Tag Archives: bee hives

Winter Prep/Classes

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Are your bees snuggled into their hives with plenty of stores to see them through the winter?  Do you have a healthy queen with a small, but solid brood pattern?  Do you have some weak hives that might not make it through the winter?

These are things you need to be looking for as the winter storms begin to roll in.  Weak hives can be combined to make one strong hive.  You might even add some honey frames that you have saved back, or take them from strong hives that can spare them so other strong hives that need a boost in stores have what they need to get through the winter.

A good wind break is always helpful and some people wrap their hives with tar paper, but if you do, be careful not to close them up so tight they don’t breath and don’t make the mistake of closing up your hives so the bees cant get out for cleansing flights.  As your bees burn through their honey they will produce moisture that condenses on the inside of the hive.  You do not want this dripping down on the bees as it will kill them.  A simple solution is to slide a small piece of wood 3/4 of an inch thick or so (but no larger than an inch think) under the back of the hive so the moisture that collects inside will run to the front and down the front wall of the hive.  Also make sure you have your mouse guards in place.  Mice can quickly make a mess of any hive.

Here are some interesting temperature guidelines for different bee activities.

  • 93-94 brood nest temp for eggs and young bees
  • 68 queen does not fly
  • 61 drones cannot fly
  • 57 the winter cluster forms
  • 50 workers cannot fly
  • 40 bees die if alone

I’ve been busy preparing for the classes I will teach beginning this January.  They will encompass a full season of beekeeping.  For the local folk out there who have been following along, if you are interested in taking these classes please contact me at – whalersman@gmail.com

We will begin with the basics and later move into the more complex.  Classes will be held near one of my bee yards so you can get hands on experience and learn how to do a hive inspection and gain an understand what you are looking at.

Help Your Bees Beat the Summer Heat

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Today’s temp. will near 100 degrees.  Now I know for a lot of you that may not be a big deal as you’ve probably already seen temps like that this year, but in Central Oregon this is our first real wave of hot weather this year.  So here’s a little trick to help your bees deal with the heat.

Naturally you always want to have a good source of water nearby.  The next thing you can do is to push back the top box on your hives to create a top entrance for the bees.  This helps air flow through the hives and improves ventilation.  That means more bees working to store honey and fewer bees working to cool the hive.

Secondly, a top entrance makes it easier for the bees to access the upper boxes.  By this time of year the lower boxes are filling with brood and when the field bees come into the bottom of the hive they must struggle against a hive full of bees to get to the top boxes.  Often times they will store the pollen and nectar they carry in the brood nest at the bottom of the hive and force the queen to move further up into the hive as she runs out of room to lay her eggs in the brood nest.

Consequently a lot of people put on queen excluders to keep the brood our of their honey boxes.  I’ve never used queen excluders and have found no need to do so as long as I open up the top of the hive like you see in the pictures.

So do your bees a favor and give them a little air conditioning.  It’s easier on the bees and they will reward you with beautiful clear honey.

Clean Wax and getting Equipment Ready for Spring

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Its a balmy 60 degrees today and I just came in from preparing hive equipment for the coming season.  I’m going through old frames and cleaning them up by replacing the foundation in some and tossing out some old plastic frames I made the mistake of buying years ago when I first got “stung” by this great adventure.

I rarely tell people what kind of equipment to purchase because everyone has their own goals and way of operating.  Remember the only rule in beekeeping is that their aren’t any rules.  Everyone will choose their own route.  However, I sure do wish someone would have steered me away from the all plastic frames.  Even after scraping them off and hosing them down you cannot remove the imbedded pollen and “gunk” that sticks to the bottom of the cells.

Now just why do you need to keep clean wax in your hives you might ask?  Most beekeepers use chemicals in their hives to control Varroa.  Wax absorbs these chemicals and consequently your bees are constantly exposed to low levels of chemicals intended for the mites.  Even if you don’t use in-hive miticides the wax will become laden with the toxins the bees bring home from your neighbors yards (if you are in or near town) or nearby agricultural fields.  When the comb becomes really dark its time for a change.

Brood comb will harbor all sorts of nasty’s.  A few days after the egg is laid the larva pupates and spins her cocoon.  Before she does she empties her digestive system into the bottom of the cell.  After hatching the house bees clean up what they can but they cannot clean it all and the rest is sealed into the cell with propolis and wax.  After a few generations this comb will be nearly black and sealed within it will be any pesticides the bees were exposed to, nosema spores, foulbrood, etc.  It only adds to the stress level of your colony.

So every few years you will want to replace this comb and spring is the time to do it because much of the comb will be empty.  That is what I’ve been working on today and this brings me back to my original thought.  You want to purchase frames (I like the wooden frames) with removable foundation.  Pop out the old one and replace it with new.  Some folks like the duragilt foundation, which is a very thin sheet of plastic coated in bees wax.  The bees do take right to it and I have used it with great success.  However, most of the wax used to coat the plastic comes from commercial operations so you know its had some level of exposure to miticides and possibly some other chemicals.

Another way to go is to use Rite-cell foundation.  It too is coated with wax but bees don’t always like plastic foundation so here is a surefire way to guarantee their acceptance of it.  Today I put a piece of clean wax (gathered from my hives last season) in my solar wax melter to soften it.  I then take the new foundation and rub it down lengthwise with the softened ball of wax.  Some folks actually melt the wax and then brush it on, but I find rubbing it on to be the easiest.  A thin coating of wax from your own hives and the bees will take right to it.  It will also put a thin film of your own clean wax between your bees and the wax that came with the foundation.

Maintaining clean wax in your hives will reduce your bees exposure to toxic chemicals and other waste products that build up in the old wax.  You want to own the frames that allow you to pop out the old foundation and replace it with new.  A little spring cleaning will reduce the level of things your brand new bees being born this spring don’t need to be exposed to and make for healthier hive.

So You Want to Bee a Beekeeper

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So You Want to Bee a Beekeeper

As I sit down to write this article the thermometer reads just one degree.  Last night’s low was 3 degrees and tonight it’s supposed to be a few degrees below zero.  I can’t help thinking of my girls outside in their hives, shivering their wings to maintain a temperature of about ninety degrees within their cluster.

They are amazing little creatures and all of them have already survived temperatures of minus 17 degrees this winter.  How do I know they survived?  During a break in the winter weather I saw bees flying from most of the hives, while others were visiting the dog’s water dish.  What about the hives that had little or no activity?  A simple test can give you a good read on what’s going on inside without opening the hive, which you do not want to do in the dead of winter.  I put my ear to the side of the hive and listened for a familiar buzz.  The three hives that were less active all had a nice buzz to them.

You might think that January is a little early to be thinking about taking up beekeeping, so it may surprise you if I said you might be a year behind.  Beekeeping is becoming more popular all the time, but long term success has not been the result and many abandon the hobby after only a few years.  So contrary to the many articles you can read that encourage you to jump right in, I hope, not so much to discourage you, but to help you make an educated decision about whether beekeeping is right for you or not.  Would you make a good beekeeper?

Let me ask you some questions first.

1) How much reading have you done?  You may be surprised at how much you really don’t understand about bee culture and how the hives function.  Do your homework.

2) Have you spent any time with a local beekeeper, inspecting hives and learning from someone with experience, and yes, even getting stung?  Find a mentor that is successful with his/her own bees.

3) What is your goal?  One or two hives for the joy of having them, for pollination of your garden and sharing in a little raw honey, or maybe just for the simple relaxation of spending time with your girls?  Or possibly getting the feel of things and then going whole hog?

4) Have you figured your start up costs?  How about the time commitment?  Type of equipment? Read.

5) Have you considered the type of hive you want?  Langstroth, Top-bar, Warre, Other?

6) Packages or Nucs?

7) Know you’re zoning laws.  Are you allowed to keep bees?  What about your neighbors?  Did I mention read?

8) How much time are you willing to commit to your new hobby?

My point is this.  Beekeeping has become a very popular pass time, but paralleling its popularity has been a corresponding rate of failure and hive abandonment.  More beekeepers experiencing long term success would be good for our honeybees.  Numerous failed hives abandoned in people’s backyards is not a good thing for our honeybees.  Some of those hives are dead because they were diseased and when left abandoned, the disease can quickly be spread to other healthy hives when bees that come to rob the honey bring the disease home with them.

As much as I love to see new folks experience the joy associated with keeping bees, our honeybees have enough issues facing them.  It would be irresponsible of me to tell you to just go for it without addressing some of the key components you must consider if you want to avoid the majority of new beekeepers who abandon the hobby just a few years down the road.

So let’s begin.  Lets first memorize the two most important rules of beekeeping:

Rule 1)  There are Absolutely No Absolutes when it comes to beekeeping.  You will find divergent viewpoints on every single aspect of beekeeping.  You must decide for yourself what is right for you and your bees and then diligently pursue your chosen course.   (see item number one above)

Rule 2)  Maintain some perspective.  You are going to experience failures along with your success.  Failures are not the end of the world unless you throw up your hands and refuse to learn from them.  An easy going attitude that brings a calm, relaxed manner to your beekeeping will be appreciated by your bees and your spouse as well.  If you simply must worry about something, then worry about something constructive, like a solution to rid us of those malicious parasites that cause more problems and losses than all others……No, not mites.  Politicians!

Here in early January it may surprise you to think the queen bees in those hives are also gearing up for spring.  You see it won’t be long before the queen begins to lay again.  She’s been taking a few weeks of well deserved rest after eleven months of laying eggs.  But just as she begins to slow her egg laying after the summer solstice (longest day), she soon begins laying eggs again not long after winters shortest day, (between December twenty first and twenty second) when we experience the shortest day and longest night.

So like I said, it might be just one degree outside on this first day of January, but if you’re going to keep bees this year you might already be late for the party unless you really get to crackin!

When starting out you are going to be faced with two decisions that will direct the majority of your actions when purchasing equipment and more specifically, how you intend to manage your bees.  If you have been doing the reading you need to do to prepare yourself, you already know about the discussion concerning various types of foundation, small cell or even foundationless.  The details of that discussion are outside the scope of this article though we will touch on some aspects of it when discussing equipment.  The type of hive and frames you decide to use direct your purchase of equipment.  This is where going to the field with a mentor pays big dividends.

The second decision you must make is if you are going to use chemicals in your hives to treat for mites and disease or if you are going to manage for these issues without the use of chemicals.  Once again, read, read, read and spend time in the field with a mentor who manages his bees in the same manner you would want to manage your own.

So Let’s Get Started – Where To Site your Bees

If you have checked to make sure local regulations allow you to keep bees (I had to petition city hall and work through the process to get our local regulations changed to allow bees to be kept within city limits), most likely you will have found you need a six foot fence around your hives to raise the bees flight path above head level.  Some people also use sheds, stacked firewood and vegetation to accomplish this.

Next you will want to locate your bee hives so they receive the morning sun to warm them.  Mid to late day dappled shade can be nice for those blistering hot summer days but is not required.  Finally you will need to provide a source of water near the hives if you don’t want your bees visiting the neighbor’s hot tub or child’s wading pool.  (I use a 3 x 5 tub about six inches deep with rocks for them to land on because bees can’t swim)

Basic Equipment

  • A smoker, hive tool, bee brush and a pair of boots that will keep the bees out is a good place to start. You may want some other hand tools as well but it’s not necessary to purchase the “kits” put together for beginners as they usually include a fair amount of equipment you don’t need.
  • Hive boxes
  • Frames and foundation. I suggest avoiding plastic frames. Bees prefer wax foundation or no foundation at all. Most foundation comes imprinted with a pattern that matches the cells the bees will build their comb on. If you go the foundationless route, the bees will build their own comb without following a predetermined pattern.
  • A bee suit and gloves. Don’t be intimidated by the numerous video’s you find on the web showing people inspecting a hive with nothing on but a veil, t-shirt and shorts. This is not about being macho. Wear what makes you comfortable so you can calmly spend time with your bees without being nervous. You want to practice slow, fluid movements that are least likely to disturb your bees.
  • A stand that keeps your hives off the ground. Two 2×6’s spaced and nailed together at a width that accommodates the bottom board of your hive and some cinder blocks to set it upon make a simple and cost effective hive stand.
  • A gallon of paint or natural sealant. White is the customary color and it helps to prevent the hives from overheating in the summer.

Most beekeepers order pre-cut frame and hive components that are easily assembled at home with glue and nails.  I do not recommend buying used hive components unless it’s from a trusted source.  (Remember that mentor I’ve mentioned)  You can find used smokers and bee suits but don’t skimp on the hive and frames.  Used hives, frames and the comb that comes with them can contain disease.

What does all this cost.  You can expect to spend $500 to $600 for two hives and a weekend assembling it all.

Getting Your Bees

One of the main reasons a new beekeeper needs to plan ahead is the need to order bees early.  Last summer I ran into two people who were ready and anxious to begin beekeeping.  They set up their hives, prepared a water source and then found out they could not get the bees they needed.

Beekeeping is no longer just for the farmer or other rural folk as more and more urbanites have come to enjoy the hobby.  Therefore you will want to order your bees early because demand can outstrip supply.  If you have already been working with a mentor it is likely they will be a good source for your bees.  If you need to purchase your bees from a supplier NOW is the time to get on board with them and place your order, or at least find out when they will begin taking orders.

You will want to look into suppliers who offer bees bred for “Hygienic behavior.”  This is a trait that helps bees to naturally control mites.

Prior to ordering you will need to decide if you want to begin with a Nuc (short for nucleus hive) or a package.  Nucs come in a small box, normally with four or five frames, a laying queen, drawn out comb containing eggs and capped brood and plenty of worker bees.

A 3 pound package of bees will contain approximately 12,000 workers and a queen that comes in a small cage you install in the hive.  The bees will release the queen in a few short days after she is installed.  With a package all you get are the bees.  There is no drawn comb containing eggs and larva.  Both approaches work well, but I like the package approach for beginners because they get to see the bees build comb and the queen begin laying eggs.  Observing this process helps to train the new beekeepers eye to recognize eggs, larva, capped worker brood/drone brood and stores the bees put away.

Beginning with at least two hives will allow the beginner to compare hives and see how one is progressing compared to the other.  Or in the case you lose a hive (it happens) you are not without bees.

What will your bees cost?  (This is in addition to the cost for hives and equipment) Depending on where you live, Nucs sell for $100 to $125 and packages will go for $85 to $100.  Your total layout after purchasing bees now comes to at least $700 to $800.

Time Commitment

A few years back it was all the rage for urbanites to have a few backyard chickens.  It seemed simple enough.  Keep a few chickens and have your own farm fresh eggs.  Some people did stay with it, but it wasn’t long before things like cleaning the coop, raising replacement birds and all the other things that were not considered, left a lot of empty coops sitting in people’s backyards.  Craigslist was full of advertisements for equipment and chicken coops for sale.

The intent of this article is not to discourage you from taking up beekeeping but to spur a little thinking about your own commitment to this hobby.  It’s why reading and spending time with a mentor are so highly recommended.

Many of the books out there will tell you not to open and disturb the hive very often, but just how are you supposed to learn if you don’t?  For a person brand new to beekeeping I would suggest a hive inspection every week to ten days so you can train your eye and understand what you are looking at.  Are you willing to make that kind of time commitment?  For some that will be a challenge, yet for others, they won’t be able to wait until they can return to the hive and see what “their girls” have been up to.   It is my hope you are part of the latter group.

Honeybee Headlines

Honeybee stories are familiar headlines to most.  Colony Collapse Disorder has brought them to our attention and so has the important role bees play in the pollination of much of the food we eat.  If you educate and prepare yourself well, you can contribute to a healthy population of honeybees.  The bees owned by most hobby beekeepers do not get the same exposure to toxic chemicals like those of commercial beekeepers.  There are even reports that loses for involved, proactive, small scale beekeepers are less than those of commercial beekeepers.

This article just scratches the surface.  Remember what I said about reading?  But a person must also get their hands dirty to avoid paralysis by analysis.  It is hoped the information provided here will help you determine if you are ready to make the commitment it takes to become a successful beekeeper.

To further assist you in your beekeeping efforts I will be blogging a season of beekeeping in the Pacific Northwest.  So please check back for updates as the season progresses and we will discuss the various issues that come up over the course of the season.

In the mean time, locate a local beekeeper and inquire about their practices.  Most beekeepers love to share what they have learned about their craft and will welcome you with open arms.  Find a mentor if you have not already done so and tell him/her of your desire to get started with your own hives.  If you are going to keep bees this summer, do not wait to get started.  Now is the time, even if the temperature is hovering just above zero outside.

RESOURCES  

The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum (One of the best in my opinion)

Beekeeping for Dummies  (Other books often overlook some of the very basic questions the newbie has)

The Beekeepers Handbook

Bee Culture – is an excellent magazine you can subscribe to.

SUPPLIERS  (Include but are not limited to)

Mann Lake

Walter T. Kelly Co.

Brushy Mountain Bee Farm

Betterbee

Dadant and Sons

Ruhl Bee Supply

Glory Bee Foods

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.

The Queen of Hearts, Hives and Frustration

What a terrific weekend we had at the Meadow of Lavender in Colton Oregon this weekend for the Oregon Lavender Festival. There was an excellent turnout and I’m sure everyone enjoyed themselves as they learned about the lavender products and how they are made. We also had excellent attendance at the bee classes I held and in each class people suited up in the spare bee suits that were available and had a look in the hives for themselves. My thanks to all those who attended.

In the first class the attendees had the opportunity to see first hand how a hive requeens itself in a process called supercedure. At the bottom of one of the frames we removed from the hive were two queen cells, about four inches apart. One cell was opened at the very bottom, the other was opened from the side. The first cell was the one the queen hatched from. When a new queen hatches the first thing she does is dispatch with any other queens in the hive. The other queen cell demonstrated how that is done. The new queen chews through the side of the cell and stings to death the queen that has yet to hatch.

After looking the queen cells over and discussing what happened we continued our inspection of the hive and found lots of newly laid eggs and tiny larvae. Though we did not see the queen herself, it was apparent she has been very busy since hatching and completing her mating flights.

This brings me to the point of this post. There has been a lot of trouble with queen failure this year. This is an issue that has been building for the past number of season and appears to have finally landed with a crash this year. In reading the various forums it appears to be a fairly widespread occurrence. My own experience with this has even been greater than most are reporting. In April I purchased 9 new packages of bees. Six of nine packages, have lost queens, some more than once, as in the hive we inspected in class. The queens that came with the packages are soon replaced and then the new queen fails and is replaced again. This leads to weak hives and I am about to lose one of my new hives because they have grown weak and failed to raise a new queen.

Of course there are a number of different view points, but one that makes a lot of sense has to do the problems queen producers have had with insect growth regulators that have been put on during the bloom with fungicides, mostly in California. All of my packages came from California so I don’t believe its a coincidence my new packages are failing. There can also be a lack of genetics and diverse drone sources in the large commercial producers that contribute to the problem.

With nearly $100 dollars invested in each package I have reached the conclusion it is no longer feasible to purchase commercially available packages. If you are considering acquiring bees next season I would recommend against using a commercial outlet to get your bees. There is simply too much at risk and if your just starting out who wants the trouble and disappointment of losing hives. Many newbees would be left thinking it was something they did. As I stated in my classes this last weekend, I am interested in new beeks (beekeepers) having success, therefore, after having lost nearly 70 percent of the queens that came in the new packages I purchased this year I can only suggest that you avoid the commercial outlets. I mean really – who wants to spend all the money it takes to set up new hives and acquire the equipment you need, just to get inferior bees that don’t have a good chance of making it.

So what’s the alternative? Go with locally produced nucs. Nuc is short for nucleus hive. Normally you get four frames of bees and a frame of stores, but the fours nucs that a friend and I purchased this year came stuffed with five full frames of bees. All four are doing well and have not experience the requeening/supercedure issues that the packages have experienced. The advantage of a nuc is that you have a queen who has been laying and producing for weeks, if not months, before you purchase it. This miniature hive is established and well on its way with a queen that has proven she is healthy. Yes, nucs often cost a bit more, but the premium you pay is well worth it if you are getting a healthy queen instead of a poor commercially produced queen that will be replaced nearly as soon as you put her in the hive.

So if you are looking at beginning beekeeping next season or if you want to add to the hive or hives you already have, now is the time to begin to locate local beeks that will have nucs to sell next season. Find out about their practices and the success rate of their nucs. Get to know them and their products. Ultimately you should come out far ahead with a nuc over a package of bees.

And for you beeks with a season or two under your belts, learn to split your own hives and make your own increase. Splitting a hive is not difficult and far less expensive. If you have yet to do it, then consider it your next step along the path of beekeeping.

Until next time my best to all of you and may you only know the queen of hearts when it comes to your own hives.

Meadow of Lavender link – http://meadowoflavender.com/

Spring is Officially Here!

ImageNo I haven’t misread the calendar, today was the first day I observed pollen coming into the hives.  Each day I take a trip to the beeyard to see if the bees are gathering pollen and today I saw it.  Kind of a beige color and most likely it is from pussywillow, which is usually the first to get up and going around here.  Aspen will be along soon too.

Steady progress is being made on preparing equipment for the new beeyard on the other side of the mountains and in my own preparations to present the class.  Some have commented about how much work it is, but is it really work if you love what your doing?  I don’t think so, in fact if I had it all to do over again, I might just have made a career out of beekeeping.

Anyway, after just one week of advertising we have signed up 13 people for the bee class I am holding.  That’s exciting and it looks like we might get as many as the 25 we are limiting the class size too.  Going to go over hive equipment, beekeeping equipment and some of the products that come from bees.  The class schedule looks like this:

–   Why do we need bees and what has been happening to them

–  The bee Life cycle

– Types of bees (races)

– Honey and why its not all the same

– Other products we get from the hive

– How to get started

– You’ve ordered bees, they’ve arrived, now…How do you get them in the hive?  (There will be three hives so this will be demonstrated three times.

– You’ve got bees in the hive, now what do you do?

– Question and answer time.

If I have time I may try to cover these items here in this blog.

While I’m excited about the quick and early signups (still 5 weeks until the class) I’m not that surprised.  People are becoming more aware of the value of bees and what they do for us, and how their numbers are declining at alarming rates.  This all fits hand in glove with more and more people looking to buy healthy, locally grown food and to know the people growing it and how they grow it.  The two go together and as the interest in one grows it also seems to grow in the other.