Posts Tagged ‘Beekeepers’

Saturday: The bees are coming today! To get ready for their arrival, I’m preparing their sugar syrup and making a homemade version of Honey B Healthy, a nourishing supplement that is added to the syrup.

I’ll be teaching my co-workers how to be beekeepers and they’ll be installing the bees on Sunday with my guidance. Ray built us some beautiful Top Bar Hives (Thanks, Ray!) which will be their new home. We are very excited!

We have, over the last couple of weeks in our (very little) spare time, been creating a bee and butterfly sanctuary. It’s in its beginning stages and will soon be filled with plants that all the local pollinators will want to come and visit. We are also adding a labyrinth that will be planted with medicinal herbs and a vegetable garden filled with heirloom vegetables. The hives will be nestled in this wonderful little spot we’ve created located in the Animas River Valley.  It’s coming together beautifully and I’ll be posting pictures of the hives and gardens soon.

Happy Spring everybody!

Recipe found on the Beekeepers of the Ozarks:

Honey B Healthy (generic)

  • 5 cups of water
  • 2 1/2 lbs of sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon lecithin granules (used as an emulsifier)
  • 15 drops spearmint oil
  • 15 drops lemongrass oil.
  • 6 drops of thyme oil (optional)

Dissolve lecithin in 1/4 cup of water. This may take several hours. Bring water to a boil, remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved. Stir in lecithin until dissolved. Stir in essential oils until everything is evenly distributed. Cool before using.

I use 1 tablespoon per quart but I don’t use thyme in my mixture. One to two tablespoons per gallon works if using thyme oil.

Makes about 2 quarts.


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Jupiter's Beard

I couldn’t order my bees back in the beginning of the year because the date of our arrival in Colorado was constantly changing. I really needed to do it in January or February before the apiaries sold out, but up until a week before our departure I still wasn’t sure when we’d be in Durango. Once we decided, I started frantically emailing apiaries and Tweeting beeks to find out if anyone had any bees to sell. This continued while we were packing, loading the truck and into our cross-country drive. I got a few leads from Twitter folks, but nothing panned out and I resigned myself to the fact I would not have honeybees in Colorado this year.

But last Tuesday as we were driving across the country a small miracle happened. I got a phone call from an apiary and they told me they were shipping on a later date than normal because of the cooler-than-usual weather in the Northwest. They asked if I still wanted bees! Hell yes! What a wonderful surprise — pure luck!!

The bees will be here tomorrow and I’ve been getting my garden ready. I’ve been going over the plants that I have that will attract and feed my honeybees and making a list of what I’ll need to buy to have a diversity of blooms throughout the whole season.

Tip # 1: Plants for Honeybees

Here are the bee plants that I’ve bought so far with their bloom times:

Late Spring-Summer
Jupiter’s Beard (Ceranthus ruber)

Spike Speedwell ‘Royal Candles’ and ‘Red Fox’ (Veronica spicata)
Salvia ‘Blue Queen’ (Salvia x sylvestris)

Lavender ‘Munstead’ (Lavandula angustifolia)
Culinary herbs: Rosemary, sage, oregano, marjoram, dill, tarragon, etc.

Late Summer-Fall
Bee Balm ‘Jacob Cline’ and ‘Blue Stocking’ (Monarda didyma) Warning: this can take over you garden, plant it where it can be contained.
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Sedum ‘Rosy Glow’ and ‘Matrona’ (also called Stonecrop)

Aster ‘Wood’s Pink’
Golden Rod ‘Baby Gold’ (Solidago)

Tip # 2:  Attracting Honeybees

You don’t need a hive to support honeybees. Plant some bee plants following these guidelines and you’ll be helping bees and lots of other pollinators too.

  • Plant in clumps: plant 3 or more of the same species together in a clump. This attracts more pollinators than if scattered around the garden.
  • Flower colors: honeybees are attracted to blue-violet, blue-green, orange-yellow and white blossoms.
  • Plant a variety of flowers that bloom from spring to fall.
  • Don’t use herbicides or pesticides please! Once you invite honeybees into your garden, don’t kill them. All herbicides and pesticides are highly lethal to bees, butterflies and all the other beneficials in your garden.

Happy gardening!

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Mary Beth: It was a year ago that I got serious about beekeeping; I had just put in my order for a package of honeybees and I was so excited. But I really had no clue about what I was getting myself into (neither did my husband!). Sure I’d read a lot and spent countless hours learning as much as could, trying get a feel for what it was going to be like. And you newbies will do the same thing. Be forewarned though, all the research is very helpful, but beekeeping is really a hands-on kind of thing. No amount of research is going prepare you for the rush you’ll get when you see them for real in their screened box, or when you dump them in their new hive, or when they start to build the first honeycomb, or… I could go on and on.

As I went through this first year of learning to be a beekeeper, I kept reminding myself to make note of the important things I wanted to pass on to those of you who are thinking of getting your own hives — you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to get stung, and there will be times when you’re going to feel seriously overwhelmed. But you are going to love those bees!

Here are more tips and some words of encouragement to all the newbies scrambling to get every piece of information you can before your bees arrive.

Ray building the Top Bar Hive

  • Consider a Top Bar Hive, you’ll spend a lot less time and money preparing for your bees. Did I say a lot more money?!  I cringe at what I could have saved if I’d known at the beginning what I know now about the TBH.
  • Have your hive set up before the bees arrive.
  • The hive entrance should be facing the south to southeast if you can.
  • Bees will fly into and out of the hive in the direction that the entrance is facing, so make sure the bee flight path is directed away from sidewalks, streets, etc.
  • If you have to deal with close neighbors or walkways, etc., place a fence or a barrier a few feet away from the hive entrance. That will make the bees fly upwards and out of harm’s way.
  • Spray the right amount sugar water on your bees before dumping them into the hive. It’s not a soaking spray, but it should be enough that they will be too busy licking themselves off to start swarming around your face and distracting you as you get them into their new hive.
  • Use your protective gear. I tried not using any protective gear that first day. Although the bees weren’t aggressive — they didn’t have anything to protect yet — I got so nervous when I was dumping them into the hive that I had to stop what I was doing to run for my suit. The whole operation would have been much smoother if I hadn’t been so worried about getting stung.
  • If you’re using a smoker don’t rush preparing it. It’ll take 20-30 minutes to get it going and to have a decent amount of coals to get you through your inspections. There’s nothing worse than seeing the girls lining up to take a shot at you and finding that your smoker is out.
  • When it’s time to inspect the hive, think about what you’re going to be looking for BEFORE you open up the hive. Are you saying, “DUH, Mary Beth!”, right now? Well maybe, but I was often so fascinated, distracted, or rushed to get things done that I didn’t remember to check for important signs during the inspection. Write it down so you’ll remember. I stressed myself a few times, realizing after I’d closed the lid that there was something I forgot to do and you really don’t want to have to go back in again. It’s not good for you or the bees.

The most important thing to remember as you do your research is an old saying that goes, “Ask 10 beekeepers the same question and you’ll get 11 different answers.” Keep in mind that every region has different challenges be it pests, weather, nectar flow, or any number of other things. Your best bet is to absorb all the information you read and then use your best judgement and follow your gut. That’s the way to make sure you’re doing your best for the bees.

A lot of this information, plus pictures illustrating the process from building the hives to installing the bees and more, is in earlier posts on this blog, along with some great resources that I found very useful.

One thing I know for sure is that you are going to really enjoy this journey. Good luck and, please, if you have any questions, just ask. I would love to help you out.
The Hippie Shack Bee Update

I checked on the bees through the TBH window and found it was warm enough today for them to break cluster. I also noticed they still had food left. They were feeding and roaming around slowly, and a few were taking a cleansing flight. I was happy to see that there seemed to be quite a few bees in the hive. I went inside feeling very hopeful that they will survive this cold winter!

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Mary Beth: Winter is coming, I think, and even though the weather continues to be unusually warm for this time of year, I’ve been getting the bees ready.

So, what about the bees? Every time I tell someone that Ray and I are moving back to Colorado (Ch, Ch, Changes), I hear this question. I’ll say, “We’re leaving.” and then, wait for it, wait for it…a look of dismay and “What about the bees?!” Of course it’s logical, but I’ve been a little surprised and amused that the fate of my bees worries them. On the other hand it’s nice that my friends and readers have become so engrossed in this story that one of their first thoughts is for the bees.

So here is the answer.

Out of the three hives that I ended up with after the swarm season, the Top Bar Hive is the only one that survived.

The Hippie Shack

For some reason the other two lost their queens after they swarmed (read about it here and here) and I ended up shaking out the remaining bees in front of the TBH in hopes that they would be accepted into the hive. Losing the Blue and Green hives made me very sad — I was surprised by how much I’ve come to love my bees.

As for the Hippie Shack (named in honor of the laid-back nature of these bees), I checked it recently and it didn’t have as much honey as I thought it should. I think the hive was being robbed. I put an entrance reducer in to make the the hole smaller to give the guard bees less area to defend. Now, even with the warm weather prolonging the season, I’m worried that they won’t have time to store enough food to make it through the winter.

Since Ray and I decided to leave after the holidays, I’ve been trying to figure out how to leave the bees with enough food. I researched fondant ‘bee candy’ and it seemed like a good solution, so I made a frame to hold it and placed that in the hive.

This small frame holds 5 pounds of sugar fondant!

Another good thing about the bee candy is it won’t cause the moisture problems inside the hive that the sugar syrup did in the early spring. I placed the fondant between the false back and the last comb hoping it wouldn’t attract any more robber bees.

I hope the warm weather will last long enough to let them build up their supplies. Every day they’ve been coming in with a lot of pollen, which is a very good thing.

I think she's posing!

Dandelions and the last of the aster are blooming, so I think this is where they are getting the bright orange pollen.

Another sign that the bees are preparing for winter is each day a few more drones have been getting kicked out of the hive. I watched this play out one day — those girls are ruthless!

Poor drone!

One poor male was pulled by his leg and tossed out like yesterday’s paper. It’s a cruel, cruel world my friends, but there is not enough to go around in winter for lazy freeloaders.

I moved the hive from it’s original spot so it will get maximum sun exposure all winter. This should allow the bees to break cluster on sunny winter days.

I also wrapped the hive to give it a little more insulation and to keep the wind out. Now it’s up to the bees. Other than a few more feedings before we leave for Colorado, my girls are on their own until March.

You may wonder why I haven’t given the hive away. I did consider moving the hive to my friend’s property, but I was afraid if I moved it up the steep, bumpy road to my friend’s house, a comb or two might break off ruining any chance of the bees’ survival. So I decided to leave them where they are on my family’s property. I’ll fly back east in the spring for a visit and check on the bees and I’ve arranged for my beekeeper friends to check on them now and then. Fortunately the TBH needs little maintenance and the bees will take care of themselves.

Becoming a beekeeper has been a wonderful journey. Learning about honeybees opened up new worlds for me, not just the world of honeybees in my garden, but the important roles of all pollinators and how critical every last one of them is. It’s led me to examine the negative impact we’ve all had on our environment. I’ve been reading about the decline of the honeybee from Colony Collapse Disorder — just one of many examples of our carelessness towards our environment. But the good thing is it’s made me more aware of what I’ve been doing.

So, with that new-found awareness, I try to do my part to help by adding native plants to the existing flower gardens. And I’ve decided that I will delay mowing the outer fields until after the first frost to allow time for the last of the butterflies to emerge from their cocoons and to let the wildflowers reseed themselves for next year.

Of course, at the center of it all is the honeybee, the incredible little powerhouse.  If you have not yet read any books on honeybees, you should. Some of the things you learn will astound you.

It’s been a great year even with the loss of two hives and no honey to harvest. And next spring I will have a hive in Colorado with even more challenges — bears, skunks and who knows what else, but I have a plan!

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Barbara: Remember when Mary Beth told you to stayed tuned for updates about the old hive? Well, we do we have updates! Here’s one from a couple of days ago. And I’ll mention that we’ll follow up soon with this morning’s excitement, which is still unfolding as I type — lord have mercy!


Preparing to capture the second swarm. A third hive for Mary Beth?

Preparing to capture the second swarm. A third hive for Mary Beth?

Mary Beth: My learning curve in the last two weeks has been steep, real steep! My blue hive swarmed. Again. I felt like I was in the movie Ground Hog Day.

I walked down to the hive to say hello to my girls on my lunch break on very busy sunny day (sound familiar?) exactly a week after the first swarm. Bees were flying everywhere and they were headed to the very same poison ivy-laden bayberry bush that they gathered on a few days ago.

Now, that first swarm was exciting. I felt great because I’d been successful in catching the swarm and putting it into a new hive — the Top Bar Hive that Ray built for me. This time, not so much. This time was like, “Been there done that!”  Was I missing something? I mean, obviously I saw the starting of queen cells, but I left them because “they” say hives almost never swarm the first year, so don’t worry about it. So I ignored the first signs. If you’ve read anything about beekeeping you soon realize there’s a lot of conflicting information out there and everybody has very specific ideas about beekeeping the “right” way. Well, the bees also have their own ideas. My word of advice is take it all in and then watch and listen to the bees.

Anyway, I got the swarm into the super that I screwed back together a second time and I left it perched on a bucket. The first swarm in the TBH was so happy that Barbara and I decided to experiment with keeping the second swarm in a hive made of large supers.

Alas, it was not my day. The super had fallen over sometime while I was running errands and the bees were gone when I got back. I felt very sad and dejected, but, honestly, relieved because the thought of three hives was a little daunting. But who knows, craziness abounds so I left the temporary hive out near the swamp in a stable place this time. I thought I just might need it again, feeling as I do that the blue hive could swarm again. I say this because when I went to see what was left in Old Blue (as I have now named it) I was surprised to find it full of bees. I counted over 7 queen cells and there were about 6 frames of full brood, some emerging as I was working through the hive.

The frames were filled out nicely and, even though the hive had swarmed twice, I saw lots of honey reserves, which leads Barbara and me to believe that Old Blue is still very healthy. We’re thinking that perhaps it was too productive and it became overcrowded because the bad weather has kept the bees inside for most of the spring. Another factor was that the bees weren’t going up into the super I added because of the queen excluder. So I put everything back the way I found it except for taking out the queen excluder.

About an hour later the bees were all over the front of the hive with their butts in the air. WTF! Now what?! You girls are killing me!! Thankfully they finally settled down and went inside.

The next day I put my ear up to Old Blue and there was a queen bee piping in there. (YouTube has a few videos of Queen honeybees piping if want to hear what it sounds like — really cool.) I could hear her loud and clear when I was kneeling next to the hive. Hopefully she’ll take over and get rid of the other queen cells and that will be the end of it. I keep wondering if I should’ve taken some of the queen cells out. I wasn’t sure, so I decided I would wait and see.

Meanwhile the TBH, which I’ve named the Hippie Shack, seems pretty laid back. They’ve built up six combs already, so I removed the feeder and slid the false back to the end opening the whole hive to them.

Old Blue is going to be the experiment hive. I’m going to learn as much as I can from this crazy hive, helping it out if I can and letting nature take its course. My hope is since Block Island is so lush from all the rain and the current nectar flow is high, that we’ll have an additional large flow in the fall with the Goldenrod and that will help Old Blue pull it together before the cold weather sets in.

I wish the swarm that got away all the best. I hope they find a lovely new home. As for the girls that are left, take a word of advice from Mary J Blige — No More Drama!

Lying in bed last night I was thinking, “Thank god I didn’t get any chickens this year! With my luck it would have been a freak show!!”

Addendum: Well, it’s been a wild ride. This second swarm got away, but we have our answer about whether or not Mary Beth should have destroyed the additional queen cells. I can hear you experienced beekeepers shouting, “Yes!” And, of course you’re right. We thought we should, but hesitated. In our first year, we are bound to make mistakes. Clearly, this was one of them.

So a few months into our adventure, we’ve made good on our promise to tell it like it really is – successes and failures. Our biggest mistake so far was to miss the signs of an imminent swarm. We compounded that by not getting rid of the excess queen cells which led to the second swarm — and the third one that followed, which was the morning excitement that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Another mistake that we think we made was to use a queen excluder. This led to the overcrowding that was another reason for the swarms.

We’ll be filling you in on the story of the third swarm and the status of the hives as soon as we regain our composure. Hopefully, things really have settled down and Mary Beth can get some gardening done. For now we’ll leave you with a picture of one of the queen cells that started it all.

Queen cell — one of a few that we should have gotten rid of.

Queen cell — one of a few that we should have gotten rid of.

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B: We love it when our little bees come home loaded with pollen. They spend all day buzzing about stuffing pollen into pouches on the tibia of their hind legs which are called corbicula, or pollen baskets. Pollen baskets! It makes me giggle every time I hear it. I think of cartoon bees with tiny little baskets attached to their legs.

Bees will only visit one type of blossom on each trip out of the hive and I’ll bet you didn’t know that you can tell which kinds of flowers they’ve collected pollen from during their hard day’s work.

You can! Take a look at the chart in this link and you might deduce where in your garden the bees have been gathering pollen.

Yet another reason to sit in front of your hive mesmerized by your hard-working beauties; brought to you by Marybeth and Barbara.

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arboretumbees_090307_5258B: We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of suddenly seeing a subject we’re interested wherever we look, but I think that anyone, not just the bee-obsessed, would agree that nearly everywhere you look lately there are articles about bees and beekeeping. A case in point is an article in this morning’s Los Angeles Times about urban and backyard beekeeping, and bee hive rescues. Another article appeared in OC Weekly earlier this month detailing the efforts of some dedicated Backyard Beekeepers here in Orange County who do a great job rescuing feral bees.

It’s very encouraging to know that there are so many people focused on making life easier for our pollinator friends.

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