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Happy New Year!

Yes….. 2015 sure went by quickly. My one colony did quite well and went in to winter quite strong.  It’s a large colony so I will have be on the lookout for it to swarm come spring and make a split. I have two empty hives waiting for such an event.  Meanwhile, the bees are hunkered down for the winter and we are having a doozy!  Winter hive #1El Nino is living up to it’s name, dropping a lot of snow on us and bringing in frigid temperatures at night. So what do the bees do? They cluster around the queen and vibrate.  This produces heat, much the same way as rubbing your hands together.  This keeps the queen warm and the bees circulate outward bringing in the colder, outermost bees into the center where they warm up.  All this vibrating requires energy, and that’s why they store the honey.  Bees are one of the few insects that can live through the winter as adults, and that’s how they do it. But even all this preparation may not help if the winter is particularly cold and long.  I just have to wait and hope they will make it. Winter hives#2Did you know that they will not poop in their hive?  That’s right. They hold it in when it’s cold outside, and when the temperature outside warms up to 45-50 degrees, they will fly out, defecate, and quickly hurry back into the hive!

Fall honey harvest

My single hive this year was very productive. The colony has expanded greatly and I know I will have to split it next Spring.  I inspected the hive and determined that I could safely remove 4 full bars of comb.

Comb in hive

Comb in hive

I removed the oldest combs ( the ones that were the darkest).  Each time a bee larva forms a pupa within the cell, it leaves behind a very thin cocoon shell in the cell.  The worker bees clean out the cell for the next larva but don’t remove the cocoon.  After a while, the combs get darker and darker as the shells build up and it’s good practice to remove them as not only do they make the cell smaller, they can contain small amounts of toxins and harmful organisms that the bees have brought into the hive and can create problems.

Comb and sieve

Comb and sieve

I then cut the comb off the bar and crushed the comb into a sieve. Leaving the comb overnight allowed the honey to drip through, leaving the wax and debris behind.  The next day I poured the honey into the jars.  I then melted the wax in a separate pot and poured it through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth. The result was a clean block of wax.

Crushing the comb

Crushing the comb

From all of this I collected over 9 pounds of honey and ¾ pound of wax.  Success!  Thanks to the hard working honeybees I have a nice supply of honey to eat and share with friends and family and the bees have plenty of honey to last them through the winter.

Honey jars & wax

Honey jars & wax

Swarm!

Spring is swarm season. The queen bee has been busy laying eggs for the past couple months now, and in many hives, it’s beginning to get really crowded.  When the bees sense that they are running out of room, they create three or four queen cells and once they see that the new queen larvae are doing well, the old queen and half the hive simply leave and look for a new home. After they leave the hive they will find a spot to hang out until the scouts have found a suitable cavity  to build a new hive in.  And that is a swarm. Swarm
Yesterday a friend of mine who will was doing some work in a public garden looked over and saw this swarm of bees.  She called me up and asked if I could capture the swarm…. “Oh yes… I’ll be right over”.    OK…. I must admit. I had never done this before, but I had read all about it…. Now I was going to do it.  Lucky for me the swarm was in a honeysuckle bush and easy to get to.  I put a large box underneath the swarm and then gave branch a good shake.
Box under swarm

The entire ball of bees just dropped into the box. .  I collected more bees off the branch by brushing them off into a bucket, then shaking them into the box. I lightly closed the flaps of the box and waited. I saw that the bees were flying to the box and crawling under the flaps into the box!  That’s when I knew that the queen was in the box as well.

Bees in boxI taped up the box, drove home and gently shook them into my empty hive. I added two bars of empty honeycomb that I had saved from last year, and a bag of sugar water to give them some food to eat. Then I closed up the hive.  I was just amazed at how calm and non-aggressive they were throughout the whole ordeal. The next morning, I checked on them and they were just fine. It was if they had always been there.  I will check on them in three or four days to see how the queen is doing….. she should be laying eggs and starting up a brand new hive!

Hive

Honey without pollen

Honey without pollen

Did you know?

Natural unprocessed honey contains pollen. Lot’s of pollen.  And pollen can indicate where the honey was produced.  Food Safety News writes…”The food safety divisions of the  World Health Organization, the European Commission and dozens of others also have ruled that without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources.”  Why is this important?  The U.S. has strict requirements on the quality of honey imported into the country. It must be free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.  By removing the pollen through ultrafiltration, a country can hide the origin of the honey and thus export honey that normally would not meet the strict standards. Look at the label of your honey container…..  Know where your honey comes from. Bottom line: buy local if possible. To read the entire article click here.

Spring Awakening

We have been having unusually mild weather lately with temperatures in the 50’s. That means the bees are out, but Spring is  still a long way away, and there’s really not much out there to eat.   I noticed that my bees were all over the chicken feeder… I had never seen this before.

Bee's 'n chickens

Bee’s ‘n chickens

Tuns out they’re just getting a little mid-winter protein snack from the fine particles in the chicken feed! I figured it was time to go into the hive and check on the bees.  Much to my relief, the colony made it though the coldest part of winter and the queen is alive and laying brood. I noticed that she’s looking a bit raggedy, and at age 3 probably past her prime.  I could replace her with another queen but I’d really like to see what will happen naturally.  The workers will notice that she is not as strong and will replace her.  This is called “supersedure”.  They do so by putting an egg into a special queen cell and feeding it royal jelly.

Queen Cell

Queen Cell

Since only one queen can occupy the hive, the workers will kill the old queen by “balling” or clustering tightly around her and stinging her.  But I have another plan…… I’ll check the hive often now, and if I see that they have built a queen cell and capped it ( meaning the larva is pupating) I will remove the comb contain the queen cell and put it and a large number of bees from the original hive into a second hive.  They will sense the developing queen and will stay with her until she hatches out. The new queen will fly out, mate with local drones and return to the hive.  Now I will have two colonies . The rest of the bees will stay with the old queen until she dies or they again try to replace her .        Well…. that’s my plan.    Stay tuned!

Longer Days

Have you noticed that the days are getting longer?  No?  Well, the queen bee has.  As the amount of daylight increases, the queen bee senses this change and slowly begins laying eggs.  Not a lot, mind you, as it is still winter and its cold. Nevertheless, the workers keep the queen warm and fed.  Once she starts laying eggs, they will raise the temperature inside the hive to 90° so that the eggs will hatch and begin developing. The pollen and honey that the bees collected last summer will be used to feed the larvae.  The workers won’t leave the hive until the outside temperature gets above 50° and I’m afraid that will be quite a while yet!

Beekeepers in Winter

I’ve written earlier how honeybees survive the winter. But what about the beekeepers?  What do they do? Winter is a good time to clean up the bee yard, rebuild old hives, and build new ones.  If one is lucky enough to have a good supply of wax, many beekeepers make candles and sell them during the holiday season.  I had only a small supply of wax, as I harvested just a few combs this year.  My garden is also sleeping so I have plenty of time to pursue some of my other hobbies.  I have started making native bee houses and selling them here at the Farmers Market. They have been very popular and folks like the idea of having something in their yard that supports the native bees. They are technically “bee nurseries” as the bees use the tunnels in the wood to lay their eggs.  You can read more about my bee houses on this page.  Here are some of my latest creations:

Bee House #1

Bee House #1

Bee House #2

Bee House #2

Bee House #3

Bee House #3

I will make them to order, so if you are interested in one, just reply to me via this blog.  I also have started working in glass, making coasters and small plates and have listed them on Etsy , and my shop is named “SantaFeCraft”.

Bee coaster

Bee coaster

I have the kiln in the garage so I call it my “studiage”.  Keeps me busy and out of trouble.  Hahaha! Come Spring and I will again be busy with my bees, chickens and my garden.  Best wishes to all for the New Year.  May 2015 bring peace, contentment and good health to all of us. And let us not forget all our pollinator friends as well!