Friday, December 24, 2010

Season's Greetings

I wish everyone a very happy holiday and a happy new year.  This has been a very good year to our family.  Sitting here watching a very lovely snowfall on Christmas eve, hoping our "kids" can make the trip safely here this evening, I'm thinking of the great year past.  It has been a very good one for our family and we look forward to another great year to come.  The bees have done a great job as well and we look to have another great year with them.
Here is a little Christmas gift I made--a 3D stereogram--see if you can spot the hidden object (I'm sure you have no clue what it might "bee" !)
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meeting of Eastern Iowa Beekeepers

We attended our second session of the Eastern Iowa Beekeepers Association Monday night.  The first meeting we attended seemed poorly organized with little to take from it, though one member brought in an observation hive he had constructed that he takes to various area schools.  I found that interesting to see.  Otherwise, it seemed more like "let's get together and just see what happens."
This time, however, there was a lot of content, things moved right along and Kathy and I left with wanting more. Maybe it was just the cold, December night and not being able to do anything with the bees lately other than go out and see how many dead had been drug out, but it truly was an entertaining and informative meeting and we took some things away from it that I plan to pursue this coming season.
We arrived a bit late, and missed most of the first speaker who appeared to be talking about dangers associated with allergic reactions to bee stings.  It took awhile to find chairs as all the seats were taken.  Andy Joseph, a state apiarist, next gave a talk, with a power point presentation, on AFB.  He had some great slides which showed what to look for when inspecting for American Foul Brood, including black scaling on the sides of the cells in the brood chamber which are the remnants of bee larva which decomposed, leaving a black, shiny deposit on the sides of the cell.  These would be full of the spores of the bacteria that develops AFB.  He also showed how to take a toothpick or small twig and open up a sunken cap on the pupa and if you see a stringy, "snotty" substance when you withdraw the stick then you have evidence of AFB.  He confirmed my thinking in discontinuing the use of antibiotics as a preventative measure for AFB.  However, I will need to really step up my inspections of the brood chambers both in frequency and thoroughness.  Only if caught early enough can some effective measures be taken to prevent the loss of the entire hive and to reduce the possibility of the disease spreading to other hives.  The other thing I plan to do is to begin to recycle old frames from the brood chambers annually.  When I switch hive bodies in the spring, I will remove several frames from each hive and replace them with fresh frames for the bees to draw out.  Since I use 3 medium supers, I will remove 9-10 frames each year.  This is because the bacteria is almost always present in each hive, even if the hive looks healthy.  By removing the old frames, which are most likely to be holding bacterial spores, I can reduce the possibility of the disease taking hold if there is stress on the hive.
I also learned about the importance of orienting the frames within the hive body.  This is somewhat controversial, since there seems to be some disagreement in the beekeeping community over the necessity to do this in the first place and, if one chooses to follow this practice, the proper way to go about it.  The process is called "housel orientation", based on observations by a Michael Housel in which he studied the ways bees orient the hexagonal cells they create in feral hives.  Use "housel" as a search term in the website for more information.  I have only begun to read about it but it is intriguing.  One woman at the meeting said that if you follow the housel method, bridging between frames is almost eliminated as you create a much more natural environment for the bees.
There was other interesting discussion, but I must say we both felt very excited after the meeting and ready to read more and try some things out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Follow-up to Wax Moths

We decided to open the hives again, thinking there must be a mass on the bottom screen and it should be cleaned out before winter.  We opened up hive #2, first setting the top feeder down to the side.  There were TONS of bees in the hive, though many were out foraging.  Several were not real happy about today's intrusion, either, and kept buzzing rather insistently in my face.  No stings, though--whoops, except for Kathy, who had her pant legs secured with rubber bands but wore short socks and took one on the ankle--ouch!
Surprisingly, the bottom screen was completely clean and no other sign of wax worms.  The odor must be coming from either some honey that has begun to ferment or the odor of the pollen currently being brought in.
Another mistake was setting the top feeder aside uncovered, and Kathy diligently scooped out several dozen "swimmers" before we could re-assemble.  With all the bees all over the hive bodies, we hoped the queen was not crushed.  When I checked this evening, the bees were quietly going about their business, still bringing in plenty of orange pollen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wax Moths

We opened the hives today to check on winter supplies, put a new top hive feeder on hive #2 and do the fall treatment for AFB.  We both noticed an odor coming from the hives, and decided we needed to investigate a bit.
Kathy took out the removable tray from the back of each bottom feeder.  Wax moths and larva were definitely present.  She scraped out all webbing and junk she could, actually using the brush we use below the refrigerator to clean the coils.  It worked well.
 You can clearly see the wax moth trails on here.  Since we use a screened bottom board, with this slide-out tray, a lot of junk collects down here--pollen, dead bee parts, bits of wax, etc.
 Here you can see one of the larva from the wax moths.  They are quite large, and you can imagine the damage they can do within the hive.   Our concern was they might be in the upper chamber, where some of the frames are not drawn out fully or, if they are drawn out, are not filled with honey.  These would be susceptible to wax worm attack.
 We went in and did a bit of research.  Since both hives are quite strong, it seems unlikely that the wax worms threaten to invade much of the hive.  My feeling is they are only down on this bottom tray, along with the ants and a few cockroaches, feasting on the droppings.  We did not perform a thorough hive search, though there was no evidence of anything in the top of 3 hive bodies that make up our hives.  We decided we will do a regular cleaning of the bottom tray and monitor the situation. Hopefully this will eliminate the bad odor.
 I did mix up a batch of antibiotic with powdered sugar and sprinkled that on each hive to treat for AFB.
 We purchased a polystyrene top feeder.  Looking at message boards about them, I decided to add some screen mesh to the end so the bees would have something to climb on and hopefully reduce drowning.
This variety uses a plexiglass cover at the end to limit the bee exposure to the liquid.  I only put an inch or so in the bottom and will see how that goes.  We were quite happy with the honey they have now stored in hive #2 and feel good about winter survival.  I will feed the next several weeks, though, just in case.  The super in hive #1 is also being drawn out and a couple frames are getting filled with honey.  We will feed this back to them in a couple weeks then remove that super.
If anyone feels we need to be more aggressive about the moths, please let us know. Otherwise, loving the 70 degree October days and good, orange pollen coming in heavily to each hive as the bees are very active during the warm afternoons.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Feed Me!!!

Well, the bees in hive #2 are certainly gobbling up the sugar syrup.  I started a week ago and they are well into their second full coffee can of 2:1 sugar water.  Hopefully, this will help them fill up the frames in the top hive body and they will be set for winter.  With this brief stint of warmer weather, the bees have been very active.  Today I noticed lots of orange pollen being brought into the hives.  Still many things in bloom, from our red raspberries to the goldenrod, sunflowers, and many flowering plants in the prairie.  I reversed my decision for hive #1 and replaced the super, though did not bother with the queen excluder since the bees will get any honey they put in there.  I was afraid, as active as they have been, that they will put too much honey lower in the hive and not leave enough room for brood.
On another note, Kathy ran into one of our former "colleagues" from our bee class last year.  He came up to her in the grocery store and asked "Did you harvest any?"  She told him we had gotten one super's worth of honey, which amounted to about 2 gallons.  He sadly responded he had not gotten any honey yet, though he started with two hives and we only had one.  This spring he started several others, and of course will not harvest from them.  He did have a swarm, which he was able to capture.  He seemed pretty down, unsure as to why his bees are not producing.  After some thought, I began to wonder if he just does not have enough good forage area for the bees.  They live within two miles of our place, but we have some forest but also large pasture areas, prairie areas, and farmland within sight.  His place is basically on a peninsula, with a reservoir on three sides.  The land around him is all residential or forest.  Bees would have to go 2 miles through forest or across the expanse of water to get to any other type of forage area. Is there enough for them to forage in an area mostly wooded, with maples, elms, oaks and walnuts the predominate trees in the area?  I plan to go on the Bee Source site to see if any there have some answers.  He may just have a bad location.  I'll let you know what I find out.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Started feeding

I began a 2:1 sugar water feeding today with hive #2.  I planned to replace empty, undrawn frames with frames from the extraction, which have fully drawn comb, but in only a few days they have begun to draw out comb on most frames in the top hive body and have filled some with honey, so I ended up only replacing two frames.  They've been busy!  I think the supplemental feed will help, though.  I have no concerns about hive #1, which has great winter stores in place.
We plan to go to the East Central Beekeeper Association meeting tomorrow night.  Should be interesting.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

First fall check--ready for winter?

We've been pretty busy, plus the weather has been now rainy, now windy, and so on, so I've put off an inspection for awhile.  We needed to remove the box of frames we had extracted from hive #2, where I had put to have the bees clean them off.  I debated putting them there, but thought the hive was strong enough to fend off any robbing.  I didn't see any fighting, so I hope the decision was a good one. Also, we wanted to determine how well they are prepared with food for the winter.
Hive #2, the newer hive, did nothing with the super we put on, so we pulled that off.  They only have honey in about two other frames.  The older hive has a very heavy, full 3rd box so it should be in great shape.  We did take two frames partially filled out with honey from the super on that hive and put them in the newer hive.  I'll start feeding in a week or so, only the new hive. I meant to put the frames they had cleaned out in the top super to replace frames that were not drawn out and I didn't do that, so may do that tomorrow or the next day.
As far as brood, it looked kind of spotty at first but then we found several frames really full of capped brood, so she has been busy and doing well.  I have noticed more bees doing orientation flights near the hive lately, so I felt things were looking good in that regard.
And that's about it for now.  Bees were good, and very busy flying to and from the hive.  They like a warm, dry day like this.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

First Honey Extraction

Success!  We completed our first honey harvest today.  The process went fairly smoothly.  There were a few wrinkles and we learned some things, but overall I'd have to say it went well.  Here is a video on YouTube that tells the basics.
We did use the bee escape yesterday, but that proved less successful than I had hoped.  There were fewer bees, but since I was hoping for NO bees in the honey super, I was disappointed.  Maybe next year I will leave it on for two days.  We brushed off the remaining bees.  I did leave two of the frames in the 9 frame super that were not filled out, but the other 7 were beautiful, nicely capped.  There were few cells that contained honey that were not capped.  We put them in a big container, with lid, after removing the bees and took them to the barn for processing.
We used a big plastic bin with a homemade board attached and a long bread knife for the uncapping.  It worked very well, and we wondered why the need to buy expensive, heated knives.  We also used an antique ice pick for the capping scratcher, and it worked pretty well though I'd like to have a genuine one.
Kathy is beginning to remove the white cappings off a perfectly drawn out , honey-filled frame.   She will do both sides of the frame.

Kathy did the uncapping and I did the spinning in the nice, old two frame hand cranker that our friends, Jim and Beth, loaned to us.  It worked very well, though a weld is failing at the bottom of the spigot and we will need to do something about that since it creates a small leak.  Other than that, it worked perfectly, fully pulling the honey from the comb.  We worked in about 80 degree temperatures, and the honey flowed just fine.
Once finished extracting, we put the honey through filters into a white bucket with a spigot, then Kathy filled jars.  The cappings were also put into the filter and are sitting overnight to finish draining, though we won't get more than several ounces from that at this point.
Here is a photo of the finished product.  In all, we probably harvested about two gallons of very sweet, clear, delicious honey.  We were pretty happy with this and excited about prospects for next year.  I set the equipment out for the bees and at dusk there was still a cloud of excited bees cleaning up everything, including little spills in the barn since I neglected to pull the big door down again.  Very fun.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Switched frames

Well, we switched the frames this morning.  I couldn't believe how many bees were in hive #2.  They certainly seemed a bit more upset at our interventions than the bees in hive #1, but though the air was filled with bees, no stings.  The comb drawn out in hive #2 was a mess--all over the place.  We tried cleaning up things a bit as we went, but since our main objective was to take frames with larva into hive #1, we didn't want to linger too long.  We were about an hour from start to finish as it was.  Fortunately, it was warm but not as hot today as some days have been recently.  My only concern is not seeing eggs on the 2 frames we moved, though there was some very young larva, so I think they will do for making a new queen, if indeed a new one is needed.  Keeping fingers crossed.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Your majesty.....Your Majesty???

Hmmmm, not good.  We have observed our first hive (hive #1), has not looked as vigorous in recent days as the newer hive (#2), so we decided to open up today and take a look.  We didn't like what we saw.  Well, some of it was ok I guess.  There was honey--lots and lots of honey--in fact the super we plan to extract in a couple weeks probably weighs well over 50 pounds--but no eggs, no larva, no capped brood.  And, for all we could tell, and we looked at every frame, no queen.  We did find several swarm cells, all empty, and one supercedure cell, also empty.  I couldn't tell, and not sure if I know how to tell, if the supercedure cell has been occupied.
There were also bees, thousands of them, and they are well-stocked for winter already.  We examined everything, switched out some frames so we could give them more space in the brood chamber in case a queen is lurking around somewhere and we just could not find her, and closed it up.
I got on the internet and started looking for queens and ideas.  I knew buying a queen at this time of year was going to be difficult.  I did find one supplier who put me on a waiting list, about 3 weeks.  It would take almost all that time to make a new queen if we were to choose that route.  I decided I did want to try to make our own queen, so went to the message boards and did some hunting.  I didn't know if it would be best to take some eggs and larva from hive #2 and make a nuc or to put some frames from #2 with eggs/larva into #1 directly.  After listening to folks on and talking with our instructor, Bob, from the beekeeping course we took, we decided we will switch out frames and perhaps also rotate the bottom several hive bodies, to make sure there is plenty of room for the queen to lay.
So, that is the job for tomorrow.  I wasn't going to go in and totally disrupt them again today, though perhaps that decision is more based on my mental well-being than that of the bees.  I did sustain my first sting today, as did Kathy, but both were not based on aggressiveness from the bees but just by accident.  In fact, the bees were very cooperative and well-mannered.  I took one on the belly, bending down to pick up a frame on the ground.  There must have been a bee on my shirt and when I bent, the folds of the shirt compressed it and she stung.  It is now a big red welt on my stomach but didn't really hurt much at all, even when it happened--a slight burning sensation mostly for a short while.  We left some frames and a box that had gotten honey on them near the hive so the bees could clean them off and I brought them back up to the barn later in the afternoon.  As Kathy was picking up the frames to put them away, there was still one bee on them and she tried to shoosh her away with her finger.  Bad decision.  So, we've both been initiated.
It was suggested that perhaps we do have a queen, possibly still a virgin, who has just not begun to lay yet.  That would be the ideal, so I'm not panicking yet.  If that is the case,  we will check in about a week's time (probably longer than that since we will be on the go for a bit) to see if any laying is taking place or if a queen cell has been made from the new eggs/larva and we will have a queen in about 20 days.  Only time will tell.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting ready for extraction

The day will soon be approaching when we do our first honey extraction.  I mentioned we had borrowed an extractor from some friends, Jim and Beth Peterson.  It is an old extractor and although we cleaned up the flaky rust and gave it a good scrubbing, I still was a bit concerned about the screens in the device being galvanized.  Although use of galvanized metal, which is a zinc coating on iron to prevent rust, was used fairly commonly in the past on cooking utensils and other food preparation tools, today we know the potential hazards of using such items.  The U.S. army used to line up soldiers to watch atom bomb blasts, too.  Not a good idea.
Fortunately, Kathy found a product which may help us out a lot.  It is a clear-coat epoxy called Camcoat, available through many beekeeping supply places.  It is a very hard, clear epoxy coating, applied with brush or spray, that is food-safe and can be used to coat  metal surfaces, including those with a galvanized finish.  In the message boards, some suggest using a vinegar/water solution to prepare the galvanized metal for painting, so I did that.  I will give at least two coats, and also in the message boards people suggest waiting about a week before using the equipment after applying the coatings, which I think is a good idea especially considering the humidity and slowness of drying.  We will wait probably until mid-August anyway but I sure feel better about using the equipment now.  Jim and Beth were happy with the decision as well.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bee Escape

In trying to decide how to go about removing the bees from the frames when we go to harvest the honey, we looked at options such as the fume board, brushing, blowing or shaking bees off the frames, or using a bee escape.  We've chosen to try the last option.  The fume boards work quickly, but we didn't like the thought of "fumigating" our bees or the honey.  My experience with brushing bees off the frames has been that it does not make them very happy.  I like to keep them happy.  So we decided to go with the bee escape method.
There are a number of bee escapes available commercially and there are also plans for building a variety of bee escapes.  Most of the commercial bee equipment outlets sell a simple bee escape that is oblong in shape and fits in the opening of a standard inner cover.  It allows the bees to move from the honey super to the hive body below.  These are quite inexpensive, costing only a couple dollars. You can also buy, from Dadant, a board which incorporates several conical bee escapes for about $17.00.  We opted to build our own, using a plan for a variation of a triangular escape known as a vortex.  Dave Cushman has a great website explaining a variety of "clearer boards", including plans for building the vortex.  We made ours from 1/2 inch plywood.  We did add the variation that includes using 3 CD roms.  The CD's, being slick, help prevent bees from clustering underneath the bee escape and blocking the exits.  Here is a photo of one using the CD's:
This shows the underside of the bee escape.  The bees come down from the honey super above through the central hole, then have to wind through a bit of a maze to exit through an opening under any of the corners of the triangle.  A screen covers the escape so they have to go through the maze to exit.
I did a bit of searching for a video showing a bee escape.  Andy's backyard is a series of 5 homemade videos showing how he harvests his honey.  He removes the bees by using a triangular bee escape, which he shows.  He places the bee escape below the two honey supers and returns the next day to collect the supers, sans bees.  Seems to work pretty well.  Since our hives are just out back on our property, it is not a big deal to put them in place one day and go out the next to collect the frames.  Hopefully it will go as smoothly as it appeared for Andy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


As we get involved in the routine management of our bees, we almost forget one of the reasons for having them--honey.  So when we opened the hive yesterday to check on the progress they were having in drawing out the comb in the super, we were very surprised, after having checked only last week, to find practically every frame drawn out and filled with white, capped honey.  I put another super on, this time choosing to use the 10 frame initally as the newsletter from Dadant had suggested (done so the bees will draw out more regular comb, later to switch to a 9 frame box) and headed in to start looking at options for extracting.  Should we try to use a centrifugal extractor, use heat, buy equipment, use the equipment at the nature center, etc.  These are things we had only briefly talked about and considered and now we need to make some definite decisions.  Not that it needs to be done immediately--the nice thing about early season honey is we have time.  It will stay in the hive just fine, so no real rush.
So, we went to the catalogs and internet.  Kathy found a vintage, classic crank extractor on ebay for $75 starting price, with no bids.  The photo and description indicated it has a few dings, has some definite rust spots but apparently the crank works ok.  We looked at newer, smaller models at some of the beekeeping supply houses. Dadant has a metal, 2 frame job for about $150.  We also could use the equipment at Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, where we are members and where we took the year-long course in beekeeping.  We also looked at uncapping equipment and thought about ways of getting the bees off the frames.  I found plans for a bee escape I can make called the vortex escape.  Put that under the super, the bees think they are cut off from the rest of the hive and go through the escape but it is very difficult to get back.  In several hours or a day, you can take the super off with few or no bees in it.  Right now we prefer this method to using a chemical.
Later, I remembered that a former colleague of mine, Beth,  and her husband, Jim,  had kept bees years ago.  I called them and Jim has given most of his equipment to his son, who is also in his first year of beekeeping.  They would be happy to let us borrow their old extractor, though Jim gave the caveat "it's a lot of work!"  I think we figured that would be the case having seen the extraction demonstrated at Indian Creek.
So, we're pretty excited with the idea that we indeed will have honey this season, maybe quite a lot actually.  I'll take a better look at the frames next week and we may be doing some extraction in the next several weeks.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Enlarged opening

Rain and more rain, and, did I mention humidity?  With quite a little gathering of fanners on the apron, I decided to go ahead and open the hives fully by removing the reducer, which had been placed in the larger opening.  You can really smell the honey coming from the big hive, and I can imagine they are working hard to get things dry in there.
Bees are still all over the spiderwort, of which we have plenty, and are now seen on the white clover.  There are still so many things in bloom that they should be getting plenty of pollen/nectar, provided they can get out.  We have not had as much rain as folks in southern Iowa but still have had well over 4 inches and we're only mid-way through the month, with rain forecast 5 of the next 6 days.
I had an interesting experience the other day.  My aunt, Paula, wrote saying that Kelli, her daughter, had a squirrel nest (actually a wood duck house) full of bees and wondered what to do.  I'm not to the point yet where I want to do extractions, so I looked on the state apiary registry for someone nearby in that county.  I chose the person with the most hives and called him, explaining the situation.  He was a bit puzzled how I got his name and number, but I explained that and he was more than happy to oblige.   It actually is his son's "hobby", which he began when he was in kindergarten.   Dad has been his "assistant".  His son is now 12.  They did go to my cousin's where they confirmed the bees were indeed honeybees.  I did not go, since this is over an hour and a half away so heard the story from my aunt.  The nest was 12 feet up on a tree, secured with lag bolts.  They brought an extension ladder and the son climbed up.  Unfortunately, about the worst possible thing happened--the nest, heavy with bees, comb and honey, came loose much faster than anticipated and dropped to the ground before the boy could secure it.  You can picture it--bees all over the place.  They did manage to get the nest back up and on the tree, with the hope that most bees would return to it.  They decided to leave it alone and did go back and retrieve it the next day, wrapping it in canvas.  They hoped the queen survived but planned to order one if she didn't.  The boy now has 8 hives, I believe, with plans to have 16 by the end of summer.  Quite a project!

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Here is a photo Kathy took today of the bearding that has been going on almost daily on the original hive.  It is very full of bees.  I have opened to the middle opening and have raised the outer cover fairly high, so they should be getting some ventilation and I have also added the super since they had drawn out most of the frames in the 3rd hive body.  They should have enough space but there is a ton of honey and nectar in the hive and it must be very warm and humid in there.  Don't blame them for hanging out on the porch.

Friday, May 28, 2010

First super in place

We checked our old hive today.  We had placed the third medium on and had checked it only a week ago. At that time, hardly anything had been drawn out.  Today, there were 6 frames fully drawn with each frame drawn out some.  Since the bees have been bearding every day in large clusters, we decided to go ahead and add the super.  If they draw it out as quickly as they have the last box, we will have honey this year for sure.  The new hive has done a little work but does not have the number of bees the old hive holds, so work there is a bit slower.  We're in a great part of the season, with so many things in bloom.  Hopefully this will continue.  There is so much in fact that the bees are not even bothering with the white clover, which is in abundance.  Last year they were all over it and I have yet so see a single bee on the clover in our yard or in the neighboring pasture.  They're getting what they need somewhere!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Beekeeping Book--fun reading

I wrote a post on the message boards about the drone being attacked by a worker bee.  One respondent replied with a quote from Edward Bevan, M.D., from his 1843 book "The Honey Bee:  Its Natural History, Physiology and Management".  It is fascinating reading, in a light and often humorous manner.  You can read it as an html or download a pdf since Google scanned it and is in the public domain.  The link is:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


We did an inspection of the new hive, with some mixed results.  We did not find the queen, though bees were pretty cooperative.  We did locate the brood chamber in the lower hive body (2 mediums), with the upper still mostly honey and empty frames just beginning to be drawn out.  It has been 16 days since the queen was released and there were capped brood cells as well as small larvae.  I only noticed one drone cell, which tells me we don't have a laying worker, which is obviously good.  So, though we didn't find the queen, given the easy temperament of the bees and the presence of capped cells and larvae, she seems to be well and doing her job.
We also found a who lot of dead bees, in fact littering the screened floor of the bottom board.  We pulled the lower hive body off and dumped that out.  There were also a number of dead bees that seemingly had been crushed when we did the split, though I felt we were being as careful as could be that day.  We must have injured way more than we realized.
Another interesting thing was, as we were closing the hive up, we saw one worker going viciously after a drone.  We only watched a short time but I will have to research this a bit to see if it was more than just some general male bashing!
We looked in the top of the 3 bodies on the old hive to see if they were drawing that out.  Clearly more bees in that hive and they were busy in the top with the beginnings of the drawing process.
White clover is just coming into bloom, so we hope to see a lot more pollen coming into the hives with temps in the 70's and even some mid-80's on the horizon.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Who's Your Honey?

Actually, the question is "From where is your honey?"  Jessica sent me a link to an interesting story about attempts to determine the origin of honey imported into the U.S.
Apparently, China has been "dumping" honey into U.S. markets at prices well below what honey producers in this country can match.  China is the world's largest producer of honey.  To try to help our producers, a tariff was established to make local honey more competitive.  However, it appears that honey that seemingly comes from other southeast Asian countries, according to the labels, actually has been routed from China.  How do we know this?  A scientist at Texas A&M studies the pollen in honey from around the world and therefore is able to make a good determination of the origin of a given quantity of honey.
This is something that should concern all honey producers in the United States.  As we are working towards more accurate, valid and honest labeling of our food products, we need to add honey to the list of items that require "truth in labelling," according to the professor.  He also advocates disallowing honey that has been filtered to remove identifiable pollen grains.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

New Queen Freed

It had been 3 days today, so we checked  a bit after noon to see if the queen had been released.  I removed the top hive body and we saw that there was still a small bit of candy in the tube.  We debated leaving it there and figured she would be out probably by the end of the day, but decided to go ahead and release her.  I opened the extra opening in the plastic tube and held it open down on top of the frames.  A couple of her attendants exited first, then she scampered out and hussled right down into the frames.  Looked like she was very anxious to get about her business.  We added the extra frame we had left out to that box and closed it up.
Checking later, we were finally seeing some bees coming and going from that hive.  They were very active in the old hive, so much so that I was a bit concerned they were maybe going to swarm even though we had done the split.  They settled down later.  I imagine they were just very busy out gathering pollen and nectar, after yesterday's heavy rain.  They are gathering from the bushes along the edge of our property, which are loaded with blossoms right now.
So, we'll next check in about a week to see if there are worker larva in both hives.  If so, we should be all right.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Split it!

Hey, we've now doubled our number of beehives.  It was nice day, upper 6o's and clear, little breeze--great day to do this.  We had no advance warning, just knew the queen would arrive sometime after the third week in April. We got a call from the post office this morning saying they had a package with live queens in it and we could come pick it up before the post office opened if we wanted.   I did wait until after it was open.  The bees were in a thin white envelope, with holes in it clearly marked "LIVE QUEEN".  It said to keep it out of the sun.  She thought there could not possibly be a live queen bee in there and thought it had to be larva.  I told her it would be in a cage in the package, too it out, checked and everything seemed fine.  The queen and her attendants (about 4) were in a small plastic container with a tube on one end and a plug in a hole next to it.Plastic JZ-BZ Queen Cage (100 count)  There was  masking tape around the tube.  I was not sure whether or not I was to open the small plug and replace it with a marshmallow, remove the tape, or what.  So I called the company, B&B Honey Farm  They were very helpful and told me the tube was filled with queen food and I needed to remove the masking tape and place the container between brood frames with the tube in an upright position, in case one of the bees died and blocked the exit for the queen.  
We took everything out and set it up.  Kathy's brother, Jon, took some video while we went through the frames.  The bees were a bit upset at first but settled down very nicely and I had no trouble examining the frames.  We went fully through the two top boxes without finding her, so we put the new queen in the new hive and made sure each had equal amounts of brood and honey and closed them up. Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed.  We'll check in 3 days to see if she has left her cage and both hives for new larva in about 10 days.  Pretty exciting.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pollen gathering

Two days ago we took Jessica out to see the hive.  We wanted to check the sugar-water supply in the coffee can.  It was still practically full, a week after the last check.  Jess noted the huge, bright yellow pollen sacks on the incoming bees as well as some white pollen.  There just are not many flowers blooming right now (crocuses, daffodils), at least in our immediate yard, but as Kathy pointed out the bees can fly beyond our property so they are getting the pollen somewhere.  A few of the early trees are beginning to bud out. Jess said the silver maples are blooming, so my guess is they are getting much of this from trees.
We pulled the tray out from under the screened bottom board to check the mite situation.  It had been over a week since I had cleaned it off and we found quite a few mites, along with many clumps of pollen that had fallen down.  I would say there were probably 1-2 mites per square inch on the board, which is not a sticky board by the way.  Several were crawling around.  I will put some paper in there today and monitor that for the next two days.
The bees should be busy--temps are way above normal, approaching 80 today and tomorrow.  Things will really start blooming if this keeps up.  Sure glad we reversed hive bodies now.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bees in funny places

After seeing the bees in the bird feeder, we have now seen them elsewhere in seemingly strange places. We have two large, rolling-type composter bins. They have drainage holes all over and we put composting materials in them year-round. The bees have been going in them like crazy. I suppose fruit peelings and moisture are the attraction. Yesterday we saw several at a time on a brown canvas cover over a woodpile. It had rained the night before and there were small pools of water in the folds and that is where the bees were found, getting the water. Even though there is a pond just down the hill from the hive, I guess they will seek it where they can find it. It's fun seeing "our" bees all over the place. I know they are ours, too, since we used to never see honeybees around. I can't wait for the first good bloom.
Temps last night in mid-twenties but 70's for highs promised next week!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reversed hive bodies

Well, it was over 60 degrees and sunny today. I thought we would just switch out the sugar water feeder, but found it was still very heavy. So, since it was so nice, we fired up the smoker and decided to reverse #1 and #3 hive bodies. Bees were really flying, though about the only thing I am aware of that is blooming is some crocuses and a couple blossoming dandelions. There may be some early trees but I don't know what exactly.
We took the top super off, which houses the feeder, then removed the inner cover. There were a lot of bees. I removed one frame from the middle to examine. There were still capped honey cells, though there were many empty ones as well. We pulled the top hive body off and set it aside. It was still quite heavy. We saw some larvae, always a good sign. I pulled out the middle one, which was also pretty heavy, and more larvae. After pulling the bottom off the bottom board, we needed to clean that off since there were still matted bees over about 1/4th of it. We moved quickly but carefully, put everything back together and then left them alone.
Very impressed with these bees. There were thousands in the hive, remarkable. We will have to watch closely when there is a pollen run because they might want to swarm, but having switched the hive bodies I feel a lot better. The bottom one was very light, and now is on top so they will have some work to do filling that one out. Then we will need to split in late April, when our queen arrives. We have ordered a Minnesota hygenic queen. They are supposed to be very well behaved and mite resistant. We will keep our fingers crossed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Feeding time

After much reading and debate, I decided to begin feeding today. High was 60 degrees, sunny, and the bees were really out flying. This early, and with snow still in little patches in the ditches, there is nothing blooming but spring plants are sticking up through the soil now and it won't be long there will be some flowering plants. The temps are to stay above freezing all but one day early next week, so I decided to go ahead with a 2:1 sugar water feed. I also decided, with the warmth, to take a little deeper look into the hive. So far, I have only peeked under the outer cover.
Bees were really flying as I went out to the hive, as you can see in this image. I removed the insulation but kept the tape on the seams that I had under the insulation. There was still a pile of watery sugar under the outer cover that I had put a couple weeks ago and there were probably 100 bees on top of the inner cover. I smoked, then removed the inner cover. I saw a lot of bees, between each frame on my top of 3 medium hive bodies. I pulled one of the outer frames to examine and saw mostly empty comb, a little uncapped honey. I should have looked at more, but I wasn't wanting to keep things open too long. So I decided to put the inner cover back on, add a super above (which I insulated with styrofoam again, on the inside this time) and added a coffee can of sugar water right above the oblong opening of the inner cover. Then I closed things up.
I think things look good. If we continue to get warmth, we will get blooming plants and the bees will be very happy. Later, I was out walking past my birdfeeders and saw bees all over the seed, no birds! The bees, however, were literally rolling in the seed, I imagine gathering up corn pollen? I had recently heard (or read on one of the message boards about bees) that someone had worried about bees in their birdfeeder. Now I see it for myself. They were also all over the ground, where spilled seed and seed shells litter the ground. I guess they are desperate right now. The birdfeeder is almost 300 feet from the hive. So I know they are getting out and about!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spring coming????

Still a lot of snow on the ground, but with daytime temps near 40 and sunny, with the weekend to be above freezing day AND night, it feels like the end is drawing near.
I went out yesterday with the temp near 40 degrees, lifted the lid, saw a nice mass of LIVE bees around the oblong hole of the inner cover. I poured about a cup of sugar on the inner cover. Several bees were out making cleansing flights. I see no brown staining around on the snow or on the front of the hive, so nosema does not seem a problem right now at least. Fingers crossed. If this group of bees makes it through this winter with noob beekeeps working them, this is a group I want to see continue.
I did remove the fencing from around the hive. I don't know if that was wise since I smelled a skunk just yesterday evening but I will monitor it closely.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Still alive and kicking!

Getting very nervous after reading about hive deaths on the forums, I decided to go out and take a peek at the hive. The thermometer read several tenths over 40 degrees F, so I decided I would at least lift the lid off and peek under the inner cover. I took the hive tool out. Though it was cloudy and a bit windy, the temperature was nonetheless the warmest we have had in weeks.
When I got to the hive, I noticed a couple new dead bees on the landing area. There had been a few bees on the way to the hive, on the fresh snow. I pulled back the fencing I had put around to discourage critters, removed the styrofoam and wood blocks from on top of the telescoping cover and lifted it. I was very surprised to see 50 to 70 bees crawling about on top of the inner cover! There was a small pool of water near the slotted opening of the inner cover. My guess is this is from water that has moved up through the hive, condensed in the cooler air on top of the inner cover and possible had been frozen in cooler temps. Bees were getting much needed liquid nourishment from this. Satisfied that I did not have a "dead" hive, I quickly closed things back up. I tried tipping the entire hive to try to determine weight but it wouldn't budge. I take this to mean it still has a lot of weight to it, which would be good news.
The temps are to plunge again mid-week next week, unfortunately. After that, I hope for warmer weather so I can again resume some feeding. I am feeling much better about things, especially since I read about a number of people losing their only hive. Keeping fingers crossed.

Monday, January 25, 2010


I slogged out through the wet snow yesterday to check on the bees. I first looked at the number of bees around the hive and saw a few more than I had seen previously and also noted the distance some had flown, presumably on their cleansing flights. Bees don't like to poop in their own house so if it is warm enough (just above freezing for highs the past several days), they will fly out and relieve themselves. You can see the little brown spots easily in the snow. Some bees were perhaps 25 yards from the hive, dead in the snow. I saw one fly out of the hive, do a little circle and return safely. I listened with my ear to the side of the hive and heard a reassuring, solid hum from inside the hive.
It was then I noticed a chunk of styrofoam and some of the duct tape on the front left corner of the hive had been torn away.
For winterization, I wrapped the hive in 1 inch thick sheets of foam, secured with duct tape. Looking closer, I also noticed some of the bees seemed to have been eaten. Previously, I have almost always found whole, intact bees, but now I saw just some body parts. There also seemed to be some kind of debris in several spots near the entrance. Some critter has been trying to get in.
With the slight warming trend, temps just above freezing, some mammals have surely been out and about a bit. I looked for prints but only saw a number of deer tracks. It is possible a deer nibbled at the styrofoam to try it out, just as they strip bark and tender branches from our fruit trees. Other suspects would include skunks, which are known to raid hives and eat bees, oppossums, or raccoons, probably in that order. There could also be mice, though they would not have torn the styrofoam away like that.
At any rate, to discourage any further intrusions I brought back a roll of 6 foot fencing and encircled the hive. Hopefully that will do the trick.
Temps this week are to drop again, with more snow and lows at or near zero later in the week. We're getting a bit concerned about the bees with the length of the winter and the cold. February is when many hives start to have problems with food supply. I'm really hoping for one warm day to pop the lid and check things out or at least to tip the hive to check to see how heavy with honey it continues to be.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

January deep freeze

I go out regularly (about every other day) to check on the hive. We've had a lot of snow lately, and I've gone out to make sure the entry-ways are clear of snow. Each time I go out I find about 4 dead bees that have been pushed out onto the apron of the hive. This tells me the bees are still ok inside, regularly clearing out the dead bees. We have been experiencing some very cold January weather here in Iowa, with wind chills tomorrow morning in the minus 30 range (up to 15 below F actual temp). I have been following the bee listserv and there are some very interesting reports by some posters, including one who opened his hive to check the status even when the temps were in the single digits farenhiet. He is an an experienced beekeep and seems to know what he is doing but it seems to go against everything else I've read, most of which says to open a hive in those temps is a formula for disaster, but he seemed to take it in stride. Some posts are concerned even about the vibrations from nearby snowmobiles causing the hive cluster to break up, which would cause them to drop in temperature and suffer as a result. Others poo-poo those concerns, such as the person I described above. I know I certainly do not want to open the hive until spring, but am not concerned about my clearing away the bees on the hive entrance anyway.