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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Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Nectar Flow - Update

The Nectar flow currently has been underwhelming. There is a nectar flow going, but it is hanging on by life support.
Time to get it going again

Milkweed is just starting to bloom. I have seen Monarch caterpillars on the Milkweed for about a week now.
Basswood trees are getting very close to opening flowers. Basswood usually blooms around the fourth of July. The buds appears to be following that path.

Catalpa trees are in full bloom. While I never see the bees working them, the timing of their flowers usually coincides with the start of the nectar flow.

White Sweet Clover has been missing in action. While Yellow Sweet Clover has been blooming for about two weeks now. White Sweet Clover is not to be found anywhere around my locale. This single plant of White Sweet Clover is on a walking path down by the St Croix River.

Red Clover is blooming. 

Staghorn Sumac is blooming. The bees do work it.

Birds Foot Trefoil is probably the main nectar plant at the moment,
The recent heat has made many plants turn the corner of flowering or will bring them to the brink very soon. There has now been ample moisture. We just need the flowers to pop. I think later this week we should see some good nectar coming in. Check your supers before you leave the hives for the long weekend. If the nectar flow is heavy, the bees can draw out, fill and cap a super of honey in a week. Give them enough room to cover their action and have a great 4th.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Solar Update - Shading

I have been asked quite a few times how our solar system is working out. I was planning on doing a video of the solar system after one year of use. That would be around mid October when it was turned on.
 For a refresher, our solar system is 16.5 kw. There are 50 - 330 watt panels.
 18 panels on the garage and 32 panels on the pole barn.
As of today, our system has cranked out approximately 10 megawatts of electricity so far. That is 10,000 kilowatts since October. A typical house in America uses about 7,500 kilowatts per year. We use more power than the average home because of our beekeeping business.
 So we still have another 3 -1/2 months left before a year is up. We should probably add another 5-6 mega watts in the next 3-1/2 months. So I would have to say, so far, the solar system has been a big success. The last three electric bills were March, we owed $27.00 for gas and electric, April, we had a $137.00 credit, May we had a $87.00 credit. Xcel writes us a check right away for any credit.
 But what I wanted to comment on today was shading of solar panels. If you are considering solar, shading should be a consideration before making a move.
 The panels on our pole barn see full sun most of the day. The panels on the garage get shaded later in the afternoon from a big Ash tree. My wife and I value the shade tree and are not going to remove it. But, shading on solar panels can be an issue. Even small shading has an effect. Here are some pics on the shading and what it did to the solar panels. Now don't get me wrong, the panels do put out very well when the sun is on them, but the panels get shaded at about 4:30 every day and there are much lower solar gain because of it.
Right now the shade is creeping on to the roof. The roof solar system is putting out about 4000 watts of power

Now about twenty minutes later there is some shade on a few panels. The power output now is about 1600 watts.

Now the solar panels are basically fully shaded. They are putting out about 300 watts.
 I went back and looked at my solar panels on the roof of my pole barn, still in full sun, they were putting out about 4500 watts at this same time as the shaded panels were putting out 300 watts.
 Shading of panels can have a negative outcome on solar panels. Shading can come from anything, a power pole, roof vent, flag pole etc. While some times slight shading doesn't affect the panels much, it is best to avoid it if possible.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Bee Strategy - How to add supers

When adding supers a beekeepers could just add them to the top of the hive. But, there are some moves that a beekeeper may do to increase the honey crop yield.
  1. Adding supers with 10 new frames. This scenario is to put the supers on without a queen excluder. Inspect the supers about every four days. When a couple super frames have some comb and nectar being present, then slide the queen excluder in between the top brood box. It is unlikely that the queen would move up that quickly to start laying eggs. Letting the bees to put up more comb on more frames, is an invite to the queen to possibly move up and start laying eggs in the super. Boxes with new frames should be put on the hive two supers at a time. A super with new frames should always be put on, directly above the brood box. When the bees have finished filling about 2/3rds of the frames in the first box. The boxes could be reversed. A frame of drawn comb should be put into the bottom super from the top super. The bees tend to fill super frames from the center of the box  and move out from there. During weekly inspections, capped frames of honey that are in the center of the super, can be moved to the position of the outside frames and the new outside frames are then placed into the center of the super. This will aid in filling the supers completely.
  2. Supers with drawn comb can be just stacked one on top of each other. They should always be added in pairs. The supers with drawn comb should have 9 frames in each box. By using 9 frames, the capped honey will be fatter on the frames making the honey frames easier to uncap.and extract If the frames are still wet and sticky with honey from last year's extraction party, they are very attractive to the bees, compared to drawn comb that was let to be robbed dry last fall.   
  3. If there is a huge nectar flow in your area and the hives are turning into a unworkable tower and soaring to the sky. Filled supers can be removed and put on top of low producing hives. Move the supers, bees and all. The weaker hive will then get a little bump of bees. The weaker colony will be able to take care of the honey, hopefully keeping the moisture content low in the honey. The weaker colony should have at least 8 full frames of bees in the hive to have sufficient numbers of bees to mind the supers. Do not remove honey from the hive and put it in the garage or basement. Honey in frames just sitting around without bees taking care of them, will more than likely pick up moisture from the humidity in the air. When these frames are extracted, the honey may have a high moisture content. Honey with a water content of over 18.6% will ferment with time. So always manage the supers of honey properly.
If the bees are not putting honey up in the supers, there can be for several reasons.
 Bees will fill the top brood box with honey first.
 The hive has swarmed, now there are not enough field bees to forage in large numbers.
 The hive is weak and does not have a large enough population in general.
 Where the hive is located, the available nectar is not there. You can have the best colony in town, but if there is not good forage near the hive, there will be a poor showing in the supers.
 The hive is queenless, the bees will fill the brood nest with honey first.
Check the hive weekly, stay ahead of the bees by adding supers a little sooner than later. As the nectar flow slows in late July, supers are added as needed.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Many of us that started with new colonies are about to put our supers on. We are supposed to do a reversal right then, right.


 If the top box is heavy with honey, it is too late to do a reversal. The heavy box of honey will be the bees winter honey stores. If you put that heavy box on the bottom, the bees will tend to keep more brood in the upper boxes. Then as winter comes on and the bees need more food, their main food stores are in the bottom of the hive. The bees will not move down to get the honey in the winter and they will starve.
 One thing that could be done, is to go into the lower box and look for a frame of pollen. Take that frame of pollen, even if there is brood on the frame and put it in the center of the top box.
 Then in February, when the queen is ready to start laying, the bees can uncap the honey covering the pollen and they will have pollen for early spring, before pollen patties are on the hive.

Do I need a queen?

This is the time of year when a beekeeper discovers a hive with no eggs and the brood is only found in advanced stage (capped brood).  No eggs or young larvae.
 The hive is queenless, right?
 Many times this is not the case. What usually happens, the hive has swarmed and a new queen may be in the hopper but not laying yet.
 So here is the rub, if you just run out and purchase a queen and there is a virgin queen in the hive. The virgin queen will kill that queen you just plopped down some serious money on. Don't buy a queen and let them "fight it out", this does not work. In the mean time the nectar flow is on and the bees are filling the brood nest with nectar.
 Most newer beekeepers are in denial that their bees swarmed. One look at the door of the hive can tell you that the activity at the front door of the hive has diminished.
 So, how do you know what to do?
 This is where having at least two hives can give you a plan B. Take a frame of eggs from the queenrite colony. Place that frame in the top of the top brood box of the possible queenless hive, so it is easy to look at. This frame will do two things.
1. The presence of brood in the colony can prevent the colony from turning into laying workers if it truly is queenless.
2. Check this frame after about five days. If the bees are building queen cells, one can surmise the hive needs a queen. If the hive does not try to make queen cells, one would surmise that there is a queen in the hive and she should start laying in a couple of weeks.
 This time of year don't jump the gun on queen replacement. Patience wins the day.

Nectar flow looks like the real deal

Driving along Hwy 36 I can see yellow sweet clover blooming in large numbers. I also see the white sweet clover getting tall. The white sweet clover is not blooming yet, but should be blooming soon. White Sweet clover and Basswoods are usually the biggest producers of honey in our area.
 Some beekeepers on overwintered colonies already have two to three supers full of nectar on their hives.
 What do you do if you run out of supers? The options are, to purchase more supers or extract the honey once the bees cap it then put the supers back on the hive.
 If a colony is getting too tall with supers, you can take any full supers off and put the supers on a hive that is not producing much at the moment. The weaker hive will take care of the honey.
 How to put honey supers on: If all you have is new supers with no drawn comb, this strategy can work. I usually put the two supers on without a queen excluder. I check the progress in the supers about every four days. When I see the bees have made some comb and some nectar in the comb, I then put a queen excluder in.
 I put on supers on all my hives yesterday. I had about twelve new supers with frames and foundation. I took some older super frames that were drawn out already and put four of the drawn frames in each new box and put on queen excluders. The bees will easily move up as the nectar comes in.
 Honey supers should be put on the hives in pairs, two supers at a time. Supers with new foundation should always be put directly on top of the queen excluder, right above the top brood box. Supers with drawn comb can be simply be stacked on top of one another. Don't pull supers and leave them off the hive. The honey supers not being tended by bees will absorb moisture from the humidity in the air. The honey in unattended super boxes will have high moisture issues and may not be Grade A honey by the time you extract it.
 Get your supers on now. I did notice a big difference in my package bee population over the last week. They went from don't need supers, to get your supers on now, over the course of a week.
 Stay ahead of the bees, when the first super is full of nectar and the bees are working in the second super putting in nectar, that is the time to add two more supers. If the supers are new, put them under these two supers that are filling up. Another option would be putting one new super under the supers with nectar in them. Add a new super to the top of the stack. Once the bees are drawing out the bottom super and adding nectar, slip the top new super underneath the stack of supers, right above the top brood box.
 The honey is coming in now, get your supers on now, they payoff of all of our spring management of our colonies is now, put a smile on your face and pat yourself on the back for getting the bees to now.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Nectar Flow - Coming To A Hive Near You

Clover blooming in some lawns in downtown Stillwater this morning

My Basswood seed pods have opened and have exposed their unopened flower heads
There are more and more signs that the main nectar flow is on the horizon. In the southern midwest area's it could already be going. Around Stillwater there are many signs to show the flow is imminent.
 I was out walking this morning down by the river. I saw clover blooming on the lawns of some condo's in downtown Stillwater. More yellow sweet clover is blooming along Hwy 36. Large clusters of Birds Foot Trefoil are blooming also.
 My Basswood trees have opened their seed pods and the flower heads have dropped. The flowers have not opened yet. Maybe in 10 days to two weeks to open.
 Now is the time to get your supers on, if your hives are ready. You never know how intense the nectar flow will be. It may come on very strong and end quickly. It may start out slow that crank up to a higher level. It may start and last for several weeks.
 Supers go on two at a time. Check the hives once a week. A strong hive in a good nectar flow can take a new super with foundation, draw out the comb, fill the super with honey and cap the honey, all in one week. So stay ahead of the bees and you will be able to collect all the honey that the bees can give.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What's Blooming Today

I was on my morning walk and saw the Black Locust trees in full bloom.
Black Locust trees are a little late this year. Normally the bloom around late May

I saw Yellow Sweet Clover Blooming on Hwy 36 in Stillwater
Also, I have some Birds Foot Trefoil bloomimg in my beeyard. I helped a neighbor look at his bees yesterday and he had a couple of Red Clover heads blooming. The nectar flow will be coming soon. Supers should be on strong colonies now.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Bee Strategy: Swarm Control And Putting Swarm Back In The Hive It Came From

This video is from the same time as catching a swarm video.
  Moving hives for swarm control. Strong colonies are switched with weaker colonies to help eliminate swarming. Also, the swarm is reinstalled to the colony it came from.

Catching a swarm

I got a call for assistance in catching a swarm. The swarm was in a Honeysuckle bush. Julie, the beekeeper was in her beeyard when it took off. The swarm was on the interior part of the Honeysuckle bush. The swarm was only three feet of the ground. Easy to get at, but not that easy to get to.
 The tarp or a sheet under the nuc box, makes it easier for the bees to crawl to into the nuc box after I shook them down off the branches and on to the ground. The tarp makes an easy trek for the bees instead of having to walk through a forest of grass and other plants.
 Julie asked me in the video if we should cut the branch off. My comment was no. The reason is, that for some reason the bees liked that branch. There may be future swarms that like that branch, low to the ground , easy to get to. If we cut off the branch the bees may not like what is left there and may decide that thirty feet up in a tree is better place to land from now on. So resist cutting off a branch on those low easy to get swarms.
 I do have a follow up video coming soon about how we put this swarm back in the hive it came from.

Two Queens in a hive

A beekeeper was doing a hive inspection on a split they had made. They had introduced a new marked queen into the split. The parent hive was queenrite. Some how another queen was in the same hive now. The abdomen on both queens was large, like they are both laying. This does happen occasionally, but usually the two queens are mother/daughter. The beekeeper just left it this way to see what would happen. Photo by K. Martins

Saturday, June 8, 2019

American Foulbrood On A Frame

This pic shows AFB scale in the cells of a brood frame
A beekeeper couple stopped by Nature's Nectar LLC on Friday. I have been helping out there this week. They said their hive has been performing badly for the last three years. So, they brought some brood frames in to look at. They purchased their equipment used. The ways to get American foulbrood is used equipment, robbing out a diseased colony or from feeding store bought honey.
 At a quick glance, I could see that their frames were loaded with American Foulbrood scale. The way to look for scale, is to hold the frame by the ears of the top bar. Tilt the bottom of the frame slightly away from you. Look at the bottom of the cells. The scale is always located on the bottom of the cell. If you looked straight into the cells you would not see the scale.
  In this picture above, the arrows are pointing at some cells that have scale in them. But, you can see many other cells that have scale in them. This scale is highly infectious, it does not go away and the bees cannot remove it. The only reliable method of treatment is high temperature therapy. A bonfire.
 After discussing options with the beekeepers and remedy their situation. The remedy is, to take their boxes that they are using and blacken the inside of the box with a torch. Direct contact with an open flame will kill AFB spores on contact. Then new frames and foundation are placed into the boxes. The bees are then shaken on to the new frames and foundation. A feeder pail is then placed on top of the colony. There is now a brood break to break the cycle of infection. The consumption of syrup will flush any remaining spores from the bees bodies. It would be nice to give this hive a couple treatments of Terramyacin. You need a prescription from a Veterinarian to get Terramyacin. By the time there is brood in the hive, the AFB spores should be gone.

Friday, June 7, 2019

AFB near Eau Claire, Wisconsin

AFB Rope Test - note the color, when the diseased larvae is a milk chocolate color is the best time to do the rope test. AFB will rope an inch of more.
A beekeeper who has 3 bee yards around the Eau Claire area, 1 near Eleva, and 1 near Foster - all in Wisconsin has confirmed cases of AFB in all 5 yards.  These areas are all about 60 miles east of Hudson, but people move bees around and it is good to know about. The beekeeper does not know where this came from. He is working on the problem and has been very honest of sharing his dilemma so other beekeepers in the area can be aware that this is happening.
 American Foulbrood is something that can sneak up on a beekeeper. Most beekeepers have never had AFB before and do not know what it looks like. The times that I have seen AFB is usually when a beekeeper calls me and tells me their hives keep dying by early fall. I have them bring me one of their brood boxes of a hive that died. A quick inspection by and experienced beekeeper can see the AFB scale in the cells on the frames.
 When I say experienced beekeeper, it is a beekeeper who has had AFB before and has fixed their hives. There are many long time beekeepers who have never had or experienced AFB. So, without getting burned by this disease, many beekeepers don't know what it looks like.
 Personally when I was a young beekeeper, I purchased some used equipment. Unbeknownst to me, The used equipment was full of American Foulbrood scale in the frames. After getting AFB in many of my hives and then fixing the aftermath of the disease, the life of hard knocks gave me the experience to identify the disease.
 Beekeepers tend to focus on an odor to troubleshoot for AFB. By the time and odor becomes an issue in the AFB hive, the AFB can become widespread in the hive and possibly have been spread to other hives. This is not an effective way to find AFB. AFB is a brood disease affecting older larvae. Young larvae will look fine. Older larvae will start to turn yellow. The larvae will start to darken to a milk chocolate color and turn to a gelatinous mass, that will flatten out into the bottom of the cell. The tongues of the diseased larvae usually sticks up in the cell off the bottom of the cell. This gelatinous mass will dry out and form a hard scale on the bottom of the cell. The scale is highly infectious. Bees do not have the ability to remove the scale. One frame of AFB scale has enough spores to infect every colony in North America. Millions of AFB spores could be in the scale on one frame. While this would never happen, I just wanted to mention the scope of possible infection. AFB scale is still infectious even after over one hundred years.
 When the larvae is in the chocolate color stage, that is the time when the rope test should be administered. Poking the larvae with a small twig and slowly pull it away from the larvae. If the goo pulls out in a rope that is over an inch long that is probably AFB. If it does not rope an inch or more, it would not be AFB.
 Normally American Foulbrood is not widespread. AFB usually gets spread from used equipment, bees robbing out a dying AFB colony, or from feeding store bought honey to your bees. There is a possibility that AFB spores could get into extracted honey. While this has no effects on humans, bees can come possibly down with the disease from store bought honey.
If your colony has larvae that is nice and pearly glistening white then your bees are fine. Whenever the larvae is discolored then there is a brood disease. The common brood diseases we see are chalkbrood (no treatment available), European Foulbrood Brood (Terramyacin treatment), The Crud (Terramycin treatment), American Foulbrood (remove diseased comb and burn frames, shake bees onto new equipment, treat with Terramyacin). If diseased AFB frames are not removed from the hive, the disease will start up again.
  Learning to spot a disease is part of being a good beekeeper. Sometimes you may need help identifying a disease and there are beekeepers out there willing to look at your frames. You need to go through a veternarian to get a prescription for Terramyacin.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Overwintered Hives Are Big Swarmers

While it is great to get honey off an overwintered hive in May, the downside come in June when swarming starts in earnest.
 The recent warm weather and more crowded conditions lay the ground work for swarming.
 The nectar flow from the dandelion and fruit bloom is waning with no other nectar flows imminent other than Black Locust trees. Black Locust trees should be blooming now in the south metro, coming soon to the whole lower part of MN and WI. But, I digress.
 Swarm management needs to be followed now, in all strong colonies. Checking for swarm cells every seven days. If you miss a swarm cell, the bees are gone.
 This hive swarmed today.
Bees can be sneaky during swarming time. This swarm cell is on the top bar of a hive I checked today.

Oh Oh, capped swarm cell. The odds are very high if you see capped swarm cells the bees have already boogied. You don't necessarily want to kill capped swarm cells. You may need them to make a queen. You can take a frame with a swarm cell and the adhering bees and move it into a nuc box for an extra queen.

I helped a beekeeper today with her swarm. She saw the bees swarm and land inside a honeysuckle bush. The bees were about three feet off the ground. Easy to get to. We caught the swarm and we put it back into the hive they came from. There were some steps we had to go through. The beekeeper and I made a video. I will try to get it out soon.

Overwintered hives are big honey makers

Dan from the Northwest metro has a strong overwintered colony. He has been stacking supers on the hive as they fill up. He claims that the dandelions around his hives seem especially heavy this year. The honey is from dandelions and the fruit bloom.
Wow, four supers full already. That is a great nectar flow. If your supers are still in the garage, look what you are missing. Dan runs medium supers for brood boxes. You can see the queen excluder on top of the third super. Photo by Dan.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Crisis Averted

I went out to my single hives to look for swarm cells. add a second box and increase the size of the entrance reducer.
 It was 87 degrees on Saturday so any strong hive was more than likely hanging out on the front porch.
 It was cooler on Sunday morning when I went to address my hot hives, all of the bees had moved back into the single deeps. There were no bees outside other than the foragers coming and going at the entrance.
 When I went through the colonies there were many queen cups and one or two full blown uncapped swarm cells. I removed all the drone brood on the bottom of the frames. Then I checked to make sure that any queen cup or swarm cell was squashed. A second deep was added and the frame feeder was filled up with ProSweet. The new deep was 10 frames of Max Draw foundation. I moved my frame feeder to the top box for easier filling and a new half a pollen patty was given to each colony. Even my three overwintered colony got a half a pollen patty.

What a difference a day makes. The day before it was 87 degrees and the bees were clustered outside the hive. The crowded conditions made them move outside. The next morning it is cool and all the bees had moved back inside.

I checked the hive for swarm cells. There was one active swarm cell with egg and royal jelly. I removed all of this drone comb and the queen cups.

I added a second box. I am using a cap and ladder feeder and my syrup of choice is ProSweet syrup. The entrance reducer was increased to the large opening and a frame that was being worked on was taken from the lower box and put into the second box. I have some splits to do later in the week. I will be taking frames of brood and adding it to all of these four colonies. This will bolster their numbers and get the hives ready for the nectar flow later in June.

Saturday, June 1, 2019