Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Favorite Photos

It has been five years since I started keeping bees in my backyard and over that time I have taken A LOT of pictures of the bees.  I am no photographer, and the vast majority of those pictures have been missed shots, out of focus, or just plain uninteresting.  Every once in a while, though, I get one that works out really well.  I have shared many of those photos here on the blog.

I have decided to make a collection of some of my favorite photos and share them all together here.  I might have been lucky enough to get a cool looking shot and some of them might have some other meaning.  In any case, here thy are.
Bee on an apple blossom in our backyard

Bee on the broccoli blossom in our garden

Bee on a cantaloupe blossom in our garden

Bee on white Dutch clover blossom in our yard

Coming in for a landing on a pear blossom in the backyard

Three jars of honey after our first honey harvest

The first bit of honey out of the extractor during our first honey harvest

Drinking Bee

A single bee fanning the top entrance

The tops of the frames in a honey super at harvest time

I don't know- I just thought it was cool looking

Coming in to a hollyhock

Drawing comb on a new frame

Midwinter hives

Filling a frame with nectar- a little over half full

Bee on lilacs in the back yard

Orientation flights in front of the hive

More orientation flights

Bee on a pear blossom in the backyard

The bees finishing up a beautiful frame of honey

One of the hives swarmed and landed in the neighbors bushes

Bee on a Russian olive blossom

Queen bee- isn't she beautiful?

Queen cup.  I was just trying to show that it was empty, but it turned out to be a cool picture at a cool angle.

Bee on our pussy willow.  Beautiful pollen basket!

Bee on a backyard dandelion

Barely hanging on to a backyard apple blossom

Translucent bee.  One of my favorites!

I don't know why, but I have always liked this picture with the bees on the frame a little out of focus and the sun shining through the smoke from the smoker.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bloom Dates

When I started keeping bees five years ago I really didn't know what I was doing and had a ton of questions.  One of the places I would go to ask those questions was to an online forum called Beesource.  The forum is full of beekeepers both old and new who ask questions and share their experiences.  I got a lot of good advice when I was first starting out but was also frustrated with some of the answers.  I would almost always get responses that ended with something like "That is what I would do in my location, but that might be completely opposite from what you should do in your location."

It is true that the timing of bee activity, when and which flowers they will visit, how much honey they might produce, etc. depends a lot on location.  Even here in Wyoming I could never get a straight answer about which blossoms would be available and when they would bloom.  Nectar flows start here in Lovell earlier than they start in Powell thirty miles away, and that is earlier than when the same nectar flows will start in Cody another twenty miles down the highway.

I came across a tool the other day that allows beekeepers to map their location and record bloom dates of various flowers.  This tool was just created last week by a fellow beekeeper who shared in on Beesource.  I wish this had been available five years ago.  It consists of a form (find it here) in which you can record location, bloom dates, and comments and a map (find it here) on which the information is plotted.  I have added the links to the group of links on the side bar.

Here is an image of what the map looks like today:
There are only a few entries that have been added so far.  I would love to see it fill up and see everybody's bloom dates around the world.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pussy Willow Bloom 2013

The pussy willow bloomed a few days ago on April 2nd.  This is always an exciting day as it is the first bloom of the year where I can actually see the bees working the blossoms.  They actually do start bringing in a pale yellow pollen a week or two before the pussy willow blooms, but I have never been able to figure out where it is coming from.

The pussy willow bloom also give me a good idea of when honey production will kick into high gear.  For the last three years at least, the alfalfa bloom has occurred seventy days after the pussy willow.  That should put this year's alfalfa bloom on June 11th.  Between now and then we will have the dandelion and fruit tree blooms- those will provide a little extra honey but not much.  Once the alfalfa starts up I will be checking the honey supers on a weekly basis.

Anyway- here are a few photos of the bees working the pussy willow in the back yard:

These last few photos show some of the native pollinators working the blossoms along side the honeybees:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gearing Up for Bee Season!

The weather has been very mild lately with daytime temperatures getting up around 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius) and the bees have been out all over the yard.  I feel kind of sorry for the little girls- out looking for pollen and nectar but not finding anything to bring back home.

Yesterday I was watching the hives and noticed that Ida and Svetlana had a lot of bees coming and going but Georgia did not have a single bee around her entrance.  Just a few days ago I peeked in on Georgia and saw a large cluster covering the bee candy I laid on top of her frames a few weeks ago, so I knew that she was still alive.  I surmised that maybe she had too much debris, dead bees, etc. blocking the inside of her entrance to allow any bees in or out.  I decided to suit up and see what was going on.

I popped Georgia's top off, removed the remaining bee candy, and found a large cluster of bees.  Georgia has come through the winter in great shape.  This does worry me a little; if her population grows too big I might not be able to prevent her from swarming.  Now, I had not been inside the hive since last September- it is amazing how solidly the bees can glue everything together in 6 months.  It was a real bear to get things separated and taken apart.

I did eventually succeed at getting the two deep hive bodies taken apart and got a view of the bottom board.  It was surprisingly clean.  I don't know why the bees were not out flying like the other two hives but there was nothing blocking their way.  I also found that the hive was very light.  The bees had consumed all but a couple frames of honey and were packing the bee candy away into the empty comb.  I didn't have a lot of time yesterday so couldn't do a really thorough job of cleaning out the hive, unsticking all the frames, removing the excess burr comb, etc.  One of these days when I have a good afternoon I will have to get out, clean out the hives, and give each of them some sugar syrup.

I did take a couple of minutes to look through Svetlana.  She is a whole other story.  Last year we decided to start our third hive with a package of Russian hybrids which we named Svetlana.  She never did take off last year and only filled up a partial medium super of honey on top of her two deep hive bodies.  Her bees were also more aggressive than the bees in our other two hives of Italians and Carniolan/Italian hybrids.  They were not so aggressive as to bother us in the garden but they were not very easy to work with in the hive.  Last fall I decided to take all the honey I could from her deep hive bodies and left only the frames that contained brood.  I ended up condensing her down to one deep hive body with only nine frames, none of which were completely full of honey as each one of them contained brood.  With such a small amount of honey I assumed she would die out over the winter and I would be able to split one of my other two hives into her vacated hive bodies.

With only nine partial frames of honey left for her last September, no fall feeding, and no supplemental feeding over the winter, she has survived with a surprisingly strong cluster.  Here are a couple of pictures of what she looks like now.

She still has two frames full of honey, one frame partially full, and honey in the burr comb the bees built in the extra space.  I pulled out a frame directly beneath the main cluster and found both capped and uncapped brood.  Looks like this queen is already getting busy.  Talk about hardy bees!  With the way these gals came through the winter I cannot bring myself to let them die out.  So these Russians will get another chance.

We are only half way through march but it looks like spring is here.  Here is a photo of what our pussy willow looks like right now.
In just a couple of weeks all those fuzzy white catkins will pop out in yellow blossoms and the bees will go nuts on their first pollen source of the year.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Electric Bees?

Here are two facts that almost everybody knows: Flowers need bees for pollination, and bees need flowers for pollen and nectar.  The question then is- How do they find each other?

I have read from more than one source that flowers of some colors do a better job of attracting bees than flowers of other colors.  But here is what I have noticed in my unscientific observations: in my own yard yellow blossoms such as dandelions, squash, and broccoli blossoms do an excellent job of attracting bees.  The pink apple blossoms also get covered in bees.  White dutch clover doesn't have any trouble attracting the bees to their blossoms either.  And of course the blue and purple alfalfa blossoms just outside of town provide the most important nectar flow of the year in my area.  So does one color do a better job of attracting bees than the others?  I'm not really sure.

I am also aware that fragrance can attract bees as well.  Several years ago I read an article about how a pitcher for some major league baseball team (I don't remember who it was or what team he pitched for.  I want to say he pitched for the Diamondbacks, but it could have been that they were just in Arizona for spring training.) had to leave the game early because the honeybees would not leave him alone.  They were not stinging him, just constantly swarming around his head.  It turned out that he had used a coconut flavored hair gel that was attracting the bees to him.

It seems to me that honey bees must use a combination of sight and smell to find the most productive flowers.  But as it turns out there is a little more to the story.  I heard a story on the radio the other day about a third way that bees find flowers- by detecting electrical signals!  Apparently flowers give a weak electrical field which bees are able to detect.  The more I learn about bees the more amazed I become!

Here is a link to the article on NPR if you would like to check it out for yourself. 
Honey, It's Electric: Bees Sense Charge On Flowers

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me

My birthday doesn't actually come around until April, but I was talking about a piece of beekeeping equipment I would like to own so my wife ordered it and a few other items as an early birthday present.  Here is a short video showcasing what she got me.  You will even catch a glimpse of my youngest son.  You can click in the lower right corner of the videos to view them in full screen.

This next video is not bee related.  It is a video of one of my favorite places on earth, and I felt the urge to share it with the rest of you.  I recorded the video with my phone as my daughter and I were backpacking last summer.  As beautiful as it is in the video, it is even more spectacular in real life.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mid Winter

Here we are in the middle of winter.  There is not much going on with the bees this time of year.  They stay snug in their hives in a tight cluster feeding on honey while they endure the cold days of February.  They do stay warm enough though- they are able to generate heat by shivering their wing muscles or abdomen muscles (I have heard both) and can keep the inside of the cluster 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that's 32 degrees Celsius) even in the bitter cold.  Amazing!  Isn't it?
We have had a few snow storms blow through in the last couple of weeks.  Here is what the hives look like right now.
I cleared the now away form the hive entrances after I took the picture.

You may be wondering about the hive on the far right and asking why I lefter her to over winter with just one deep hive body.  Well, that requires some explanation....

 Last spring I started that hive with a three pound package of Russian hybrid bees.  I had heard that they can produce more honey than other varieties because they are able to work in cooler temperatures.  That should translate into working earlier in the morning and later into the evening.  I found that this was not the case.  I did find however, that Russian hybrids tend to more aggressive than our other bees have been.  Not that they bothered us in the garden or near the hive, but there was no way I could ever enter the hive without my veil and gloves.  I would have been stung to death.  They were not at all like the other two hives which have been so calm I could get through the entire hive without being bothered.

This fall I decided to take all the honey I could from the Russian hybrids, not feed them, and let the hive die out over the winter.  The plan is now to buy a new Italian queen this spring and split one of the existing hives into the Russian hybrid hive.  I ended up leaving only four deep frames in one box- I didn't extract those frames because they were partially full of brood.

As I knocked on the side of each hive today I heard the buzzing of bees in all three- including the Russians!  They certainly do seem to be hardy.

I suppose I ought to make some bee candy to make sure that Ida and Georgia (the too desirable hives) will have enough to make it through the next few months until the dandelions start blooming.  Can't wait! 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Creamed Honey

I have been a little remiss in my responsibilities as a blogger.  It has been a while, five months to be exact, since I have posted anything.  I even failed to blog about our 2012 honey harvest.  We did have a good harvest- with the nine supers we harvested last September and the two supers we harvested last June we ended up with about thirty gallons for the year!  Not bad for three hives, one of which was created form a split of the other existing hive and the third consisting of a newly installed 3 pound package of bees.  We ended up selling fifteen gallons in one pound jars and one gallon pails and kept the other fifteen gallons for ourselves.

We decided to try an experiment and attempt some creamed honey this year.  First of all, you have to understand that creamed honey has nothing to do with cream or any other dairy product.  It actually consists of honey and nothing else- honey that is partially crystallized with uniform microcrystals that give the honey a creamier texture.  It is more spreadable and a little less messy and will not crystallize into a hard rock making it difficult to use.

Rather than explaining the process for making creamed honey I will let you watch the video that I used for instructions.  It comes from a blog at  It is an excellent resource for beekeepers, and I have learned a lot from it.  Double click on the video for full screen.

We mixed the creamed honey in a five gallon bucket which has since been sitting down in our cool store room.  We should have transferred it to smaller containers a long time ago- that would have made it easier to work with.  Today we put some in pint jars.  Since cool creamed honey is stiff I had to dig it out with an ice cream scoop.  It will be a lot easier to warm the pint jars up to room temperature and make the honey more usable.  Here are a couple of pictures of our creamed honey.

You can see by looking at the side of the bucket that the creamed honey sits on top and there is a layer of liquid honey down below.  That is because the spoon I used to mix the in creamed honey crystals was not long enough to reach the bottom.  But if you look closely, it appears as though the bottom portion is beginning to cream as well.  I guess we won't know for sure until we get down to the bottom.

Next year we will cream the honey again but will put it in smaller containers- maybe one gallon pails.

On a different subject, I do find it interesting that our liquid honey has not begun to crystallize yet.  Last year crystallization began in November.  The main source of nectar in our area is alfalfa, but I guess there must be variations in the amount of nectar from the different sources or maybe even differences in sugar content of nectar from year to year.  In any case the differences are great enough to affect the rate of crystallization of our honey.  I can't wait to find out how this year's crop will turn out.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...