Elbow Room (in the hive)

Bees are extremely busy in the early Spring and Summer! You want to make sure you bees have enough room in the hive and are kept busy. Make sure that you have enough supers for honey storage. If needed, move some of the undrawn frames in a space or two so the bees can draw comb there. If you have an older hive, you might want to swap out some of the older, pollen-filled frames for new ones. This will help keep the bees busy, increase space in the hive, and improve circulation. If bees don’t have enough room in the hive, they will swarm.

As the bees work to fill the frames, you will want to add a super. A helpful tip is to add a super once eight frames have been drawn out in the hive body. You can add as many supers as you like. You will also want to remove the entrance reducer and allow the bees to have free access in and out of the hive. They are going to be busy and you don’t want to slow them down! 


Stop the Swarm!

We blogged earlier about catching a swarm. This is a great way to start a new hive. But if you alrady have a hive, you want to be sure to prevent your bees from swarming! Although swarming can occur at any time, May tends to be the prime time for swarming.

There are two main reasons for swarming: congestion and poor ventilations. Make extra room for your bees before they need it! You can do this by reversing your hive bodies and adding supers. Ventilate! Make sure you inner cover’s ventilation notch is open. You can also prop up your inner cover with popsicle sticks to improve the air flow. Make sure the bees have a nearby water source, and shield the hive from a full day of sun.

And finally, it’s important to check for “swarm cells” -- these are usually found at the bottom of the frame and are indicative of overcrowding. Check for the swarm cells every five to ten days. If you don’t remove them all, the hive will swarm! It’s also a good idea to keep an empty hive around in case you find a swarm. It’s the best way to start a new hive!



What is capped honey?

The investment of time, money, sweat, stings, and tears -- all of these things are easily forgotten once the honey starts to flow. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about....the yummy, yummy, honey?!?!

In the South, beekeepers can begin removing capped honey after June 15. But, why does it have to be capped? And what, exactly, does “capped” mean?

“Capped” honey is when the bees cover their honey with wax, much like putting a lid on it. This occurs only when the nectar is ripe. As you know, nectar is what bees turn in to honey. Bees turn nectar into honey by removing the moisture content from the nectar. Once the bees are pleased with the moisture level, they seal it off with wax. This “cap” keeps the honey from losing any more moisture. You never want to harvest unripened honey, as it will be too watery and ferment. To make sure yours is ready for extractions, shake your frame: if there is a shower of nectar, it is too wet to extract.

small capped honey

All Hail the Queen! Part 2

The Queen mates with drones outside of the hive, as mating occurs in flight. A young Queen store up to six million sperm from multiple drones in her spermatheca. She will selectively release sperm for the remaining two to seven years of her life. Sometimes, a Queen who has had a limited time to mate will become a “drone layer.” This usually signals the death of the colony, because the workers have no fertilized larvae from which to raise worker bees or a replacement Queen.

As the Queen ages, her pheromone output diminishes. As the Queen becomes old or ill, she will be replaced by the workers in a procedure known as “supersedure.” Beekeepers can replace the Queen if they know the age of the Queen, or see that the Queen has become a drone layer.

Despite all that her name implies, the Queen does not control the hive. She is simply there to reproduce. A high-quality Queen can lay up to 1,500 eggs each day during spring build up. The worker bees in the hive constantly surround her to meet her every need. The attendant workers collect and distribute her pheromone that inhibits the workers from starting Queen cells.

So..she doesn't "rule" the hive...but without her, there is no hive! So all hail the Queen!!


queen bee

All Hail the Queen! Part 1

You know, in the bee world, it’s just really all about the Queen. If there is no Queen, there is no hive. After all, she lays all the eggs! If she’s sick or weak, the hive will suffer. If this “Queen bee” is so important...what do you need to know?

The Queen bee is a fully-fertile female that only produces eggs. Laying eggs is her job -- her only job. But what makes a Queen a Queen? Royal jelly. Queens grow from larvae that is fed a special food called “royal jelly.” According to Wikipedia, royal jelly is secreted from the glands in the heads of worker bees. When worker bees decide to make a new Queen, they choose several small larvae and feed them with copious amounts of royal jelly in specially constructed Queen cells. This type of feeding triggers the development of Queen morphology, including the fully developed ovaries needed to lay eggs.

There is usually just one Queen bee per hive. If more than one Queen exists in the hive, they will fight to the death. Unlike worker bees, the Queen’s stinger is not barbed and she is able to sting repeatedly without dying. Once a single Queen emerges, the bees will follow and fiercely protect her.


queen bee

To feed, or not to feed

Raising bees is a lot like raising kids. Everyone has their “own” way, and there are LOTS of opinions out there about what is the “right way” and what is the “wrong way”. But much like raising kids, you have to do what’s best for you and your bees. One of the biggest controversies in the beekeeping world is over feeding. Do you feed or not? If you do, do you use sugar water, corn syrup, or honey? Do you feed all the time, or only when there is no other food source? And in researching this topic, there is one suggestion that you shouldn’t even try to sustain your bees over the winter at all!

So what’s a beekeeper to do?

Good question.

We’d like to offer you some of the information we have collected over the years, and share with you what we do with our bees. As stated above, we usually keep sugar water for our bees all year long. That’s how we’ve always done it. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for your bees. So here are a variety of options, and you can decide what’s best for you and your hives.

Honey only.  This theory proposes that you only take honey out of the hive early, leaving plenty of honey for the bees to eat during the winter. With the decline in bee populations, is this a wise move? What if the honey is weak, and the bees can’t sustain themselves? This might not be a risk to take. But for purists, this is the only way to go.

Sugar/Corn syrup.  Several research papers claim that common table sugar is a better winter food for bees than the honey they collect in late fall. Most commercial beekeepers extract all of the fall-season honey and feed their bees sugar syrup to get their bees through the winter. For those of you who depend on honey sales, this might work best for you. It’s important that the syrup is thick. Corn syrup can be fed to the bees straight, so it’s easier to feed. Sugar has to be mixed with water (2:1) but sugar is readily available. Just remember that the thicker the syrup, the more benefit it provides to the bees.

One handy tip when making sugar water: use pints when measuring water, pounds when measuring sugar. If you want 2:1 sugar water, add two pounds of sugar to one pint of boiling water. Boiling the water rids it of microorganisms, making the syrup keep longer. There are lots of options when it comes to feeders as well. Select what will work best for you and your bees.

Don’t do anything.  This is the most shocking option you have for over wintering your bees. Don’t over winter them. This seems to go against logic, but there are some ideas to think about. You don’t use supplements, medicines or chemical treatments on your bees, so you can ensure that your honey is chemical-free. You save money because you don’t have to buy medicines. Mites and disease won’t ruin future colonies. You don’t have to replace an old queen. Bees have more time to store and cap honey. You store your equipment in the winter, so it lasts longer. The down side is that you have to store and protect all your drawn frames. You risk not being able to get new package bees every year. The cost of package bees keeps going up. And, you will probably just feel guilty. But if it’s important that you have pure, chemical-free honey and wax, this non-over-wintering could be an option.

Remember, there is no “official” rule book for beekeeping. Ask the experts. Do your research. But what really matters, is what feels and works best for you.


Where to put your hive

Many of you will installing package bees in the next few months. We found this great graphic (courtesy of "Be A Honey and Save the Honey Bee" facebook page) of where to place your hives to best benefit the bees. You want to make sure you have easy access to your hive. Good drainage is don’t want the bees to get wet, and you don’t want to hive to retain water. Clean water is essential. If you don’t have a natural water source, you will need to make sure that you provide plenty of water. A bit of shade is good, otherwise the hive will have to work really hard to regulate the hive’s temperature in the summer if it’s put in direct sunlight. Obviously, not everyone will have this ideal location, but you can at least see what is needed for the best hive location.


hive location

Winterwear for Honey Bees

Fall means that the oppressive heat of summer has finally let up. While we are all glad to enjoy the beautiful fall days, we must remember that winter will be here soon, and your bees will be cold. Therefore, you want to begin making insulation or windbreaks for your hives. These aren’t necessary when the nights are still above 50 degrees. But once the nights start getting colder, you will need them. Just make sure you wrap the hives before the first day of winter.

Hay bales make a good, natural windbreak for your hives.The photo shown shows a hive at Fox Falls Farm ready for winter. Location is also important. Do you have natural hills, tree lines, or bushes that can act as wind barriers? You also want to make sure to face your hives to the south to take full advantage of the sun. Take any help Mother Nature can offer!

If hay bales aren’t a sensible alternative, try making your own hive wraps. Some wrap options are tar paper, black plastic, Styrofoam or fiberglass. It’s important to use a wrap that is sensible for your climate. A Florida beekeeper isn’t going to need the same wrap as a Wisconsin beekeeper. No matter what you wrap your hive with, just make sure you don’t cover the hive entrance. Ventilation is a must! You also want to make sure that it will be weatherproof and not come apart.  We’d love to see your winter wraps -- post them on our facebook page or email them to us!


hive with hay

How do I get to the honey?

The honey is capped! The frames are full! It's time to get the honey!!! But what about all those bees in there???

Another excellent question! You want to remove the bees from the honey super before you remove the super from your hive, especially if you are taking the super to another location. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this task: smokers, fume products, leaf blowers, bee escapes, and brushes and feathers.

Leaf blowers are great, but a bit too loud for the bees. The sound and vibration are upsetting to the bees. The last thing you want, is mad bees! Smoking out the bees also works. It’s more gentle than the leaf blower, but is quite time consuming. You can use chemical products that work quickly, like Fisher’s Bee-Quick and Honey Robber, but some are so smelly, you may flee the hive too! A bee maze or a bee escape are a favorite among beekeepers. They don’t require chemicals or upsetting noises. Instead, they act like a one-way door, allowing the bees to exit and not return. These small tools take a few days to clear out the bees, but seem to be the least invasive means of clearing out your supers. One of the easiest methods is to shake off the bees, or brush them off. Many complain of getting stung when they use a bee brush, and lots of “old timers” overcome this by using a feather instead. 


smokin bees

Watch out for Fall invaders!

As August turns into September, you want to keep an eye on your hives and make sure that varroa mites and small hive beetles don’t invade your hives. Stock up now on your favorite health products and beetle control items. Our Pigeon Mountain BrandTM items that help combat these hive intruders include Cool Weather Beetle and Mite Paste, Feeding Supplement with Essential Oils, Beetle Ciudads, Beetle Haciendas and Beetle Cabanas. Descriptions of all of these items can be found on our website.

Other available products go on the hive, in the hive, or around the hive! Some require additives, like vegetable oil or water, while others are self-contained traps. Apistan, Apiguard, Check Mite and Gardstar are effective chemical treatments. The Smalll Hive Beetle Trap, Beetle Blaster, Beetle Barn and Freeman Beetle Trap are great for the beekeeper who wants a less invasive method of treatment. All of the items are available online.

Enjoy the break you get during August, but plan wisely! You want your hive to be strong as winter approaches. As always, let us know if you have any questions! 


stop bee