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.
Burlap Smoker Fuel
Burlap Smoker Fuel
Burlap Smoker Fuel
Burlap Smoker Fuel
Burlap Smoker Fuel
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.
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.
Have you ever thought about keeping bees in your backyard? Would the bees and their pollination help with your garden and fruit trees?
Beekeeping is a fun and very rewarding hobby and I am not talking about the sweet reward we call honey. Honey is an additional bonus when keeping bees, but it is not the main reward.
Just like any other fun hobby, beekeeping can be expensive. Most experienced beekeepers will recommend that you start beekeeping with two hives, which I agree with. You will learn twice as much and you will be able to spot problems much sooner if one of the colonies does not perform right. However, starting with two hives also doubles the startup cost.
Usually bees are not free, unless you can catch a swarm, which is very unlikely if you have no experience.
In addition to purchasing bees you will also need the proper equipment. Just to get the basics for 2 hives you are most likely going to spend between $800.00 to $1,000.00.
If the answer to my first question is yes and you have not taken the plunge, it might have a couple of reasons:
You are not quite sure if you will really enjoy beekeeping
It is cost prohibitive
You are worried about getting stung
You are not sure if you know enough about beekeeping
You do not have enough time to manage the hives
I am sure there are many other reasons why someone might not take the plunge and start keeping bees. Honestly, I was one of you, I had many of those reasons as well, but eventually decided to make the investment and I ordered my first two packages of bees.
I have a busy office job which requires me to put in 50-60 hours every week and the bees are a perfect balance. No computer and no internet required when I work with the bees. Unless I am typing up a blog about beekeeping while sitting in an airplane on my way to the next conference.
You have probably heard about or even seen a bee swarm. Swarming is a natural behavior of bees to grow and multiply. A queen bee can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day during peak season, which means your hive will grow very fast in bee volume. A regular hive has about 40,000 – 60,000 bees. Once the hive gets too crowded, the bees start raising a new queen and the old queen takes off with about 50% of the bees. They will find a new home in a tree cavity or any other space the bees find appropriate.
Beekeepers like to control swarming and a lot of times this is done by manually splitting the hive before the bees decide to split themselves. By splitting the hive manually, the beekeeper does not lose 50% of their bees and the honey yield will be bigger.
My bee yard has grown from 2 colonies to 8 colonies within 2-years and now going into the third year, I will have to split several hives again, I am looking at a total of 12-15 hives in 2018. This will be more than I can manage and therefore I have decided to sell a few Nuc colonies.
In addition to the Nucs, I am also offering a rental and mentor program to a few beekeepers. If you are not quite sure if beekeeping is for you, but you would like to give it a try for the season, I will rent you one of my hives for the 2018 season and also provide support for your beekeeping endeavor. This will be a smaller investment than the $800.00 – $1,000.00 I mentioned above.
At the end of the 2018 season you will have a couple of options:
Return the hive and keep all the surplus honey (if there is any)
Purchase the equipment and make the hive your own (bees will be free)
If all goes well over the next few weeks, my Nucs will be available in mid to late April.
Please drop me a line if you are interested in becoming a beekeeper.
P.S.: If you start keeping bees you will get stung!
In beekeeping timing is everything! There is no right or wrong in beekeeping and no one ever stops learning when working with bees – every season/year is different.
However, the biggest mistake one can make in beekeeping is losing track of time or not paying attention to personal schedules, bee schedules or just the weather forecast.
This weekend was a good example. I knew I had to check on the food supply for the bees and I had some pollen patties ready to be added. Good thing I checked the weather forecast, this week weather has been more spring like and I was surprised to see snow in the forecast for Sunday.
I ended up looking at all my colonies on Saturday, added pollen patties, made sure they had plenty of dry sugar on the inner cover and I cleaned out the entrances and bottom boards.
The sun was out and it was a mild February afternoon.
Boy was the forecast right, today I would not have been able to open the boxes at all. During our 12 years in the Pacific Northwest I have not seen that much snow on the ground.
Of course, this is just one example of making sure you get the timing right. If the bees run out of food they will die within a very short amount of time. So don’t put off important tasks like this. Always stay on schedule!
Same is true with your management throughout the year. For example, come spring you want to keep an eye on your colonies and prevent any swarming. If you inspect your hives at least every 7-10 days during swarming season you can find and remove any swarm cells. If you skip one of your inspections during this time you might lose half of your bees and if your new queen does not return from her mating flight you might have to purchase a new one.
I am not suggesting to open up your hives all the time, but frequent inspections can certainly help minimize bigger problems like swarming or going queenless for too long.
Once you become a beekeeper you need to include the bees in your already busy schedule, but don’t worry, it is a fun and rewarding hobby.
L.L. Langstroth’s the Hive and the Honey Bee is valued as an extremely important text in the world of bee keeping. Beekeeper enthusiasts and those just wanting to gain a little more information on the small creature buzzing around outside your window. While the book has been updated and revised many times, the original written […]
It has been almost two years since I installed my first two packages of bees. While I am preparing equipment for a new beekeeping season I was going through some of my old notes and pictures. I never intended this video to be a training video for new beekeepers, but I thought it might help a few people along. I had several pictures and videos and I edited them to create a somewhat decent video of the entire installation process. Again, this is not a step by step instruction of the installation process. If you have never installed a package of bees I highly recommend the book “Beekeeping for Dummies”. I have started with the same book and they explain the entire process down to the last detail.
Two years after I started with two packages I am now up to 7 hives and I will not have to purchase any packages this year. However, if I ever do install another package I will try to create a better training video.
Note: The most important part of the process is to replace the cork on the queen cage with a marshmallow. Do not open the hive for the first 7 days after installation and make sure the bees have enough sugar syrup and a pollen patty.
At the end of my last post I showed you following picture:
This has been a common theme in all my hives when I opened them this January. The bees have overwintered well this year and colonies look strong and healthy.
There are many more risk factors which might affect your bees in a negative way. However, for now I will limit my posts to the three main reasons why beekeepers keep losing bees every winter. I have posted reason #1 and reason #2 over the past few weeks and today I am going to conclude this series with the Honey Bee’s Enemy #3 – Starvation!
Bees eat honey! Yes, this is for real, they are not producing honey as a treat for us humans, they need honey to survive! Fortunately for us, during a good summer a colony can produce much more honey than what they will consume during the winter. We call this surplus honey, this is the extra honey beekeepers get to harvest. The amount of honey bees need to overwinter varies by region, however, here in the Pacific Northwest I try to leave them about 80 pounds of honey. This is a full deep brood box of honey. I overwinter most hives in two deep brood boxes.
I do check the weight of the hives throughout the winter and I also add dry sugar as previously discussed in the moisture post. In case you missed it, here is another picture of the emergency sugar sitting on the inner cover.
All my colonies are doing well and I have not lost any yet. That being said, winter isn’t over and we have two more months to go before the first flow of nectar will come into the hives. Be aware, if colonies are strong in January, they will also consume more honey, the queen will start laying more eggs, larvae need to be fed, etc. If you don’t keep an eye on your hives during the next couple of months your bees might starve to death. Look at sugar as a cheap insurance policy. Your bees might have enough honey to get by until the next nectar flow, but that extra sugar can be their life insurance in case they do run out of honey.