The process of working with animals is fascinating. We enjoyed searching out the queen bee and watching the entire colony interactions. We even created an observation hive, a three frame hive in our dining room. It was glassed on both sides, and one frame thick, so you could easily watch the bees and the queen.
Today (April 24) we installed our bees, and they are doing great. The weather was sunny and temps in the lower 60's. We got a call at 7 am that the truck was 30 mins out, and to meet them at our pickup location. We got there just before the box truck pulling a trailer eased in behind us. They had driven non-stop from Florida and the vehicle was packed full of bees. Our stop was the fourth for them, and they had two more to go.
We had ordered 2 nucs, and they were at the top of the stack. The rest were packages of bees in the load. We helped them unload the 50 packages for this dropoff location, and then gently headed home with 50,000 girls in the back seat.
|Two boys watching the bees. How fun!|
When the nuc box was empty of frames there remained several hundred bees hanging inside. I gave the box a rap onto the hive box to knock them out. That just made them MAD. They came out with stingers barred. I was expecting very docile behavior, but these guard bees meant serious business. They did have an active hive to defend. Within moments we were all running and wishing we had tightened down the access points of our clothing. I had bees inside my bee hat and veil, inside my shirt pockets and inside my shirt. Our dog was a victim as well. She was standing nearby and soon was a bee target, and she ran with good reason as we all retreated. The wiser, we approached the second hive with more preparation and better clothing.
One of the nucs was bulging at the seams with bees, the other was mostly full, but not crowded. As soon as we set them up the workers were out and looking for pollen and nectar. There was no wasting time looking around at the "new house." They got to work! We could see streams of bees coming in with pollen sacs on their back legs loaded with bright yellow pollen. It is fun to see them have something local to enjoy on their first day in their new home.
July 4, 2012 update: The bees have been busy! We have added a hive body a little faster than 1 per month. We are now at 4 hive bodies on each hive, and the bees are bringing in loads of nectar. We have entire hive bodies full of capped honey. In the two upper bodies on each hive, we have placed 9 frames, and spaced them evenly with a 9-frame spacer tool. This allows the bees to draw the comb out a little longer per frame. This is beneficial for honey extraction, as there are 2 less sides to uncap per hive body for the same total volume of honey obtained.
July 26, 2012 update: The bees have filled all four large hive bodies. Rather than go up and make the stack 5 bodies tall, I chose to remove some of the super honey frames, and replace them with new frames of un-drawn foundation. We have pulled 24 full sized frames, capped on both sides of honey. It is a lot of honey, and we will be extracting this first batch in a few days. The honey flow seems to be continuing even through the heat and drought. Lots of bee activity each day!
July 30, 2012 update: We extracted the honey from the 24 full sized frames using our 9 frame radial extractor, and obtained 12 gallons of honey.
- Queen - her primary duty is to lay eggs, around 1500 a day. She also secretes pheremones that keep the workers happy. Queen bees can live for 3-7 years. A queen will emerge from a queen cell in 16 days.
- Drones - the drones only duty is to fly out and mate with a queen. I believe queens need only mate once. Drones take 24 days to emerge from the drone cell.
- Workers - as the name implies, the workers do all of the work. They are non-fertile female bees and they have a very structured life from the moment they emerge from their cocoons. Throughout their life they will serve as nursery bees, construction bees, storage bees, guard bees and foraging bees. They live, on average, only 20-30 days from the time they emerge from cocoon. The time from egg to capping is 9 days, and the bee will emerge in a total of 21 days.
I have removed swarms from hollow logs and under houses. Bees can enter a hole and build a hive within a wall (making extraction difficult.) While bees can make their own home, it is more convenient for them to have the bee keeper construct a hive to their exact preferences. Bee hives, or boxes, have a specific size, and are slotted to hold the frames, suspended from a ledge at the top of the box. This gives the bees free access to the frames. The frames are "started" with a foundation sheet, imprinted with the honey comb pattern, and it jump starts the bees into comb production in an organized way.
Bees rear their young, and store honey and pollen in the wax comb, so it is a wonderful multipurpose structure.
I found it easier to purchase tools and hive parts and assemble the hives myself. If you have wood working tools, I don't think it would be difficult to construct the wood parts from scratch, but I would still suggest following the time proven patterns that bees prefer. If you wanted a home based business, producing hive parts could be a viable small income option.
The bee box is made of wood, painted on the outside and left bare on the inside. The bee box comes in three heights, the 12" box and the 6" super (or honey box) and I have seen reference to an even smaller height box. I used 12" boxes through out my bee system. A hive body full of honey (wood parts plus honey) can weigh 80 lbs. The 6" super would weigh in at around 40 lbs, and would be easier to lug around. My view was that if I can handle the weight, it would be half the work and parts, to use the full size or "deep" frames for both brood as well as honey production. The full sized frames yield 40-50 lbs of extracted honey per hive body or super. This yield equals 4-5 gallons of extracted honey per super.
For overwintering, a hive in the north where we live should have two deep hive boxes of honey stores, and they should be checked periodically on warm winter days to make sure they are not running low on honey. It is possible to feed your bees sugar water or sugar candy to keep them alive through the winter.
You need to assume that you will be stung when working with bees. Generally they don't sting, especially if you do not rush and have a calm spirit when you work with your hives. Bees do crawl, and when they get under your clothing, it can create some excitement. As you move around, you may start to squeeze a bee, who likely was not in the best mood to begin with, resulting in a sting. Excluding the bees from clothing is a good plan. I found them rarely able to sting through denim. I would wear one pair of jeans, double socks, and rubber band the socks outside to the jean legs. Long sleeve flannel shirt, or double shirt. If it was cool I would wear a bulky sweat shirt. Their stingers are not all that long, so you just need to hold them away from your skin a bit. Bee gloves and a bee hat exclude them nicely.
Start up costs
It has been several years since I have worked with bees. I have kept my deep boxes, but other than that, I am basically starting over. When we moved prior, I sold all my frames and bees. My smoker was rusted through, and by bee hat and gloves destroyed by mice. I just placed my order for the needed frames and equipment, totaling around $500.00. I am planning on purchase of 2 nucleus hives at $100 each. If I was starting from scratch, I would guess it would total close to $1000. With that investment, you can start with two active hives, and grow with not much more cost up to 10 hives. In a good year, a hive could offer $400 value in honey.
Bees generally do very well just being left alone. There are some cases where it is good to know what is going on, but it does not take a lot of time to assess how the hive is doing. If the hive fills all the available space with honey and they need more space for the flow of nectar into the hive, they will prepare to swarm. If left to their own devices, they will swarm, and you will loose a strong productive hive. You would check for disease, pests, and queen cells signaling a coming swarm. A good management practice is to inspect your hives every two weeks. This should only take about 15 minutes per hive. For two hives, that could be an hour a month.
Extracting honey takes more time, but wow, you are richly paid for that time investment! With a few hives, you can definitely work with bees as a hobby. You don't have to be on a strict schedule, and they are busy working while you leave them to their own activities.
- It takes 12 bees their entire lives to produce one teaspoon of honey. (web)
- A honey bee can fly up to 15 miles per hour. (web)
- A bee will visit 50 - 100 flowers per foraging flight. (web)
- Bees will visit two million flowers and fly 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey. (web)
- Bees generally forage within 2 miles of their hive, but could travel further if needed. (web)
- A teaspoon of honey contains 22 calories (sugar = 18), and a table spoon of honey contains 64 calories (sugar = 46). (web)
- The queen will lay 1,000 - 2,000 eggs per day with warm temperatures and honey flow. (web)
- A strong hive will have 70,000 - 100,000 bees. (web)
- There are around 3,300 individuals in a pound of bees. (web)
- Bees will fly 150,000 miles, the equivalent of 6 times around the earth, to produce one pound of beeswax. (web)
Varroa mites to a bee are like fleas on a dog. Only the mites do more damage to the overall health of a hive if they get out of control. They are flat, saucer shaped red colored insects that bite under the honey bee scales. Watching the bees it is obvious that the bee is bothered by the mites presence. The bees are sometimes able to flick the mites off, and they fall to the bottom of the hive. There are screens that you can place in the bottom of the hive that will allow the mites to fall through to a sticky pad, trapping them from climbing back up to find a new bee victim, but the screen keeps the bees away from the sticky pad. Treat with 1 cup of powdered sugar all over the tops of the frames (1 cup per deep box). Perform this treatment exactly once a week for three weeks. The bees become covered with this dusty sugar, and so in an effort to clean themselves up, they also clean off the mites.
To address the tracheal mite naturally use a grease patty in the hive. Mix 2 parts powdered sugar with one part Crisco vegetable shortening. You can add a bit of honey-b-healthy or lemon grass oil extract. Compact this mixture between two sheets of wax paper to the size of a hamburger patty and lay on the top bar of each deep brood body. The grease patty cuts the tracheal mite population by disrupting the mite life cycle. It makes it more difficult to for mites to pass from older bees to younger bees either physically or by masking the scent of younger bees. It is ok to leave grease patties in the hive year round.
I once found a mouse carcass in the bottom of a hive. It appeared stung to death, and was encased in the bees propolus glue. Pests best not mess with a strong hive.
Consider working with bees. You will find is a rewarding study, and oh so sweet!