After successfully completing my bee class last year, I've been busy researching exactly which hive to get, which accessories are absolutely necessary (and which are nice to have) and where to put my hive. I decided on two Deutsch Normal eleven-frame hives that I painted white. And I put them right smack on my terrace, albeit a terrace we do not use regularly. With all this preparation work finally coming to an end, I need to focus on what my tasks will be once I have somewhere between 20,000 and 80,000 bees per hive.
1. Should the hive entrance be large or small?
The smaller the entrance to the hive, the easier it is for the bees to protect it. You can reduce the entrance to the hive by using foam rubber in the Winter to keep the cold out of the hive (and any unwanted creatures such as mice). Keep the entrance to the hive open during the honey flow (Spring and Summer). There's just too much action at the hive entrance. No need to annoy the bees!
2. How many brood boxes do I start with?
I will start with one. And as soon as it is 70 - 80% full, its a good idea to add another brood box. I don't want my bees swarming. I'm not quite ready for that adventure yet.
3. When should I add a honey super?
When the second brood box is 70 - 80% full, it's time to add the honey super. Often, this occurs at about the same time as the cherry blossoms. When the honey super is added, you then have three boxes on top of each other with the honey super on top. Don't make the mistake of adding the queen excluder at this time if you are adding new frames where the honeycomb has not yet been built out (as I will be doing in my first year). Give the bees a chance to do that first. Check after about a week. When you see that they have started building comb on two to three frames, you can add the queen excluder. But be sure that the queen isn't up there in the honey super. Place the queen excluder with the cross ribs facing down. When adding new frames, spray the frames with 1:1 sugar water. The honey made in the honey super is surplus honey and can be harvested.
4. Shall I place my frames in the "cold" or "warm" position?
My hive allows me to place the frames either "warm" (running parallel to the wall with the hive opening) or "cold" (running perpendicular to the wall with the hive opening). This way is referred to as cold because the air can enter the hive and run through the frames unimpeded. Frames that run parallel are considered warm as the first frame blocks the cold air from entering into the hive. But the bees have to travel a lot further to make their way into the depth of the hive. Basically, the bees don't seem to really care. So I need to decide what's most comfortable for me. If I work the hive from the back, then "warm" is easier as I can lift out the frames without reaching my arm across the entire hive. If I want to work from the side of the hive, the "cold" method would be easier. Right now, I'm planning on cold as shown below (with the hive entrance to the front).
5. Do the bees need a landing board?
No. But it could be fun. If you offer the bees a landing board, they will use it, meaning they will land on the board and walk into the hive, giving you, the beekeeper, more opportunity to observe. So not necessary but fun.
6. How do I provide a water source for my bees?
Bees need water, just like every other living creature. A bird bath nearby with some rocks would do the trick. Remember bees can't swim so they need to be able to sit on something while they drink. Keep the water shallow. And it doesn't need to be clean. Bees seem to like the nutrients provided by the slime.
7. Do I need to use a plastic sheet as an inner cover?
These plastic sheets are widely used in Germany. They offer protection between the upper frames and the inner cover, meaning the bees cannot build burr comb up to the inner cover. When inspecting the hive, it is easy to peal the plastic off of the frames. However, some problems could occur with too much accumulated moisture under the plastic sheet.
8. Should I use a queen excluder?
I ordered one. But I won't be needing it until I put the honey super on top of the hive. And I don't need to do that until the bees start producing surplus honey and need more space. The queen excluder can then go on top of the brood box before adding the honey super. This keeps the queen (and the drones) from entering the honey area but still allows the worker bees to pass through.
9. How often should I inspect my hive?
It's tough not to take a peak. But each time you inspect your hive, you are invading the colony. If everything seems fine on the outside, the bees are bringing pollen and nectar into the hive, the hive purrs (doesn't growl) and it smells good, then everything probably is good. However, if something seems a bit off, then open it up. Have your smoker and hive tool at the ready. Smoke the entrance to the hive first. Wait a couple of minutes to give the smoke a chance to go up through the hive. Now remove the top cover. Add a couple more puffs of smoke and wait a minute before opening complete. A bit more smoke and you're in!
Supers need to be added in Spring and Summer so you obviously open the hive to do that. But in less something seems awry, no need to inspect frame by frame. Each time you pull out a frame, you run the risk of killing the queen. And if any honey spills, you run the risk of attracting robbers. But if you need to inspect frame by frame, remove the first frame from the hive and lay it gently up against the hive. Then inspect each frame one at a time, replacing it in the empty spot after each inspection. If the bees are poking their heads out between the top bars of each frame, time for more smoke. Hold each frame above the hive during inspection. Just in case the queen falls off, she will fall back into the hive. When done inspecting each frame, push frames back to original position and return frame number one to its original position against the wall. Some beekeepers recommend performing hive inspections every two weeks. Only perform these inspections on sunny days between 10am and 2pm. The forager bees aren't in the hive at this time so less bees to disturb. Never inspect the hive on a cloudy day or when a storm is approaching. The bees can get quite defensive then.
During the swarm period in May/June, you may want to check your hive once a week just to make sure they aren't building swarm cells.
And remember not to open the hive if the outside temperature is below 12 degrees celsius. Too cold for the bees!
10. If I do open up the hive, what am I looking for?
Eggs. Finding the brood is much easier than locating the queen. A tight brood pattern is a good sign. Empty cells interspersed with occasional brood cells is a sign that the queen should be replaced. You should see all stages of bee development: eggs, larvae, capped brood. These should be in a ratio of 1:2:4 (eggs for 3 days, larvae for 6 days, capped for 12 days). The capped brood has a brownish color and a velvety texture as shown below.
Food. The bees collect pollen in many colors, water and nectar. The cappings of honeycomb are light in color and smooth as shown below.
Swarm cells. In a double brood box, the bees often build these large cells containing a queen at the bottom edge of the upper frames.
Space. Make sure they have enough room for brood and enough room to store their honey.
Burr comb. Remove this.
11. What do I use in my smoker?
Be sure not to use any paper with ink or glue on it. You do not want to smoke out the bees with any chemicals. Egg cartons work quite well, the half of the carton without the glued on sticker. No need to purchase expensive material offered exclusively for smokers. You can use a bag of mulch that has been dried in the sun, wood pellets or pine needles. Start the fire with some paper. Then slowly add your choice of burn material to the smoker. You want the fire to smolder, not burn. So go ahead and pack the material into the smoker tight. Pump the bellows a few times to get the fire going. You can add rosemary or lavender to make it smell good too! When you're done, add freshly cut green grass to put the fire out while conserving the fuel.
12. When do I need to feed the bees?
Only feed the bees once the honey super is removed. I bought a feeding box as it sounded like the easiest (and cleanest) method to me. This box needs to be sealed before using, either with a sealant or with beeswax. The most important issue when feeding your bees is to not spill any sugar water near the hive. This will cause robbery. Use the entrance reducer when feeding the bees. It's best to feed in the evening so as not to attract other bees. If the bees are short of food in the early spring, feed them a thin sugar syrup (1:1 sugar to water). This should tie them over until nectar begins flowing. Don't make the mistake of waiting too long and letting your bees starve. Check your hive on the first warm day (around 10 degrees celsius). At the end of September / beginning of October, feed the bees a thick sugar syrup (2:1 sugar to water). If you use a thin syrup when it's cold out, the water could freeze. A good organic herbal sugar recipe can be found here. The trick is figuring out how much to feed. You don't want to give them too much or they will start storing the syrup in capped cells for future use. This will interfere with future honey production. My feeder can hold 8 liters. It takes the bees about one week to eat 5 liters of sugar water. One hive will probably need about 15 liters to get through the winter.
13. When do I need to handle the bees against the varroa mite?
At the beginning of July, you should start counting the number varroa mites in the hive for five days straight. If fewer than 5 mites per day, no need to treat the hive until after the last honey harvest. If more than 10 mites per day, you need to treat, perhaps even before the honey harvest. If more than 30 mites are found, it's too late. There's nothing left you can do. After the last honey harvest and the honey super is removed, the first treatment is immediately done with formic acid (ameisensäure). The temperature still needs to be between 12 and 25 degrees celsius. By a not so severe case, treatment should be done three times: once before feeding and two treatments after feeding. If the case is severe (more than 10 mites found per day), then two treatments before feeding must be done followed by the two treatments after feeding. Three to five days is allowed between each treatment. Be sure to remove the metal roof during treatment as corrosion could occur.
After the summer treatment, check again for mites come November. If there's more than one mite per day, an additional winter treatment is necessary. At this time, oxalic acid (oxalsäure) or lactic acid (milchsäure) can be used. Check for mites 10 days and 20 days after treatment. Be sure to document everything.
An additional method to handling the varroa beast is cutting the drone brood out. Varroa mites are 8 to 10 times more likely to infest a drone than a female worker. So getting rid of the drones effectively gets away a large portion of varroa mites as well. The drone brood can be cut out when it's already 1/3 capped. When you add the honey super, hang a drone frame (frame with a small wax sheet at the top only) at the outest layer of frames of the top brood box. Two weeks later, a second drone frame may be added to the other outest layer. Remove and replace each frame every four weeks. At this pace, you should be cleaning one drone frame every two weeks. Drone brood remains capped for 15 days so it is imperative to remove the brood before hatching. What to do with all that drone brood? You can freeze it (to kill the mites) and then return it to the hive where the bees will eat the larvae. You can stop this process after the drone eviction in September. The drones are no longer needed (as their soul purpose is to fertilize the queen) and are killed and removed from the hive.
14. When do I insert and remove the varroa mite control board?
The bees should be kept cold in the winter. Leave the bottom of the hive open. You do not want them to think it is warm and to start any activity. Once the queen starts laying eggs, the brood will need to be kept warm. Slide the board in at the end of February to help keep them warm. Come April when the bees start bringing in loads of nectar, they will need to dry all that nectar to create honey. It's a lot easier for them to do that if the bottom of the hive is open; remove the board. If the weather turns cool in April/May, slide the board back in to help keep the hive warm. Come July, insert the board again for the varroa control. Be sure to clean the board after the control. Otherwise, ants could discover the board and use it as a food source. At the end of September, make sure the board is removed for the winter feeding. Lots of liquid is entering the hive and the bees will have less work drying the sugar water if air is circulating throughout the hive. Once the hive is prepared for winter, remove the board. This keeps the bees cold and ensures that they do not produce brood during the winter months. After the winter varroa treatment, wait a few minutes and then replace the board. Otherwise, the acid collects on the board. After the second 20-day varroa mite count, the board may be removed for the rest of the winter.
15. How do I prepare the bees for winter?
Remove the queen excluder.
Remove the varroa control board.
Make sure you leave the bees with about 20 - 45 kg worth of honey.
Add a mouse guard. Mice love the taste of honeycomb and honey bees and they will be looking for a warm place to spend the winter. Don't let them in your beehive! When it gets cold outside, bees huddle together inside the hive to keep warm. They are no longer able to defend the hive. Remove the entrance reducer and add a metal mouse guard across the hive entrance. Keep the entrance clean of dead bees during the winter as these could block the entrance.
Be sure to keep any of the frames containing pollen with the bees over the winter. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting moths. Also keep any frames you store in a cold area. This will help prevent the wax moth as well.
As soon as the temperatures reach 10 degrees celsius, the bees will leave their hive for a cleansing flight, another words a quick bathroom break. Make sure the entrance to the hive is clear of dead bees!
Written by Amy Keller on March 29, 2017 — 0 comments
For those of you in need of some last minute Christmas inspiration, how about the gift of time? Specifically 24 hours in my absolute favorite city, Paris. All you need to do is arrange your transportation, print out my itinerary and surprise someone. 24 hours isn't much time so let's not waste it standing in lines. Come with me and discover the not so discovered Paris.
If arriving by plane at CDG airport, the easiest (and quickest; just 40 minutes) way to get into the city is to take the RER B city train directly from the airport. Just follow the signs marked Paris RER train. Get your ticket before you board the train from one of the white vending machines. Then settle in and don't get off until you reach the Gare du Nord in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. I like to stay in the 10th when in Paris as it has such a neighborhood vibe and not quite so many tourists as the more centrally located areas of Paris. No time to waste, drop your bags at the hotel and first stop: breakfast!
La Fontaine de Belleville, 31-33 rue Juliette Dodu. This café roasts its own coffee, makes a heavenly french toast (more appropriately named lost toast or pain perdu in French), and has been around since 1915. It opens at 8am and is a wonderful space to soak up some authentic Parisian atmosphere.
When in Paris I often find myself on the metro cause it's so easy to not get lost. But if there's an easy bus route nearby, I'd much prefer some bonus above-ground sight seeing for the cost of a ticket. From the café, walk towards the Place Colonel Fabian and hop on the number 75 bus. Get off at the Grenier Saint Lazare stop and stroll along the Rue Montorgeuil. I love this street as it is pedestrian only which makes window shopping a lot more pleasant (and safe). But you must do more than window shopping because it is on this street that you can taste the epitome of french pastry, the chocolate éclair at Patisserie Stohrer, 51 Rue Montorgueil, the oldest patisserie in Paris. The last time I was there, I was even lucky enough to meet the chef himself! This is partly due to my girlfriend causing quite the commotion after biting into a chocolate tart (I'm sure you all know the famous scene from "When Harry met Sally"). It'll be hard to tear your eyes away from the abundant artwork of pastry, but be sure to look up at the gilded ceiling painted by Paul Baudry, known for his work at the Palais Garnier Opera House.
(girlfriend causing a scene)
Time is ticking so off we go. I have one more stop for you on the Rue Montorgueil. Since you're in the fashion capital of the world, we must make time for a little shopping. I enjoy the very affordable French brand Sha Cha. They have a pop-up store right at 48 Rue Montorgueil. Last time I was there I picked up the cutest little black jumpsuit, perfect for late nights out in Paris.
(that's me on the left digging for treasure)
Supposedly there are 197 churches in Paris (although I haven't counted) so you must take the time to visit at least one during your 24 hours. For me, a church should be a peaceful haven from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. A short walk from Rue Montorgueil is the wealthy Rue Saint Honoré, home of the Église Saint Roch, one of the most beautiful (and often quiet) churches in Paris. The grave of the landscape gardener Le Nôtre (the gardener of Louis XIV at Versailles) is located here.
Just on the other side of the street, you will see the concept store Colette, 213 Rue Saint Honoré. If you want to know what is trendy right now, this is the spot to be. And even if you can't afford the high-fashion clothes upstairs, how could you resist a stylish snow globe containing the Eiffel Tower, an art book or a new lipstick?
Time for lunch! And lucky for you, one of the most charming little wine bars, Le Rubis, is right around the corner at 10 Rue du Marché Saint Honoré. Order a glass of your favorite wine and a cheese and charcuterie platter. And for the true French cultural experience, be sure to use the toilet before you leave. I will not say anymore than that. And if you are mad at me for sending you to this toilet, there's a dial-up telephone right there in the toilet room in case you would like to call me.
So a quick recap here, we've had some pastries, done some shopping, visited a church, had some wine and cheese. What's still missing? Well, you can't come to Paris and not visit an art museum. Although, we are close to the Louvre right now (and I encourage you to take a look at the glass Pyramid), I'm not a fan of racing through the museum to see the top three (Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo). Instead, I would stroll through the Tuileries Gardens and visit the Musée de l'Orangerie (located in the gardens near the Place de la Concorde), consisting of only two floors. Perfect for our tight time schedule! Take a seat on a bench and just gaze at Monet's Water Lilies which cover the walls of the second floor.
From here, it's about a ten minute walk to the Quai du Louvre where you can hop on one of the many Batobus boats. I prefer the Batobus to the Bateaux-Mouches as it is without narration. Just let the sites go by while taking a, by now, much needed break. The one-day pass allows you to get on and off so please do that at your leisure. But I prefer to just sit back and enjoy the full 90 minutes.
Head back to your hotel, drop your packages and freshen up. We don't need to venture far this evening for an amazing dinner. Charles Compagnon, one of the best restaurateurs in Paris right now, opened 52 Faubourg Saint-Denis in the 10th. I had a truly memorable dinner here my last trip to Paris. Seasonal, affordable, lively, creative...and with a no reservation policy, I enjoy the flexibility. But you may have to wait. Although with a glass of wine in hand and some great Parisian people watching, I can think of worse ways to spend my time.
If you're up for it, the last thing missing from these 24 hours is some Parisian nightlife and a rooftop view of the city. You can have both at Le Perchoir, 14 Rue Crespin du Gast. I actually walked from 52 Faubourg Saint Denis but I would recommend hailing a taxi. The entrance is unmarked but the doorman (at least the one I met) is very friendly and opened for us. Open until 1am.
And with that, one must always sleep, even in Paris. Luckily, the hotel is not far. So head back to your home away from home and dream of how to spend your next 24 hours in Paris.
Written by Amy Keller on December 07, 2016 — 1 comments
The bees work so hard for us. Without the bees, we wouldn't have 1/3 of the food that we eat. And on top of all their hard work, they give us the gift of honey. So if we take their honey, it is the beekeeper's job to make sure the bees have enough to eat through the winter. If the beekeeper takes too much honey, this must be replaced with sugar water.
Let's quickly review the make up of a typical beehive. The bottom boxes are the brood boxes. In the center of these boxes, the bees grow their brood as it is the warmest area of the box. They store their honey in the outer frames. By adding more boxes on top (referred to as "supers"), the bees produce more honey than they need and store it in these top boxes. You can also add a queen excluder so that the queen is forced to remain in the bottom brood boxes. However, the beekeeper shouldn't become greedy. The honey produced in the bottom of the hive is for the bees!
So back to the sugar water, a ratio of 3 : 2 (sugar : water) should be given to the bees before the winter, usually in September when no more nectar can be found. Always measure the water first and then slowly add the sugar. Be sure to use only clean feeding supplies. And don't spill. Any spill will encourage robbing of the hive (bees, wasps, ants). Other bees will smell the food and quickly notify their colony of the new food source. For this reason, it is best to feed in the evening when most bees are in their hive. My teacher recommended adding 3 kg of sugar to a 5l bucket of water.
After the final honey extraction and first varroa treatment, you can begin with the winter feeding of sugar water. An easy way to feed the bees is by filling a glass container with a metal screw top with the sugar water. Hammer 2 mm holes into the metal lid and place the filled container upside down on top of the frames inside of an empty bee box. The bees are able to extract what they need through the holes with their tongue.
Make sure to cover the entrance to the beehive with a mouse guard. But do this while the bees are still flying. Otherwise, you risk trapping an unwanted guest in the hive. The entrance to the hive remains open in the winter but should be made smaller so that it's easier for the bees to defend the hive. Remove the mite trap tray. The tray shouldn't be put back in the hive until the end of February. In order for the hive to survive the winter, they should have between five and ten full frames of "honey"comb. As a rule, it's best to combine two weaker colonies into one strong colony for the winter.
Before letting the bees settle in for the winter, you can sort out the frames as well. A good rule is that if you can no longer see through the frame, it should be eliminated from the hive. Be sure to store frames containing any amount of honey tightly away for the winter or bees will find it. Only store clean frames or the wax moth will most definitely infest the frame. Within a healthy colony, the wax moth doesn't stand a chance as the bees keep the hive clean and remove the larvae.
And with this last preparation and my last bee class, winter can come. Back to pouring candles for me. But I hope to continue this adventure come spring time when I get my own beehive. I'll keep you posted!
Written by Amy Keller on September 26, 2016 — 1 comments
Bees get sick too, everything from diarrhea to constipation. Just as every parent must eventually deal with a sick child, every beekeeper must know what to do when his or her bees aren't feeling so well. So during my last class, we talked about the most common bee ailments.
Knowing what healthy brood looks like makes it easier to identify anything that doesn't seem quite right in the hive. Healthy cell caps are slightly raised and show the same color depending on the age of the cell. The bees do their best to maintain a healthy hive. If they discover sick, dead or damaged brood, they will open up the cell and remove the sick larvae. Here's where the beekeeper's trained eye must know the difference between a healthy, not yet capped larvae and a cell that has been chewed opened.
First, let's talk about childhood diseases or disease of the brood.
Chalkbrood is a fungal disease. The larvae turn chalk white and are covered with a cotton-like substance. The dead larvae turn hard and can often be found at the entrance to the hive. No medication can be given to prevent chalkbrood. Try spraying the brood comb with honey water to get the bees in cleaning modus. Any heavily infected comb should be removed from the hive.
Sacbrood comes from a virus. The head of the larvae is typically deformed and brown. When removed from the cell, the infected larvae appears to be a sac full of water, thus the name. An additional feeding with honey water can help.
American Foulbrood must be reported to the district veterinary office as it is the most destructive of all the brood diseases. This disease spreads quickly, from cell to cell, from hive to hive. For this reason, you should never try and fight this disease on your own. How can you tell if your hive is infected? Insert a match into the infected cell. If a brown stringy like substance is pulled out, beware.
European Foulbrood is a bacterial infection of the hive but much less serious than American foulbrood. A healthy hive usually survives an outbreak. In contrast to AFB, the dead larvae are easily removed from the cells.
Never feed your bees with honey from another hive! This increases the chances of contracting foulbrood.
But it's not just the kids, the adults can get sick too.
Acarine Mites are small mites that infest the honey bees. They lay up to seven eggs in the airway of the bee. Within a couple of weeks, the mites mate and make more mites and so on and so on. Several generations can live in the trachea of an adult bee. Brother Adam at the Buckfast Abbey in England developed the buckfast bee, resistant to acarine mites.
Nosema is an instestinal infection and is usually only a problem when the bees can not leave the hive to eliminate waste. A sure sign that your bees have nosema is brown or yellow excrement on the flight board of the hive. If the sick bees can't escape the hive in time, they take care of their business right on the comb, thus further spreading the disease within the hive. Formic acid will kill any spores. Comb that has already been excremented upon should be removed.
Dysentry can be confused with nosema as it also results from a long period of time where the bees are unable to escape the hive to relieve themselves. If enough bees have to eliminate their waste within the hive (which the bees really don't want to do), the hive will collapse. A few warm days during winter are vital to the bees' survival. Things get critical when temperatures drop below 10 degrees celsius for more than two to three weeks in a row. An additional feeding with very diluted honey water can help.
While all of the above diseases may or may not infect your hive, you are sure to encounter the varroa mite. During Summer, almost 90% of these pesky mites are on the brood and difficult to treat. In the Fall, the brood becomes less but the varroa mite becomes more and treatment is obligatory. One of the most important jobs of the beekeeper is keeping the varroa mite under control. This already begins in spring by cutting out the capped drone cells as we already discussed here. Beginning in July, keep an eye on the number of mites falling from the bees. You can insert a sticky board under the screened bottom board of your hive. If more than five mites fall onto the board per day, you can put off treatment with formic acid until you prepare the hive for winter. Otherwise, you should already begin with treatment. Be sure to harvest the last of the honey before beginning with treatment though! The formic acid can be added to the hive in the same manner as the sugar water for winter feeding. Once the bottle containing the formic acid is empty, you can change it out for sugar water. As soon as the bees have emptied the sugar water, you should begin with the second treatment of formic acid, approximately one week later. Older colonies will need to be treated 3 - 4 times, younger colonies only twice. If the treatment was done properly, one mite at the most per day should fall onto the sticky paper.
Oxalic acid is very effective but very strong. Be sure to follow the recommended dosage. Treatment with oxalic acid is often done around Christmas time.
I hope this doesn't prevent anyone from wanting bees. But as with any live creature, they need love and attention.
Written by Amy Keller on September 26, 2016 — 0 comments
"Life is a flower of which love is the honey" - Victor Hugo.
Honey is truly a remarkable gift from the bees. We already learned about harvesting the honey. Today we talked about the different varieties of honey and what to do if you want to sell your honey.
Nectar contains about 80% water. The bees get that percentage down to 18% and almost like magic, we have honey. Actually, that process consists of a lot of work on the part of the bees. A worker bee heads out of the hive in search for nectar-rich flowers and uses its probiscis to drink the nectar and store it in its honey stomach. A bee visits hundreds of flowers on one trip until her stomach is full. The worker bee then returns to the hive and regurgitates the nectar into the mouth of a hive bee. The hive bee further breaks down the sugars of the nectar before regurgitating (there's a lot of throwing up going on here) the nectar into a honeycomb cell. Once in the cell, the hive bees start beating their wings furiously to dry out the nectar. Remember, they need to get that water content from 80% to just under 18%. That's a lot of fanning. Once the honey has thickened into honey, the hive bee seals the cell with some wax. This one little worker bee will only produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
The beekeeper must have patience and not harvest the honey too soon. If it has too high of a water content, it will begin to ferment. After harvesting the honey, be sure to use an air tight jar to seal the honey. Otherwise, it will take on moisture and thus begin to ferment.
We got to try both wildflower and forest honey at my last beekeeping class. The forest honey has a stronger taste and is not nearly as sweet as the wildflower honey. I must admit to never having given much thought to forest honey. Have you ever thought about where forest honey actually comes from? Cause if you do think about it, you realize that you don't usually see a pine tree covered in flowers! That's because forest honey is not made from blossom nectar but rather from the excretion, known as honeydew, of some types of lice. These insects excrete this honeydew onto the branches and leaves of trees. The bees then gather it up. So forest honey in fact doesn't come from the tree at all but is actually bug poop which is then regurgitated by a bee. Yum! The sweet, sticky substance that oozes from a tree is simply sap. But if it passes through an insect's digestive tract, it comes out as honeydew. The bees collect this usually in the late summer when nectar is no longer in abundance. But they must be quick as it evaporates rather quickly.
Other pure honey varietals consist of rapeseed, clover, dandelion, sage, sunflower, cornflower, manuka and and and... However, in order to label your honey with a specific variety, your honey must contain at least 60% of that type. In Germany, the so-called "Honigverordnung" or honey-regulation states what is allowed and what is not allowed when selling your honey. Too much information to cover here, but a separate class is offered on the topic of selling honey.
No other food exists that can be either eaten directly after harvest or can be stored without further processing - except honey. The bees provide the honey with valuable enzymes. Many of these enzymes are sensitive to heat and to light so it's best to store your honey in the basement. So go clear out your wine cellar and make room for some honey.
What's your favorite type of honey?
Written by Amy Keller on July 19, 2016 — 0 comments
My teacher called me before class started and asked me to bring some candles. Our topic was going to be wax. Yay! In former times, bees were considered more valuable for their wax than their honey. Candle light was a privilege and a luxury. With the introduction of chemically produced waxes such as paraffin (the sludge from the bottom of an oil barrel), beeswax lost its importance. Beeswax is a luxury product to be cherished. Read about the advantages of beeswax here.
In my first bee class, we learned about the worker bee and the different stages of her very short (35 days) but busy life. Between days 12 and 18, she develops wax producing glands and is responsible for building the honey comb. When a forager bee returns to the hive, she passes off the nectar from her tongue to the tongue of another worker bee within the hive. The bees use special glands to convert the sugar from the honey and basically "sweat" it out of their body into the form of wax. The wax appears as small flakes (no larger than a pin head) on the underside of the bee's abdomen. The bee then chews these flakes to soften them and make them pliable enough to build the honey comb. The bees keep their hive at about 35 degrees Celsius, warm enough for the bees to mold the wax. Beeswax starts out white and colors with age.
The honeycomb's shape is truly an art of engineering. The hexagon has been proven to be the most efficient form for holding honey as the six-sided shape uses the minimum amount of wax but stores the maximum amount of honey. Interesting though, we learned that the bees actually make a cylinder shape. The bees then heat the cylinder with their body allowing the wax to melt and flow into the adjacent gaps, thus creating the hexagon shape.
It's difficult to remember these numbers but each time I hear them, I am amazed and understand the high price of beeswax. So here goes: One hive only produces about 1/2 kg of wax. In order to produce this half a kilogram of wax, they need 5 kg of honey and 1/2 kg of pollen. And for 1 kg of beeswax, approximately 1,250,000 wax flakes from the abdomen of the honey bee are needed. So to give you an idea, these two candles contain about 1/4 kg of beeswax.
So now we know how the bees make the wax, but how does the beekeeper get to the wax. Most of your wax will be harvested during the honey harvest from the cappings that you slice off before placing the frames in the extractor (We talked about this in a previous beekeeper class). Let these cappings drain for a few days to make sure that most of the honey comes out. Then wash any remaining honey off of the cappings with warm water. Use a double boiler to melt the wax. Strain the melted beeswax through a cheese cloth. This process needs to be repeated until all impurities have been removed. Pour the cleaned wax into a block mold, let dry and save it until you are ready to use it. No hurry though as beeswax, just like honey, never expires. And if you are getting serious about your wax production (like me!), then you can build your very own steam wax melter to make this process a bit easier. More on that in another post though.
Photo: Katrien Berckmoes
The wax foundation is one of the greatest inventions of modern beekeeping. Honeycomb is built in an orderly fashion and the beekeeper's job is greatly facilitated. Another advantage of using a wax foundation is that only female worker bee cells are built as the pre-formed indentations are too small for drone cells. The varroa mite is attracted to the drones and keeping the drones in separate frames helps keep this pest under control. Simply add two empty frames per hive and the bees will use this free space to build drone cells.
When starting out, the new beekeeper obviously won't have his/her own wax to make his own wax foundations. What to do? Be sure to purchase wax foundations that are certified chemical-free. This way you can ensure a future source of clean wax and honey in your hive. New foundation must be used each time the comb is replaced. This keeps disease and chemicals to a minimum. Only use freshly produced capping wax and the wax from the drone frames for wax foundations. Do not reuse the old foundations. The goal is to establish your own wax cycle within the hive. Old comb out, new comb in.
Beekeepers like to keep things organized in the hive, the wax foundation plays a big role. But how do you get those perfect hexagons pressed into a sheet of beeswax? You need a wax foundation press. The press basically works like a waffle iron. Keep it greased (you can use a commercially bought liquid release agent or try water with a couple drops of dish cleaning detergent), pour in the dough (in our case wax), close, wait a couple of seconds, open and remove your waffle (or wax foundation). It took us a few times to get it right but no worries, just add the foundation back to the melting pot and try again until you get the hang of it. Be careful when removing the sheet of wax as a finger imprint could cause the bees to build drones in the larger indentation.
No wax. No honey. Less food. What would we do without these precious bees?
Written by Amy Keller on July 07, 2016 — 0 comments
Raising a new queen sounds like a topic for advanced beekeepers, at least that's what I thought. But during my last beekeeper class, we learned that queen rearing and mating are actually one of the most important jobs of the beekeeper. So please bear with me as this got slightly confusing at times.
The first reason for raising a new queen is the obvious, your hive is without a queen. We talked about how to find out if your hive is with or without queen during my last beekeeper class. Another reason to breed a new queen is that your current queen is getting old. But it's not as easy as simply adding a new queen to the colony and hoping for the best. In this case, the new queen will most certainly be killed!
The best time of year to rear a new queen is at the height of hive development, from the beginning of May to mid-June. The safest way to rear a new queen is by taking larvae of the female worker bees and placing it in a hand-made queen cell. Pre-formed plastic cells can be purchased. But I of course (and the bees probably too) would prefer a hand-made version made by dipping a wooden mold into melted beeswax. To ensure a healthy queen, only transfer the smallest larvae (1 day old) from a gentle healthy hive with good honey production to the hand-made queen cup. This process is done using a special grafting tool. The queen cups are then attached to a cell bar within a frame.
If you require no more than 10 queens, you may place the cell bar directly into a 3 frame or 5 frame nuc box. The queen cups now hang upside down from the cell bar in the so-called rearing hive. To set up this rearing hive, you need about three frames of capped brood in the middle of the nuc and one or two honey frames on the outer side (these can be taken from another hive). Carefully sweep some bees from one or two frames with open brood (these are the youngest bees). Be sure not to take the queen with you. At this point, you could choose to let the hive rear their own queen. After about 9 days, the bees will have created queen cells. In contrast to swarm cells, these queen cells are built in the middle of the comb. Break all of these cells away but one. She will become the new queen. However, the disadvantage to this method, is that depending on the age of the larvae which was "re-programmed" to become a queen, an adequate queen will not be bred.
Two to five queen cells can easily be cared for by the nurse bees. Be sure to add more queen cells than necessary because not every queen cell will become a healthy queen. This cell bar must be removed from the hive before the queens hatch. Otherwise, the first queen to hatch will kill off all of the other queen cells. If the cell has been opened on the side, then you know that the first queen has killed the others. To ensure that this does not happen, queen cell protection cages may be placed over each queen cell (attached to the cell bar) once the queen cell has been capped by the nursing bees (about 5 days after grafting).
Photo by Maja Dumat - CC BY 2.0
The queen is ready to hatch usually 9 to 10 days after the grafting of the larvae. The queen cells can then be transferred to a mating nucleus, which is basically a mini hive for breeding queens. Be sure to provide about 14 days worth of food in the mating nucleus.
A young queen usually mates 10 days after hatching and must then start laying eggs. She mates outside of the hive during her mating flight where she will become fertilized from between 8 and 20 drones. This sperm (approximately 10 million) will last her life-time.
When the queen has mated and begins to lay eggs, she may be placed into the queenless hive. The bees should be given pollen patties for three days, the time the hive usually needs to accept the new queen. If you have added the queen to a nuc box, the bees will need to be moved to a big hive as soon as the first bees hatch. Remove the frames from the nuc box and add them to the big hive. Don't forget your smoker! In between each brood frame, an empty frame with a honey-coated (or sugar water) wax foundation is placed. Then place the big hive in the exact same spot as the nuc hive and remove the nuc hive.
And if this all seems too complicated, phew, you can order a queen bee and she will be delivered to your doorstep. Who knew?
Written by Amy Keller on June 21, 2016 — 0 comments
During my last beekeeper class, I got to taste my first honey direct from the comb. I'll get to that in a minute. But first we learned about the main job of a beekeeper - swarm control.
Why does a honeybee colony swarm? The first factor has to do with the age of the queen. Here's a rule of thumb. In her first year, she will not swarm. In her second year, she will probably swarm. In her third year, she will definitely swarm. The second reason a colony swarms is because they need more room. But let's discuss the problem with the queen who wants to flee her kingdom.
As a beekeeper, you will spend the majority of your time checking for new queen cells. These are elongated cells, often built at the bottom of the drone frames. About every eight days (the time it takes for a queen cell to be capped) between May and July (the major swarming time), the drone frames should be checked for possible queen cells. Don't forget your smoker. Shake the bees off of the frame to get a good look. If you discover just one or two queen cells, go ahead and leave them. Maybe it's getting time for the older queen to leave and the colony is breeding a new queen. But if you discover several queen cells, then they must be removed as this is a sure sign that the colony wants to swarm soon. But removing the queen cells is not enough, the bees will quickly build new ones. At this point, you must move a part of the colony with the queen to a new hive or temporary nuc box.
When the queen leaves the hive, she takes about half of the bees with her. Each new queen that hatches decides to either kill off the old queen, kill off any other new queens and take control of the hive or swarm the hive taking more bees with her.
If you're not sure if the queen has already left the colony, you can add a test frame to check. Insert a test frame containing eggs and larvae from another hive. Check this frame in a few days. If the ladies have not produced any queen cells, then you can be reassured that there is a queen in the colony. If queen cells are produced, then you can either let these develop or introduce a new queen from another source to save time.
But it is inevitable that a honeybee colony will swarm at some point or other. When the weather is calm and the time is right, the bees will pour out of the hive like a waterfall. Then what to do? If you're lucky, you will find the swarm quickly. A swarm of bees only becomes dangerous when they begin to build. So if you notice wax, then beware as those bees will defend their house at all cost. You can spray the swarm lightly with water to make it more difficult for them to fly. Once you've captured the swarm in a swarm trap, it's best to leave the trap close by until all of the bees have entered the trap. Once all the bees are captured, shake the bees into an empty hive and finally add the frames.
Enough about swarms, let's get to the honey. I got to try the first honey of the season straight from the honeycomb. Please bear with me as I share some figures with you. We know that honey is basically regurgitated nectar from the bees. But did you know that it takes 3kg of nectar to make 1kg of honey? And that it takes between approximately 3 and 5 million flowers to obtain 3kg of nectar. One bee visits about 4000 flowers during her lifetime. After hearing this, don't you think honey should be more expensive?!
But how do you know when the honey is ready to be taken from the hive? The first test is if the honey drips out of the frame, it is not yet ready and needs to be returned to the hive. The bees need to dry it some more by fanning their wings. Our honey frame did not drip so we used a pronged capping fork to remove the wax seal from the honey comb.
To be sure that the honey is dry enough, we added a tiny bit to a refractometer to measure the moisture content which should read between 16 and 18%. Good to go! After removing the wax cappings, we placed the frames into the honey extractor and manually turned the crank and oohed and awed as the golden honey began to flow out of the spout.
Have you ever tried honey straight from the hive?
Written by Amy Keller on June 08, 2016 — 0 comments
What happened to Spring? Too cold for me and much too cold for the bees. It should be at least 12 degrees Celsius before you open a beehive. And seeing as the thermometer in my car on the way to my bee class read 6 degrees, we weren't going to get a peak in the hive. Instead, about 15 of us huddled in the beekeeping clubhouse to learn about the different breeds of bees, frame sizes and where to best place a beehive.
We discussed three of the most popular races of honey bees, not very many considering that there are over 600 different types of honey bees, not including wild bees.
Buckfast Bee: This bee is a hybrid created by Brother Adam, a Benedictine monk in charge of beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey in the United Kingdom. This breed of bee is excellent at brood rearing.
Carnica Bee: These bees have dark grey bands. They have a tendency to swarm but keep a small colony during the winter which requires only a minimal amount of food.
Lingustica Bee: These Italian bees are great honey comb builders and grow their colony quickly. They maintain a large colony during the winter, requiring more food.
So after I decide what type of bees I would like, I need to figure out where to put my hive. I dreamt of having my very own bees in my very own yard but this may not be as easy as I thought. At least in Germany (and this does make sense, especially if you like your neighbors), you must have a distance of 6 meters to the neighboring border. The hive entrance should face SouthEast (or East) so that the bees can profit from the morning sun. But be careful with that sunshine, especially in the summer. Too much heat on the hive will cause the wax to melt. The hive requires shade during mid-day. This should probably go without saying, but don't set up a hive near an expressway. Or all those busy worker bees are likely to end up stuck to a car grille on their way home. The bees need about 1.5 meters of free space directly in front of the hive. But then it is advisable to have a hedge or some tall plantings as this will force the bees to fly up, thus being less of a nuisance to any neighbors. Once you've decided on your ideal spot and you later decide it's not quite so ideal, don't just pick up the hive and move it a few meters. Those bees know exactly where their home is and if it's no longer there, they won't be able to find it, even if they can see it. So it must be moved at least 2 km away (and then can be again moved to a new location if desired). Bees need a source of water nearby. To avoid potential hassle with the neighbor, this source shouldn't be a swimming pool, rain barrel or a dripping garden hose. Be sure to write your name and telephone number on your beehive. Beekeeping is something to be proud of, no need to be anonymous.
So now I know what type of bees I want and where to place my bees, but what about the hive itself? One of the greatest inventions in modern beekeeping is the invention of the wax foundation. This is a plate made of wax with the indentations of honeycomb. It provides the bees with an easy foundation to build their honeycomb, much quicker than building a natural honeycomb.
This wax foundation is inserted into a wired frame by soldering the wire with an electric current. This heats the wire and the wax foundation melts and attaches itself within the frame to the wire. But be careful not to heat the wire too much or it will cut right through the wax. The wires should be so taut that you could almost play guitar on them. When working with so many frames, it's important to stick with one system: horizontal wires and contact nails on the side of all frames. Our instructor recommended using only Hoffman frames. These frames are self-spacing. The side-bars are tapered from top to bottom. Another important factor to consider when choosing your frames is that they are made out of hardwood, such as ash. Otherwise, the wire will cut through softer woods.
Now we have our frames, but where to put them. The frames where the bees live, where the queen lays her eggs and where the brood is raised come on the bottom of the hive. On top of those come the queen excluder (you don't want to find the queen in the honey when you take those frames out). Then come the frames where the bees store their honey. A good rule of thumb (at least in my neck of the woods) is to add the honey box as soon as the cherry trees begin to bloom. And so as not to disturb the bees too much, the honey box and the drone frames should be added at the same time.
The drone frames are a bit different than the brood and honey frames. They don't need a wax foundation. This empty frame is placed on the edge of the brood nest frames. A simple strip of wax along the top of the frame is helpful in building the drone honeycomb. After two (no later than three) weeks, the drone frame can be removed and cut out. Why in the world would you want to cut out all those potential drones?! Well, turns out it's a natural way of fighting the varroa mite. This world-wide pest infests the drone brood much more than the female worker brood. So by cutting out the drone brood before they hatch, you can reduce the hive infection, not completely, but significantly. After the initial removal of the drone brood, this process should be repeated every 7 to 10 days with removal of the oldest drone frame.
Caution! Mice, snails and ants....all want to get into the cozy warm beehive. The first way to prevent predators from entering the hive is to keep the hive 20 to 30 cm off of the ground. Just before the first frost, it's advisable to add a mouse guard, a piece of wire mesh or metal that goes across the hive entrance and helps the bees protect the opening.
I'd love to hear from any beekeepers about their experiences with the above topics that we covered. Until next time...
Written by Amy Keller on April 26, 2016 — 0 comments
I am so happy that I have the opportunity to be a part of a beekeeping class offered by the beekeeping club of Konstanz. Yesterday afternoon was my second class so I have a lot to catch you up on. But first, a little bit of Greek Mythology which our instructor shared during our first class. Did you know that Zeus, the god of the sky and the ruler of the gods, was raised on honey? The story goes that Cronus, the father of Zeus, ate each of his children after they were born as he feared that they would overthrow him (just as he overthrew his own father, Ouranus). Rhea, his wife (also his sister, hmmm) finally got smart and hid her sixth child from Cronus. She lovingly presented her husband with a swaddled stone instead and ... he ate it! She brought her baby, Zeus, to the island of Crete and hid him a cave where he was raised on honey by the daughters of the King, Melitta (the bee) and Amalthea. Zeus became very strong and later dethroned his father. The moral of the story? What goes around comes around. And of course, honey is good for you.
During my second class, we learned that all honey bees are not created equal. First, we have the lady herself, the queen. A queen is only fed with royal jelly and hatches just 16 days after being laid. But a queen without her kingdom (or in this case her hive) is worthless. The queen cannot collect nectar or pollen and she cannot produce wax. But she is in charge of ensuring that the sperm she collects on her mating flight lasts her entire life-time of 3 to 5 years. She also decides if she wants to have a boy or a girl. She measures the size of the cell opening with her front legs and lays an unfertilized egg if the opening is large, thus a male drone. If the cell opening is small, she'll add a little sperm and a female worker bee will later hatch. The power!
Photo: The queen in the middle is significantly larger than the other bees.
Continuing on with powerful females, we also learned about the female worker bee, appropriately named as you shall see. The worker bees hatch after 21 days. A hive often contains approximately 60,000 female worker bees. A female begins her short life with cleaning (we're getting to the powerful female part) her honeycomb cell and herself. All cleaned up and ready to go, her next task is to warm up the brood. On days 3 to 5 of her life, she becomes nurse bee and feeds the older larvae. On days 6 to 12, she starts multi-tasking and feeds the younger larvae, takes nectar from the older female worker bees, packs the pollen and again must clean. On days 12 to 18, she begins building honeycomb with her wax secreting glands. We all knew that honey is basically bee vomit but did you know that beeswax is basically bee sweat? She guards the hive on days 17 to 19, allowing only family members to pass. Finally, she is permitted to venture out into the world (as far as approximately 3 kilometers from the hive) and gather nectar. But she's just so exhausted that her life ends after just 35 days.
Photo: Female working bee gathering pollen and nectar
And of course, we need the boys, otherwise known as drones. The drones cannot sting. They need the longest to hatch, 24 days and are larger than the worker bees. A drone's soul function is to find a virgin queen and mate with her. During his lazy lifetime, he is permitted entrance to the hive and is provided with food. In order to find his virgin queen, a drone has extra large eyes and an enhanced sense of smell. His moment of glory takes place mid-air. He must compete with several other drones for the chance to commit sexual suicide. If he meets with success, the explosive force from the ejaculation of sperm causes him to fall to the ground and die. Meanwhile, the queen continues to mate with another dozen or so drones in the same flight. The drones not "lucky" enough to end their lives so dramatically are then killed off come winter when they are only interested in getting at the precious and limited food supply of the hive. But the working girls simply don't let the boys near the honey anymore and they die off.
Photo: Male drone just hatching from honeycomb cell
Fascinating, isn't it? Well, after learning a bit about the goings-on in the hive, we got to actually open up the hive for the first time of the season and add the honey box to the top. It's important that the bees have enough room, otherwise they are likely to swarm. They don't like to be overcrowded.
Photo on left: Beehive frame, Photo on right: Beehive smoker
But before opening the hive, our instructor first got his smoker going. You can use anything in your smoker that causes smoke. The bees don't care but a nice mix of herbs from the garden gives the beekeeper a bit of aromatherapy while working. The smoke triggers a primitive reflex in the bees which makes them think that a forest fire is nearby. Rather than lose their honey to this impending threat, they eat it (a portion of it). This sugar fix makes the bees drowsy and not nearly as aggressive as they would usually be if someone came along and took the roof off of their house. It's important to work quickly and efficiently, especially in the cooler months. The hive is kept warm for the brood and as soon as the hive is opened, it can cool off rather quickly. Oh, and you shouldn't open the hive at all if the temperature is under 15 degrees Celsius.
Enough information for today. I look forward to the next chapter in this most fascinating world of bees. I hope you do too! Have any of you experience with beekeeping? I'd love to hear your stories.
Written by Amy Keller on April 12, 2016 — 0 comments