own stories based on the drawings and pictures.

Our grandmother, who worked at a used book store in California, would send us wonderful books for Christmas gifts. After the furor of unwrapping presents, we would all settle down to leaf through books together, each one an invitation to a new place or adventure.

 A forager bee visits a flower in Gail Gibbon's "The Honey Maker" color illustrations.

A forager bee visits a flower in Gail Gibbon's "The Honey Maker" color illustrations.

To further personalize, add a little jar of your honey and a gift card inviting the child to an apiary visit next spring. Children are the future of beekeeping. The earlier we can get them engaged, the better we will all "bee"!

Do you have a favorite children's beekeeping book?

Charlotte

Donated Beekeeping Books

 Rolla Public Library Director Diana Watkins takes a peek at beekeeping books donated by Rolla Bee Club, and my bee buddy, David Draker.

Rolla Public Library Director Diana Watkins takes a peek at beekeeping books donated by Rolla Bee Club, and my bee buddy, David Draker.

Donated Beekeeping Books

One of the most frequently-asked questions I get, both locally and through Missouri State Beekeepers Association, where I serve as the answer lady, is how to get started in beekeeping.

The answer is, start attending local beekeeping club meetings and reading. Like any specialty, beekeeping has a language all of its own and to understand what experienced beekeepers are saying, it is helpful to know what the different parts of a hive, and bee, are called.

When I started beekeeping, I read everything I could get my hands on. I still read, and I have a pile of books ready for winter reading. The days of raising bees in a skep - a romantic idea that was deadly for bees - or placing a hive on the back forty and not worrying about it are gone, today bees have a lot of challenges. To be a good beekeeper, one must become an amateur biologist and stay on top of current research.

To that end, my bee buddy David Draker and I did an inventory of what beekeeping books were available at our local library. We then compared notes on what books we had each read, and liked, and sampled books recommended to us. 

After getting the suggestion that people wanted to have access to borrow beekeeping books, we worked with our local public library to donate a selection of our favorite beekeeping books, from a book for children about bees and how to build your own beekeeping equipment to our very own "go-to" book, the Beekeeper's Handbook:

 The selection of beekeeping books that will soon be available on loan from Rolla Public Library.

The selection of beekeeping books that will soon be available on loan from Rolla Public Library.

The idea is for beekeepers to be able to sample a variety of beekeeping books and then decide which ones they need for their home library. If someone is keeping bees for honey, for example, they are going to have a different focus than someone keeping bees for pollination.

Having a variety of beekeeping books also introduces potential beekeepers to a range of advice and information, something they will find very prevalent when talking to beekeepers. The joke is ask three beekeepers a question and you will get five different answers. There's a good reason for that, it depends on why one is keeping bees but it can be confusing to beginning beekeepers.

Proceeds from our local club's book sales, and donations, paid for the books. The library will be adding a book plate on the front of each book marking our donation.

We hope these books will help beekeepers on their fascinating, and challenging, journey of keeping bees.

Do you have a favorite beekeeping book?

Charlotte

Bumbled Salem Bee Call

 The caller said bees were nesting in the inside of her parked truck in Salem, Mo.

The caller said bees were nesting in the inside of her parked truck in Salem, Mo.

Bumbled Salem Bee Call

2016 was a busy year for swarm calls but not all of them were about honeybees.

This call was from a lady in Salem, Mo. who said her grandson and dog were repeatedly stung by honeybees the day before in her yard. They had contacted an exterminator but he had told them he couldn't kill the bees if they were honeybees so she needed someone to tell her what was doing the stinging.

My bee buddy David and I headed to Salem, swarm equipment in hand, as usual but not expecting to use it on this call. We usually quickly respond to calls for swarm removal so we keep our equipment handy. 

There were some tell-tale signs that these weren't honeybees. The report of repeated stings was a sure sign they might have wasps. If the exterminator wasn't following up, though, that suggested a further identification issue.

Once on site, we found a front lawn full of blooming white clover. We checked under the parked red truck and found several bumblebees flying out of the door hole. David also checked under the truck but no honeybees. 

 After I checked the underside of the truck, David decided to do another check.

After I checked the underside of the truck, David decided to do another check.

I followed several bumblebees around the garden and crawled under their wooden porch to find a couple of dozen bumblebees flying around the area under the deck. Bumblebees are usually ground nesters so we suggested to the homeowner that they move the truck, they may have parked it over a bumblebee nest.

Secondly, that they watch where the bumblebees are going in under the porch and ask for exterminator help.

These were definitely not honeybees and they were not swarming.

At least it was a pretty day for a country drive!

Have you noticed bumblebees in your garden?

Charlotte

Peeking Under Hive Lid

 Bees eat a sugar patty and festoon under the hive lid at the end of winter.

Bees eat a sugar patty and festoon under the hive lid at the end of winter.

End of winter is a challenge for most beekeepers, including me. It is so tempting to want to open up the hives to see how the bee colonies in my garden are doing but it is not a good idea. Bees have carefully sealed up their homes in fall and, if opened late winter, they don't have the worker bee numbers, or energy, to reseal their homes.

To make sure my bees don't starve towards the end of winter, I add a two-inch wired shim to the top so I can easily feed them if I think they are running out of food. The shim also gives me an easy way to peek into the hive and see my bees, something I love to do.

On this particular February 2016 sunny day, the girls were festooning, or hanging together under the lid over a sugar patty I had given them earlier. By peeking under the lid I did not break their sealed home and I could easily check to see if they were making it through winter. 

So nice to see them still alive and well!

Charlotte

Building Up, and Up, and...

It's spring and honeybees are busy building wax comb so they can expand their numbers.

One of the challenges beekeepers have is deciding when it is time to add a new story to the hive. Some say when 80% of the frames are full of bees it is time to expand.

Bees themselves have their own way of letting beekeepers know when they need more room. They start building comb straight up from the top of the frames.

They look ready for more room, don't you think?

Charlotte

Pass the Beer, Please!

On a lunch break from bringing a nursery bee hive back home May 2015, I captured one of the honey bees flying loose in the car. To keep her safe, I shared an orange peel in a cup to give her a safe place to light.

The bee came out of a "nucleus" box destined for a beekeeping friend. As we were ordering lunch, other friends selected beers to go with their lunch.

Knowing my friend was a beer connoisseur, I asked him in a text which of the beers his honeybee would like.

Not that bees regularly drink beers. They will be attracted to any sweet beverage, especially if there isn't much blooming.

I suppose I should have guessed the answer. He said she would take one of each!

Charlotte

Showing Off Gift Bee Slippers

Why didn't I think of that, of course I can model my new gift honeybee slippers!

Here they are again, such sweet little faces:

According to my beekeeping friend Cheryl, who gave these to me for Christmas and was reticent to divulge the price, she ordered them from Amazon. They are called "Bumble Bee Slippers." $22 a pair.

To me, priceless!

Charlotte

Slip on These Bees!

My beekeeping friend Cheryl surprised me with these charming bee slippers. I don't know how she knew but when I'm alone, I tend to putter around the house in slippers, especially on gloomy, overcast weekend mornings.

I can easily cheer up when I start my day with a quick visit to see my honeybee girls, their work day starting as soon as the sun hits their bee hives.

Seeing these slippers waiting for me are a close second!

Thanks, Cheryl!

Charlotte

2015 Missouri Honeybee Calendar

My beekeeping friend Eugene Makovec photographed and produced this lovely 10x14 inch 2015 honeybee calendar. It's a beautiful tribute to his father and a delightful way to celebrate bees, and beekeeping.

Here's a sneak peak at some of the pages, an excellent buy for $10 each:

Nice gift idea for beekeepers, and bee lovers on your gift list!

Charlotte

Sweet Little Bee Socks

One of my 2014 Christmas gifts was a charming pair of very soft bee socks. Not only are they very warm but they include little rubber circles on the bottom so I can safely wear them around the house without slipping.

Great to stay warm either with bee socks or bee quilts. Now the question is, are these honeybees or bumble bees?

Catnip Honeybees

One of my holiday traditions is making handmade catnip toys for family and friends' cats.

Catnip grows easily in my garden, pollinated by wild bumblebees that apparently love this perennial herb. After picking and drying the catnip, it's time to decide what to make.

This year it was easy. Catnip honeybees!

I used left over black cotton fabric and added yellow fabric stripes. After sewing the fabric into tubes, one end was sewn to make a point, suggesting the stinger, and the other was sewn closed after adding catnip.

Wings were made out of white fleece. Embroidery floss suggested the antenna.

Sweet!

The corduroy grey catnip toys? A computer mouse, what else!

Charlotte

Winter Bee Bars

When honeybees aren't rummaging for pollen in bird feeder cracked corn, they like a drink of sugar water from one of my bird baths.

If honeybees didn't have access to sugar water, they would be eating stored honey so I keep their "bee bars" stocked. That way they can save eating honey for colder winter days when they can't leave their hives.

Fun to see them out and about, I miss being with my bees in winter.

Charlotte