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Does your Queen disappear?

Your Queen bee has been laying more than 2,000 eggs a day this bee season. That’s more than one egg per minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week! Now that summer is over, she is laying less than a few hundred a day. Because she is the Queen, she has nothing to do but lay eggs. No laundry, no housework, no dishes. Everything is done for her. She is groomed, fed, and protected. Now, it's quite possible that she’s bored!

Chances are high you might find the Queen strolling about the hive. When it’s too late to lay lots of eggs, but too early for winter clustering, she may roam around various parts of the hive. So don’t panic this fall if you check your hive and can’t find the Queen in her “normal” spot. Just be extra careful when checking your hives...you just never know where you may find her!

 

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August: Slow, but Important!

It’s very important that your bees begin fall in good shape so that they can make it through the winter. While you know that you will have at least one more honey harvest, you want to make sure that the bees are making enough honey to get them through the winter. Keep an eye on them, and offer supplemental feeding if necessary. We keep our feeder buckets set up just to make sure the bees have as much food as they need.

August is a month where beekeepers get a bit of a rest. The colony’s growth will begin to diminish and outside activity will slow down as the nectar flows slow down. You no longer have to worry about your hive swarming, but you do need to watch for honey robbing by other bees.

Since August isn’t too busy, you need to be planning ahead for September -- it will be a bit busier because you will finish up extracting your honey harvest! Make sure you have your extractor, containers, lids, and labels for all that delicious honey you are going to extract. 

 

I've been robbed!!

Your bees have worked hard. They've gathered enough delicious honey not only for you to enjoy, but to get them through the winter. Then one day, you go check the hive, and it's been robbed! Stripped clean! Not a drop of honey can be found.

Italian bees are more prone to rob their neighbors than other bees. Bees will not rob if nectar is readily available. Robbing usually occurs when nectar is no longer available. Strong colonies will attack weak colonies, or those that are poorly guarded. They won't touch the pollen, they are only there for the honey.

Like any good crook, robbers bees have a plan. Robber bees are nervous, noisy, and fly timidly and shiftily. They land on the entrance board and dodge when guards catch them. They will eventually force their way into the hive, take the honey, and fly off. When they return to the their own hive, they recruit fellow hive mates to attack the honey source.  

Guards will protect their hive from the robbers, and combats will take place. Many bees will die from both colonies. If the robbers succeed in overpowering a colony, they will strip it of all its honey; they rip the caps off the honey in the combs and sip the honey, leaving the surface torn and messy. Once a colony successfully robs honey, they are more likely to continue invading other weak, nearby hives.

Watch for honey robbing by wasps or other bees as well. And if yellowjackets are freely going in and out of your hive, it is probably too late to save your hive. Yellowjackets eat brood, adults (dead or alive), and honey. If you see yellowjackets, open the hive and see if any bees have survived. If there are survivors, you can combine them with another hive. Just make sure that all the yellowjackets are gone before you do so.

 

Festooning

The honey bees naturally work together to produce honey.  This teamwork often creates a festoon or a bridge made from bees within the open spaces in the hive.  Bees use their own bodies to create a living bridge for other bees to use to cross into a frame.  The six legs of the honey bee have pads and hooks so they can "hook" onto another bee's hooks.  They build their own scaffolding for a several reasons.  They use this festoon when swarmming and hang onto a tree limb or another object.  Bees also festoon to hang out of the hive entrance in warm weather.  A large number of bees create ventilation of the brood nest by festooning outside of the hive.  

 

Free Bees--Capturing a Swarm

We all like to save money, but when our bees swarm that is throwing money away.  Catching a swarm is saving the equivalent of a 3 lbs. box of bees.  You just have to have all your supplies ready to go.  You can purchase a swarm trap, purchase or build a nuc box; use pheromones/swarm lure or have some lemon grass oil to bait the hives.  By contacting your local fire department or agriculture agency to let them know that you are available to do swarm removals, you are also providing a valuable service and replenishing your apiary.  Also posting on Craig’s List and charging a fee is not unreasonable.

Have your supplies ready to go on a moment’s notice.  Include a bee suit, veil, gloves, brush, smoker, blanket, something to put the swarm into, spray bottle of sugar water/syrup, and something to secure the swarm container.  To do the job quickly, some people also use a bee vac.

Once you find the swarm, spraying them with a little sugar water, place the container under the swarm, then strike or shake the branch to enable the swarm to fall into the container.  If the queen falls in, the other bees will follow.  When most are in the container, place a lid and wait until dusk and take the container home.  Remember to secure the top and seal the entrance if you container has one.  If your swarm is not on a tree branch or in an unusual spot, you can brush the swarm into the container, cover it and go back to the apiary.  As long as you get the queen and most of the bees, you do not have to wait until dusk. 

If the swarm is high be careful and don’t fall or get hurt!!

 If you are successful at doing this, you will be very busy during swarm season and providing a valuable service to your neighbors and community and saving some money expanding your apiary.  There is much more information available and videos to give you more detailed information on swarming and trapping.

What To Expect When It's Time To Get Your Bees

Well it is that time of year again...bee season is upon us! Here at the store we have all of the items you may need to start the season off right. We have everything from starting your hives to extracting your honey at the end of the season. Stop by our store or visit our website at www.pigeonmountaintrading.com to get the supplies you need.

Here are our anticipated pickup/delivery dates for bees: March 24, April 21, April 27, May 12, and May 27. As you know, weather can change, so we will contact those of you who have placed orders and let you know your EXACT pick up/delivery date.

Here’s what to expect when it’s time to get your bees: 


Pick Up: 

   Arrive at 106 North Main Street to pay for the rest of your shipment or get a paid receipt from the  register.

   Once you have your receipt, go to the warehouse on Duke Street to pick up the bees.

   Once you pick up your bees, Pigeon Mountain Trading Company® is no longer liable for their well being.


Delivery:

  We will contact you to get the remainder of your payment if you only paid your 50% deposit.

  All bees will be shipped via United States Postal Service.

  Once the USPS takes possession of the bees, Pigeon Mountain Trading Company® is not longer liable for their well being.  

  All of our bees are insured with the USPS!! Should they arrive dead or damaged, do not accept the bees! File a claim at your Post Office; we will help you with all information you need to file this claim. 

 Sometimes customers ask that we file the claim for them -- we would if we could -- but only the addressee at the post office they were delivered to can file the insurance claim. That is beyond our control.

  Customers say sometimes there are some dead bees in bottom of package. This will always be true. There are about 12,000 bees in a 3 lb. package. Average life of a worker bee is 42 days during summer months. This means about .0238% of the worker bees (about 285 bees) in the package will die each day of normal death as their life span has ended. Being in a package is much more stressful on bees  than their normal life in a hive, so the actual number will be higher. This is normal.

 Thank you to all of our loyal customers that keep bee season the busiest time of the year.

Spring Opening of the Hive

For some of you springtime has begun. Here in Northwest Georgia, it is just around the corner (we hope!). The maples are turning red and their blossoms are beginning to open. I’ve noticed my bees on a sunny day bringing in three different colors of pollen. I love to see this!!

Here are a few reminders of what to do in spring. First of all, are your bees still alive? Place your ear against the side of the hive (stay away from the entrance with your face) and tap on the side, then listen for the buzz of the cluster. If you hear it, that is a good sign. On a sunny day with little or no wind and above 55 or so, you can crack the hive and get a glance at the cluster. Hopefully it is as large as a grapefruit. However, if you suspect the bees aren’t there, go ahead and look through the supers. If your bees are gone, of course you will be discouraged. But you aren’t alone. Take this time to clean up/scrape clean your equipment and protect your drawn combs. These are very important to have in good condition when installing a package.

Once the days have warmed up considerably it’s time for your first real inspection. Choose your day wisely: the temperature needs to be above 65 with little or no wind. Obviously sunlight is a big plus. And consider what the temperature will be that night. If it’s going to be below 50 degrees, don’t open the hive -- it’s not worth the risk. Just wait for warmer temps.

After choosing a good day, make your inspection brief. In addition to the normal goals: checking for honey and pollen stores, queen’s condition, egg/brood pattern, one of your goals needs to be to place the brood nest back in the bottom brood box. Bees have the tendency to work upwards. Play on this instinct. If running two brood boxes, which is my favorite method, the bees will most likely be in the top box. Carefully place the brood frames in the center of the lower box exactly as they were in the higher box: same order from left to right as well as the frames turned the same direction they were. Once the brood is in the bottom you may place remaining honey frames in the next super. If you have no honey to place above the brood nest, you may close up the hive and prepare for spring feeding. At this point you will treat your hive in the same manner you did with your first year package. Add next brood chamber or super when seven out of 10 frames have been filled by the bees. Continue this process throughout the year.

Giving your bees room to work and draw wax is probably the most important swarm prevention technique. During spring buildup, visit your hives weekly and keep a lookout for queen cells. If you see queen cells your bees WILL be swarming in a matter of days. Decisive action is needed to prevent losing two-thirds of your bees to a tall tree or a neighbor’s empty beehive. Removing the queen cells will NOT prevent the swarming instinct. They will simply make more immediately.

Here’s what has worked for me. Get a super of new frames with new foundation ready and a spray bottle of sugar water with Pigeon Mountain BrandTM Feeding Stimulant. Next, you must remove all queen cells. Look closely at each frame. Swarm cells are usually (not always) along the bottom of the frames. Queen cells are very different from any other cells in the hive. A queen cell is a normal cell that is built out and down with wax. They look much like a peanut that is still in the shell. Do an internet search for queen cell images if you are in doubt of what to look for.

After removing queen cells, find the frame where the queen resides. Carefully place this frame in a safe place while you finish your chores. Now get ready to implement the checkerboard technique. You will be alternating each drawn frame with a frame of new foundation. Spray the new foundation down with some sugar water/Feeding Supplement mixture. One frame at a time, spray the bees with the sugar water mix. Shake the bees off the frame into the bottom box and place the frame in the desired position. Frames of honey will be placed on the outsides of the box, brood in toward the center.

Don’t forget about the queen. Don’t shake the frame she is on, simply place it in the box as one of the brood frames. Remember to be very careful not to smash or roll her when placing her frame.

An example of what the frames in the bottom box will be: Honey, Empty, Brood, Empty, Brood, Empty, Brood, Empty, Pollen, Empty.

The second box: Empty, Brood, Empty, Brood, Empty, Brood, Empty, Brood, Empty, Honey.

 These layouts are not a hard and fast rule. Your layout will vary based on the frames you have available to work with in your hive. I hope this conveys the general idea. The sugar water with Feeding Stimulant encourages the bees to start drawing out the new foundation. Checkerboarding the frames encourages the bees to draw out the empty frames quickly to get the brood nest back to normal. Spraying the bees encourages them to gorge themselves on the sugar water (the same thing they instinctively do when swarming). Shaking the bees is thought to mimic the swarming itself. Finally, having new foundation gives the bees somewhere to put the wax their bodies are producing.

I have found this technique to work well for me. This usually works like a charm. I love to find a swarm of bees and add them to my apiary. I hate to see a swarm of my bees 40 feet up a pine tree and out of my reach. Maybe this will help you keep your bees in your boxes. 

Keeping Your Hive Healthy

After repeated use, old brood combs can become very dark—nearly black. The inside diameter of each cell also becomes smaller because the cocoons of each succeeding generation are glued to the cell walls. Even though the cells are polished by nurse bees before new eggs are laid, some of this cocoon material remains.

Pesticides and disease organisms can reside in both the wax cells and the cocoon layers. The darker the cells get, the higher the probability of contamination. It is recommended that very dark combs be cut away and discarded. In the past beekeepers could keep combs in use ten or twelve years and it was a point of pride to do so. With the use of pesticides and the ever-widening array of honey bee diseases, that philosophy has changed.

One of the easiest ways to rotate old comb out of your supply is to decide on an annual schedule of replacement. If you replace the worst 20% of your combs every year, you will rotate your entire stock once every five years. Some beekeepers prefer to replace 25% every year for a four-year rotation.

When doing a hive inspection if noticing a particularly bad comb, mark the top bar with a felt-tip pen so it can be found later. Then, before spring build-up when both stores and brood nests are small, go through the hives and pull out the 20% to be discarded. Since the brood nests are small, it is easy to equalize the boxes so that each box has eight frames remaining.

The empty slots can be replaced in several different ways. You can use new frames or you can cut out the old comb and reuse the frames if they are not too bad. You can use foundation—or not—just as you normally do. Some beekeepers prefer to have all new frames made in advance and then just drop one in and pull an old one out.

The system is not perfect. You will always find a hive where all the brood for the entire colony is on the one worst comb. Don’t worry about it—just leave that one there and remove the worst frames that don’t contain any brood. Even with those few exceptions, you will still be providing a healthier environment for your baby bees.

Used with permission from http://www.honeybeesuite.com/

Cabin (Hive) Fever

snowy hives

This is the time of year when many of us are longing for the warm days of Spring to arrive, but this year we are truly besieged in full-on winter weather. Usually by the first of February in Georgia, it’s beginning to warm up enough that we can check on our hives to see how they are faring from over wintering. So far, it’s been much too cold to open the hive. When the temperature is going to be below freezing at night, you just don’t want to risk opening the hive. This winter has been cold -- so we haven’t opened the hives at all. We do try to keep some honey out for the bees, just in case they need food. (It’s important that you do NOT use store bought honey to feed your bees though. Store bought honey can contain contaminants and is often heat treated.) It’s been so cold though, that we have to make sure the honey doesn’t freeze. When it warms up a bit more, we will put out some sugar water for them.

Condensation is one of the most dangerous issues bees have to face during winter. In the north, condensation in a hive over winter is lethal to honey bees. And it’s been cold enough this winter in the south that this could be an issue for our bees. Even though it’s not warm enough to open up the hive and check on the bees, you can do a visual surveillance of your hive to determine that water is not building up in or around the hive. Having a small upper and lower entrance will help to adequately ventilate the hive while avoiding condensation. Make sure hives are not placed in hollows and low land where airflow becomes trapped by the landscape features. Also look for water pooling and flooding. A slight elevation in the back of the hive can aid in water drainage, eliminating moisture in the hive.

We hope that these tips will help you maintain your hive the rest of the winter. We are looking forward to warmer days when we can open up our hives and do a full inspection!

 

Bees Clustering In Cold Weather

Our days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are getting colder. As the weather gets colder, the bees are going to form a cluster in the hive. This cluster is a mechanism to produce heat. Much like the penguins in the Antarctic, bees rotate from the center of the hive to the outside. The center of the cluster is the warmest, the outside is the coolest. One beekeeper in France measured the temperature of the center of the cluster at 95° F, the outside of the cluster was 71° F, and the outside temperature was 44° F. So don’t expect to see your bees out and about this winter...they’ll be keeping themselves warm!

You do want to keep an eye on your bees to see if they need extra feeding. It’s important to leave at least one super of honey in the hive so that the bees can survive the winter. We like to offer ours sugar water (2 parts sugar, one part water) as well, so that way the honey lasts longer and the bees get the nutrients throughout the winter. It is important that you never feed bees sugar with additives. Powdered sugar, brown sugar and commercial fondant all contain additives that could cause honey bee dysentery. Feel free to add a feeding stimulant to your sugar water to replace the nutrients bees would normally find in honey.

Because you aren’t as busy now with your hives are you are in the Spring and Summer, now is a good time to catch up on your reading. We have many helpful books on beekeeping. A staff favorite is “Beekeeping for Dummies.” This book educates you on the tools of the trade, including complete instructions for building and maintaining beehives; offers detailed and easy-to-follow guidelines for all phases of honey production--including harvesting, bottling, packaging and marketing your honey; explores theories into the recent unexplained collapse of colonies and its environmental and economic on society; and provides new information on mites and diseases and recommend changes in bee medication and treatments.

As always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions about your bees. Until next month, happy beekeeping!