Friday, December 30, 2016

The Look for Winter

It has been a while since I shared our harvest and winter is in full swing here. Winter style? Insulation is in, people!

Here you can see what our hive looks like in the winter. There are endless ways to winter hives, but I'll explain how we do it.

We put R7 insulation around the hive and reduce the entrances to be just big enough for bees to get through but small enough to keep mice and the cold wind out. You can't see it, but the uppermost super (box) is filled with cardboard - to wick away moisture - and insulation for warmth. We leave a 3/8" hole at the top for air circulation and in case the bottom entrance gets blocked by a snow drift Bees need to take "cleansing flights" - they don't poop in the hive, and when temps are high enough, they get out to go! On the back side of our winter base, Mr. Bee made a door that we can open in order to scrape out dead bees. Even if the colony survives winter, most of the bees will die over the course of the season.

We left this hive with about 70 lbs. of honey to eat. We have decided they need to make it on their own through the end of February, when we would put another whole super (35 lbs.) of honey on to get them through March.

We do our best to help bees winter when we believe that they have the potential to survive and when they have qualities we would like to see go on (temperament, productivity, health, reproduction, etc.). We have our fingers crossed for this hive!

Insulation is also key for all of us human beings in Minnesota.

More about bees and winter to come. In the meantime, Happy New Year!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Season Finale


We have finished our harvesting for this season, and we're thankful for another year of beekeeping. For the first time, we ended up with two colors of honey this year.  The lighter and darker golden honey came from the two harvests, one early and one late August. Not only is this really neat, but it highlights the way that bees access various plants, flowers and trees - and different varieties of nectar - throughout the year.

The girls have been gathering the last bits of pollen and nectar available outside, and they are certainly preparing for winter.  Here is some of the last nectar we'll see this year:

 ...and some of the last flowers:

We are certainly holding on to fall, but this is the time of year when Minnesota beekeepers make decisions for winter.  We did an inspection two days ago, and here is what we found:

Hive 1, we'll call it, is looking fine.  The bees have stored up more honey and the queen has still been laying some eggs. Most of all, I noticed that their temperament was very good.  Normally, that is not something I notice this time of year and, normally, the hives with a bad temperament stand out the most (see Hive 2, below).  I was impressed with how calm these bees were during a fall inspection and I would love to be able to see them winter and then split the hive in the spring to have even more of them.  We added a few frames of honey to this hive and we'll try to see them through winter.

Below are some bees from Hive 1, cleaning up during our inspection.

Hive 2, on the other hand, was in a different state.  These bees haven't stored up much honey and they were not nice.  This hive has been "hot" (read, angry) all year and I watched them chase Mr. Bee out of the bee yard twice just during this inspection. All bees are defensive this time of year, for good reason, but this was overboard. It could be a sign of a stressed colony or it could just be the way this hive is. We have decided that we are not going to winter it.

After both of our hives swarmed this year, we were doubtful that we would have any hives to winter, so I am pretty pleased that Hive 1 has a shot. Wintering bees is very hard in our climate, so we keep that in mind, but we also stay optimistic.

Hive 1
As I said earlier, we are very grateful to have the chance to continue beekeeping.  We thank Mr. T. for the use of his land, where our bees live, our children play and explore, and where we all visit. We also thank Mr. Martin, our beekeeping mentor, who is a source of wisdom on many levels and who reminds us that there is always something to learn - even for experts.

I plan to give more updates during this autumn season and before winter - and I hope that winter holds off a bit.  We are really just starting to enjoy beautiful Fall in Minnesota.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Changes, Changes

Well, August is here and we have updates!

Days after my last update, we got a call from Mr. T. He had been walking through the yard and noticed something out of the corner of his eye.  One of our hives swarmed.  This doesn't mean they flew at someone in an angry cloud like we used to see in cartoons.  It means they had made a new queen and half of the hive left with her...and they were temporarily in this tree:

Photo Courtesy Mr. T.
Bees are not aggressive in this state since they don't have a hive to protect anymore, but this was not good news.  There are ways to collect a swarm and re-hive it, and some beekeepers get all their bees this way, but this was a difficult location, a difficult time of day, and an unlikely success.  The bees normally move on quickly to a home in the wild, and they did move on just a hour or so before we were able to get there.

Although we like to look at this in a positive way, that we helped contribute a new hive to the wild, it means our hive is doomed for the winter.  This was a disappointment as we'd hoped to try and winter them.

We suspect our second hive swarmed also, as we found swarm cells, but it is relatively healthy at this point.

With these changes, we knew that we should harvest the honey earlier than usual since there was a risk for the bees to eat the honey in an end-of-season panic or to lose it to a wild bee colony (honey robbing). Since then, we have harvested twice.

We did invest in a new extractor this year, which has been immensely helpful! Here is a peek inside.

...and here it is! In the front (right) is our 2016 honey.  You can see how it compares to our 2015 honey behind it (left).  This year's wildflower honey is still lovely and floral, but lighter in color - more golden.

Mr. Bee entered a jar of this year's honey in the local county fair and won a blue ribbon!  We also entered a small candle.  It was the only candle entry.  I will share about wax and our candles in a later post.  We're new to it and it's been really neat to see that beautiful wax in a new form.

In the next weeks, our plan is to watch the hives to see if they have effective, laying queens.  We will look at the honey stores and amount of bees to see what comes for the end for the end of the season.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Already? ...All Ready for the Honey Flow

I didn't realize it had been so long since my last update. Is it July already?

We have been taking more of a hands-off approach to the bees this year, and since our inspections have been so simple and quick, I hadn't been taking photos.  Now, I miss having the photos, so I'm back to it.

Both of our hives are doing well.  The queens have been making great patterns and there is already some capped honey in the hives. Below, you can see an excellent coverage of brood comb.  We look for not too many empty spaces. To the left, which is actually the bottom of the frame, are larger cells that hold drone (male) bees. It's normal for the hive to produce these and I will try to get a photo of a drone so you can compare.

The rightmost bee is next to a brand new emerging bee, which we know is a female because of the shape of the cap on the comb.  The bee will chew her way out and start her life by cleaning the cell for the queen to lay a new egg in it.  Can you imagine a bee coming out of each of these cells?

We stopped checking the bottom three supers on our hives in June, as to leave the brood undisturbed and to minimize stress on the hives.  Not all beekeepers do this, but it has been going well for us so far.  At this point, we just check the top couple of supers to see if the bees are capping honey and if they have enough room.

What we're anticipating right now is the honey flow, which we have heard is going by July 4.  "Honey flow" is a term beekeepers use to reference a time during the season when local, major nectar sources are in bloom.  We are seeing flowers all over the place here! Honey flow = nectar = honey.

These girls are likely working to turn this nectar into honey.

Once the honey has reached the bees' desired humidity, the bees put a cap on it:

Gorgeous! This is one of my favorite photos this year.

Finally, I'm posting a couple photos from my phone. I hope the resolution is fine.  This is one of my other favorites:

And this is how the hives look right now:

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Summer is a Go...Probably

Last week, we were back down to freezing temperatures, which was a little scary knowing about all the new bees waiting to hatch. This week, in typical Minnesota fashion, temperatures are back up and the bees have been busy. 

Below, you can see a new bee hatching, or emerging. Can you see her antennae and front eyes sticking out?

Both hives are looking healthy and I'm guessing we'll add another super to each by next weekend. They have also been working hard to clean up some of the comb from last year that we put in the hive to try and give them a head start.  They're doing a wonderful job.

 We are enjoying the progress of the bees, and also the progress of spring and the hope of summer.  Little Miss Bee is just over a week away from finishing Kindergarten.  We're starting to eat watermelon and playing outside as much as we can.

We hope you are enjoying this season, too!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

First Inspections

Our bees are busy...

In the photo below, on the right side, you can see a bee entering into the hive with some nice, light yellow pollen on her leg.  Hooray! The trees have already passed the budding stage here, dandelions are in bloom (to my delight but the dismay of many), and more wildflowers are on the way.  In case you're choosing flowers for your garden, honeybees like blue and purple blooms the best. 

It looks like both queens are busy laying eggs and, any day now, new honeybees will start emerging from their cells and will get to work.  Since a good queen could lay 1000 eggs each day, we would hope that about that many bees would be added every day once the hatching rotation is in full swing. A honeybee's first job is to clean out her cell.

Below is a photo of a brood frame from one hive.  You can see what we'd call a very nice pattern of brood.  That means that there aren't many empty cells, which would be ones  you can see here that are uncapped.  This queen is doing a very nice job! ...and there will be many new bees soon.

We have had hints of warmer weather here in central MN, and the people here generally revel in any slightly warmer temperature.  We took some time to blow bubbles outside at Mr. T's while Mr. Bee finished the inspection.  You can see that the background of life in MN is turning green with spring again.

I'd also like to send a late birthday note to our beekeeping mentor and friend, Mr. Martin.  We send our love and happiest wishes for the year ahead!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Happy Bee Day

Mr. Bee and I, and our little bees, are very happy and feeling very blessed to be officially starting our fourth year of beekeeping. We'd like to say a special thank you to Mr. T. for letting us do this on his land.  We appreciate his love of nature and his friendship with our family.

Last Sunday we went out to make sure everything was ready for the hives and to let our newly-painted boxes air out a bit. Everyone helped.

Little Mr. Bee and Little Miss Bee
Mr. Bee picked up our new bees last night and we had gorgeous weather today - just in time to put them in. Introducing...our two new hives!

We purchased two 2-pound packages of Carniolan honey bees and I thought it was funny that they traveled from California to Minnesota via "Bee-Bus".

We work more efficiently each year at getting the bees in the hives. We remove the can filled with syrup (food for the bees' journey) and carefully remove the queen's separate, very small box.  You can see the clip holding it just to the right of the feeding can.

We use this method of getting most of the bees in the hive:

The queen's box gets a mini marshmallow stuck in the end and it goes in the center of the hive.  By the time her attendants and the other bees eat through the marshmallow, they will have accepted her as queen and she will get right to work laying eggs. You can see her tiny compartment below, in the center of the hive. Her royal attendants (that is the real name) have already been feeding her on the journey and taking care of her, so they'll continue to do that until she can make her way out and onto the frames.

Mr. Bee made simple syrup, which we'll use minimally until the nectar is more readily available outside, to feed them. The jar you see below has a lid with three tiny holes that the girls* will drink from, and the whole thing is placed inside what you see as the second super (box) that you see on the hives now.

*Remember that all worker bees are female, so many beekeepers call them "girls".

As explained in an earlier post, Carniolans are known for being very strong in the spring season, so it was no surprise that our new bees were ready to work and that many started orientation flights in front of the hives before we had everything cleaned up. Carniolans are also regarded as good wax-producers, which was noted by us when we saw that the left hive had already begun building comb inside the Bee-Bus. The right-most hive had a very upset/energetic queen, and we saw this temperament through the hive already. Perhaps because of the other bees in their space or perhaps because it will be their overall mood.

Aren't they beautiful?  We suspect these are a mixture of Italian (more golden yellow) and Carniolan (darker black), as you can see below, but we're not sure.  Either way, we're very hopeful for the season.  

Thank you for joining us!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Starting 2016 Plans and A Recipe to Share

Hello, again!

We're back to planning for the beekeeping year ahead.  Since none of our bees made it through winter, we will be buying new bees and starting each hive brand new this year. There is not a lot of news to share at this point, but we are thinking about having two hives and what is new is that we are considering trying to keep a different "stock" of honeybee.  We haven't made any final decisions yet, but you might be interested in what difference a "stock" or breed of honeybee might make.

Beekeepers have known that genetics make a big difference in honeybees - they can affect temperament, disease resistance, and productivity. Although there can always be "exceptions to the rule," here are some quick  characteristics of some of the two types of stocks we are talking about:

Italian This is the type of honeybees that we have had every year so far.  When I say we have Italian honeybees, I usually hear jokes about their accent, but these are the most utilized stock in our country. They have a less-defensive temperament and a long brooding season, meaning they can keep the hive working and producing new bees all summer. Apparently, though, this type can quickly eat up their own honey when the nectar flow stops and they can become kleptoparasitic, meaning they might rob honey from a weak, neighboring hive.

Carniolan honeybees have a strong, spring boost that helps them take advantage of the early blossoms, and they are great producers of wax. They are not as prone to rob from other colonies, which means they are less likely to spread bee diseases.  We would just have to be on top of the inspections since they can be likely to swarm due to their big spring productivity.
Bonus: they are very docile and can often be worked without a lot of protective gear or smoke. was a helpful site in putting this post together and has even more information about bee stocks and all things honeybee in case you'd like to look more into it.


I was asked to share the Honey Candy Recipe that I used last fall, so here it is:

Honey Candy 
(this makes a hard candy)

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup butter


2-1/2 cups honey
1/4 cup butter

I just used the honey-and-butter-only option. 

Put all ingredients in a heavy pan and cook on medium heat until the Hard Crack stage (Your candy thermometer will have this listed right on it). Pour caramel onto a buttered sheet. Fold edges until it is cool enough to pull (Look up candy pulling if you need to - I did.  Just a word here, the candy is very hot!  If you have kids, you'll want to use caution.  It retains the heat longer than I thought it would, so just keep that in mind.)  Pull and cut into 1" pieces or roll into balls.  Put on greased or buttered cookie sheet to cool. Optional: roll in wax paper or cellophane.

I am hoping to try a recipe for chewy honey caramels soon...stay tuned!