Category Archives: The Bees Knees

Feeding Bees

One week in the hive and they have gone through the first batch of food, just shy of a gallon.

This is the phase where the workers are building out all the comb. In the years to come, I can retain frames with comb and ease the burden upon introduction to a new hive, but this year the workers are building on fresh foundation.

All this work requires a lot of food. Could they get it from nature? Probably. I keep thinking of what Michael Jordan of A Bee Friendly Company says, like any livestock, you have to feed them to be healthy.

Once the bees start storing honey, the feeding stops.

I’m feeding a 1:1 mixture of water and sugar. Nothing fancy. Straight up granulated white sugar.

When dissolving the sugar in the water, it’s appropriate to only heat the water hot enough to dissolve the sugar. Overheating (like boiling) is not recommended.

It was premature of me to let the queen out of her cage after only a day. I hear that 3 to 7 days is more appropriate. Let’s hope the workers took to her and didn’t kill her. I’ll be doing an inspection soon and should know then.

The Bees Are In!

May 1st, 2017: The Bees are in!

I must confess, I’m a little nervous.

Did I do it right? What about the queen? Are they getting enough food?

The six week class was so great. I have a solid foundation (pun pun). But man! There is nothing that compares to actually doing it. Tapping and then pouring thousands of bees just seems like a bad idea.

But it’s not.

In fact, I’m now convinced that we (the royal we) have built up too great of a fear of bees. They are actually quite docile.

Upon hearing that I’m buying bees, my dad chose to get back into it, and the main reason we’re doing it now, is because my daughter asked us to. So here we are, three generations of beekeepers.

My daughter was a total champ. Stuck with us the whole time, and didn’t freak when the bees came out of the package.

Feel free to ask any questions. Consider this the Planet Fitness of beekeeping. No judging. Dumb questions allowed.

I went back in today (one day later) and released the queen. I’m not sure that was the right thing to do.  I’ll only find out if it was detrimentally wrong.

I’m using a top hive feeder with about 6 cups of sugar water mixed 1:1. Michael Jordan of a bee friendly company compares raising bees to any animal, if  you want them healthy, you have to feed them.

When it warmed up this afternoon there was plenty of activity abound. It saddened me to see the dead bees that the workers brought out and left on the landing board of the hive.

Right now the workers should be building out comb on the foundations I put in there so that the queen can start laying eggs.

For what it’s worth, I purchased almost all my supplies from BetterBee. I shot them a question about the screened bottom board and they got back to me in a day, which, in this day and age, is, unfortunately, great.

The bees knees.

 

The Bees Knees – Ep. 5

You’re on your own now, grasshopper.

School is out! Time to party.

Wait a second. If we studied things in school that we enjoy, perhaps the end would not be so glorious.

I would keep going to bee class if there were more sessions. There’s certainly more to learn, and I’m interested. I think the paradigm of education is overdue for a major shift. More on that later, for now, let’s close out some fascinating things and some tips and tricks to beekeeping:

  • Apparently, to administer any antibiotics in the agriculture domain you now need a veterinarian prescription. It’s fascinating for me to have conversations with people about beekeeping and to see the facade of chemical treatment to hives shift. It’s not cool anymore. As an aside, I was in a Dr’s office with my daughter not long ago and he had posters on his wall saying “Stop the Antibiotics!”. He wasn’t even a hipster.
  • Essential oils are used by some in the hive as an ‘alternative’ to chemicals. My instructor spent a little time on her soapbox, about essential oils being chemicals, so it’s not really an alternative. She probably makes a good point, but I’ll continue to research that one.
  • The best point she made about essential oils, to me, was that the most distinguishing characteristic of essential oils, smell, may negatively impact the way the bees communicate, with pheromones.
  • Honey is a probiotic. To me, that means it provides healthy living things to my living gut. This stuff is just amazing. Bees are amazing!
  • Tip time. Do everything right, and focus on these five points and you might just make it:
    1. Pick good genetics
    2. Don’t use comb for longer than five years.
    3. Implement a screen bottom board.
    4. Cull drone brood.
    5. Strategic use of powdered sugar mite treatment.
  • Ross Conrad deserves a shout-out for some of those tips.

The rest of the class was mostly nitty gritty details on setting up our first hive. Like, start with 5 hive bodies, which means I need to build 50 frames. Use a frame rest for inspections so the frames go back in the right order. Join the local beekeepers club. How to extract honey from the comb (which we will not be ready for this year).

  • The last cool thing – after extracting honey there is always a little left in the comb. Clean it to 100% by tapping into the workforce in the hive. Put the frames back in the have above the inner cover and the worker bees will pull out every last drop and store it in the comb they’re building out. This applies to all the filtered out debris during straining honey as well. Those worker girls are champs, man. (But if you put that tray of filtered debris too close to your apiary you may inadvertently promote robbing.)

Go forth and conquer. If you’ve found any of this valuable please let me know, publicly or private. If you’re starting beekeeping, or new, or experienced, or thinking about it, please do reach out and keep in touch. Bees are a big deal. Even if you have no interest in keeping them please do respect them. Buy real honey, support a local beekeeper. Indulge in earth’s nectar.

I ordered my bees!

If you want bees up here in the Northeast USA, you order by January. I spoke to some guys selling overwintered nucleus hives and they sold out, or allotted, all their hives in the matter of 10 to 15 days.

So, entrepreneur, there is business to be had selling overwintered nuc’s up here. You’ll have to dig in though, that’s not easy money.

Anyway, I ordered a package of bees and am on a couple lists for nuc’s. Let’s take a look at the process I went through as an aspiring beekeeper in ordering my first colony of bees.

Choice 1: Nucleus v. Package

A nucleus is a colony of bees that have been living together in a smaller than normal hive, and in the case of us up here in the northeast, the good ones have been overwintered together.

A package is a box of several thousand worker bees with a separately boxed queen.

Choice 2: Race

Sometime ago the USDA introduced Russian bees to the US and they have apparently proven to do quite well. What we are looking for is resistance to disease and the ability to withstand the pressures of mites. As a northern beekeeper, we are also looking for a race that can withstand our winters.

Carniolans are the next best race followed up by Italians.

Ok, so based on that extreme condensation of information, here’s what I want: an overwintered Nuc of Russians.

I called Troy Hall of Hall Apiaries. Quality dude, he called me back, said he’d put me on his list but recommended that I make some more calls. We got to talk for a little bit and he answered some rookie questions for me. Nice guy.

I emailed Matt Smith, and enterprising local lad who started Northern Honey Bees. He didn’t write me back right away so I stalked him on Facebook. I got him, and he said he’ll put me on his list but suggested that I should call someone else.

I called Kirk Webster in Middlebury VT, a pioneer in chemical-free apiary management. He got back to me and put me on his list and mailed me a flyer. Ultimately, the vibe I got from him was probably not this year, but I’ll stay on the list for next year.

Bear in mind too I’m trying to find a beekeeper who consciously breeds for northern productivity without the use of chemicals in the hive. Apparently, I’m not alone in this pursuit because all these guys are having no problem filling orders.

I thought about ordering from Hillside Apiaries in Merrimack but they don’t advertise the qualities I was looking for.

During this pursuit my Dad made the decision to get back in the game (he used to keep bees several years ago but got frustrated that his Italians never made it through a winter). He met Athena from Wonalancet Bee Company and took a drive to her shop to chat it up. She recommended The Honey Exchange, in Portland ME.

The Honey Exchange advertises, and was taking orders for, Russian bees from Georgia. So that’s what I did. I’m down for one package of those, and so is my old man. My spring setup will include two hives just in case one of these other dudes is able to call me back with an overwintered nuc. But, I can still get my apiary off the ground with a package from down south.

Scheduled delivery day: May 1st.

Apparently, in the old days, you could set your clock by the bee delivery, but everyone is saying that in the last 5 to 10 years the weather patterns have really disrupted this process. I’m not the type of guy to buy that at face value. Yes, the World is changing. But if we spend our lives in sorrow about the way things used to be we may very well miss how wonderful life is RIGHT NOW.

Now. The only time that matters.

My Russian Queen from Georgia ~ Applied Permaculture Project Update for Jan 2017

Join my email list to receive monthly updates first. Posted here, time late, for future reference.


My shopping cart with Johnny’s Selected Seeds is currently sitting at over 300 bones!

That seems like a lot to me, but, it’s comparable to 2 weeks of groceries for our family of three.

Can we shave our grocery bill by $300 this year?

Will we eat better food?

Subscribe to the blog to find out how our harvest goes as well as all the other suppliers we’ll be using for bees (Bobo and I are down for some Russians for Georgia), chicks (hatched baby chickens) (did you know chicks come shipped live in the mail) (it’s cool), blueberry plants, apple trees (holler for that Honey Crisp cross with a Gala) (dang!) and anything else we can get into this year.

I’ll confess I have not grossed $300 in knife sharpening, yet. So, we’ll have to dip into the old annual salary to get this year off the ground, but I’m using that as inspiration to press up my knife sharpening marketing.

Fifty free knives!

Tell your friends. One free knife to set the hook for an eternity of sharpness snobbery.

Eat smart,

Matt

PS. Let me know if you cook with cast iron. I’ve been doing some experimental research with seasoning and I think I might be onto something.

PSS. Lilly wants bees. I’m taking a course that blows my mind every week. Check out the Bees Knees category at my site for my collection of the most fascinating aspects of bees.

The Bees Knees Ep. 2

Continuing the collection of fascinating things about bees. Read more about the more the motivation for sharing this in The Bees Knees Ep. 1.

Jumping right in:

  • When getting into beekeeping you can buy bees as a package or as a nucleus hive. (You can also collect a swarm, which would be a badass way for a newbie to get on the scene.) The nucleus hives come with some frames of honey and brood, but if you buy a package, it will come with a queen in a little box, and a jar of sugar water.
  • Some beekeepers paint some of their hive bodies to make their hives look different from one another so that the worker bees will recognize what home is their own.
    • Bees see in a different color spectrum than we do, so red is a poor color to paint a hive body, because they don’t see red.
  • If you move the hive a short distance the bees won’t be able to find it. Two feet, you’re probably ok, ten feet and they’ll be totally confused and won’t make it home. Ten miles? No problem. With totally new terrain they know to fly an orientation flight.
  • This was a big one for me. Bees fly straight out of their hive and climb in elevation within about 10 feet. So, by orienting the hive you can control the bees potential interaction with personal space.
    • In the Applied Permaculture Project we are going to function stack with bees in the compost and chicken zone, which is near the house and living area, so we will orient the hives so that the bees fly out into the field, rather than toward the house or barn.
  • Swarming is a good thing, well, from the bees’ perspective. I had this jacked up before, but swarming is a split of the colony because it’s doing well. Sucks for the beekeeper, unless you can catch the swarm, and the new queen in the old hive is successful.
  • There’s a lot to know about the race of bees. Italians are popular but poor overwintering for us up north. Carniolans are a good option, but the Russians seem to be getting quite a lot of praise.
  • The smell of banana is similar to the alarm pheromone. Good to know. Don’t eat banana’s before the hive inspection.

That concludes my quick snapshot of fascinating things from week two of my beekeeping class.

 

The Bees Knees – Ep. 1

The class covers all the details; names, equipment, process, etc. But that’s not what THIS is about.

THIS is about the extraneous, fascinating things I’m learning about bees.

The class is a beginners beekeeing course taught by a local permaculturist. Though there is no “Permaculture Beekeeping”, the class is taught through the lens of the guiding principles of permaculture.

You know bees pollinate plants, and make honey and wax, and have become threatened by mites within my lifetime to the extent that mainstream media has picked up on it airing articles about Colony Collapse Disorder. So, they’re important, and very cool.

Surprisingly, my three-year-old daughter has expressed to us several times that she wants bees. In designing the Applied Permaculture Project on my homestead, bees are included in my list of function stacking ideas. But, since Lilly has asked for bees, we’re going to expedite their inclusion on our homestead.

For all the Internet geniuses out there, it’s worth emphasizing that I know approximately nothing about beekeeping. Hence, I’m taking a class to learn. Reading books serves a purpose, but pales in comparison to meeting with a dozen people for 6 weeks to discuss both the basics and intricacies of beekeeping, of which there are many! Like so many things, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.

The ‘Bees Knees’ series will serve to highlight for you, the reader, the above-and-beyond awesomeness that is associated with bees. They are truly FASCINATING little creatures. By hitting the things I find particularly awesome I hope to inspire you to pursue your own study of the basics, and even consider keeping some of your own!

In no particular order, let’s dive into the FASCINATING things I extracted from the first of six, two-hour bee classes:

  • The individual bee is insignificant. It’s the colony that makes bees so spectacular. Like cells in the human body. I love systems, and bee culture is an amazing system.
  • Bees make glue. Propolis, it’s called. They coat their entire hive with it. It’s why beekeepers need a hive tool. Boring. A nuisance even. Until we discover that the propolis is the bees first layer of immunity. Apparently, people have been known to harvest it and chew it to combat colds and other minor illnesses. Don’t swallow it! I don’t know why, just don’t.
  • This isn’t the venue to discuss hive terminology, but the way you get a colony to build out comb is to give them a little (or a lot) of pattern to go off. They’ll build comb in every which way if you don’t guide them.
  • Organic honey? Nope. Bees are wild. They can travel in a 5-mile radius from the hive. Very few beekeepers have the resources to guarantee that their bees haven’t been dining on something non-organic. There’s some dude with an island off the East Coast of the US that can lay claim to the organic title, but that’s a rarity.
  • The Queen is really the mamma bee. She can lay up to 2000 eggs a day! She’s the only bee who doesn’t leave the hive to poop, the workers shuttle it out for her. She can live for years, which is eons compared to the worker bees who live for 6 weeks.
  • Drones are the dudes. They mate and die. Then the workers toss them out of the hive.
  • Communication: this stuff is far out. The ‘wiggle dance’. Sounds familiar, right dad? Anyway, the workers dance to tell their buddies where they got their latest dose of pollen. The dance is oriented relative to the sun, with the length of the wiggle dance being relative to how far away the food is, AND, the little chicks (worker bees are girls) have a little internal clock that can compensate for the sun’s position. WOW. I know. So hard to believe. Watch this.
  • More Communication: Pheromones. Smoke calms bees, right? Nope. It masks the smell of the pheromones. In the case of beekeepers, when you are perceived as a threat your little honey bee points its ass at you and flaps its wings while emitting a danger pheromone. Then all the workers join in to protect the hive. If you get stung you get pheromone too, which will attract more bees to sting you. Good to know.
  • Alas, mites. Varroa Destructor. Aptly named. Small red little guys that camp out on the bees. Their presence is not totally the problem, but rather that they serve as a vector for disease. We’re not totally sure that they are to blame for Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), it’s just that they were the trait that CCD hives had/have in common. Lots of smart people are thinking hard about this and to date, the solution has been to spray some stuff in your hive to treat for mites. The instructor of my class is one of the few who raises bees without chemicals and avoids plastic in the hive to the greatest extent possible. So here’s her argument, in my words. What if, the bees and the mites are going through an evolutionary dance as we speak? Maybe, by spraying our hives we are killing all the weakest of the mites, and allowing only the strongest to survive, in essence, expediting the evolutionary process that we think we want to stop. If evolution ran its course it is possible that the bees and mites would reach a point where they live symbiotically with one another. What if instead of spraying for mites, we encourage mites, and even introduce ones that have a track record of being capable to live with bees, and in turn, allow there to be no room for the nasty mites? Who knows, man. At least there is another side to that coin.
  • Lastly, on the note of plastic in the hive, to get bees to start to grow out comb beekeepers insert a little sheet call foundation. Currently those are all made out of plastic. The engineer/entrepreneur in me see this as an opportunity. You want it? Three-D printed foundations using beeswax in the additive printer. If we can print with titanium we sure as heck should be able to learn how to print with wax. Run with that, let me know how it goes.

Ok. It’s been real, folks. Stay tuned for next week’s update. For all you bee nerds out there please do chime in to correct me or add to the discussion.