Friday, December 27, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year


Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow...
Tennyson
 

Our Hives
Photo Courtesy Mr. T


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Preparing for Winter

This time of year, everyone seems to be asking us, "What do you do with the bees for winter?"
 
First, don't forget that the bees were getting for winter with their work over the summer!  We left approximately 60 pounds of honey in each hive for them to eat during the long Minnesota winter.  They have also been hard at work sealing every miniscule crack in the hive with propolis - it's very sticky stuff.
 
Unlike the dwellings of some other stinging insects, the honeybee hive is year-round.  The bees themselves cut down in number, carting the deceased or lazy outside and dumping them outside the entrance.  The remaining bees huddle with the queen and do a sort of hibernation.  Bees become quite inactive, but they are able to survive by clustering together and doing their normal work of regulating the temperature of the hive. It can be hard to winter bees in Minnesota, but we are going for it!


"Discarded" Honeybees
 
To help the bees along, Mr. Bee wrapped the hives with tar paper.  What we've heard is, the bees can handle the cold, but they can't handle being wet and cold. The paper should help with that (crossing our fingers!).



We have been so grateful for all the time outside this year while we assembled, inspected, checked, maintained, and observed the hives.  I made sure to take a fall photo of the area in front of the hives, so you could compare it with earlier in the year.

 
I also tried to capture these fall scenes for you...



Friday, October 18, 2013

For Fun

Thought I'd do a search for some bee comics to share with you...
 
From The Far Side
 
 
From Tundra
 


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Preparing for Winter

We love it here in Minnesota when the wind changes and things begin to look and smell like Autumn, but we also are reminded that winter is on it's way.

This year Mr. Bee and I are not only bracing ourselves for the coming winter, but we're mindful of how to help our bees get ready, too. Mr. Bee made new bottom boards to keep the hives closer to the ground (for warmth), and we stopped to replace the sugar syrup for the bees (for food).


New Bottom Boards


Not the best choice in shoes for hive inspection.

Busy Girls.  On inspection, we did see larvae and eggs.

Those tiny little faces can be pretty intimidating, no?

Right now won't do much more for the bees now other than feed them sugar syrup and pollen "patties".


Photo: Courtesy Mr. T. 
The bees have been thirsty and like visiting his bird bath. 
Looks like a good place to get a drink!

You can see in the photo above that the leaves are changing color all around, to beautiful yellows, browns, oranges, and reds.  I'll share some more Autumn photos with you soon - we love this time of year!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Honey

 
Last weekend was really special for us. 
 
On Saturday, our beekeeping mentor, Mr. M., invited us out so Mr. Bee could help him pull apart and inspect his hives and ready the capped honey frames for harvest.  After Mr. Bee saw exactly what to look for, we went right over to our hives to see what - if - we could harvest.
 

We did not take any honey from the North Hive.  Though we're not confident they'll make it through the winter, we're going to let them try. The South Hive gave us almost 6 frames of honey to harvest. That's not a lot, but we were thrilled.  I told Mr. Bee while he was pulling the frames, "I'm not going to lie...I'll be disappointed if we don't get to take any honey this year." We didn't feel disappointed at all.

Mr. Bee and a frame we harvested, heavy with honey.
The night we took the frames out, the temps were still in the upper 70's after a day of summer heat, and we noticed the bees lined right up to cool the hive.  Below, you can see how they position themselves and flap their wings to help the air circulate. Imagine what all those bees can do together!

Our first harvest was a reward to us.


 
On Sunday, we helped Mr. M harvest his more than six gallons of honey, and he helped us immensely by allowing us to use his equipment to harvest our one gallon.
 
Here is the set-up for honey extraction:
 

First, the frame's comb needs to be un-capped.  An electric knife heats up to cut the waxy cap right off of each cell, making the honey available.  The wax drops into a handy tub which allows leftover honey to drip down out of a spout for collection. The wax is kept, too, since beeswax is very handy.  I'll have to make another post about that later. The remaining caps are taken off with a pick-like comb.


Mr. Bee tries his hand at uncapping and picking.
Next, frames are loaded into a honey extractor and spun around until all the honey has flown out against the side of the barrel and down towards the spout.  The remaining honeycomb is left on the frame and will be returned to the bees.  They will still be busy for weeks in order to stock up for the winter, so this already formed comb will give them an edge.  The "girls" can also get every tiny drop of honey off of the comb, so none will be wasted.

 
The honey drips down the sides of the honey extractor, out of a valve, through two filters and into a clean bucket. I've already been asked several times what is filtered out of the honey in this step; pollen, wax chunks, and... bee parts. True story.

This particular photo is Mr. M's honey, slightly lighter than ours.
Here is our first honey:
 
 
For a comparison, I put our honey in between some others (below).  The dark honey on the left is called buckwheat honey.  It tastes like molasses.  Not a hint of molasses, though - like actual molasses. On the right is Mr. M's honey from this year.  It is a beautiful clear yellow and tastes sweet.  Our harvest is a light-medium color and is "wildflower honey'.  It is certainly sweet but has a great flavor, too.
 

Empty jars.  These are all the extra jars that we did not fill up with honey this year.  We wish that we could give everyone a big sample, but we just didn't get enough this year.  We shared some with our parents and with Mr. T., on whose property we had the hives.  We are so grateful for that. 
 
Looking at this box of ready-to-fill jars did make me wish we had more.  It also made me wonder, what will next year's harvest taste like?


 
 
 
If you're following the blog, please stick around.  Though we've harvested, we're already brainstorming for next season and I still have ideas of fun facts and photos to share with you. 
 
Thank you for sharing this first season with us.  It's been a lot of work and has brought us a lot of satisfaction, and we are looking forward to what is ahead.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Good News

It was a beautiful day here today...AND we have a laying queen again in our North Hive!

We know this because we saw plenty of eggs and larvae...and we saw her!
She's the queen we purchased at the County Fair and she's marked with red. Can you find her?
 



She moved over a little in his one, but Mr. Bee will help you this time.

Here's a frame with capped honey from our South Hive. They're doing great.
 
 
Today we put another honey super on that South Hive, so we're thinking they have a good chance to make it through the winter.
 
 

Driving out in the country lets us see just how quickly the season is about to change.  There are hints of yellow and deep autumn red appearing everywhere. While Mr. Bee was adding the honey super, the kiddos and I found this neat plant.  I'm not sure what it's called - let me know if you do - but it looks like a bunch of tiny windows.  It was a beautiful way to catch the sunlight on a quiet, summery morning.
 
 
We are excited to know the bees accepted the queen and that they have a better shot at surviving the winter. Though we are working towards that for our bees, we are also working to enjoy the last weeks of summer before we really have to think about winter too much.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

One Sheet of Newspaper

After erroneously destroying some queen cells that our North Hive needed, we'd been brainstorming how to help them pick up their numbers again with a new, fertile queen.  The choice of many beekeepers, and a handy option for us this time is to purchase a new one.

We are part of the Tri-County Beekeepers Association, who happened to have a display case at our county fair the beginning of the month.  We visited their booth to talk with some experienced beekeepers about what we should do, and a man there offered to sell us the frame - with a marked, fertile queen - to try and place it in our hive.

Mr. Bee learned from this fellow beekeeper that we should place one layer of newspaper over our North Hive's highest box and then place another box on top of that to hold the frame with the new queen and bees. If we were to put the frame in our hive as-is, the bees would most likely work to destroy all of the new bees and likely the queen since they wouldn't recognize them. The time it takes them to shred & remove the newspaper is *hopefully* enough for them get used to the idea of the new girls and queen...

I told Mr. Bee he might as well let them read the comics.



Below is a photo of the empty display case and the new box - and new bees - on top of the hive.  There were bees EVERYWHERE when Mr. Bee performed this task.  The newspaper has been trimmed here, but it's there!


 
 
 
Amazingly, we went to check the hive after a week and found NO remaining newspaper!  We couldn't find new eggs, but we did see that some bees - and hopefully a queen - had emerged from the new frame we'd put in.  We're hoping that this hive can pull through and we're sort of trusting that the bees know what they're doing.  After all, they've been doing this forever.



Baby Bee's Single Tooth - Watching Dad "Work the Bees"

We did bring the kiddos with us - and the bee display case - out to take care of everything. I told little Miss Bee that the bees needed a hive and we were going to see if they wanted to live in one of ours. As always, she quietly listened to what I had to say and didn't respond much - she was thinking.

What made all of our efforts in very worth it was when we opened the van and put the display case on the ground for Little Miss Bee to examine.

She softly said, "Hello, Bees. My name is Rhema."

So far, this was one of my favorite moments in beekeeping.




Monday, August 5, 2013

A Hard Lesson

Last inspection, we cut off some cells that looked like queen or swarm cells, and this inspection we've learned a hard lesson...
 
 
This photo is from the South Hive.  The "underdog" of our hives, it now has some frames packed with honey, and heavy even for Mr. Bee to hold.  The photo hardly shows how this frame was gleaming in the sun with all that sweet honey.

Heavy with Honey
In the North Hive, we realized there are no eggs and no larvae remaining.  Our conclusion is that the queen cells we destroyed were not just extras or swarm cells, but necessary work for the bees to replace a queen.  With no eggs or larvae, we can see that there hasn't been a laying queen for weeks. 

The photo below shows a queen cell, though, and it appears that the bee growing inside has already emerged. We are hoping that the bees started right at it again after the setback and have a new queen in the works.  The older bees will be dying off each day and new eggs and larvae are essential to the hive's survival.

The lesson I walked away with was good for beekeeping and life, I think.  Maybe I shouldn't be so fast to "cut things out" before I look for the deeper reason they may be appearing.  I'm thankful for the advice but sorry that we made the preparation for winter just a bit harder for the bees.  Things like this also make us happy that we decided to have two hives - so that we could see the differences and have a little cushion for our first year mistakes.

Did a Queen Emerge?
- - -

Little Miss Bee and Baby bee watched the inspection, the sunset, and each other.  It was a lovely evening to be outside, collect rocks and sticks, and watch their dad work the bees.

A wren had been scolding us the entire evening, and when I caught a glimpse of this bird, I was sure it was the tiniest bird I'd ever seen aside from a hummingbird.  I was really happy to get a couple of neat photos of it right before we packed up to leave.


Wren
This was my favorite photo from the night:


Wren

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Busy



Our bees have been busy, so I'm sharing some photos from our most recent inspection. The bees need at least 60 pounds of honey to make it through the winter, so we're doing our best to help them reach that goal.  We're hoping for even more honey than that, so that we can share in the bounty, but we are really hoping that we can get these girls through the winter.
 
Here's a photo of some white-capped honeycomb.  Isn't is beautiful? This is just what the bees spend so much energy on to produce and protect...and I love to have it in my morning coffee and on a hot piece of buttered toast.


Capped Honeycomb
 


Below is a photo of the queen excluder.  Not all beekeepers use these, but we're giving it a try. We put this on top of the second deep super.  The space is big enough for a worker bee to pass through, but not the queen (hence, queen excluder).  This helps ensure that any boxes placed above it are filled with honey stores and no brood.



Mr. Bee taking a look at a frame from the South Hive.

When we looked at the North Hive, we saw that on one frame, the bees had been busy making some queen cells.  You can see them hanging off of the bottom of the frame (below), and we know they are queen cells because of the shape and size.  Normally, this could mean the bees are preparing to either swarm (half the hive leaves with a new queen) or for a supersedure (replace the existing queen because she isn't laying or perhaps is gone). We've read that these cells are common in the first year of beekeeping, and we feel that with our limited knowledge, there's little we could do in either scenario, so we've simply cleaned them off and will wait to see what happens.



North Hive with Queen Cells

 
 
We really hope that our bees can make the honey they need to survive the winter, and we want to help them survive, but they are wild creatures and we are ultimately thankful for the simple chance to help them along.  With the small amount of cleaning Mr. Bee has done on the frames lately, we've started a little pile of beeswax for us to keep and use for any number of things we could choose.  The little yellow, sweet-smelling clump of wax has become a trophy for us.  We agree that if it's all we're able to harvest this year, we feel it has been well worth it.
 
 
Plenty of bees coming and going.
 
 
Besides the sweet victory of holding that wax in our hands and having been able to taste a little of the honey, we were able to see something really neat during the last inspection - the one thing I had been hoping to see that day: young bees emerging from their capped cells for the first time.  If you look below, you can see some little rips on the caps of a few cells, and even some antennae poking through.  The bees were on their way out into the air for the first time!  It was a special moment for me.
 
 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Honey Super and Honeybee Facts

The North Hive Gets a Honey Super - Photo by Mr. Bee
Our North Hive was ready for the first honey super!  This is the next box we've added which the girls will stock not with brood, but food stores. A bee's main food store is honey.  We'll reserve this honey for the bees for winter, so we're crossing our fingers that they can fill it up and we can add another box to harvest for ourselves.  (Fingers still crossed.)

Today I'll share a little about the differences between honey bees and the other insects they are sometimes confused with. Many of these tips come from Beekeeping For Dummies.

Many people mistakenly lump all insects with stingers into the "bee" category. Honeybees are usually gentle in nature, and true bees are covered in hair and they use pollen and nectar from plants as their food source.  Away from their hive, they are non-aggressive.  They are not apt to sting, since they die afterwards, unless they feel the hive or their honey is being bothered. Honeybees are master pollinators and account for helping with many of the foods we eat.


Honeybee with Full Pollen Sacs - Photo by Mr. Bee
The Bumblebee is plump and covered with hair. They live in small ground nests and die off every autumn. They make very small amounts of honey and are usually very docile.
 
Bumblebee - Photo from Wikipedia.org
The Carpenter Bee is quite different from the bumblebee, though it looks similar. It makes a tunnel in solid wood and is a solitary bee.  They are gentle but can do damage to a house or barn.

Carpenter Bee - Photo from Wikipedia.org
A Wasp can be one of many insects, but the most familiar is a smooth, hard-bodied creature with a tiny "waist".  They build paper or mud nests and the slightest disturbance can lead to a sting. Social wasps are meat eaters, but adults are attracted to sweets. Please note that wasps have barbs, not stingers, so they can keep "stinging" again and again.


Wasp - Photo from Wikipedia.org
Yellow Jackets are probably most recognized at your picnic this summer.  They are fierce and highly aggressive, and they are another social wasp. Many people do not know that they are meat eaters. (A honeybee will not be interested in your hamburger.)

Yellow Jacket - Photo from Wikipedia.org

Finally, the Hornet. They are "not lovable" and much like yellow jackets, except that they build their nests above ground. They are also meat eaters and are ruthless hunters.  As scary as they are, they do build impressively large nests.

I am not a fan of most of these stinging insects - except the Bumblebee, who doesn't love that big 'ol bumblebee?? - but I have learned that they play an important part by aiding in decomposition in nature.

The main lesson we can walk away with here is the same thing we're teaching Little Miss Bee:

If you see a bee (or anything like it), leave it alone.  If you see a honeybee, you can thank it for a third of your diet.