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.