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.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Quick Update

We were on our way to the lake last weekend and decided to check on the bees on our way out of town.  A lot changed in a few days!  I didn't have my camera with me to show you in photos, but I'll leave a quick update here and get some photos to share soon.

- The first hive, which had been doing the best, had build no new comb in the new box we put on - zero percent new comb. We think they may have swarmed.  You may have heard of a "swarm" before. In beekeeping terms, it means about half the hive left to start a new colony. Yes, they up and left.  Often a swarm will rest peacefully on a nearby branch (or picnic table, etc. - something nearby) until they are able to start forming a new hive.  Some beekeepers are dedicated to catching swarms and some cities even have volunteers who will come and collect a swarm from someone's property and put them into a hive. There are beekeepers who never purchase new bees: they either keep their own hives or collect swarms to make new colonies. There's so much more to talk about regarding swarms, and even how the bees prepare for this, but this was supposed to be a "quick update".

-The second hive, which was doing "fine" and didn't seem to catch much attention on the blog, has exploded (in a good way).  With all the nectar "flow" out in the blooming plants everywhere outside, they had already fully filled their new box with comb.  It's almost time to add a 5th box!

-The third hive, "my hive", remains with poor temperament and struggling to keep up.  We doubt they will make it through winter, so we are deciding how to deal with that.  Let them try, kill them off, harvest all the honey, use the comb next season... There are a lot of options, but we don't have to decide yet.

I'm looking forward to getting some photos - that second hive is now taller than any hive we've had so far.

Also, for fun, I'm entering some of my beekeeping photos in our County Fair next week.  Cross your fingers for me!

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A New Bee and Big Inspection

Mr. Bee and I went without the kiddos this time to do a bigger inspection and move some boxes around to get ready for the "honey flow".  This is when the nectar flows are in peak and the bees make tons of comb and honey, and it's important for us to make sure they have plenty of frames available to work on.

While Mr. Bee and I were getting suited up to do our big inspection, I saw a strange insect pollinating some little wildflowers nearby.  Upon a closer look, I was amazed that it looked just like a honeybee...except with a bright green body!  I've looked into it and I'm pretty sure this was a "Green Metallic Bee", of the genus Agapostemon.  According to Wikipedia, there "are some 45 species" of this type of insect, and their range goes all the way from Canada to Argentina! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agapostemon) (photo below mine)

Green Metallic Bee, Clear Lake, MN by Erica Knudson
Our girls are working hard.  The third hive (my hive) is falling behind.  Their temperament is still volatile and the hive was not as busy out in front when we arrived.  Mr. Bee took apart the frames in the brood box to inspect, and he felt very sorry to have done it.  Taking the frames apart ripped open a lot of comb that held developing larvae, so it may set them back a little more.  We left the brood frames alone in the other hives.

The middle, "second" hive is trucking along normally.

We feel the first hive, "Rhema's Hive" is doing really well.  The following photos are from that hive.

Lots of comb and honey...

...and happy beekeepers.

 (I finally thought to set my timer and get a shot of the both of us!)

The wood frames are turning out to be a great change.  The bees are really drawing the comb out thick, and it's beautiful!

On a couple frames we saw some longer cells, which I believe are for drones (male bees) (below).  They were all lined up on the bottom of the frame, so I'm looking into whether this is normal or if the bees are doing this to manage something like mites (a pest to honeybees). I'll get back to you on this. We did feel, though, that it wasn't excessive or worrisome, so it feels like these bees are on top of things.  

The area in front of the bees is growing beautifully and wild.

My favorite shot from the day is definitely this one:

by Erica Knudson

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Vacation Visitor and Back at Home

Mr. Bee and I were in Hawaii, on Oahu last week. While I was having my coffee on Waikiki Beach one morning, an unlikely visitor stopped on my towel for a few minutes... a honeybee!  This was very exciting for me.

Here's proof that the bee and I were both on the beach:

Bees do like blue and purple flowers a lot, so maybe that's why she chose that part of my towel.

Back at home now, the kids are enjoying every little part of the outdoors.

Mr. Bee added the rest of the frames to the top box of each hive.  The first hive is doing especially well, just as they have been from the start. The other hives are doing well, too, so we're really happy with the start of the season. One of the biggest changes we've made since last year is that we have been using wood frames. The bees are very happy with them.

Here is one of the more new frames from that first hive:
You can see some fresh comb.

Here is a busy hive entrance.  I wish I could show you how fast they are going in and out! The left-most bee has a nice nugget of pollen on her hind legs.

Finally, you can see our hives here...actually, no, you can't!  The plant life is so abundant this year, and we've had so much rain to help it grow quickly that our hives are well-hidden, even from Mr. T's driveway.  I hope to get some wildflower photos for you in the next week.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Second Boxes

We had a calm and restful Memorial Day weekend and hope you did, too. On Sunday, we all went out to see the bees. 

Mr. Bee was very pleased with how all of the hives looked.  Each one was ready for the next super, which means the number of bees is growing. You can see, below, a fresh super on top of the first hive. It's filled with empty frames and will soon be filled with comb and bees!

Before the supers went on, though, Mr. Bee did a lot of housekeeping...well, "hive-keeping".

Here you can see that where bees have extra space, they build comb! This is what Mr. Bee had to clean off, and he found that he needed to adjust the measurements for the boards that hold the feeders.

My favorite photo so far this year...

...and a peek at the pollen our girls have been storing, yellow, deep orange, and green.

Mr. T came out for a visit and stood to the side.  If you're ever near a hive, you'll want to leave space for the working bees to come and go from the hive entrance. We are so thankful to Mr. T, for his support and especially for letting us keep all of these busy creatures on his land.

It's nice to see the bees are busy and that their numbers are growing.  We are full of concern for them, much like last year, but I think we're staying on top of things. The bees are busy, so I'm looking forward to updating you again soon with what they've been up to.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

First Inspections

We really jumped right in to this year's beekeeping and Mr. Bee has already been very busy with maintenance.

Can I say that spring has sprung?  Is it actually official now? Maybe??  

Trees are a major source of pollen for the bees, so they have already been collecting quite a lot. The nectar is not yet at a strong flow, so we have been feeding the bees (using Mr. Bee's clever feeding method) with a simple sugar syrup to give them plenty to work with until the "nectar flow".

If you look closely at the back legs of bee in the top center, you'll see some nice yellow pollen pellets on her legs. It's so exciting!  All three hives are bringing in pollen...

...and all three hives are now building and filling comb with pollen and nectar.

The best news is that Mr. Bee also found eggs in each hive, which is VERY important.  It means that the queens were accepted and that each one is busy laying eggs.  We are counting the days until the new bees hatch, and Mr. Bee is already preparing to add more space for Hive 1 (the rightmost in the photos of all the hives I've shown before). Hive 2 is the middle, and "My Hive" is the leftmost. I'm sorry we didn't come up with more clever names for the hives, but that could still happen. I can tell you that My Hive is already clearly more aggressive than the others.  This is most likely due to the temperament of the queen. These girls have also been a little slower at comb-building compared to the other hives, while Hive 1 is all ready for another super full of frames to fill up!

Check out these bees below, very busy filling the comb and getting ready to make honey.  More about how they do this in another post.

My favorite photo from the first inspection is below. This is not quite in focus, but you can clearly see the pollen pellet on this girl's hindmost leg. I'm still daydreaming about where this pollen came from...a dandelion? ...a tree? ...next door? ...a mile away?  I think it's a nice thing to wonder.