Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Looking Good

We did a big inspection over Memorial Day weekend: the hives are looking strong so far.  We can see that each has a laying queen and is collecting pollen and nectar.  It will be a little while until the "honey flow" starts - when the bees are rapidly build up honey stores and nectar is highly available.

Quickly, here are some photos from the time, starting with brave Mr. Bee trimming the grass in front of the hives:

The Top Bar hive is looking really good (below) and we added some frames so they have more space to work.

Below, you can see some capped honeycomb as well as some cells full of glistening nectar.

You can also get a look at some larvae, in the stage before the cell is capped to allow for the rest of the growth:

I love this - some comb absolutely packed with pollen!

And here you can see the honeybee's main sources of food - pollen and nectar. The pollen is speckled and has different colors because of the different plants it is coming from.  On the very left, you can even see one of the girls with bright golden pollen nuggets still on her legs.

In the next photo, you'll see what we call capped brood. Each of these cells contains a honeybee in it's stage of growth. The hive will need every single one!

 Another update will be on the way soon!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The First Couple of Weeks

Hello, again!  We've had a busy first couple of weeks with the new bees.  Our new top bar hive is already looking strong.  You can see the pollen nuggets on the bee returning to the hive in the photo below.  The likely source? Maybe trees, or...

Dandelions. They're suddenly blooming all over.

We were exploring a patch of them and found one of our girls hard at work. This little bee was very busy pollinating - visiting flower after flower, only stopping for a moment at times.

Mr. Bee has already been adding the empty frames to the front of the box, so the queen can continue to lay eggs (her laying pattern is VERY good so far) and the workers can build comb and fill it with pollen and nectar.

Our wintered hive is doing pretty well, too.  We're keeping a eye on everything, and as some other beekeepers decide to do with strong hives, we've decided to "split" the hive.  We purchased a new queen, put her in a new box, added some frames of bees, capped brood, and pollen from the wintered hive, and there we have it - a nuc!  "Nuc" is short for nucleus.  Some beekeepers purchase their bees this way every time.  It consists of a laying queen and working bees, already established on some frames.  It's a strong way to start a hive and a great way to keep a healthy queen going in case we'd need her for one of our other hives this year.

The new hive, which for now I'll call the "Short Stack," has been a little slow to start.  We believe the queen is moving along with her duties now, but we're going to keep an eye on it. Worker bees live only about 6 weeks, so we need the new bees hatching in a few weeks to pick up where they'll leave off.

It's an exciting time of year, and it's always a time of hoping for the best and keeping a diligent eye on things.  We remind ourselves as often as we can, in beekeeping and in life, that it's a blessing to be able to never stop learning.

This was a bee in the first moments of her discovering the new top bar hive.  I wonder, what is she up to now?

The kids have taken a liking to dirt this year, which is funny, sweet, and messy.  I just love seeing their excitement about every ant and every plant and every breeze and every sound.

Little Miss Bee is growing fast, asking a lot of great questions, and telling everyone about the bees. She is aware of them, interested, and unafraid. Little Mr. Bee is perfecting the art of running. He has managed, so far, to stay away from bees when he sees them.  I'm thinking that's due to the caution of his sister, which I appreciate.

We've been seeing many birds! Chickadees, red-winged blackbirds (they sound just like summer to me), pheasant, downy woodpeckers, wild turkeys, mourning doves, blue jays, and robins everywhere. We are growing accustomed to seeing - and always amazed at - bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, sandhill cranes, and the occasional turkey vulture or trumpeter swan. Here are some photos I snapped in the last week:

Black-Capped Chickadee
Red-Winged Blackbird
Ring-Necked Pheasant
Downy Woodpecker
Tree Swallow

"Came the spring with all its splendor.
All its birds and all its blossoms.
All its flowers and leaves and grasses."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bee Day 2015

We've definitely been feeling springtime around here.
**In Minnesota, it can take a while before you're positive that spring has arrived. It was 75 degrees on Saturday and we have snow in the forecast for this week.

Nevertheless, the trees are budding and our surviving hive has workers busy collecting loads of light, buttery yellow, pale green and golden pollen. The main source of pollen this time of year is trees and you may remember that pollen is a source of protein for honeybees. Nectar provides a carbohydrate. We have been feeding the hive sugar syrup and will continue to do so until nectar is fully available in "the wild".

You'll notice that the kids weren't with us for Bee Day this year. Although we would have brought them along, and I love for them to see everything, my mom was gracious enough to watch them.  I'll admit it was a little peace of mind to not have the kids AND 40,000+1 bees in the car at the same time. (This is an approximate number, of course. We had picked up our two, three-pound packages - 10 to 12 thousand bees each - two for a friend, and a queen bee for our beekeeping mentor, Mr. Martin, who needed a new one for one of his hives.

Mr. Martin came to say hello and get his new queen.

Here is what one of our just-opened, three-pound package of honeybees look like:

Mr. Bee was in charge of dumping the bees into the hives.  These are some of my favorite photos to review since you get a tiny hint of the amount of flying that's going on around us.  It's like being in a snow globe...of bees. I love it.

 I was in charge of getting the queen cage ready.  Below, you can see that it's already in position and ready for us to get the different covers and feeders on.

 Here's a view of our new hive:

This is what we're going to call a "modified" top bar hive.  It's a version of the Kenyan Top Bar Hive that we're able to use our frames in.  I'll tell you more about this hive as the season goes on, but you can also read about the Kenyan Top Bar Hive here (link) if you just can't wait.

Here are some of our girls, checking out their brand new hive:

This is the most busy time of the beekeeping year for us, so I'll have more updates soon.

Below, you can see Mr. Bee and Mr. T admiring the bees, already at work...

...and I'll share my favorite photos of the day.  Can you see the whitetail doe below?  Amazing camouflage!

...and one of our new honeybees.  I think she might be waving.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Countdown to Bee Day...

...which is tomorrow!

We've been setting out the hives, feeding sugar syrup to the bees who made it through winter, and getting our new top bar hive finalized.  I'm looking forward to sharing with you about our "Bee Day"!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Way to Go, Girls!

Welcome to another beekeeping season!

This photo may not look like much, but we're really excited about it. Our hive has made it through the winter!

 ...at least so far. Will this cold weather ever go away?

See that happy beekeeper above? Mr. Bee was listening to their familiar hum. Once the weather warms a bit more, we'll start feeding these bees some sugar syrup until there is plenty of pollen and nectar available outside.

We have also placed an order for two more packages of Italian honeybees, to arrive (hopefully) in late April. That will make three hives total.  For one of those hives, we're going to try a different hive style, called a top bar hive.  I'm looking forward to sharing more about this we have everything ready and I can get some photos.

I'm looking forward to seeing if Little Miss Bee will try on her suit this year and join us aside the hive.  In the meantime, look how Little Mr. Bee is handling the cold weather:

I thought I'd also share this "outtake" with you: If you stick your finger right in the hive opening, I guess it works to make sure the bees are still protecting the hive. I wish I could have taken an action shot of Mr. Bee jumping away when the guard bee came out.

More updates will follow shortly.  Cross your fingers with us for warmer weather!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sweet Rewards

I'm (finally) getting you a photo of this year's harvest.  Introducing... our 2014 honey!

Here is a photo to compare this year to last year (on left). Although they look similar at first, this year's honey is much lighter and sweeter, more like store-bought or clover honey.  We do miss the slightly pungent hint of buckwheat in last year's batch, we're so thankful to have this sweet reward.

Please stay tuned for updates on our winter preparation for the hive.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Final Preparations for the Cold

I'm sorry I've been a bit behind with my updates.  Since I've last posted, Mr. Bee has been busy getting the hives ready for winter and it's become rather chilly outside. We've had high temperatures in the forties lately. After a lot of thought and consideration, we did decide to only winter the strongest, middle hive.

We harvested our honey last night...in the kitchen.  We'll be putting everything in jars this week, so I'll share photos of the result soon.  We got about six gallons this year!  That's in addition to the six gallons that we're estimating we've left for the bees. While I'm busy trying to remedy all the stickiness in our kitchen and get some photos of our harvest, I'll leave you with a list of what we've been doing lately.  These photos are by Mr. Bee, on his phone.  I hope they come through your screen clearly.

We replaced the screened bottom board with a solid-bottom winter board. There are only three small holes for the bees to enter and we're hoping this change will keep mice out.

We left one packed-full super of honey, a second partially-capped super full of honey and a third with uncapped honey.  We're guessing this is upwards of 80 pounds of honey for them to use during winter. We are hearing it may be a hard winter like last year.  (I, along with much of the state, am hoping that isn't true.)

We inspected to make sure the queen is still laying, which she is.  The bees are already beginning to cluster, getting ready for the cold. In a few weeks I'm looking forward to writing a post about what bees do during the winter.  It's one of the questions we get asked the most.

We built a quilt box, which is a super filled with sawdust-filled socks to act as insulation and absorb moisture.  Mr. Martin, our beekeeping mentor, thought it was a good idea. This box also includes a small entrance hole. 

We added a drop-in inner cover for further insulation. Bees can handle cold, for the most part, but wet and cold is a deadly combination.  Therefore, we're mostly concerned about the moisture absorption.

Stay tuned for photos of this year's honey harvest!