Friday, April 3, 2015

Spring cleanup in the apiary

On Wednesday, April 1, I was finally able to peek under the covers. The temperature was balmy 69F, it was sunny and really pleasant. I took the opportunity to do my spring cleanup:

  • Assess cluster size and food reserves
  • Check the brood nest
  • Clean out the bottom boards

  • I was pleasantly surprised with the size of the clusters. The queen had just started laying. If I needed to treat for mites, it would have been a great opportunity since I found only eggs. At this point in time even a sugar shake combined with cleaning out the bottom board in about 15 minutes or a sticky board would have had a major impact. I did not have to do anything since the mite numbers were very low.

    The bees were making headway on the patties I provided on the weekend. They were heavily working the maple trees. They had multiple pollen frames, a couple of frames of nectar and almost no capped honey. I added a couple of capped honey frames that I held back in the fall.

    I reversed the hive bodies and cleaned out the bottom boards. The hives are all spruced up and ready to go.

    Wednesday, April 1, 2015

    Spring is almost here! in Maria's apiary

    Winter finally let go on Saturday, March 28 and I was able to slip new protein patties into the hives.

    This year, the patties are softer since they were drying out too quickly last year. I’ve also added a few drops of lemongrass oil and spearmint oil to make them more palatable. Each hive got one of the old batch and one of the new batch, so we shall see how that turns out.

    I did not get much of a peek inside since it was in the 40s. However, the maples are blooming and as usual, the temps are taking us for a wild ride. Tomorrow, the weatherman is promising us almost 70F. Hopefully, I will be able to take a quick peek in and assess the situation.

    How are your bees doing?

    Thursday, October 23, 2014

    Hindsight is 20/20: My beekeeping Summer

    Man plans and God laughs

    My summer was pretty much a blur. I managed to mostly follow the plan that I outlined in How to maximize your honey production while minimizing swarming (Part II). I am very grateful that I had this plan, because in the swirl of my day-to-day responsibilities, I did not have much time to putter in the hives and try out new things. I had a target date, manipulations that needed done and that was that.

    I am happy to report that I ended up with 10 5 gallon extracted honey buckets from my 5 hives that survived the polar vortex. I ended up leaving 2 full deep supers on 2 of those hives since couple of the middle frames had some unhatched drone brood and I did not have the time to try to move those further down. I also distributed a full supper among my new spring packages to make sure they have adequate supplies for winter.

    Overall, I am happy with the results even though I did not have the time to grow my apiary the way I planned to. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting some more details and pictures! from my beekeeping summer.

    Now, the only thing left to do is to make sure they are protected for the winter.

    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    What Is Going On In Maria's Apiary: I am finally able to peek under the covers!

    An overwintered double deep hive
    We had some gorgeous weather in the past week and I was able to take some pictures of the clusters.

    They are looking great considering the winter that we had and the fact that when I took those pictures, the maples hadn't started blooming yet.

    A hive that overwintered in a single deep
    As I mentioned in my previous post, I added patties since I did not think the bees will be able to benefit much from the maples. Turns out I had it right - the maples bloomed over the weekend and the cold weather promptly set in. Yesterday's high was below freezing and today's high is only 43F (6C).

    Fortunately, I was able to add some frames of honey to the lighter ones.

    Looks like Thursday and Friday next week will be perfect to take a peek at the brood and equalize it. The timing is perfect according to my calendar - just about right for the apple bloom (

    I am hoping the weather forecast stays the same. How is your Spring prep going? Drop me a note in the comments.

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

    Beekeeping With Kids

    My helper and me. We are getting ready
    to check on our queen cells.
    Sooner or later, your friends and family will become curious and will want to visit your apiary. I've shown (and shown off) my honey bees to a lot of people. Below are some of my experiences.

    I'll start with the obvious :D. It is a lot easier to show off hives in Spring and early Summer while the bees are on a flow and mostly ignore intrusions.

    I usually show beginner beekeepers my nucs. In this way I can show them a nice selection of frames (honey, brood and pollen) without a lot of lifting and digging through multiple boxes. I can also find the queen fairly quickly. In addition, the nucs are not as defensive as the fully-grown production hives. Another positive is that beginner beekeepers are not going to be overwhelmed with the sheer number of bees in a production hive.

    Before we even get close, I make sure that everybody's bee suit is bee tight and then I go over the basic rules. The rules may be obvious for us beekeepers, but beginners probably never even thought about them.

    First, of course, I point out the safety zone. This is the place where my assistants can go and take off their bee suits if they get overwhelmed, scared, stung, hot or simply bored. I also make sure that everybody understands that they cannot come back towards the hives unless their bee suit is back on and zipped up.

    Then, I cover the basics of dealing with a bee sting - you scrape the stinger off and puff a few puffs of smoke on the site to cover the pheromone. Then, you can either head to the safety zone or stay and help me finish up.

    After that it is time to head to the hives. I don't plan to do any special manipulations if I can help it. The main goal of the visit is to show my friends the hive and how to complete a basic inspection. I have found that it helps to "narrate" as you go (make sure you name and point out all the parts):

    • "You puff a little bit of smoke at the entrance to let the honey bees know that we're going to be visiting them. Wait for a bit, so that they can calm down"
    • "Now, we can open the telescoping cover. A puff of smoke will keep them out of our way".
    • And so on
    Be prepared to give up your hive tool and smoker. I ended up having to get spares in order to be able to assist the newly minted beekeepers. 

    Finally, don't forget to have fun!

    Have you shown off your hives to your friends and family? Do you have helpers? Drop me a line in the comments!

    Wednesday, March 19, 2014

    What Is Going On In Maria's Apiary: Adding Pollen Patties

    My apiary is covered with snow
    Spring is almost here. It may not look like it, but underneath the covers, the bees are getting ready for Spring buildup. The ice is gone from the Maumee river and the maples are budded up.

    I am looking at our long range weather forecast. The highs for the next couple of weeks are hovering in the mid 40s, well below the average temperatures for this time of year. The forecasts also calls for long stretches of snow or rain showers - a spell of cold and wet weather that can prevent my bees from building up on the maple pollen. You can find my bloom dates here:
    The ice is moving on the Maumee river
    As you can see from the above, the maple buildup is approximately 42 to 49 days before the dandelion and the fruit tree blooms. Optimizing the bee populations for those blooms will allow me to make my increase and to secure a decent crop later in the summer on the basswood flow. 

    At least that is the theory - I will keep you informed on how that pans out in reality as the season develops :D.

    Since it does not look like the bees will have good flight weather for the maple bloom, I've decided to supplement with a pollen patty.

    The maple tree is ready to bloom
    For the past 3 months, I've been waiting for Randy Oliver to publish his latest research on pollen supplements. Unfortunately, he seems to have run into some snags and the research has not been published as of this writing. So, I decided to go with Bee-Pro from MannLake. To mix it, I used Michael Palmer's pollen patty recipe of 25 lbs 2:1 sugar syrup and 10 lbs Bee-Pro.

    Today I put those on my hives. It is still just under 50F and quite windy - I did not take the time to take pictures. The survivors are looking pretty good. I will share some pictures once our weather settles down a bit.

    Meanwhile, drop me a note on your thoughts on patties! Do you use them and when? What brands do you prefer?

    PS. Diana W., I got your message, but unfortunately there is a typo in your email address. I am using a queen rearing calendar to get the timing right. I will share it here on the blog when it is time to rear some good queens. I usually start my Fall queens on the 4th of July.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2014

    Beginning Beekeeping: How To Set Up Your Apiary

    My backyard apiary is covered in snow.
    It may not look like it right now, but Spring is almost here. If you are expecting your first package or nuc this Spring, you probably already researched what is best for the bees:

    • Southern or South-Eastern exposure to encourage earlier and later flight
    • Full sun, so that the bees have the upper hand against SHB
    • Easy access for the beekeeper
    • Access to water and decent forage
    For a lot of beekeepers the above usually translates into a backyard apiary. A cursory Google image search for backyard apiaries will reveal many bucolic pictures with beehives close to a back door or on a patio. I have to admit that even today those idealized images showing the Bee Whisperer's backyard have a certain draw. However, now I know better. My backyard apiary is far-away from the high-traffic spaces of our yard, behind a barn.

    If you are planning on keeping bees in close proximity to other people and pets, your first and foremost goal should be to limit their interaction as much as possible and to make sure any close contact does not result in an injury.

     Bees in urban areas can become a nuisance in a hurry. They are naturally attracted to swimming pools. A strong hive hauling water in hot weather can prevent you or your neighbors from enjoying the backyard pool. In order to prevent this, you need to establish an alternative water source early in the season. For that you can use any water container such as a bird bath, an animal water through and add pebbles or float some straw or bark in order to make it safer for the bees.

    Once your bees find a reliable water source, they will keep visiting it. This will work in your favor as long as you establish your water source before pool season starts and never, ever let it go dry.

    In order to minimize stings, pay special attention to the traffic pattern from and to your hive. Foraging honey bees will fly in a straight line to their nectar source ("beeline"). If their traffic crosses a path, the inevitable collisions will result in stings when the foragers get tangled in clothing and hair. In order to minimize this, point the hive entrance to a blind wall or erect a small privacy fence.

    All this precautions can seem silly or even an overkill in the Spring. After all, we have all seen all those videos of people installing packages with absolutely no protection and completing the follow-up inspection with nary a puff of smoke in sight. Some of us have even tried it - I know I did (and I won't be repeating it). And yes, it can be done on a beautiful day without a sting. However, there is a big difference between inspecting a newly installed package and an overwintered colony.

    A package has no resources and is scrambling to get their brood nest established, build the necessary comb and collect pollen and honey in order to be able to survive. Protection is not among the most pressing issues facing a newly installed package. An established colony, on the other hand, will protect the area in front of its entrance. The stronger the colony is, the more resources it can spare for protection. The same package that let people and pets play right in front of the entrance in the Spring, will send out guards to investigate and head-butt observers in the Fall.

    However, if you took the precautions in the Spring to minimize bee and human interactions in the Spring, you should have no issues in the Fall. Enjoy your hives and happy beekeeping!