Category Archives: urban beekeeping

Perfect Bee

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First inspection of 2016

Greetings and my best to all of you and your bees in 2016.

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the first mild day of the new year that would allow me to make a quick inspection of some of my hives and yesterday (the 7th) was just the day. The temperature was only 43 to 44 degrees, but there was no wind and the sun had been shining on the hives for most of the day, allowing them to warm up inside.

We’ve had a long stretch of cold weather that forces the bees to remain in their cluster and not allow them to move about in the hive to reach new stores of food. I was concerned that the bees could become isolated to one side of the hive, use up the food stored there and potentially starve because it had not been warm enough for them to move to the other side of the hive where more food was stored. So that was the objective I was looking to accomplish with a quick hive inspection. Which, by the way, is how you should approach every hive inspection, no matter what time of year it is, know your reason for the visit ahead of time.

In all I viewed four hives and spent no more than five minutes inside any hive. Two hives were in great condition. Plenty of food stores accessible to the bees and lots of bees. I spent just a couple minutes in these hives. The third hive turned out to be exactly as I had feared. They were not out of food but very close to it and they were isolated on one side of the box, five frames away from the nearest frame with honey and pollen. I spent a full five minutes in this hive as I needed to move the food stores next to the bees.

You do not want to break up the area where the bees are clustered by placing a frame in of stores in the middle of it. Instead you should move the frames with food stores immediately next to the cluster. I even pulled my hive tool across the capped honey to scratch it open just a bit, allowing them to access it more easily. Now that food is nearby I can rest assured this hive will not starve because they became isolated away from their stores.

The fourth hive I checked was dead. This was not a surprise. The hive had a mite count of 12 percent in September. Anything over five percent is supposed to be treated. For the most part I don’t use chemicals in my hives and so this hive was on its own.

For those of you who do use chemicals in your hives, here is a thought to consider. New on the market this year is oxalic acid. (Its been used in Europe with great success for many years) This is a naturally occurring chemical you find in Rhubarb and other common garden plants. Brushy Mountain bee supply has some good information on it if you want to visit their web site. If you choose to treat with chemicals, this “soft” treatment (called that because its organic) is something you may want to consider. AND, this is the time of year to apply it because there is no capped brood in the hive yet and therefore no place for the mites to hide. (the oxalic acid gas will not kill mites sealed in capped brood) Be sure to read up on the safety precautions if you choose to go this route.

That’s it for now. When the weather allows, be sure to check on your hives to see if there is enough food to see your girls through to spring and if you need to move some of the food they have stored next to where they are clustered so they can access it.

Its all about the Queens


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.


Photos are the courtesy of Janna Liewergen of “The Meadow of Lavender”

First Hive Inspection Complete – Winter survival results


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.