Archive for the ‘Bee supplies’ Category

Wow. It has been a while since I last posted.  And you know why?  Not much has happened to my hive. The colony went into winter strong and healthy, but I only harvested one bar of capped comb in early November. I’d rather have them have too much honey than not enough.  I can always harvest the excess in the Spring. The queen was strong;  the hive had about 10 bars of brood, and about 6 full bars of honey… which made it just a little over half full. I wished them all a healthy and Happy New Year and left them alone.  The workers seal all the cracks of the hive with propolis, which is like a “bee glue” that the bees make by mixing saliva with beeswax and resin and sap from tree buds and bark.  The bees allow some air flow into the hive for good circulation and to prevent moisture from building up.  Opening the hive, and breaking the seal too much in the winter when it’s very cold will stress the bees as they then have to go around and re-seal the cracks.  Temperatures now are reaching the 50’s during the day, and that means that the bees emerge from their hive to defecate and find water.  There is nothing blooming now but they are determined to find something to eat.  What to do? Feed them!  I mixed up a solution of 1 cup sugar to 2 cups water and poured in into a pan with stones and sticks in it. Honeybees are very poor swimmers and will easily drown unless you provide them lots of climbing spaces to grab onto in the sugar water.  Once they discover the sugar water, they go back to the hive, tell the others and within a short time they will eat it all up.  The sugar is an energy source, but they will also look for pollen, a protein source.  A beekeeper friend of mine told me about providing them a high protein pollen substitute and gave me a sample to try out….. the bees loved it and made short work of it. They collect it on their hind legs and take it back to the hive just as if it were real pollen. It’s an interesting mix of vitamins , lipids, minerals and a complete amino acid profile.   I gave some to another friend who has bees and she had the same result.  So we decided to buy our own.

Ultra Bee
High protein pollen substitute

Feeding the bees with Ultra Bee ( left) and sugar water

We ended up getting a 10 pound bucket of “Ultra-Bee” from Mann Lake, a great source of everything dealing with apiculture.    Ten pounds of pollen substitute is a lot!  We divided it up into 1 pound bags so we could pass it on to other bee keepers.  Today was another bright sunny day and temperatures got up in to the mid 50’s so I put out a tray of Ultra Bee and a pan containing a quart of  sugar water. By the end of the day, they had finished off almost all of the Ultra Bee and all of the sugar water.   If tomorrow is in the 50’s again, I will go in to the hive and check on the colony.  The queen should be starting to build up the colony in anticipation of spring.  That might be why the bees are so eager to bring sugar and pollen back to hive.

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It was a rough winter, and a very strange spring here in Santa Fe.  It all started when a black bear came into the yard last fall, tipped over one of the hives and ate a bunch of honey. The queen was killed in the process. I collected what combs were left, added them to the two remaining hives, and moved them to a friends yard about 10 miles away.  The ordeal was too much for one of the two hives and it died out over the winter, leaving me with just one colony.  This spring I brought back the hives and kept an eye on the one colony.  The entire colony seemed listless;  the queen was laying in a very spotty manner, with no drones ( and that indicates a very weak bunch of bees )  I read up on bee diseases and guessed that they might be having some sort of digestive illness, called nosema which causes dysentery. What to do?  After reading about all kinds of treatments, I decided to treat them with Nozevit, an all natural plant food supplement that is known for curing digestive ailments in bees.  I mixed the Nozevit with with a sugar solution and sprayed each comb of bees .  The idea is that as the bees lick the sugar water off their bodies they take in the medicine and it helps restore their digestive functions.   I then left them alone for a week. During that time we had some wonderful and welcome rain ( over 2.5 inches in 4 days)  You could almost hear the trees and shrubs giving out a big sign of relief!  I checked on the colony yesterday, and the colony is buzzing!  The queen is laying a lot, and the workers seem much more animated.  Was is the rain?  Was it the Nozevit?  Or did the bees just get off to a late start?   I have heard that often times the queen ( especially the dark colored Carniolian queens) sometimes just wait and then kick into high gear in late spring.  Whatever it was…. I am relieved.  It looks like the bees in this hive are real survivors, indeed!



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I spent the afternoon with my bee mentor, Steve Wall who showed me how to begin to raise my own queen bees.   Queen bees can live 3  to 5 years, but they are the most productive in their first two years. The bees in the colony are sensitive to the strength of their queen and as she gets older or dies, they will naturally replace her. It is the worker bees that produce the queens. How do they do that?  Well, all fertilized eggs that the queen lays are female and therefore are potential queens. For the first 3 days after the egg hatches in to a tiny larva, it is fed a special substance called “royal jelly” . This stimulates the development of the larva. After three days, however, larva destined to become worker bees are no longer fed this royal jelly and instead are given a lower grade food of pollen and nectar. Their reproductive organs do not develop and they turn in to into sterile worker bees. .  Only those larvae that reside in specially built “queen cells” continue to get royal jelly . Being fed royal jelly will continue the development of their female reproductive organs and the result will be a fertile queen bee.

We can use this knowledge then to get the bees to make a number of queens for us.

And this is how to do it:

1. Select a comb that  has a lot of open brood ( larvae ) in it. This is where the queen has been actively laying eggs.

Comb with open brood

Comb with open brood

2. With a special tool…like a thin pen with a flexible blade at the end…. gently scoop up a very young larva…it must only be 1 or 2 days old. ( see how small it is?  This takes a lot of patience and good eyesight and practice!

Collected larva

Collected larva

Steve looking for larvae

Steve looking for larvae









3. Carefully place the larva into one of the “queen cups”.  This mimics the special “queen cell” that the workers make to hold the special egg that will develop into a queen. We used commercial plastic cups.

Plastic "queen cups"

Plastic “queen cups”

4. Once all the cups have been filled ( we transferred 60 larvae…. Steve did the first 40 and I followed with the other 20)  the bars are placed back in to a new  hive that has had the queen removed from it .  The workers now will sense that they have no queen and will begin to feed these new larvae royal jelly , as they are in what the workers think are “queen cells”in order to produce a new queen for their colony.

5. It takes 10 days for the larvae to develop and form a pupa( cocoon) . That will be May 3. At this time we will open up the hive and see how many of the 60 larvae have made it to this stage.  If we are lucky we may get 10 – 15 .  Fingers crossed!

I’ll report on our success and the next series of steps to take.  Stay tuned!

Good reference books to read if you are considering this:

“Successful Queen Rearing”: Dr. Marla Spivak and Gary S. Reuter. University of Minnesota Extension Service publication.

Queen Rearing Essentials. Lawrence John Conner

The Beekeepers Handbook, 4th Edition.  Diana Sammartaro and Alphonse Avitablile

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Went out yesterday to see how much honey the bees had produced and how much I could take from the hive.  Both hives had built up 13 combs… a little less than half of a full hive.  I inspected the bars from the far end first.  The first two combs were incomplete and filled with pollen and uncapped honey.  The next  four were completely full of capped honey. Just beautiful!   Then came the brood comb…with honey at the top and larvae below.  Finally ( at the entrance) there were  two fully capped comb.   I left them there as it not only provides insulation over winter, it’s a natural place for bees to feed from. I took one of the full combs out from each of the hives and placed them on a cookie sheet, as I didn’t want to break up the comb. I didn’t want to take any more, as I wanted them to have a good supply of honey for the winter.   They are continuing to make honey, so I will take one last look next month to see if they have replaced the one I took….maybe I can get in a second harvest.


I had purchased jars and plastic boxes from Dadant and Sons, so I got them out, took the combs into the kitchen , and cut out 4″ x 4″ squares to put into the plastic boxes, then threw all the remaining comb and honey into a strainer, broke it up with a wooden spoon and let it strain out into a bowl.

Straining the honey

A few hours later, I poured the honey into small hex jars ( 9  1/2 oz size).  And that was it.  When I weighed the amount of honey, it totaled almost 9 pounds!  Amazing.

9 pounds of honey

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Back in February I ordered a 4 lb package of honeybees with queen for my second hive.  I had built it two years ago but only got one going last year, so it has been sitting empty in the yard.  Well, they arrived today…. all 14,000 or so of them!  ( no, I didn’t count them all…. I’m going to take their word for it )  They are “Russian Carnolian” honeybees from a company in California called “Honeybee Genetics”  According to them, the bees are a “gentle gray black bee resistant to mites. They overwinter well and build up fast in the spring”.   I had gone in with a number of other beekeepers on the order, and got a group shipping discount.  By late afternoon, I was ready to install them in their new home.  The first thing I did was to get a fresh comb from my first hive to put in the empty new hive to give the bees something to start off with.   I picked out a beautiful comb filled with some capped honey at the top and pollen scattered throughout.   The box of bees comes with a can of sugar water to keep them fed during the trip.  The queen is in a small cage.  So I removed the can ( it was almost empty ) and then took out the queen bee in her cage and checked to see that she was OK. I quickly closed up the hole in the box to keep the bees in.  Then I removed the plastic cap from the sugar tube  and hung the queen cage from one of the top bars next to the comb.  The idea is that the workers will eat through the sugar on the way to get to the queen.  It will take about three days.  By then, the workers will have accepted her.  When she gets out , she will begin to lay eggs and the colony will begin to grow. So far, so good. I took a deep breath then grabbed the box of bees, turned it upside down and shook out all the bees into the hive.  A few remained in the box, so I set it on the ground, put the remaining bars on top of the hive, covered it and watched as all the bees that were buzzing around the hive  flew right in to their new home.  Within 15 minutes they were all inside. Amazing!  I was pleased that it all went so smoothly, they seemed to be OK with their new digs and I didn’t even get stung.

I will leave them alone for 5 days ( I put a container of sugar water in the hive box for them to drink while they are getting their bearings ) then go in and check on them.  If all goes well, the queen will be out of her cage ( I’ll remove it from the hive)  and will be laying eggs in the new comb.  Stay tuned!

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Pouring a 1:1 sugar solution into the hive feeder

It’s been a very strange summer here in Santa Fe.  It’s been very dry and even though the seasonal rains have begun, they can be spotty at best. As a result, there is a below average amount of nectar and pollen for the bees.  Add to that the fact that I started out with only 4 bars of comb.  I am concerned that the hive may not be strong enough to make it through the winter if the bees haven’t capped off enough honey. I have been feeding them sugar water all summer and this week I decided to give them a protein supplement, in the form of “protein patties” that I ordered from Dadant & Sons.

Protein patty

I simply  laid it on the bottom of the hive. Checking the hive today I saw that the queen was still laying with lots of capped brood. They have built two new combs and are filling them with honey. One of the combs is almost completely full.  The other is only partially built but is also full of capped honey.

Partial comb with top part filed with capped honey

It seems like they are slowing down and perhaps adding a protein supplement will help them stay strong through the rest of the summer . Hopefully we will get more rain and have a good fall blooming season. I ordered the protein substitute from Dadant and although they won’t release the ingredients, I have been told that it is a very clean and safe product.  I’ll check the hive next week to see how they liked it.

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Topbar beekeeping bible

Another thing to do in winter while waiting for spring…catch up on my reading.

Just got this book, “The Barefoot Beekeeper” by P.J. Chandler, a British beekeeper who specializes in topbar hives.

His three basic principles of beekeeping are:

1. Interference in the natural lives of the bees is kept to a minimum

2. Nothing is put into the hive that is known to be harmful either to the bees, to us or to the wider environment , and nothing is taken out that the bees cannot afford to lose.

3. The bees know what they are doing; our job is to listen to them and provide the optimum conditions for their well-being.


Sounds like great advice…not only for beekeepers, but for all of us on this planet!

For more info about this author and natural beekeeping, check out his website: www.biobees.com

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After getting your beehive, getting the bees is the next step.   There may be local beekeepers that will sell some of their bees. Usually they don’t have many extra, so they sell out quickly.  I ordered some from a local beekeeper that sells honey at the farmer’s market, and he will have them for me in May; five combs of bees with a young healthy queen.  That will get me started.  But they also come with a top-bar hive, which means I now have two hives!  I want to get local bees, so I inquired from a beekkeeper north of Santa Fe; Zia Queen Bee.  I’ll let you know if that works out.

The second option is to order bees from a commercial apiary.  There are two large operations that folks in this area order from: HoneyBee Genetics out of California and Bee Weaver, out of Texas. Check out these two websites…..they are filled with information…and one could spend hours reading about bees and beekeeping.  If I can’t get any bees locally, then that will be the way to go.  The problem is that while the cost of the bees is comparable with the local bees, the shipping costs are very high, more than the cost of a single nuc.  So now I am trying to find local beekeepers who will go in with me and share the cost of shipping.

So now we just wait and see.

While waiting, watch this really good video about sustainable beekeeping: Saving the Honeybee: Hour of Decision

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