Sunday, August 26, 2012

Do Bees Like Broccoli?

The question is, Do bees like broccoli?

The answer is, Yes!

For some reason the broccoli in our garden did not form nice tight heads this year so we never cut them. They eventually went to seed, and the little yellow flowers turned out to be very attractive to the bees!


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bumper Crop

Well, I see that I haven't posted anything in this blog since June 11th.  I have had a very busy summer and haven't had time to keep up very well.  Besides neglecting the blog I feel like I have neglected the bees as well.  But, as you will see the bees have taken care of themselves.

We had a very mild winter, and spring started early this year.  The alfalfa, which is our main nectar source, blossomed a full three weeks early, but the majority of the fields within a couple miles of our house did not get cut any earlier than they usually do.  This gave the bees a huge extended nectar flow.  In fact, I ended up putting four supers on both Ida and Georgia and ran out of supers by the end of June.  I extracted two supers full and got 70 lbs (about 6 gallons) so I would have some supers to put back on the hives.

That is when things got really busy, and I rarely got back out to check the bees.  But about three weeks ago I did get out and quickly checked Svetlana, that is the new hive from the package of Russian hybrids I installed in April.  She had had one super on her for quite some time and had hardly touched it.  All the frames were still empty.  I decided that, when I had time, I would take the honey from her deep hive bodies and let her die out over the winter.  I would then be able to split one of the other hives next spring and put them in Svetlana's hive.  However, this last weekend I went out to pull her deep frames and found that she had almost completely filled in the entire super.  I decided to leave her alone and let the bees continue with their work.  I guess when they decided to get after it they really got after it.

Since we are getting close to the end of August I went out today to check the supers and get an idea of how much honey we might get and to decide how long to wait before we harvest.  It was amazing how gentle the bees were- I went through all nine supers with no smoke, and they did not get upset at all.  Here is a picture of one of the frames out of Ida.  This is what I like to see- a nice fat frame of honey all capped and ready for extraction.
Almost all of the frames in the hives looked just like this.  I think that six of the supers could be extracted right now.  The other three are probably 75% full and capped.  I will give them a couple more weeks and plan on taking their honey sometime in the first week of September.

Wow- nine supers!  That could mean up to twenty-seven gallons of honey this fall plus the two we extracted in June.  This has definitely been a bumper year.  Our biggest year until now has been just seventeen gallons.  A new record for the Robertson bees!

If you have ever wondered what happens to a hive when the beekeeper doesn't stay on top of things and keep the burr comb cleaned out you can just look here.
 The bees had built so much extra comb and stuck everything together so well that it was really difficult to pry the supers apart.  It is amazing how strong bees wax can be.

After prying the supers apart and exposing all the honey that had been stored between the frames, some of the bees come out for a little snack.

I took a little snack for myself and the family, too.  Good stuff!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Honey Is On Its Way

When the alfalfa and the Russian olives started blooming a couple of weeks ago I put two supers on both Ida and Georgia.  I always feel optimistic about the first alfalfa nectar flow and hope the bees will need two supers to contain all the nectar they are bringing in.  It never happens that way though-  it is a long slow process with the bees steadily bringing in nectar all summer long.  By the end of the summer I expect to have three (maybe four if it is a good year) supers on each hive.

As I checked the hives today I found that both Ida and Georgia have some nectar on their second super.  There is not a lot, just a little in a few frames.  In their first supers they both have at least some nectar in every frame.  Here is s picture of the nectar they are collecting.
I think, if you zoom in on the picture, you can see the sun reflecting off the nectar in the center right part of the frame.  This was photo is from Georgia and was actually taken last week.  I did not have the camera with me today.

Ida is ahead of Georgia in both nectar collection and population.  Ida has three or four frames in her super that are almost completely full of nectar.  I expect to see some capped honey next week.

Svetlana is slowly progressing.  I have been feeding her sugar syrup to help her draw comb on the frames in her two deep hive bodies.  I thought she would be all filled out and ready for her first honey super today, but she still has a couple of frames to draw before that can happen.  I will make her more sugar syrup today.  I think that by next week she should be ready to go, and we will have honey on its way from all three hives.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

We Are Not Queenless

I guess that title might make it sound like I am talking about Queen Elizabeth's 60 year jubilee, but I am not. I am talking about the hives and specifically, Georgia. Let me explain the back story.

Our little apiary consists of three hives: Georgia, Ida, and Svetlana.  Svetlana is the new hive of Russian hybrids we set up from a package this spring.  Georgia is one of our original hives we installed back in 2009- boy does time fly!  Ida was created when we split Georgia earlier this spring and moved half of Georgia's bees (with the queen) into Virginia's old digs.  Virginia died out after going queenless and developing laying workers late last summer.  Are you with me so far?

The Italian mutt queen that was in Georgia got moved over to Ida during the split.  She has continued to lay eggs and has kept that hive good and healthy.  As Georgia was then queenless, we ordered a new queen from the Walter T Kelley beekeeping supply company.  We ended up getting a Carniolan queen who had been bred with Minnesota Hygienic drones.  Minnesota Hygienic bees are Italian's that have been selected for increased hygienic behavior- they keep the hive cleaner and are thus more "resistant" to mites and other diseases.  Georgia's bee seemed to accept her very well and a week later I  found some eggs in the hive- not a lot, but some.  I figured we were on our way to a good year.

The next week I checked on her again but found no eggs at all.  I was discouraged.  I removed a frame of very young larva from Ida and put them in Georgia so they could make their own queen.  I went back again a week after that to make sure they were making supercedure cells for a new queen but found none.  Instead, I found... eggs!  It has been a roller coaster.

It has now been a couple of weeks and I thought I better check the hives again.  I wanted to check everyone for swarm cells and I also just wanted to make sure that everyone was queen right.  Ida and Svetlana are doing great queen-wise, but I was still a little worried about Georgia.  As I started going through her hive I only saw empty frames and some honey.  On the fourth frame I pulled I found a bunch of brood- capped and uncapped, but I wanted to see eggs.  On the fifth frame I also found brood but no eggs- but right there on to of the frame was the big plump queen.  Can you spot her in these first two photos?

Here is a close up of her majesty.
Isn't she beautiful?  Better looking than Queen Elizabeth, I think.  This week I choose to celebrate the reign of Georgia's queen.  May she live long and lay lots of eggs!

It does feel good to be queen right in all three hives!!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Calling The Bees Home

I got to see something last night that I have never seen before, and it was really quite amazing.  I wandered out to the garden last evening right at dusk and, as it turns out, about 15 minutes before it started to rain.  As I got close to the hives I noticed that there were a lot of bees coming home.  The more closely I looked the more bees I could see.  They were coming in from all directions.  I knelt down next to one of the hives and looked out and up at about a 50-60 degree angle and, over the course of a few minutes, saw thousands of bees flying straight toward me and landing on the front porches of the hives next to me.  It was quite a sight.

I wonder if they were just coming home for the evening all at the same time or if they sensed that the rain was about to fall and that caused them all to return at once.  I would have liked to have somehow gotten a picture but I really don't think a camera would have been able to pick it all up.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bees On Blossoms

We have already had various nectar flows this spring.  Here are a few pictures of the nectar flows that have been occurring in our own backyard.

First, the pear tree blossomed. 
We have only one small pear tree and I don't know of any others in the area.  This tree does not contribute a lot of pollen and nectar, but it was full of bees.  I suppose every little bit counts.  Interestingly, the pollen from the pear tree is a pale green color.... curious.  The person in the bee suit is Christina, my wife.  We had just been checking the bees and she had not taken her suit off yet.

These next two photos are pictures of bees on our pear blossoms.

We have no photos of bees on the apple tree this year. It was getting a little out of control and I pruned it way back. I think the trauma caused it to not blossom.

The dandelion bloom has been in high gear for about a week now.
This is certainly the major source of pollen and nectar right now.

These last two photos of bees on our lilacs are interesting.
We have a lilac hedge that produces tons of blossoms.  This is our fourth year with bees and I had never seen a single bee on any of the lilac blossoms.  I had always assumed that the blossoms were too deep and narrow for the bees to access the nectar in the bottom.  However, I spotted a handful of bees working the lilac blossoms the other day.  After doing a little more research I found that bees will work lilac blossoms but usually only if there is no other nectar flow.  What is strange is that while the lilacs are blooming there is a very strong dandelion nectar flow at the same time.  I don't know what made these blossoms so attractive to these bees but it was neat to see.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Russians Are Coming!

The Russians are coming!!  Actually, they already arrived.  On April 18th our package of Russian hybrids finally made it to our front porch.  We were excited to get them in the hive that we already had set up and ready to go, but the weather was rainy, windy, and cold.  The 19th was the same.  Finally, on the 20th, there was a break in the weather and we installed them in their little home.  We made it just in time I think; when I removed the feeding can I found that it was completely empty.  The following are some photos of how things went with Svetlana and how she is progressing.

This first photo is Svetlana in her package.


Three pounds of bees.  I'm not sure exactly how many bees are in there, but it is a lot.

Here we are out at the hive.  I am removing the feeder can.  The other gentleman in the bee suit is my son.  He is 14 years old and is taking more interest in working with the bees.

Here I am dumping the bees on top of the frames in the hive.
You can see some comb and some drone brood on the 3rd frame from the bottom.  I stole a frame of pollen from Georgia to get Svetlana going.  Perhaps I should have ordered some pollen patties for her but this seems to have worked okay.

Here in this photo the bees are spreading out and finding their way down into the frames.
 I removed a frame to leave a space for the queen cage.  She came in a plastic cage with a candy stopper.  It took the bees a few days to eat the candy and release her into the hive.  A few days after that she began laying eggs.

Here is a closer photo of the bees.
 These Russians seem to be a little bit darker than the Italians in our other two hives have been.

I couldn't get all the bees out of the package so I left it open by the base of the hive.
 It didn't take them long to find their way in.

Here, my son is pouring the sugar syrup into the top feeder.
 If the bees don't have either nectar or sugar syrup they will not be able to draw comb.  This gives them a good start.

Here the bees are finding their way up into the feeder.
 It didn't take them long to finish off the first gallon of syrup.

These next three photos show the progress they have been making drawing comb on the frames.

The queen started laying eggs a few days after being released.  I don't have any photos of that but she looks like she will be pretty prolific.  As of a couple of days ago she had two full frames of eggs and brood.

This is what our little apiary looks like now.  From left to right we have Ida, Georgia, and Svetlana.
No, the vine behind the hives is not dead- it is just one of the last things to green up on the spring.  This photo was actually taken after I split Georgia to create Ida.  But that will be a blog for another day.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Pussy Willow Bloom 2012

It has happened!  The pussy willow bloomed today.  It is one of the first key blooms of the year and supplies a lot of pollen for the bees.  For the past two years the pussy willow has bloomed on or about April 11th.  This puts us nearly 3 weeks ahead of schedule this year.  I stopped by some other willow species in town and found that they have not yet bloomed.  The dandelion bloom has not started yet either.
Georgia is getting very full of bees- I think it would be a good idea to split her soon.  The problem is that I have only seen two drones around the hive so far this spring.  Without a sufficient supply of drones any new queen that is made after the split will not be able to mate well, and that will not make for a healthy hive.  I do hope drone production starts up soon.

Here is a picture of the pussy willow.  It was very full of bees- you could here the hum from quite a distance.

If you look through the willow branches you can see two hives.  The hive closest to the pussy willow is empty and will become Ida after the split.  The other one is Georgia.

Here are more photos of bees in the willow.

It seems a little early, but I do think spring is here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Little White Fuzzies

This past weekend I noticed little white puffs of fuzz popping out on the pussy willow.
 Now in a couple of weeks these white fuzz balls should pop out in bright yellow blossoms covered in pollen, and the bees will kick pollen collection into high gear.  I looked back through the blog to find last year's pussy willow bloom date and found it on April 11th.  It looks like this year we are about 2 weeks ahead of last year.  This means that the big alfalfa bloom which has occurred on about June 20th for the last two years will happen closer to the first part of June- I can hardly wait!

I also noticed this past weekend that the bees are bringing in what looks like pollen.  I don't see anything green or blooming so who knows where this is coming from.  As you can see in the following photos the pollen baskets are small, but they are definitely there.

Interestingly, I read a blog today, which is kept by an experienced beekeeper in Minnesota, stating that what beekeepers think is pollen coming in lately is actually dust from bird feeders and deer feeders.  So, are my bees bringing in dust instead of pollen?  Maybe.  Or maybe there is a tree with catkins in the area that begins producing pollen earlier than other more obvious pollen sources.  Hazelnut trees, for example, bloom and pollinate in the middle of winter.

What do my bees have on their legs?  The world may never know- but they sure are fun to watch!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Hive Has Arrived

It's here!  I ordered a new hive from Betterbee and it finally arrived.  This new hive will become the new home of a 3 pound package of Russian hybrid bees I have coming from Honey Bee Genetics in Vacaville, CA.
My other two hives are polystyrene (styrofoam) Beemax hives.  I ordered them when we first started keeping bees back in 2009.  I thought that the thick styrofoam would offer better insulation for the bees during our cold winters.  They have held up pretty well but are beginning to weather in some places.  I decided to go with a regular wooden hive this time as there are plenty of bees in the area that seem to do fine without the extra insulation of styrofoam, and I think wood will stand up to the weather a little better.

Anyway, the package of Russian hybrids will be arriving in mid April and will be moving in to this hive.  We are looking forward to having Svetlana join our little family.

If you have been following my blog you may already know that Virginia (one of the hives we started with in 2009) died out last fall and Georgia was left alone all winter.  Georgia came through the winter in good condition and still has a good sized cluster.  I am afraid we will be looking at another swarm if we do not do something with them.  So... I am going to step outside my comfort zone and attempt to split Georgia and start another colony in Virginia's old hive.

My plan will be as follows-  Probably sometime in April, when Georgia's population is booming and there is plenty of pollen coming in, I will take a few frames of bees, eggs, and brood from Georgia and transfer them to the empty hive.  Hopefully the queen will be transferred with those frames, but I am a miserable queen finder.  I have only been able to spot any of the queens a few times in the last few years.  Wherever the queen ends up she should continue laying eggs and the other hive should be able to use some of the existing eggs to produce a new queen for that hive.  Sounds easy enough, right?  I just hope I don't screw everything up.

The new colony, split from Georgia and living in Virginia's old hive, will be named Ida.  How did we come up with that name?  Well, this split will kind of be like a sister to Georgia, and Georgia O'Keeffe had a sister named Ida.  That works, doesn't it?

So if all goes well we will have Georgia, Ida, and Svetlana all living side by side in our backyard.  I hope they can all get along.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Healthy Hive

About five days ago, as I already mentioned in my previous post, I put a bunch of bee candy out in the hive.  At that time the top of the cluster was just below the tops of the frames.  The bees could be seen by looking down between the frames but there were no bees up on top of the frames.  I added an empty medium super to provide space on top of the hive and placed the bee candy inside.

I have been wondering if the bees have started taking advantage of the bee candy or not so yesterday I went out, lifted the cover, and took the following pictures.

It looks like the bee candy tempted them enough to move up!  Besides the bees seen here, there were bees busily moving up and down between the frames and a lot at the hive entrance moving dead bees out and taking off on cleansing flights.  Georgia is looking good and healthy as we move toward spring.  I think a split might be in her future.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Winter Feeding

There hasn't been much going on with the beehive this winter.  When I last checked in with the blog in the first part of December we were experiencing bitter cold temperatures.  Since then, though, we have had a very mild winter with most days getting up above freezing. 

It seems like a milder winter would be better for the bees, but that isn't necessarily so.  As I have learned from another blog called "What Should I Be Doing With My Bees This Month?", warmer temperatures result in more active bees that require more honey to eat.  And if it is warm enough for the queen to start laying, the bees will really consume a lot of honey in an effort to keep all that brood warm.  It doesn't take much to draw the conclusion that milder winters could mean more bees starving in February and March if supplemental feed isn't added to the hives.  The aforementioned blog is kept by an experienced beekeeper in Minnesota and offers a lot of good tips for beekeeping in northern and colder climates. 

As our winter thus far has been fairly mild I have been getting concerned about how much honey might still be left in our beehive.  Last week I made a batch of bee candy to put on top of the frames.  I used the following recipe:

Add 5 parts sugar to 1 part water.  Add 1/4 teaspoon of vinegar for every pound of sugar and bring the whole thing to a boil.  Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 234 degrees and then boil for 3 minutes more without stirring.  Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool while stirring with a whisk.  I don't know how far to cool the mixture before pouring it out- I haven't figured that part out yet. (If you are pouring into molds it might not make much difference, but if you are pouring onto a sheet of waxed paper you don't want it to be too hot or it will spread out too thin.  That is what happened to me this time.)  You can either pour the hot mixture out onto a sheet of waxed paper with a towel underneath or you can pour into a mold such as a cereal bowl or small cake pan that has been lined with waxed paper.  Spray the waxed paper with cooking spray to make it easier to remove the candy after it has cooled.  A quick google search for "bee candy recipe" will give you a variety of recipes to choose from.

I made it out to the hive this afternoon to put the bee candy on the top of the frames.
You can see that the candy I poured out on a sheet of waxed paper ended up really thin and broke into several small pieces.  I also poured some into two cereal bowls lined with waxed paper.

There were no bees on the top, but I could look down and see the top of the cluster just about an inch below the tops of the frames.  The cluster is covering six frames.  In the picture above, the cluster is covering the second frame from the top down to the third frame from the bottom.  This seems like big cluster to me, but I don't know how far down into the hive the cluster extends.  I could see a little way into the hive and I saw that the outer two frames on either end still have capped honey, but I don't know if that honey continues all the way down to the bottom of the frames or not.

In the following picture you can see the top of the cluster down between the frames.
I am hoping that the capped honey plus this bee candy will tide them over until the dandelions and willows start blooming in April.

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