Tag Archives: Honey

Time for a Mid-Season Evaluation (and how to stay chemical free)


The summer solstice has come and gone and I bet you didn’t know that your bees have taken note of it.  Well, at least your queen has.  Just as the passing of the winter solstice causes the queen to increase her egg laying, the summer solstice will cause the queen to begin to reduce her egg laying.  Of course In a healthy hive you wont notice.  With numerous frames heavy with brood yet to hatch it might seem crazy to think numbers are going to fall and in reality they wont for a while.  But that doesn’t mean the queen is not reducing her egg laying in preparation for fall/winter.  Hang on for a moment and you will see how this relates to managing your hives.

The other day I went out to the beeyard and did an evaluation each hive and its chances to produce honey this year.  Keep in mind we have a very short growing season here in the high desert and in two months time, around the first of Sept., Frosty Jack is going to be making the first of many visits.  Some hives are already working on honey supers, others are filling the second box with stores for winter and will get their honey super in a few weeks.  Still others are behind, having fought against a variety of issues.  Its interesting to note that most the hives producing honey are first year hives and most the hives that have struggled with different issues are second and third year hives.  There are exceptions of course.

After completing my evaluation of each hive I made note of those that will produce honey for me to collect and those that most likely wont.  Those that are not going to produce honey are being used to produce more bees by splitting them.  I used a couple different methods to split the hives.  Some hives were simply split into two hives and a couple were split three ways.  You do not need to locate the queen when making this kind of split.  What is needed are eggs, brood, nurse bees and most importantly, young larvae less than 36 hours old.  Basically its the smallest larvae you can see.  Begin by setting a new hive box next to the existing hive.  Find frames as described above and make sure each hive gets one or two of them.  Then split the frames of brood and also the frames of pollen and honey stores evenly between the two hives.  In ten frame boxes you will place the frames in the middle of the box and then add five new frames on the outside of them to complete the hive box.  If one hive obviously has more bees than the other, take one frame from the hive with more bees and shake the bees into the new hive.

Place the new hive in the new location you have already decided on.  You should not have to worry about more than just a few of the bees drifting back to the old hive if you made the split in the afternoon when most of the field bees are away from the hive.  They will of course return to the original hive but the frames of brood, larvae and eggs you placed in the new hive will have been covered with nurse bees soon to mature and become field going bees.  This is why you make sure at least one frame of stores is put into each hive so the bees have feed until the hive has its own field bees.

By the time you are done making the split you will likely know which of the two hives does not have a queen as it will produce quite the roar while the hive with the queen will be comparatively calm.  The hive without a queen will begin raising up new queens out of the young larvae and in about 30 days the hive will have a newly mated queen fast at work.  Now remember that summer solstice thing we were talking about?  The new queen has not experienced the summer solstice and she will go to work laying eggs like a queen coming out of winter – just like a spring queen preparing for summer.  She will be so productive that she will lay eggs faster than the mites can keep up with, thereby staying ahead of the mites. 

There are two other benefits to making a split around July 1.  In the 30 days the hive is queenless, the mite population will plummet because they have no young larvae to feed on.  This “brood break” is key to controlling mites in the hive naturally.  The other benefit is that the bees will have no new young to raise.  New bees require large amounts of feed and during the 30 days the hive is queenless the feed normally used to raise up young bees will be stored as honey.  Ultimately you will have a strong hive with lots of stores and a powerful young queen to lead the hive into the winter months.   

There are probably hundreds of ways to split a hive and I have covered only one of them here.  A swarm I caught this spring is not going to produce honey but they have filled the first box and looking strong and healthy.  I split that hive three ways.  The obvious question that comes up is how do you control mites in the hive that contained the original queen?  With fewer bees in the hive after the split it will be easier to find the queen.  If you dispatch this queen the hive will achieve the same “brood break”, thus destroying the mite population in the hive and replacing the old queen with a vibrant new young one.  Obviously there will be times you want to keep a queen because she is productive, produces calm bees and has shown some resistance to mites.  I have one hive like this and have been making splits from this queen since May.  The first split in May is now about halfway through filling the honey super that will be honey for me.  While the hive was queenless they produced a huge amount of honey and filled most of the second box.  Then the new queen began laying huge amounts of brood just like a young queen does.  So here we are in the early days of July and I already have a honey super that is about one-third full!

Key points to remember-

1. The queen responds to the summer and winter solstices.

2.  A brood break is the natural way to controlling mites in your hives.

3.  A queen produced after the summer solstice will lay like a spring queen and rear a strong hive for winter.

I hope your bees are doing well and that you are enjoying the summer.  Not sure when I will be able to post next as it is summer afterall.  There are lots of summer projects, vacations to take and in about 10 days I will be holding three classes over the course of two days on a lavender farm during Oregon States Lavender festival. 




Attracting Bees and Pollinators


Seems every year I’m planting a few more things that are good for the bees and this year is not different.  Certainly there are many annuals out there that the bees enjoy, such as bachelor buttons and I have them scattered all around the place.  They readily reseed themselves and are a welcome, if sometimes overly prolific variety.  But when it comes to selecting plants for the bees I keep, I always plant perennials.  Last year it was caryopteris, (dark knight) a purple flowered plant that blooms late in the season.  Here in the High Desert of eastern Oregon we are very dry and we sometimes approach a dearth of food for the bees in the hot days of August.  So when selecting plants to attract bees think about when they flower.  You don’t want them to all bloom early in the spring and then be done.  Sedums are also excellent plants that bloom late and the bees just love them.

So what to add this year?  Well I did add one more caryopteris simply because the bees love it and it blooms until the first frosts shut it down, but what new plants could be added?  I decided on three different ones to add more diversity and a variety of pollen types for the bees to make use of.  Pollen is nearly perfect food and contains the protein, amino acids and enzymes the bees need to live – yes they do eat more than just honey.  Each type of pollen offers the bee varying levels of the various amino acids and enzymes they need.

The first new plant to go in was an elderberry.  This plant can grow to ten feet tall and produces clusters of white flowers in the spring.  Yes, it is the same plant that produces berries that can be eaten or used for elderberry wine.  The second plant was Agastache otherwise known as hyssop.  It can smell a bit like licorice and is often used as an herb in soups, stews and salids, though use it sparingly.  The pink/red flowers bloom in late summer, adding to my collection of plants that will provide a food an nectar source for my bees during the hottest and driest time of year.  Once established the plant is a drought tolerant, low maintenance plant that butterflies like in addition to the bees.  The plant does best in our part of the world if not pruned until late spring after the last of our frosts.  The third plant I selected also adds to the selection of food available to my bees late in the season and that is goldenrod.  This plant blooms for a long time and is another the butterflies enjoy.  It grows up to about 18 inches and its lemon yellow flowers are a refreshing break from the summertime “browns” that begin to dominate when the temperature hovers around 100 degrees.  This is another hardy plant that once established needs only occasional watering.

As you can tell, I have focused mainly on adding plants that bloom late in the season.  If you keep bees or plan on getting them, take a mental inventory of when your area may be lacking in flowering plants.  We have tons of fruit tree blossoms in the spring as well as many other plants.  When the spring time bloomers have done their thing the raspberries come along and they bloom for the rest of the season.  If there is one thing you could plant that the bees just love and is available to them for most of the season, it would be raspberries.  Not to mention you get a delightful treat out of the deal yourself.

So there’s a short run down on some plants I have added to the yards just for the bees.  The list is long and there are many other plants to choose from, just one word of warning.  Bees rely on these plants for resin, nectar and pollen.  Most of the plants you get at the big box stores are full of GMO and neonicatinoid contamination and are best avoided as there is mounting evidence of the detrimental effect these compounds have on honeybees and butterflies.  Obtain our plants from a known source.  Get to know someone at a local nursery who can tell you where the plants came from and if they are poisoned with neonicatinoids or not.  It will be better for you, especially if your eating your bees honey and better for the bees as well, so that you get to share in the sweetness of their efforts.

As always I hope these articles help you understand more about honeybees and make you a more successful beekeeper yourself.
The photo is from Curlew photo and if you like it you should check them out at the link on the right hand side.


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.

“It’s Two AM, the Fear is Gone”


I don’t know why that old Golden Earring song has been playing through my head all day – maybe because it was 3AM and the drive was long??  Yes, three AM.  We had a chance to obtain two nucs this morning, but it meant we had to make the 3+ hour drive early in the morning because the nucs are open to the world and once the hive warms up the bees will be out and about.  So we made the trip to Oregon City and arrived at just after 6AM.

For the new folks out there a nuc is short for nucleus hive.  They are usually made up of 3 to 4 frames of bees, a newly mated queen and a frame or two of honey and normally sell for around $100 to $125.  It’s a particularly fast way to start up a hive because the comb is already drawn out so the queen can lay her eggs and the number of bees is high and doesn’t have to build up like a package of bees does.  It still needs to build numbers, just not like a package.

These nucs were amazing. I’ve never seen nucs so full of bees and brood.  The roar coming from inside the two nuc boxes into which we transferred the five frames each was almost a little intimidating, though they weren’t all that aggressive as they tried to figure out where they were after hiving them, one in each of my bee yards.  The transfer actually went very smooth and I’m anxious to see them get settled in and got work.

Why did I get up at three AM to go on a long drive and spend my hard earned money?  Well, I do work for the queen you know, or at least the love of the queen.  As with most beekeeping seasons there comes a question that seems to have no answer.  This year it is the loss of queens.  Queens that died shortly after the package was hived.  One package even came with a dead queen, which can happen, but is rare.  The real mystery is the loss of queens in otherwise strong and healthy hives.  Two of my hives that wintered successfully started out well with the queen laying perfect brood patterns, then for some reason the queen in each hive just up and died.  It was the same story in one of my new packages – the queen got the hive off to a great start and then boom – no queen.  I even tried re-queening that hive with a new queen and after four days in the cage, when the queen was released the bees killed her.  Technically that would mean the bees have a queen but I have not found any eggs or larvae in the hive for a couple weeks now.  Curiously, there was one queen cell on the bottom of a frame, but it had not yet been capped. That’s a long way of saying I have lost some hives and wanted to find replacements for them and thus the early morning trip.

So the Mystery of the Disappearing Queen seems to be the story of this season.  I’ve run into two other bee keepers who say they have experienced a similar problem.  Chemicals????  One can only wonder. I hope to learn more as the season goes on because I use no chemicals of any kind, not even miticides, in my hives.

Great news from the beeyard in Colton where we stopped in for a quick hive inspection on our way back from Oregon City.  The two hives we combined are looking sensational!  This is one strong hive that is now drawing out some very nice comb in the second box added just a week or so ago.  If you have never combined hives using the newspaper method don’t be afraid to try it should the need arise.  It works on the same principle as the candy plug in a queen cage.  You place a sheet of newspaper with short slits cut into it over the top of the box of bees that you are adding more bees to.  Then you add the box of bees that are queenless on top to join them to the existing hive on the bottom.  The bees will eat through the paper barrier but while that is happening the new bees being added to the hive have time to adjust to and begin to recognize the scent (pheromone) of the queen they will be joining.  By the time the bees have chewed through the paper the new bees added to the old hive will accept the queen and wont attack her.  Its a great way to make a strong hive out of two weak hives or as was the situation in my case, a queenless hive was added to a strong hive with a queen.

The other two Colton hives we inspected are looking good and though slower than bees in my other beeyards, they have made good progress drawing comb the last couple weeks and both hives are really going to pop in the next 10 days or so when all the capped brood they are full of begins to hatch out.

I always enjoying hearing from those of you following along but this time around I would especially like to hear from those who have lost queens this season and their thoughts about why that might be happening.

Until next time, its OK to bee a Newbeeinthehive.

Things are Humming in the Bee Yard

The Horse Chestnut is in full bloom and its a wonder to watch and listen to all the bee activity there.  Honeybees just love the pink and yellow blossoms!

Less than six weeks after installing new 2 pound packages in five new hives, the second super was added to three of the new hives yesterday.  The first deep brood box has been drawn out in comb on eight to nine of the frames and the bees need more room to grow.  It is important not to add the second brood box too soon as the bees natural tendency is to move up and its possible they would move up and not finish their work in the first brood box.  It is also important not to wait too long or the bees will decide they are out of room and that it is time to swarm.

Now that the second brood boxes have been added the feeding has come to an end for these three hives.  One of the remaining hives is not quite ready yet and I am giving them one more week to work on drawing comb out in the bottom brood box.  They were given feed and a warning to get with it.  (smile)  The fifth hive has another issue all together.  Some how this hive lost its queen.  It could be she wasn’t healthy to begin with, or its always possible she was injured during a hive inspection.  This is something I take great care in making sure she is not rolled (crushed between frames when replacing them) or otherwise injured and I don’t know that I have ever injured a queen during an inspection, but there is always a first time.  Anyway, I new queen was installed in this hive and she should be released today based upon the amount of candy left in the queen cage.  The loss of the queen will certainly set this hive back and it may not provide much honey, but that is secondary to losing the hive itself.  Ultimately this hive should be alright.

Enjoy your holiday weekend and drive safe.

Ground Control to Major Tom – Reality Check

It’s spring, the air is fresh, the new sun is bringing real warmth, the first flowers are sharing sweet fragrances and hopes are high for what the coming season in the beeyard will bring.  The packages of new bees arrived and you lovingly installed each one into a new hive, feeling sure that each of them would be the best hive ever.  The queens were released without a care and before long comb was being drawn and then filled with brood.  Its so easy to get caught up in the euphoria and high hopes at the dawning of a new season isn’t it.

It’s been five weeks since the new hives were installed this year and while most years it seems this is the easy part of the season, this year is different, with numerous challenges presenting themselves.  So I thought I’d write a piece that addresses some of these issues while also letting those of you who might be considering keeping bees that its not all roses and honey.  There will be disappointments and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about beekeeping, no two seasons are alike.  This has been a particularly challenging year so far and I’m trying to just roll with the punches and learn from the things that are going on.  All this to say that you too will have problems when it comes to keeping our little insect friends and I hope you will not give up when they strike and instead use each challenge to learn all you can from it.

This year I wintered four strong hives, at least I thought they were strong, as all of them began building good numbers as soon as the weather began to turn.  Then for what seems to be no reason, the queens in two hives faltered.  One quit laying entirely and the other was laying only a little.  The numbers weren’t coming up and all I ever found were small pancake sized patches of brood on just one frame.  So I requeened that hive five weeks ago in April.  However, the new queen isn’t doing any better than the old one.  This hive remains a mystery.

The other hive that lost its queen is a mystery too.  Was a very strong hive all through the winter and off to a good start this spring.  The queen was only a year old because I had purchased her the season before to replace another weak queen.  Why she faltered after getting off to such a strong start is anyone’s guess though I suspect she was not a well bred queen and simply ran out of fertilized eggs to lay.  So, in looking to turn a bad situation into a good one I thought I would order up some queens and split this powerful hive four ways, thereby creating four new hives.  The queens arrived today and when I went to split this hive most the bees were gone.  It’s the old saying, when it rains it pours.  Lot of bucks potentially down the drain here.  I made the splits anyway to give me time to think what might be done.  After all, I had new queens that needed a home.  One option will be to steal brood from other hives to try and build up these weak splits.

Then there is the case of the new hive that started out great, was building up nice capped brood and then lost its queen.  I don’t know what happened to that queen either, but today it got a new queen out of the bunch I ordered and hopefully will be back underway soon.

Maybe I should refer to this season as the Lost Queen season when I think of all the queens that have been lost.  At another out yard I started this season we installed four packages of bees and established a new apiary in mid-April.  One of those packages came with a dead queen.  We contacted the company and got a replacement queen back into the hive within a few short days.  This has worked out very well and the apprentice beekeeps I am working with did a great job of installing the new queen.  This beeyard is nearly three hours away and I had my reservations about trying to make something that far away work, but the requeening job went off without a hitch and the hive is doing as well as can be expected.

When I visited this beeyard this weekend I was disappointed to find that the first hive had lost its queen.  I don’t believe she ever really got started as no brood was ever laid.  She was released from her cage properly as reported by the new beekeeps keeping an eye on things, so I can only assume she was not healthy when caged and added to the package of bees we purchased.  Unfortunately this hive is lost as it has been five weeks since the bees were installed.  My novice beekeeps told me the hive had had an unusual buzz about it.  This is the sound of a queenless hive.  If I had been able to be there the hive might have been saved, but this is the risk I accepted when deciding to try to establish a beeyard out of town.

So what do you do with the remaining bees in the queenless hive you might ask?  Rather than just let them slowly die off we added them to another hive.  You do this by placing a piece of newspaper over the top of the bottom bee box of a queen-right hive (after removing the cover on the hive).  The paper has a few small slits in it to allow the new bees that are being added to become familiar with the queens pheromone before they can actually get to her.  In this way you prevent the new bees from killing the queen.  So we then added the next box of bees from the queenless hive and replaced the cover.  Today my apprentices checked the hive, found the paper had been eaten through and the bees joined together.  Success you might be thinking!?  That remains to be seen.  The box that was added on top contained numerous bees, including the possibility of the queen being up in the second box.  These bees needed to be moved into the bottom box.   My novices may have been a little rough in accomplishing this before they figured out the best way to do the job.  Again, part of the risk of not being there to oversee things.

Remember that sound of a queenless hive I was telling you about??  A-huh, that is what they will be listening for over the next couple of days.  But I like to look at it this way.  Though it may cost me another hive, they have heard what a queenless hive sounds like and therefore, for the first time, can begin to apply some of the experience they are gaining.  Lets hope they don’t hear that sound.

There are a couple other issues going on in the beeyard, but I will save them for later.  Yes, this young season has turned out to be quite trying and I’m even beginning to wonder if there will be any honey produced at all this season.  The real harvest may come in the form of the experience and knowledge I gain and not in the form of sweet goodness.  Such is the life of a beekeep and as I am now working hard to do, you need to try to keep is all in perspective if you run into problems of your own.  There simply are no guarantees when it comes to bees.

Hmmmm, with that in mind maybe I will return to working on the sequel to my book, where I have control over the outcome.

My best to all of you and stay tuned for more news on the bee front which should come fairly soon.

Are You Poisoning Bees?

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I’m willing to bet the majority of people reading this post have taken a stand in support of the honeybee and want to see the plight of the honeybee improved.  I’m also willing to bet the majority of folks reading this are unknowingly using products containing neonicotinoids, specifically products containing imidcloprid, thiamethoxam and clothianidin.  I would like to hope I’m wrong, but simply based on personal experience, I don’t believe that to be the case.

The latest study to be completed clearly demonstrates the danger these chemicals pose to the honeybee.  The study by the Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts strengthens previous findings.

Neonicotinoids are commonly associated with corn and soybean crops where a clear connection has been made with the use of these chemicals and CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder).  What has not been in the news and therefore missed by many honeybee supporters, even those who keep bees themselves, is the fact many common household products used around home to control insects contain these deadly poisons.

Merit, Adonis, Criterion, Bayer, Premis, Bomide and termite and roach bait brands are just some of the common brands.  And did you know that the termite control products usually state the ingredients are active and will kill termites for up to five years.  If it will kill a termite I’m sure the chemical can kill a honeybee.

So when your done reading this, head to the garage and check the label on whatever insecticide you might have sitting around and you may be surprised to find that you are spreading a neonicotinoid that is killing the honeybees that come to visit.  Lets all do what we can to help the honeybee.  Honeybee populations in the U.S. are down nearly fifty percent in just the last decade.  And one more thing, though I don’t want to ruin your appetite, if you looked into the neonicotinoids, (not to mention many other chemicals) contained in food imported from China, you’d never buy another food product from China, well, that is if your concerned about your health.

My best to all of you and thank you for reading.  Buy local, buy organic and get to know your local beekeeper.