Tag Archives: environment

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.


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/

Now Was That fun or What??!!!


One of the greatest joys of beekeeping is collecting a swarm.  It’s been a few seasons since I’ve collected a swarm for my own beeyard.  I’ve helped others collect swarms the past couple summers but had not had the opportunity to collect one for myself.  Thus I was pretty excited last night when we got a call about an hour or so before dark, from a friend of ours who passed along the location of swarm not too far from where we live.  The swarm was in the front yard of a friend’s of theirs.  My wife and I grabbed our gear and headed right on over.  We were greeted by the neighbors and proceeded to get our gear on so we could collect the bees.

As you can see from the pictures the swarm was located inside a small evergreen tree.  It was kinda tight getting in to reach them and we didn’t want to cut any branches from the tree.  The neighbors asked how we would get them out of there.  Normally I would have cut the branch off and then smacked it so the ball of bees fell into my nuc box, but I’m not sure that would have worked this time.  The bees were balled up around a number of smaller branches, so while my wife held the box underneath the ball of bees I shook the limbs above it, dropping the bees into the box.  Then I took my brush and swept more of the bees from the tree into the box.

We set the box in the driveway and began to watch for the bees to fan.  If you have caught the queen the workers will sit atop the box and in front of the entrance with their little butts up in the air fanning away to spread the queens pheromone.  This way the other bees know where the queen is at and will come a running, or flying as the case may bee.  It wasn’t long before we had a number of bees fanning away and I was pretty sure we had the queen at that point.  Still, there were a number of bees still balling up in the tree.  I made three more trips back to the tree to brush out more bees into the lid of the nuc so I could drop them in with the rest of the bees, thereby collecting as many as I could.

With the bees all up in the air after stirring them up and one neighbor allergic to bee stings, everyone had gone inside except for the one neighbor you see in shorts in the picture.  He was very curious and we had a delightful conversation about bees, their life cycle and about collecting them.  While the bees found their way into the box with the queen, my wife and I answered his questions.  Then so he could see the fanny bees we had been describing to him my wife gave him her bee suit so he could have a close up look and I pointed out the fanning bees we had been talking about.

I enjoyed our conversation with this person very much.  One of the rewards of beekeeping is sharing with people how different honeybees are from other bees – such as yellowjackets and wasps.  Not all bees are the same and as you can tell from the picture he found them to be quite docile which they almost always are unless you are near or getting into their hive.  Most swarms are especially easy to handle because they have no home to defend and are mostly just interested in staying with the queen.

We left the box for about an hour and after dark I returned in my pickup to collect them.  When I got home I place the box out in the beeyard and early this morning I hived them into a new hive that hopefully will become a nice new addition to my growing number of hives.

Now a short lesson.  Why does a beehive swarm and where did these bees come from?  Swarming is the bees way of making a new hive.  When their hive is getting full they raise up a new queen and then the old queen departs with at least half the of the bees in the hive.  This gives the bees much needed room inside the hive.  A new queen is a very productive layer and will rapidly raise up a number of bees to replace the ones that left.  Swarming is natures way of making new beehives but if you are keeping bees for honey production swarming is not something you want to see.  The loss of all those bees from the hive means you have probably lost your honey production for the season, so most beekeepers will split strong hives early in the season to keep then from swarming.  Splitting a hive is kind of like an artificial swarm but you keep your bees that way and get a new hive out of it too.

Where did this swarm come from?  With the dry canyon and lots of juniper trees nearby, its possible this is a native swarm from a wild beehive.  I also know of a couple beekeepers that are not far from where we found the swarm and its also possible it came from one of their hives.

This is the time of year hives swarm.  A hive that came through the winter strong and healthy will be producing huge numbers of bees by now.  I thank my friends who called to let me know about this swarm and if we are lucky we may be able to catch another one before the swarm season is over.

Technically Speaking – Queen rearing without grafting – Biological Mite Control

This is going to get a little technical, but for the bee buffs out there who really take their hobby seriously this is one thing you don’t want to miss.  Imagine being able to raise your queens, split your hives and control mites all at the same time!!.  That’s what I have learned to do using OTS (On The Spot) Queen Rearing Method developed by Mel Disselkoen.  All credit goes to him in addition to my thanks.

After studying Langstroth, Doolittle and Miller and replicating their experiments, Mel realized the bees would create queen cells right inside the hive by “notching” a row of young larva.  Notching is the breaking down of the bottom third of a cell wall using your hive tool.  The bees treat these larva differently.

So in practice the process works like this.  I took three of my strong hives and create an artificial swarm.  That is, I removed the queen and two frames of brood plus a shake of bees and created three new hives.  Inside each of the hives that was now queenless I “notched” larva cells as described in Mel’s book.  A week later I returned to check the hives and each of them had brand new queen cells.  Please notice I did this only in strong hives, each with at least five frames of capped brood. 

The beauty of this is that it is possible to take a strong hive with 8 frames of capped brood, create one new hive with an artificial swarm, and create 3 more new hives after queen cells have been formed by taking two frames of brood with a couple queen cells to form the new hive. 

Another benefit of doing this is that you get a brood break.  Approximately 30 days will pass from the time of the artificial swarm until the queen is bred and begins laying.  A 30 day break in brood means mites do not have larva to feed on and most of them will die. 

So what do you do with the hives in which you kept the old queens you may ask?  On about July 1st, you can dispatch the old queens and notch larva cells in these hives.  The new queens that emerge will outlay the mite population because they have been born after the summer solstice.  Bees are sensitive to the seasons and in the winter, after the winter solstice the queens begin to increase their egg laying.  In the summer it works in reverse and they begin to reduce their egg laying after the summer solstice.  However, new queens raised after July 1 will lay eggs just as a queen in the spring lays eggs and will outlay the mites and maintain a strong hive going into winter.

This is very exciting research to me and trying my own hand at it and having successful results is even much more exciting.  I encourage you to go to Mels web site to check this out, buy his book and learn how to do this.  It will completely change your approach to beekeeping and should entirely eliminate the need to use any kind of chemicals or miticides within your hives.  Contact information is below.

website – http://www.mdasplitter.com/

email to order book – mdasplitter@sbcglobal.net

A Book, The Bees, And a Mystery

Rarely have I spoken about my book on this blog.  Advertising my book is a weakness of mine, yet, the reviews are always outstanding.  The lesson – writing is one thing, selling is another.  I smile at that, as some things come so natural to a person while others are as foreign as another language.  I’m sure you understand what I mean.  I mention it today because a person who picked up a copy of my book last year – after a conversation we had at the greenhouse I worked at – loved it!  When you write something and put it out there for the public to critique, well, you feel kind of naked.  The woman I spoke with last season at the greenhouse bought the book, her husband read it and then told her she might not be ready for it.  It’s “a national conversation” is one of the comments I received.  I cannot explain how rewarding it is to get feedback like I received today.  Spurs me on in writing the sequel.  The book is “Truths’Blood” by Tyler Roberts.  I hope you’ll check it out.  Are you ready for it?

For the last couple weeks the apple trees have been in full bloom and today is no exception.  I took a walk around the property today to have a look at things after last nights frost and found the trees full of bees.  (Smile)  Living in the high desert of central Oregon we are susceptible to late season frosts that take the blossoms away.  The last few nights have been coming in the range of 28 and 29 but the flowers all seem in good shape.  Its not the absolute temperature as much as it is the duration of the cold.  I cheat a little when it comes to the peach and the plum trees.  They are done blooming and you can see the smallest of fruits now set.  They bloom earlier than apples and I get them through the Jack Frost nights by stringing some of the old outdoor Christmas lights through the lower branches.  Those lights emit enough heat to protect the blossoms from the frost.  Ha ha, beats the old smudge pots now don’t it!

We have a lot of projects going this spring, one of which includes a new well.  There’s a lot of clean up after a well goes in and after continuing the work on that project I decided to put off beginning the job of filling in the 80 foot trench that was dug to connect the water and power to the new well head for another day and dug a hole at a new site so the peach plum we dug up and moved to allow the drill equipment  in, would have a new home.  So much for working on the root cellar I’m digging by hand.  I still need to mow and get the potatoes planted.  But I feel good about the progress.  So far I have wheel borrowed 6 yards of material from the back of the pickup to repair and dress things up about the place.  Ah, but there is always tomorrow.  I love days like this.  Is it physical labor for an aged man of nearly 62 years – of course, but I still enjoy it and at the end of each day I thank the Lord and say, “lets do it again tomorrow Lord.”

I also took a little time out to pull some of our organic rhubarb and sell it to a sweet old gal who can barely move about.  She’s has been buying rhubarb from us for the last few years.  It set me to reflecting on how I was once a youngster catching a ride in an old freight trains box car without a care in the world, no aches in my bones and happiest when I needed the least .  Is life a mystery or what?

Ok, so I also took a little time to brush up on some rusting drumming skills while playing along with little John Hiatt on the stereo.  (Stereo – you youngsters can look that up.)  🙂  Can’t go wrong with Hiatt.  Alright so on to the bees.  I have 16 hives going this year and the first two inspections started out a little disappointing.  The last of my four hives that wintered is struggling.  Upon opening the hive I found a very scattered brood pattern.  By that I mean the frames were not full of capped brood but capped brood that was scattered all across the frame.  I found this throughout both boxes that make up the hive and realized I have a queen that is not at the top of her game.  When a queen begins to decline they lay spotty brood.  I was saddened to have to dispatch with her.  She had seen this hive through the winter and got them off to a good beginning this year, but this hive should have been overflowing with bees and in fact I was concerned that I had waited to long to inspect it and that they might be on the verge of swarming.  Not to bee.  After dispatching with the old queen I “notched” some young larva cells in the hope that the hive will proceed to raise up a new queen.  I will report back on this in the coming weeks.

On the up side of things the hive I created an artificial swarm in (took the queen and four frames of brood and bees) about 10 days ago is really looking good.  (The old queen is in another hive and progressing well.)  The idea was to have this strong hive raise up a new queen.  In so doing there will be a brood break which helps to control mites naturally, without chemicals, and the hive would have a new queen to continue on.  Wow is this hive doing well.  Full of bees AND honey.  Even though there is no queen this hive is storing honey like crazy – a result of not having to feed new larva, which without a queen there is none.  

The upper box had some swarm cells (the hive is too full) and I dispatched with them in hopes the new queen that will hatch in another week or so will take control of things.  In the lower box I found the queen cell I located a few days ago and it is now capped.  Positive progress.   A new queen is on the way.  She must still hatch and go on her breeding flights without a bird getting her or some other misfortune happening for this experiment to be successful but we are now one step closer with the queen cell capped and the hive awaiting her arrival.   

On the mystery front are two of the new hives I began a few weeks ago.  I couldn’t find the queen in either of them.  In the first of them I couldn’t even find any larva.  This is of concern because you don’t have to find the queen to know she is around – all you need to do is find larva to know she has been there in the last few days and I found none.  In the second of these new hives I found a small amount of larva and no queen.  Both hives have a lot of stored pollen and honey.  After looking at the second hive I concluded that there may not be enough drawn comb for the queen to lay.  These are new hives and they are not full of drawn comb.  Without empty comb the queen has no place to lay.  Lets give these hives another week or so and see if we don’t find some new eggs or larva.

Moral of the story – There are ten hives in my local beeyard and each tells a different story.  If your starting out, if at all possible have more than one hive.  It will speed your learning curve immensely. 

A week from this weekend I will be traveling to Colton where we established four new hives earlier this spring.  They will be about five weeks old when I hold the next class and we do the inspection.  If they are progressing well it could be time to add a second box.  Keep your fingers crossed and I will report back after the hives are inspected. 

Until next time, my best to each of you.  Enjoy your day for all its worth.  Today is all we have.





New Hives Update


A week ago from this last Friday five new hives were established in my Redmond beeyards and one hive was requeened.  As of this last weekend I visited each new hive and can report all are doing well.  The Carnolian hives are ahead of the Italian hives at the moment, taking more feed and building a little more comb than the Italians, but this will likely change as the Italians are amazing comb builders when they get their numbers up.

As of this weekend there is no capped brood in any of the new hives.  (The picture shown above is of capped brood.)  This stands to reason as the queen was not likely released from her cage for a couple days, leaving only 5 to 6 days between installation and my inspection.  Brood is capped on the 9th day.  I found eggs and larva in all new hives with the exception of one new Italian hive where I only found eggs.  This leads me to believe that for whatever reason the queen was not released from her cage as soon as in the other hives.  But she is free now and doing well, as are all the other queens, which I did manage to find in each and every hive.  That task becomes much more difficult – at least for me – after the hives fill with bees.

In the requeened hive I also found the queen and eggs, so things are progressing as well as could be expected there.  The queen she replaced was dispatched this weekend.  I had kept her aside in another hive (a nuc box) hoping to jump start her laying but she continues to show a very limited ability to lay eggs.  That hive has no future without some kind of change so my options were to dispatch her and add the bees from this weak hive back into their original hive that was requeened, or to try something else.  I would never suggest this to anyone as the hive is very weak and your chances for success in a weak hive are often lower than with a strong hive.  Regardless, I have a new method of splitting hives I want to try this year and this was the perfect opportunity to do so.  The old queen was dispatched and some young larva cells notched.  Without a queen the hive should build queen cells where the larva were notched and hopefully raise a strong queen.  Again this is a very weak hive and chances of successfully raising a strong queen are limited, but it was the perfect opportunity to give this a try.

I another week or so I will be looking to split some of the stronger hives as that time of year where hives swarm is approaching.  More on the splitting process to create new hives as we get into it.

The Colton bees should be coming along at about the same pace as the new hives installed in Redmond.  More on them later when I get current information.

The Queens have been released


This picture is of a couple of the students checking the queen cage for a  healthy queen and preparing for their first hands on experience installing a package of bees into the hive.

Its been a week now since we established 9 new bee hives from 2 pound packages purchased at Glory Bee in Eugene.  One of those packages contained a dead queen and arrangements were quickly made to secure a replacement.  Though its never happened to me before, it is possible to acquire a new package of bees that contains a dead queen.  One of the first things you need to do when installing a package into a hive is retrieve the queen cage from the package and check to make sure the queen is ok.  Most businesses that sell bees will guarantee a healthy queen and we were able to obtain a replacement with no problem.

What does one do with a package of bees that has a dead queen you might ask?  Knowing the queen would still retain some pheromone scent, I placed the cage inside the hive and proceeded to install the bees, hoping the dead queens scent would be strong enough to keep the bees around.  This seemed to work fairly well, although it has been noted the hive next to it has a lot of bees in it.  Most likely the stronger pheromone of the healthy queen in that new hive drew in some of the bees from the dead queen hive.

The replacement queen was placed into the hive on Monday and today my protégé’s in Colton will have a look to see that she has been released from the queen cage.  If so, then all the new hives will be off and running.  Other than to check the hive top feeder occasionally to make sure feed is available, these new hives will be left alone for another week or two and allow the bees to get settle in.

There is one other queen story waiting to be told.  I have a queen in an existing hive that is not laying well – certainly not keeping up with the other hives that made it through the winter.  So when I picked up the packages of bees I also obtained a new queen to replace the old lagging queen.  A couple days ago I inspected the queen cage and this queen too has been released, however, the bees were not bee-having as if there is a queen in the hive.  This is just a feeling, but I closed up the hive to allow then to settle in anyway.  In another week I will look to see if there are any eggs or larva.  If not, I will have to decide if the old queen can still get the job done and then return her to the hive or if I need to order a new queen.  The old queen was placed in another hive (a nuc box) in hopes that the change of environment would prompt her to get with the program.  I will follow up on this developing story next week.

With the new hives established and getting settled in, its time to focus on the four hives that wintered.  Today is expected to bee about 60 degrees and calm, a perfect day to inspect bee hives.  Its been a couple weeks since I looked at them and things have really come into bloom this last week or so.  I’m hoping to see some great progress in the hives that wintered and will be looking to find the healthiest hives that I can use for splitting in the first few days of May.  I will be trying out a new approach to splitting hives this season and you will certainly want to stay tuned for that.

Next, I want to take a moment to talk about the food we eat.  There was a wonderful fella at the class who brought his son (seen in the picture above) with him to learn about bees.  They would really like to have a couple hives but he asked me about the blueberry field that is just a couple hundred yards away from his place.  I asked if they spray when the plants are blooming and he said “Oh yes, they spray all the time, even just before the fruit is picked.”  Well, I knew blueberries were one of the most sprayed fruits you can buy but I was not aware of the timing of the sprays.  Unfortunately I had to tell him it would be likely his bees would suffer from all the sprays being applied to the blueberries.

These are things for all of us to think about.  Its so easy to assume the food we eat is safe, but is it really?  Gluten intolerance, and a multitude of other various stomach ailments – these are recent issues that didn’t used to exist in the numbers we are experiencing today.  It’s not a coincidence.

Soy and corn – two foods that are found in literally everything we eat – are nearly 100 percent GMO produced crops these days and more and  more wheat is coming from GMO crops too.  I believe the discussion about GMO’s has completely missed the point, as both sides discuss whether genetically modified food is healthy to eat or not.  This is not the issue!  These plants are engineered to be able to absorb the chemicals they are hosed with, without harming the plant.  So the plant stays healthy, but the chemicals they absorb go right into the food that is produced.  Do you really want to eat food from a plant that can absorb and withstand roundup and neonicatinoid pesticides??????   Its not a mystery why we have so many new gut ailments that didn’t exist or were considered extremely rare when I was a child fifty years ago.

Just like I have stated in my past postings here about honey, get to know the people who produce your food and find out about the practices they employ when growing it.  Support your local organic farmers!  Its good for the bees and its far better for you!   And if you need to find a good source for healthy food, check out Azure Standard.   The link is below.

Until next time, eat healthy and support your local chemical free beekeep.