Beekeeping Information

Keeping Bees with Honey Bee Allergy

Here is a post I was not hoping to have to write. The entire summer was an uneventful beekeeping season. I made several splits to manage colony sizes which worked perfectly and none of my production colonies swarmed. As is in the past two years, I suffered the occasional bee sting during hive inspections. Most of the stings happened when bees found their way into my protective clothing and some stings went right through my gloves. I never thought much about getting stung, sure it hurts a little, but for the most part the swelling disappeared within a couple of days. However, early in October I got stung while preparing the hives for winter, one lonely bee must have landed on my shoe and walked up my leg (of course under my jeans), I could feel the tingling on my leg and as I tried to shake her out, she got me into my thigh – ouch!

I walked away from the hive and removed the stinger, as I was walking back to continue my prep work I thought to myself, this one really hurt, but I ignored the pain and continued my work. About 10-15 minutes later I felt like I was coming down with an ear infection and shortly after that my arms and neck started itching. I closed up the hive and went into the house, I could not believe what I saw when I took of my protective gear, I had hives all over my body and I quickly realized that I had a full on allergic reaction to that bee sting. My wife rushed me to the doctor and an Epi shot later and after some antihistamine cocktails the swelling and itching slowed down. After keeping bees for three years and having been stung several times each season, could I have just developed a honey bee allergy? Is this the end of my beekeeping carrier? I just managed to build up to 11 hives this year and I was looking forward to adding a few more next year, but what now?

Last week I got tested by an allergy specialist and he confirmed that I am allergic to honey bee venom, it does not happen often, but he said that I am the 4th beekeeper he has seen over the past 10 years who developed a honey bee allergy after keeping bees for a few years.

I love keeping bees and I love the reward of sweet honey and full fruit trees in our yard, giving up beekeeping is not really an option, the hobby just became a little bit more challenging. I am investing in more protective gear to ensure that bees can no longer get into my clothing and I have also recruited my wife to assist me with handling the bees. Fortunately, my health insurance is covering the honey bee venom immunotherapy which I am going to start this month. It is a three-year treatment plan and it will reduce the risk of ever getting another allergic reaction by about 85%. In addition to the immunotherapy I am now always carrying an Epi-Pen with me and solo hive inspections are a thing from the past. I love keeping bees and with enough precautions I am sure that I can keep the hobby going without putting myself in harms way.

Beekeeping Information

My Favorite Smoker Fuel

As a beekeeper you have many choices when it comes to smoker fuel. Some of it is free and widely available and some of it can be ordered with several bee supply houses. During my first two years of beekeeping I was testing several fuel sources. The free fuel I found around the house ranged from dry grass to pine needles. I also purchased some smoker fuel from Brushy Mountain and picked up some small burlap bags at the local farmer store. Good news is – everything works! However, my favorite by far is burlap.

Like many of the great people in the pacific northwest I love coffee. My favorite coffee brand is Blue Star Coffee from a small roastery in Twisp, WA. Every time I make it over to Twisp I pick up my coffee beans and the fine folks at the store always hand out some of their old burlap coffee bags. Due to the fact that these bags are food grade, they are perfect for smoker fuel. It only takes a few minutes and you can turn an entire bag into small patches which will last for several hive inspections.

Just the other day I cut up a burlap bag into some smoker size fuel patches and I decided to take some picture of the process to share.

 

This fuel is very easy to light, no paper or other fire starters needed. I start with one patch of burlap and a lighter. Once the first patch catches fire I add a second one and let it generate some heat, then I add a few more patches and continue to pump to keep it burning. Soon I have enough heat to close the lid, once the lid is closed the flames turn into fabulous white smoke. Here are a few more pictures of the process.

Beekeeping Information

Creating Nuc Colonies

Usually spring is not a good time for beekeepers to go on vacation. However, with proper planing and some luck with the weather patterns it is still possible. I had new queens on order for several weeks, but with the bad weather in California the delivery got pushed back by almost two weeks. I ended up receivig the package with my queens on the day before we left for vacation.

Fortunately I had received an email prior to delivery from the queen breeder which allowed me to get a head start on the splits. As soon as I knew the queens were going to ship I created my nucs. By the time the queens arrived, the nucs were queenless for 2 days and they accepted the new queens without any problems.

I had a couple of colonies which overwintered really well and they were booming with bees. I was able to create two nucs out of each strong colony and still left plenty of bees behind for the colony to grow strong again.  Each nuc has received 2-3 frames of eggs, brood and capped cells. In addition, each nuc received two frames of food (honey and pollen). Last Friday I inspected the now smaller hives and the queens have already been super busy filling several frames with eggs again. I also inspected the one nuc I kept for myself, the queen was released and busy laying eggs.

Even though I was able to balance the beekeeping duties with our vacation, I will try to avoid taking vacation during the important spring beekeeping season next year.

Here are some pictures of the process:

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Hive Inspection

April 6 2018 – Hive Inspection

 

April has started out cold and rainy, but last Friday the sun came out and it was a perfect day for another hive inspection.

With the cold temperatures and rain in the Pacific Northwest, it is critical to keep checking the food supplies. I have not added sugar syrup to the colonies yet, but I keep dry sugar on the inner cover to help them along during this rainy spring.

During the inspection I noticed that one colony is struggeling, the queen was mated in 2017, but she seems off. She is not laying many eggs and I found several cells with two eggs. I have new queens on order and I am just hoping that this colony will make it till the new queens arrive. The benefit of having multiple hives is that you get to help the hive along. I took a frame of capped brood from one of the bigger hives and added it to this week one. I am hoping that this boost of young bees will get them over the next two weeks.

I checked all strong hives for space to avoid early spring swarming, fortunately they all had plenty of empty frames left and I only removed a couple of queen cups. Looks like I will not have to worry about swarming until late April or early May, but by then the new queens will have arrived and I will split all the bigger colonies.

Dandelions are blooming in the ara and the bees are coming back with plenty of yellow pollen.

Here are some pictures of today’s inspection:

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Hive Inspection

Why Did My Bees Die?

About a week ago I came across this blog post from Beekeeping365! It is very well written and provides a lot of important information.

I have a very similar story to tell:

I made it through the winter with 100% of my seven hives. Two weeks ago, during my first frame by frame inspection, I saw the queens, eggs, and activity in each hive. I thought all was looking good, even though one colony was quite a bit smaller than the other six. Instead of treating this colony with more care, I ended up running through the same routine: I cleaned out any dead bees which were still in the hive, cleaned the bottom board, rotated the boxes to get the bees back into the bottom brood chamber and made sure they all had enough dry sugar reserves.

This weekend when I checked on the food reserves, I noticed that the weak colony had no activity and after removing the second brood chamber I found the small cluster of dead bees. Why did they die? I am not sure, but I would suggest that I made some mistakes without knowing it. Last year, this colony seemed super nervous and loud every time I opened the box. I thought about re-queening, but with many bees in all boxes and good brood patterns I decided to hang on. This might have been mistake number one, the queen was going through her second season and a later summer replacement might have sent a stronger colony into the winter. Mistake number two was probably the box rotation AND not removing the second deep brood box. Temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are still dropping into the low 40s or high 30s at night. With the bees and brood in the bottom box, the small cluster might not have been able to stay warm enough at night.

I did treat for mites twice last year and with the last treatment in September the might count was good going into winter.

At the end of the day, I agree with Beekeeping365 – maybe it was lazyness combined with inexperience. Going forward I will replace my queens in the late summer after their second season and I will also downsize the hives if there are not enough bees to keep a two story building warm!

Why did my bees die? This is a question often asked and sometimes difficult to answer. The beekeeper looking at a dead colony is left with clues that can sometimes indicate the cause of death. More often though the beekeeper looks at the “crime scene” and makes an incorrect assumption. We’ve all heard it, “Wax […]

via Why did my bees die? — Beekeeping365

Honey Products

How To Make Mead!

After a great crop of honey in 2017 I decided to dabble in the mead making process. I have found a great YouTube series about making mead. I will provide the link to the YouTube channel below.

Mead Making Supplies

Since the videos are all in German I decided to write a brief summary about the process.

For proper mead one should use 1-part honey and 2-parts of water. I ended up using tap water which comes directly from our well. Before I started, I heated the water to boiling temperature, after it cooled down to 98 degrees Fahrenheit I mixed in the honey. One should never heat honey to more than 104 degrees, otherwise it will lose many of its properties. So double check that your water has cooled down to about 98 degrees before you add the honey!

I was using following dry yeast:

Yeast For Mead Making

Before you add the yeast to your honey water you need to get it activated. Just follow the guidelines on the packaging for details.

In addition to the yeast, I have also added some nutrients to the honey water to support the fermentation process. I have used following products:

IMG_2992

First things first, before you get started, you need to sanitize everything which will come in contact with your product. For best sanitation results I have used Star San.

Now that all your equipment is sanitized, your honey water has been mixed and your yeast has been activated you can mix it all in a carboy or fermentation bucket. Shake well and install the airlock.

During the first two weeks of the fermentation process you should shake the container on a daily basis to keep the honey water and yeast nicely mixed. Starting in the third week you can cut the shaking back to 2-3 times per week.

Best room temperature for the fermentation is about 71-77 degree Fahrenheit.

After the main fermentation was done, I siphoned the mead into a clean and sanitized carboy, I put the airlock back on and let it sit for a few more weeks to ensure that there was no more pressure building before bottling the mead. Around week 8 or 9 I did not see any more airbubbles escaping the airlock and the mead was ready for consumption!

I used a hydrometer to measure the gravity of the mead on day one and after the main fermentation was completed (about 6 weeks later). Like I said, this was my first time brewing mead and if I interpreted all the numbers correctly the mead turned out to have about 15% alcohol. You can enjoy mead cold or hot, we enjoyed most of ours as a hot beverage.

Enjoy!

Some good resources:

How to make mead video

How to use Star San Sanitizer

How to use a Hydrometer

Beekeeping Information

Thank you Rusty and Honey Bee Suite for the important reminder!

With rain in our forecast, I rushed home after work to check on my hives! Out of the seven hives three were running low on their dry sugar reserves!

I can only echo what Rusty said, make sure to check your hives more frequently until the onset of the nectar flow.

Please check out Rusty’s latest post:

The worst thing about the spring equinox

https://honeybeesuite.com/the-worst-thing-about-spring/

Hive Inspection

First Frame By Frame Inspection for 2018

Looks like spring is slowly arriving in the Pacific Northwest. Last weekend the temperatures made it into the 60s and I was finally able to check on my seven colonies, which all made it through the winter. Looks like my mite, food and moisture management has worked another year!

Even though I had no complete losses, it is normal to find many dead bees inside the hive once you open the boxes for the first time after winter. Especially the bottom boards are filled with dirt and lots of dead bees. During the winter I did clean out the entrance and bottom board through the front entrance, but you can’t get it completely cleaned out.

So if you have never opened a hive after winter, get ready for a big mess. I can tell you, the bees seemed very happy after I went through all the boxes, removed all dead bees and other junk which had accumulated during the past few months.

Only one of the seven hives had a very small cluster. All others are covering at least eight frames. Every colony has a laying queen, I spotted one to two frames with eggs and I also spotted the queen in almost every hive. With the current temperature in the 50s the hives should keep building up for spring.

Most of the hives have several frames of honey left, however, I have kept the dry sugar on the hive to supplement their resources for a few more weeks.

My Nuc boxes are ready, queens are on order and if all goes well, I will do my splits during the first or second weekend in April.

Send me an email if you are local and interested in one of the Nucs.

Nucs are only available for pickup in Stanwood.

Here are some pictures from my inspection:

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Hive Inspection

Lots of happy bees!

Today was the first day in the Pacific Northwest with temperatures close to 60 degree Fahrenheit. It was a good day to cut back some of the blackberry bushes to get the bee yard ready for the 2018 season. Got to make some room for more colonies. All seven hives have made it through the winter and they were already bringing in pollen today. Looks like I will have to split at least three of the colonies in April to avoid swarming.

The weather forecast for tomorrow looks good as well. We might get into the 60s!

It will be a perfect day for my first full inspection of the hives. Stay tuned for updates.

Today – Lots of happy bees!