Showing posts with label Beekeeping
While I was at Valley Natural Foods the other day I was standing behind a couple in front of the honey shelf and I overheard them discussing the quality of the various honeys.  The woman leans in towards the man to tell him that some of the honeys had gone bad "you can tell because they are crystallized" she said.
I figured if I can't have honeybees right now it doesn't mean I can't have another type of bee.  According to my beekeeping friend Dave  it is a little late in the season to get going with Mason Bees so I'm going to give bumble bees a try.  A while back, after my beekeeping course, my oldest daughter decided she wanted to try keeping bumble bees.  She's always had a fascinating relationship with bumbles.  When she and I took a class at a local nature center 14 years ago we learned the difference between bees, wasps and hornets, which ones are aggressive and which ones aren't, etc... After that time she's always handled bumble bees.  She mostly likes to stroke their backs when they are busy working a flower.  Since she is so brave and had a real interest we ordered Marla Spivak's book: Befriending Bumble Bees.




Maya, my daughter, caught a bunch of bumbles initially but we were unsure in our ability to determine which ones were queens so she'd always let them go.  Well, since I'm bee-less I've decided to give the bumbles another try. With bumbles I won't have to worry about swarm management and worried neighbors, I'll just be able to still enjoy having a relationship with bees.

Now all I need is a bumble bee to show up.  They are late this year.

Wish me luck! :D
We said goodbye to our hives yesterday.  It was actually pretty sad.  I didn't care so much about the yellow hive but I was really attached to the pink one (the one you see being carried away).  That was my very first hive after I took the U of M beekeeping course and we've managed to get it through two winters and this was our third spring having them, they were also our mild tempered and happy bees.  My husband said I looked pitiful, like a lost child watching them from the window being carried away.We discussed just keeping the one hive because they really were a great bunch of bees to have but we just couldn't get past the possibility that, even if we managed them well, they could swarm again and next time it might not turn out so great.  I kept having visions of them swarming during one of the neighbors many dusk til dawn lawn parties.

Hubby and I are already discussing other options.  We have a couple friends that live in the country and we might approach them about keeping our bees.  One of them has wanted to have bees but wasn't so sure she wanted to do the management part of it, so we're thinking she might be a good option.  Otherwise, we do plan on moving so we might wait until then to get another hive, we'll see.

For now, Jim at Natures Nectar took our babies away.  I feel good that he was the one to take them since he's the guy I orginally purchased my packages from.  Who better to have our hives than the man I bought them from, right? 

So anyway...a couple pictures to share:

Jim getting the hives ready to be hauled away.



and then carrying my favorite one out.


Middy (my middle child) is pretty mad at me.  She loves the bees.  We have spent every day since spring of 2010 checking them out each morning, watching them fly in and out throughout the day (aside from winter).  I didn't realize she had grown as attached as I did.  She kept trying to think of reasons they didn't have to go.  She thinks people around us should "suck it up and get with the program." lol!  She's already asking when we can get some more.  I guess her nagging will get me moving on finding someone to let us keep them on their property.

Did I ever mention how much I hate living in the city?
Today our second hive swarmed. We really didn't anticipate this one. Our neighbor came by around 1 pm to tell us that our hive was swarming and it was in her backyard AGAIN! I don't know what it is about her yard that they love so much but they do. I ran over to see where it landed and this time it was attached to a tree trunk about 7 feet from the ground smack in the middle of her backyard. I told her that I'd get someone to remove it right away.
but this one was far more interesting. I had just finished emailing Jim from Natures Nectar about the divide I was about to do, it was the perfect day for it; sunny and warm. Our bees were in a great mood. I was standing in front of the hive that we knew needed to be divided the most. The pink hive is our oldest but the yellow newer hive had a prolific egg laying queen. At the end of winter it looked as if the hive hadn't lost a single bee, it was insane. Just as hubby and I were standing in front of the hive discussing our plan of attack (we are new to this dividing business), the hive decided to swarm. Um... there they go not following the manual again. Minnesota bees aren't suppose to swarm until late June, early July but apparently these girls didn't get the memo. We watched as they moved around the yard, up into a tree, and then settled on our fence.

Needless to say I was in full panic mode (readers: you do sort of see me as the high anxiety type already don't ya?! - cuz I am). I hate having to tell my neighbors that they can't let their dogs out to potty because my bees are on the move again. I feel like I'm being rude... I am rude. Sorry, but your annoying neighbor purchased a bunch of bees and because they like to swarm all the time you need to keep your dogs stuck inside until the bees move on and who cares if you pooch piddles on the carpet. It's rude, it really is.

When I told the neighbor how I was feeling about the swarm she told me to calm down and stop worrying. Apparently she and her husband think the bees are interesting and a worthy cause. That's a relief! Sadly though, we are getting rid of one hive. There have been waaaaaaay too many bees in the yard. Aside from the swarms making me nervous when it comes to neighbor relations the bees have gotten a bit territorial. The girls in the family (ours, not the queens) have to tie their hair into a bun and wrap a scarf around their heads to keep the bees from getting caught while outside playing (we have that many bees flying around the yard). We are keeping our pink hive though because I've grown attached to that one :)


Onto the swarm.


I called about 5 beekeepers to come and get the swarm and the lucky winner was the man who said he'd be at my house in less than an hour. He came, gathered up our little bunch that attached themselves to the fence and he left.


Funny how smart bees are. Once he boxed up the bees and put them in the van he came over to talk to me, which was 30 feet from where the bees were and the buzzy girls still managed to find him and bop him in the head. I was standing in front of him, no further than 2 feet away, and they didn't mind me at all. They wanted to get the guy who stole their sisters and mother. Smart little suckers.

HIVES ALIVE!

9:32 AM, in
My third spring without treating my bees for ANYTHING and they are still going strong. I've read where other beekeepers have gone 7-10 years without mite treatment and their bees did just fine so I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and hope for the best. Since both hives survived the winter I have to decide what I'm going to do about the splits. I cannot have four hives. 
Thank you to Dave from Daves Bees for sharing the video above on twitter.
When I took my beekeeping course two years ago there were a few beekeepers on hand to show us treasures from the hive. One man and his young daughter had a tiny beehive candle that I fell in love with. I asked if they sold the mold, which they did not, but they said I could purchase one from a bee supply company and make my own once my bees started giving me some wax to use.
It has been a while since I talked about my bees so I thought I'd share something new about my awesome girls.

MITES.

Honeybees get mites. The actual term is Varroa Mites.

What are they?

They are itty bitty insects that attach to and weaken honeybees by sucking hemolymph from their bodies, which serves as both blood and intestinal fluid. Once the honeybee has been weakened they become susceptible to certain viruses.

Varroa are destructive and can destroy an entire hive. If infestation is caught early the hive can be saved. Treatments vary depending on the preference of the beekeeper. Some treatments are more effective than others.

We were told in class that ALL bee hives get varroa mites and research has shown that some types of honeybee are better at protecting themselves from infestation than others. Example: Africanized bees tend to protect themselves better than Italian bees. MN Hygienic bees have been raised to defend themselves better against certain illnesses, diseases, etc... including mites.

The key to controlling the mite population is #1 testing your hives mite count and #2 checking for hygienic behavior

(there are other ways to check for mites)

If you know how many bees were in your sample, you can
estimate the number of mites per 100 bees. If there is
brood in the colony when you sample, you should double
this number to factor in the amount of mites in worker
brood. For example, if there are 5 mites / 100 bees, the
total infestation is probably 10 mites/100 bees. If your
colony has over 10-12 mites/100 bees, you should consider treatment. ~University of Minnesota


So... that is the mini scoop on varroa mite.

I have not treated my bees for mites and yes, I may live to regret it. My first year keeping bees I decided to see how well they'd do "naturally" over the winter. They survived and flourished. I have a new hive that I did not treat but I believe it won't do quite as well. Ya see, we were told something in class that makes me worry. Marla Spivak said "if you can see mites with the naked eye then you have a serious problem." Well, I scraped some brood from between hive bodies and this is what I found:



Now, I know not treating the bees probably isn't the best choice I've made as a beekeeper but I have two issues with treatment. #1 is I would only use a natural treatment like Thymol but the problem has been getting the thymol and the weather (beekeepers will know what I mean about the weather). #2 I've wanted to see how well my bees do (or how long they live) without treatment. Is that wrong? I've read where other beeks have had hives survive years without treatment and I'm hoping mine do the same. Although the 2nd hive being so obviously infested has me worried.

The only option now would be a treatment I'm not comfortable with so I'll wait out another winter and see how they do.

Last year I read the book "Bee Propolis: Natural Healing from the Hive" and although I was eager to make a propolis tincture after reading the book my bees weren't cooperating. They weren't making much propolis. This year I bought another package of bees and they are propolis crazy. I was able to go into the hive a couple days ago and scrape a generous portion off the side of a hive body. 
They did it! They swarmed a 3rd time and they attached themselves to the same tree as the other two times but moved on quickly about 5 feet further into the neighbors yard. Thankfully, after talking with the neighbors, they have been great sports about it. The bees are in a ball again about 30 feet up on a tree limb, not reachable by anyone. but that isn't my news.
At least I feel that way right at this moment. I love the bees, love watching them, learning from them, having them in the backyard but... there is a reason more men than women are beekeepers. Now I'm not trying to offend all the feminists out there but seriously, beekeeping takes some strength and it takes strength that I don't have.
I can't say that I am disappointed. We were fortunate to see it happen and it was very cool to see.  

My hubby looked out the back window this morning around 11 a.m. and asked "is that normal" as he watched a massive cloud of bees flying above the hive. At first glance I thought it was normal. Last year on a hot summer day the bees would come out in what looked like a swarm but they were all just rushing out in the morning sun to get to work. This, of course, was different. The bees weren't directly above the hive, they were off to the side headed upward towards a large tree branch. When I took note of the number of bees and how closely they were flying to the trees I knew it was a swarm. I had to get outside with my video camera and document it. 



I am so grateful that my swarm is about 30 feet in the air and not attached to the neighbors house (still crossing my fingers that they don't move that way). The neighbors dog was barking like crazy but it appears no one besides us noticed what all the hoopla was about.

I've called a local "experienced" beekeeper to come and take a look at the swarm. Maybe he can reach it and take it home. He, the expert, said something to me that rings very true. He said "a swarm is a blessing and a curse. On one hand you have helped a species continue on and on the other hand you lose the opportunity to extract honey." I'm ok with the no extracting honey part. I think it is more important that the bees survive. If what is left behind creates enough honey to be extracted, that will be a pleasant surprise, if they don't, well that is ok too. I just hope wherever the swarm settles that they flourish.

UPDATE: I thought I was losing my mind when it happened but a more experienced beekeeper has confirmed it... MY BEES CAME BACK!!

I've never read about it or heard it before but it was exactly what we believed happened after we saw it. About 30-45 minutes after our hive swarmed and were hanging in a clump up in the tree, the swarm broke ranks and were flying all over our backyard. I kept thinking it wasn't possible, that it must be a 2nd swarm.  I looked everywhere for the original swarm as I was sure they couldn't have gone far. We were present in the backyard and didn't notice anything prior to this massive cloud of bees returning. The cloud covered nearly .5 acre of our property, they were flying everywhere. I went outside and stood in the cloud, the bees barely acknowledging my presence. I thought maybe the swarm was on the move to another location so I ran outside and put a new hive body on the ground, sprinkling it with lemongrass essential oil as a lure (heard that one works well), and waited. The bees started to pile into the hive body but after about 15 minutes they changed their minds and started to go into the established hive. It took about 20 minutes for them to get settled back into the original hive. I asked a few beekeepers if this was a returning swarm or 2nd swarm and I was assured the swarm didn't return but today I read a facebook update by an experienced beekeeper that their swarm returned home. I inquired about my experience and was told swarms do come back sometimes.  

I am curious now. What does it all mean? Were they out scouting for a new location? Will they stay for the season or attempt to swarm again? Our summer season is very short so wouldn't my bees have to stay put since they start prepping for winter in less than 2 months? We were told in beek class that if our bees (in MInnesota) don't swarm by July 6 then we are safe but this hasn't been a normal summer so far so I'm thinking that rule of thought no longer applies. All I know for sure is this experience has been interesting.
Ok, one thing I promised myself is that when blogging about beekeeping I would be totally honest. I wouldn't make it look easy when it was hard, fun if it was boring, enlightening if it was just plain stupid. So here it goes...

The 2nd year of beekeeping SUCKS!!

I've taken 2 classes on beekeeping in 1.5 years. I talk to beekeepers whenever I get the chance. I take advice. I'm learning.

BUT

When I opened last years hive for the first time this year what I saw gave me this sinking feeling in my stomach and I allowed myself to think that beekeeping just isn't for me. I quickly brushed that sensation and thought aside since I've learned this is how I feel about everything when it starts/appears difficult but I must say, the books never told me this.

Hives look like shit in the 2nd year. No more pretty clean frames, no more easy to find queen, no more docile bees. Oh no... what you have is a propolis disaster, so many bees that the queen is impossible to locate and some seriously bitchy bees.

Now I'm sure our bees are much nicer than say an AFRICANIZED BEE but still, I barely scratched the hive today and a couple guard bees just wouldn't lay off. They followed me 25 feet to house and wouldn't go away. It scared my hubby to a point that he started to wonder if we'd ever be able to work outside again. He is wrong, we will be fine, but... I don't want him second guessing my decision on this.

The first year, bees are angels. I almost feel like they love me the way I love them but the 2nd year is a different story. With frames full of honey, an established colony, the girls aren't as loving as before but that isn't really what upsets me. What makes me mad is my own stupidity. I used 10 frames instead of 9 so now it is nearly impossible to move things around. Once a frame is pulled out I can barely get it back in. The propolis is such that my fingers stick together so I nearly drop frames, there is brood being stored everywhere so each time I move anything I kill tons of babies :( I want to do the checkerboard thingy to prevent the bees from swarming yet I can manage to get frames unstuck (it took me 10 minutes last opening to get one back in place). I screwed up my spring divide because I had no idea what I was doing. Now I have to worry the bees will sworm to my "bee hating" neighbors house and the city will be knocking on my door.

On top of it, my bees are not moving up into the honey super. They seem to have something against the queen excluder because they wouldn't pass through it last year either. So my idea of using honey supers to create more space and hopefully avoid swarming isn't going that well. BTW/there are no queen cells from what I could find for those who asked.

So there ya go... my confession. I own practically every beekeeping book written and I don't remember any of the above being mentioned. Beekeeping IS NOT EASY! I didn't think it was but I didn't think it wasn't either. As with most things a difficult point arises and I vent until I figure a way through it. I promise, I'm silently venting over here and only purging on my blog, I carry a happy face about all this through out the day :)

It is difficult to see from these pix but it gives a little visual idea of how things change:

2 month old hive



2 year old hive

My husband endured several bee stings recently and I documented his experience so that I could share it with others. I found it fascinating that every person we came in contact with who saw the results of the bee stings asked two questions (1) If we were going to seek medical attention and (2) If we were going to stop
Today is awful. I came to the realization that splitting the hive is impossible. Thanks to the sloppy job done by the landscaper and his inability to fix the mess until two weeks from now we are left with soggy soil which means when I walk out to my hive I sink calf length in mud. With no stable ground to stand on
Our water issues are solved... at least I hope so. This is the first time we've ever used a landscaper and I'm glad we did. Since we moved into our home the backyard has been one big pain after another. First we had to remove numerous dead trees and way too many buckthorn to count, second was the rock. Rock, rock,
Today we received a new package of bees. At around 4 pm we did the install into the new hive. The process goes like this:

First, you spray the sides of the bee package with 1:1 sugar syrup. This helps calm the bees down so they don't go flying all over the place when you dump them into the hive. Then you give the cage a little bonk to knock all of the bees off of the feeder can so it can be removed.
I am happy to see pollen coming in. I don't know where the girls are finding it, I'll assume dandilions since those are growing all over my yard.
A few days ago we actually had some sunshine, therefore, were able to get outside and do the partial reversal on the hive. For anyone that doesn't know what a hive reversal is, here is an image put together by Marla Spivak and Gary Reuter at the University of Minnesota to explain it:
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