Tuesday, July 23, 2013


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.