Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Happy Bee Day

Mr. Bee and I, and our little bees, are very happy and feeling very blessed to be officially starting our fourth year of beekeeping. We'd like to say a special thank you to Mr. T. for letting us do this on his land.  We appreciate his love of nature and his friendship with our family.

Last Sunday we went out to make sure everything was ready for the hives and to let our newly-painted boxes air out a bit. Everyone helped.


Little Mr. Bee and Little Miss Bee
Mr. Bee picked up our new bees last night and we had gorgeous weather today - just in time to put them in. Introducing...our two new hives!



We purchased two 2-pound packages of Carniolan honey bees and I thought it was funny that they traveled from California to Minnesota via "Bee-Bus".



We work more efficiently each year at getting the bees in the hives. We remove the can filled with syrup (food for the bees' journey) and carefully remove the queen's separate, very small box.  You can see the clip holding it just to the right of the feeding can.


We use this method of getting most of the bees in the hive:


The queen's box gets a mini marshmallow stuck in the end and it goes in the center of the hive.  By the time her attendants and the other bees eat through the marshmallow, they will have accepted her as queen and she will get right to work laying eggs. You can see her tiny compartment below, in the center of the hive. Her royal attendants (that is the real name) have already been feeding her on the journey and taking care of her, so they'll continue to do that until she can make her way out and onto the frames.


Mr. Bee made simple syrup, which we'll use minimally until the nectar is more readily available outside, to feed them. The jar you see below has a lid with three tiny holes that the girls* will drink from, and the whole thing is placed inside what you see as the second super (box) that you see on the hives now.

*Remember that all worker bees are female, so many beekeepers call them "girls".


As explained in an earlier post, Carniolans are known for being very strong in the spring season, so it was no surprise that our new bees were ready to work and that many started orientation flights in front of the hives before we had everything cleaned up. Carniolans are also regarded as good wax-producers, which was noted by us when we saw that the left hive had already begun building comb inside the Bee-Bus. The right-most hive had a very upset/energetic queen, and we saw this temperament through the hive already. Perhaps because of the other bees in their space or perhaps because it will be their overall mood.

Aren't they beautiful?  We suspect these are a mixture of Italian (more golden yellow) and Carniolan (darker black), as you can see below, but we're not sure.  Either way, we're very hopeful for the season.  

Thank you for joining us!



Thursday, February 25, 2016

Starting 2016 Plans and A Recipe to Share

Hello, again!

We're back to planning for the beekeeping year ahead.  Since none of our bees made it through winter, we will be buying new bees and starting each hive brand new this year. There is not a lot of news to share at this point, but we are thinking about having two hives and what is new is that we are considering trying to keep a different "stock" of honeybee.  We haven't made any final decisions yet, but you might be interested in what difference a "stock" or breed of honeybee might make.

Beekeepers have known that genetics make a big difference in honeybees - they can affect temperament, disease resistance, and productivity. Although there can always be "exceptions to the rule," here are some quick  characteristics of some of the two types of stocks we are talking about:

Italian This is the type of honeybees that we have had every year so far.  When I say we have Italian honeybees, I usually hear jokes about their accent, but these are the most utilized stock in our country. They have a less-defensive temperament and a long brooding season, meaning they can keep the hive working and producing new bees all summer. Apparently, though, this type can quickly eat up their own honey when the nectar flow stops and they can become kleptoparasitic, meaning they might rob honey from a weak, neighboring hive.

Carniolan honeybees have a strong, spring boost that helps them take advantage of the early blossoms, and they are great producers of wax. They are not as prone to rob from other colonies, which means they are less likely to spread bee diseases.  We would just have to be on top of the inspections since they can be likely to swarm due to their big spring productivity.
Bonus: they are very docile and can often be worked without a lot of protective gear or smoke.

http://www.beesource.com/resources/usda/the-different-types-of-honey-bees/ was a helpful site in putting this post together and has even more information about bee stocks and all things honeybee in case you'd like to look more into it.

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I was asked to share the Honey Candy Recipe that I used last fall, so here it is:

Honey Candy 
(this makes a hard candy)

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup butter

OR

2-1/2 cups honey
1/4 cup butter

I just used the honey-and-butter-only option. 

Put all ingredients in a heavy pan and cook on medium heat until the Hard Crack stage (Your candy thermometer will have this listed right on it). Pour caramel onto a buttered sheet. Fold edges until it is cool enough to pull (Look up candy pulling if you need to - I did.  Just a word here, the candy is very hot!  If you have kids, you'll want to use caution.  It retains the heat longer than I thought it would, so just keep that in mind.)  Pull and cut into 1" pieces or roll into balls.  Put on greased or buttered cookie sheet to cool. Optional: roll in wax paper or cellophane.

I am hoping to try a recipe for chewy honey caramels soon...stay tuned!



Thursday, September 3, 2015

2015 Honey

Here it is!  We are just starting to get this year's harvest into jars.  The beauty below is just part of what fell/dripped/was scraped off during de-capping the frames for harvest. It is slightly cloudy-looking just from the tiny particles of wax...and it's delicious! I think it's a touch sweeter than last year's honey, but it does still taste like wildflowers.


I also made my first try at honey candy.  Candy making has been a challenge for me in the past, so it was exciting that it turned out.  Isn't the color beautiful?  The only ingredients were honey and butter. They remind me of Werther's, but they have a beautiful, strong, wildflower taste.  The fragrant recipe will be lovely to make in the fall and they should be soothing for winter's dry throats.


The photo below is what we're looking at as of late.  The right-most hive is gone and we made the frames available for the bees to eat the last drops of honey off of so we can store them for the bees next year. The left-most hive has yet to be harvested and inspected for winter decisions. 


We hope you're enjoying the start of the harvest season and we'll share more with you soon.

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!