Archive for the ‘Honey Bees’ category

Beginner to Beginner Queen Rearing

November 7th, 2011
A queen bee.

You can learn to produce your own queens using this small, but scalable system.

I originally wrote this article in 2011, since then I have continued to keep bees and rear some queens every year.  I have tried most of the other popular methods, but this one is still my favorite for the size of my apiary and my needs.   As I have learned new things I have incorporated those into this article.  So, on with it…

I’m a beginner.  This has been my second year raising queens – my third year keeping honey bees.  So  I am in no way pretending to be any kind of an expert – not only have I made many mistakes, but I expect to make many more next year.   As one beginner to another – I think I might have  some useful insights into getting started in queen rearing.

I’m going to give several  beginner-to-beginner tips in this article.  Things that might not be all that helpful to old hands but have really helped me.  Here’s the first – and I think, best:

Plan to practice  rearing queens when it’s easiest – during the main flow/swarm season, that is – late April/Early June in Mid TN – when the bees want to reproduce.  It can be done earlier and later, but it’s a lot more difficult.

The Basic Principle of Honey Bee Queen Rearing

Any queenless hive of honey bees will try to make a new queen if it has the resources to do so.  The required resources being » Read more: Beginner to Beginner Queen Rearing

How to build strong bee hives for honey production – Ed Holcombe

July 14th, 2010

How to build strong bee hives for honey production – Ed Holcombe

 

This is from the notes I took at an excellent session at the Heartland Apiary Society gathering in Cookeville, TN July 8-10, 2010.  I’ve tried to accurately record the instructions that were given, but it is quite possible that I’ve gotten something wrong.  Caveat Emptor and all that.

Everyone won’t agree with all of this – that is a given among bee keepers – but I’ve tried not to interject my opinion at all.

 

To make a good honey crop requires:

1) A large population of foraging bees » Read more: How to build strong bee hives for honey production – Ed Holcombe

Honey Bee Queen Rearing

February 4th, 2010

This post is probably not going to be very interesting unless you keep honey bees – Or want to become a bee keeper.  Sorry about that, but there will be more gardening content coming soon.

Queen Bees – The heart and soul of a honey bee colony is the Queen.  Every hive has just one (with few exceptions) and if she is healthy, good natured, and productive she will pass those traits on to all of her daughters – the worker bees – and all will be good.

A bee keeper needs new queens to replace failing older queens, and to establish new hives and grow their operations.  If a hive becomes queenless for very long it’s production and health will suffer, and eventually the colony will die.  Hives with old queens are more likely to “swarm” – an event where the hive splits itself and half of the bees flying off to make honey for their selves instead of for the bee keeper. So replacing old queens with new ones every year is also a way of preventing swarms.

Queen Rearing – Most bee keepers order new queens by mail (when they are available) for about $20 each plus shipping.  Others raise (or allow the bees to raise) their own queens one at a time like nature does.  These videos are of what is called queen “rearing” – producing viable queens in batches.

At a value of $20.00 each the ability to rear even small batches of queens could make a big difference in the economics of a small apiary. Being able to have queens when you need them instead of having to wait for one to come through the mail, and having some control over genetics are also factors in favor of learning this craft.

Wax cell cups for raising queens

In the first video very young (probably one day old or less) worker larva are being removed from a frame of brood comb and placed into wax cups using a wire grafting tool.  BTW, all workers are female.  The larva are very small – about the size of a comma.  Wax cups roughly the size of a small thimble  are either manufactured or are home made by dipping a wet wooden peg into liquid wax.

1) Grafting larva into cups

In the next video, the grafted queen cups which have been mounted with hot wax onto cork shaped pegs that fit into a special frame are being placed into a “cell starter” hive.  A cell starter is a regular hive with the queen removed that has a very high population density of bees – especially young “nurse” bees – and plenty of food stores – honey, and pollen.  » Read more: Honey Bee Queen Rearing

My first Year Keeping Bees

December 16th, 2009

Traditional clay covered straw skep hives in the Basque region

Those cone shaped bee hives are called skeps, and I’m pretty sure that the two simple wooden boxes are bee hives too. In most (if not all) of the United States the law requires that bees be kept in “modern” hives which can be opened and inspected. This marvelous picture is one of many extraordinary images that you can see at The Bee Photographer – www.thehoneygatherers.com.  BTW – that is not me in the picture.

I’ve really enjoyed my first summer keeping bees – Working with, observing, and learning about the bees has been very interesting and enjoyable.  Before I started I read a lot about the subject, but inevitably experience teaches things that I didn’t pick up on during months of study.

You have to feed bees –  And it is more expensive than you would think – ideally bees feed their selves, but if you are trying to increase the population of your apiary you will probably have to feed sometimes – BTW most hobby bee keepers feed their bees syrup made out of plain old granulated sugar.  I haven’t kept up with it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve bought $50 (or more) worth of sugar to feed my 1 1/2 hives of bees this year.

When I feed my bees syrup I use a quart jar with a few small holes in the lid.

When I feed my bees syrup I use a quart jar with a few small holes in the lid.

Bees make honey of course, but they also eat honey. So if you harvest too much, or if it just isn’t a good year for honey production you might have to feed your bees – even after they are well established.  But when you are first starting out and concentrating on growing more bees rather than producing honey it’s almost a sure thing that you will have to feed.  Bee keepers have a saying – You can grow bees or you can grow honey, but not both.  Don’t plan on producing a lot of honey for a year or two. » Read more: My first Year Keeping Bees

Brood

June 18th, 2009
This is a frame of honey be brood

This is a brand new (and nearly perfect) frame of honey bee brood. Click on the picture for a closer look.

Not brood as in introspective and depressed – brood is the term for pre-adult honey bees.  The queen lays an egg in a cell  (up to 2000 a day) and 3 days later it hatches out into a larva – on day 8 the workers put a wax cap on it – where it meta morphs like a caterpillar into a butterfly.  A few days later (depending on what caste the bee is destined for) an adult bee emerges.

I promise that this isn’t going to turn into a blog just about honey bees, but I think this is pretty cool and I thought some of you might be interested.  Click on either picture in this article and you’ll get a high resolution version that you can zoom in on – hold the ctrl button and hit the + key to zoom in.

Look closely now

Look closely now - in the uncapped cells you can see white larva curled up in all stages of development. The white capped cells at the top of the frame contain honey - I think. The tan cappings lower down contain baby bees. The cells that look empty actually have either eggs or larvae that are too small to see. Right in the center of the picture you can see a bee with her head stuck down into a cell - she's feeding a baby. Click on the picture for a much higher definition view.

Is that cool or what?

If you’ve been following my progress as a bee keeper you can see from these pictures that the bees have stopped building crooked comb and are now building 2 frames of comb like this about every 3 days.

Collapsed Honey Bee Comb Repair

June 13th, 2009

Because of a mistake which I made my bees built crooked comb across the frames instead of inside of them.

One week after putting my mail ordered package of honey bees into the hive I opened it up to see what had transpired.  I wanted to check sooner but cold rainy weather prevented it.  What I was hoping to find in there was lots of nice straight parallel  comb built from the guides on the top bars of the frames.  And that is probably what I would have found if I had followed Michael Bush’s advice to not  put the queen cage inside of a foundationless hive or they would be likely to build crossed comb off of it.  Maybe I’ll listen next time.  This is the kind of mistake that rookies (like me) make.


After I cut the queen cage out and brushed off the bees you can see that they built in two different directions across the frames instead of parallel with the frames.  Once they got started wrong they just kept building parallel with the initial crooked comb.


I rubber banded the combs into the frames, and twisted it all around as straight as possible.


There was probably about 3 frames worth of beautiful new comb (I hived the package of bees one week before) that were running across the frames, and when I opened the hive most of it collapsed.  Plus about 3/4 frame total that they had built more or less correct.  I hope that I got all of it right side up at least – I doubt it though.


That nice piece there on the right actually grew there – I banded it in to keep it from falling out while I worked on the crooked one that crossed right next to it.  The dark areas of comb are pollen stores, and the cells above that are full of uncured honey.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that most of the lower parts of the combs were already full of brood – eggs and baby bee larva.

I never spotted the queen – she wasn’t still  in the queen cage though.  I was careful and the bees were really mild so the carnage wasn’t too bad despite this being the first time I ever even saw the inside of an active bee hive.  I did a fair amount of damage to some of the comb, but considering it was only a little bit more firm than biscuit dough I think I did alright for my first time.

A few days later I spotted some capped brood  – 8 day old larvae which are in the pupal stage of development, like when a butterfly is in it’s cocoon.  At that point I knew that the queen had been busy laying eggs.

At the rate they were going up till now I think that the 8 frame medium hive body they are in would’ve been full of comb in another week.  I’m sure this is a speed bump at least, but I’m thinking I should check back in 4 days or so to make sure, and to try and find the queen.  I hope this gets them going more or less straight.

Three days later I looked in to see how the repairs were going.

One of the frames of collapsed comb that I had to re-frame

Only three days later it looked like this:

Already attached and running straight – so far.  When I rubber banded it in the comb was so soft that even being as careful as possible I did a fair amount of damage to it, but the bees got to work and fixed it all up.

There were some other frames that looked a little more lumpy but they were all attached well and expanded somewhat.  It looks to me like that even with the set back they are building about 1/2 frame of comb a day.

I looked pretty hard, but still didn’t spot the queen (or eggs) , but I figure that in another 3-5 days I should be able to spot larvae if all is well.

I later saw some brood in the pictures that Shirley took during this inspection.

Photography again by my lovely and fearless wife Shirley who stood 15 feet away without a stitch of protective gear to take these pictures.

Honey Bees By Mail

June 9th, 2009

My new bees hanging out at the hive entrance.

The honey bees that I ordered last January arrived in the mail today – actually 4 weeks ago – but that’s when I started this post.  As soon as I picked them up at the post office I misted them with some cool water – they were definitely thirsty – as soon as they got out of the box later they started lapping up water wherever they could find it. Since it was a little bit cool today the bees rode in the cab of the truck to keep them from being chilled on the ride home.

A 3 pound package of bees as it comes through the mail.

The first thing I did to get the bees into the hive was to take out 4 frames to make a space for the bees – then pry the plywood cover off of the package.  The bees will hopefully build nice neat comb in the frames.  I’m using wooden starter strips instead of wax foundation and this is my first ever hive of bees  so the frames are completely empty.

The package contains a can of syrup with a few holes in it for the bees to eat as they move through the mail system.

I'm holding the metal tab that the queen cage is hanging from as I very slowly remove the syrup can. Everything has bees clinging to it so you have to go slow and kind of wiggle things around to keep from injuring them.

After removing the can I kept the bees in the cage by laying the little piece of plywood back over the hole.

Notice the white wax that the workers deposited on the queen cage while they were in route.  They really cant wait to get to work.

Notice the white wax that the workers deposited on the queen cage while they were in route. They really can't wait to get to work. You can't see the queen in this picture, but she's been marked with a spot of florescent green paint to make her easier to find.

The queen is confined in this cage that comes hanging in the package.  The queen and worker bees were collected from different hives at the commercial apiary where the bees were produced, and don’t immediately accept each other – although the bees that are clinging to the queen cage seem to have because I could see them feeding her (I think).

Anyway, the queen cage has a cork that keeps the queen in for the trip, and under the cork there is supposed to be a plug made out of sugar “candy” that the workers will gnaw away to free the queen.  Unfortunately when I removed the cork there wasn’t any candy – so I put the cork back in and went and got a piece of bread to plug the hole with.  If the queen is still in the cage in a few days I’ll release her during the first inspection.  I should have prepared for this possibility by equiping myself with a marshmallow to plug the hole.  I’m not to worried though – if they don’t eat the bread and free the queen they will feed her through the cage, and she’ll be fine.  I hope.

Don't do this - When introducing a queen into an empty box without foundation just free the queen and put the queen cage in your pocket - seriously don't leave the cage laying around or the bees might cluster on it because of the queen pheremones on it. If you do what I did in this picture you will probably also have to repair the crossed comb that they will build.

After I removed the cork and improvised a plug I hung the queen and her attendants from one of the frames near the center of the hive.  I’ve seen pictures of people having to bend nails and whatnot to improvise a hanger, but the strip of soft sheet metal that this package came with seems to be way easier to use.

I found out a few days later that this was a horrible mistake – the bees started building comb off of the queen cage instead of from the starter strips in the frames.  More about that later.

Usually in package bee installation how tos you are instructed to shake the bees out through the 3 inch hole left by the syrup can – lots of shaking involved which doesn’t look too pleasant for the bees.  However I just took the screen loose on the side of the box to open up the entire side as instructed in this beemaster video on installing a package of bees.

Then the whole bunch comes out with very little effort or trauma to the bees.

Now just carefully replace all of the frames – slowly wiggle them in to give the bees a chance to get out of the way.  It seems impossible from the way this picture looks, but I don’t think I killed a single one.

Now carefully replace the inner cover.  That piece of plywood with the round hole and screen is just laying over a corresponding round hole in the inner cover.  My idea is to feed the bees without them getting into the upper chamber.  We’ll see how it works.  By the way I made all of the hive parts except the frames from scratch.  I’m planning to use 8 frame medium depth hive bodies for everything.

Notice that the bees aren’t attacking me at all.  I doubt if I would have been stung even without the bee suit – but It’s going to be a while before I get that cocky.

The jar of syrup has a few holes punched in the lid and goes right over the screen.  If they drink that too quick I’ll use a gallon paint can later.

Now an empty hive body, and the outer cover.

If I had been on the ball I would have placed the entrance reducer before I started.

The stick that you can see is corking up the vent hole in the innner cover.  In just a few minutes the bees were all moving inside and flying around the yard orienting themselves.  In a few hours they were already bringing in pollen from the blackberry flowers.

This process might look intimidating, but after all of the waiting I really enjoyed the whole thing  – I didn’t get stung.  I had worried that when I dumped all of those bees out they would all just rise up and fly away if I didn’t do everything exactly right.  But the thing is they don’t seem to want to fly away.  It’s almost like if you had been cooped up in a greyhound bus for 3 days and then you were deposited right into a five star hotel with an open buffet – what they really seemed to want to do was settle in and make theirselves at home.

Photography by my lovely and fearless wife Shirley – who was not wearing a bee suit.