Archive for the ‘beehives’ Category

Two weeks ago a strong wind knocked over one of the (empty)  rainbarrels and it rolled into Hive #1. The colony had successfully made it through the winter, and the queen was laying, comb was being built.  After the storm, I noticed that a huge cloud of bees were hovering around the hive.  Something had to be wrong.  I geared up, smoked the bees and went in to see what was the matter.  Two of the fresh combs had been knocked loose and were laying on the bottom.  No wonder the bees were so upset!  I took the combs out, brushed off the bees, closed up the hive and reattached them to the bars. The next day I replaced them and hoped all would be OK.  A week later I went in to see how things were going and looked for the queen…. couldn’t find her.  About 5 days later, I checked on the hive…. still no queen.  I also noticed that there were larva and a lot of capped brood, but no new eggs. Something definately  happened to the queen….perhaps she was injured from the accident. I also noticed three big queen cells that they had built.

Queen Cell

They look like a large peanut shell, and one of them was capped.  The workers had decided to make a new queen. It takes about 16 days for a queen to develop from an egg to an adult.   A queen bee is fed exclusively with “royal Jelly”, a nutrient rich milky substance produced by young worker bees.  Once the larva is fully grown, it spins a cocoon, the workers cap off the cell and she undergoes metamorphosis. 7 days later she emerges. The first thing a virgin queen does is to find any other developing queens and kill them.  Then she flies out and mates with up to a dozen male drone bees, returning to the hive, and there to remain for the rest of her life…

I talked with my bee mentor Steve Wall, and he said to leave the hive alone for three weeks so that the new queen can establish herself with the colony.   So… I will wait.  I’ll report back then to let you know how the colony is doing.  If she mated successfully, I will see evidence of new larvae.  If not, I will have to acquire a new queen.  This will be interesting!

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Empty queen cage.

New comb built in just 3 days.

Reattached the comb to the bar. You can see where the cage had been.

Three days after I put the new colony ( 4 pounds of bees plus 1 queen) into the hive, I checked in to see if they had released her.  The queen bee arrives in a special cage that is plugged with a soft sugar paste.  They can feed her through the cage and then eat through the sugar plug to release her.  The three day period gives the worker bees time to get accustomed to their new queen.  I removed the bar that I hung the cage on and found that not only had they released her, but  they had already built a large comb around her. The new comb was so soft that as I removed the cage, the two sections of comb fell off the bar.  Nice to see that they got her out and were busy building up comb.  I took the pieces out and reattached them to the bar by using a soldering iron to melt the edge and “glue” it on to the bar.  Now you can see where the cage had been. Tomorrow I will put it back into the hive.  Success!   After I replace the comb, I will leave them alone for a couple weeks….  then I’ll check in with them again to see how she is laying, and how they are building up the comb.  Long Live The Queen!

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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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Hive in winter

Hive in winter

Most insects, even most bee species, will die once it gets cold. As summer ends,the adults will lay eggs in the ground or other protected place and these will hatch in the spring.  But honeybees are different.  The bees that hatch out in late summer are fatter and live longer than the normal bee. They will live 4-5 months, unlike the 6 week life span of their summer sisters. Their job is to keep the queen alive over the cold winter months. They cluster around the queen inside their hive and keep her warm by vibrating their bodies. As the outer bees get chilled, they move toward the center and the warmer bees move out. These “convection currents” of bees will keep the queen as warm as she is during the warmer months. They survive by eating the honey they have stored in the combs. If the temperature during the day gets above 50 degrees on a sunny winter day, you might see bees flying around. These are called “cleansing flights’, where the bees fly out to relieve themselves ( being very fastidious, they do not excrete inside their hive)   If there is enough honey in the hive, and the weather isn’t extremely cold for a long period of time, the colony will survive, and come spring, the queen will once again begin laying eggs and new generations of bees will populate the hive.  Wish my ” girls” luck. I’ll report next spring as to the outcome.

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Here are three stories I picked up this past week that I want to share  with you.

Bee Story #1: The Brooklyn Bees.

Hurricane Irene created havoc in Ft. Greene Park in Brooklyn, NY. when the storm exposed a huge beehive in a hollowed out branch in a tree in the park.  Hoping to obtain a great swarm, two beekeepers arrived on the scene at the same time.  A lot of buzzing ensued, and most of it came from the two rival beekeepers!  Hah! You can read more about this encounter by clicking on this photo.

Hive exposed by Hurricane Irene in Brooklyn, NY.

Bee Story #2: White House Honey 

The First Beehive, next to Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden, produced an incredible 225.5 pounds of honey this year!  Located on the South Lawn of the White House, the bees have had plenty of nectar from all the surrounding flowering trees.  The honey is used for cooking and baking in the WH kitchen, as gifts to foreign dignitaries, and has even been brewed into an ale.  Click on the photos for more info.

White House Honey Ale

White House Honey jar

White House beehive

Bee Story #3: Why You Should Eat Local Honey

–  U.S. consumes 400 million pounds of honey…. about 1.3 pounds per person

–  35% is consumed directly in homes, restaurants and institutions

–  65% is used in cereals, baked goods, sauces, beverages and processed foods

– U.S. can only supply about half of this demand.

–  40% comes from reliable suppliers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Uruguay and Mexico

–  60% comes from Asian countries, mainly China

–  Because much of the honey from China has been shown to be tainted with illegal antibiotic and heavy metals, it is illegal to import  it into Europe.

– In 2001, the U.S. Commerce Department imposed a stiff tariff on Chinese honey to try to halt the dumping of cheap honey into the American market

–  Because of all these restrictions, the Chinese are concealing the origin of their honey, sending it to other countries and relabeling it.

–  They are processing the honey by ultrafiltration to remove “floral fingerprints” and indicators of added sweeteners.

Do you know where your honey came from?    

You will if you buy your honey from your local beekeeper!

Click here for more detailed information about this.

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Got a call yesterday from Steve Wall, a local beekeeper, teacher and mentor that the nuc that I had ordered was ready.  I put the hive in the back seat of the car and drove to his place where he transferred the combs from one of his small keeper hives into my large topbar hive.  As he did this we checked to see how the queen was doing and if she was laying well. The colony was amazingly calm and he reassured me that they were very docile.   All was good and we lifted the hive into the car and I drove home.  After setting up the hive in the yard, I sat as the sun began to set and waited to see what would happen.  After about 15 minutes about a half a dozen bees emerged and inspected every part of the hive from the outside.  They were checking out their new digs, for sure!  I waited until I saw them return for the night.  It was certainly easier than I had expected.

The next morning, after it had warmed up a bit, I went out to see how “the girls” were doing.  They were flying in out of the hive as if they had always been there.  Taking my smoker, I gave the opening a few puffs of smoke, removed the top and another couple puffs along the bars.  I then lowered a bucket of sugar water filled with sticks into the hive behind the last comb. It’s a simple sugar solution made with 1 cup of cane sugar and 1 cup of water. It’s been very dry and so this will help them in their transition to their new home.  The sticks help them get in and out of the bucket without drowning ( they are lousy swimmers)  The bees paid no attention to me and this too, was reassuring.  I replaced the top and that was that!  I’ll check on them in 3 or 4 days to see how they are doing and then once a week after that. So finally, after preparing for this for over a year,  I’m now in bees-ness!

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Checking the topbar hive

Langstroth hives

Last Sunday I spent 6 hours with my bee mentor Steve Wall at a class for beginning beekeeping.  There were 15 of us in the class…some folks already had bees but most of us were total beginners.  He demonstrated both types of hives: Langstroth and Topbar hives.  The Langstroth hive is the classic box that we are all familiar with. It was invented by Rev. L.L. Langstroth in the 1850’s.  Before this, bees were kept in conical straw baskets or hollowed out logs. The Langstroth hive had removable frames in which bees built the honeycomb and raised brood and filled the comb with honey. This really increased honey production and has been the standard for beekeepers since.

Recently a different type of hive has been developed that imitates the natural hollowed out logs that bees tend to live in.  It’s a horizontal box with bars on the top ( that’s why it is called a topbar hive) on which the bees build comb.

We learned that the Langstroth hive will produce more honey, but many bee hobbyists prefer the topbar as they are a bit easier to work with, and many folks feel that it allows the bees to create comb of their liking rather than forcing the bees to conform to a rigid standard. Both are good, and  I will be using the topbar hive.


He covered the A to Z of bees, and I feel very confident about venturing into this project. We all watched up close and personal as Steve opened up the hives to show us what was going on inside the hive. He pointed out the queen and we watched her work her way over the comb laying eggs in the empty cells.

Steve showing us the queen bee

He showed us the drones ( male bees) and we even found a queen cell, although it was empty.  The best part of it was how calm the bees were. Notice that none of us were wearing  a veil or gloves…..keeping calm and moving in a slow deliberate manner is a must. It really helped to allay our fears of getting stung. ( But I will still wear my veil when I start with the bees, for sure!)  One more month and I’ll have my bees.

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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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Topbar hive in the snow

Well, basically they try to just stay warm and survive….and keep their queen alive.  It all starts with storing up enough honey during the summer.  ( When harvesting the honey in the fall, it’s important to leave enough honey in the combs for the bees to feed on.)  The next thing the bees do is kick out all the drones ( the males)…for they are just an added burden, more mouths to feed, and they do no chores …so the worker bees kill them off.  As it gets colder, the workers cluster around the queen bee…feeding her from the stored honey.  By vibrating their wings, they create heat within the cluster and can keep the temperature over 40 degrees F even with below freezing temperatures outside.  The warmer workers in the center of the cluster move outwards and the colder bees move in to warm up.  By circulating in this manner they manage to keep a constant temperature in the hive.  Everything kind of slows down, and the bees never leave the protection of the hive.

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Scientists in Turkey and Iran both recently discovered a species of solitary bee that uses flower petals to build their nests in the ground.  How cool is this?  Read all about them at this NPR site.

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