Monday, June 29, 2015

The Smoker: A Beekeeper's Best Friend

A common phrase used amongst bee keepers is, "A smoker is the beekeeper's best friend." Why is this a sentiment that is frequent stated and shared?
The simple answer is that the smoker calms the bees. But how does blowing smoke on the bees calm them? Essentially, it is a defense mechanism. When the bees detect the smoke, they start to believe that their home is about to be destroyed by fire. So, they start to gorge themselves on honey to prepare for a time without a home. This also causes them to be lethargic, as their flight is somewhat limited when they are full of honey. Another thing the smoker does is mask any pheromones that the bees give off. When a bee stings you, it gives off a scent known as the "attack pheromone", which signals to the other bees that there is an intruder in the hive and that they need to attack as well. This is why people are often stung multiple times when they approach a hive without smoke. When the pheromone is masked, this risk is dissipated quite a lot.

In terms of materials to use in a smoker, it is best to use something natural rather than synthetic materials. Stan Moulton, our beekeeper at Bee Champions, prefers to use burlap with bits of grass and bark in his smoker. Other beekeepers use pine needles and 100% cotton, both of which are good options.

Here are some training videos on how to start and use a smoker:

You can purchase a smoker here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Adding Supers to Our Hives

Yesterday, we began to add supers to the hives we keep at our facility in Lindon, Utah. While doing so, we found it as a great opportunity to film some more training videos, specifically on how the smoker works and exactly what you need to do in order to add supers to your hives.

You can view the videos here:

You can purchase all of the materials we used in these videos with the following links: smoker, middle bar frames, and varnished deep boxes.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bee Bearding

Are you seeing this on your hive?

We have received several calls over the last few weeks from new beekeepers seeing their colonies hanging out outside their hives. In general, this is not a cause for concern. This is a natural thing that the bees do, called bearding.

There are a variety of reasons for bearding, which are illustrated in this fantastic article from Bee Thinking.

Here is a video illustrating bearding from two of our own hives, one in Lindon and one in Provo:

Contact us if you see any behavior in your bees that is not illustrated in the article or video. It may be a sign that they're about to start swarming.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Barn Hive

One of our specialized products at Bee Champions is the Barn Hive. It is exclusive to us and we believe that it is a very effective tool when it comes to beekeeping.

Here is the Barn Hive when it's closed, as if a bee colony is already occupying the hive. We have taken great care to create a high-quality, bee-friendly product to assist you in all needs of your beekeeping, whether it be commercial or hobby.
This picture is what the Barn Hive looks like when it's opened. As you can see, the Barn Hive fits five frames and has two areas made for storage and use.

One of the features of the barn hive is the storage area on one side. Here, you can keep your hive tool, bee brush, and frame grip. In our unique Observation Barn Hives, this area has a plexiglass screen so you can observe your comb without disturbing the bees.

In this area, you can fit a feeder or use it as an extra storage area. This can be a vital area for you to make use of, as you will not have to remove any frames to fit a feeder into your hive. When a feeder is no longer needed, it is a simple matter to close off the area. This way, you don't disturb the bees when you replace the feeder. Bees will also not build comb in the feeder.

The benefits of the Barn Hive are countless. It can be used as both a nuc (especially useful because of the added feeder area) as well as a honey super. It is also especially useful in wintering bees, since you can add the feeder and give the bees a smaller space to warm throughout the cold months. It is also waterproof, so there is no need to worry when storms come through. Not to mention that it looks fantastic!

We have several varieties of the Barn Hive available to you:

The Observation Barn Hive Painted

The Observation Barn Hive Raw

The Basic Barn Hive, as a raw version, but a painted version is available upon request.

Here is a video of Stan installing a package of bees into a Barn Hive:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Myths and Truths about Killer Bees

Occasionally during a nuc transfer or when someone purchases one of our products, I've been asked about killer bees. There is a lot of false information about killer bees out there, so I'm going dispel any myths about them and give some advice on what to do during a killer bee encounter.

What Are Killer Bees?

Africanized honey bees, as they are officially called, came from Brazil in the 1950's when a set of scientists were studying African bees in order to boost honey production among the native bee species. African bees are much smaller but more aggressive than their European cousins. In a freak accident, 17 queens were accidentally released into the wild. It was believed that since they don't store an excess of honey, that they would eventually die off. Unfortunately, the queens bred with the local species, making a very adaptable species of bee. They retained their aggression from the African species while inheriting the size, and ironically, the honey storing capabilities of the European species.

The Myths and Truths of the Killer Bee

Contrary to its name, the killer bee does not maliciously seek out targets to kill, as some have been led to believe. The term "killer bee" simply comes from the bee's aggression. When left alone, it acts like any other regular European honey bee. The difference comes when it is disturbed. While regular European bees will send a few guards to attack, the Africanized bee will send thousands of guards. They are also known to pursue their threats. If you move even a few yards away from a European hive, the bees will leave you alone. Africanized bees will chase you for up to half a mile.

Another myth is that killer bees have more poisonous stings than their European counterparts. This is absolutely not true. Their stings are the same as any regular honey bee. The myth came about when victims of killer bee attacks were admitted to hospitals with far worse injuries than a regular bee attack. The reason for this is simply the sheer number of stings sustained, rather than the potency of the sting itself. If you are stung by only one killer bee, it is no worse than being stung by a European bee.

There is also a myth floating around about Africanized honey bees killing thousands of people on their path of destruction. This is absolutely false. Killer bees are responsible for the deaths of less than a hundred people in the entire time of its existence. However, thousands of pets and livestock have fallen to killer bees, mostly due to the fact that they are contained with nowhere to escape in the event of an attack.

Are You at Risk?

Unfortunately, if you live in California or any of the southern-most states, you are at risk to encounter killer bees. Arizona and Texas are the two states with the highest populations, but they have been found in southern Utah and south Florida as well. Unfortunately, the Africanized honey bee is very difficult to distinguish from a regular, non-aggressive European bee, so be careful when approaching any wild hive.

This graphic shows the spread of Africanized honey bees from the early 90's to the early 00's. Today, they are throughout Louisiana and the lower parts of the South as well.

What to Do During an Attack

Fortunately, killer bees do give you a warning before they attack. The guards will fly directly at you and slam into your face. This is a sign that you are about to be attacked. However, if you are attacked, do not freeze. Run as fast as you can for shelter. One popular theory about killer bees is that they will wait for you to surface if you head for water and hide there. This is actually true, so going for a water source will not do you any good. In any case, once you are free from the attack, get to the hospital as quick as you can. As illustrated, killer bee attacks can potentially be far more deadly than a regular bee attack.

How You Can Help

When all is said and done, you shouldn't worry about encountering killer bees. You are more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than attacked by Africanized honey bees. However, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be cautious. But the question is this: can killer bees be stopped? The answer is hopeful: YES! The simple solution is flooding their foraging grounds with European honey bees. The sheer numbers of the European bees prevents them from being able to compete with them. In fact, that is one way that Utah has prevented a huge entry into the state. They set up European hives all across the Arizona and Nevada borders to prevent killer bees crossing into the state. As a result, only two recorded attacks have ever occurred in Utah.

Because of this simple solution, it means that you can help too! You can start your own non-aggressive and non-invasive European honey bee colony in your backyard, or participate in the "Just Bee-Cause" Hive Sponsorship Program. This way, the threat of the so-called "killer bee" can be diminished in your area.

Here is a fascinating video about killer bees and how they are removed:

Though it is difficult to tell Africanized honey bees from European honey bees, the University of Florida did a study on how to identify the differences between attack patterns and hive placements.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Chemical Warfare

In previous posts, I discussed how varroa mites have infested bee populations all over the country. But here's the big question: how are they doing it? If an object or insect foreign to the bees infiltrates the hive, the bees are usually fairly quick to remove them. However, this is not happening with the varroa mites.

A study by Michigan State University found that the varroa mites are disguising themselves by smelling like bees. Bees do almost everything based on pheromones, which the mites have emulated so that the bees don't see them as foreign objects or threats.

You can read the whole article by clicking here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

When You Should Add a Second Box to Your Hive

Your hive probably currently looks like this, right?

This is typical of this time of the year, but the question is this: when should you add a second box to your hive? That question has a rather simple answer: when the bees have filled 80% of the frames or are starting to build on the outer frames of the current box.

You should put your new box on top of the old box and move one of the outer frames with as little brood as possible into it to encourage the bees to start moving up. You should not take out a frame from the middle of the brood chamber because this will throw off the queen's movements within the chamber. The queen will eventually start laying in the new box, but will primarily stay in the bottom box.

The purpose of additional boxes is to encourage expansion of the colony. The bees will grow until their living quarters restrict them from doing so. At this point, they will swarm. The second - and eventually, the third, fourth and fifth - box allows them to expand without having the need to swarm. They will also build honey almost exclusively in the upper boxes, as the queen has already established a brood chamber in the original lower boxes. This will allow you to extract honey without disturbing the queen's brooding habits, killing any brood unnecessarily and potentially having brood in your honey. This is why it's important not to remove any frames from the queen's brood chamber. She will typically stick to the lower two boxes while honey is stored in the upper boxes.

If you are using middle bar frames, it is important to check that the comb is being drawn properly. You may have to adjust this as needed. It is also important to check that the hive is level and that the new boxes are securely on the hive.

Eventually, your hive could look like this:

Have any questions? Contact us and we'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

How to Deal with Swarms

Seeing a swarm for the first time can be quite the alarming experience. A big problem we have seen historically about human perceptions of swarms is that they are dangerous and need to be exterminated. This is absolutely not the case! Swarming is the way bees naturally grow and reproduce.

Why Bees Swarm

The simple answer is that there are too many bees in the hive. When a hive outgrows its capacity, the bees have to split off in order to survive. They will create a new queen when the time comes near for them to swarm. After she is mated, as many as 60% of the workers will leave with the old queen and search for a new home. They will gather close to the old hive and send a few of the most experienced foragers to search for a new home. When one is found, they will perform a waggle dance for the other bees to show them where they've found their new home. The more vigorous the dance, the better the location. This usually occurs in a day or two.

The Impact of Swarming

For a recreational beekeeper, this process is really not that impactful. The old colony will continue to grow and work as it always has. For the commercial beekeeper, it can be quite the setback. Essentially, that hive's production for the year will be lost, as they will not have the workforce to create an excess of honey. They will have enough for themselves, but not for harvesting.

What to Do When You See a Swarm

To reiterate what was already said, swarms are not as dangerous as public perception believes they are. This is the bees' least aggressive stage of life, as they have no brood to protect. That said, they will attack if they feel threatened so it is best to keep your distance. They have no reason to attack you if they are left alone. Whatever you do, DO NOT CALL AN EXTERMINATOR! Contact us and we will send out a beekeeper to retrieve the swarm. It is far better for the bees and their sustainability for us to give the swarm a new home rather than to kill them.