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! 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 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!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Beginning of the End...of the Season

 This may be my new favorite photo from this year:

Each bee is in action, one leaving, one coming in with pollen, one checking, one watching...

In preparation for the end of the season, Mr. Bee brought out a scale and weighed a super full of honey and some individual frames.  We're trying to make sure we have a more educated guess of how much honey we'll be leaving for the girls to try and make it through winter.

A frame of honey from our hives weighs approximately four pounds.  I think it's very possible that a frame could weigh five pounds or more, but our bees didn't draw the comb out far enough for that. We'll be leaving two boxes of brood on the bottom of each hive and up to three boxes or 90 pounds of honey. We would like to harvest more, but when a Minnesota beekeeper wants to keep bees alive through the winter, there are sacrifices to be made.

Soon I'll have some photos of our harvest and this year's honey.  We're waiting for some higher temperatures so the honey runs faster.

At the beginning of September, Mr. T brought out his handmade picnic table (beautiful, isn't it?) just in time for us to host a small group of children and parents, all who were eager to learn about honeybees and beekeeping.  I didn't ask permission to post any photos of the group, but you can see what Mr. Bee had set up before everyone arrived:

After the group left, we had a little picnic and enjoyed the gorgeous, sunny day.

There's a Fungus Among-Us

A couple weeks ago, after days of rain and grey skies, we found a bunch of mushrooms around Mr.T's yard. They looked so alive and colorful, each so different, but all so delicate.  Days later when we returned, many were already spoiled.  Here are some interesting fungi:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More Honeycomb

As many of us prepare for the school year and autumn, our honeybees are still quite busy with the same tasks they've been at all summer.  The only difference is that we are seeing more and more honeycomb.

Although pollen and nectar are a bee's main source of food, she and the others will get honey in the comb to get them through winter, when nectar and pollen are not available. Why honey?  It can last forever. Really, forever.  Honeybees get the humidity/moisture levels in the honey to 17-18% and then put a cap on it. We know that honey preserves amazingly at this point.

Above you can see some capped honeycomb.  Below, you can see that this honey is not capped, meaning that the bees know it is not at the correct level of moisture. If harvested before it is capped, honey is certainly above that level and can ferment.  Bees are so smart, aren't they?

You may be thinking, "If honey can last forever, why does it crystallize in that little bear bottle in the back of my cupboard?"  Worry not - it's not spoiled or stale!  Put the whole jar or bottle in a warm pot of water (so it's not in direct heat), sort of like a double boiler.  Patience...and liquid honey once again!

At this point, during inspections, we're looking to see how the bees are coming along with storing honey.  You might remember that we need to leave at least 60 pounds of honey for them to have a chance to make it through winter (though there are many factors on which their survival depends).

The middle hive got another box! You can see that the other hives are coming along much more slowly. We're not confident they will make it through winter - it's just that feeling that they're not quite strong enough. That middle hive, though, is just plain strong.

As we approach autumn, things will start to slow down, but we're not ready for the harvest just yet.  Maybe Minnesota weather has a bit of warmth still in store.

The kids, meanwhile, are as busy as ever.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


There are many wildflowers in our area - some consider them weeds, and others see them as a vital part of our environment.  Trees and wildflowers are the major sources of pollen and nectar for our bees. Mr. T. has even taken the recommendation of the county to leave his ditches un-mowed in order to allow more of these plants to thrive.  Thanks, Mr. T for helping the bees!

I think wildflowers are so beautiful - and interesting to look at. Here are just a few from the space right in front of our hives:

While Mr. Bee checked the hives, the kids and I chased this awesome camouflaged grasshopper: 

Our girls are still loving the wooden frames, and you can see below that they're drawing out the comb right up to the edges, wide and in an extremely even pattern. Beautiful!

The hives are starting to be filled with capped honey, and this is very exciting for us.

Little Miss Bee tried on her dad's beekeeping veil.

Look how tall that middle hive is getting!  I hope it gets even taller, and we do still have a bit of summer left.

I was excited to enter some of my photos from the last year in our County Fair. My color enlargement did not place...

...but my Color Collection won third place.

It was fun to look back at the last year of beekeeping to choose my photos and it was exciting to think of the photos I might have next year.