Saturday, May 12, 2012

Springtime is for Bees.

The warm spring temperatures have things moving along like gangbusters in the Bee Yard.  The Black Locust and Tulip Poplar blooms have come and gone, and the Bees were working hard bringing in nectar and pollen.  The early warm weather also meant an early start to the swarming season.  April was a busy month, and we received about 12 phone calls regarding Honey Bee swarms.  We captured 2 swarms, and referred the others to members of the beekeeping association.  One particularly nice swarm was discovered in Edwardsville, while Angie was at the park enjoying lunch and the nice weather.  I collected this swarm after work, and this hive is doing beautifully!  The Queen is very large, and is laying brood like I have never seen before.  Drawn frames literally FULL of eggs, larva, and capped brood.  Below is a picture of the swarm, hanging out on a limb in a Maple Tree.  This was a nice swarm to get:  Only about 10' off of the ground, right by the street.  I wish they were all this nice, and this easy!
Early April also brought temperatures warm enough to split our strongest hive.  With the assistance of a friend, who is a veteran beekeeper, we were able to perform 2 splits into 5 frame "Nucleus" hive boxes.  One "Nuc" was left to raise their own queen, and we placed a purchased queen into the other.  Both of these splits are doing well, and they have built up the colony to the stage where we put them into full sized hive boxes a week ago.  They are continuing to build up, and we have hopes that they will become strong, productive colonies in the months ahead.

With the addition of the swarms, and performing splits from existing hives, we ran out of room on our hive stand.  Going from 2 hives to 6 hives in a period of several weeks tends to do that!  So, we built another hive stand, and placed it 100' or so from our original hive stand.  Each stand now has 3 hives, with room for a couple more on the new stand.  Our goal is to keep 6 to 8 hives, until retirement time comes around.  It can be a chore to keep up with more than 6 or 8 hives, and with us both working full time, we want to make sure we keep our hive count to a manageable level.  It won't do us, or the bees, any justice to not be able to properly care for our hives.  Below is our new hive stand, with some full sized hives, and a couple of the 5 frame nuc's.
So, that's what we have been up to lately in the Bee Yard!  I'll shoot some photo's this weekend, and update again next week.  The weather continues to be perfect for bee foraging activity, and they are making honey! 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Springtime in the Bee Yard.

On March 17th, we completed a full inspection of our hives.  All is well, and with the mild weather, the bees are happy and working hard.  They are bringing in a lot of pollen, and some nectar too.  We reversed the 2 deep brood boxes, and added new screened bottom boards with an oil tray on each hive.  These replace the bottom boards from last year, which used a beetle trap that had to be serviced from the front of the hive.  Some days, the bees didn't care for that arrangement!  To remedy that, I designed and built a screened bottom board that uses a tray that can be serviced from the back of the hive.  This is much less interrupting to the hive, and makes things much easier on the bees, and us!  Below is a photo of the new Screened Bottom Board, and tray:
Any small hive beetles or mites that are dislodged from the bees and the frames will now fall thru the screen, and into the tray.  The tray contains vegetable oil, and it will trap and kill any pests that fall into it.  It's a great chemical-free pest management system, and should help us keep our bees and hive pest free.  So far, they are working great.

While inspecting the hives, we noticed that the queen has been working hard.  We found a lot of capped brood, and eggs and larva in various stages of development.  With the mild weather, the hives really got rolling early this year, and hopefully it will be a good year for bees and honey!

A brood box frame of capped brood, and the nurse bees looking after them:
Below is the Queen of the hive, in all her splendor!  She is right in the middle of the frame, with her attendants surrounding her.  Pretty girl!
The hives will need to be monitored closely this spring, due to everything blooming so early.  The nectar flow is starting, and honey supers will have to at the ready because they will probably fill them with honey very quickly.  Swarming may also be an issue early on, due to the fast buildup of the hive population.  Mild winter weather is both a blessing and a curse to the beekeeper.  The next month or two should be interesting, and challenging too!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ready for Honey and more bees!

After considering the purchase of an Extractor to harvest our honey this year, it just so happened that a friend at work is a beekeeper.  He had purchased some very nice equipment a few years ago, and has since downsized his Apiary.  He offered us a deal on the excess equipment he had stored, and we jumped at the chance to acquire some very nice things.  This equipment will enable us to grow our Apiary, and harvest our honey using top of the line gear.  We now have many new hive boxes, honey supers, and other assorted hive essentials, thanks to this generous offer from a friend. 

The most exciting part of this purchase was a beautiful 20 Frame Dadant Powered Extractor.  All stainless steel construction, with a top of the line Baldor Motor and Baldor Variable Frequency Drive.  This thing should do the job beautifully, and last a lifetime!   Isn't she a beauty?
A shot of the interior of the extractor.  Just like new, and very well cared for.
We also have a bottling tank, that is also in like-new condition.  This unit has a water jacket, that is heated and warms the honey for bottling.  We can't wait to use it!
This is not a very good picture, but you can see the mountain of equipment we brought home.  It filled a 12' enclosed trailer to the brim, along with the bed of our pickup truck.  LOTS of very nice equipment.  Some we will keep, and some we will offer to other beekeepers for a very good price.  It's always nice to share!
Today, we will be visiting the hives and giving them the once-over, in preparation for their spring build up.  I hope to have many pictures to share in a new post this weekend.  It seems that Spring has sprung here in the Midwest..........and it's beekeeping time once again!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Getting Ready for Spring.

It's been a while since I updated our Blog, mostly because there is not much going on in the Bee Yard this time of year.  We have had a most unusual, warm winter.  With that being said, we were concerned about the Bees using up their winter food stores earlier than normal.  The last 2 weekends have been warm enough for a quick check of the hives.  We made up some sugar blocks to place on the hives in the event they were running low on stores.  Hive #2 went into winter with only the 2 deep brood boxes, and whatever stores they were able to pack away in those 2 boxes.  We opened Hive #2 a couple of weeks ago, and placed 2, 2 lb. sugar blocks on the top of the frames in the upper brood box.  There were a LOT of bees up there, and they were active due to the warm weather.

Last weekend, we were able to open the hive again, and check on the sugar blocks.  They had almost consumed one block, so we added another.  This gave them 4 lbs. of sugar block food, which should last them for another couple of weeks, or until we get another weekend with weather mild enough to check on them.  The hives appear to be strong, with a good population of bees.  A good population of Bees, going into spring, is always a good thing!

Hive #1 is doing well also, and they had 2 medium supers full of capped honey going into winter.  They haven't had the need to move all the way up to the top box for food as of yet, so we may be able to pull that box and extract the honey.  Time will tell, as we have a few weeks to go before we are totally out of the woods with extended periods of cold weather.  But for now, everything looks good with both hives.

I have been working in the shop, building some new screened bottom boards with a removable tray for mite and beetle control.  I'll post an update soon with the results of that endeavor.  As always........thanks for visiting our Blog!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Getting ready for cold weather.

The warm days and cool nights of fall have been a welcome feel, compared to the very hot, dry temperatures we had this summer.  The Bees seem to be enjoying the cool weather too.  They are still busy foraging for whatever pollen and nectar they can find.  There are a few fall flowers still blooming, but for the most part, the Goldenrod, Ragweed and Aster have run their annual course.  In observing the hives on the morning of October  22nd, I did see a few bees returning with pollen bags full.  There are still busy, packing away stores for a long winter.

In this photo, you can see one bee loaded with pollen.
The screen shown in the above photo is a section of 1/2" hardware cloth, stapled across the hive entrance.  This is needed to keep the field mice from setting up house inside the warm hive in the winter.  Mice will nest in a bee hive, and make a mess of things if they get the chance.  The bees are clustered in cold weather, offering little resistance to mice.  Not a good thing!

Below is a close up of one of our Bees.  She was just hanging out on the side of the hive today, soaking up the warm sun.  She's healthy and shiny, just what you want to see.
Here's another shot of a happy, healthy bee.  Just getting some sun today!
 We are still feeding the hives, using a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water, making a syrup that is placed in jars above the inner cover of the hive.  The bees will store the syrup for the winter, and utilize it for food during the cold months.  As long as the daytime temperatures are above 50 degrees, they will feed on the syrup.  Any insurance we can give them this fall will help ensure they have an excellent chance of winter survival. 

All that is left to do this fall is put up a couple of sections of privacy fence on the prevailing upwind side of the hives.  Providing a windbreak for the hives is one of the best things you can do to protect them from the bitter cold winds.  It may not be necessary, but anything we can do to help our bees is important enough to us.  I will have an update when we have the fence up, and have the girls all settled in for the cold winter ahead!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Honey Bees like the fall weather.

Angie and I checked on the hives this morning, and the girls were happy.  They seem to be enjoying the sunny skies, and the cooler weather.  Many foragers are bringing back loads of pollen, to be stored for the winter, and to feed the baby bees that are hatching.  Several different colors of pollen are being brought in to the hive:  A pale, almost white pollen, a bright yellow pollen, and a bright orange pollen.  Ragweed is blooming in spots, as is Goldenrod and Queen Anne's Lace.  Once the Goldenrod and Ragweed flow is going full blast, the bees will be very busy.  With the forecast of much needed rain later in the week, I look for a boom of Goldenrod and Ragweed starting next week.  This is a major fall flow time, and the bees will really go to work.

Below is a picture of one frame from a Honey Super on Hive #2.  The bees are busy drawing out the comb, and you can see some of the fully drawn cells now contain nectar.

Here is another shot of a different frame from the Honey Super on Hive #2.  The bees are really working hard on getting this comb drawn out.  We hope the nice weather holds out, and we have a good, productive fall pollen and nectar flow.  It is important that the bees build up their winter reserves this time of year.  So far, so good!

Here is a shot of a "Queen Excluder".  Basically, this screen type device is placed on top of the upper brood box.  The wire spacing is such that this device prevents the Queen of the colony from moving up into the Honey Supers and laying eggs.  The brood, which ensures the survival and growth of the colony, is raised in 2 deep, 10 frame boxes, which are located at the bottom of the hive stack.  The worker bees, which are smaller than the queen and drone bees, are able to freely move through the excluder, and work the top boxes, drawing comb and storing nectar, which is then processed into honey by the worker bees.

Today, we did remove the queen excluder screen and check the status of the brood boxes.  We saw many eggs, lots of larvae, and bunches of capped brood, waiting to hatch and go to work.  We did get lucky while inspecting one of the frames, and Angie spotted the Queen.  She looks great, and was working away laying eggs and checking things out.  The bees in both hive were very docile today, and they were very easy to work with.  It makes things so much more enjoyable when the girls cooperate!

We will be checking the hives again once the Goldenrod and Ragweed bloom is going full force.  I look forward to seeing the progress the bees make during this fall flow.  Thanks for stopping by...........we'll have another update in a week or 2!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"Speaker Bees" are in the hive............twice!

After about 2 hours of removing bees and honey comb from the speaker box, we had the bees in their new hive.  As we cut out and removed comb, we looked at each removed section in hopes of finding the queen.  The only way to be sure you have the queen is to find her, and make sure she is put in the hive.  With the amount of bees in this colony, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.  We never did find her, but we were confident we had her, as we estimate we managed to hive about 90% of this colony.

The photo below is what the speaker box looked like when we removed the back.  Honey comb from top to bottom, neatly drawn out row by row.

Another shot of the honey comb in the speaker box.  Pretty impressive work!

Below is a photo of the back of the box that was removed.  You can see the various sections of brace comb in the speaker box back panel.  Lot's of bees too!

After about 2 long, hot, sweaty hours, we had managed to secure some of the comb with capped brood into empty frames, and placed them into the new hive box.  We shook, scooped and placed as many bees as we could corral into the hive box, put on the top, and called it a day.  Now the challenge was to see if we did indeed have the queen, and if this colony would accept their new home. 

We went back to check on the newly hived bees this evening, and when we drove up to the hives, there was a good sized swarm of bees hanging about 3 feet off of the ground on a tree limb near the hive.  Uh Oh...........they swarmed!  The only thing that makes sense to us is the fact that we didn't have the queen in the hive after all.  She must have been hanging out on the hive stand, or was in the grass near the hive stand, or under the hive stand in the mulch.  Either way..............seeing the swarm meant that in the middle of that swarm of bees was a queen!  We went back home, grabbed another bottom board and hive body, returned to the bee yard, and captured the swarm.  We cut the tree limb, and shook all the swarming bees into a hive box.  After the bulk of the swarm was in the hive box, the rest of the bees smelled the queen pheromone scent, and they just walked right in the front door!  We waited a little while until all the bees from this swarm had entered the box, and we placed the inner cover and lid on the hive box.  I gently placed the hive on the hive stand, and we returned home.  We hope they will stay in the hive, and become a good, productive colony.  Time will tell if they like their new home and stay.  If not, we will have had a good learning experience........and the enjoyment of hiving our first feral colony.

We will check on these bees again in the morning, and provide an update on how they are doing.  It's been a long, hot day with the bees.........if they leave, at least we tried our best!