Out With the Guys

Poor little drones were killed and kicked out of the hive. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Poor little drones were killed and kicked out of the hive. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Out With The Guys

I don’t mind telling you, this part of beekeeping is hard for me to watch. When a honey bee colony is short of food, and when fall rolls around, the worker bees kick the male bees out.

Male bees, also called drones, carry 50% of a colony’s genetics. They are also the bees with the largest eyes and, although large, they don’t sting. They also don’t do much in the hive as they wait to mate with a queen bee from another colony. That means they are eating resources and taking up space.

When the colony starts getting ready for winter, the worker bees, all female, kick the drones out. Sometimes it’s swift and I will find their stung dead bodies in the front of the hive. Other times I will spot the drones trying to sneak back into the hive, only to be chased out by the guard bees keeping an eye on the hive entrance.

Yes, it has crossed my mind to try to keep them in a separate box and feed them myself but that’s not how the honey bee colony works.

Come spring, the colony raises new drones so the queen bees will have new suitors. It’s an efficient way to run a colony through the winter months, when no plants are blooming to provide the colony with nectar, which is flight fuel, and pollen. Pollen is basically baby bee food.

Come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing drones featured in our Honeybees Dish Towels and Pot Holder Vintage Kitchen towels, either.

Poor guys, they don’t get any respect!

Charlotte

Paper Combining Hives

Combining honey bee hives with a newspaper. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Combining honey bee hives with a newspaper. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Paper Combining Hives

Sometimes I think explaining how to do this takes more time than actually doing it.

There are times when beekeepers need to combine two honey bee hives. It could be because one has lost a queen or the beekeeper wants more honey bees working together. Regardless of the reason, the process to combine two honey bee hives is relatively simple.

The night before, close up the hive that is to be moved so all of the bees are home. If you don’t, forager bees out looking for nectar and pollen will come home at the end of the day to an empty place where their home once existed.

When deciding which hive to move, choose the weaker one.

The next day, spread one newspaper on top of the strong honey bee hive and make several 1-2 inch slits in the newspaper to help the pheromones mingle. Add the second hive and give the added hive a top exit either through a feeding shim or by putting a small stick under the inner cover. That will give the bees in the top hive access to the outside.

After a couple of days, check how the co-mingling is going. You should see bees removing some of the newspaper.

After 3 days, the two colonies are combined and have removed some of the paper. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

After 3 days, the two colonies are combined and have removed some of the paper. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

If you want to have a little fun, sit close by the hive and wait to catch worker bees dragging out tiny pieces of torn newspaper.

Remove the remaining newspaper and the top hive entrance. Now all worker bees should be going in and out of the hive through the bottom entrance.

Worker honey bees actively work to remove the newspaper. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Worker honey bees actively work to remove the newspaper. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Once you are doing a hive inspection, you may find tiny newspaper pieces at the bottom.

Over the years, I have watched honey bees literally dragging newspaper scraps out of the front of the hive, worker bees are nothing but meticulous when it comes to housekeeping. Yet another reason to love and appreciate bees, it’s what inspired this Bee Lover’s Gift Set.

These worker bees are close to newspaper they were moving out of the hive. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These worker bees are close to newspaper they were moving out of the hive. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I usually wait to do an inspection for a couple of weeks to give the two bee groups time to get to know each other.

Have you tried to combine hives?

Charlotte

Wonky Comb

This plastic frame is missing something so bees are making do. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This plastic frame is missing something so bees are making do. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Wonky Comb

It’s probably not a term one would find in any beekeeping book but “wonky” is a good description as any of what can happen to new Langstroh frames.

Honey bees have to first add wax comb to the frames before they have space to work to lay eggs, store pollen and honey. To do that, they build wax on frames copying the design imprinted on the frames.

To help get them started, the frames are usually covered with a layer of wax. When the wax is unevenly applied, the honey bees develop what I call “wonky comb.”

Better view of how the honey bees are drawing comb. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Better view of how the honey bees are drawing comb. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Wonky comb comes in a variety of interesting patterns. This frame on top has wax comb bees drew off three wax pillars they build on the original foundation.

The following frame is another example of how uneven wax coating will encourage bees to build uneven comb.

Another example of bees drawing comb away from frame. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Another example of bees drawing comb away from frame. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Honey bees will also build this kind of wax comb when too much space is left between frames.

Now if this is comb they will use, I don’t remove it. If, however, these are frames I plan to extract the honey from later for my honey samplers, I do replace them and then add another layer of wax before re-using.

Frankly I find their construction amazing, don’t you?

Charlotte

Check for Hitchhiking Bees

The back of my bee buddy after checking a hive. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The back of my bee buddy after checking a hive. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Check for Bees

You’ve just finished checking your hives and you’re close to the garage or storage shed where you keep your beekeeping equipment. Since you are away from the hives, you assume the bees have stayed behind so you think about taking off your bee suit.

Well, think again.

If you have been to one of our apiary visits as part of Rolla Bee Club, you know that we insist beekeepers check each other before taking off a bee suit.

This is my bee buddy David helping me work one of my honey bee colonies. It was a calm and peaceful experience until I looked up and saw the honey bees gathering on David’s bee suit. Here he turned around at my request so I could get the photograph.

So as you head away from your apiary, do a check of your bee suit before you take it off. The check will reduce the opportunities for you to be stung and ensure you are not squishing bees as you take off your suit.

Charlotte

Pallet Garden Bench

This garden bench was made out of one wooden pallet. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This garden bench was made out of one wooden pallet. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Pallet Garden Bench

Do you pour over posts of the creative things you can do with pallets? I have, enough so that I actually hauled a number of wooden pallets home with the idea of making a compost bin.

Well, until I saw this pallet garden bench.

No, it’s not mine, it was in the garden of one of our beekeeping students. She took my advice and set it up within 20 feet of her honeybee hive so she could watch the bees flying in and out of the hive.

Initially I plopped myself down on it to watch her bees. As I was standing up, I realized what it was made out of, a simple wooden pallet cut to have a taller backing than seat.

As beekeepers, it’s helpful to have woodworking skills so I thought of all of the beekeepers I know who may want to make one.

The original owner said if she were to do it again, she would place the legs on the inside instead of the outside to better brace the seat.

Besides reusing pallets, the garden seat was relatively lightweight to move, something I take into account when I place a bench in my garden. I have a tendency of moving things around depending on the season and what may be blooming, or flying.

One of the things we encourage beginning beekeepers to do is to set up a seating area within easy view of their bee hives so they can sit and observe the bees. The more time they spend watching bees the more they will learn, and better understand, what bees are doing.

I suspect with basic woodworking skills most beekeepers can make one of these benches. Maybe even if they don’t.

Stay tuned.

Charlotte

Level Bee Hives

Winter heaving and thawing has started to tilt this hive in my bee garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Winter heaving and thawing has started to tilt this hive in my bee garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Level Hives

This is both a recommendation and a suggestion as you prepare to do your first spring inspections: make sure your hive stands are relatively level, which means the hive can have a small tilt at the front to keep water out but it should not look like the leaning tower of Pisa.

Winter heaving and thawing of soil changes the foundation of your hives if you have them on soil as I do. Even if you have concrete matts often found under air conditioning/heating systems, soil will move and cause listing.

That’s why in my basic beekeeping basket, the one I take with me out to my hives, I have a tiny level.

A small level is a good tool to include in your beekeeping basket. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A small level is a good tool to include in your beekeeping basket. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This level starts the growing season in my beekeeping basket so that I re-level my hives when doing their first inspection of the season. The level then moves to my gardening bucket so I can check bird baths, which also start leaning. The level comes in handy to also settle in small rock walls, wood walls and benches.

Now those of you who know me may be saying to yourself, that poor hive is also listing because Charlotte did the leveling. I’ve been known to get distracted by something in the garden and not necessarily remembered where I last left off so when I get back to it I assume I leveled it…

In this case, my bee buddy David and my gardening buddy Tom BOTH worked on getting this purple hive level last fall. You will note they added bricks at the bottom of the concrete blocks to try to better settle the blocks and shims under the hive. And the spot still moved over winter!

I do keep an eye on these listing hives and, if I find them structurally unsound when I gently push on them, I will do something then, such as add temporary shims. It will have to be redone after the soil thaws so it is most definitely a temporary fix.

This hive looks like it has legs that are leaning!! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This hive looks like it has legs that are leaning!! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

That’s what I did to this listing yellow hive earlier this past winter. If you will note, the bottom of the concrete blocks don’t have bricks under the blocks. When I first set up the concrete blocks, the left side was a smidge higher than the right side so that may explain why the right stack of blocks is learning more.

I plan to move this hive down to a lower level where I will be once again checking the blocks before I place the hive.

One more beekeeping tip when it comes to hive placement. If you have annual plants nearby that you pull at the end of the growing season, that soil movement can impact your hive levels. I leave those plants through winter since birds may eat seeds and then clean them up in spring by pulling them out and composting.

There is a connection between those plants and your hives, the nectar your bees collect comes from those flowers, which is why my honey samples include using the containers later to save seeds to plant more flowers.

Weather is warming this week so guess what I will be doing when I start my spring hive inspections!

Charlotte

Baked Sugar Pollen Cakes?

This is what happens when you turn on the oven after forgetting you have sugar cakes drying in oven. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This is what happens when you turn on the oven after forgetting you have sugar cakes drying in oven. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Baked Sugar Pollen Cakes?

Not deliberately but I did end up with baked sugar pollen cakes after I turned on the oven.

After making the sugar cakes in re-used fruit clam shells, I put them in a cold oven to set. It can take up to 4 days for the sugar cakes, or this time of year sugar and pollen substitute cakes, to get hard enough that I can pop them out of the clam shells.

The fruit clam shells make a good mold for the sugar cakes. They have openings on the bottom so the sugar will dry. Once dry, I can store two “bricks” of sugar cakes per clam shell.

Here is how they look when drying:

Finished sugar and pollen cakes in clam shells drying. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Finished sugar and pollen cakes in clam shells drying. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Once dry, I can store them until I need them in my bee hives.

All sugar and sugar with pollen sugar cakes in one of my bee hives. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

All sugar and sugar with pollen sugar cakes in one of my bee hives. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Since I like to bake in winter, I really should have some reminder on the oven door that the oven is occupied. But I didn’t.

The first sign of trouble was when I started to smell something burning. A quick check of the oven and I remembered what was in there so consider this a public service announcement. Don’t put your sugar cakes in the oven to dry without leaving yourself a reminder they are in there.

Maybe I should use these Honeybee Kitchen Towels draped over the oven handle to remind me!

Charlotte

Hard Winter Supplemental Sugar Cakes

One of my colonies at the top of the hive on sugar cakes with protein substitute. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One of my colonies at the top of the hive on sugar cakes with protein substitute. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Hard Winter Supplemental Sugar Cakes

Another winter storm is in the forecast so I took the opportunity early afternoon February 19, 2019 to check “under the hive hoods” to see how my bees were doing. Three colonies were almost out of the supplemental sugar/pollen cakes I had in the top “eke,” a 1.5 inch feeding shim I keep at the top of my hives most of the year.

The eke gives my colonies a top exit in case their bottom entrance gets closed by ice and snow.

All colonies were on the supplemental sugar cakes with pollen substitute I added mid-January. In the photo, those supplemental sugar and pollen substitute cakes are the golden ones on the right.

You can see the remains of the original sugar cakes I provided for supplemental feeding in the fall. The shells of the remaining sugar cakes are hard and dry, which is a good sign that the hive has been dry so far this winter. When there is moisture in the hive, the sugar cakes work as wicks to remove the moisture. Most bees don’t die of winter cold, they die from being wet.

The hard sugar is difficult for the bees to access so I sprayed the dry sugar with water from a spray bottle so the bees can move that supplemental sugar if they need it. Bees won’t move sugar while they are in a cluster but as soon as there is a warm, sunny day over 45F they will be flying out of the hive and re-arranging food stores.

Although I am enjoying the break from garden work, I do miss seeing my bees flying so this was the next best thing.

Charlotte

Portable Field Microscope

Getting a closeup of one of my honeybees on Lunchbox Viewer. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Getting a closeup of one of my honeybees on Lunchbox Viewer. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Portable Field Microscope for Beekeeping

For as long as I have been a beekeeper - going on 9 years now - I have heard the lament that there is no way to take a microscope out into the apiary for disease diagnosis and related identification confirmation.

One year, one of the larger Missouri beekeeping clubs had an array of microscopes borrowed from a local university. Each one had an attending student and, although we could peer through the eye piece, no one could actually touch the $5,000+ pieces of equipment.

At another beekeeping club meeting, there was a sample of a variety of computer software available but none had the clarity and ease of use, and all required hauling a computer of some sort along with it. There were a few there were phone apps but those were in testing mode with less than impressive quality.

When my brother and his son mentioned they were working to develop a quality, portable and affordable microscope for schools to use in science classes, that got my attention and I asked if I could see one. This Christmas I got my wish. My brother gave me one of his portable lunchbox-size microscopes to take out for a spin. Actually it was the first Lunchbox Viewer from their latest manufactured batch, even autographed by the designer on the back side of the viewer. Bet my bees will be impressed.

My brother and nephew gave me one demo on how to set it up and break it down while my niece nearby was also discussing her fashion choices. That was deliberate, my nephew said, they wanted to see how easy it was to remember how to assemble and take apart to store. My niece talking about her clothes at the same time, though, was accidental. I think.

Assembly was easy; I was a little worried about putting it all away but the body of the lunchbox has an easy guide on what pieces go where.

Match Lunchbox Viewer pieces to the easy guide inside. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Match Lunchbox Viewer pieces to the easy guide inside. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My gift included a padded box from a big box store so that a Google Chrome book easily travels with the “Lunchbox Viewer.” Here is the Lunchbox Viewer tucked into the bottom of the padded box.

The Lunchbox Viewer packed inside a protective case. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Lunchbox Viewer packed inside a protective case. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Lunchbox Viewer basically has six pieces to assemble. They are easy to fit into the right spots and a bit intuitive.

Setting up dead bees for a close up. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Setting up dead bees for a close up. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I braved cold weather to scoop a few dead bees out of nearby hives. One bee was less than impressed getting dragged out of her hive so I had to escort that one back outside. Yes, I remembered which hive she was in!

One little bee got scooped up with the dead ones. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One little bee got scooped up with the dead ones. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Once working, the Lunchbox Viewer can also be hooked up to a laptop to take and save photos. The Google Chrome book was nicely thin and easily fits into the protective case.

I have been looking at bees for almost a decade and I have never seen my bees in such detail. I was surprised to see how “fuzzy” these older winter bees still are, and how their legs have arrow-shapes where they collect flower pollen. Their wings were also surprising, I could see their “veins” through the gossamer-like appendages.

The first close up of one of my dead bees before I cleaned the plastic dish it was in. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The first close up of one of my dead bees before I cleaned the plastic dish it was in. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I did say this was portable and easy to carry so here is the Lunchbox Viewer, packed up and ready to take outside.

With an attached laptop, the whole set up will nicely fit on top of a hive lid. Yes, I set it up outside for a few minutes to make sure it all fit.

And here it is, being quite portable.

The Lunchbox Viewer is designed to be portable, (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Lunchbox Viewer is designed to be portable, (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Lunchbox Viewer was developed to support InSciEdOut, a STEM-based curriculum my brother also helped to design to get students and teachers interested in science and math. According to their website, “InSciEdOut is a collaborative partnership committed to rebuilding pre-K through grade 12 science education. Our mission is to engage students and empower teachers through research-based, experiential classroom learning.”

Proceeds from the Lunchbox Viewer support the program, currently in use in Chicago, Rochester, Mn and all of India.

Looking at one of my bees through the Lunchbox Viewer. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Looking at one of my bees through the Lunchbox Viewer. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

It’s almost standard practice these days for endorsements to include some kind of financial reward but I am not getting anything for this endorsement, I truly believe this is a great tool for bee disease diagnosis and beekeepers education. I also think it’s a great tool for science classrooms everywhere but that’s another story.

Retail for the Lunchbox Viewer is $299 per unit. The cost does not include the Google Chrome book, which was purchased separately during a Black Friday sale for $29 nor the padded carrier, purchased at a big box hardware store.

I am looking forward to seeing pollen grains up close next!

Charlotte

Innovative Mouse Guard

This innovative mouse guard was homemade. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This innovative mouse guard was homemade. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Innovative Mouse Guard

One of the unexpected discoveries of beekeeping is that many beekeepers are engineers at heart. Although there are many beekeeping suppliers, the most interesting developments often come from clever beekeepers solving one or another issue with a hive.

This is one of those products one of our regular beekeepers shared at our last bee club meeting. It is a hive entrance reducer improved with wire to keep mice out of the hive in winter. The larger wire allows bees to go in and out but keeps the hive safe from mice.

A small notched wood piece reduces a hive entrance. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A small notched wood piece reduces a hive entrance. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Now this sounds simple but beekeepers have to make sure what side of the entrance the mice are on. Last summer, a beekeeping friend kept finding his entrance reducer sideways in front of his hive. Thinking some creature was trying to get in, he would replace the entrance reducer to protect the colony from possible invaders.

After a couple more times finding the entrance reducer moved, my friend opened the hive only to find a family of 8 mice had settled INSIDE the hive and were moving the entrance reducer so they could get out.

When I looked closer at the entrance reducer alterations, it was a relatively easy concept that can be made to existing entrance reducers. The trick is making the cut so that one doesn’t go all the way through the wood entrance reducer. Ask me how I know that can be challenging to a new woodworker.

The wire is the size often used in top hive feeders, wide enough for bees to move through.

Jesse Pogue, Salem, Mo., third from left, sharing his innovative mouse guard at a Rolla Bee Club meeting. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Jesse Pogue, Salem, Mo., third from left, sharing his innovative mouse guard at a Rolla Bee Club meeting. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Seeing these ideas is one of the main reasons why beekeepers should attend monthly meetings and share their innovations. It will make us all better beekeepers!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burned Out Smoker

Burned out smoker at Bluebird Gardens.

Burned Out Smoker

Even experienced beekeepers will tell you one of the hardest skills to develop as a beekeeper is keeping one's smoker going.

A smoker is a soup-can like shape with a lid and bellows attached to keep the small fire inside going as beekeepers inspect their hives. One theory is the smoke keeps bees busy gorging on honey to escape the hive. Another theory is that the smoke calms the bees. Regardless of theories, smoke does move bees out of an area.

I inherited a very old smoker when I started keeping bees in 2010. The smoker was part of several pieces of used equipment I purchased from a local commercial beekeeper. No skep, as I had initially thought I would get, but he did "throw in" the used smoker. Although the smoker had seen better days, I didn't have the heart to give it up. It was my first smoker, who doesn't think of their first one as being special!

Keeping the fire going inside the soup can is an art form. After trying a number of items, from pinecones and dry mulch to newspapers and twine, I found it worked best as long as I could use pine needles and had the patience to get it properly started.

Once a fire is taking off, it helps to tilt the smoker to one side and gently puff oxygen through it. Not too much, just enough to keep the fire going so smoke getd produced and some embers get formed at the bottom.

Recently I was cleaning out the old smoker and noticed that the little metal table at the bottom, which allows oxygen to circulate, has a hole burned through it. When it cooled off enough for me to remove it, the little circle also appeared to be loosing a couple of legs so soon the grate surface won't give the bottom of the smoker enough clearance for oxygen.

Guess it may be time to put a smoker on my Christmas list.

What do you use to keep your smoker going?

Charlotte