Opening Queen Cage

This is a queen cage with candy plug on left in longer tube. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This is a queen cage with candy plug on left in longer tube. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Opening Queen Cage

Several beginning beekeepers have asked if they can reuse a queen cage and then how do they open it to install a queen bee. One even said they tried to get a queen bee through the small circle and she would not fit!

Trust me, don’t try that again.

Here’s how to get a queen bee into the cage. First, make sure the longer tube has a candy plug or small marshmallow. To make the candy plug, mix honey with confectioner’s sugar to a solid consistency and fill up the longer plastic plug.

To open the queen cage, first open the smaller flat round plastic plug to the right of the longer protruding plug where you place the candy fill.

Go open queen cage, pop the smaller round opening first. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Go open queen cage, pop the smaller round opening first. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

With the smaller round plastic plug open, you can then gently squeeze the plastic queen cage and pop the whole top off.

Once small circle is open, you can pop open the whole queen cage top. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Once small circle is open, you can pop open the whole queen cage top. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Once filled with a queen bee and her attendants, close the top and then fold the smaller round plastic plug into the hole. Do it quickly or bees will get out. Frankly it helps to have a couple sets of hands to put the queen and attendants in and then close the two tops.

Giving someone a queen bee is almost as exciting as giving one of our beekeeper’s custom gift boxes and we do all of the packing for you!

Charlotte

Walk Away Splits

Strong, full colonies are excellent candidates for a split. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Strong, full colonies are excellent candidates for a split. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Walk Away Splits

Spring is a busy time for both honey bees and beekeepers. When a honeybee colony is running out of space, they start planning to leave, which is what honey bees do when they swarm.

If you have a big colony that you can easily divide, the walk away split is the easiest way to do that.

You split in the spring if you don’t want or need honey because the two split colonies will spend their energy re-establishing themselves and storing honey for winter food.

The walk away split is the easiest one to do and a method I have successfully used for many years.

Here are the basics:

  1. Have a second, empty hive set up and ready to use.

  2. Position the hive entrance opposite of the hive you will be working on so the bees have to re-orient themselves to their new home.

  3. Open the existing colony and start equally dividing assets: honey frames, bee bread frames, brood. Leave half in the existing hive and move the rest to the second, empty hive.

  4. You don’t need to look for the queen because you will know where she is in a couple of weeks.

  5. Leave the colonies split for two weeks so bees can settle in.

  6. Re-inspect the two colonies to see if there are signs of the queen laying. You will know which box the queen is in when you see eggs.

  7. When splitting brood, you should have given the colony without the queen eggs young enough for bees to start drawing a new queen cell. Check for signs of royal jelly in the emergency queen cells to ensure that they are, indeed, growing a new queen.

That’s the basic principle of making a “walk away split.” You divide the colony assets and, well, walk away.

It is easy but it doesn’t mean you don’t worry that everything back in the now two colonies is going as planned.

Leave them alone for a week, then go back and take a peek to make sure they are settling in. You should know by then where the queen bee is by the eggs you see being laid in royal jelly.

Then it is time to concentrate on making sure the other queenless colony raises themselves a queen bee.

Charlotte

Protecting Spring Nuc

The nuc wrapped up and sitting in my garage for the weekend. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The nuc wrapped up and sitting in my garage for the weekend. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Protecting Spring Nuc

The weather had been lovely for several days. I had completed my spring hive inspections and made up my first nucleus colony of the season to raise an extra queen in case I need one.

Nucleus colonies are nice to have since they are half the size of a regular hive and usually include gentle nurse bees and brand new arrivals.

I had also pulled a frame of brood, or capped bees, and notched the frame to encourage bees to build queen cells.

Shortly after setting up the nucleus colony, the weather took a turn back to winter. Knowing that this nuc was vulnerable, I wrapped it in one of my black quilted insulated hive wraps and moved it to my garage for the weekend.

The bees were kept inside by stuffing a muslin kitchen towel into the entrance.

I closed up the nuc entrance with one of my kitchen towels. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I closed up the nuc entrance with one of my kitchen towels. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I was feeding this small group of honeybees with sugar syrup through a mesh circle in the middle of the nuc box. Having them in my garage made it quite convenient to check them for food and give them more, if necessary.

The nuc has a second box to cover the sugar syrup feeder. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The nuc has a second box to cover the sugar syrup feeder. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

By the second day, they were quite louder when I removed the jar of sugar syrup to give them more to eat. The raised noise level let me know they were not too happy to be locked inside so as soon as the forecast turned warmer, I returned them to my garden.

nuc outside.jpg

Today I checked the frame and found three new sealed queen cells so the girls have been busy.

One of the cells is now in another colony and the girls have two queen cells to raise once the queens hatch. If all goes well, one of the queens will go on a mating flight and come back to establish a new colony.

I will know in another 4 weeks or so.

Charlotte

Winter Bee Feeding

My bees now have both winter protein in winter pollen patties as well as sugar cakes for winter food. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My bees now have both winter protein in winter pollen patties as well as sugar cakes for winter food. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Winter Bee Feeding

When I first started beekeeping, the more experienced beekeepers only talked about using sugar - mush bags, sugar cakes, candy boards - all carbs for winter supplemental feeding. I understood the concept, that this was to supplement stored honey supplies in case bees ran out mid-winter.

However, even honey, real honey, contains pollen, which is a protein source, or food for bees. More specifically, nurse bees need protein to trigger their glands to produce royal jelly so they can feed bee larvae. Studies show that under-nourished bee larvae grow up to be unhealthy bees. With the other bee stressors including pesticides, pathogens and poor foraging areas, good nutrition has become a priority in my apiary.

For two winters now I have been feeding my winter bees both sugar cakes and winter protein pollen patties in addition to giving the a medium super full of honey at the beginning of fall, then replacing empty honey frames with more frames of honey end of November. At this point in a relatively mild winter, all of my colonies are now in the top box showing very healthy colony numbers on warm days so I worry less about them pulling through winter because the cluster is too small.

So let’s take a look at a few of my hives and what I found under the inner cover when I inspected them on a sunny day that was 67F in early January 2019. I am located in mid-Missouri.

What do you find in your quick winter hive inspections under the inner cover? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

What do you find in your quick winter hive inspections under the inner cover? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This is a second year queen that went into winter with very strong colony numbers. All colonies were treated with formic acid strips end of August to knock down varroa mite numbers going into winter. I treated because my varroa mite count was 10 mites per hundred when voluntarily tested by the state and analyzed by the USDA Bee lab in Maryland.

This colony has once again finished their winter protein patty. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This colony has once again finished their winter protein patty. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Even with replenished honey frames, my colonies seem to gravitate to the top of the hive on warm days.

This particular colony was like the rest, the colony had consumed the winter pollen patty so I replaced it.

Another winter protein patty quickly added before I closed up the hive. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Another winter protein patty quickly added before I closed up the hive. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Here’s another hive check. This colony is in its third year and also had finished their winter pollen patty so I added another one.

Homemade sugar cakes with winter pollen patties. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Homemade sugar cakes with winter pollen patties. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I make my own sugar cakes and now add Honey Bee Healthy to the mix in early winter, and pollen substitute for the sugar cakes I add to the colonies in January and February. Here is the recipe:

Charlotte's Bee Winter Sugar Patties Recipe 

5 lbs or 11 1/4 cups sugar
7 1/2 ounces of water (make sure it's exact)
1 teaspoon white distilled  vinegar (don't use apple cider vinegar, attracts small hive beetles)
1 tsp Honey Bee Healthy

For January-Feb use, I will add
1/4 cup Bee Pro protein to each batch

Add Honey Bee Healthy and vinegar to measuring cup; then add water to 7 1/2 ounces. Mix well. Spread in bread pans and re-used fruit clam shells.

Leave overnight in cold oven to dry out. Once top is dry, remove and turn over on a cookie sheet to let the bottom dry out for a couple of days. If you end up with still moist patties, re-mix and add a little more sugar, then dry again.

If you don't need to use immediately, store in sealed plastic container.

Sugar patties not only provide supplemental feeding but also help to keep moisture out of the hives.

Now to yet another colony check, this one the smallest colony with a first year queen.

Smallest colony is also consuming winter protein patties. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Smallest colony is also consuming winter protein patties. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

As beekeepers, especially ones who keep bees for honey, it’s easy to focus just on the carbs or sugar. For a colony to be healthy, however, and be able to collect flower nectar as both flight fuel and winter food storage, or honey, they need to be healthy and that means they first need pollen, which is protein.

I will be interested to see how my colony numbers are coming out of this relatively mild winter with the colonies getting both the nectar-substitute in the form of sugar cakes as well as protein patties.

These are the size of the protein patties I shape for each colony. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These are the size of the protein patties I shape for each colony. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Since small hive beetles also winter over inside the colony cluster, I keep my winter pollen patties small, about the size of the palm of my hand. The larger colonies may get two pollen patties, one each on the edge of the cluster and I checked the pollen patty bottoms to make sure there are no small hive beetle larvae getting established.

Do you feed your bees both sugar and protein pollen during winter feeding?

Charlotte

Supplemental Bee Feeding

This mound of honeybees is working on a supplemental sugar cake. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This mound of honeybees is working on a supplemental sugar cake. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Supplemental Bee Feeding

During my second winter of beekeeping, I lost a colony to starvation and vowed then and there if I could do anything to prevent that from happening again, I would.

Since then, leading beekeeping scientists like Jerry Hayes have insisted there is nothing wrong with feeding bees. After all, we would not let Fido die from lack of food so why would we do that to our honeybees?

The experience changed the way I manage my extra honey supplies. Instead of harvesting in fall, I pull frames during the year and use them in fall to make sure all of my colonies have at least one full honey super going into winter. My two largest colonies get two honey suppers.

When spring arrives and they are bringing in nectar and pollen, I remove those remaining supers and extract, that way I can ensure my bees have enough honey to get them through winter,

This year, a couple of my hives were short of honey stores so I supplemented with the saved honey. Then on a whim I checked one of my larger colonies without breaking the propolis seals and found there wasn’t one drop of honey left. Out came the totes with honey frames and an 8-frame honey super was added as the third box.

As insurance, I also added homemade sugar cakes and small 1x1 inch winter pollen patties which are mostly carbs and little protein. Our mid-Missouri weather is fickle, fluctuating from record lows to sunny, balmy days. The fluctuating weather conditions means my bees are consuming honey and out flying on the warm days, consuming more of their honey stores than if they were clustered inside their hives staying warm.

The homemade sugar cakes are easy to make. I use bread pans when they are available and recycled fruit clam shells when I am making extras. I knew I needed more sugar cakes for the honeyless colony so I used my bread pans and allowed the sugar cakes to dry for a day before putting them in the hive.

Homemade sugar cakes on a cookie sheet ready for installing. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Homemade sugar cakes on a cookie sheet ready for installing. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Each hive is wrapped in a quilted black plastic to help insulate them from the winds out of the south.

It’s always interesting to see where the bees are when I remove the telescoping lid. Each hive now has a solid inner cover with a hole in the middle that gives a hint of what I will find when I lift the inner cover. Our temperature today was 50F so it was a good day to add the sugar cakes without getting my bees cold.

(Bee hive solid inner cover helps keep bees dry. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

(Bee hive solid inner cover helps keep bees dry. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

In addition to supplemental feeding, sugar cakes serve a second function, absorbing hive moisture. Bees in a cluster generate a lot of heat which can turn into condensation that then gets them wet. Too much moisture in a hive kills bees faster than cold temperatures.

The warmer weather today meant more bees were hanging out in the top feeding shim where I place the sugar cakes and winter protein patties for a supplemental food source. It reminds me of a bee bar!

The inside of a bee hive where sugar cakes help keep it dry. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The inside of a bee hive where sugar cakes help keep it dry. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This is another colony I checked today. They were given a smaller sugar cake more to provide moisture control.

This smaller colony has sugar cakes and winter pollen patty. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This smaller colony has sugar cakes and winter pollen patty. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This last hive was the original colony that consumed all of their honey earlier this fall. This is the top feeding shim before I added the sugar cakes for supplemental food on top of their brand new super full of honey stores.

Top of the hive before I added more sugar cakes. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Top of the hive before I added more sugar cakes. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The forecast for tomorrow is for snow and possibly ice so good thing we are all fed and tucked in!

Charlotte

Adding Frame Ridge Metal

Frames with propolis against a wooden hive box. You bet the two stick together!

Frames with propolis against a wooden hive box. You bet the two stick together!

Adding Hive Frame Ridge Metal

If you are just starting beekeeping, this will not be exciting but trust me, do it now and you will thank me later. I'm talking about adding metal strips to the hive frame ridge so the frames easily move from side to side. In other words, the metal keeps bees from glueing the frames down with propolis, an amazing antibacterial tree sap mixture bees use to protect their home.

When I first started beekeeping, I had a challenging time getting some of the basic woodworking skills down. I still find frames I tried to nail together without glueing first with Titebond II glue. Yes, do glue your frames first. The weight of capped honey later can stress those little wooden pieces.

Same thing with adding frame ridge metal. It's easy to put off adding those strips until the ridge becomes full of propolis and you need a tire bar to remove a frame. Ok maybe a tire bar is a bit much but at my apiary, located in the middle of a limestone hillside, my bees amply apply propolis.

This spring, as I was repairing woodenware, I figured out how to get those little metal strips easily attached. I turned the box so that the inside was easy to access. Once I cut the metal strips to size, it was easy to get them nailed on.

Hammering the tiny nails into the thin metal frames is easy once you figure out how to set it up.

Hammering the tiny nails into the thin metal frames is easy once you figure out how to set it up.

A beekeeping friend suggested you can use needle nose pliers to hold those tiny nails if you don't want to hold them. Good idea if you have a tendency to hammer your fingers more than the wood.

Use wire clippers to cut the thin metal into the length you need.

Use wire clippers to cut the thin metal into the length you need.

Once you have these metal strips installed, you won't want to deal with hive bodies without them. They keep frames easily moving and make it much easier to get into and out of them.

Now the wooden frames will more easily slide across the ridge inside the bee hive.

Now the wooden frames will more easily slide across the ridge inside the bee hive.

You can add them later, too but it's better to add them when your hives boxes are brand new. The metal strips will more easily fit against the wood ridge that hasn't been filled with propolis.

If you do have propolis, set the hive box in the sun for a few minutes, it will help melt the propolis so that it is more easy to remove.

This is a gift you give yourself. Here is a gift you can give a bee lover!

Charlotte

Notching Frames for Queen Cells

A queen bee walking between the frames of a Langstroh hive in my apiary.

A queen bee walking between the frames of a Langstroh hive in my apiary.

Notching Frames for Queens

One of the critical skills for any beekeeper who wants to be sustainable is raising his or her own queen bees.  There are a variety of ways to raise queens, and one of the easiest ways is to "notch" a frame of eggs to encourage the bees to raise the queen cells. Then it's a matter of being patient until the queen bees hatch.

The critical part of encouraging worker bees to raise queen cells is finding the correct aged egg, preferably still an egg in the royal jelly where the mother queen has laid. That means seeing a very tiny white egg in a white substance in a tiny wax cell that is less than 36 hours old.

Once an egg is located, the wax cell under the egg is cut away to encourage bees to raise a queen cell.

Several notches under 36-hour or less eggs on a wax frame.

Several notches under 36-hour or less eggs on a wax frame.

This technique also works when one is splitting a colony and leaving some bees without a queen at first. My beekeeping buddies David and Tom did that with a new colony a couple of weeks ago.

We went back to see how well David had notched the frame to encourage queen cell building. Here are the bees in their new hive box.

This is a two-week or so split from a booming nucleus established a couple of months ago here.

This is a two-week or so split from a booming nucleus established a couple of months ago here.

Using a black foundation for a brood frame helps in being able to see the eggs laid in royal jelly.

How many queen cells can you see on this frame? 

How many queen cells can you see on this frame? 

The verdict? There were 14 capped queen cells and 4 open queen cells occupied and still being fed. 

So does notching work?

You bet, especially if you can see the eggs!

Charlotte

Rendering Bees Wax

Honeybees on a piece of bees wax, it's amazing how quickly they will have it cleaned out.

Honeybees on a piece of bees wax, it's amazing how quickly they will have it cleaned out.

Rendering Bees Wax

When people find out I am a beekeeper, the second question they usually ask is what do I do with all of the honey. What they really should be asking is what do I do with all of the more valuable hive by-product, the lovely wax.

Honeybees are amazing creatures. In their tiny bodies they pack a variety of glands including ones on their undersides that produce slivers of wax. Once packed on top of one another, the wax forms the intricate network of comb in which bees store pollen, nectar and larvae, the three basic components of a bee colony.

It takes 8 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax so to a beekeeper, wax is golden. Besides all of the ways people use wax – for candles, lip balm, mustache grooming – wax is also a reusable product in a hive.

To be able to reuse wax, a beekeeper can heat wax to melt it enough to store it until it can be used again.

I have tried a number of ways to render wax, from a homemade solar melter to a pre-made solar melter. The following method has proven to be quicker and easier:

How to Easily Render Bees Wax

Don’t use your regular cooking pots to do this, I purchased a pot at a local thrift store and have it stored in my garage with my other beekeeping supplies.

Also remember wax is flammable so never leave heated wax unattended or close to an open flame.

This is wax and other debris in water heated over medium heat. Wax is slowly melting.

This is wax and other debris in water heated over medium heat. Wax is slowly melting.

To melt wax on a stove, place the wax in water in a pot and stir until the wax melts into a waxy soup.

You will know its ready to pour out of the pot when all of the wax is melted.

A piece of cheesecloth over an old colander helps catch debris as the wax soup pours through.

A piece of cheesecloth over an old colander helps catch debris as the wax soup pours through.

Add cheesecloth to a beekeeping-dedicated colander sitting over a bucket of water half-filled or less.

This white plastic colander fits the top of a plastic container where I add water.

Here's why you want a dedicated pot. Once cold water hits the pot, the wax solidifies in the bottom.

Here's why you want a dedicated pot. Once cold water hits the pot, the wax solidifies in the bottom.

Once the wax is all melted, carefully pour the wax soup into the colander to collect any residue and let the remainder fall into the water.

Allow it to cool.

Once cooled, you will find a disk of wax floating on top of the water.

To purify it further, you can heat it up again, pour it through another layer of cheesecloth in a colander and pour it into another bucket of cold water until the wax doesn’t have any impurities.

Wax will form in the shape of the container and float on top of the water.

Wax will form in the shape of the container and float on top of the water.

Store in a tight container until you want to use.

Don't try to store the un-rendered wax, it does not keep well in any container.

You can melt the rendered wax again and paint it on plastic frames to re-coat them. You can also use the wax to make candles or lip balm.

Oh, the first question?

They want to know how many times I get stung.

Charlotte

Do My Bees Need Room?

Inside an 8-frame hive body with a newly-installed swarm. When will they need more room? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Inside an 8-frame hive body with a newly-installed swarm. When will they need more room? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Do My Bees Need Room?

One of the most daunting challenges for new beekeepers is deciding when to add space to a hive. Over the years, beekeeping students have asked for help in looking into their hives to determine if it "is time." It's an important question because too much room and sub-Sahara African small hive beetles could easily take over unchecked. Too little space and the colony will start building swarm cells and moving out every time a new queen hatches.

In the top photo is a newly-caught swarm installed into an 8-frame deep hive body. Bees are covering about half of the frames so here are the signs your hive needs room:

1. Space to Grow. When bees are covering 80% of the frames. For an 8-frame hive that would be 6 frames; for a 10-frame hive they should be on 8 of the 10 frames.

This brood frame has been filled with nectar, taking up all of the room where a queen could lay. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This brood frame has been filled with nectar, taking up all of the room where a queen could lay. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

2. Laying Space in the Right Place. In other words, check your frames to make sure your queen has space to lay. Often as the nectar starts flowing, worker bees will stash nectar away in every nook and cranny including the brood chamber, taking laying space away from the queen. In photo is a brood frame filled with nectar, leaving the queen with no room to lay eggs.

If you find most of your frames in the brood chamber filled with nectar, take 2 frames out and place them in the box above. Replace the frames you moved up with new frames, preferably with drawn comb so the queen has room to lay.

Frame packed full of nectar than can be moved to a top box and replaced with empty comb. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Frame packed full of nectar than can be moved to a top box and replaced with empty comb. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

3. Spot Difference Between Drone, Brood and Honey Frames. They can look very similar but there are distinct differences.

This is a frame of primarily drone brood, it looks like pencil erasers sticking up out of the comb. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This is a frame of primarily drone brood, it looks like pencil erasers sticking up out of the comb. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Drone brood looks like bullet casings, or pencil erasers sticking up out of the comb. By comparison, regular capped brood is flat and even with the comb. In the photo, drone brood is in the center and flat, capped brood is on either side of the frame.

Frame of capped honey, ready for a long winter's night. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Frame of capped honey, ready for a long winter's night. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A frame of capped honey can be in a variety of shapes, some are straight against the frame, others stick out because the beekeeper didn't keep the frames close together. Regardless, capped honey is easy to recognize once you start seeing the differences.

4. Now for a test. What do you see in this frame?

Left, capped brood; center, bee bread; towards right, open larvae so your queen is laying! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Left, capped brood; center, bee bread; towards right, open larvae so your queen is laying! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

If you look closely at this frame, you can tell the drone cells sticking out towards the top compared to sealed brood flat against the comb. Some cells also have uncapped nectar, bee bread in a variety of colors, and a sure sign your queen is laying. So what do you think, does this colony need more room?

This queen cup (empty) was once a queen swarm cell when it was occupied. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This queen cup (empty) was once a queen swarm cell when it was occupied. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

5. Check for Swarm Cells. When a colony needs room, they will build queen cells to raise a new queen so the old queen can leave with 1/3 of the colony and establish themselves in a new home. First raise the box and check underneath, see any peanut-like protusions at the bottom of the frames? Those are queen swarm cells.

If the queen cups or cells are in the middle of the frame those are supercedure queen cups or cells. For some reason, the worker bees are raising a new queen in that center queen cell to take over for the existing queen.

Is the swarm cup or cell at the bottom? Is it filled with a white substance? That's royal jelly and the worker bees are building a new queen.

Is the swarm cup at the bottom uncapped and empty? That means a new queen has hatched and perhaps already swarmed. 

Frame with little to no activity except for signs of wax moths. Your colony is in trouble. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Frame with little to no activity except for signs of wax moths. Your colony is in trouble. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

6. Sure Sign of Trouble. If when you look through your frames you don't see a lot of filled cells, keep looking. Wax moths will move in when a colony is in trouble so if you see their web-like filament running through cells, your colony is in trouble. Maybe you lost your queen so go back through the frames assessing the rest of them. Remove the empty ones, move your colony into a smaller box so the remaining bees can protect the colony and start asking around for anyone who has a new queen.

Brood box of a ten-frame hive with small hive beetle traps in each of the opposite corners. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Brood box of a ten-frame hive with small hive beetle traps in each of the opposite corners. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

What are you think about this hive, does it need a super? 

Charlotte

Painting Bee Hives

My 8-frame blue hive and my first grey, now repainted green 10-frame hive in my garden.

My 8-frame blue hive and my first grey, now repainted green 10-frame hive in my garden.

Painting Bee Hives

Have wooden bee hives to paint?

Good news, bee hives don't have to be a boring one color, such as white or grey, and certainly don't paint all of your hives the same color. 

Honey bees will literally "drift" from their home base as they return with pollen, often settling in the hives on the outside of their periphery. Or the hive closest to them landing with a heavy load.

Every hive should have a distinct personality. The easiest way is to give each hive a different geometric design so bees can tell which one is their home. The hives can be the same color as long as each one has a unique mark.

How to Paint Bee Hives

To paint bee hives, use a latex paint, it dries faster and is easier to clean off of you.

Don't paint the inside of the hive, only the outside and the hive rims. Also don't paint frames, inner covers and queen excluders. You can paint the edge of screened inner covers. I also recommend painting the inside of your telescoping covers so you can more easily spot small hive beetles.

Make sure you give them time to dry or they will stick.

Here's one simple hive that used two paint colors to give their hive a distinct look.

This beekeeper used yellow and a dark pink to give his hive a distinct look.

This beekeeper used yellow and a dark pink to give his hive a distinct look.

If you have kids, get them involved in decorating the hive. This hive was decorated with a child's handprint motif.

Kids hand prints help to give this hive a distinct personality and look. 

Kids hand prints help to give this hive a distinct personality and look. 

Side view of these hives painted with the help of young artists.

Side view of these hives painted with the help of young artists.

My first hives were that drab grey color. I first distinguished them by adding a stencil for the name of the colony:

One of my first two hives I named after my mother, Gertrude, and my grandmother, Mildred.

One of my first two hives I named after my mother, Gertrude, and my grandmother, Mildred.

Then with a winter available, I repaired the old hives and painted them to look like houses so my neighbors better understood what the hives were.

Some of my first painted bee hives repainted from their original drab grey color.

Some of my first painted bee hives repainted from their original drab grey color.

If you've visited David's apiary, you know "honey maple" hive. David has his hive colors on a spread sheet and names his colonies after the paint hive colors. His hive boxes also are painted in the same color family, going from the deep color in the bottom hive to the light color on top:

Uh, oh, honey maple hive has the color scheme out of order, wonder if David noticed!

Uh, oh, honey maple hive has the color scheme out of order, wonder if David noticed!

For his nucs, David has numbered and labelled each one as well as given them different colors.

For his nucs, David has numbered and labelled each one as well as given them different colors.

As you can see, you can be as simple, or as creative as you want to be.

To get a variety of colors, home improvement stores sell sample jars for around $3. If you first prime your hives, the little jar of paint will easily cover 6-8 hive boxes. 

These are some of the paint samples I borrowed from David. Yes, they get a little messy.

These are some of the paint samples I borrowed from David. Yes, they get a little messy.

Big box stores also sell craft paints in small jars for $3-$5 each. 

In terms of colors, find something that will look nice in your garden. Remember bees see red as a grey color and don't like dark colors like black, brown or navy blue so pick colors that will make you, and your honeybees, happy.

Happy painting!

Charlotte

Watch Cues in Nature

These are some of the natural events that usually occur in Missouri in January.

These are some of the natural events that usually occur in Missouri in January.

Watch Cues in Nature

If you take one of my beginning beekeeping classes, part of your starter kit will include a Missouri Department of Conservation calendar. That's because watching cues in nature is an important part of being a successful beekeeper.

Watching nature, also called phenology, is tracking what is happening in nature. There are a number of reasons why people pay attention to nature's calendar.  According to the National Phenology Network, everything is connected.

"Many birds time their nesting so that eggs hatch when insects are available to feed nestlings.  Likewise, insect emergence is often synchronized with leaf out in host plants. For people, earlier flowering means earlier allergies.  Farmers and gardeners need to know the schedule of plant and insect development to decide when to apply fertilizers and pesticides and when to plant to avoid frosts. Phenology influences the abundance and distribution of organisms, ecosystem services, food webs, and global cycles of water and carbon. In turn, phenology may be altered by changes in temperature and precipitation.  

"Changes in phenological events like flowering and animal migration are among the most sensitive biological responses to climate change. Across the world, many spring events are occurring earlier—and fall events are happening later—than they did in the past. However, not all species are changing at the same rate or direction, leading to mismatches. How plants and animals respond can help us predict whether their populations will grow or shrink – making phenology a “leading indicator” of climate change impacts."

On a much, much smaller scale, I have watched nature in my one-acre Missouri hillside garden since I moved here in the 1980s. My first entry in my garden diary was a notation about raccoons and wild turkeys. The other early notations marked when wildflowers were blooming, an important fact for tracking bee food sources.

Since then, my garden has become a certified wildlife garden and Monarch Way station. My neighbors call it "daffodiland" and I worry when I don't see something in, or on, my flowers. I often wonder about people who say gardens are calm and peaceful, mine seems to be teeming with activity.

Missouri Department of Conservation's Natural Events Calendar gives you a peek at what should be happening in your garden, noting every month what wildflowers should be blooming, for example. Here's an example for April 2018:

Missouri Department of Conservation's Natural Event calendar includes wildflowers in bloom.

Missouri Department of Conservation's Natural Event calendar includes wildflowers in bloom.

The other handy reference in this calendar is when average frost starts and ends, as well as what trees should be in bloom. Trees are now another important source of pollen for honeybees.

Missouri Department of Conservation Natural Events calendar includes daily event listings.

Missouri Department of Conservation Natural Events calendar includes daily event listings.

The daily listings also making watching nature easier, especially if this is a new practice for you. In addition to when trees and flowers are blooming, the calendar notes other important developments: when June bugs begin appearing, when hummingbirds migrate, when chiggers start biting.

It's an excellent resource and customized to our state conditions.

Gorgeous photography is another wonderful element of these lovely $10 calendars.

Gorgeous photography is another wonderful element of these lovely $10 calendars.

In addition, this $10 calendar has wonderful photos from Missouri Department of Conservation's award-winning photographers. You may have seen some of these photos in Missouri Department of Conservation's free monthly magazine.

What, a wild turkey swimming??

What, a wild turkey swimming??

And, on the backside of the calendar, there is usually an unusual event featured. This picture of a wild turkey swimming immediately caught my eye because I know from watching these lovely wild birds, they don't like to swim.

I have my Natural Events Calendar hanging in my kitchen. I use it to add reminders of when I should be doing things in my apiary, and as a reminder to add notations to my regular beekeeping and garden diaries. 

Charlotte

 

Bee Hive Wind Breaks

I'm using a piece of cardboard to give my hives a bit of a winter wind break at the entrance.

I'm using a piece of cardboard to give my hives a bit of a winter wind break at the entrance.

Bee Hive Wind Breaks

When I first started beekeeping 8 years ago, it was popular to talk about how to create winter wind breaks around hives. The suggestions included building a wall of straw; making a wooden wall in front of the hives lined up in a row, and a variety of concrete block and brick walls, or combinations of both. One excellent woodworker even talked about adding little awnings over his hives, which prompted me to think to myself, if I only could make half this stuff out of fabric I would be golden!

Adding items around hives is also an easy suggestion if one has hives on a flat area. Mine are on the side of a limestone hillside, I'm lucky the hives aren't slipping down the hill let alone trying to keep any semblance of a wall standing.

One year I did try the bales of straw in front of my two hives but one of the bales ended up getting knocked down the hill. The most colorful theory was that a bear pushed it over but I would bet a raccoon may have taken an inadvertent slide. Later in the year, I rested my smoker on the top of the bale and  almost set it on fire.

A local hardware store gave away cut Christmas trees so I used them as hive wind breaks.

A local hardware store gave away cut Christmas trees so I used them as hive wind breaks.

Another year I recycled Christmas trees in front of hives to give them some wind protection and a little possum family settled in. That option did work better than the straw, at least the baby possums hung on to the trees at one point. I assume that helped to keep the trees from rolling away, as well as the tenacious possums.

This year, with temperatures tanking below 0F, I felt out of practice adequately winterizing my hives, especially when the winds were hitting me earlier today and dropping the already cold temperatures even further.

As I looked out over my apiary, I decided I was ok with the extra honey super I put on them, giving each colony two honey supers. The black wrap also seemed to be doing it's job, and all lids were nicely sealed over the solid inner covers but I needed to do something to cut the wind hitting the entrance reducers: a cardboard awning of sorts.

To make sure the cardboard stays, I cut it long to fit under the black quilted wrap.

To make sure the cardboard stays, I cut it long to fit under the black quilted wrap.

Selecting a heavy cardboard box, I cut it to the approximate width of my 8-frame hives, tucked a 2-inch border at the bottom and scooted the cardboard under the black insulated wrap I already have around the hive bodies.

Would you believe no bees came out to check what I was doing?? Well, would you in this kind of weather?

Here I am sneaking the cardboard up under the black wrap to keep it dry from snow and rain.

Here I am sneaking the cardboard up under the black wrap to keep it dry from snow and rain.

These aren't designed to do much more than ferry the cutting winds from directly hitting the bottom hive entrances where I fit in the smallest opening entrance reducers.

The side openings to the cardboard awnings will allow bees to leave if the weather turns warm before I can get out to remove these, and the bungee cords should hold them in place. The plastic wrap will keep the cardboard dry if it rains.

Will they work?

I feel better already!

Charlotte

Beginning Beekeeping Class January 27, 2018

Teaching the start of an earlier beginning beekeeping class in Rolla, Mo.

Teaching the start of an earlier beginning beekeeping class in Rolla, Mo.

Beginning Beekeeping Class January 27, 2018

Looking forward to meeting new potential beekeepers at our next beginning beekeeping class in Rolla, Mo. on Saturday, January 27, 2018. Registration is now open for the beginning beekeeping class Saturday, January 27, 2018 at Brownwood Estates Clubhouse, 1341 California, Rolla, Mo. from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.  

Cost is $50 per person including a beginning beekeeping book, natural events calendar, beekeeping diary, catered lunch and refreshments.

Class size is limited; attendees must be at least 15 years of age or older.

To pre-register, send your name, email and phone number to rollabees at gmail.com and a check to David Draker, 1951 Monterey Drive, Rolla, Mo. 65401.

 Gift certificates also available, email check and details to rollabees at gmail.comwith payment.

The basic beekeeping classes will include basic bee behavior and biology; beekeeping equipment needs and costs; how to properly use beekeeping equipment, how to set up bee hives; basic pests and diseases and how to help bee colonies get through their first winter.

David Draker, right, guides a discussion at a monthly Rolla Bee Club meeting.

David Draker, right, guides a discussion at a monthly Rolla Bee Club meeting.

This class has a local beekeeping club that supports beginning beekeepers with monthly meetings at the same class location from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Both classes qualify for Phelps County Master Gardeners continuing education and Meramec Hills Chapter Master Gardeners advanced training.

Rolla Bee Club is sponsored by Bluebird Gardens Foundation, a charitable foundation part of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

Charlotte