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.
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.
In my last post I talked about the Honey Bee’s Enemy #1 – The Varroa Mite!
Today I want to point out another common bee killer – Moisture!
Bees can survive very cold winters as long as they are dry. I am always being asked if bees hibernate and sleep through the winter. If you are a beekeeper you know the answer, but if you are new to beekeeping you might be wondering what those little bees do all winter long.
Bees need to stay warm to survive, they manage to keep the temperature in the hive around 90 to 95 degree Fahrenheit (32-35 degree Celcius) year round. In the summer, maintaining this temperature means they need to cool the hive by fanning with their wings and by bringing in water. In the winter, however, they need to generate heat, which they accomplish by forming a big cluster of bees and by shivering their tiny muscles.
Now if you combine the warm temperature within the hive with the cold temperature outside the hive you will get a lot of condensation. If you don’t protect your bees from moisture caused by condensation, they will not survive the winter!
The warm air from the bee cluster will rise up and hit the cold top cover, condensation drops will form and it will rain on your bees inside the hive.
By no means would I call myself an expert and just like with everything else there are many options. Do your research before implementing new measures.
Below you can find my simple approach for moisture management and so far I have not lost any bees to moisture.
In the spring time I use top feeders which seem to work well and in the winter I fill those feeders with wood shavings to create a layer of insulation above the inner cover. I also add emergency feed (dry sugar) on top of the inner cover. The sugar absorbs a lot of moisture and helps keeping the bees dry while providing food reserves. Between the inner cover and feeder I add an Imirie Shim to provide more space for sugar. Last but not least I add a piece of styrofoam on top of the feeder before I close up the hive with the telescoping top cover.
For better ventilation and to give the warm air more space to escape I place a small wooden shim between the top feeder and styrofoam piece.
This method has kept my bees dry for the past two winters!
Deep brood box
Fill air space of Imirie Shim with dry sugar
Top feeder with wood shavings
Telescoping top cover
Shim between feeder and styrofoam (Note: the telescoping top cover will come further down to cover the gap and to keep rain out. I just lifted it for the picture. Just make sure you have enough space under the cover for warm air to escape.)
Imirie Sim on top of inner cover and space filled with sugar.
Feeder filled with wood shavings for insulation.
Styrofoam inner cover on top of feeder.
One more Note:
This winter I have added a piece of ply wood which covers 4 hives for better rain protection.
We are still a few months away from the official start of the 2018 beekeeping season.
However, now is the time to start thinking about your equipment for the summer and also start thinking about your treatment for Varroa Mites. Depending on your choice of treatment you might have to start now.
I have treated with formic acid during the last two years and have had good results. Formic acid cannot be applied until the temperatures warm up (label indicates 50-85 degree F). For now, I will continue to monitor the food supply in my hives (until it warms up I will only add white granulated sugar).
Sometime in March temperatures should be high enough to start feeding 1:1 sugar syrup and I usually add some pollen supplements to boost my colony strength.
Once I am done with my spring feeding I will treat for mites. It is a necessity to support the overall health of the colonies. I want to make sure they are strong and healthy as April rolls around.
See below, not even the queens are safe from the mites. If you look closer you can see a mite on the Thorax of the queen.
Most of the time we get lucky and a swarm of bees settles in an area which is easily accessible, but last season this one was by far out of reach. I had to get the ladder to confirm, but it was way too short. If you look closely you can see the swarm hanging at the very top.