Sunday, December 22, 2013

Is your honey crystallized? Here is the crystallized honey fix

Honey crystals. This year's honey crystallized fairly quickly.
Raw, unfiltered honey will often crystallize. Certain honeys such as canola and dandelion will crystallize faster due to their higher glucose content as opposed to acacia, sage, tupelo, and black locust. Honey that is stored in cooler locations will crystallize faster than honey kept at room temperatures. Professor Elton J. Dyce discovered that honey crystallizes the fastest at 55F (12.7C). Unfiltered honey will crystallize faster than filtered honey, because filtration removes the "starter" crystals.

Personally, I prefer not to re-liquefy honey once it is crystallized. Crystallized honey, also known as creamed honey, is not as messy as liquid honey. It does not leave messy drips and trails when you use it in your tea, and it spreads nicely on your biscuits. It also retains all of its original awesome flavor. Do you like your honey crystallized or liquid? Leave me a note in the comments section.

Still, I often get asked how to re-liquefy the honey. Here are the basic steps (for the YouTube video click here):
The crystallized honey fix: place the honey in a pot of warm water

  • Heat a pot of water to 150F (65C). 
  • Remove the pot from the heat in so that you don't accidentally scorch the honey in the process
  • Place the crystallized honey in the pot
It took us almost an hour to re-liquefy our jar of honey.

Finally, we color graded our honey. I want to mention the awesome post called "Honey colours" by Jeanette Jeffrey. In it, she provides a very easy to use grading scale. Here is our honey (Basswood) by the scale.
Looks like our Basswood honey is between Extra White and White
Did you ever try color grading your honey? What were your results? Leave me a note in the comments section.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Winter inspections: Checking on your bees in winter

In a single deep, the winter cluster is right under the cover.
Right now, the temperature here, in NW Ohio, is 16F (-8.8C) and Ohio, much like the rest of the northern USA is encased in snow and ice. Even if I wanted to, today is not a good day to be checking on the bees in winter.

This is our second winter storm for the season. The first one brought us almost 2 weeks of below-freezing temperatures and even some snow flurries. However, right before this second winter storm hit, we had a couple of days where the daytime high was 50F (10C). I took the opportunity to pop open a couple of lids and take a peek at the bees. I wanted to see how the insulation is holding out and whether I had any moisture collecting on the inner lids. Moisture is a big killer of bees in winter.

As expected, when I cracked the lid on one of my hives in 2 deep brood boxes, there was nothing to see. The cluster was still in the lower brood box. All you could see from the top were their honey stores - frame after frame of beautifully capped honey, a perfectly dry inner cover (the insulation on top is working!) and not a bee in sight. Even though the temperature was close to 50F, I know better than to start digging into a honey bee hive in the winter. I closed them up and went to check on the bees in single deep brood boxes.

I am going to take a few minutes and explain how I do inspections of my bees in winter. First, of course is: Always wear protection. You have probably heard that bees don't fly when the temperatures are below 50F (10C). This, of course is true. However, they will fly to protect their hive. A determined guard bee can usually make it from the entrance of the hive to your face and sting you before she succumbs to the cold. It bear repeating: Always wear protection, even if the temperature is 32F (0C). I also learned (through bitter first hand experience) that you should not use smoke when you are inspecting a beehive and the temperature is below 50F (10C). Even a puff of smoke can cause the bees to come pouring out of the hive entrance - quite the opposite to what one is accustomed to when doing inspections in the summer.

Bees in winter. The cluster forms off-center in a single deep box.
Now, let's get back to what I found under the cover of my single deep hive. The interesting thing to note in a single deep (or a nuc for that matter) is that the cluster forms off-center in the brood box. In a double deep, the cluster forms in the center of the bottom brood box and then slowly eats its way to the inner cover all through winter. In the singles and nucs, the cluster formed at the back (accross from the entrance). Through winter, the cluster will be making its way toward the entrance.

Finally, the inner covers on the singles were as dry as the inner covers on the double deep beehives.
A well propolized and most importantly dry inner cover
The insulation between the telescoping cover and the inner cover is doing its job - reducing the temperature differential between the bees warm breath and the wood of the inner cover.

To the left is a picture of the inner cover - well propolized and most importantly - dry! The circular pattern on the cover is from a bucket feeder that I used in the early fall. This inner cover is one of the first covers I made almost 5 years ago and is showing its age.

Have you been tempted to peek into your hives? What did you find? Leave me a note in the comments or drop me an e-mail from the links below this blog post!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Think Spring: Evaluating Bee Hive Kits and the Beekeeping Starter Kit (Part I)

You will find that your beekeeping kit grows with you.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but all the excitement and associated activities really messed up my posting schedule. If you've been waiting for this post – I am sorry for the delay!

Winter is the time when many beginner beekeepers will start attending classes and gathering supplies. Most of the bee suppliers target those beginners with their bee hive kits. You see a beekeeping starter kit on the first few pages of most beekeeping catalogs. So, let’s figure out what a beginner beekeeper needs to get started and then let’s take a peek at those bee hive kits and see if a beekeeping starter kit will work for you.

Beekeeping is very easy to start. You will need:
  • Some basic knowledge in the form of a beekeeping class, a beginner beekeeping book, or reading a lot of blog posts and beekeeping forums. A good beginner beekeeping book is Beekeeping Basics that Penn State uses in its online program. You can find it here (PDF): Starting in early spring, I also plan on publishing a series of blog posts and YouTube videos showing how I manage my nucs and packages into full size, honey producing hives. If you would like to do it along with me, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and YouTube channel from the links on the right.
  • Personal protection equipment. This can be anything ranging from a hat with a hiker’s mosquito net along with a long-sleeved shirt and jeans (this is what I started with) all the way to a vented full body suit (this is what I am currently using). You may see a lot of YouTube videos, where the beekeeper is not wearing any protection. Don’t be tempted by those videos! One of my worst inspections started with a perfectly calm hive on a perfectly nice day. Things got awful in a hurry when a crop duster decided to take a closer look and took a dive right above the open hive. I had to beat a hasty retreat as the whole hive went on alert. Bottom line: always wear protection!
  •  Smoker. This has been the beekeeper’s go-to tool for ages. In the spring, you can get away with using sugar water or similar. In the fall, there is no substitute for the smoker if you want to avoid starting a robbing frenzy or if you want to stop one.
  •  Hive tool. Over the years, I have used a painter’s tool, an extra-long screw driver and an actual hive tool. Anything that will let you pry apart propolized frames works just fine.
  •  Hive(s). You will need a bottom board, brood box (or boxes), honey supers, and a cover. There is a myriad of options out there. You can pick deeps, mediums or shallows in 10 frames, 9 or 8. All of them have their pluses and minuses. The most useful advice for picking the size of your brood boxes is to make sure the brood boxes are the same as your supers. Manipulations are a lot easier and straight-forward when you can exchange a brood frame for a frame from your honey super. 

You can find a lot of posts and articles discussing the benefits and the drawbacks of the different size boxes. In this blog post, I want to focus on the number of boxes you are going to need.  Beekeepers in the south, where the bees can fly through the year use only a single deep for a brood box. Beekeepers in the northern part of the USA traditionally use 2 deeps as brood boxes. The second brood box provides ample amounts of stores that sustain the bees through 5 or more months of non-flying weather. If you are not sure whether to use one or two deep brood boxes, I would suggest erring on the side of caution and going with 2 for the first year. In the spring you can gauge the amount of leftover honey and have a better idea if two boxes will work for your area.

You have probably heard that first year hives do not make honey. Many beginner beekeepers interpret this as “I only need to buy brood boxes for my first year”.  Many experienced beekeepers have found out that placing swarm traps near beginner beekeepers’ apiaries usually results in them catching nice swarms with a marked queen as a bonus.

Bottom line is that first year hives (started by either nucs or packages) managed by beginner beekeepers often swarm. I believe this is due to the timing of the install, the abundant feeding of sugar and the lack of space.

Demand for earlier and earlier packages has pushed package bee suppliers to deliver queens and bees as early as possible. The further north in the USA you are located, the better your chance of getting a package early enough to make the most of your major flow. For example, here in NW Ohio, packages are available early in April (usually the 1st week of April). Our first frost free date is May 1. Dandelion blooms by the end of April. Apple bloom starts soon after, in the beginning of May. Our major flow usually starts by the end of May/early June. As you can see from this timeline, an early package here has a very good chance of making a honey crop.

According to the 2013 USDA honey report (, the average hive production for USA is 59.6 lbs. This is enough honey to fill a deep super or a couple of medium supers or 3 shallow supers. To get an estimate that is more appropriate for your specific location, please consult the USDA source above. After all, all beekeeping is local. As I mentioned in “Think Spring: How many bee hive boxes do I need? Should I get a bee hive kit?” (, I also like to keep an extra box on hand in case I end up with an exceptional flow. All in all, to consider any bee hive kits adequate, I would expect to see some supers included (generally at least 2 deep supers, 3 mediums or 4 shallow).

Finally, I personally believe that each bee hive kit (or even a beekeeping starter kit) should include an extra bottom board, an extra brood box and an extra set of covers. This would allow you some wiggle room in case you package decides to swarm. It might surprise you, but packages, especially those belonging to beginner beekeepers swarm quite frequently, due to the lavish feeding with patties and sugar syrup. Having an extra single hive will allow you to have a safe place for your queen at the first sign of swarming. In this way, you will have extra options in case the virgin fails to mate or you're not happy with the replacement.

This entry is getting fairly long – stay tuned (you can subscribe to the blog from the links on the right side of the page) for the next part where we will see how the bee hive kits match up to the above criteria. Of course, let me know if you think I should add something to the above!