This past weekend a friend and I got together to harvest honey from the summer. Despite keeping bees for three years this was the first harvest that was large enough to need an extractor. Many factors come into honey production by the bees including weather, hive health, hive size, breed of bee, supply of blooms, and honey bee pests. This year we were lucky after three seasons of keeping bees!
Earlier this spring, Harvard University reached out to our local beekeeper’s association. One of their researchers in the School of Public Health is doing research on honeybees. His goal is to study the distribution of pesticides in pollen across the state of Massachusetts. He is particularly interested in pesticides containing neonicotinoids, as they have shown potential links in previous studies to cause massive honeybee death (Colony Collapse Disorder).
Video Credit: Tilly’s Nest
|Eggplant, cardoon, basil and tomatoes thrive near the hives.|
My nine year old son decided to title this post. You see, I had a heck of a time with the bees yesterday! It had been a while since I had entered my hives as I was just letting the bees do “their thing”. During the summer they forage and work hard, but come fall, it’s time to do an inspection and see that their summer has paid off and also to help them where they need it to survive the Winter. It was also time to check for bee pests that propagated during the warm season.
We are in the middle of another heat wave. I think the bees actually like this weather the best. The sun is shining. There is not a cloud in the sky and the humidity is soaring. Everywhere I turned in the yard today, I saw my bees. As I dead-headed some of the expired blooms, there they were busily flitting from flower to flower. They say bees visit 50-100 flowers to fill the pollen buckets on their hind legs in just one trip.
When I went to the front gardens, I found myself mesmerized, watching. The bees were hard at work on my favorite Coneflowers. I must have been standing there for a while. The kids finally came out and asked what I was doing. The honeybees’ spell fell on them as well. There we were, all three of us watching the bees hard at work. Time passed quickly and we must have watched them for at least a half an hour. The bees did not care that they had an audience. I loved making this memory with the kids.
I might even be tempted to say that watching the bees was almost as entertaining as watching the chickens.
Photo Credits: Tilly’s Nest
My bees are mutts. They are a blend of Carniolan, Italian, German, Russian and Australian. The apiary where I purchased my bees believes that by diversifying their genetics, they are hardier and more resistant to disease. Recently when my mentor opened up my hives with me, he was amazed at how the bees’ genetics expressed themselves. As we pulled the frames, there were so many different looking bees working together. Initially, before he knew that I had mutts, he exclaimed, “Hey, you have a Carniolan in here!”
|Bees working bits of burr comb removed from between the frames and placed at the entrance|
Two weeks ago, my mentor from the local beekeeper’s association came over to visit my hives for the first time. It was a great experience. Both hives, Willow and Briar, were growing as expected. There was beautiful brood, capped honey, pollen and lots of bees. We even saw the queen in Willow. It was so nice to hear from my mentor, who has been raising bees since 1989, that everything looked great. We added on the second deep super to Briar so that it would now match Willow. I had added the second deep super to Willow four days prior. For a diagram with parts of the hive click here.
Today marked two weeks since I had entered the hives. It was time to inspect them again and to see how they were doing in building out the 10 frames within the new second deeps. Over the past few days it has been sunny, beautiful and very hot. The weather has been optimal for bee viewing. Last night, the kids and I built out the smaller frames for the honey supers, just in case we needed them. I went into the hives at 10 am.
Bees in the Northeast need approximately 60-80 pounds of honey to survive through the Winter. This is roughly equivalent to two full deep supers. Often new beekeepers in the first year, strive to get their bees to completely build out two deeps. It is a great deal of work for the bees. Not only do they have to make beeswax to draw out the foundation on twenty frames, but the queen has to lay lots of eggs, the bees need to collect nectar and pollen, and create honey stores.
Willow was first. Willow has had two deeps on since June 5th. As I removed the outer cover, I found the feeder empty. Bees were still surrounding the opening but it was light as a feather. I removed it and placed it on the ground. Next, I removed the inner cover. The bees were very quiet. They hardly seemed to notice me. In fact, I could barely hear them buzzing. I had never heard the hive this calm or quiet before. I worked methodically and slowly to avoid causing any unnecessary vibrations or jostling that upsets the bees. I had soon discovered that the bees had been very busy! As I inspected each frame I found that eight were fully built out with comb in the second deep super. There were plenty of bees-both workers and drones. Five frames were full of brood and there was capped honey, pollen and nectar in the cells too. I found the queen on the third frame. There she was in the center of the frame and capped brood. As I inspected each frame, I also found it necessary to remove burr comb. Burr comb is comb that does not belong where the bees place it. In this case, they “bridged” the small gaps between the frames in the upper and lower deep with beeswax bridges. With the hive tool, I methodically scraped off this comb and placed it on the bottom board near the hive entrance. The bees will clean this comb of everything useful (see photo above). Within seconds, the comb was covered with worker bees. I finished peeking inside this upper deep and decided to forgo the lower one. Everything was as it should be. In fact, it was time for me to add a honey super to this hive.
Honey supers are about half the height of a regular deep. It is shallower. When full it can hold up to 100 pounds of honey. I decided to forgo the queen excluder. It is an item of huge debate in the beekeeping world. It is not recommended for first year beekeepers by our association. The idea behind the queen excluder is to prevent the queen from going up into the honey super and laying eggs. Worker bees can fit through just fine enabling them to build out the foundations. Without a queen excluder, it is possible that the queen can go up into the honey super and lay eggs. However, the bees will have plenty of work drawing out the new ten frames that are inside the honey super. They may only have enough time this season to draw out the comb or they may fill this super with honey and I might even have to add another! If the queen does lay eggs in the honey super, waiting until Fall to harvest honey should ensure that no more hatching eggs are laid in the honey super. Time will tell. Once the honey super went onto Willow, it was time to stop feeding them. I removed the empty feeder, added the honey super, replaced the inner cover and the outer cover. The bees hardly knew that I was there. Next it was Briar’s turn.
From the beginning, Briar was my gang buster hive. I placed the second deep on this hive on June 9th, four days later than Willow as it was a tad bit slower. I was very pleased when I opened this hive. In the same fashion as Willow, I entered the hive. The feeder was also empty. I inspected each frame in the upper deep. Six out of the ten frames were built out. Three were covered in brood. There was pollen, capped honey, nectar and plenty of bees. I never did see the queen. This hive too, like Willow was incredibly docile today and I decided that I had seen enough evidence of a thriving hive with a laying queen. Briar did not receive a second deep as I wanted to see at least seven frames completely built out with comb.
So in a week or so, I will open Briar back up and recheck the progress of the bees. This hive might just get a honey super too. It is still early in the season here on Cape Cod. My fingers are crossed that I just might get some honey. I talked to my mentor today. He was surprised with the bees’ progress. From what he tells me, sometimes new hives are like this. He said the real test will come to see if they survive the Winter.
Photo Credit: Tilly’s Nest
This post is linked up to Deborah Jean’s Farm Girl Friday Blog Hop.
One of the biggest questions that I had prior starting out on my honey bee keeping journey had to do with how the chickens and the bees will coexist in my yard. I was nervous. I knew nothing about keeping bees, yet I knew a lot about keeping chickens. I wondered to myself. Will the bees sting the chickens? Will the chickens bother the beehives? What will happen if the bees swarm? Can my chickens still free range in the yard with beehives present? Do chickens and bees get along?