It’s been a few weeks since we’ve actually had an update on the bees, so guess what…
We’re going in!
Right away we could tell that the bees had started drawing out comb on all of the available frames. Things were starting to get a little tight in there…
We even found some queen cells. Whoops! Looks like they REALLY need some more room.
Hang on!! Help is on the way!
That’s right, it’s time to add another set of frames on top of the existing frames so that the bees have more space to add more honey!
Move’n on up! Our second hive was also looking to expand so we added another set of frames to the top of their box as well.
Some take aways from today:
We probably should have checked on the hives earlier in the week. The fact that the one hive had created queen cells means that they had reached their maximum and we’re getting ready to swarm (more on that in another post). Hopefully removing the queen cells and adding the additional frames will be enough to keep them around.
We spotted a varroa mite on one of our drones! Not good. We need to treat the bees so that the mites don’t destroy the hive. Unfortunately there isn’t a ton of information available about how to treat hives that are so young. We’re going to ask around and will share what we find.
In addition to feeding your bees a regular dose of sugar water, you’ll also want to supplement that with “bee vitamins” that’ll basically help them to stay healthy and get stronger.
We used a product called “Super DFM” which sounds more like an early 90’s rap group, but I digress.
I know what you’re thinking “but how do we make thousands of bees take a multi-vitamin?”. Good question. Having kids of our own I immediately thought of a tiny little oral syringe being used to force feed it to a massive line of waiting bees. Thankfully it was much easier than that.
The trick is to simply entice them to eat it themselves. And the best way to do that?
The idea is that you add the vitamins to some sugar and then leave it somewhere that the bees will be able to get at it. The bees will eat the sugar and in the process get their vitamins as well.
… + vitamins…
… = something that sort of a powdery fried egg.
Once you have the mixture together, the easiest way to get the bees to eat it is to sift the combination on top of the frames. We used a simple household sifter.
You’ll noticed that the mixture gets on some of the bees. While it’s recommended that you try to avoid that, the bees seemed to be ok. Not only did it encourage them to clean themselves off, it also had the added affect of sending what looked like white “ghost bees” flying around the hive.
It’s been a few weeks since we gave them their vitamins, and the tops of their frames are completely clean and the hives are doing well. Overall it was a pretty easy process.
One thing that many people don’t realize is that you need to spend the first few months of each season feeding honey bees to help them get established. Early in the spring there may not be enough nectar and pollen to keep the entire colony going.
So how do you feed honey bees? With sugar water!
The three things that we use to feed out bees:
and a Pail Feeder
You should be able to get a basic pail feeder wherever bee equipment is sold.
You want to feed the bees a mixture that is half water and half sugar. So start by filling your pail feeder half way with water.
Looks like sand on a foreign planet.
Stir stir stir, mix mix mix.
You’ll notice that the syrup will start to thicken, which is good.
Stop, hammer time.
Next you want to add the lid to the pail. The key is that it has to be REALLY tight, otherwise you run the risk of having your sugar water all spill out when you flip the pail upside down. For this, we simply take a hammer and tap the lid shut so that it creates a nice, tight seal.
Add the feeder to your hive. It’s best to flip the pail upside down AWAY from the hive, since some of the sugar water will spill out at first and you don’t want to soak the hive. After a second or two all of the sugar water will move to the top of the pail causing a vacuum that won’t allow any more air to get in and therefore no more sugar water to pour out.
And that’s it. The bees can smell the sugar water and know exactly what to do with it.
You need to keep an eye on the pail feeder since the bees can go through the sugar water more quickly than you’d think (a friend of ours had his bees empty the pail feeder within 3 days). So far we’ve been checking on our hives once a week and have been able to refill the feeder before it’s been completely emptied.
You may have noticed in some of our previous posts that we have 2 sets of hives in our yard, but we’ve only been showing pictures of bees in one of them. That’s because up until now, only one has been occupied.
But no longer…
Enter the Nuc!
What is a nuc? Good question. When ordering bees, there are primarily two different ways of transferring them: one is a “package” (which can you learn more about in our post from earlier this year), the other is a “nucleus” or “nuc” for short.
With a package, you basically get bees, and that’s it. With a nuc, you’re getting not just bees, bust also frames that the bees have already begun to establish. The idea is that since the bees already have been storing honey and laying eggs, they’ll have a better chance of survival.
We honestly wanted to try installing both a package and a nuc just to see which process we liked more. What’s the verdict? Keep reading to find out 🙂
We had a few bees that found there way out of the box. Not nearly as many as were hanging around our package when we brought it home though.
As you can see, the nuc is basically a cardboard box with some frames inside. Once you crack open the box, you can see that the bees have been busy…
One of the downsides of installing the nuc was that the bees are already so well established. So that means there’s tons of burr comb that’s on the inside of the box and holding some of the frames together that we needed to remove and pull apart. It’s a shame to be wasting their efforts like that…
The other downside is that we were installing the bees at night. The idea is that the bees may be calmer and easier to move. While this is true in theory, it also makes it more difficult to see exactly what they’ve been doing.
Most of the time when taking pictures my flash came on automatically, which unfortunately doesn’t give you the best pics. But we were able to capture some of the bees “eating” out of some of the burr comb on the inside of the box.
Check out their “tongues” going in and out of that comb! Pretty cool stuff.
Once we moved all of the frames into our boxes, we setup a feeder just like we did with our other hive, and closed it up for the night. There were still a TON of stray bees that were on the inside lid of the box and inside the box itself, so we left it sit overnight so the bees could find their way in to their new home.
So now that we’ve installed both a package and a nuc, which one did we think was easier?
Honestly, the package was easier. I know, we were surprised too. The original thought was “oh yea, just take some frames from here, move them over there, no problem.” and while it wasn’t difficult, it definitely felt more involved and seemed more stressful for the bees than the package was. Considering the packages cost less than nucs as well, we’ll likely be ordering them in the future should we need more bees.
Hard to believe it’s only been 2 weeks since we installed our first package of bees. It feels like they’ve been around forever, in a good way.
It’s important that we keep feeding them and that we check on them selectively. Every time you open the hive it shocks their system a bit, so the less you can do it, the better.
But at the same time, we need to check to make sure that the hive is progressing, so in we go…
The bees are doing a really good job of drawing out the frames. They’re even capping some of the cells…
What we need to look for is signs that the queen is doing her thang and laying eggs for the next generation of bees. If you look REALLY closely, you can see that not only has she been laying eggs, but they’ve been growing!
Larvae larvae everywhere! Before we know it, those baby bees will be full grown workers contributing to the colony.
Can you spot the tiny larvae in those cells?
It’s amazing how much work they’ve accomplished in only 2 weeks: filling their pouches with pollen and nectar, drawing out comb, and laying eggs. Guess it’s all in a hard days work…
As new beekeepers, we’re nervous about everything. Is the hive getting enough sunlight? Do they have enough food? Are they warm enough, especially with some of the cooler nights we’ve been having in the north east? Is a bear going to attack them?
Ok, maybe not the last one.
But if activity outside the hive is any indication, things are progressing nicely.
We’ve seen a number of workers flying in with packets of pollen on their legs, which is a good sign. Let’s open it up and see what’s inside.
So far so good. Looks like they’ve been busy as a… well, you know.
Uh-oh, they’ve been so busy, it looks like they built some burr comb on a few of the frames. What is burr comb? Let’s take a closer look.
See that raised portion of comb on the frame? That’s a bit of a problem since we won’t be able to fit the frames together as tightly as they should be, so unfortunately we’ll need to remove it. It likely happened because we didn’t have the frames as close together as they should be in the first place, lesson learned.
Once we removed the burr comb we made sure that all of the frames were as snug as they could be, but not before scoping out the rest of the frames.
And wait a second. Is that…? Hold on… I think it is! We think we spotted the queen!
Too hard to see with all of those other bees around? How about now?
You can typically differentiate the queen because she’s larger and longer than the other bees (which isn’t as clear in the pictures as it was in person).
But so far, so good. We refilled their feeder, which we’ll continue to do for a little while longer, and keep you updated on progress.
The day has finally arrived. After months of preparation, it’s bee day!
We drove out to Bedillion Farm to pickup our first ever package of bees.
Thankfully, family was available to watch the kids, because there were some stragglers that hung around outside the package and were flying around the backseat on the way home.
Even after we removed the package from the car, the little guys stayed with the rest of the hive.
Want to know what a package of bees sounds like? Play the video below…
That’s a lot of wings flapping. The buzzing can be a bit intense when you first hear it, but after a while it’s almost calming.
Time to crack that thing open…
Once you remove the lid you’ll find a metal can that contains a sugar water mixture inside. The bees use this to sustain themselves while in the package. First step it to remove it.
After the can is removed, you can pull out the queen bee herself…
See that box? Yep, she’s in there. Not just her, but some attendant bees as well.
Sidebar: What?! Not only were the great people at Bedillion able to capture the queen, but they were also able to locate the “attendant bees” and get them in there as well? Seriously?! We’ve got a lot to learn.
This is also a good time for the disclaimer: This is our first time with honeybees, so please don’t take what we did as gospel. While we’ve taken classes, read books, and watched other people do it, that doesn’t mean that what we’re doing is 100% correct. We’re simply doing what we’ve been told and are hoping for the best.
Once we removed the cork from the queens cage and positioned it between some frames, it was time for the REAL fun to begin.
Susan quickly gave the bees a gentle spray of sugar water. This keeps them from flying around too much and makes them focus on cleaning themselves rather than attacking the beekeeper (or the camera man).
After that, just pour them on in…
That might be one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen in my 32 years on this earth.
Now it’s time to feed them. Since it’s still early spring, there aren’t many flowers that have blossomed enough to provide nectar and pollen for the bees to survive. Therefore, we need to feed them for a while using a sugar-water mixture in a pail. You just flip the pail upside down and the bees come and drink droplets off of the bottom.
After that, all that’s left was to put an empty super around the pail, put the lid on the hive, and call it a day.
After less than an hour, all of the bees that were flying around the hive had found there way in and were settling into their new home.
The entire process was surprisingly far more simple and less stressful than we originally thought (it was most likely more stressful for the bees than it was for us).
We’ll keep an eye on them for the next few days. Apparently they can go through the sugar water REALLY quickly, so we’ll need to keep that stocked.
Lots more coming. We’re in the process of building a shed that we can use to house the bee equipment, so we’ll likely share that process as well. And in a few months we’re supposed to get our SECOND hive, which will be a nucleus rather than a package. Not sure what the difference is? Hang around to find out!
Like most years, we kicked off 2015 by looking through the litany of seed catalogs that arrive in our mailbox. We usually leaf through and select a few vegetables for the garden, maybe a few annual flowers. But this year, we have a new goal in mind: maximizing our crop potential while also providing great plants for our bees.
We started by cracking open our ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture book and researching plants that provide loads of pollen and nectar for our tiny winged friends. Below are some plants that we decided to try out this year (in addition to others we already have established) with some details about how they impact our bee brethren.
Thyme itself is a great herb that you can use either fresh or dried, and is often paired with other herbs like oregano, sage, or rosemary. You can typically find it in recipes including pork, duck, lamb, and in Cajun and Creole cooking.
Sunflowers and beekeepers apparently go way back, as the plants produce abundant amounts of nectar and pollen that are great for the bees. The variety that we selected are known for producing large amounts of sunflower seeds as well, which we plan to enjoy throughout the season.
One word of caution about sunflowers: honey produced from sunflower nectar tends to crystalize more rapidly than some other plants, so you may need to harvest it as soon as possible.
Sage is another herb with tons of uses that we just started experimenting with last year.
Sage honeys tend to be lighter in color and lower in moisture content, and is often blended with honey from other plants to improve the overall quality of the blend.
Unlike Sunflowers, sage honey is high in fructose and therefore is very slow to solidify.
Like sage, honey from soybeans is also used in blends thanks to its light color and mild taste.
Soybeans are self-fertile plants, so honey bees aren’t necessary for pollination, but considering we like soybeans regardless, we figure it may be a win-win.
We’re most interested in seeing how our blackberry plants perform considering that bees are required for pollination. The variety we selected should flower in both the spring and late summer, and the abundant white flowers that they produce are ideal sources of nectar and pollen for bees.
We’ll be sure to do a follow-up post this fall to let everyone know how these plants worked (or didn’t) with the bees.
Thanks to a lot of the research that we’ve been doing, as well as the recent holidays, we’re starting to build a mini “bee library” of sorts. Obviously there are a TON of books and information available about beekeeping, but we figured we’d share some thoughts on a few of our favorites thus far.
Books for Beekeepers
Storey’s Guide to Keeping Honey Bees
This book was not only recommended to us by our local beekeeping community, but is also referenced in a number of other books we’ve read as well.
It does a really good job of covering all of the basics of beekeeping: from planning, to acquiring bees, to keeping your bees healthy, to harvesting honey. It’s all in there.
If you’re going to purchase one beekeeping book, this should probably be it.
Homegrown Honey Bees
This book was given to us as a gift during the holidays, and has been a pleasant addition to the mix.
It differs from Storey’s in that it focuses purely on what you’ll come across during your first year as a beekeeper. The chapters are even broken into chunks like “The First Month”, “The First Season”, etc.
Packed with tons of highly detailed photos, this is one we’ll definitely be referring to again and again this upcoming season.
Rumor has it that a single hive can produce 40-60 pounds of honey in a single season. That’s a lot of honey! Even if we gave some to everyone we know, we’d still be left with more than we could consume ourselves.
Enter “Honey Crafting” by Leeann Coleman and Jayne Barnes. This book is structured like a cookbook for all the different things you can do with honey and beeswax.
From creating items for your home (ornaments, candles, etc.), to items for the body (soaps, lip balms, etc.), to delectable edibles (infused honey, savory and sweet recipes), this book provides over 75 different uses for your harvest.
This is one we plan on using for decades to come.
ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture
Talk about everything you ever wanted to know about beekeeping! This book was first published in 1877 and has over 40 editions that have been released since then.
Over time the publishers have compiled an encyclopedia of information ranging from famous beekeepers to hive disorders to plants for bees and everything in between. Simply flip open this book and you’re almost guaranteed to land on a page that will teach you something about beekeeping that you never knew before.
Where else can you learn about the effect of magnetic and electrical fields on bees immediately followed by information about mason bees?
These are just a few of our favorite beekeeping books so far. What are some of yours?