Our Friend The Honey Bee
Going Into The Bee Yard (The Apiary)
I will share the basic’s with you about going to the bee yard for a year. And I will also make some video’s to show you how I do the things that I am writing about. (When the weather cooperates a little.)
I have a saying,”Anyone can raise bee’s from April to August.” And I believe it. Getting bees started is pretty easy, but a year has twelve months in it.
In the bee world, calendars have a place but weather rules. So when I use the seasons as a guide they are to be considered by the weather. As in When do your dandelions bloom? Ours bloom give or take around March 25th. You may still be in a foot of snow or in a full flow. Remember weather dictates, when it comes to bees.
So here we go.
Getting things started; early spring (weather wise)
You have your bee suit on, your smoker lite, hive tool in pocket, and your note pad in the other pocket.
The first thing you will want to do is to light your smoker. This is how I light mine; I get some lint (dryer lint, hold it in my hand and get it lite, drop it into my smoker then put cardboard that has been twisted up real tight in the smoker. I work the bellows for a while and I’m done. (The smoker will stay smoldering for about forty minutes.)
Walk out to your apiary, this will give the smoke in the smoker time to cool down. And if you live in a dry climate, help you not start a fire around your bees.
If you have two hives next to each other put your smoker, note pad and hive tool on the hive next to the hive you will be working on.
Take your smoker and put a couple of puffs of smoke on your hands, and chest area. Bee’s don’t like smoke or the smell of smoke so they tend to stay away from the smell of smoke. Check the temperature of the smoke coming out of your smoker, it should not be hot.
Put a couple of puffs of smoke in the hive entrance. If you use inner covers, remove your outer cover and put a couple of puffs through the hole in the inner cover. If not lift your outer cover just enough to put some smoke under the lid. Close the lid and give the bee’s ten or fifteen seconds. ( You can wait a little longer) This settles them down a little more.
How To Move Around The Hive; Be Slow
Just a couple of tips about how to move around your hive. Be slow, Bees are sensitive to quick movements. Move smooth and slow, pulling your frames out gently, move your hive tool without jerking it or the frames and never stand in front of your hive when you are inspecting it. you will block the flight path of the bees. Pop your cover or covers off without ripping them off. they will be glued down so be slow. All that said, “Don’t take to long in the hive.” 5-15 min.
You should inspect at least every ten days. (weather permitting.)
Inspecting The Hive; What Am I Looking For
Remove the outer cover and then inner cover if you use one; your bees should be calm after you have smoked them. If not just put one or two puffs of smoke on them.
Move all your frames to one side of the hive and then remove one frame from either the left side or right side. Put this frame in a nuc box that you will carry out with you to the hive. I use a two frame box to do this with.
You want to put the frame of bees in a box because you don’t want your queen to fall off the frame to the ground.
After you have removed one frame or two (I remove two If I am working a ten frame box and have a three frame nuc with me) you can go to work.
The first thing you want to look for are queen eggs (those little pieces of rice) hold the frame so that the sun is coming over your shoulder and the frame is over the hive. (If the queen falls off she will fall back into the hive.) You will see those little pieces of rice (eggs)
What you want to see is a nice group of those eggs laid real tight. And when a frame is full it should look like a rainbow. The eggs will cover the bottom of the rainbow, honey and pollen will cover the upper parts of the rainbow.
You should see some capped brood (the eggs have grown to larva stage and have been capped over. You can no longer see the larva.) The darker the capping the closer the brood are to hatching. (The caped brood should have very few holes where there are no eggs, not unless it is very dark and hatching.) When you see this, you have a good layer.
You should see the build up of stores (honey and pollen) on the frames that are in the center of the hive. Usually bees will build the hive up from front center to center then they will build to the left and right.
Its early spring so put everything back how you took it out. This is important, so that the eggs stay warm. Brood can get chilled and it will die. (The bees know were to put eggs and how to keep them warm, better than we do.)
Maintenance: Controlling Moths, Beetles, and Mites
Ask fifty bee keepers how to control pest in your hive and you will get a hundred answers. many of those answers are right because there are many ways to control pest that want to make your bee hive their home.
Controlling moths is easy; don’t give them a place to lay eggs. If you don’t give wax moths a place to lay eggs they won’t. This is how you do it; never give the bees to much drawn comb (Drawn comb is, wax built on the frames. It is were bees store; eggs, pollen and honey.) If bees can guard the comb, they will fend off wax moths.
I run two frame mating nucs to produce nucs all year except when it gets about mid June. When I start a new hive, I will put in one full frame of bees with brood, honey and pollen on it. (The frame will be loaded) I can’t stress it enough, I put a loaded frame in my two frame hive. later in the summer I fill one frame and shake a bunch of bees into the box.
The wax moths will never get on that frame or the other one. I put a starter strip frame next to the loaded frame. The bees will draw it out as they need it, therefore they will be able to guard that frame also.
Hive Beatles can be controlled by using traps. There are an assortment of traps on the market, but nothing in my opinion works better than a full hive of bee frames that are loaded. As a secondary defense I use pieces of wood about 3″x 3″ x 1/2″ with 3/16th’s of and inch holes drilled through it about 1/2″ apart. I fill them with bee protein supplement mixed with oxcilic acid. Hive Beatles love protein supplement. Use a coat hanger to clean the holes out once a month. Put one on top of the hive frames and one on the bottom board.
*When using oxcilic acid wear protective gloves and eye protection. Oxcilic acid is organic but in pure form it is deadly. It is in high concentrate, in rhubarb leaves.
Varroa mites are deadly to bees, they are the honey bees worst enemy. It is bad enough that they suck the life out of them, but they also spread a number of viruses. Varroa can be controlled using many methods. I used to use Oxcilic acid (drip method). It is were you drip the acid mixed with 2:1 sugar water directly on the bees, It is very effective. But it can kill brood and possibly the queen. So this year I will go to using mineral oil in a burgess smoker. (The burgess smoker turns liquid into steam and it works real well to combat mites.) I have a beard so I can’t get a seal on a respirator. And if you are going to use oxcilic acid you are going to use a respirator.
If you live in a humid environment, do not use powdered sugar to treat varroa, the powdered sugar will absorb water from the air and it will then stick to the bees real thick. Powdered sugar is like salt, it attracts water, but unlike salt the sugar gets real hard, like the sugar in your winter feeders.
You can choose many different treatments, and many work well. In my opinion I would never recommend using hard chemicals for any treatment.
A good way to keep any pest out of the hive is to change your hive out. When I do a split I will change out the hive and clean out the old one. (It takes about a minute the next day.) I leave the old hive by the new one and pick it up that evening, then there are no bees in it.
Do your own investigating and you will surly find the best way to treat for pest. I will share this as a side note; If someone tries to argue with you about treating bees, shake your head up and down and slowly walk away. If you don’t want to treat your bees you don’t have to. If you don’t treat your bee’s you will have a mortality rate of up to 80% on average.
Late Spring; The Flow Is On
Its late spring the flow is on (flow means that there is a lot of nectar and pollen on the plants and trees.) And the bees are bringing it in by the load. You can actually see the bees dragging their bottoms as they are coming back to the hive.
*If you are using your hives for honey production discontinue sugar water feeding, when you put on your first supper. If you don’t know when the flow is on. The bees will tell you. They will start to leave the sugar water alone that you place in your bee apiary or in your hives. Also they will be hauling in loads of nectar and the front of the hive will be a busy place.
Its late spring, the weather has warmed and the bees are busy. Keep your inspections once a week, every ten days at the most. ( I have had a queen load up four frames of eggs in ten days) Get your hive Beetle traps set and watch for wax moths.
Honey bees do two things in late spring; one prepare to swarm. If you bought a nuc last summer, in July or later, your bees will probably not swarm. And if you have a new hive they usually don’t swarm. Yet, it is best to give bees some room, but not to much.
One of the ways to master bees is to know when to add frames and when to take away frames. Because the second thing bees do well is multiply.
The art of moving frames into the right places at the right time can greatly increase your hives productivity.
This is how I made seventy five frames (deep frames) of bees out of five last year. Timing is everything.
When to add frames to your bee’s; When you have a new nuc, it should be ready to burst in about two to three weeks. And if it is warm enough you can work this to your favor. Right when your bee’s begin to fill all the frames get ready to move them. If you have a five frame nuc. Put another five frame deep on top of it.
Bees move up naturally, But if you only have eight or ten frame equipment that is just fine. Take your eight or ten frame hive and set it next to your nuc. (eight frame hive uses two less frames.) Before you take your frames out one at a time and set them in your ten frame hive. Put a foundation frame in your ten frame hive then a starter strip frame. Then put your first full frame from your nuc into your ten frame box. Put another one in and then put a starter strip frame in. Then put the rest of your full frames in. Then put in a starter strip frame and at last a full foundation frame. You will be amazed how fast the bees draw out the starter strip in the middle.
When that starter strip in the middle is drawn out 50% – 75%a, take one of the starter strip frames from the out side and put it between two full frames in the center of the hive. Continue to do this until the hive is filled with nearly ten frames. When you open your hive you will see bees all over the top bars of the frames.
As you are replacing your foundation frames keep them out of the hive, unless you are just going for honey or just one or two splits out of a hive. (You can’t remove queen cells from a foundation frame.)
Your brood chamber is filled (bottom deep) (I will video this in about three to five weeks) Your bees are about ready to swarm, Lets get moving.
Your hive should be filled rather quickly through manipulation of the frames. It is now time to stack another brood box on top of your first one.
The weather will be warmer so now it is time to checker-board your hive. (If you want honey or if you want to make about 5-15 splits in about a month.)
Take your hive and put another ten frame hive next to it. Put one starter strip frame in the new hive then one full frame of bees, continue to do this until your box is filled. (You will have five frames of bees left when you are done with the first brood box. When the first brood box is finished start with the second. If you started with a starter strip on the bottom box, start with a full frame of bees and then a starter strip so that when you are done, and put the two boxes back together there will be no two frames alike above and below one another.
Adding suppers. Medium suppers work real well for honey and when you have twenty frames of bees you are going to get some honey.
This is worth mentioning again; When you are going through your hive, if you see honey frames in the bottom deep (The box next to the bottom board.) Take them out (They are usually on the outside of the hive, next to the outer walls of the deep.) If you only have one frame of honey, just put in one starter strip in the middle of the bottom box. And move your frames over to one side. If you have two frames of honey, take both frames out, Then take four frames and move them to the left and four to the right. Put one starter strip in the middle and move a full frame of bees next to it, then put another starter strip frame in the slot that is empty. (The bees will fill these two frames up in about a week plus.) continue to move honey up and even brood with the bees on it up, to make room for the queen to lay eggs in the bottom brood chamber. This pays off, greatly.
Always move honey frames up into the deep that is above, if they are all filled with honey, keep the extra frames in the freezer. They may come in handy.
Your mediums will begin to fill rather quickly if the flow is on.
Checking For Queen Cells
While you are waiting for that first load of honey, you have to continue to check for queen cells. They are large and look like little peanuts. It hurts honey production when you go through a hive frame by frame, so a lot of bee keepers just look at the bottoms of their deeps. You will easily see any queen cells doing this, that is on the bottom of a frame, if you are using, frames with foundation. The problem is that bees don’t always make queen cells on the bottoms of frames. And if you use starter strips, they will make them right on the bottom of the comb, right above the bottom of the frame. (You won’t see the queen eggs from the bottom all the time.)
So check every frame, it is better than losing half your bees. (If they swarm)
If you see a queen cell, you first need to know why it is there.
If the queen cell is on the bottom of the frame, it is a swarm cell, the bees are preparing to swarm.
If the queen cell is in the middle or the top of the frame it is a supersedure cell; the bees for one reason or another have decided that they need a new queen. The above two remarks may not hold true every time but they hold water as good as a bucket.
If you have found a queen cell on the bottom of a frame. You have a few choices to make. If you want to keep the majority of your bees in your main hive do the following; Find the queen take that frame out of the hive and take one more, if you have ten or more frames in the hive. Put her in a nuc box. This is a”false swarm.” Move her about ten feet or more from the original hive. take three frames one at a time, over to the hive that has the queen in it, make sure the frames have brood on them. Place them one at a time over the hive and hit the top of the frame with your hand, about 3/4 of the bees should fall into the hive. What you have just done is make your queen right hive strong with nurse bees. And make your other hive think the queen has left with a load of bees. Feed this new hive 1:1 sugar water and a little protein patty for about three weeks or until you see a lot of bees bringing in nectar and pollen.
*Do not put a large protein patty in your hive, hive Beatles love them.
*Always try to put your queen in a different size hive, it will give her the idea that she has left the original hive. Also check and re-check for queen cells on the frames that you put in with your original queen. If you find any cut them out to make a new nuc or kill them.
Another choice you have is to make a few nuc’s. If it is early in the year, you can just take one frame that has a queen cell on it and put it in a two frame nuc box. (Early in southern Missouri is; April to may 20th, weather pending)
If its June, I would put two full frames in a two frame nuc box, And If it is late June or later I would put Three frames In a three frame nuc box. (Yes I make 2,3 and 5 frame nuc boxes).
If you have to cut out a queen cell because two cells are on one frame, it is easy, Just cut it out (About one inch around the cell) and put it on to a frame where there is brood. You can attach it with a tooth pick. (I use queen cell holders.) But I have used thin wire.
I just covered the basics so let us move on.
Early-Mid summer; Time to extract
Last year was my first year in Missouri; I bought one nuc and came out with seven, I lost one to supersedure, so I joined it with another one and ended up with six hives. In the process I also extracted a gallon of honey. Now that is not a lot of honey but I was not looking for honey. If I would have dedicated that nuc to honey, I would of extracted about ten gallons to fifteen gallons of honey from one hive. (That is another reason to buy nucs). Or full hives .(seven plus frames of bees)
Extracting honey is easy, getting the honey to the extractor can be challenging. I just brushed the bees off the few frames I took off the hive last year. I really like using a blower and brush, when I have to do twenty plus frames. That is about five gallons when you use medium frames.
The best way in my opinion to get your suppers (box’s that go above your deep’s.) off of your hives is this; Use a bee escape. They are a simple little device and work real good. You can buy one for a couple of dollars and hook it up to an inner cover. put it between your deep’s and your suppers and the next day just take off your suppers. A bee escape should be left on for at least eight hours, but a good way to do it is put it on in the late afternoon and go out and get your honey the next early afternoon. (about eighteen hours.) Don’t leave it on to long the bees will find there way back up into the boxes.
Now that you have your suppers in a device to transport them, move them to your extracting area. It is best to have an extracting area that is well sealed off. If you don’t and you need to extract your honey. Just plan to take off your suppers a day before it rains or a few hours before it rains.
If you are going to have just two hives, I highly recommend a hot knife. A hot knife goes through comb like a hot knife goes through butter. Get yourself a big pan, (the type that you cook a turkey in. Get a 1×2 and put a nail through it. You will use the tip of the nail to hold your frame in place while you cut the cappings off. You do this by just placing the knife on the top bar and bottom bar and just going from top to bottom. There will be places that you miss with your knife. You can use a plain old fork to scrap these places a little. or buy an uncapping scrapper. All that wax and a little honey will fall into the pan. The frames you will place into your extractor. (If you don’t have one, check with your local bee club.) I personally charge the cappings to uncap frames for people.
Have a five gallon bucket ready under your extractor, leave your pour spout open on your extractor and let the honey pour (Extractors are not honey tanks.) If you get more than five gallons of honey just use another bucket.
How to clean your honey; Honey has debris in it, and to an extent they should be removed. Let your honey sit for one night, the next day take the wax off the top of the bucket. This will remove 95% of any debris.
Quart and pint mason jars work great for storing honey.
How much honey should you take?
The question is not how much honey should you take? The question is how much honey should you leave. This changes with every climate. The longer the winter, the more food that is needed. I leave one frame of honey to one frame of bees. All my hives have plenty of honey on them as of March 10th. If someone did that In Upper New York, I believe that it would be a total failure. I also insulate my hives with R-4 insulation (Styrofoam). I will share why in a later post.
Kim floatam said it best, you can see how little feed that you can feed your bees in the winter, but what a pathetic lot they are in the spring.
Take a super of honey off in June or early July and leave the rest on. The bees will usually catch up just fine in the early fall. (When you take off your first super, after you spin it out, put it right back on.) The bees will fill it rather quickly.
Late Summer; The Dearth
Late July and August usually bring heat and a dearth. A dearth means; There is no flow. Simply put a bloom cannot be found. If you live near a town or in a city usually the dearth can be avoided. but for some, it is a season.
The dearth can be devastating, but there are ways around it. Those two supers that you left on the hive, well they just became lunch.
If there is no nectar coming in, there is also no pollen coming in. To help your bees out, put pollen out. I put mine in a five frame nuc (The bees will find it.) and also in the open. The bees will drag the pollen back into the hive. (The queen will continue to lay eggs, if you feed pollen and 1:1 sugar water. But if you are selling honey, you can’t feed sugar water or you can and only sell the honey that you spun from your first draw.
Fall; The Beginning of Bee Season
If you have a good load of bees in the fall, it is a good thing. Now is the time to feed the 1:1 sugar water continuously until around frost. Also feed pollen. This may enhance your queen to lay more eggs or continue to lay later in the year. Queens that are mated after the Summer solace tend to lay later in the year.
Treat your bees for mites, A little more often in the fall. Your fall bees are your spring bees. Simply put the health of your fall bees will be the health of your spring hive.
I had queens laying eggs until late November in three of my hive last year. And it was a cold year. This is why I have one of my hives with six heavy frames (deep) bees in it right now and this winter was not nice.
That one hive will produce ten-fifteen nucs this spring-late spring and a few more until August.
Feed your bees. treat your bees.
Winter; Love Your Bees
Winter is hard on bees, when I lived in North Central Washington State, the winters lasted from September 20th until April 10th. The bees would fly two or three times maybe and they would die from the cold. You would see them in the snow, they never made it back home.
In Southern Missouri I still love my bees and they love it. I will get into greater detail how I cuddle them up, feed them and watch over them like babies. (I have never lost a hive in the winter or spring.)
Thank you, I hope that this post was helpful.
The next few post will be in more detail from season to season.