Disclaimer:

This blog explains how I keep bees. It works for me, it might not work for you. Use my methods at your own risk. Always wear protective clothing and use a smoker when working bees.

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Friday, February 21, 2020

Our bee season is about to get real

Everything is on the upswing. Days are getting longer, the temperatures are warming every day, the Chickadees are singing their fee-bee song. Spring is on the horizon. The next few days will be nice out. Hives should be inspected for alive or dead and food stores. A hive can be opened for a quick peak. A good hive has about five frames of bees, a weak hive has two frames of bees. A weak hive with two frames of bees, will likely not build up without adding frames of brood to over the course of the spring. Package bees should be ordered if your colonies dead or weak. I always used the strategy of, if the hive is dead, order a package for it even if you have another strong colony. Too many times I have seen beekeepers plan on a split, only to have the overwintered hive fizzle out. Then the beekeeper is left with few options. By starting a deadout with a package, if the overwintered colony makes it and a divide can be taken from it. The divide can be added to the package of bees with the newspaper method in mid May. The package will build to a strong honey making colony with the extra bees.
 Looking ahead to this coming weekend. March 1st is almost here. Pollen patties can be put on overwintered colonies. You can make your own or buy the pre made patties. I usually purchase pre made patties. The manufactured patties are as good as I can make.
 When I first started beekeeping, we had to make our own pollen patties. The best pollen powder at the time was BeePro. Now there is UltraBee. Which in my opinion some of the best pollen substitute on the market today.
 Here is a video I made 10 years ago on how to make pollen patties with powder.



 The only way to improve on the pollen patties, is to mix in natural pollen.
 Some beekeepers trap pollen during July and August. Pollen traps are used. Pollen can be put on cookie sheets to freeze. The freezing will help dry out the pollen pellets so the pollen doesn't mold. Best to keep them in the freezer until spring. Never purchase pollen from a store and use that with your bees. This is a quick way to give chalkbrood to the bees. Only use your own pollen or pollen that has been irradiated treated.
 Don't dawdle on ordering bees. Suppliers will start selling out soon and bees will start getting hard to come by.
 I am excited, next week I am putting on my gear and start the next chapter of beekeeping.
 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Hives coming out of February



It is now mid February. The days are getting noticeably longer. We are picking up about three minutes a day in sunlight. By Feb 29th (leap year this year), we will have picked up forty minutes of daylight from today. The solar radiation is getting stronger, on a sunny day,you can feel the heat through your winter coat.
 The solar radiation is helping to warm the hives. Bee will be going out on cleansing flights more often now.
 The queen should be laying now. I think most of us should have a patch of brood. It may not be much at the moment, by the end of the month there may be a frame or two of brood.
 Hives should be checked to see if they survived the latest blast of cold. The cold was not long in duration, so most hives should still be alive, if the bees had access to food.
 On a warm day (in the 30's), if you opened up the top of your hive and looked across all the top bars of the top box, you should be able to see capped honey at the top of some of the frames. Hopefully you would see this capped honey, right adjacent to the cluster. If you don't see this, I would close the inner cover and put the moisture board back on. Then take your winter cover off. Break the top box loose with your hive tool. Lift the top box and feel the weight. If the box is very light, I would feed syrup to the hive. This is an emergency feeding situation. We would hate to lose the bees now. If you see capped honey, or the top box feels a little heavy, the bees should be fine for another two weeks. The bees need about 7-9 lbs of honey to live for two weeks. By March 1st, we can give syrup and pollen.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

February hive update


This is the front of one of my overwintered colonies. There are dead bees in front of the hive. The brown snow is bee poop from cleansing flights. All of this is normal. As the snow melts, the area in front of the hive will be peppered with dead bees. Consider this, the bees went into winter with 40,000 bees. About half of these bees have perished. A strong overwintered colony has about 15,000 to 20,000 bees right now. A nice looking overwintered colony of bees would be fully covering both sides of four to five frames, top to bottom on the frames.
At this writing on Feb 9th, what is going on with the bees?
 The weather for this winter so far, has not been bad at all. We haven't had any extended bitter cold with bone chilling winds.
 I have talked to several beekeepers who have been experiencing good winter survival so far. They were all running hives with Saskatraz queens.
 One beekeeper says his hives look great. The one hive he lost was due to fall robbing that depleted his winter stores and the hive starved. Other beekeepers that I have talked to have experienced small colony losses with their Saskatraz bees.
 We are now entering into the critical time of the winter. In most cases, the bees have now moved up into the top brood box. The bees have been uncapping honey in the top frames. If you did your brood box reversals last summer, there should be pollen under the capped honey. As the bees expose this pollen, this can help spur on the beginning of egg laying by the queen.
 The queen will start laying eggs very soon, if she hasn't started already. She will start laying slowly and then as time goes on, the egg laying will start to increase.  With brood in the hive, there will be a slight increase in using up honey stores and feeding on the newly discovered pollen stores. The bees will be covering the brood, keeping the temperature where the brood is at around 95 degrees F. To maintain this temperature the bees will eat more honey.
 Beekeepers get in trouble this time of year if the temperatures go subzero for usually three days or more in a row. Looking at the 10 day forecast, I do not see any multi-day subzero events. A one day of subzero is usually not a problem for the bees.
 Having ample food stores is the only problem that beekeepers are sweating right now. If your top box was very heavy going into winter, there is probably sufficient winter stores right now. If the top box was not full of honey going into winter and your bees are alive. Adding winter patties, sugar or Fondant might be a good idea. The winter patties are nice because you can have them made up and slip them onto the top bars of the top brood box. The patties can be added in 15 seconds. Be prepared, take the Telescoping top cover off, have a smoker going. try to keep the winter patties warm. Lift the moisture board, a couple puffs of smoke into the inner cover hole, lift up the inner cover using your hive tool. Slip a big patty right on top of the bee cluster. Have the edges of the patty exposed so the bees can get to the sugar goop right away. Close the colony. Make sure to wear your beesuit and gloves.
 The bee season is now underway. By the first of March, we can give the hives their first pollen patty. Syrup can also be fed if the bees need it. By late February our daily temperatures will be getting into the thirties. We should be able to go out and break the top box loose and lift it up to see how heavy it is. This can tell you what the existing food stores are, and if feeding is needed on a larger scale.  When doing spring syrup feeding, we feed as needed. Do not feed pail after pail of syrup. The bees will take it all down and plug the brood box with syrup. This will leave the queen with not much room for brood and the population of the hive will suffer.
 Time to get out the beesuit and gloves. Check them for mouse damage. Pollen patties can be purchased anytime now, for use in March. A strong overwintered hive may eat three or more pollen patties in the spring.
 I know my batteries are recharged and I am ready to keep some bees.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Check bees today

Today, Sunday the temperatures are going to be in the 40's. It is a great day to check on the bees. We will be looking at if the bees are alive or dead.
 The bees should be going out on cleansing flights because of the warm temperatures.
 Also, today would be a good time to check on or put on winter patties. A quick look under the inner cover will tell the story of if the bees have eaten winter patties or add some winter patties or granulated sugar. Be ready when you open the inner cover, have the plan in your head, so the quick glance will be brief.
Feeding Sugar look at the second post.
Feeding Winter Patties The posts are a couple years old and the prices are off a bit but the method is still solid.
I hope you find your bees are alive. If you think they are dead, the bees can still be down deep in the hive. Rapping on the side of the hive or looking under the inner cover and listening can give you the real story.
If the bees are dead, it is a good idea to order packages right away before the supplier is sold out.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Honey Liquifier

This time of year most beekeepers are noticing that their honey is in various stages of granulation. Most new beekeepers are caught off guard and aren't really set up to deal with granulated honey.
 I have spent the time after the holidays making a honey liquifier. I have finished it. I used a 31 gallon metal trash can. The can and lid are insulated with Reflectix insulation. The heater is a 100 watt incandescent light bulb. There is a thermostat that controls the internal temperature. The liquifier can liquefy five gallon pails or bottles (glass or plastic) of honey.
 This heater can also safely warm up syrup or frames of honey. It really helps when adding honey to a hive when it is cold out, that the frames are around room temperature. Warm syrup can be taken down easier by the bees. Setting the thermostat at 80 degrees for syrup or frames.
 The liquifier is made out of quality materials and is heavy duty. All you need is a 120 volt outlet. The liquifier is easy to move with the handles on the can. It stores easily and does not take up a lot of room.
 I will be donating this honey liquifier to the MN Hobby Beekeepers Auction that is on Feb 1st. Check it out. If you are attending the auction, bring your checkbook.
This is the frame that elevates the honey above the light bulb. The frame is made out of 1/2" galvanized steel schedule 40 pipe. The frame is anchored down to 3/4" plywood. The frame is heavy duty and can easily support a pail of honey.

This pic shows the metal stand frame at the bottom of the can. The can and lid are insulated with Relectix insulation. The thermostat is hanging on the side. I set the temperature to 110 degrees for pails. This pail was partially granulated. I had it in the heater for about 15 hours. I stirred the pail and took a temperature reading with a thermometer. The honey was 110 degrees. Exactly where the thermostat was set. The pail was all liquid after that time.

Here I have two shelves of bottles. One the bottom shelf are 8 oz glass jars. In various stages of granulation. The top shelf is all plastic bottles. 2 oz bears, 12 oz bears, a 2 lb squeeze and a five pound jug. All rock solid granulated bottles. The thermostat is set at 100 degrees for bottles.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

What's happening in the hive right now


This video was made by Jerry Linser who took all the pictures.

Bees have been in their winter cluster since late November. The bees have started winter in the box below the top box. The bees in most cases have consumed about two to three frames of honey since late November.
 We are coming to the time of the season where bees make the transition into the top box of the hive. The top box should be mostly full of honey. 
 Remember last fall when I talked about having a partially filled frame of honey put into the center of the top box when overwintering a colony? As bees make the transition into the top box right now, having a partially filled frame will make this transition easier. The cluster will slowly start occupying the bottoms of a few frames of frozen honey in the top box. The partially filled frame will aid the bees into moving up a few inches on to the empty cells of the partially filled honey frame. There is no frozen honey on this frame, so it takes little effort to move up. The bees will then be able to warm the adjacent frames of honey for their consumption.
 If all the frames were full of honey, the bees will have a little more effort to move up. Especially if it is very cold out. Don't get me wrong, the bees can still move up, but the partially filled frame makes this transition easier.
 By the end of January most of the bees would have moved into the top box. The exception will be, if the hive was very heavy with honey. The bees may not need to move up yet because of an ample food supply.
 No peeking yet. Your hive may have dead bees in front of the colony. This is normal. If a colony was weakened by mites, it is not uncommon to find the colony full of honey and empty of bees. Over the course of the winter the bees had dwindled down to an unsustainable cluster of bees.
 At the moment there is nothing we can do to help the colony much. As we get into February, there is a few things beekeepers can do to help the bees survive. I will post those soon.
 Right now lets think about a few things coming to a colony near you.
The queen will start laying in about a month. Pollen patties will be going on in about six weeks. Reversals in about two and a half months. Package bees in two and half to three months. It doesn't look like it, but spring is coming, before long the bee suit will be on and the smoker will be lit.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Why did package bees take a jump in price for 2020


There was a price increase in package bees for 2020. This increase has to do with labor law in California. Workers for the bee industry are considered farm workers.
 The law on overtime rules changed for 2020. The law used to state,  that farm workers got time and a half after 60 hours of work. The new law for 2020 now has farm workers in California getting time and a half after 40 hours.
 During the package bee season, package bee producers are working their crews, 10 - 12 hours a day. Usually seven days a week for six to eight weeks.
 So last year, the crews of workers were getting premium time for 10 hours a week in a 70 hour work week.
  Now in 2020 the workers working a 70 hour work week, are getting premium time for 30 hours a week.
 The package bee producers had two choices to make over this change in labor law. Either your crews work normal hours and reduce the amount of package bees you sell or, increase the price of the package bees and sell the same quantity of package bees.
 The labor market for available workers is very tight at the moment. It is hard to get qualified people who want to put on a full pair of coveralls in 90 degree plus weather. Open up boxes of stinging insects, shake them into small boxes and send them to another state. Working all day, 70 hours a week, rain or shine.