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!

Musical Bees

While perusing Craigslist one day last week, we ran across an interesting posting that stated "Bees in a speaker in a barn", and they wanted someone to come rescue them instead of exterminating them.  This was too interesting not to call and check on!  After an email exchange, I called the phone number, and sure enough, the lady said she had a colony of bees in a outbuilding, and they were living in an old home stereo speaker box.  They were located just off of Route #4, about 15 minutes from home.  So, off I go with bee suit in hand, to see for myself.  Upon arrival, they showed me the building, and I could see a flurry of bee activity going in and out the door.  This was a good colony, and they were working hard for the queen!

I checked out the situation, and decided I would return around dusk, when the foragers had returned to the hive, and remove the colony of bees.  I fabricated a cardboard box to transport them, returned about 8:30 p.m., and gently lifted this HEAVY speaker and bee colony and carried them out of the barn.  I placed them in the box I whipped up, and transported them to our bee yard.  Once there, I placed them on the hive stand, gave them a pint of sugar syrup feed, and left them for the night. 

Here is the transportation box:

I placed a jar feeder over the ventilation screen on top of the box.  It was going to be warm in that box, until I could release them the next day, so I wanted them to have a drink!

I retrieved the bees on Wednesday, August 3rd, and we removed the speaker from the box on Thusday, August 4th.  This will be an easy date to it was Angie's Birthday!  One of her bees, of course!  :-)

A shot taken a few minutes after I removed the speaker from the cardboard box.  LOT'S of bee activity!

  They were using several holes on the speaker cone for a hive entrance, as well as a round hole on the side of the box.

Angie is pulling a loose flap of fabric from the speaker cone, to have a better look inside.  We hoped to see how the comb is built inside the box, but there are just too many bees in there!

 A closer shot at the activity on the speaker cone.  All in all, this colony was rather well behaved, considering all the have went thru with the relocation process.  We'll see what sort of mood they are in on Saturday.  That's when we open the speaker box, and remove the colony and place them in a hive body.  That should be interesting!

More photo's to come, documenting the removal of the comb and bees from the speaker box, and getting them established in a normal hive body.  This could be fun!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Borrowed a bit more Honey from the girls!

Angie and I inspected the hives again on Friday, July 22nd.  Despite the unbearably hot weather, the girls are hard at work doing what they do..............raising brood and making honey!  Hive #1, which was started from a 3 lb. package of bees in April, is thriving.  They are working on their second medium honey super, drawing comb nicely, and starting to fill the cells with honey.  That being said...........we checked the first honey super, and decided that since they have it filled with capped honey, we could safely take another frame of honey and extract it. 

Angie holds a frame of capped honey.  This frame will yield just over a quart of honey.
This photo shows a medium frame in the process of having the wax comb drawn out by the bees.  Once the comb is drawn, they will fill each cell with honey.  Once they have the moisture content of the honey to the proper level, they will cap the cells with wax. 
That's the latest on the Honey Bees.  Hive #2 continues to grow, now that the queen is productive and laying eggs.  Next update will focus on Hive #2 and how things are progressing.  Despite the hot weather...............the Honey Bees are working hard!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Our first Honey Harvest!!!

Angie and I are SO excited!  Our package bee hive has been filling and capping frames of Honey for a couple of weeks now.  They are doing so well, we felt it was safe to "borrow" a frame of honey for ourselves.  This morning, we removed a frame of capped honey, and scraped the honey and wax into a crock pot.  We set the heat to low, and allowed the wax to melt and separate from the honey and float to the top.  We turned off the heat, let it cool, and simply removed the cake of wax from the top of the honey.  All that was left to do was pour the fresh honey into jars, and we were done!

This single frame of honey yielded just over 2 pints jars.  Yes, it is YUMMY!

Below is a shot of the wax and honey in the crock pot, before heating to separate.
Here is the finished product:  Just over 2 pint jars of nature's finest......fresh Honey!
Our Honey Bees have been nothing short of amazing since we hived them this past April.  My only regret is that we should have started Beekeeping 25 years ago!  This is SOOO fun!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Hive #2 Inspection May 28, 2011

We completed the first inspection of our new "Nucleus" Hive, which we brought home and placed in our Apiary on Friday, May 20th.  The Bees were calm and well behaved and we removed frames and took a look at the hive progress.  We didn't see any new eggs or Larvae, but they still have some capped brood that hasn't emerged yet.  They are doing a good job at drawing comb on the empty frames, and we did see the Queen, and she appeared healthy.  She may not be mated as of yet, which would explain the absence of eggs and larvae.  They are taking the syrup we are feeding them, and storing lots of it in the frame cells, so that's a good sign things are fine.  They are also foraging, and bringing in pollen and storing it for the brood.  Hopefully by next weekend she will be laying and beginning the process of building up the bee population.

We did notice that the bees have constructed 2 Queen cells in the middle of the center frame.  Often times the hive will build Queen cells, in case they need to raise another Queen.  Time will tell if the Queen that came with the hive will be productive, or replaced by one the colony raises.  If they need a Queen, they will raise one, if the current Queen starts laying, they will discard the Queen cells.  The Bees know what's best for their colony, so we will let them dictate the course of action.

Below is a photo of the Queen Cells.  They look like a peanut hanging from the comb.  Some people say they resemble a Morel Mushroom.  Pretty neat stuff!
Another shot of a Queen Cell.  It is amazing to witness the dynamics of a Bee Colony!
The photo's below show both hives in their new location at our property in the country.  They seem to be happy there, and it is a short 5 minute drive from home!
Hopefully, when we inspect Hive #2 next weekend, we will have a laying Queen, and some pictures of Eggs, Larvae, and a growing bee population!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hive #1 Inspection - May 21, 2011

With some much needed sunshine this morning, we did a thorough inspection of Bee Hive #1.
Hive inspections are important for the Beekeeper, so they can keep an eye on what the Bees are doing inside the hive.  Any problems can be spotted and dealt with before they become a big problem down the road.  So far, this hive is doing fantastic!  The Queen is laying lots of eggs, and we spotted many egg, lots of Larvae, and a lot of capped brood.  I would estimate the size of this hive has doubled since we installed the 3 pound package on April 16th.  They are foraging well, and bringing in a lot of pollen and nectar.

Here is a picture of a frame of capped honey that they will use to feed the colony:
The photo below shows a picture perfect brood pattern.  The oval section in the center is where the Queen will lay eggs.  Surrounding this oval are stores of nectar and pollen, which is used to feed the developing eggs and larvae.  This is what it should look like in a good hive.  Ms. Queen, you and your workers are doing a great job!
The photo below show newly layed eggs.  In the center of the photo, you can see the tiny white objects.  They look like tiny grains of rice.  When you see these in your hive, you know your Queen is alive and well, and doing her job of laying eggs.  We are always excited to spot eggs...........they are a good sign!
The photo below shows a frame that is loaded with busy bees!  The dark, orange colored material you see in some of the cells is pollen.  They store pollen to feed the brood in the colony.  There is also capped brood in some of these cells, along with honey.  They were busy girls today, taking full advantage of the nice weather.
Next week, it will time to inspect Hive #2 which I placed in the Bee Yard on Friday afternoon.  They were working hard this morning, and I will be interested to see if the Queen is laying by next weekend.  Hopefully, this new hive will do as well as Hive #1!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

It's Bee Moving Day.

Today is the day we relocate the Honey Bees to their new home in the country!  The plan is to prepare the area for the hive stand, get the hive stand set, and move the bees after dark when they have all returned home from their day of foraging.

Tomorrow morning when they wake up and go to work, they will have to re-orient themselves to their new location.  After thinking about the move, they will be better off in this rural location, with much more nectar and pollen to forage.  It won't be as satisfying as having the hives in the backyard, but the new location will satisfy the Zoning people, and make for more productive hives.  Basically, it's a win-win for the us and the Bees.

Once the move is complete, it's on to doing research and preparing a case for the Madison County Zoning Board to change their way of thinking about the importance of Honey Bees.  We do believe we can get the ordinances changed for the better, and we won't stop until we do.  It won't change our situation, but the goal is to make it better for future Beekeepers.  That alone will be worth the time and effort.  Paying it forward is what it's all about!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Honey Bees get a new home.

After a rather long, confusing ordeal with the Madison County Zoning Commission, it has been confirmed that we cannot keep our Honey Bee Hives on our property at our home.  I makes no sense, considering that the City of Troy permits Beekeeping on city property that is zoned "Residential".  The City of Edwardsville also permits Beekeeping on city property that is zoned "Residential".  Go figure, huh?

We are not in the City "proper" of Troy, but I can throw a rock in any direction from our property and hit City property.  Yep, it makes NO sense!

All was well at our present location, after we discussed our intentions to keep 2 hives.  Well, all WAS well until a meddling, alcoholic neighbor placed a call ranting to the Madison County Zoning Commission.  At first, they said Beekeeping was fine at our location.  Then, we received a letter saying we needed to obtain a "special use permit" to keep the bees.  We prepared our defense, and applied for the permit, only to talk with someone else from the Zoning Office, who stated that we cannot apply for the permit, because we are not zoned for it.  Long story short........there are very few people that work at the Madison County Zoning office that know anything about the details of zoning ordinances in Madison County!  Our tax dollars at work, as usual!

So, we will be moving our Honey Bee Hives about 3 miles away, to property Angie and I own that IS zoned for this use.  The problem is solved, but the fight is far from over.  We are embarking on a mission to get the Madison County Zoning Ordinance changed.  It may not help us, but it will help others in the future, and we feel it is the right thing to do.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the system when folks are allowed to keep Bees in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and many other places more densely populated than Madison County, Illinois.
They even have a Honey Bee Hive on the south lawn of the White House!

The challenge has begun, and we won't stop until the ordinances are changed for the better.  The Madison County Board likes to use politically correct phrases like "Sustainability" and "Go Green".  It's one thing to "talk the talk", but we intend to see to it that they "walk the walk".  Honey Bee survival is at the very core of the sustainability issue.

All will be fine with our Honey Bees at their new location.  I will keep our Blog updated as this moves forward.  There is much work to do, and the process will be long, but Angie and I both love a challenge, and look forward to putting unfounded fears to rest, and change some minds regarding the importance of Honey Bees and Beekeeping!

In's GAME ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  :-)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

At last........WE HAVE BEES!

After a rainy, 6+ hour road trip to Fairmont, IL this morning, we arrived home with our first package of Honey Bees!

These little Italian Honey Bees are a very pretty Bee, and they are known for being a relatively docile bee to work, and for their productivity.  We managed to dodge the rain long enough to get them placed in the hive, and with the sunshine this afternoon, they are busy taking their orientation and cleansing flights.  Bees don't poop in their hive, hence the "cleansing" flights.  Honey Bees have a built-in GPS navigational system, and after being introduced into a new hive, they will spend some time taking these orientation flights.  This helps them locate the hive, so they know exactly where they need to go when they return home from their foraging flights.  It is interesting in that you can have several hives within a few feet of each other, and even though the hives look identical, the bees from each hive know which one is home, just by this GPS instinct.  They really are amazing little creatures!

Here is a photo of Angie dumping the package of bees onto the frames in the hive body:
Here is a close up shot of the bees falling from the package, and beginning their new life in the hive.  They are laying on top of the frames, which are plastic frames with wax coated foundation.  The wax coating helps the bees get a start with drawing the wax comb, which will be used by the Queen for laying eggs.  This brood will enable the colony to build up bee population, so there are plenty of bees to forage, and support the various tasks inside the hive.
Here is a closer shot of the bees on the frames, before they settle in:
An finally, a shot of the assembled hive, with the new bees safely inside:
There are always a few straggler bees left inside the package after you do all you can do to shake them into the hive.  The open package is left in front of the hive for a few hours, and any remaining bees that weren't shaken into the hive will smell the pheromone from the queen, and enter the hive.  After a couple of hours, all bees are inside and safely beginning their new life in our backyard! 

All in all, this was an amazing experience and we are very happy we decided to start keeping Honey Bees.  I look forward to sharing more on our Blog in the days ahead.  Thanks for stopping by for a look!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hive Stand ready for action.

With the arrival of our packaged bees scheduled for April 16th, it was time to get into gear and construct a hive stand.  Getting the hives off of the ground is helpful in several ways.  One, it provides better ventilation, and it also helps save your back when working the hives.  It looks good too, which is a plus if you are going to have hives in your backyard!  I built the hive stand using treated lumber, and it should provide years of low maintenance service.

Here is the area after the sod has been stripped, and the first support blocks are place and leveled.  This area is about 10' long, and 32" wide.

After some design thoughts, I went to the shop and constructed the hive stand.  The stand frame is 2x6 treated lumber, and 4x4 posts were used for the legs.  A full hive, with several medium supers full of honey can weigh several hundred pounds, so you have to build for strength, that's for sure!

Here is the completed hive stand.  It is 8' long, and 20" wide.  This should support the bottom boards under the hives just fine.  I added a stringer at each end for side support for the bottom boards.  This should comfortably and safely hold 4 bee hives.  Our plan is to have 3 or 4 hives at the most, so we are good to go!

After getting the stand set, and making sure everything was level, all that was left was to add mulch around the stand, and clean up the mess!  Here is the finished product, ready for hives and bees!

That about takes care of the preparation before the bees arrive.  I'll get a hive assembled and placed on the stand for my next post.  Then............all we need are BEES!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bee Pickup date is set!

We received our confirmation letter from Long Lane Honey Bee Farm in the mail yesterday.  Our Honey Bees should be there, and ready for pickup on Saturday, April 16th.  Hopefully, the weather will moderate by then, and the bee delivery will be on target.  I still have to get the hive stand constructed and set, but I plan to accomplish that the weekend of April 2nd and 3rd.

It has been a LONG wait, since we placed our bee order last November.  But, the good news is it gave me ample time to get into the shop and build all the necessary hive components to hold the bee colonies.  Yesterday, I completed 2 hive top jar feeders.  These feeders will contain a 1 to 1 ratio of sugar and water, boiled to dissolve the sugar in the water.  This resulting syrup is what you feed the newly hive Honey Bees so you can encourage them to draw honeycomb on the brood frames.  The sooner the worker bees can get the comb drawn, the sooner the Queen can begin laying eggs, which results in new bees, to build up the strength of the colony.  Once the colony begins to grow, and the spring/summer bloom season is upon us, the worker bees will begin to forage the surrounding plants.  They will return to the hive with pollen and nectar, produce wax for building comb, then start to store honey.

Below is a picture of the hive top feeder, that holds 2 quart jars.  The intended use of this type of feeder will be more evident when I get some pictures of it placed on the hive.

Well, that's it for now.  It's off to Lowe's to get lumber and patio blocks for the hive stand.  I will post pictures of that project next weekend!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Completed Beekeeping Course

Last Saturday, February 19th, Angie and I completed the Beginners Beekeeping Course in Belleville.  The Instruction Course was presented by the St. Clair Beekeepers, and it was both entertaining and informative.  We met more pleasant, like-minded people that are either interested in, or are becoming new Beekeepers this spring.  We discussed buying a small, nucleus colony of bees from a local beekeeper, and placed our order for a "Nuc" this spring.  After mulling over the option of starting with a single hive, we decided that it would be better to follow the suggestion of starting with 2 hives, instead of one.  With 2 hives, you have another hive to compare with as the season progresses.  Also, a Nucleus Colony will build up to good strength faster than a "package" of bees, due to the fact that a Nucleus Colony comes with several frames of drawn honey comb, brood cells, and a mated and laying queen.  It is basically a small, established colony that is ready to grow when placed into your hive boxes.  If we have a good spring bloom season, we may actually get to extract some Honey from one or both of our hives this fall!  I am currently getting the rest of the hive boxes primed and painted, and all that is left is to construct the hive stand assembly and get it placed in the backyard.  We should have bees by the middle of April........and Angie and I can't wait!  We are both looking forward to watching the bees work, and learning about these industrious little creatures as the summer arrives.  The more we learn........the more we realize how much there is to know about Honey Bees, and Beekeeping!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

First Beekeepers Meeting of 2011.

Angie and I attended our first St. Clair Beekeepers Association meeting.  The meeting was held at the Farm Bureau Building in Edwardsville, on Friday evening, January 28th.  We were both surprised, as there were a LOT of people there!  When Ken, the President, asked for a show of hand of new people attending the meeting, there were about a dozen of us. 

The meeting was conducted in a semi-informal fashion, but order was sustained, and things moved along pretty well.  They showed a great video presentation regarding the Small Hive Beetle.  This beetle has become a nuisance pest to Honey Bees, but a strong colony seems to be able to defend itself fairly well against this bug.  There were several long time SCBA members that reminisced about the past during the meeting, and it was interesting to hear Mr. Udell Meyer talk about how things have changed since he began keeping Honey Bees in the 1950's. 

We also signed up for the beginning beekeepers course that is organized and led by several members of the SCBA.  This course will be in February at the Farm Bureau building in Belleville.  Angie and I are both looking forward to this class, so we can learn more about this new adventure.

All in all, I was impressed with the number of people that are attending the meetings, and they all seemed to be nice, down home type of people.  We look forward to going to the upcoming class, and we can't wait until we start nurturing our first colony of Honey Bees this spring!