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!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Snow Owls In Ohio

I spotted two snow owls on my way back from work on Tuesday. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me. Today, we went looking for them again and we were lucky to spot them less than 3/4 miles from home.

The darker one is a young one or possibly female. The whiter one is an older male.

Once in a lifetime opportunity to observe those beautiful birds!

PS. I am also uploading a video on my YouTube channel.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Perfect Storm

The last several weeks were a perfect storm of illness, including extended hospitalization as well as new "challenges" at work. Needless to say, I am behind on my posts.

Now, that all of that is behind me, I am playing catch up on working on my latest project - How to set up your apiary. I should have my post up in the next couple of days barring anything unexpected.

Stay warm!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

In The News: Neonicotinoid Pesticides Harm Bees’ Food Gathering Ability

Well, time to eat crow :). Research so far was unable to show increased bee and larval mortality due to neonicotinoid exposure at field relevant doses. The latest study, “Field realistic doses of pesticide imidacloprid reduce bumblebee pollen foraging efficiency” published online in the current issue of the journal “Ecotoxicology,” shows that neonocotinoids actually impact pollen foraging.

I assume the impact on honey bees is similar to that on bumblebees. A hive exposed to neonocotinoids would collect less pollen and consequently raise less brood. Any beekeeper can see the effects: smallish clusters that succumb easily to pests and diseases and are not very successful at overwintering. The impact will look very much like a poor queen but it might be poor nutrition. Thoughts?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

In The News: Honey bees – will concern over health sting crop production?

“Ban the neonicotinoids!” has become the rallying cry of many concerned with the decline in bee health. Unfortunately, scientific studies overwhelmingly suggest that the neonicotinoids might be the lesser of the two evils as far as bees are concerned. If you are curious about some of the research, you can check out Randy Oliver’s Scientific Beekeeping blog.

Mechanical solutions to neonicotinoid dust at planting as well as educating the public about common sense usage that protects pollinators such as spraying at dusk or when pollinators are not flying and spraying when all bloom is spent make more sense than banning a whole class of products that drastically reduces aerial spraying of crops. What are your thoughts?

Honey bees – will concern over health sting crop production?

Monday, January 27, 2014

In The News: Australian Honeybees Unable to Make Honey

This year is brutal on honey bees everywhere. The record lows and the "Polar Vortex" here and the heatwave in Australia are testing the hives in both hemispheres. How are your bees faring so far?

Australia's hottest spring on record has spawn droughts and intense heatwaves; it has been disastrous for honeybees as their hives are melting whilst temperatures soar.

Source: The Huffington Post

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Think Spring: Sampling Varroa Mites Using a Powdered Sugar Shake

The varroa mites sampling jar
is your first line of defense against the varroa mites 
Whether you are just starting or you've been keeping bees for a while, you've heard about the varroa destructor. Some of the first questions that get asked when discussing an ailing hive are:

  • When was your last treatment for varroa mites?
  • What was your last varroa mites count?
Varroa mites have dramatically decreased overall hive survival and are responsible either as a direct cause or as a virus vector for the majority of beehive deaths in the last 20 years or so.

At this point a lot of you, my readers, may decide to stop reading, because you are planning on having treatment-free or natural bees. Well, I have been able to to keep bees without using treatments since 2009 and I still think that keeping an eye on your varroa mites levels is very important, especially if you are planning on going treatment free or using an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. I plan on describing how I ended up with treatment-free honey bees in one of my future blog posts, so make sure to subscribe to my posts from the "Follow me by email" link on the left.

Back to my point, sampling varroa mites is an important management tool and the easiest way to accomplish this is to use a powdered sugar shake on a 300 or so honey bee sample. The pros are many:
  • It is simple and straight-forward
  • It does not kill bees. This is extremely important since for the best results, the bees need to be from the brood nest and in this way you can avoid killing the queen by accident.
  • It is quick and most of all, you probably already have all the ingredients for it at home.
First, we need to make the sampling jar. For this you will need:
  • a piece of mosquito screen
  • a small (10 oz or similar) jar
  • a lid that fits the jar
For the sampling jar shown above, I used a small peanut butter jar and a small canning lid. I did not want to use a regular canning jar, since I was afraid of breaking it.
The mosquito screen insert

I used the lid as a template in order to cut the insert and voila! my varroa mites sampling jar was all done!

To facilitate the measuring of the honey bee sample, I also made a mark at the 1/2 cup fill point. In this way, I will be able to tell when I have approximately 300 bees to sample for varroa mites.

For the actual test, you will also need 1 rounded teaspoon (tsp) of powdered sugar for each sample and a (preferably white) container into which to dump the sugar and the mites.

Unfortunately, since we're not going to have a high above 20F for the next 2 weeks and it is still a couple of months before Spring, I won't be able to show you how to use your new varroa mites sampling jar for a while. Meanwhile, you can tell me in the comments what varroa sampling methods you use.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

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

My beekeeping kit does not look anything like
the beekeeping kit I started with

I checked out the bee hive kits and the beekeeping starter kits offered by Betterbee, Brushy Mountain, Dadant, Kelley Bees and MannLake.

I've compiled my findings in an Excel document that you can find here. I did not take the price in consideration as the beekeeping kit prices and associated shipping are constantly changing.

My first observation is that you can save on price and on shipping by selected unassembled and unpainted hive components. Most of the hive components can be assembled with screws or nails and a bit of wood glue.

My second observation is that there is not one single bee hive kit or a beekeeping starter kit that will have everything that you need in your first year. The majority of the kits that I saw are very light on supers (or simply have none included). They do not have any provisions to help you out during the swarm season and most of them include veil and gloves which in my opinion is not adequate for a first time beekeeper.

With the above in mind, I think that the best beekeeping starter kit is Kelley Bees' "Deluxe Beginner Outfit". If I were to get this kit for a friend, I would also throw in the hardware for a single, in case a swarm happens. I would also at least add in a varroa testing kit or make one similar to the jar shown on Randy Oliver's Scientific Beekeeping.

Did you start with a kit or did you assemble your own? What was your experience? Would you recommend a kit to your friends and which one if you do? Drop me a note in the comments, please!

Friday, January 10, 2014

$500K for projects to reduce risks to bees

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded $500,000 in agricultural grants to the Louisiana State University, the University of Vermont and the Pennsylvania State University. From the original article ($500K for projects to reduce risks to bees):

The Louisiana State University project to minimize impacts to bees from insecticides used in mosquito control. Mosquito control is critical for public health; however, insecticides can be hazardous to bees. Bees are essential for crop production and ensuring a healthy food supply. Practices and guidelines resulting from the project will be distributed to mosquito control districts and beekeepers throughout the U.S.
The University of Vermont project to reduce pesticide use and improve pest control while increasing crop yields on 75 acres of hops in the Northeast. The awardees will also develop and distribute outreach materials to help farmers adopt these practices. The project’s goal is to reduce herbicide and fungicide applications by 50 percent while decreasing downy mildew, a plant disease.
The Pennsylvania State University project to protect bees and crops by reducing reliance on neonicotinoid pesticide seed treatments and exploring the benefits of growing crops without them. IPM in no-till grain fields will be used to control slugs and other pests that damage corn and soybeans. Researchers will share their findings with mid-Atlantic growers and agricultural professionals.

I am in corn and soybean country, so the Pennsylvania State University's project is the most interesting, provided the IPM approach is cheaper than the good ole' spay'em and forget'em approach. I do have to say that the farmers that are close to my apiary sites are very mindful of the bees and give me the courtesy call before spraying.

Will any of those projects impact the agriculture around you? Would you like the EPA to fund a different project? Care to share?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Movie Review: More Than Honey

The movie's website is
You can also catch it on Netflix
Whether you are just starting beekeeping or have some years keeping bees, don't miss this movie!

The cinematography is amazing! You will be treated to close ups of:

  • A queen bee emerging
  • Worker bees packing pollen and drying honey
  • A queen bee depositing an egg into a cell
  • Queen marking
  • Grafting
  • Varroa mites on comb and bees
The movie will take you to see beekeeping practices around the world. You will see some of the challenges of commercial beekeeping in California. Those include:
  • Spraying
  • Finding acceptable forage for 18,000
  • Splitting 18,000 hives in time to make a crop. This scene in itself is mind-blowing.
  • Harvesting honey
You can also explore another angle of beekeeping in a remote Alpine valley. Beekeeping there is pretty much done the same way it was done 100 ago. You will see an actual working bee house, a queen mating flight and the amazing scenery surrounding the Alpine apiary.

The documentary then takes you to the US Mexico border where you meet the "africanized" bees and a beekeeper that successfully works with them. Finally, you also get a glimpse of the bees before varroa - the Australian honey bees still are free of this pest and the associated viral load.

If watching on Netflix, don't forget to turn your subtitles on! Enjoy!