Tuesday, August 18, 2015

(Already) Getting Ready for Fall

Last weekend, Minnesota weather was fully hot. We have been keeping only an occasional eye on our hives the last couple of weeks, but we decided it was the time to start getting the hives ready for the end of the season.  




The hive that is right-most in the photo above is the first one we inspected and evaluated, and you can see a frame from it below.


This sporadic and bumpy pattern makes it look like the worker bees are laying eggs.  This is bad because there should be an efficiently-laying queen to make more worker bees.  When a worker or workers start laying eggs, only drones (male bees) are produced, and the hive is doomed because there will be no more workers to stock up honey for the cold season.  This hive will not make it through winter, so we took the honey frames off of the top and set them aside for harvesting.  We also put some of the frames that these girls had started with comb and uncured honey and put them on the center hive, so now those bees can really stock up for winter.

Second, we inspected the center hive, which I'll now call Champion.  You'll remember that this is the hive we started in the spring of 2014.  It produced amazingly last year, powered through winter, and is producing amazingly again this season! You can see one of their frames, loaded with honey, below.


We are really proud of this hive and this queen and we're pretty sure we'll try to get her through winter again.

We haven't looked at the last hive yet (the one that started as a top bar hive).  Mr. Bee has an idea of how they're doing, but we saved that inspection for another day since they are a pretty feisty bunch. The other two hives, which are normally at a "usual" temperament, are amped up to protect their hard-earned honey.  I had several trying to attack my face - no worries, they only ran into my veil.  If they were so protective, we know that last hive will need to be inspected on a day when we are on the top of our game.

Since we had several boxes of honey frames, we started harvesting!


Enter: Knudson's Honey this year. I'm really looking forward to showing you an "official" jar soon!


Monday, July 13, 2015


Here's an almost-updated look at the hives. The middle hive, which made it through last winter, got yet another box of frames over the weekend.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Updates

It's been a while since the last post, but there have been updates. The hives have been growing and working, and we've been out about once a week to check on them and make sure they have enough frames to build comb on and (*fingers crossed*) fill with honey.


The hive that wintered from last year (in the center of the three) is definitely the strongest. The girls in this hive have been filling up frames and the queen is laying a lot of eggs. We know this because we can see the frames are full of bees.


We also know they are doing well and working hard because we can see that the frames are being filled with honeycomb and honey. Isn't that brand new, white comb beautiful?




The next photo is a look down through the uppermost box into the next. We're looking straight down, seeing the side of the box on the left and a brand new frame on the right, down into the box and frames below where the bees have already made comb that they're working on filling with honey.


We're very excited about how strong this hive has been.  The other Langstroth hive is moving along well, too (the style with boxes stacked on top of each other).

The main update as of late is with the Top Bar Hive:


This hive started out very, very strong at the beginning of the season.  We have found that they are now not as strong.  They seem disorganized. After watching for some days and inspecting, we believe they are queen-less.  Since bees don't leave us a detailed journal of hive events, we are are guessing that they "swarmed".  Sometimes, when honeybees feel they have run out of space, their instinct leads them to a big change.  Half of the colony will leave, with a new queen, to make a new hive.  Although this is disappointing for a beekeeper - and for us because we know these bees will have little chance of making it through the winter - we decide to be optimistic.  Nature needs the bees and another hive in the wild is a good thing.

Our hive, meanwhile, is now struggling. We don't know why they are without a queen and they are not really drawing out any comb on the frames.  We, being new to this hive style, have yet to master the timing and manner of adding new frames, which may have contributed to them feeling space was running low. After some thought, Mr, Bee and I decided to take all of the frames out of the top bar hive and put them in a Langstroth-style hive, in hopes that it will help them organize and rally their forces.  We have also begun the process of adding the "nuc" we had (a "nucleus" of a laying queen, brood, and working bees) to this hive.  Hopefully this will work to get these bees back on track.


Summer is in full bloom here and is beautiful. We hope you're enjoying it, too.

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."
-Longfellow

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.