Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sweet Rewards

I'm (finally) getting you a photo of this year's harvest.  Introducing... our 2014 honey!

Here is a photo to compare this year to last year (on left). Although they look similar at first, this year's honey is much lighter and sweeter, more like store-bought or clover honey.  We do miss the slightly pungent hint of buckwheat in last year's batch, we're so thankful to have this sweet reward.

Please stay tuned for updates on our winter preparation for the hive.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Final Preparations for the Cold

I'm sorry I've been a bit behind with my updates.  Since I've last posted, Mr. Bee has been busy getting the hives ready for winter and it's become rather chilly outside. We've had high temperatures in the forties lately. After a lot of thought and consideration, we did decide to only winter the strongest, middle hive.

We harvested our honey last night...in the kitchen.  We'll be putting everything in jars this week, so I'll share photos of the result soon.  We got about six gallons this year!  That's in addition to the six gallons that we're estimating we've left for the bees. While I'm busy trying to remedy all the stickiness in our kitchen and get some photos of our harvest, I'll leave you with a list of what we've been doing lately.  These photos are by Mr. Bee, on his phone.  I hope they come through your screen clearly.

We replaced the screened bottom board with a solid-bottom winter board. There are only three small holes for the bees to enter and we're hoping this change will keep mice out.

We left one packed-full super of honey, a second partially-capped super full of honey and a third with uncapped honey.  We're guessing this is upwards of 80 pounds of honey for them to use during winter. We are hearing it may be a hard winter like last year.  (I, along with much of the state, am hoping that isn't true.)

We inspected to make sure the queen is still laying, which she is.  The bees are already beginning to cluster, getting ready for the cold. In a few weeks I'm looking forward to writing a post about what bees do during the winter.  It's one of the questions we get asked the most.

We built a quilt box, which is a super filled with sawdust-filled socks to act as insulation and absorb moisture.  Mr. Martin, our beekeeping mentor, thought it was a good idea. This box also includes a small entrance hole. 

We added a drop-in inner cover for further insulation. Bees can handle cold, for the most part, but wet and cold is a deadly combination.  Therefore, we're mostly concerned about the moisture absorption.

Stay tuned for photos of this year's honey harvest!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Beginning of the End...of the Season

 This may be my new favorite photo from this year:

Each bee is in action, one leaving, one coming in with pollen, one checking, one watching...

In preparation for the end of the season, Mr. Bee brought out a scale and weighed a super full of honey and some individual frames.  We're trying to make sure we have a more educated guess of how much honey we'll be leaving for the girls to try and make it through winter.

A frame of honey from our hives weighs approximately four pounds.  I think it's very possible that a frame could weigh five pounds or more, but our bees didn't draw the comb out far enough for that. We'll be leaving two boxes of brood on the bottom of each hive and up to three boxes or 90 pounds of honey. We would like to harvest more, but when a Minnesota beekeeper wants to keep bees alive through the winter, there are sacrifices to be made.

Soon I'll have some photos of our harvest and this year's honey.  We're waiting for some higher temperatures so the honey runs faster.

At the beginning of September, Mr. T brought out his handmade picnic table (beautiful, isn't it?) just in time for us to host a small group of children and parents, all who were eager to learn about honeybees and beekeeping.  I didn't ask permission to post any photos of the group, but you can see what Mr. Bee had set up before everyone arrived:

After the group left, we had a little picnic and enjoyed the gorgeous, sunny day.

There's a Fungus Among-Us

A couple weeks ago, after days of rain and grey skies, we found a bunch of mushrooms around Mr.T's yard. They looked so alive and colorful, each so different, but all so delicate.  Days later when we returned, many were already spoiled.  Here are some interesting fungi:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More Honeycomb

As many of us prepare for the school year and autumn, our honeybees are still quite busy with the same tasks they've been at all summer.  The only difference is that we are seeing more and more honeycomb.

Although pollen and nectar are a bee's main source of food, she and the others will get honey in the comb to get them through winter, when nectar and pollen are not available. Why honey?  It can last forever. Really, forever.  Honeybees get the humidity/moisture levels in the honey to 17-18% and then put a cap on it. We know that honey preserves amazingly at this point.

Above you can see some capped honeycomb.  Below, you can see that this honey is not capped, meaning that the bees know it is not at the correct level of moisture. If harvested before it is capped, honey is certainly above that level and can ferment.  Bees are so smart, aren't they?

You may be thinking, "If honey can last forever, why does it crystallize in that little bear bottle in the back of my cupboard?"  Worry not - it's not spoiled or stale!  Put the whole jar or bottle in a warm pot of water (so it's not in direct heat), sort of like a double boiler.  Patience...and liquid honey once again!

At this point, during inspections, we're looking to see how the bees are coming along with storing honey.  You might remember that we need to leave at least 60 pounds of honey for them to have a chance to make it through winter (though there are many factors on which their survival depends).

The middle hive got another box! You can see that the other hives are coming along much more slowly. We're not confident they will make it through winter - it's just that feeling that they're not quite strong enough. That middle hive, though, is just plain strong.

As we approach autumn, things will start to slow down, but we're not ready for the harvest just yet.  Maybe Minnesota weather has a bit of warmth still in store.

The kids, meanwhile, are as busy as ever.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


There are many wildflowers in our area - some consider them weeds, and others see them as a vital part of our environment.  Trees and wildflowers are the major sources of pollen and nectar for our bees. Mr. T. has even taken the recommendation of the county to leave his ditches un-mowed in order to allow more of these plants to thrive.  Thanks, Mr. T for helping the bees!

I think wildflowers are so beautiful - and interesting to look at. Here are just a few from the space right in front of our hives:

While Mr. Bee checked the hives, the kids and I chased this awesome camouflaged grasshopper: 

Our girls are still loving the wooden frames, and you can see below that they're drawing out the comb right up to the edges, wide and in an extremely even pattern. Beautiful!

The hives are starting to be filled with capped honey, and this is very exciting for us.

Little Miss Bee tried on her dad's beekeeping veil.

Look how tall that middle hive is getting!  I hope it gets even taller, and we do still have a bit of summer left.

I was excited to enter some of my photos from the last year in our County Fair. My color enlargement did not place...

...but my Color Collection won third place.

It was fun to look back at the last year of beekeeping to choose my photos and it was exciting to think of the photos I might have next year.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Quick Update

We were on our way to the lake last weekend and decided to check on the bees on our way out of town.  A lot changed in a few days!  I didn't have my camera with me to show you in photos, but I'll leave a quick update here and get some photos to share soon.

- The first hive, which had been doing the best, had build no new comb in the new box we put on - zero percent new comb. We think they may have swarmed.  You may have heard of a "swarm" before. In beekeeping terms, it means about half the hive left to start a new colony. Yes, they up and left.  Often a swarm will rest peacefully on a nearby branch (or picnic table, etc. - something nearby) until they are able to start forming a new hive.  Some beekeepers are dedicated to catching swarms and some cities even have volunteers who will come and collect a swarm from someone's property and put them into a hive. There are beekeepers who never purchase new bees: they either keep their own hives or collect swarms to make new colonies. There's so much more to talk about regarding swarms, and even how the bees prepare for this, but this was supposed to be a "quick update".

-The second hive, which was doing "fine" and didn't seem to catch much attention on the blog, has exploded (in a good way).  With all the nectar "flow" out in the blooming plants everywhere outside, they had already fully filled their new box with comb.  It's almost time to add a 5th box!

-The third hive, "my hive", remains with poor temperament and struggling to keep up.  We doubt they will make it through winter, so we are deciding how to deal with that.  Let them try, kill them off, harvest all the honey, use the comb next season... There are a lot of options, but we don't have to decide yet.

I'm looking forward to getting some photos - that second hive is now taller than any hive we've had so far.

Also, for fun, I'm entering some of my beekeeping photos in our County Fair next week.  Cross your fingers for me!

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A New Bee and Big Inspection

Mr. Bee and I went without the kiddos this time to do a bigger inspection and move some boxes around to get ready for the "honey flow".  This is when the nectar flows are in peak and the bees make tons of comb and honey, and it's important for us to make sure they have plenty of frames available to work on.

While Mr. Bee and I were getting suited up to do our big inspection, I saw a strange insect pollinating some little wildflowers nearby.  Upon a closer look, I was amazed that it looked just like a honeybee...except with a bright green body!  I've looked into it and I'm pretty sure this was a "Green Metallic Bee", of the genus Agapostemon.  According to Wikipedia, there "are some 45 species" of this type of insect, and their range goes all the way from Canada to Argentina! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agapostemon) (photo below mine)

Green Metallic Bee, Clear Lake, MN by Erica Knudson
Our girls are working hard.  The third hive (my hive) is falling behind.  Their temperament is still volatile and the hive was not as busy out in front when we arrived.  Mr. Bee took apart the frames in the brood box to inspect, and he felt very sorry to have done it.  Taking the frames apart ripped open a lot of comb that held developing larvae, so it may set them back a little more.  We left the brood frames alone in the other hives.

The middle, "second" hive is trucking along normally.

We feel the first hive, "Rhema's Hive" is doing really well.  The following photos are from that hive.

Lots of comb and honey...

...and happy beekeepers.

 (I finally thought to set my timer and get a shot of the both of us!)

The wood frames are turning out to be a great change.  The bees are really drawing the comb out thick, and it's beautiful!

On a couple frames we saw some longer cells, which I believe are for drones (male bees) (below).  They were all lined up on the bottom of the frame, so I'm looking into whether this is normal or if the bees are doing this to manage something like mites (a pest to honeybees). I'll get back to you on this. We did feel, though, that it wasn't excessive or worrisome, so it feels like these bees are on top of things.  

The area in front of the bees is growing beautifully and wild.

My favorite shot from the day is definitely this one:

by Erica Knudson