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Learn How to Become a Beekeeper (Part 3 of 5)

These basic beekeeping methods will help you hive your new bees and maintain them successfully. Before buying queens, packages, nucs, or colonies please read through these steps. It will help you determine the best method for you. Also, if you have questions about the process you will have time to find the answers before 10,000 bees are buzzing in your hands.

Nucs

NUCLEUS COLONIES

1 Prepare your hive before the nucleus

arrives.

2 Prepare a feeder with honey or sugar

syrup (dissolve 6–8 lbs. of sugar in 1

gallon of water). The entrance of the

hive should be reduced to a width of

about 1–2 inches by stuffing grass or

newspaper into the entrance slot.

3 Remove frames or combs from the hive

body (you need to make room for

4 combs from the nuc).

4 Wear a hat and veil, and light your

smoker. Take the lid off the nuc and

gently smoke the top of the frames.

5 Carefully place the frames of brood and

bees from the nuc into the hive. Be very

careful not to mash the queen.

6 Initially, the 4 frames of brood and bees

should be no more than one comb of

foundation away from the feeder (if you

are using a frame feeder in your hive).

Close the hive.

7 In 4–10 days enlarge the entrance to

2–4 inches, add feed and check for

eggs. The eggs look like miniature

grains of rice positioned vertically in

the bottom of the cells.

8 If you do not have any eggs, please

contact us immediately. If a nuc fails

to flourish or even dies, typically it is due to

the nuc’s queen not surviving transit or the

hiving process.

 

Package Bees

SCREENED SHIPPING BOXES WITH

UP TO 3 LBS OF WORKER BEES

1 Prepare your hive before the bees arrive.

2 Prepare a feeder with honey or sugar

syrup (dissolve 6–8 lbs. sugar in 1-gallon

water). Reduce the entrance to 1–2

inches with grass or newspaper. If you

feel you need to contain the bees 100%,

use a screen.

3 Gently remove the feed can and queen

cage from the package, then replace the

can. This procedure is made easier by

tipping the package over, or by prying

the can up with a hive tool.

4 Look in the queen cage to make sure

the queen is alive. If the queen is dead,

contact us immediately and hive the

package with the dead queen.

5 Remove the cork from the candy end

of the cage and hang it candy-end down

between 2 of the center frames in your

hive. The bees must have access to the

screen on the queen cage.

6 Remove 4 of the outside frames and

set the package of bees into the hive.

Remember to remove the can so the

bees can crawl out. Alternatively, turn

the shipping cage bottom up, over

the hive, and shake the bees into the

hive over the queen. Cover the hive

and do not disturb it for at least a week.

7 After 1 week, enlarge the entrance to

2–4 in. The queen should be out of her

cage and eggs present in 1–2 combs. If

you have started the hive on foundation

only, the bees should be drawing wax

on 2–3 frames.

8 Starvation of the bees is the most

significant hazard to success. Continue

feeding the colony, taking care not

to get robbing started, until you are sure

the bees are producing enough

honey to sustain themselves. Robbing

Essential Gear

is when bees from another hive ‘attack’

the colony, robbing it of all of its honey

and pollen. Robbing can cause the

death of a colony. In the beginning, too

much feed is better than too little.

Queen (push in cage)

RELEASING THE QUEEN ONTO THE

COMB SAFELY BEHIND A WIRED CAGE

A push-in cage allows the queen to start

laying eggs immediately and will increase

the chances of acceptance. This method

requires handling the queen, which must

be done with great care.

1 Make sure the hive has no queen or

queen cells present.

2 To make a push-in cage, cut a flat

6”x6” inch screen wire. Cut slits 3/4”

in from the top right and left, as well

as the bottom right and left. Fold at

the cuts to make a 3-dimensional box.

3 Select a comb with emerging brood.

Brush the bees off the comb and place

the push-in cage over an area of

empty cells, a few emerging brood

cells and open nectar.

4 Remove the queen from the candy

cage and put her under the wire cage.

Do not allow any other adult bees

under the cage. Push the cage into the

comb, leaving enough room for the

queen to move freely underneath. Make

sure bees can’t get under the cage.

5 The frame with the queen and cage

should be placed in the middle of the

brood nest (if no brood is present,

place in the middle of the cluster).

6 Remove the push-in cage after 4 days

or after the bees are no longer clinging

to the cage. If the bees are clinging

to the cage instead of calmly walking

on it, they have not accepted the

queen yet and more time is needed

before the cage is removed.

7 The colony should be disturbed as

little as possible for the next 2 weeks,

while the queen establishes

her brood nest.

Re-queening

WOOD OR PLASTIC CAGE

THE MOST COMMON AND

SUCCESSFUL QUEEN

INTRODUCTION METHOD

WITH A 97% SUCCESS RATE

1 Make sure your hive does not have a

queen. Remove the cork from the candy

end of the queen cage. Use a small

nail or like tool to gently open a small

hole in the candy. Be careful not to

poke through and stab the queen, or

make the hole so big the bees can

crawl through.

2 Wedge the queen cage between 2 of

the center frames with the screen on the

cage exposed downward toward the

bottom of the hive so that the bees can

access the queen through the screen.

The bees must also have access to the

hole in the candy end of the cage.

3 Make sure the candy end of the cage

is slightly lower than the area of the

cage occupied by the queen. Make

certain the queen cage is securely

embedded in wax or is secured to the

top of the frames. If the cage falls to

the bottom of the hive, the queen may

not survive. The queen must be

placed in the brood nest or the part of

the hive where bees are clustered.

4 Close the hive and wait 1 week before

opening it. When you make your 1-week

inspection, the queen should be out of

her cage, and she should have eggs laid

in 1 or 2 of the combs. Some queens

can take a little longer to begin laying.

If you see she is released but there are

no eggs, check again in 3–5 days. If she

is not out of the cage, release her into

the hive by removing the screen and

allowing her to walk into the hive.

Be careful not to let the wind or her wings

carry her away from the hive.

Colonies

ALWAYS HAVE HELP

SMOKING AND MOVING

A FULL-STRENGTH

COLONY

1 After unloading your colony, make

sure that the bees are free to fly and

that you have provided adequate

ventilation. A colony with 7–9 combs

of brood, bees and honey should have

at least 6 inches of open entrance

space at the bottom (though more may

be advisable, especially in hot weather

or full sun exposure).

2 Unless you have no time to inspect

within the next 2–7 days, we recommend

allowing at least 24 hours for the

bees to recover from the move before

opening the cover and inspecting the

hive.

3 When inspecting, you may wish to

wait at least 3 days after the move to

do so as the presence of embryos or

eggs more than 72 hours after the

move will confirm that the queen

survived the move.

4 Check the colony for the presence

of eggs or embryos, or visually locate

the queen to assure that your hive

is queenright.

5 Check your hive for adequate space

for the colony to put nectar and store

honey. If there is no empty comb or

foundation in the hive, add a super

of foundation or comb to provide a

place for honey storage.

6 There is usually no need to feed a

full-strength colony immediately after

moving it to your apiary site.

Exceptions include acquisition of your

colony in drought or extreme

heat or cold, or other periods where

prolonged periods where the weather

precludes or reduces bee foraging

activity.

Posted in Beekeeping Techniques on 10/11/2017  |  Comments Off on Learn How to Become a Beekeeper (Part 3 of 5)

Add Honey Bees, Reduce Your Texas Property Taxes

The majority of Texas’ state income is from property taxes and the small landowner carries much of the burden. If you own between 5 and 20 acres beekeeping may the answer you need for the property tax burden questions!

A few years ago the Legislature amended the Texas Tax Code, and the Texas Comptroller’s Office published new rules that encourage beekeeping, and authorize County appraisal districts in Texas to provide a reduction in property taxes via a special agricultural valuation for those whose property qualifies and who meet certain criteria specified by the Code, the Comptroller’s rules, and the various appraisal districts. Basically, the Code and the Comptroller’s rules now recognize beekeeping as an agricultural use that qualifies compliant property owners for a reduced property valuation, and a concomitant reduction in property taxes on property where bees are kept for agricultural purposes. The relevant provision of the Texas Tax Code is Section 23.51(2), which amended the definition of agricultural use to include “the use of land to raise or keep bees for pollination or for the production of human food or other tangible products having a commercial value, provided the land uses is not less than five or more than 20 acres.” A more detailed review of pertinent rules is contained in the Comptroller’s Manual for the Appraisal of Agricultural Land. See Texas Comptroller Beekeeping Agricultural Exemption.

If you would like to begin beekeeping, and will do so for agricultural purposes, with the required number of colonies, use intensity and also avoid certain uses of the relevant parcel that will result in disqualification for a special valuation or trigger a property tax rollback, then keeping honey bee colonies on your land allow you to reduce your property tax burden on the land where the bees are kept.

Each appraisal district has developed its own rules regarding what landowners must do and what evidence they must provide to obtain a special ag use valuation for keeping honey bees. Please check with your appraisal district for those practices and records that will be required of you.

Posted in Beekeeping Techniques on 10/05/2017  |  Comments Off on Add Honey Bees, Reduce Your Texas Property Taxes

Learn How to Become a Beekeeper (PART 2 of 5)

BEGIN BEEKEEPING

(PART 2 OF 5)

Now that you know what kind of hives you may own and operate it is time to learn what bees products will are appropriate for your hives. We have had customers pick up their bees from us to only learn the product they brought home to their hive is incompatible. Don’t let this happen to you!

An Established Colony

COMPATIBLE WITH ANY HIVE TYPE (it is the hive!)

An established hive is a colony of bees established in standard Langstroth equipment,

or in a top bar, hybrid or other hive type. It contains brood, bees, honey, pollen and a

laying queen. With an established colony, you will be ready for pollination and honey

production immediately.


PROS

Your colony is ready to go and

contains a large population of bees, a laying

queen, brood of various developmental

stages, honey and pollen. Without delay,

it is fully functional and ready for supers

to be added to hold the honey that will be

produced. There is no need to buy or

build hive equipment or decide between

a nuc or a package.

CONS

Established colonies come at

a slightly higher cost compared to packages

(swarms) and nucs. Additionally,

you miss the education and rewarding

experience of building a new colony

from a nuc or package.

An established hive is a colony of bees established in standard Langstroth equipment,

or in a top bar, hybrid or another hive type. It contains brood, bees, honey, pollen and a

laying queen. With an established colony, you will be ready for pollination and honey

production immediately.

Colony Nuclei

ALSO CALLED “NUCS”

Nucs are miniature colonies with 4-5 combs of brood, bees, honey, pollen and a queen.

A nuc is easily moved from the packaging into your hive upon arrival.

PROS

A nuc has drawn comb, a queen,

bee brood, adult bees, honey and pollen.

A nuc is an established colony in miniature.

CONS

Nucs must eventually be installed

in Langstroth equipment. You cannot

easily start a top bar hive with a nuc, unless

you have a hybrid hive.

Package Bees

OR WILD SWARMS

 

A colony of honey bees may be started with a wild swarm, or with an artificial swarm

produced by us or another beekeeper. An artificial swarm is also known as a “package”

of bees and consists of three pounds of bees and a queen. A package of bees is used to

start a Langstroth, top bar, hybrid and other types of hives. If cared for appropriately and

environmental conditions are favorable, a package will grow into a full-strength colony

in short order – usually about three brood cycles.

PROS

Installing a package is easy and rewarding,

and growing one replicates the natural

way colonies propagate by swarming.

The most cost-effective option for starting

a new hive, packages can be installed in

Langstroth, top bar or hybrid hives.

CONS

It takes more than three weeks from

the time you install the package until the baby

bees emerge from brood and the colony

begins to grow. A package is like an artificial

swarm: the bees have to build a new comb

before the queen has a place to lay eggs and

the bees have to have a place to store pollen

and nectar. Hives started with packages of

bees need more start-up time and attention.

Starvation is a risk if the bees run out of food

soon after installation.

In summary, choose bees that will work with your hive type and is economically feasible. Packages and nucs hived within 2 weeks of each other will not look any different from each other several months later. Each hive’s success is dictated by the weather, habitat, queen (all important!), and beekeeping techniques. Typically beekeepers must order their spring bees in the fall. Producers sell out and buying bees in the spring for the spring can be difficult. It is best to plan ahead!

 

Posted in Beekeeping Techniques on 10/01/2017  |  Comments Off on Learn How to Become a Beekeeper (PART 2 of 5)

Learn How to Become a Beekeeper (PART 1 OF 5)

BEGIN BEEKEEPING

(PART 1 OF 5)

 

Welcome the amazing world of honey bees! When your journey into beekeeping first begins it is vital to know the decisions you will have to make to get started. Historically, new beekeepers did not have many choices to make. Modern-day beekeepers have many!

 

What type of hive will you house your bees?

How will you get bees to put in your hive?

Will you use chemicals in your hive or will you keep your bees chemical free?

What additional equipment do you need or want to get started?

How much protective gear is right for you?

 

We will begin by learning about the different hive designs’ pros and cons.

 

Langstroth 10 frame or 8 frame Hive

A TRADITIONAL STACKED HIVE THAT GROWS VERTICALLY

PROS

CLASSIC Invented by Rev. Lorenzo

Langstroth, this hive design revolutionized

beekeeping and made modern

methods of beekeeping possible.

Langstroth’s key insight was the notion

of “bee space,” providing wooden

frames and combs spaced precisely the

correct distance apart so that honey

bees will not build more comb between

them. This makes the frames “moveable.”

The corollary is that frames and other

equipment built to these dimensions are

also interchangeable.

MODULAR Langstroth hives also offer

the advantage of simple vertical

expansion or contraction by the addition

or subtraction of standard-sized boxes

and frames.

VERSATILE & CONVENTIONAL

Langstroth hive equipment is

ubiquitous, meaning you can easily

find compatible equipment for

honey extraction, pollen harvesting,

hive moving and other colony

manipulation. If you want to resell

your equipment or colonies,

they will likely have more value on

the open market if contained

in Langstroth equipment.

 

CONS

VERTICAL MANAGEMENT

Langstroth hives were designed

to hold large colonies and lots of honey –

consequently, they can be heavy

and may require physical strength to

manage and harvest honey supers.

Supers are the boxes that hold the frames

of honey, bees and brood in a hive.

Each super can weigh from 20 – 75 pounds,

depending on size, and whether or

not it is full of honey. If you are concerned

about having to move heavy boxes

of honey off the top of your hive, then

a Langstroth hive may not be for you.

On the other hand, you have the option

of harvesting one comb at a time, thus

reducing the burden. Placing the hive

on a stand facilitates accessibility if

bending or stooping is difficult for you.

 

Top Bar Hive

A HORIZONTAL HIVE WITH BARS, NO FRAMES

PROS

NATURAL COMB BUILDING

Top bar hives require bees to build

their comb from scratch in whatever

configuration they choose. Seeing

newly fabricated comb hanging from

the top bars can be fascinating!

NO MUSCLES REQUIRED There are

no supers to lift with top bar hives, and

you will work and harvest honey one top

bar at a time.

EASY ON THE BACK Because top bar

hives can be worked standing up, at

waist height and without bending over,

they may be a better choice if your back

prevents you from lifting or bending.

 

CONS

TIME-INTENSIVE Because top bar

hives require constant intervention to

enforce comb building on only one top

bar and eliminate comb attachments to

sides, this option will demand more of

your time.

DIFFICULT TO MOVE AND INSPECT

Combs built on top bars have no

reinforcement or wooden frame to

facilitate manipulation, movement

and inspection. One can inadvertently

cause the comb to become detached

from the top bar (especially on a hot

summer day), and it is very difficult to

inspect for embryos, larvae, queen or

disease. Moving a top bar hive can

cause the combs to fall off the top bar.

ATYPICAL Your bees will have to

work harder to heat and cool a top bar

hive because the space is difficult for

them to thermoregulate themselves.

PESTS Small hive beetles have more

hiding places in top bar hives.

 

 

Hybrid Hive

BEE WEAVER’S COMPROMISE

PROS

THE BEST FEATURES OF BOTH

LANGSTROTH AND TOP BAR

If you want the features of a top bar hive,

but the management advantages and

honey production potential of a Langstroth

hive, then the hybrid is for you.

BEE OPTIONS You can start a hybrid

hive with a nuc or a package, or

by installing an established colony.

HARVEST OPTIONS Add honey

supers to the Langstroth portion and

extract honey from frames using typical

extraction equipment, or pull top bars

from the top bar portion to enable easy

comb or chunk honey harvesting.

BUILT-IN HIVE STAND The hybrid

hive is elevated on removable legs,

to ease back strain and put both top bar

and Langstroth brood chambers at

waist height.

 

CONS

EXPENSIVE Bringing the two hives

together increases the initial cost of

buying a hive to begin beekeeping.

DIFFICULT TRANSITION

Sometimes the bees have a hard time

transitioning between the two hives.

Initially, special beekeeping practices

may be needed

 

There are several other hive types that may interest you. Warre hives, garden hives, and even indoor observation hives. We suggest trying one of the more conventional hives initially before working with a more challenging system. For more information and support go to our BeeFilm. Next time we will explore the different kinds of bees, how bees are packaged for transport, and what you will need to move bees into your new hive.

Posted in Beekeeping Techniques on 09/25/2017  |  Comments Off on Learn How to Become a Beekeeper (PART 1 OF 5)

Learn How to Raise Queens, Bee a Better Beekeeper

Want to Be a Better Beekeeper? Try your hand at queen production. You don’t need to master queen production or produce queens in commercial quantities. By learning how raise queens you will have a deeper understanding of the dynamics and social structure of a colony. You will also learn basic principles of population genetics and developmental honey bee biology.

When people hear this recommendation from us, we are often asked, “Why would you want to teach other people how to produce their own queens? Aren’t you cutting into your own sales and profits?” Well, maybe we are in the short term, but not in the long run. Better beekeepers will keep bees longer and help drive the demand for beekeeping products. In fact, it may also give you an appreciation for the product and services that queen producers provide. In other words, in addition to knowledge development and encouraging an improvement in beekeeping skills, exposure to the practice of queen rearing may give you a greater appreciation for the value of a queen or queen cells.

 

Sure, colonies are capable of replacing a queen when her reign nears its inevitable end, but bees don’t always make the decision to embark on supersedure until the colony’s productivity, brood rearing, and adult bee population are in serious decline. Even if you choose to limit your intervention to eliminating a poor queen or a queen that is heading a colony in decline, the experience you gain from learning queen production will assist you through the process. You will monitor the hive as it begins producing queen cells, see virgin queens emerge, know when young queens take a flight to mate, and then begin oviposition. The process is a fascinating opportunity to observe many aspects of bee biology as a colony struggles to ensure its survival and continued contribution to the species population.

 

Beyond merely witnessing what all honey bee colonies are equipped to do when provoked by swarming instincts and the decline or loss of a queen, learning how to encourage bees to produce queen cells, drones and ultimately mated queens, will require you to be more cognizant of colony conditions and learn techniques to foster conditions appropriate or necessary for the production of a healthy, fertile queen.

 

By exposing yourself to the basic principles and key techniques of queen rearing you will be a better beekeeper.

Posted in Beekeeping Techniques on 09/11/2017  |  Comments Off on Learn How to Raise Queens, Bee a Better Beekeeper

Flood Remediation for Hives and End of Summer Hive Management

There will be more hot days before the Texas Summer is really over, but the peak heat of 2017 is behind us, and thankfully so is the worst of Harvey.

I’ll offer a few pointers on 2 important subjects for beekeepers – 1)Bee Hive flood remediation; and 2) End of Summer Colony Management Routines.

Flood Remediation for Hives

For those lucky enough to still have colonies you can see and find on the coastal prairie, but unlucky enough to have them go partially underwater, here are the key practices and procedures that may help keep your colonies from perishing, and help them recover more quickly than they would otherwise.

Of course, unless you provided your hive with an upper entrance, if your colony’s entrance went under water then your hive may be a goner. Only a minute or two after the bottom entrance becomes submerged, your bees will begin suffocating, and it short order the dead and dying bees will drop to the bottom and further occlude the entrance and interfere with the ability of the colony to obtain oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.  This explains why it is advisable to provide an upper entrance for hives, especially on the coastal prairie, where flooding is a risk.

Assuming your colony did have a way to exchange air, and an upper exit for bees to escape the hive, then any comb that went under water is potentially damaged, and any brood that went under water is probably dead.  This must be dealt with immediately if you want to give your hive any chance at recovery.

A) First, examine the submerged comb.  If the cells are packed with mud/debris this should be cut away and mud-packed comb discarded in a sealed plastic bag or burned.  This kind of damage is very hard for bees to cope with, and you are better off eliminating mud-packed comb immediately.

B) If the water that entered the hive was not laden with sediment, then your next concern is to prevent hive beetle infestation and facilitate removal of dead brood from the water-soaked comb.  If small hive beetle larvae are already present, then cutting away any infested brood and destroying it promptly is critical to your colony’s survival.  Usually, the population of adult bees will have been reduced by submersion, and assessing your colony’s likelihood of surviving is the next concern.  So…back to first principles:
i) Determine whether your hive has a laying queen.  Are there queen cells present?  Can you see embryos (eggs)?;
ii) If your colony has no young brood and no laying queen, then move embryos or first instar larvae from another colony into your hive, or get a replacement queen asap;
iii) Are there sufficient numbers of adult bees to cover any comb that contains young, uncapped brood?; If not, consider reducing to total amount of brood that the colony must care for, because leaving a colony with more larvae than the nurse bees can feed may promote growth of bacterial and fungal pathogens, and explosion of hive beetle populations;

C) If your colony remains relatively strong, with an adult bee population sufficient to cover uncapped brood, and your colony is configured with two or more brood chambers, or one brood chamber and one or more honey supers, then reverse the position of the hive chambers.  Move the hive body or super containing combs with water damage up above clean undamaged comb and healthy brood with bees. This simple manipulation will greatly facilitate and accelerate your colony’s ability to remove dead brood, and cleanup and rebuild damaged comb.

D) Even if your colony has abundant honey stores, if damaged comb or dead brood is present, it is usually a good idea to feed a thin syrup to encourage your colony to rebuild damaged comb.  Remember, building comb is only possible when your bees are on a nectar flow or receiving supplemental feed over and above their immediate needs for survival.

This brings us to the second topic:

End of Summer Management

All bets for a normal Fall are off if you’re in the zone pounded by Harvey, but colonies in many parts of Texas often get another boost of productivity, brood rearing and even a honey flow beginning after the first rains of late summer or early fall.  The floods experienced by many are likely to persist long enough to drown or reduce the productivity of many flowering plants – save those that thrive in wet, partially aquatic or soggy ground, such as asters, smart weed, lakeweed, duck weed or whitebrush.  However, if you’re in an area where snow on the prairie, boneset, verbenas, sunflowers, goldenrod, salvias, sumac, kinnikinick and other fall blooming plants are abundant, then you and your colony may enjoy a second spring.

A) Equip your colony for success, and add extra supers or remove unneeded excess equipment so that your hive is configured for optimal performance.

B) Take time to examine brood in your colony and brood production. Brood dynamics are always just as important if not more so than the static assessment of brood on the day you evaluate.  If the queen has no open comb in which to lay, and is honey bound, then open up the brood nest by replacing full combs of honey with open brood comb.  Alternatively, add a super or another brood chamber.

C) If the cluster of adult bees is small, and there are 3 or fewer combs of brood, despite a good pollen flow and adequate honey reserves, then the queen may be less prolific than she should be.  Now is usually a good time to requeen colonies in Texas – though anytime you find a poor or unproductive queen is good time to requeen.

D) You should assess your varroa mite population and implement a treatment regimen if you determine that your varroa mite loads are potentially deleterious.  Varroa mites aren’t normally a problem if you are using BeeWeaver queens – they are highly resistant to Varroa mites and the pathogens they vector.  If you find you have a varroa mite problem, my recommended remedy is requeening with a BeeWeaver queen.  If you decide to use chemical control measures, or other procedures to reduce varroa populations, now is the time to get moving.  Be careful when using varroa control chemicals – without exception they can be harmful to bees as well as varroa mites.  Wear personal protective gear, and only apply according to the label or instructions. Remember, it is important to reduce mite levels before brood rearing diminishes or ends.  Otherwise, your colony will go into winter with too few young, healthy, well-provisioned bees to survive until spring.

E) Finally, don’t forget that your hive doesn’t need more than 50-75 pounds of honey to get through winter in great shape, regardless of how big your colony may be.  For many beekeepers in Texas, harvesting another super of honey in late Summer or Fall is possible.  Be sure to check flavor attributes before you pull honey in the fall.  It is often advisable to remove older honey – produced earlier in summer – rather than pull and extract fall honey.  Fall honey can often have strong flavors, astringent properties, and can contain significant concentrations of alkaloids. But bees thrive on it, and your strongest bees next spring will be those that produced fall honey.

 

Posted in Beekeeping Techniques on 09/06/2017  |  Comments Off on Flood Remediation for Hives and End of Summer Hive Management

Blowing Smoke

There are all sorts of gadgets now for beekeeping.  Frame spacers, hive carriers, frame holders, bee brushes, cappings scratchers, frame cleaners, and the list goes on and on.  For most beekeepers, many of these items are unnecessary, and can even complicate what is in reality a very simple process.  Some of the gear is never needed and other items only become handy if your apiary grows to the point you are a sideliner.

Essential Gear

Essential Gear

The basic equipment necessary for any beekeeper working in any type of hive is a short list:

  • Smoker
  • Hive Tool
  • Veil

Yes, I also listed these in order of importance (at least in my opinion).

I have sold queens & bees for over 20 years (wow, time flies).  Never before have I felt there was a better time for beekeepers (especially new beekeepers) to just get back to the basics.   There is so much to learn; adding complications and so many choices leaves folks feeling lost in the beekeeping equipment maze before the bees’ first buzz.  Additionally, saving $100 on items you don’t need or won’t use for years is a good thing!  Bees naturally keep it simple (remember they like the dark, protected space of hollows in trees or rocks) and so should the beekeeper!

I feel the smoker is the most important tool and should be used EVERY time you go into a hive.  With the push of ‘natural beekeeping’ there have been some fly by night ‘bee experts’ that advocate not using smoke and some even claim that smoke is bad for the bees, or it will contaminate your honey. By smoking the bees you are doing them and yourself a big favor.  We all know how bad stress is for us, so why would we want to stress our bees out time and time again?  By masking alarm pheromone with smoke in the air the hive can stay calm and concentrate on doing their jobs instead of going into panic and attack mode.  If anyone thinks bees can’t remember and aren’t affected later on by intrusions that send them into a frenzy should try going into hives that have had package bees shook out of them (some big banging of bee boxes happens during package bee production).  They won’t be happy anyone is coming back into the bee yard for days.  Calmer beekeeping will mean there will be not an un-welcoming committee waiting for next passerby.  When the bees get stressed, so does the beekeeper.  Even if the smokeless beekeeper is wearing enough protective gear to go to the moon, their experience in the hive is not pleasant.  How can anyone enjoy the hardworking honey bee if 1000 of them are working hard to sting them?  So for the health of the hive, the joy of keeping bees, and the safety of all please light your smoker every time you work the hive.

Honey bees, and especially the bee breeds that excel in protecting themselves from the elements, robbers, and pests will fill every nook and cranny with wax and propolis.  When the bees do this the lids, supers, and frames feel as someone went nuts with a bottle of gorilla glue in the hive.  Without a hive tool a beekeeper will have to pull, tug, jerk and yank the hive around to inspect frames.  With every jolt the bees will become less keen of your intrusion… no matter how much smoke you keep puffing out!  Additionally, bees build comb on their frames leaving just the right amount of space for bees to pass between the combs on each frame.  They are not planning for your removal of these frames.  Using your hive tool to space out the frames so bees are not brushed off the neighboring frames (or worse, smashed) as you remove the one frame will keep your hive calm, the bees safe and reduce the chance of damaging comb, brood, and food stores.  So keep that tool handy, and use it with each manipulation of your hive.

Thanks to natural selection bees learned a long time ago that dark objects are the best places to sting an intruder.  When Mama Bear found a yummy bounty of brood, bees, and honey she only retreated when the hive landed their stingers in her nose, ears, eyes and mouth.  These same bees that were able to successfully chase She Bear off were able to reproduce, and our bees today remember the trick of their ancestors.  Thus, if you are working bees and one or more decide to send you the not so subtle message to leave via a sting, then chances are it will be on your face.  Most folks with beekeeping experience will also vouch that the face sting is also one of the most painful… my worst one was deep down in my ear in 1992 (I will never forget).  So veil up!  It only takes a moment to put a veil on, and your friends won’t be calling you Cyclops for the next 3 days!

BeeStung

BeeStung

Enjoy the bees, keep it simple and thank you for taking the time to make the world a better place:  one bee hive at a time!

Laura – Old Drone Layer

Posted in Beekeeping Techniques on 11/01/2013  |  2 Comments

The Beekeeper’s Thrill

We are excited to introduce Andrew Shahan, our Head Beekeeper for Central Texas, in his first blog post.  Enjoy!

My Dad's first experience holding a frame of bees.

My Dad’s first experience holding a frame of bees.

Camila, Dad, Irina in their bee gear

Camila, Dad, Irina in their bee gear

Cooper, my Great Dane/Lab puppy is also into beekeeping

Cooper, my Great Dane/Lab puppy is also into beekeeping

There are a handful of things in life that I can say bring me pure joy; two of those things are my family and honeybees. My family has been very supportive of my journey from attempted academic bee scientist into that of a full time beekeeper. I have been working with bees for several years and it was only appropriate that I finally had my family come visit my work and get into bees for the first time in their lives.

I was able to get a part of my family, including my father, into bees for the first time this past weekend. I revel in watching a first timer go from holding a frame of bees with visibly shaking hands and quivering voice to placing the frame back in the hive with a confidence and calmness that they did not have just moments prior. So, if you are reading this and having any reservations about getting into some bees, just go for it! Bug all of your beekeeper friends to let you inspect one of the hives that they take care of because it will give you an experience that you will never forget. However, getting back to this weekend, I was watching my father who is in his sixties hold a frame of bees for the first time. It was a surreal moment for me and I had the thought: “Wow! I, at the ripe age of twenty-four, was able to impart one of my favorite experiences to someone that had far more wisdom and life experience than I did.” Those precious minutes watching my Dad made me reflect on my own beginnings in beekeeping and allowed me to recount my initial encounter with a hive inspection.

So, without further rambling I hope this story will resonate with those of you whom have been into hives. But, if you haven’t ventured into beekeeping maybe this recounting of my experience will peak your interest!

Your first time opening a hive is an experience that you never forget. Whether you are alone or have a trusted mentor by your side the world around you quickly fades and it is just you and the hive. Your senses are inundated from the start by the murmur of bees caused by your first puff of smoke into the hive entrance. You feel as the adrenaline quickly courses through your veins with each heart beat as you use your hive tool to pry off the propolis encrusted cover from the starkly white hive body. That first rush of fresh air hits the bees in the hive and causes them to flit their wings in unison delivering a hair-raising buzz. All of the sudden an extreme color contrast saturates your senses. You spot the thousands of black and yellow stripes moving methodically around the top of the frames but it is hard to pick out and follow a single moving object; a few of those objects fly up at you and undulate around your head all while your breath is heavy and chest is pounding. Your body and brain know the black and yellow color contrast of the bee’s abdomen means danger, yet you remain oddly calm. Then a unique smoky, waxy, subtly sweet, and rich scent again floods your senses and at that moment you realize that no other place on earth is like the inside of a beehive.

Upon prying out the first frame filled with bees, pollen, honey, and brood, you notice that there is not a single wasted movement. Every worker bee moves with purpose and has somewhere to be or a task to attend to. Energy is something that is efficiently managed where the actions, dances, and proceedings of the bees are coordinated and precise. After attempted scrutiny of a few frames with the same sensory overload that was there when you first opened the hive, your senses finally reach their crescendo: you have somehow spotted the elusive lady that runs the show. It is your first time seeing a queen bee and you revel in all that her elongated abdomen has to offer. You distinctly remember awakening from a stupor with your jaw slightly ajar; you were hypnotized by watching the queen bee zig-zag from one cell to the next laying her eggs. She was so elegant but at the same time fierce; the workers were surrounding and herding the queen but none dare to question her choices. Finally, with some angst, paranoia, sweaty palms, and quickly paced heartbeats you place the queen and her frame back into the hive hoping she was not squished in the process.

At the end of your first hive inspection, once you have placed the frames in their respective slots, the cover has been placed back on the hive body, and you are hoping you have not squished the queen, you take a few deep breaths and have a realization: you are now a beekeeper. You are now one of the few people that have the pleasure of working with and caring for the most fascinating and one of the most complex creatures on this planet.

Posted in Beekeeping Techniques on 10/07/2013  |  Leave a comment

Stung by Heat and Drought in Texas

That smoky smell isn’t from my bee smoker… sadly our part of Texas is on fire.  Even if some parts of the prairies, hill country, big thicket, and south Texas brush aren’t a part of what is or has been on fire – it is burned by the record drought and heat.  Burned up from no rain and temperatures over 100 degrees for almost that many days.  Every Texan, Texas animal and Texas plant has felt the effects of the worst heat and drought in history.

Bees and their keepers are no exception, obviously.  Instead of making several loads of Texas Wildflower Honey we fed sugar syrup to keep our hives alive.  We’re accustomed to having our colonies recover during May and early June from us harvesting bees and queens earlier in the spring.  But they didn’t build back up because there was no pollen flow and no nectar flow.  Instead of making splits and increasing our numbers we worked to sustain what we had.  Facing relentless 100+ degrees day in day out (temperatures soared over 90 by 9am) somehow our hives mostly managed to survive, but it was and is a miracle.  The world and our ecological foundations are shifting.  Transformational change seems to be upon us.

To make it this far the bees had to be tough.  To make it to next spring, they will have to be amazingly hardy.  Even if Texas receives above normal rainfall for the next 5 months, nothing would change for the bees now.  They’ll have to make it to the first pollen flows in spring.  Meanwhile, trees, shrubs, vines and grasses are struggling to stay alive, if they have not died already.

On the upside, any hives that thrive in these conditions will be a great foundation to build a breeding program in 2012.  Hives that thrive on less and do more with little can only make apiaries stronger.   And this is our silver lining from 2011.

Posted in Breeding Varroa Tolerant Honey Bees on 10/11/2011  |  Leave a comment

Bee Venom . . . The Good and the Bad

I was born the son of a beekeeper, who was a son of beekeeper, who was a son of beekeeper, who was….. Anyway, the bee venom runs deep.  So deep that as a kid I developed the classic curse of a beekeeper’s offspring – severe allergies to bee proteins. Probably because I received chronic-low dose exposure to bee antigens on my Dad’s skin, clothes and vehicle upholstery, but never had many (any?) direct stings until I was about a year old, I was sensitized to bee proteins and my immune system was primed to mount a full court press against bee venom.  The result was a bad experience when I was first stung.  I suffered full-blown anaphylactic shock at about a year of age. I survived, but the risk is real, though probably much more pronounced for the offspring of a commercial beekeeper or the child of someone who is around bees a lot.  My recommendation – bee stings hurt, but if you’re worried about allergies, get that immunologic tolerance going early, even in children.  If you’re serious about keeping bees, or just spending time around a feral honey bee colony in a hollow of a tree, you’re probably going to get stung sooner or later. So why not go ahead and get it over with when you’ve got your family or a friend and some Benadryl handy, and before you become sensitized to bee venom.

On the other hand, don’t be foolish and unnecessarily provoke a colony, always make sure you have a lit smoker around when you work your hives, wear appropriate protective clothing (hat, veil, long pants tucked into boots, long sleeved shirt, with optional gloves and coveralls if they make you feel more secure or your bees have a bad attitude) and have a place to retreat to if you find yourself being pursued by more than a few angry bees. The precautions are especially important if you live in areas where New World African honey bees may be present.

Most honey bee colonies will warn you if they perceive your actions or your presence as a threat to the colony, and they’ll begin by bouncing off your body, and buzzing around you with obvious purpose, especially your head. If that doesn’t work they may resort to additional, less diplomatic tactics, to get your attention.

However, most colonies will not mount an unprovoked attack on humans unless you’ve been antagonizing the colony, either intentionally or unintentionally.  The exception is the occasional rogue hive with a bad temper.  Today, such temperamental hives often have some New World African influence. New World African introgression may result in colonies that seem to have a permanent kamikaze air force on patrol ready to eviscerate themselves to keep any and all intruders (especially mammals and two-cycle internal combustion engines) far away.  The short term solution in those circumstances is retreat, but replacement of the queen will usually rectify the problem and return the hive to peace and tranquility.

Knowing how to cope with bee stings or the threat of bee stings is essential, and conquering your fear can be a great source of pride and inner strength. It takes a certain amount of grace and self-control to avoid the natural tendency to rip off your veil or jam your hand up under your veil in a wild attempt to crush the hapless worker stuck inside.  If you do succumb to the natural urge to crush the bee inside your veil (they usually only want out – if they’d been out to sting you they would already have done so) then you’ll usually only paint the area around your veil, neck and face with the alarm pheromone from your gloves, while attracting other mean bees with your quick, panicked movements, all while you open up an much larger portal for easy access to the most vulnerable parts of your face, head and neck.

Relax, enjoy beekeeping, and don’t sweat a few stings.  As my grandfather used to say, “People can sting too, and those stings hurt a lot worse”.

Posted in Bee Services on 03/31/2011  |  Leave a comment
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