Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February Honey Bee Cleansing Flights and Almond Bloom!!

Bloom? In February? Yes! California Almond bloom!  I have a friend who is employed by Bee Informed Partnership (, who was able to be in California working with honey bees just before and at the beginning of the Almond bloom. Millions upon millions of bees are trucked into California every year to pollinate almonds. It is a massive undertaking. Thought I'd share these pictures that she shared with me.  I am insanely jealous of her job! To be in California in February working with honey bees!
On the bright side it was sunny and 41 degrees F in MI today and the bees were a buzzing out on their cleansing flights. I was able to get out, check sugar brick supplies and shovel snow away from the fronts of the hives.
Honey bee on Almond Bloom, Feb 10. California. Photo cred. Anne Marie Fauvel

Rows upon rows of Almond trees start of the bloom. Feb 12, 2018. California. Photo cred. Anne Marie Fauvel

Almond tree bloom. California, Feb. 2018. Photo cred. Anne Marie Fauvel
Pulling my sled with sugar bricks to an off the road yard. Bribed my daughter into helping me today. Feb, 14 2018. Dorr, MI

Bees flying, dotted snow.....a wonderful thing to behold in February. The dog seems immune to the stings as he was lapping up any honeybee he came into contact with. If stung, he would run his nose through the snow and then get back at it, undeterred.  February 14, 2018. 41 degrees, honey bees out on cleansing flights. 

Inside the hive. Nice looking winter cluster up on their sugar brick in the milder weather. Feb. 14, 2018. Dorr, MI.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Got Snow? Honeybees in Michigan Winter.

When you think of a MI winter, what images go through your mind? Sleds, Plow trucks, mittens, hot cocoa, snowmobiles, skis, a warm cozy fire perhaps? What about honeybee hives?? For the general population, images of bee hives are not on that list.  But for us MI beekeepers out there, those hives are always on our minds. During the winter months we can't work our bees, we can't see them gracefully flying in and out of the hive, but we can think and plan. Plan what new method we'll try this year, plan to improve our current skills or learn a new one.  This past season I learned how to mark my queens and use baby nucs in my queen rearing.  I hope to sharpen those skills this upcoming season. What new knowledge or skill in beekeeping will you learn this year?
I hope you enjoy these winter scenes of apiaries. 
Bentheim, MI 8 degrees F, Jan. 4, 2018

Bentheim, MI.  Jan 4, 2018

Bentheim, MI. January 4, 2018. 8 degrees F.

Hives tucked in the back left corner. out of the wind. Dorr, MI.

Hopkins, MI. January 9, 33 degrees. With the slight warm up,  the snow had slumped off the top covers  and down the fronts of the hives. This covered some of the top entrances and bottom entrances on the hives. Had to clear it off. Top left, there is always at least one bee that has to come out and see what's happening.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Easy Sugar Bricks for Honey bees

 Easy sugar bricks for you to make for your honey bees to help sustain them during the cold Michigan winter months.
The finished product of sugar bricks. The larger ones made in foil roaster pan are about 3 1/2 pounds, the smaller ones around two pounds. See below for directions on how to make.
I've had a lot of questions about sugar bricks so here is a picture demonstration.

Ingredients needed:
Water 3/4 cup
Vinegar 1/4 cup
Honey B Healthy or equivalent. 1 tsp
Granulated Sugar 10 pounds

Items needed:
5 gallon bucket
Paint mixer paddle to attach to drill
Foil pans
Measuring cup

Many ask what type of sugar to use.  I've heard arguments on both sides whether it should be beet or cane, organic or non organic, etc... I use white granulated cane sugar from Costco.    A 50 pound bag is $20 bucks. So if I make my bricks to be about 2 pounds each, that is 25 bricks, about 80 cents a brick.
It is worth the time and money to make the sugar bricks for your bees. It only takes a couple of minutes to pop one on to the top bars above the cluster. Yes, you can take the top cover off in the winter in cold temps without hurting them. Just do it quickly, less than a minute or two.  Even if they have honey stores all around them, it may be too cold for the cluster to move to the full honey frames. A brick on top of the cluster will get them through until temps increase again and allow them to move. Don't let your bees starve!  It would be a shame if they survived viral infections from varroa,  pesiticide exposure and other challenges they face to die of starvation when it could have been easily prevented.  Not to mention the cost of a few sugar bricks is way less than having to purchase new bees in the spring because yours are all dead.
Bucket to mix the sugar, drill, paint mixer paddle. I mix it up in the garage.

3/4 cup water (sorry that is a 4 cup measuring cup  that is why it doesn't look like 3/4 cup) add 1/4 cup vinegar and 1 tsp Honey B Healthy into it.

After you've added the 1/4 vinegar to 3/4 cup water, add a teaspoon of Honey B Healthy. The Honey B Healthy is a feeding stimulant with essential oils (mainly spearmint and lemongrass).  It is not essential to making the bricks so if you don't have it that is OK. I like the smell, but according to my husband it is nauseating and overpowering :-)  And it will fill your house with the aroma while you're baking the bricks.

I don't mix the whole 10 pounds of sugar all at once. I use 5 pounds first and about half the liquid mixture, I blend that up very well first and then add the remaining 5 pounds  of sugar and last half of the mixture.  Make sure you mix it up thoroughly, about 3-5 minutes with the drill.

Mixing for 3-5 minutes with paint mixer attached to power drill.

Tinfoil pans to pour mixture into when finished mixing. I use a variety of sizes.

Dump the mixture from the bucket into your tins.

Use your hands or a rolling pin to really compact the mixture into the pan, making sure it is dense.

If I use a larger tin, I score the mixture with a knife so I can break it apart easier when it is done baking. When transferring the pans into the oven, the mixture may get a few cracks in it, pat these down or roll then back out so it is nice and uniform with no cracks. Set your oven on low 140-180 degrees  and bake for 5-6 hours. Remove and let cool. Place on hives when needed.

Your oven temp for the bricks should be around 140-180 degrees Farenheit.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Honeybees Wintering in Michigan

Our first west MI winter winds and snow have arrived!!  All the hives are wrapped in their winter garb of tar paper. I wrap to cover the seam  in between the 2 deep boxes. I'm sure they probably have it propolized well, but just in case.  A little extra wind break I figure. For me, essentials to overwintering are in no particular order;
1. Ventilation
2. Upper entrance
3. Food stores
4. Location
5. Keeping critters out.

See pics below for explanations on overwintering honeybees in West MI. 
Honeybees on a milder day digging in to their sugar brick. Because most of my colonies are in single deeps going into winter, they are already at the "top" of the 2 deep brood boxes. The box on the bottom has 2-3 frames of drawn comb and frames of foundation for the bees to expand in the spring. I know it seems backwards, but it works. Because many are already up, I put sugar bricks in early if I see them near the top. If it's too cold for them to navigate over to another frame of honey, the brick will be right above them as a food source if needed.

First snowfall this winter season in West MI, December 7. I love this yard because the Pine tress serve as an excellent natural wind break!

I have an upper entrance hole in each hive so when the bottom entrances get covered with snow, there is still a way for the bees to exit. It also helps with ventilation. Again, notice the pines behind the hives, great natural windbreak.

This just happened to be the best place for me to put bees in our backyard and the cage was already there. No skunks will be scratching at the front door of these hives this winter. It also acted as a barrier this summer so the bees always flew up first before heading out instead of straight across our yard. They rarely flew through the holes in the chain link.

All hives in this yard in Hopkins, MI alive! We have many months to go though before pollen is available and spring greets us with warm breezes. Last year, the Silver Maple in our area bloomed on February 22 and bees were bringing in pollen!! So three and half to four months is all, that doesn't sound so long to have to wait :-)

This is a dead out hive that has been getting robbed out.  Wanted to show the screen board here with fiber board in it. It provides ventilation as the longer sides provide a seam for air to flow through. See picture below.  The telescoping cover goes over this. I have bottom board, 2 deeps, queen excluder to set sugar brick on, shallow, winter screen and then telescoping cover.

Dead out hive. Just wanted you to see screen board without the fiber board in it. The screen board, replaces the inner cover during the winter. Fiber board sits on top of the screen to help deflect warm air out to the sides where it is vented. See pic below.
The open slit between shallow box and winter screen allows warm air produced by the hive to escape so condensation doesn't build up on underside of the telescoping cover and drip down on to the bees. The slits are on both long sides of the screen board.

Baking more sugar bricks. I have made bricks many ways and there is no "one and only " way to do it. I use a variety of methods and the bees don't really seem to care. They take it down either way. A simple recipe is 10 pounds of sugar to 3/4 cup hot water, 1/4 vinegar and a teaspoon of honeybee healthy.  I mix it in a 5 gallon bucket with paint mixer on the end of a drill. I dump it into pans, press it or roll it with a rolling pin so its compacted and bake it at 140-160 degrees F. for 4-5 hours. Place in hives when ready.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

OTS Queen Rearing Wrap up for 2017 Season.

My last post was  in April! I can't believe it is now almost Thanksgiving.....the bees have kept me busy this year!! This past May and June are a blur, a literal fuzzy, buzzy, blurring of bees.  Bees at dawn, afternoon, dinner and dusk. Honey bees encompassing my thoughts from the moment I awoke to when I'd lay my exhausted head down on the pillow. When I drifted off to sleep, it was dreams of honeybees for me.  I may be exaggerating slightly, but honestly, there were numerous spring days when this was entirely true.

Winter left me with 17 hives out of 31.  Of these I needed to repay a dear friend 7 nucs with overwintered queens from the prior season.  Using Mel Disselkoens OTS method of making splits and queen rearing, the honeybees and I were able to fulfill our debt of 7 nucs, sell 15 nucs and keep 5 overwintered queens and a number of starts from the overwintered hives for myself. I let the May starts with daughter queens and the 2016 overwintered queens build up again until July and then split them again. I also hived six swarms.

  I am going into winter with 63 hives, the large majority of those being July starts with On The Spot Queens. Mating success this year averaged to be near ninety percent. The failures were due to virgin queens never returning resulting in working layers. I do not try to save working layer hives, I count them as a loss. I shake out the bees and give their combs and stores to other hives.

Thanks to the patience and time of another seasoned beekeeper, I also learned how to mark my queens this summer and began to learn how to graft. I got a taste of the process and steps of grafting but I am in no way able to graft larva well enough yet to raise quality queens with grafting. I will continue to increase my knowledge and skills in that area but for now I will continue to raise queens using OTS queen rearing.  To my knowledge, in the past four years of raising queens this way, I have never had an OTS queen rejected, killed or superseded. Once she comes back from her mating flight and starts to lay, I no longer worry.

I took many photos of honey bees and honey bee related activities over this past bee season. Below each I give some explanation.  I hope it will help explain how I keep bees and why I use the methods that I do. Some are just honey bees on flowers, my favorites :-) Sorry,  but the pictures are in no particular order.
Me, proudly showing off a beautiful brood frame from a 2017 OTS Queen. June,2017. Nucs ready for pick up in the background.

February 22, 2017. The Silver Maple at the end of our street bloomed! Honeybee on Silver Maple Bloom.

Myself holding a frame of "wall to wall" brood! Newly mated OTS 2017 Queen. June, 2017

My "Barber" swarm. I was called by the Barber in Moline, MI to come and get this swarm. It was about 3 ft off the ground. This swarm came exactly one week after I had gotten a larger swarm on the exact same tree. Pheromones must have been lingering there.   

I mentioned I had experimented with grafting. I also did some work with some queen cells. Mentored under another long time beekeeper, I used baby nucs for mating these queens from cells and then introduced them using the method you see in picture above. I news papered the newly mated queen over top of the queenless hive.

One of my first swarms of the year up in a pine tree. Why do they love pine trees so much?!?

Oh Spring!!  I miss you already. Red pollen top right I've been told is from purple dead nettle.  Bottom left is honey bee on crab apple tree blossom in my yard. April/May 2017

Honey bee on Honey Suckle in my yard. Late May, 2017.

Aaaaah yes, amazing brood pattern!!! June 2, 2017. The solid work of an OTS Queen. Thanks Mel Disselkoen.

Middle of September, 2017. Time to top off all the July starts I made. I take no honey from splits I make in July.  I am happy if they fill a single deep prior to winter. I feed them sugar syrup the last two weeks of September. I use frame feeders that you can see in the bottom lower right of the picture. They hold one and a half gallons of feed. The bees can drain that in 3-4 days if they are healthy. 
First week of June, 2017. Nucs brought back to my home yard, waiting to be picked up and brought to their new homes buy their new beekeepers later in the evening. Selling nucs was fun and exciting but also sad.  I hated to part with those new queens and their beautiful brood..... but I realize I cannot keep them all even though I want to.  It was exciting to know my bees were going all over the state of Michigan and down into Indiana. A couple of them even made it to the upper peninsula!

Pollen traps. I tried the pollen traps this season. This is a picture of one on the front of the hive. This is a summer evening in early June and they are hanging out in it. The barrier/trap they have to go through to get in discouraged these foragers to head in that night. In 24 hours this hive brought in close to two cups of pollen!! It was amazing. I only left them on for a day or two. I felt guilty taking the pollen, silly I know. Maybe next year I'll play with pollen traps again.

Picture of the pollen in the bottom of the pollen trap. June 2017. Collected nearly two cups from this hive in 24 hours!!

Me brushing bees off a frame from a laying worker hive. June, 2017

Me, with ever present hive tool in hand :-)

Newly mated queen, just marked. I did not mark this queen. My marks did not look near as nice as this. On one of the queens I marked, it looked more like a stripe all the way down her body. oops.   Need more time and practice marking :-)

Rainbow in one of my new yards. June 2017.

Honey bee on Sumac. This is the first year I've caught them on it. I didn't realize how many dainty little flowers were on Sumac and how beautiful they are! June, 2017. Dorr, MI.

Honey bee on Canadian Thistle. August, 2017. Bentheim, MI.

Honey bee alighting on Star Thistle, Dorr, MI. July, 2017.

Honey bee on Buckwheat Bloom, Dorr, MI. June, 2017.

Honey bee on Star Thistle, June, 2017. Dorr, MI.

Honey bees gathering nectar from Sumac, late June, 2017. Wayland, MI.

Honey bee on Loosestrife.  Dorr, MI.

July, 2017. POLLEN in frame!!

Field of bee balm, many pollinators enjoying this. Hopkins, MI. July 18, 2017.

Honey bee on bee balm. July 18, 2017. Hopkins, MI

Crazy weird swarm in four parts!  July 2016. Wayland, MI.

Honey bee on Canadian Thistle, July 14, 2017. Bentheim, MI.

September bloom, unidentified.

Naughty honey bees on my hummingbird feeder, October, 2017

Honey bees with  suspected goldenrod pollen, Sept, 2017.

New yard sheltered by pine trees in Hopkins, MI. These make for a wonderful wind break. Have fifteen hives there this winter. Hoping for the best!

Honey bee on Chicory, such a pretty blue. Rear view with creamy white colored pollen. August 12, 2017. Dorr, MI.

Honey bee on Golden Rod. Sept 2, 2017. Dorr, MI.

Honey bee on Golden Rod with pollen. Sept 2, 2017. Dorr, MI.

Crazy late swarm, Sept 2, 2017. So a late swarm is bad for many reasons. Why did it swarm so late?? Varroa mite infestation likely.  Should have done a mite count on these girls, but didn't. Shouldn't have kept them, but did. It is my little experiment. Because it was a good size swarm,  I hived them. Treated them with an oxalic dribble while they were still broodless  and fed them for 2 weeks. They were also given some empty drawn comb and a couple frames of honey. Within weeks they drew out 5-6 combs and the brood pattern was top notch. We'll see how they do through the winter. If they don't make it, they still drew out six frames of foundation for me.

The Sept 2 Swarm still hanging out in the tree before I hived them. The swarm is in top middle to right of the tree. See picture above for more info.

Yes that is all SUGAR! You would not imagine the questions and comments you get while waiting in line at Costco with all this sugar on your cart. When I respond that it is for Honey bees, you'd think I was a Super Hero!! People around me and the cashiers start thanking me and patting me on the back, telling me what great work I'm doing. So much so that I thought next time I just might ask for donations ;-) Love that the general public is so pumped up about Honey bees :-) My kids, on the other hand, vowed they'd never go to Costco on a sugar run with me again.

Honey bee on yellow Jewel Weed. September, 2017. Hopkins, MI. First time I had seen the yellow, I usually find the orange.

My faithful Dadant smoker! Pine needles and Sumac work for me!

Honey bee on Zinnia, I plant these from seed every year. Rows and rows of them. They bloom till frost. I've seen honey bees and bumbles still working them in October.

An Autumn favorite. Honey bee on Sedum. Dorr, MI. September, 2017.

Honey bee on Zinnia, July, 2017.

I broke open some honeycomb while breaking apart supers. Didn't take but seconds for these girls to take advantage and have some of their hard earned reward.

Honey bee on Milkweed. June 19, 2017. These smell lovely.

Older forager Honey bee on Milkweed bloom. See her frayed wings?? June, 2017

Going in. Honeybee on Jewel Weed. September, 2017,

Loaded down with pollen. Honey bee on Jewel Weed bloom. Sept, 2017.

Late June 2017 Swarm. Why can't they all be this simple? Four feet off the ground. One snip of the branch and into the box you go!

With all those starts, I needed more equipment!! Thanks Wayne for being supportive in letting me expand and helping me transport all these boxes and frames back home :-) July 3, 2017.

Honey stomach full. Little belly almost translucent with nectar!

Honey bee on Queen Annes Lace! I honestly did not think bees worked the Queen Annes, I was wrong. Not only Honey bees but other pollinators too. August 12, 2017.

Love, love, love new wax with snow white cappings over freshly cured nectar!! July, 2017.

 I had a swarm for every month this season. This is the August 8 swarm.

Honey bee on Joe Pye Weed, August 12, 2017. Dorr, MI.

Honey bees on Rose a Sharon bloom. August, 2017

Late summer forage of Iron Weed, and Queen Anne's Lace.
Sept 25, Dorr, MI. Honey bee on Aster.

Honey bee on type of mint bloom, August 13, 2017.

The crazy four part swarm hived. July 16, 2017. I found a sheet to be extremely valuable this year when hiving swarms.

Honey bee on white Joe Pye Weed.

Honeybee on Alfalfa bloom, Sept. 15, 2017. I have hives on the edge of a farmers hay field. I was so please when he said he lets the alfalfa bloom before cutting.  I know honey bees are not the most efficient at pollinating alfalfa but nice to know if there wasn't other forage available in September that acres of this was right outside the front step of their hives