As I was driving home from the Florida Keys, having completed an internship, I decided to stop in Nauvoo, Illinois. It is a sort of pilgrimage to those of the Latter-Day Saint faith, so I was eager to be able to go and see this wonderful place again. Little did I know that I would learn something of beekeeping in this tiny town stuck in 1840's America.
I walked into the home of a Wilford Woodruff, who would eventually become an LDS prophet in Utah, to learn about him and see how he lived. The wonderful senior missionaries pointed out this curious little device:
They called it the bee box and they explained a little bit of how it worked: on a warm spring day, a mother would send her children out with the box to observe the bees. They would pay attention to what flowers were being targeted by forager bees on that day. They would place one of those flowers in the box and wait for a bee to fly into it, whereupon they would close the box. The children would bring the box back to their mother, who would shake some flour into it, covering the bee. The children would then release the bee outside. When a bee is distressed, it will automatically want to return to its hive, and when it is covered in flour, it flies low and slow and is easy to pick out. The children would follow the bee to its hive, most often in a tree. In the 1840's, when someone found a beehive, they would generally carve their initials into the tree, signifying that they had claimed it. If no one's initials were on the tree, the children would report back to their mother the location of the hive.
It was amazing to see how, even in the 1840's, bees were an integral part of life in the Midwest. And you never know what you may learn, even on a religious pilgrimage.
When you think of people who are into bees, it's mostly farmers or hobby beekeepers. Most people have almost no knowledge of bees and why they are dying. However, now the situation is so dire, that major companies are now starting to take notice.
I was recently send an article written by, of all people, Rolling Stone magazine. If Rolling Stone are paying attention, then we definitely should be.
The article details the struggle of beekeeper Jim Doan, who saw his 5,600 hives die off to just 275. It also details his battle with EPA, and the subsequent lawsuit, which contests that the bees are dying off because of all the chemicals going in the crops, which the bees are subsequently pollinating, but getting killed by.
The article also very accurately details the consequences that can come from losing the bee population.
Not too long ago, we were able to assist an up-and-coming beekeeper with a hive transfer. She had a top bar hive and wanted to transfer her colony into a deep middle bar hive. The reason for this is because she didn't have the time to maintain the top bar hive, which can be fairly intense when it comes to maintenance, simply because you have to make sure that the comb doesn't get stuck to the bottom of the hive.
Here is the video of the transfer:
As you can see, because she didn't have the time to maintain the top bar hive, it took several hours to transfer the colony to the deep middle bar hive because Stan Moulton had to cut out the comb individually. The flaws of the top bar hive are fairly obvious as you watch. The maintenance is difficult and harvesting honey is destructive to the comb. However, with a deep middle bar hive, harvesting honey is not destructive and there is no fear of the bees building comb that adheres to the wall and bottom of the boxes. Though there is maintenance involved with the middle bar hive, it is clearly much less than it is for a top bar hive.
You can purchase middle bar frames here and a deep middle bar box here.
I was browsing Facebook the other day and noticed that one of my friends posted an article about how to make a beehive with mason jars. Curious, I read up a little bit on it.
The theory is that since bees generally build honey in the upper parts of the hive, this is a remarkably easy to harvest honey without the need to go into the comb and pull it all out. The jars are a fairly easy way to avoid the mess that comes with it. It is also a creative observation hive idea.
When Bee Champions was born, several ideas were given of which one of our products would be the best seller. Surprisingly, the most popular product we carry at Bee Champions has been the frame perch.
Then again, perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised at all! The frame perch is a simple, yet extremely effective tool when it comes to backyard beekeeping. It's one of those things that is not a necessity in the strictest sense, but is very inexpensive way to make beekeeping more accessible.
The frame perch is designed to hold three frames on the side of the hive. When you are inspecting your hive, you don't necessarily want to put your frames down into the dirt or the grass, which can make the honey and nectar on a frame dirty and cause the bees unneeded grief to clean it out. With the frame perch, you can simply set your frames aside, both upright and away from dirt and grass. It is also useful when you need to inspect multiple frames at once because it eliminates the inconvenience of having to hold both frames.
One of the most important, but least understood aspects of beekeeping is that of the queen bee. Without the queen, the hive will falter and die, since her sole purpose is reproduction.
Queens are essentially sexually mature regular bees. Workers are females that never receive sexual maturity. Queens are usually created when a hive is ready to swarm or when the old queen starts to fail and a new one is needed, a process called supercedure. You can tell which one is being created by where the queen cell is being built.
A queen cell that is being built on the frame is typically a swarm cell. At this point, it is too late to stop your colony from swarming, as it will likely happen before the new queen emerges. Cells built on the comb, like the one on the left, are typically supercedure queens and will unlikely affect the production of your hive. In fact, once a supercedure queen emerges, she will often work with the old queen side-by-side until the old one dies. Other times, the workers will "ball" the old queen to kill her once the new one becomes available.
There are usually multiple queen cells made at the same time. When the virgin queens emerge, they will fight each other to the death. The winner will destroy any queen pupae that remain. This is the only time that honey bees fight each other, as workers of different colonies never fight each other, and can even be combined to save a weak colony. The winner will fly to a drone congregation area to mate. This also usually the only time that the queen will ever fly. She will mate with drones for several days and will never have to mate again for her entire life.
Queens are usually not that difficult to find. She is quite a bit larger than the workers and her abdomen will usually give her away. She will be surrounded by attendants, so if the frame she is on is not disturbed too much, you will see her move across the frame and a tiny gap between her and all other bees will form, creating a path where you can see her. Many beekeepers also mark their queens with paint so it is easier for them to find her.
Here is a series of videos of Stan Moulton talking about and interacting with the queens:
Feel free to contact us if you have any more questions about beekeeping.