Tag Archives: Beekeeping

Bee Day

Today is bee day at our farm. It is the day that the honey bees that we ordered have arrived and we must set them up in their new homes (hives). This year, as in the past two, we ordered our bees from Osage Bees in Avoca, MI. Osage Bees do not raise the bees here in Michigan. Instead they take orders from local customers then travel to Georgia where they pick up the bees and bring them back to Michigan. We find this to be a great option for acquiring bees, especially after our tragic mail order experience a few years back.

Our order was for five 3 pound packages of bees.

This is what three pound packages of bees looks like. There is an estimates 9000 – 12,000 bees in a three pound package.

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The bees are huddled together in a ball surrounding the queen cage to keep her warm and protected.

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There are a few dead bees in the bottom of each package but that is to be expected.

My husband did all the hiving today, but I wanted to be there to take some photos to share with my readers. You won’t see me in the photos, but in case you are wondering I was wearing a bee suit similar to the one my husband has on.

Before I get into todays activities I should mention that a lot of the prep work has been done over the last few weeks. That involved making sure that we had five hives ready (clean, assembled and set in place).

This morning when he went to pick up the bees I made syrup that we would use to feed the bees for the first week or so. We generally don’t like to feed sugar syrup because it does not have the nutrients that the bees would get from nectar or from honey.  We try to keep enough extra honey on hand to be able to feed the bees if necessary, but this year we did not have enough honey to make that happen.

I will also say that there are many methods for hiving bees and for bee keeping. What is right or wrong is largely a matter of opinion, and what works for one bee keeper may not work for another. If you have seen things done a different way or do things differently feel free to ask why we did what we did.

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Before opening the package of bees my husband opened up the hive that he would be putting the bees in. He also removed the center two frames to make room for the bees.

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He next removed the small piece of wood that sealed the top of the package shut. Removing the piece of wood gave him access to the feeder can. The feeder can has syrup in it and small holes that the bees can suck the syrup out of. There is enough syrup in the can to keep these bees alive for several days. This can was still pretty full.

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As he removed the can he remembered to slide the small piece of wood over the hole because he still wasn’t ready for the bees to come out of the package.

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The next step was removing the queen cage. The queen cage is a very small box with screened sides that contains the queen bee and a few attendant bees. The queen is kept separate during travel to protect her. The safety of the queen is of utmost importance because a hive can not function without a queen.

You don’t get to see the actual queen cage because many worker bees were clinging to the cage. Protecting their queen is a large part of their job. Because it was chilly outside my husband held the queen cage in the hive while shaking and brushing the excess bees off.

The next thing he did is not recommended practice, but because of his schedule for the next few weeks it was necessary. He placed the queen cage in the hive and removed the screen so that the queen could get out.

Normal procedure would have been to keep the cage intact and allow the worker bees to get her out by eating the sugar candy that is used to plug one end of the cage. This process usually takes a few days but it is important to check after a few days to make sure she is out. My husband is just not going to have the time to do that check.

 

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After the queen was in the hive my husband emptied the rest of the bees into the hive. In past years when we have done this we have found that when the package is open many bees are eager to get out and bees begin flying out and around the area. Our experience today was different. Presumably because of the cool, cloudy weather the majority of the bees stayed in a ball – huddled tightly together.

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Shaking the package

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and smacking it on the bottom is what needs to be done in order to get the bees out of the package.

There are usually a few bees left in the package so he sets the package on the ground next to the hive so they will find their way in.

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Since we don’t like to open our hives often and disturb the bees he adds a queen excluder and a honey super (the third box). He then put the feeder on top and puts sugar syrup in it, before placing the top on the hive.

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This one is finding it’s new home.

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As I was taking pictures I felt something tickling my hand. I looked down and found this girl checking me out.

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She  seemed to be tasting my skin but certainly had no ill intentions. One of the precautions we take when working with the bees is to not wear anything scented (perfumes, deodorant, hair care products) as the bees might be attracted to it.

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So maybe I am just that sweet. LOL!!!

I only stayed around for the first hive but my husband repeated this with each of the other four hives.

He then reported to me late this afternoon that all of the hives were active and after the sun came out there were busy bees all over the dandelions.

This was a good day!

 

My Thoughts About Bee Keeping and Honey

We started our bee keeping ventures in 2013 and to date it has been the most frustrating farming activity we do. Hive losses are heartbreaking and we have had many. Probably our worst experience was when the bees we ordered did not even make it to our farm alive. You can read about that here. If you read that article you may understand when I say that bee keeping is also one of the most thrilling and rewarding activities that we do. Capturing swarms, observing the bees while they forage and pollenate our crops, harvesting honey and wax all make this so.

As with everything we do our bee keeping efforts are done on a small scale. We often use the word boutique to describe our farm. Since we started bee keeping we have maintained at least one hive and at times had as many as seven hives. Each year we have harvested honey and for the last 4 or so years we have harvested and processed our own wax as well. If you are interested in learning how I filter bees wax you can  read about that here.

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Beekeeping has given me a whole new understanding and appreciation of honey. Most of my life I have used store bought honey and never thought much about it. The color and flavor were pretty consistent. Honey was just honey. It wasn’t until we started harvesting our own honey that I realized that honey is not just honey. In fact we have yet to have any two honey harvests where the honey tasted the same.

When people find out that we are beekeepers they often have many questions. Below are some of the points I make when talking about bees and honey.

  • Each honey harvest is (should be) a wonderfully, unique blend of nectars and pollen from various plants that have been in season.
  • The color and flavor of honey should vary between harvests.
  • Mono cropping, the practice of moving bee hives to a particular location where a specific crop is in blossom in order for the bees to pollinate that crop, may be detrimental to bee health. (how well would you fare if you only ate one food for the majority of your life?)
  • Feeding bees sugar syrup is probably not good for the bees.
  • Local honey may or may not be effective as a treatment for allergies depending on what the bees were foraging to make their honey.
  • In the U.S. honey suppliers are required to put their address on the honey label. Buying honey that has a local address does not necessarily mean you are buying honey that was produced locally.
  • Raw honey is honey that has not been heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Honey can be stored at room temperature and has an indefinite shelf life.
  • Honey might crystalize but it is still good.
  • Honey that has crystalized can be turned into liquid again by slowly heating the jar in a pan of water. Do not microwave!
  • Because the honey may crystalize and you may want to heat it to make it liquid again do not buy honey in plastic bottles.

Do you have any questions or thoughts about honey bees or honey? Leave me a comment and I will be sure to get back to you.

Thanks for reading and have a great day! 🙂

 

 

 

Our Homemade Halloween Costumes

In the 17 years we have been together my husband and I have never been to a Halloween costume party before.  A few weeks ago we received a flyer in telling us that our community was having a Halloween party with food, games, and prizes for the best costume. I set the flyer aside and didn’t think much about it until a few days later when my husband, who had been weeding the strawberry patch all day, told me that he knew what he was going to dress up as for the party.

When he shared his idea with me I thought that it was very clever and would be a lot of fun. I wasn’t surprised that he came up with this cute idea because when you spend all day on your hands and knees pulling weeds you really do have a lot of time to think. Pulling weeds is a very mindless task. I am glad he didn’t want me to guess what he was planning because even though I was certain it would be farming related and that it wasn’t going to cost much, if anything, I would never have thought of this (unless maybe I had spend all day on my hands and knees pulling weeds).

He told me he was going to be a Boo Keeper – think Bee Keeper + Ghost Buster. “I’ll wear my bee suit and carry a net and have little ghosts flying around me and some in the net,” he said. My wheels started turning and in my mind I already had the little Kleenex ghosts made.

About a week later my husband asked what I was going to dress up like for the party. I was just thinking of putting together a scare crow costume out of some of the clothes I have on hand. “You could be a Boo Keeper too he offered, or how about the Queen Boo.” Okay, I liked the idea of Queen Boo. We created both of our costumes mostly with things we had on hand. So here is what we did.

I started with making little ghosts (boo’s). IMG_3355

We decided to make them bee-like so I first used markers to put some black and yellow stripes on them. When I went to my craft supplies I discovered that I had some Styrofoam balls that were the perfect size for the head. If I did not have the Styrofoam balls I would have just balled up a piece of newspaper. I centered the Styrofoam ball on the Kleenex then gather the Kleenex around the ball and tied it with thread. I think I learned to make these little ghosts when I was in grade school. I left the thread long enough that I could thread it through a needled and attach it to the costume.

I then cut some wings out of tissue paper and glued them on.

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Our little ghost bees became known as boo BEES. Warning: Please be careful how you pronounce that lest you get the wrong idea.

Next I made my Queen Boo wings. My husband had a spool of wire, so I used the wire to form a frame for the wings. After forming the first wing I twisted the wire around itself then made the second wing and again twisted the wire together in the center. I covered the twisted ends of the wire with duck tape so I would not get poked or scratched with the ends of the wire.

I glued one wing to a full size piece of tissue paper. When the glue was dry I glued a second piece of tissue paper to the other side of that wing. When the second side was dry I cut the tissue paper in the shape of the wing leaving about 1/2 inch overhang. I repeated the process with the second wing.

 

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My crown was made of poster board. I wanted it to have a honey comb pattern. To make the honeycomb pattern I decided I could use a wax foundation that we use in the beehives. The bees use these foundation as a base for building their comb. Since the poster board was too thick I decided to use printer paper the make the honey comb design. I placed the printer paper on the wax foundation then colored over it with a brown crayon.

I then  removed the paper from the foundation and colored over the brown honeycomb with a yellowish crayon to give it a honey-like color. I glued the printer paper onto the poster board strip then waited for the glue to dry before cutting out the crown points. I fitted the crown to my head and used tape to hold it’s circular shape.

My husband suggested using glitter on the crown to give it some glitz, but I don’t do glitter. In my personal opinion glitter is an invasive species. Once glitter is introduced into an environment it will spread like wildfire and it seems you will spend the rest of your life trying to get rid of it.

I wore a black turtle neck and black leggings with an oversized white t-shirt that I picked up at Joann Fabrics for $3.00. My husband wore a pair of Tyvek coveralls that he had on hand, then put his bee suit over top. I attached some of the boo BEES to his suit and net and attached some of them to my t-shirt as well. (It’s the worker boo’s job to protect the queen.)

I put on some white face paint to look more ghost-like and my husband picked up some Bit-O-Honey candies for me to pass out.

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Here we are at the party on Friday evening.

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Our neighbor, Maggie, won first place for her wonderful witch costume. My husband won second place a $25 gift certificate and, to my surprise, I one third place a $25 gift certificate as well.

I love that we were able to put a Halloween spin on something that we do in our daily life and were able to create the costumes at little expense. The only money we actually spent on these costumes was the $3 for my t-shirt and a few $ for the Bit-O-Honey candies.

We enjoyed a fun time with some of our neighbors but had to excuse ourselves as darkness fell and duty called. Once out of public eye the Boo Keeper mysteriously morphed into Chicken Farmer and rushed off to close the chickens in the coop where they would be protected from any dangers that were lurking in the darkness.

Note: This is  not an advertisement but years ago I discovered that I can often find t-shirts on sale for $3.00 or less at Joann Fabric. At that price it was worth stocking up so when the kids were in school I would keep a supply of these shirts in various colors. When the kids would come home from school needing a special color shirt for a school activity or project I usually had what they needed. These shirts are designed to be used for craft projects such as tie dye, painting, iron-on, cross stitch and more but are also suitable for wearing just as a regular t-shirt. I in fact have a few in my wardrobe.

I would love to hear your creative ideas for Halloween costumes. Have you ever added a ghostly or funny twist to something you do everyday? Have you made a clever costume out of things you have on hand? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween!

I Brake For Bees

 

I told my husband that I need a t-shirt that says “I brake for bees” but probably more appropriate would be a bumper sticker pasted on the back of our riding lawn tractor.

This may be something only another beekeeper can understand, and even among beekeepers I might be in the minority. It wasn’t something that I thought about before I realized I was doing it, but as I mow the lawn at the farm I often see honey bees foraging on the dandelion or clover blossoms. My natural reaction is to yield them the right of way. Of course having wrote the check to purchase packages of bees, along with reaping the rewards of their labors, I have a great understanding of their value. Now it may or may not be the case that they will move out of the way of the mower just like the chickens and dogs move out of the way of vehicles at the last minute, but I am just not certain.

Few other creatures get this kind of consideration but among them are frogs, toads and snakes.

This past summer, my husband, who is totally on the same page with me as he has been known to get off the mower and move a toad to a safe place before continuing to mow, and I decided to restrict our mowing to the later evening hours after the bees were mostly back to the hive. It may be crazy, but I consider this a small sacrifice to help keep our hives healthy and strong.

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