Tag Archives: bees

Splits and other Beekeeping Gymnastics

100_4502100_4503

The spring season will pass into summer before you know it and the thoughts of many beekeepers will soon turn to the collection of honey.  Yes I know, we aren’t quite there yet, but in another few weeks (mid-June) you will be able to look into your hives and see which ones are going to produce a ton of sweet golden nectar for you  (At least that’s the case here in Central Oregon where the season is so short) and which ones are slow, struggling or for some reason just not getting on with things.

Something to consider is to take the slower hives and make splits out of them.  (I have already completed my spring splits which I do around May 1st, but recently I have taken to doing splits later in the season so I have nucs to winter that are ready to go in the spring.)  The ability to make splits is an essential tool that today’s beekeeper must possess to be successful, reduce costs and most of all, keep your hives healthy.  So don’t be afraid of taking the next step in your beekeeping adventure.

There are a number of ways to make splits.  One of the oldest ways of splitting a Langstroth hive is to set a new hive next to the existing hive and remove every other frame from the original hive and put them in the new hive.  The spaces left in the original hive are filled with new frames and the five frames that were removed from it are placed together in the new hive with the outside empty space filled with new frames.  Beekeepers who are making their first splits are often more comfortable making a split this way because they are not required to find the queen.  The hive that ends up without a queen will make queen cells, raise up a new queen and replace her.

That’s the old way.  The approach I take is outlined below and it should prove to be very effective in producing strong hives and healthy queens for you.

Any hive with at least four frames of capped brood can be split.  I go to the beeyard to make my splits in the afternoon when most of the field bees are out of the hive.  So for our example, let’s imagine a hive with seven frames of capped brood.  I locate the queen and place the frame she is on in a new hive along with a frame of capped brood (two frames of brood if the queen was not on a frame of brood when you moved her) and a frame of stores.  I then add a shake or so of bees (these will be mostly nurse bees since the field bees are out of the hive) to care for the larva and brood.

The new hive containing the queen is then placed in the exact same location as the original hive was.  When the field bee return they will return to the new hive.  The original hive that is now queenless is moved a short distance away (5 to 10 feet).  There is no need to move it far away as the field bees are returning to the same place they expect to find a hive and a queen.  They will not return to the queenless hive you have just created.

It takes about 7 days for new queen cells to be raised and capped, so you will want to return to the queenless hive a week after you make the split.  Waiting a week allows the strength of your healthy hive to raise up healthy queens.  So after a week we return to our queenless hive that began with 7 frames of capped brood.  (Remember it could be four frames of brood, but that is the minimum) We removed two frames of brood when we removed the queen so now we have 5 frames of brood left.  From these five frames we will create two new hives – one with two frames of brood and one with three.

When you make this split you locate the frames containing the newly made queen cells and split them amongst the two new hives.  If there are a lot of queen cells you should reduce them down to two or three for each of the two new hives you make.

In another 10 days the queen cells will begin to hatch.  After hatching, the new queen will destroy any other queen cells she can find.  If other queens have hatched they will fight to the death.  That is the reason to reduce the number of queen cells in the new splits to two or three.  The new queen will need time to mature and after a week or so she will begin to take orientation flights near the colony before going on longer flights to mate.  All in all the entire process will approach approximately 30 days before the new queen begins to lay.  That’s 30 days without a queen – and nothing could be more healthy for your hive!!!

Mites enter cells containing larva on day eight.  The bees cap the cell on day nine and the mite and any young it produces feed on the young larva before it hatches.  What that does to the young bee is another conversation entirely and is beyond the scope of this discussion but we all know it’s not a good thing.  So what happens when there is no larva in the hive for the mites to feed on?  The mites die of course and bingo!  You have the most natural control of mites there is.

So now let’s add a couple twists to our making splits gymnastics.

A the very beginning of this process, after you remove the queen and create the queenless hive you will want to “notch” some cells containing the youngest larva you can see with the naked eye.  Use your hive tool to break down the very lowest edge of the cells containing young larva WITHOUT harming the larva.  Break it down to the foundation.  I can’t always see the tiny larva so I usually overlap between eggs and young larva.  The bees will treat these cells differently and build queen cells wherever you have notched.  I normally do this on three frames.  Notching provides space for the bees to create the large cells necessary to build a queen cell.  This process has never failed me and will virtually guarantee your own success.

The next step is for creating smaller nucleus hives you want to winter.   After the summer solstice (longest day) queens begin to reduce their egg laying in preparation for the coming winter.  A queen that emerges after the summer solstice will lay like a spring queen for many weeks after she is born.  Because of this you can make late season splits from the hives that are coming along slowly.  I’ve done them as late as July 1, but prefer to make them around mid-June because of our short season here.   The splitting process is the same and the new hive will have just enough to time to raise up its numbers and put away enough stores to make it through the winter.   When spring comes, these hives with their young queens take off with a bang!  You can then use them to replace hives you lost or use them to sell.

If you learn to split your hives you will never need to buy bees again and the splits will maintain healthy hives throughout your beeyard.  There’s still time for you to try it this year and if using the methods described here your success is all but guaranteed.

Advertisements

Quick update

With regard’s to my earlier post about the poor quality of packages coming out of California last year, I wanted to update you that the company, GloryBee was not helpful at all when I contacted them about the problem.  Considering that all my other hives did very well with none lost and only the packages from GloryBee struggling and dying out I think its pretty clear where the problem was.

I’ve done business with this company for many years but that didn’t seem to matter when I contacted them, so my suggestion, based upon my recent experience would be to find someone else to purchase your bees from this year.  They clearly delivered an inferior product and weren’t interested in hearing what I had to say about last years poor quality packages.  I think you will be better off doing business somewhere else.  Again, that just my hands on experience but it cost me nearly a thousand dollars to learn this lesson.  Plenty of other companies to get your bees from and its only fair that you get a heads up with regards to this issue.

Have a good season all.

Clean Wax and getting Equipment Ready for Spring

100_4279

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

100_4318

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 Beekeepers Short Story

The troops were all dead.  It was a killing field, or maybe the detonation of a small nuclear device, befitting the size of a bee, smuggled in on the back of some non-descript illegal; maybe a yellow jacket, or a hive beetle perhaps?  The top bars were covered with dead and not a single one stirred when their home was taken away by wheelbarrow.

A cool breeze sifted through the lifeless tan and bronze bodies and found none worthy of flight.  The weak sun, its honey colored glow serving only to highlight the disaster, failed in its effort to muster even one to attention.

It had once been a thriving city, this emerald in the desert.  Its Queen was held in the highest esteem and the little city was known far and wide for its royal jelly.  So cheerful and productive were its citizens that the city burst with growth, ever expanding until its walls hummed with the buzz of good cheer.  Guards were stationed at the front gate, ever alert and at attention, while the citizens came and went on their busy errands. Some brought nectar to honor the Queen while others brought stores of pollen for her workers.  The Guardian thrilled at the sight of them approaching the gate, laden with their weighty loads of plunder and landing heavily on the deck before going inside to present their gifts to the Queen.

As the supplies came in, waves of other bees would leave for the fields to gather from crocus, daffodils and hyacinth.  This golden pollen and sweet nectar would not be enough to feed the masses, but the season was early and it was only the first fruits of the season.  A cry had gone out from the Queens attendants that food supplies were running low and every available worker was needed to bring in the fuel that would feed and heat the castle.

Alas, their efforts failed.

On the eve of a bitter, frosty night, with temperatures hovering near 8 degrees, the heat had gone out in the castle.  All hands gathered around the Queen to protect her and keep her warm.  They worked their wings like they did every night, striving to maintain 90 degrees in the castle, but one by one, they fell away.  The food supplies were exhausted and the workers, already weakened from lack of nourishment, could not keep the heat on throughout the night.  As they perished, the remaining few worked harder than ever to maintain warmth in the castle, causing them also to fall aside with exhaustion.

Prowling, baying and ever present, the Queens greatest enemy crept through the unguarded door.  First to the far reaches of the castle, then down the halls and through the doors to the inner chambers where it’s cold, frozen fingers immobilized the guards and reached the young brood snuggled in their beds. Quietly it stilled them before proceeding to snuff out the workers and subdue the Queen herself.  The castle fell silent.

This is how the Guardian found them the next morning.  Searching throughout the castle, not even a single bee was moving.  It appeared all had been lost and the thriving little kingdom would perish.

Resting on a stump, reflecting on his loss, he watched the workers in a nearby lesser realm working the same fields of spring color the now perished kingdom had once worked.  They would have known workers from the lost kingdom and he was sure that word had already spread throughout the land.  It was then the Guardian felt the pangs of loss again.  He looked back toward the empty gates of the now silent hive.  No longer were heavily laden flights landing like newborn birds learning their craft.  It seemed impossible, that just hours before, this flourishing little empire had been silenced.  The Guardian mourned the loss of a dear friend, a friend closer to his heart than he had known.

The world could never know what he had celebrated with these miniature friends, for few can know the intimacy shared between man and beast, however small, except those that occasionally choose to leave this world and become part of theirs.  He had walked the halls of their castle, known the inner sanctum and shared its secrets like no other.  The weight of it all brought not just the tears to his eyes, but the burden of knowing he had broken the bond of trust shared with the keepers of this little fortress.  If only he had brought food to carry them through the spring until natures nectar flow filled the hive with nourishment.

The Guardian remained there on the stump, pondering his mistake and longing for another chance.  The incessant buzz of workers in the nearby realm coming and going on their busy appointments, digging at his reminiscence of the times he had shared in the now silent deep residing before him.  One worker of those workers, struggling under its load came to rest upon his knee.  It paused long enough to rest its wings and he longed to carry it to the deck of its hive and spare it the effort to finish its trip.  Instead he simply watched while the bee looked up and appraised him with suspicion, before adjusting its wings to absorb the warmth of the sun.  Then, after a couple short buzzes, lifted up and lumbered to the landing deck of its own castle, the bright yellow pollen gleaming on its legs.

As that single bee moved on with its life, the Guardian knew he must do the same and with one last glance at the still and lifeless bodies lying atop the frames of the bottom deep, he turned to go. The sun was gaining strength now and he felt its warmth reaching through his jacket as he passed the swelling buds on the peach tree.  Then, upon approaching the upper half of the castle he had brought back to the house in his wheelbarrow, he could not believe his eyes.  Surely he was mistaken, but the top of the hive, all along the top bars, was moving, slowly, but moving none the less.

Quickly he returned with this piece of the hive and restored the castle.  He found blankets to wrap around the castle in an effort to keep out the wind and restore warmth.  He brought feed in the form of warm sugar water and soon the workers drank deeply.  A quart and a half in one day!  Now the fight was on.  Were their enough workers remaining to heat the castle?  Would sugar water be enough?  Was all the brood dead?  Was the Queen still a live?  Long live the Queen!

Surely honey would be better than sugar water and the Guardian knew just where to find it.  Off he went, but before he could return the weather turned sour, the wind grew strong and pulled the cold northern air down across the desert.  As the flower blossoms closed, the Guardian made sure the castle was wrapped tight so no drafts were allowed inside.  Were there enough bees remaining alive to fight off the cold?  He did not know if their diminished numbers could accomplish the task.

The following day the weather continued to deteriorate and the Guardian dared not open the hive lest he release any heat the bees had managed to sustain.  Once again he adjusted the blankets, making sure the little castle was protected from the wind and returned to his own castle to wait out the storm.  The wind brought with it dashes of snow and a light rain.  The odds were working against the keepers of the deep and he feared for their lives.

But in the morning blue sky had broke free and the wind abated, the Guardian approached the front of the hive where the sun now bestowed its warmth.  They were there, busily making their trips to the field and in greater numbers than he had dared to hope.  Still he restrained his hand from opening the hive and allowing in the cold.  Hope was alive and he dared not kill it for lack of patience.  He busied himself in the garden for much of the day while making frequent trips to the palace of the Queen to watch in amazement at the life now returned to these once lifeless bodies.

Late in the day the sun burst forth in a brilliant display of its strength and beauty.  Its golden glow brought life to all living creatures who now reveled in its warmth, shaking off the cold damp chill that had ruled the land.  The Guardian rushed to the castle with a frame of pure golden honey in his hands.  After removing the roof from the top of the castle he was thrilled and amazed at the activity within.  The killing field had returned to life.  Though mountains of dead bees lay upon the bottom board in the basement of the castle where the workers had cast them aside, it appeared enough of the once lifeless forms had returned from the dead to make a go of it.

Gently he removed an empty frame and replaced it with a full frame of the honey he had acquired.  Now they would have the fuel they needed to run at full strength. A number of the workers and guard bees bombed him and dove at his head, causing the Guardian to smile.  He had not used his smoker to subdue their activity as surely they had been through enough and instead wore only is protective suit, happy to see them alive and doing their jobs.

As the days passed, a procession of even more dead bodies consisting of workers bees and many, many young, killed in their slumber by Jack Frosts icy blue hands were added to the growing graveyard at front of the castle.  But the surviving bees, once brought low by the same winter cold, carried on.  They ate the honey, fed the Queen and she produced more young.  The workers brought in the abundance from the field.  Soon the glory of the old kingdom returned and with it so did the glow of satisfaction in simple things, return to the Guardian.

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.

Don’t Bee That Guy!

Have you been thinking about keeping bees? Its all the rage you know, why not jump in – and therein lies the problem.

Today I was at the Quickie Lube place in town getting the oil changed in my car. I always get there early and there was just one other person in the waiting room when I arrived. This old boy was reading some “Hollywood people” magazine – gotta keep up with all those trendy people you know – NOT!

A few minutes later a woman came in and sat down between the two of us. It just so happens that I know her because I have beehives at her place. She’s a lovely lady whose dealing with some tough issues and we soon began a conversation. Before long the conversation turned to the bees and the honey we can expect to get from the hives at her place. That’s when “Mr. Hollywood” puts down his magazine and joins the conversation we were having. “Oh, I had bees. Damn things died on me. I put them in my greenhouse and they died.” He went on to express his frustration with the bees and then added that even the plants in his greenhouse had died. Couldn’t have been any neglect involved here now could there? NAW!

Later on the fella working at the Quickie Lube place came in and began running through the issues with “Mr. Hollywood’s” car. I overheard enough to know there was virtually no coolant in the radiator (not the reserve tank but the radiator itself) and the oil level didn’t even register on the dipstick (the one in the car).

Does that not tell you all you need to know!?

Folks, if your thinking of keeping bees please take stock of the time commitment it requires. Read, read, read and learn about what you are committing to before you jump in. Don’t be this guy.

A few years ago I was at a local bee club meeting and the old timers were expressing concern over all the folks jumping into beekeeping. While they wanted to see more people keeping bees they were concerned it was a fad and that the resulting abandoned hives would soon die out and be left sitting abandoned in a backyard somewhere. The problem with that is it wont be long before other bees find the hives and begin to rob them. If disease was the reason the hives died out, its likely the disease would be transmitted back to healthy hives simply because the “fad owner” couldn’t be bothered to be responsible with the care of his bees or even the removal of the deadout hives.

As much as I want to see more folks involved with bees, please take stock of what it takes to be actively involved in the management of your bees. If your honest with yourself and realize you cannot commit the time required then don’t get them. Our bee populations have enough issues to deal with. On the other hand, if you don’t have the time required to responsibly manage your bees, find someone who is looking for another beeyard and let them hive bees on your place. You’ll get some honey out of the deal but wont have to commit to the time and work required to properly care for your bees.

For the bees sake, don’t bee Mr. Hollywood.

In the more down to earth world of bee keeping, I’ve just about finished the harvest of my first two honey supers for a total of 4 gallons of the best honey around! I say that because it is chemical free and the bees draw from so many sources of nectar around our place that the result is the most unique blend of flavors you can imagine. The process I use to extract the honey is called crush and strain. No heat is used and no filtering to remove the pollen takes. Many people don’t realize both of these actions occur with commercial honey. Some where down the line I will try to find time to cover just what crush and strain is. There is no need to buy that $400+ extractor to get the honey your bees make for you. Until then enjoy your summer and remember – Don’t Bee That Guy described in this article.