Category Archives: queen bee

Perfect Bee

Please go to PerfectBee – http://www.perfectbee.com/ to see my latest article entitled “Natural Beekeeping”. I hope you will continue to follow along at Perfect Bee.

Its all about the Queens

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Is there anything more inspiring, more filled with hope, than observing God’s creation come to life each spring?  The warming days green the fields and valleys lying below the snow capped mountains at which the yellow daffodils wave.  The spring sweet air and gentle temperatures caress and are a balm to the senses.  New life buds at every turn.  Serviceberry erupts into a white fountain of cascading flowers that join the red shower of quince blossoms and white/pink display of the ornamental pear.  The garlic planted last fall stands at full attention in awe of the awakening beauty and the erupting rhubarb bursting from the ground with a new found vigor.

There are new chicks in the barnyard next to a proud, protective mother hen who gently cares for the little peeps.  They are joined by the bawling of newborn calves in the nearby fields and aerial demonstrations of sparrow, dove, junco, nuthatch, chik-a-dee, raven and hawk pairing up for the nesting season.

The first fruit trees are breaking bud, but the apple trees remain smug, tightly under wrap, quietly mocking the apricot, peach and cherry for blooming so early, for they know that Jack Frost will soon return to give another show.  But these early bloomers are not fazed or concerned by the haughty attitude of the apple, for they know the strings of Christmas lights carefully stretched throughout their branches will be a castle wall against Jack Frost.  While the apple stands with crossed arms and bides its time, the cherry and apricot will reward their owner with the sweet blessing of first fruits.

In the midst of all this glorious activity the honeybees are exploring every new blossom, returning to the hive with the first golden nectar of the season.  (That’s an Italian queen in the first photo above) Each hives population is growing exponentially now as the new food sources and longer days spur the queen to lay an ever increasing number of eggs.  I have now been through all of my hives and each looks strong and healthy.  As is typical, each hive is a completely separate entity on its own time table.  A few are booming and will be watched closely to prevent swarming.  They are the beneficiaries of new young queens which came from splits made both early and late in the season last year.  Other hives are a little slower to come on.  Most of these are what I refer to as the Carnies.  In preparation for winter the race of bees known as Carniolan, or Carnies, reduce their numbers to a greater extent their Italian relatives.  They need less food stores to get through the winter that way, but it also means they are starting with fewer numbers in the spring and it takes them a bit longer to get up and going.

It’s looking like some hives will be ready to split in another month or so.  The hives I keep on the other side of the mountains where it is warmer, but also much wetter, are further along and I might be able to consider making splits there in another month.  I don’t do much feeding but when I am getting ready to make splits I will put out feeders with a one to one sugar water mixture about a month before splitting the hives.  This brood builder formula will boost the numbers in each hive in preparation for making splits.  I am happy to report that my favorite queen (a large dark Carney) is now three years old.  She wintered well and is still laying an excellent brood pattern.  She produces such calm and productive offspring that I want to keep her around as long as I can and it’s good to know I will have her for another season.  You can see pictures of her at the bottom of the page.  Notice the slight touch of red on her thorax.  She was part of a package of bees and was marked with the red dye.  Only the slightest trace now remains.

I do not expose my hives to the chemicals found in the commercial miticides used for  mite control and instead take a more natural, “softer” approach to controlling these destructive pests.  In the feeding mixture mentioned above I add essential oils for hive health.  The Tea Tree oil will kill fungus and disease while the wintergreen and spearmint will kill mites.  The formula I use is shown below.  Be sure to use pure food grade oils, such as those available through Lorann oils.

Brood Builder formula

1 teaspoon of Tea Tree oil

1 teaspoon of Wintergreen oil

1 teaspoon of Spearmint

10 drops of lemon grass oil

Mix the above ingredients in a blender with one cup of water.  I also add a tablespoon or so of my own honey to act as an emulsifier and help the oil and water to mix.  Blend on low for 5 minutes.  What you are making is a concentrate.  After blending pour the mixture into a half gallon container and fill with water.  Again, this is a concentrate.  You use one cup of the concentrate in a gallon of 1:1 sugar water mix when you feed your bees.

This feed will boost your hives and improve hive health as well.

Until next time – go smell the flowers.

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Photos are the courtesy of Janna Liewergen of “The Meadow of Lavender”   http://meadowoflavender.com/

First Hive Inspection Complete – Winter survival results

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The garlic is coming up in our garden and the rhubarb wont be far behind.  Naturally the temperatures remain quite cool, like today when its overcast and only 39 degrees at noon.  But the bees are definitely preparing for spring and you should be too.

In the last week we had three days that were either at 70 or within a degree or two.  Equally important was the fact there was no wind, so I took advantage of those days to do a full hive inspection of each and every hive.  It’s important to know the condition of your hives as soon as the weather allows so you know if your bees need any kind of help to make it to the nectar flow.

So the results are in and I was very pleased.  Tickled really, as this is the best winter survival I have ever had if the package bees I purchased last year are not counted.  More on that in a moment.

All of my own hives that have been here a year or more and all of my own splits with the exception of one made it through the winter with flying colors.  The queens have begun laying and there is capped brood in every hive.  In fact three of the hives are so full of bees you would think it was mid-season.  Fortunately those hives also have a good amount of stores, though I did add one frame of honey from the dead out hive, to one hive absolutely packed with bees. These hives are from splits made last year and it should tell you something about what a split does for hive health.  For the end of January a Beek (beekeeper) can’t ask for more than high bee numbers and solid stores.  These are all very healthy hives!

Lets compare them to the 9 packages of bees I purchased last season.  First off let me say that I have purchased and installed packaged bees for many years and I have never even come close to the disastrous results I had this last season.  I purchased 9 packages because I can’t keep up with the demand for my honey, so I decided to expand my business.  Unfortunately it was nearly all wasted money.

Virtually from the start the queens in these packages struggled and all but two hives began a constant progression of requeening themselves, a process called supercedure.  Essentially as soon as a new queen would take over the hive they would soon replace her.  One of the hives came with a dead queen, yet even the replacement queen provided by the supplier was weak and the bees did a number of supercedures.  The bees know when a queen is in poor health or failing and will replace her.  They tell us all we need to know about the condition of the queens that came with these packages.

A search of the web has turned up numerous discussions of this problem.  In other words it was common and not specific to my own operation.  There is speculation that a new fungicide being sprayed in the orchards in California led to the problem.  Some blame it on the drought and others simply say that the commercial stock the package bees come from, in addition to being exposed to various chemicals is getting inbred and weak queens are the result.  Most likely it is a combination of all those factors.

So what’s the bottom line here?  I lost 6 of the nine packages and lost only one of the 11 hives I  managed and that hive was nothing more than a weak split made late in the season.  So unless you like throwing your money away I would suggest that you avoid buying any bee packages that come from California.  Sorry, but that is just what the facts are telling us.  Your alternative is to purchase bees from a local source.  Get to know the beekeeper and learn about his practices.  And if you already have bees then learn to make splits.  We will be covering splits later this spring.

For now, make sure your equipment is in order and ready for the busy spring season.  Then take the time on a nice calm day to sit in your beeyard and enjoy your bees.  Watch the activity in the front of the hive.  See what pollen is being brought in and if you can identify the source.  In my neck of the woods the pussywillow is beginning to open and it will soon be followed by aspen and poplar.  If you have beehives as full of bees as mine, you will soon need to create more room in the hive to prevent them from swarming.  More on that later.  For now enjoy your bees before we reach the busy part of the season.

A Thanksgiving Check Up

The day before Thanksgiving was sunny and mild and I could not resist the temptation to have a peak inside my hives.  After all, we had a serious cold spell about  two weeks ago.  Cold is not usually a problem for healthy hives, but this cold spell came on so fast I did have to wonder about my girls.

We had balmy weather for weeks this fall and then suddenly we were hit with single digit temperatures, including three nights below zero, the lowest being 19 degrees below!  I knew my hives were healthy going into winter with good stores of food, but remember those two new hives I spoke about in the last article?  Ah-huh, definitely smaller hives with fewer numbers of bees.

So with a full sun shining on my hives and no wind I decided to take a look inside.  I have eight hives here at the house and simply removed the cover and then the inner cover to peak inside.  Even though it was nice out you don’t leave the hive open for long so no frames were pulled from the hives, just a look on top for numbers.

I am happy to report that all hives weathered the cold just fine.  While you can clearly see a difference in numbers from one hive to the next, they all look good with the exception of one hive and this is the first of the two new hives.  Clearly there is enough food stored away but the ball of bees in this hive is not much larger than a softball.  Technically a cluster the size of a softball is all that is needed to stay warm and winter and clearly they had done so.  My concern with this hive is for when the queen takes a break from laying in December, something all queens do for a few weeks.  Because many of the bees in this hive were added from other hives I do not know how old they are, they may continue to die off and not be replaced with new bees when the queen takes a break from laying.  Otherwise, all the hives look really good, including the second of the two new hives that were started.

When we were tossing log after log into the woodstove to stay warm during those zero degree days, the bees in each hive were clustered together maintaining a temperature of around 90 degrees.  I thought of them often, almost every time I added wood to the stove, but there was no need to worry.  They are healthy, doing well and most of all, doing what bees do; gather around their queen, keep her warm, feed her and rest up while waiting for spring.

On a side note, bees born in late fall or early winter are the longest lived bees in the hive.  Because they are not outside flying each and every daylight hour to collet nectar and pollen, these bees will live for months instead of only weeks.  They will see the hive through the winter months so that it can prosper once again in the spring.

Happy Holidays to everyone.  Just like the bees, winter is a time of rest and staying warm.  May the warmth of your family sweeten winter days with cozy mugs of cheer.