Wednesday, December 27, 2006

December Update

Sorry for the delay in posting! So far the Winter in Georgia has been relatively warm and uneventful. I've done some supplemental feeding with 2:1 sugar water. I did this because the hives felt light when I lifted them & it also gives me a little piece of mind. The upcoming season is rapidly approaching. Sometime in late January or early February I will give the hives a kick start by adding some pollen patties to encourage the Queen to begin laying. I may also feed some 1:1 sugar water. I expect to successfully over winter all 3 hives and am looking forward to watching the hive populations explode this Spring. I have extra hive bodies and honey supers ready to go when they are needed. I have decided to use the 9 5/8" deep hives for the 2nd brood box. This will ensure they have enough room to expand. I travel a lot for work and am skeptical about using the medium supers for the brood chamber. The last thing I want is to lose most of the population to a swarm.

I have been surprised by the amount of traffic most days. As I previously stated the Winter hasn't been too cold and most days warm up enough for the bees to break cluster and fly. I was surprised to see that a lot of pollen is being gathered. Most returning foragers are loaded with pollen. I wonder what the source of this pollen is?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hive Activity

I was outside today preparing 8lbs. of boiled peanuts for Saturday's UGA vs. Florida football game and noticed a lot of activity around all 3 hives. The last few nights have been near freezing and the daytime high has only been in the upper 50's. I presume the warm weather today has a lot to do with the amount of activity I'm seeing. Click on the picture for full-size.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

ALMOND POLLINATION - 2006 and Beyond

from November 2005 BEE CULTURE (pp.39,40)
by Joe Traynor

With the bee shortage of 2005 receding into the past, both almond growers and beekeepers are curious as to what the 2006 season will bring. 2006 pollination prices have doubled over 2005 and are in the $100 to $150 range (the highest prices for the strongest colonies). The two entities that drive the stock market, fear and greed, are also in play for almond pollination: fear (of going without bees) on the part of almond growers, and greed on the part of a few beekeepers who feel they are entitled to a $150 rental fee for substandard bee colonies. Beekeepers can also experience fear - of theft, of excessive winter losses, of growers not paying their almond pollination bills.

The driving force behind 2006 pollination prices is the unprecedented high prices for almonds - $3 to $4 a pound vs. $1/lb a few years ago. Growers don't mind paying high prices for bees if they know they are dealing with a reputable supplier that delivers a quality product.

There will be only a modest in bearing almond acreage in 2006, perhaps 20,000 more acres than in 2005; the real crunch for bees will come in a few years when bearing almond acreage hits 730,000 acres (vs. 550,000 today). Growers are looking to lock in long-term relationships with bee suppliers and are actively courting beekeepers; beekeepers are in the heady position of being able to pick and choose among anxious suitors (a position that can lead to a temporary "Master of the Universe" syndrome if one is not careful). What happens when almond prices drop back to $1/lb, as many expect they will, is anybody's guess.

If you've never brought bees to almonds before, you need to do some serious homework, just as the most successful pioneers that settled the early west were the ones that did sufficient homework before embarking on the trek. Good contacts are invaluable in this regard. Talk with beekeepers that have made the journey. Have a thorough knowledge of whom you're dealing with, whether it be a broker, a grower or another beekeeper that is placing your bees. Know that the most desirable almond locations are taken first and your truck may wind up in a muddy orchard or be forced to spend a day or more scattering bees to 10 different orchards 10 miles apart. Know the specific orchard where you will be taking your bees. Dealing with good people can mean the difference between a happy or a dismal experience. If you're dealing with strangers, ask for references and follow up on these references.

If you live outside of California, getting a reliable trucker is a key to being successful in almonds. Her again, it pays to do some diligent homework. Ask for recommendations from other beekeepers - you don't want your trucker taking a 4 hour break in Las Vegas on a warm afternoon. Get someone experienced in hauling bees and line up trucks well ahead of time. Give your trucker exact pickup dates and make sure he meets those dates even if it means multiple phone calls.

If you're from a southern state, make sure your equipment is free of Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFA) and arrange for an RIFA inspection certificate from your home state (current RIFA rules require an inspection certificate from the state of origin). Your load will also be thoroughly inspected at the CA border and if more than five ants are found (up from zero ants in 2005) your load will be turned back (an expensive one-time clean-up at the border and another go at crossing is an option). In order to pass border inspections, most beekeepers transfer bees to new or steam-cleaned pallets and pre-treat the ground in their holding yards with pesticides. Loads can also be rejected for weed seeds. Any debris of any kind on hives or pallets will trigger a meticulous inspection of your load at the border. Know the exact location where your bees will wind up in California (you will be asked this at the border). Make every effort to arrive in CA on a week day so that county inspectors are more available to check the load on arrival. For the latest RIFA (and small-hive-beetle) regulations, call (916)653-1440.

It is difficult for many beekeepers in eastern states to work up enthusiasm for almond pollination since most got into beekeeping for the life style and to make honey, not to put their livelihood on a truck and ship it to California (that crazy left coast). Some are looking to sell their bee operations rather than submit to a new life style.

There is long-term optimism for higher honey prices as developing countries, particularly China and India become more affluent and become major buyers of U.S. honey. If every person in China put a teaspoon of honey in their tea every day, U.S. beekeepers would be hard-pressed to meet the demand. With both India and China producing 10 times as many scientists as the U.S., it is likely that by 2040 China will surpass the U.S. as a world power, esp. if the anti-science bias of our current administration continues. South Korea (South Korea!) already surpasses the U.S. in cloning success. According to Dr. R.E. Smalley, Nobel Prize winning scientist from Rice University by 2010, 90 percent of all Ph.D. physical scientists and engineers in the world will be Asian living in Asia (Imprimis February 2005).

The best and brightest of our young people are looking to become lawyers rather than scientists (or beekeepers - and many beekeepers, whether they know it or not, are also scientists) because that is where the money is (and the accumulation of money is deemed to be a virtue in a capitalistic society). No other country comes remotely close to the U.S. in the number of lawyers per capita. Our bright young (and old) lawyers have a negative effect on the gross national product of our country. What a waste - and what a drag on the long-term prosperity of America.

But never mind. Looking at the world 30 years from now, U.S. beekeepers, although considered 2nd class citizens compared to the average Chinese, should fare well in the new world order. They should find a ready market in a prosperous China as millions of affluent Chinese peruse their (China-owned) Wall Street Journal while they sip their morning tea sweetened with premium U.S. honey. What a role reversal!

Getting back to almond pollination, the current situation offers new opportunities for individuals with beekeeping experience:

Supplying bulk bees - with 3 lbs of Aussie bees (+ queen) going for $100 an enterprising beekeeper in Alabama is offering 3# package bees (sans queen) for $45 to be delivered to CA just prior to almond bloom in order to boost up weak colonies.Why ship all that wood to California when you can just ship the bees?

California managers - Many out-of-state beekeepers would like to ship their bees to California but don't want to go with them. They are looking for a reliable person in California to care for their bees in the winter (if they winter in California) and to deliver the bees to almond orchards at bloom time.

Winter location scouting - with winter holding yards in California becoming increasingly scarce, a California based person could develop a good business securing yards and renting them to out-of-state beekeepers.

Colony strength inspectors - High pollination fees are causing almond growers to look more closely at what they are getting. A person should do quite well in a short period of time by offering an independent inspection program to growers.

Will there be a shortage of bee colonies in 2006? It depends on how you define "bee colony." There has been a shortage of strong bee colonies (defined as 8 or more frames of bees) each and every year since almonds were first planted in California 100 years ago; 2006 will be no different if two strong colonies per acre is the accepted standard. There will likely be the requisite number of bee boxes to cover CA's 570,000 bearing acres in 2006 but the content of these boxes won't be known until almond bloom commences in early February. If almond growers are satisfied with two 3# packages per acre as some were in 2005, we will see an influx of packages from Australia to make up any shortfalls. Florida bees will likely be used to cover any last-minute spot shortages as they were so used in 2005.

Whether there will be sufficient bees to pollinate 730,000 acres of almonds in 2010 is a question without an answer at this time. One solution would be to supply the same number of bees now being supplied but in fewer containers (boxes). One strong colony per acre will do the work of 3 or 4 weak colonies and should be sufficient. Two colonies per acre is the accepted standard for almonds and it is difficult to persuade growers to use less, no matter how strong the colonies are. If almond growers are satisfied with two 3# packages of Aussie bees, as some were in 2005, why wouldn't they be happy with one 10-frame colony per acre?

The solution to the upcoming bee shortage will not come from the bee industry, but from developing March-blooming almond orchards so that bees can be transferred to these orchards when February bloom is completed. Genetic material is available for March-blooming almonds. Perhaps South Korea can be prevailed upon to use their cloning expertise to make March-blooming almonds a reality.


From Dec. 1995 and March 1996 beekeeper newsletters.

Your friends think you look better with your veil on.

You take off your hat in a restaurant and someone throws a dollar in it.

You're heading back to Montana after the almonds and see a sign saying "Welcome to Phoenix".

You put a little Bee-Go behind your ears before heading out for a night on the town.

The Mayo clinic requests permission to use you as an example of the cumulative effect of bee stings.

You find your coveralls stuck to the seat at the local cafe and are forced to leave them behind.

A biker asks directions to the nearest restaurant and you perform a short waggle dance. He punches your lights out.

You wear an Apistan strip around your neck to formal events.

You're asked to give a talk at a local school and you give an hour demonstration on frying varroa with a magnifying glass.

Your wife kicks you out of the house in the fall and doesn't let you back in until spring.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

New York City Honey

David Graves is the owner of Berkshire Berries and markets New York City Honey.

You can purchase it here:

New York City Honey

Honeybees Thrive in New York City

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Bears are nonexistent. Skunks are rare. Rats, pigeons and humans, though plentiful, are reluctant to approach.
New York City, it turns out, is a great place to be a bee.

``They do really well here,'' says David Graves, who has hundreds of thousands of honeybees in seven hives in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan. ``There are so many parks and gardens and rooftop flowerpots. Even if it's dry, they can get the water they need from the East River.''

Read the entire article here:

Honeybees Thrive in New York City

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ready for 'Ole Man Winter

I did a very thorough inspection in all 3 hives today and I'm very pleased with the overall condition of each hive. It would appear the 2:1 sugar syrup I've been feeding with the hive top feeders has really paid off. All hives are about 85% honey bound. I've very optimistic about the chances for surviving the Winter. There are a fair amount of eggs, larvae & capped brood in each hive, so I know the hives are all Queen right.

The weather has been cool, wet & humid over the past few days. I've noticed since installing the hive top feeders a lot of condensation is accumulating on the underside of the inner cover. Propping the outer cover up with a stick or rock would reduce the moisture level of the hives but also allows direct access to the syrup and the bees could drown. I used some mesh screen to cover the hole in the inner cover. Here's a picture of the modification to the inner cover. I can now prop open the outer covers and I don't have to worry about losing bees to drowning. This will allow the hives to ventilate and reduce the moisture content.

I also added a couple gallons of syrup to each hive top feeder after my inspection today. I doubt they will take it all and I anticipate this being the last time I feed them for awhile. I also noticed the population of the small hive beetles has drastically been reduced. Finally...I've got the upper hand over these little *&%#$@ ! ! !

Since these hives are elevated, I'm not too concerned with mice or other critters. To be on the safe side I have installed wire mesh in the entrance to reduce the chances of any un-invited house guests.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Life-Giving Secret of Bees

by Jeannine Ouellette, Photographs by Scott Streble - September 2005

The long, pointed whisker stands out sharply from the undulating mass of curious bees beneath the Plexiglas. Next emerges a lonely ear. And finally the whole, unmistakable outline of the tiny skull: a common field mouse. It is completely lacquered in something dark, sticky, and resinous. Just three days earlier, this little skull—not much bigger than a quarter—rested in the rather undignified open-air coffin of a petri dish atop the desk of Marla Spivak, a University of Minnesota entomologist and a national leader in honeybee research. Spivak—trim, suntanned, short-haired, and outdoorsy in a way more revealing of her work in the hives than in the hallowed halls—discovered the mummified skull in one of her bee colonies on the St. Paul campus about a year ago. She fished it out for a closer look.

An experienced beekeeper would recognize right away what had happened: A mouse had gotten into the hive, and it was killed. But rather than letting the intruder fester and breed bacteria and potential disease, the bees covered the corpse with something called propolis.

Propolis, or bee glue, is resin that bees collect from the leaf buds and bark of some trees. Though relatively unfamiliar in the United States in all but a handful of co-op grocery stores, apothecaries, and health-food shops, it has been used in folk medicine since antiquity. Propolis has long been credited with healing powers by people throughout Eastern Europe and parts of South America, where it is widely used for a host of minor health and skin ailments. In those areas, propolis products are as commonly available as are echinacea and chamomile in the United States.

But the mouse mummy captured Spivak’s imagination. “It was just so weird, I couldn’t stand to get rid of it,” she told me. So this bizarrely hygienic partial cadaver remained, perfectly preserved, through five seasons in Spivak’s Hodson Hall office. There, it bore distant and unlikely witness to the thrilling frenzy that ensued when, over the course of last year, an interdisciplinary team of university researchers, working with Dr. Phil Peterson of the medical school, synthesized and wrote up their remarkably promising findings from dozens of lab trials testing propolis against HIV. “Actually, it all started about five years ago,” said Spivak, “when Dr. Genya Gekker, who was working with Phil Peterson on lab trials with various substances against HIV, came down with a cold.”

Gekker, originally from Lvov in the Ukraine, grew up using propolis to fend off life’s bothersome viral miseries. And she might have picked up a propolis-based remedy from the Wedge, or from Present Moment Books and Herbs in South Minneapolis. But instead, she went to the Minneapolis farmers’ market looking for raw propolis. There, she visited Bob Dressen, owner of Cannon Bee Honey and Supply, who was selling his wares, including propolis.

“For several years we would have requests for propolis from Russian immigrants,” Dressen told me. “Finally, I brought some to the market packed in two-ounce plastic bags and I thought, Now I’m ready for them.” Dressen says he doesn’t normally have raw propolis on the display table. “We do have capsules displayed and ready for sale, but the raw propolis isn’t that appealing. We do sell it when it is asked for. The raw propolis I sell comes off of the hives’ bottom boards, which I clean in the spring. Other propolis I gather is from the scrapings of hive bodies, and this is sent to processors to be made into other propolis products like chewing gum and toothpaste.

”With a little alcohol, Gekker extracted a tincture from Dressen’s raw propolis, and began treating her cold. And that’s when the unbidden thought struck: We’ve never tried propolis on HIV. Gekker set up the trial, and it worked. Propolis killed HIV.

“The testing went on for about three years. It was difficult work,” said Phil Peterson, who heads the university’s Division of Infections Diseases and International Medicine, and co-directs the Center for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Translational Research. As a clinical investigator, Peterson has been especially interested in infections of the brain. “And HIV attacks the microglia of the brain—that’s where the virus grows when it gets in the brain cells. Its other main targets are T-lymphocytes, specialized white blood cells that effect immunity. And we found, lo and behold, that when you put this propolis in a cell culture system, it has potent activity against the virus in both microglia and T-lymphocyte cell cultures.”

Spivak supplied the propolis samples for the many lab trials that followed Gekker’s first serendipitous test. Every propolis sample the team tried (sourced from three sites in Minnesota, three in Brazil, and one in China) killed HIV in lab cultures. Even better, the propolis also appeared to at least partially inhibit HIV’s ability to enter cells—an elusive and sought after property in potential HIV treatments.

Perhaps best of all, propolis is a cheap, natural substance. “We know that of the forty million or so people affected by this virus, ninety percent of them are living in the developing world, where they can’t afford retroviral drugs at ten thousand dollars a year,” said Peterson. “Propolis, by comparison, is available for pennies. And it’s been used with relative safety for medicinal purposes for five thousand years, since Biblical times at least, all over the earth. We know it has activity against many bacteria, fungi, viruses—it’s a warehouse of antimicrobial activity. Because of propolis, a beehive is one of the most sterile places on earth. I have much greater respect for bees than I ever did,” he said. “They’re very clever beasts.”

Gekker and Peterson, with some input from Spivak, wrote up the results of the HIV-propolis study last year, and it will be published this fall in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. But a propolis-based HIV therapy is a long way down a steep and twisting road. Cheap and natural propolis from the co-op cooler is more like a prototype, or a proof of concept. Science needs more detailed evidence.

“There are major obstacles,” said Peterson. “Propolis is very potent in regard to its anti-HIV activity, but would I recommend that people take it for HIV? No. Because you have to see that it works in humans. You have to see whether, when taken orally, it’s absorbed and works against the virus in a live person. And in order to do that, you have to address safety, and this batch-to-batch issue. With the FDA, batch variability is not going to be tolerated. Think of the challenge with propolis, when the bees collect it from all these different trees. There are at least three hundred compounds in propolis, and maybe as many as a thousand. So we haven’t really pursued it, because we’re not set up to identify the needle in the haystack.”

Peterson was referring to the arduous process of identifying and isolating the active HIV-inhibiting component or components in propolis. “Right now, we don’t have the right people to pursue it. I’m not a separation chemist or a medicinal chemist. Over in the school of agriculture they have a lot of terrific scientists, but no one with the particular skills we need for this task. You could say the project is on hold. We’re in a position right now where we’re trying to figure out the best strategy to take.”

With any luck, the journal article will spur some fresh excitement. “My hunch is that other people are going to take an interest. Certainly there’s been work with propolis itself, looking at the various aspects of it, especially in the field of ethnopharmacology. But I’m sitting here in the Center for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Translational Research, and, as the name implies, our goal is to translate this stuff into the humans who suffer these diseases. Our mandate is to pursue answers to the questions.”

At the current pace, it will be years before someone who is HIV-positive might walk into the pharmacy and fill a prescription for a new drug based on this team’s pioneering propolis research—if it gets that far at all.

Meanwhile, as the gears of medical research grind laboriously onward, Spivak is turning her attention back to the source—the bees. She’s focusing on the function of propolis in the colony. What exactly is this mysterious substance, anyway? How does a bee locate a source of propolis? How does that bee recruit other bees in the colony to collect more of it? If it can kill HIV in human cells, what good might it do for the bees themselves? Such questions take on considerable weight in light of the well-publicized scourges that have afflicted U.S. honeybees for the last several decades. Few people realize that our honeybee population has dropped by half since 1950. Lately, it’s the Varroa mite—a vicious beast about the size of a grain of sand—that’s been wreaking havoc on commercial beekeepers’ stock. In the past few years, these mites have gained resistance to the only two effective conventional chemical treatments. Spivak estimated that losses in the winter and spring of 2005 slashed the number of honeybees in Minnesota by up to a third.

The national picture is similarly dismal, and “dismal” is not too strong a word considering that honeybees are responsible for the pollination of about one-third of all U.S. food crops. The main thrust of Spivak’s work is to preserve the honeybee population by breeding honeybees that can fend for themselves. “I think it’s sad that these bees have become so utterly dependent on humans to administer various forms of chemical management.,” she said. “They’ve lost the skills they need to fight for their own survival.” Since 1993, Spivak and her assistant, Gary Reuter, have been painstakingly breeding queen bees to propagate a new strain of bees with the genetic instincts to protect themselves. They carefully select and breed queens who demonstrate the “hygienic” genetic traits that will promote survival. It’s simpler than it sounds. Basically, a bee with the right hygienic tendencies will literally sniff out and eradicate (by eating or hauling out of the hive) diseased and mite-infested brood in larval cells before the colony suffers major damage. Spivak’s program is no quick fix—but over time, her specially bred bees have been proving their merit in a variety of working apiaries.

Now Spivak wonders if or how propolis might be used to further her honeybee cause. Could manipulating propolis somehow help fight deadly bee infections and parasites? Spivak finds early signs encouraging, especially when checking into variations in propolis from other hives. For instance, she found that one tropical propolis sample was as effective as a conventional antibiotic in lab trials against American foulbrood (the most dreaded bee disease of all, until Varroa mites were inadvertently introduced into the U.S. in 1987). “Our local propolis didn’t work,” Spivak said, booting up the computer in her cool, cinder-block Hodson Hall office. “But this tropical stuff did. Here, this is the tropical sample next to the antibiotic.” On the monitor are images of two petri dishes, each with an essentially clear circle surrounded by dots of defeated bacteria; the tropical propolis attacked the bacteria as aggressively as the chemical pharmaceutical.

Would propolis exist if not for bees? Scientists aren’t sure. That’s because it’s not clear whether propolis is unadulterated resin simply collected and stored by bees, or whether the bees somehow transform it—perhaps via glandular secretions—during or after the gathering process. “We have so many questions,” said Spivak. “We know the bees use propolis to seal cracks in the hives, and for other purposes—like embalming invaders—but there’s a lot we don’t understand. And it’s challenging, because propolis is not like nectar or pollen, which the bees are collecting all the time. Propolis is different. They don’t collect very much of it, and not all of them are that interested in it.” She sighed.

“This is behavioral research. If you want to observe bee behavior with propolis, then you have to induce them to collect it repeatedly and reliably to get sufficient data, right? And how do you do that?” Spivak explained that the matter of observing propolis collection for behavioral research is entirely different from collecting propolis for human health studies. To collect clean, pure propolis for human use, commercial plastic traps are used in full-size colonies. But these traps simply don’t work well in small observation hives. “That’s the question I was wrestling with when a visiting beekeeper from Mexico said, ‘Put a cadaver in the hive. The bees will embalm it in propolis.’ Of course! I thought immediately of my mouse skull, which was already embalmed, but I thought, ‘Why not? Maybe they’ll keep working on it.’ ” Spivak asked a graduate student to return the mouse skull to an observation hive on a scorching Thursday morning in late July, just as she finalized her presentations and loaded her car for the drive to the summer meeting of the Minnesota Honey Producers Association in Fergus Falls.

Three days later, on a sweltering Sunday morning, Spivak was back at the bee lab, checking to see how the bees were reacting to Thursday’s uninvited guest. Specifically, she wanted to see if they were adding more propolis. This colony lives in a hive inside an observation shed near the bee lab on the U of M’s St. Paul campus. Spivak and I crowded together into the shed—about the size of an outhouse but blessedly air-conditioned—looking for the skull. A few bees zigzagged around us. “Don’t worry about them,” she said, pressing in to get a closer look inside the colony. Suddenly she pointed. “There it is. That’s the whisker, right up there.” Her finger rested on the upper left corner of the Plexiglas plate. “Hey, look, they’re really interested in this guy,” she said. The bees appeared to be concerned about the mummified mouse head—which was at first hard to see amid the bees, but which became obvious once Spivak identified the resin-coated whisker. Several worker bees crawl over and around the skull again and again. “I don’t think they like it,” said Spivak. “Hey, wow, look at that!” She pointed again. “They’ve added more propolis to the ear. And look here: The whole bottom part is attached now to the frame. It’s stuck down with propolis.

“Well, that’s cool,” she said, laughing. “That’s very cool.”

Chances are, if you see a honeybee in your garden today, it’s because some beekeeper within a mile of your home is keeping that bee alive with chemicals. The once-thriving feral bee population in the United States was composed entirely of descendents of the first honeybees—the ones that went native after escaping from hives hauled over by colonists in the 1600s. But feral bees were pretty much wiped out in the 1990s by Varroa mites. “There essentially are no feral honeybees left in the United States,” said Spivak. “There’s some talk of a comeback, but it’s hard to know where that will go.”

When it first arrived, the docile European honeybee, Apis mellifera, adapted well and thrived in North America. Escaped swarms took off as far as the Great Plains, often outpacing colonists on the trek westward. Feral honeybees couldn’t cross the Rockies, but by the 1850s they were shipped into California. So ubiquitous was the honeybee that the Native Americans called it “the white man’s fly.” Many of the farm crops that now depend on honeybees for pollination have also been imported since colonial times. Today, pollinating insects are responsible for every third bite of the food we commonly eat—including apples, blueberries, broccoli, cauliflower, cherries, cucumbers, melons, pears, pumpkins, soybeans, squash, and cranberries. Indirectly, pollinators affect the dairy industry, too, since alfalfa and clover—both insect-pollinated—are important components of dairy cattle feed.

Insect pollination begins, as does most of life, with hunger. As the bees forage among flowers, gathering food in the form of nectar and pollen, they spread the pollen (which, like propolis, they carry on their back legs) from one flower to another, thus promoting cross-pollination and increasing production of fruit and seed.

Maybe early colonial beekeepers recognized and appreciated the good luck of this inadvertent pollination all along, or maybe they didn’t, but at some point, people caught on and started placing beehives purposefully in fruit orchards and gardens. From there, the management of honeybees slowly evolved to what it is today: a specialized commercial activity that still produces most of its revenue through honey sales—worth an estimated 250 million dollars annually—but deriving an increasing proportion of income from contracted pollination services.

As the general bee population declines, pollination services may face even greater demands, especially in California, where hundreds of thousands of acres of almond trees greatly depend on honeybees for pollination. All this pollination means a lot of bee migration, which is actually nothing new. The earliest beekeepers in ancient Egypt followed the blooming flowers by floating their clay-covered wicker hives down the Nile on reed boats. (They also used propolis to embalm the bodies of the pharaohs, a trick they presumably learned from the bees.) In the U.S., many beekeepers migrate their bees—and frequently their families—thousands of miles across several large-scale migration routes in pursuit of both nectar and pollination work.

The coordination of beekeepers, farmers, and consumers through pollination, crop management, and honey sales is no less strange and complex than the bee dance itself, and it offers a fascinating glimpse into the delicate partnership between biological science and market process.

To a common city slicker, Sundberg Apiaries looks just like any other farm. There’s a house, some fields and outbuildings, a swampy undeveloped area, and a large pole shed with a few semitrailers parked beside it. There is also a patch of lawn with an impressive collection of antique cars. You wouldn’t guess it was a bee farm by driving by, unless you slowed down to read the faded blue metal sign hanging from a slender post on the roadside.

Situated in Fergus Falls, three hours northwest of the Twin Cities on Interstate 94, Sundberg is a large commercial beekeeping business, managing seven thousand hives. The main honey house is across the road from an expansive cornfield. In the third week of July, these wind-pollinated cornstalks stand high and shimmer in the heat, providing a picturesque backdrop for the bumper-to-bumper cars and pickups flanking Sundberg’s long dirt driveway.

Tonight is the barbecue social for the hundred or so members of the Minnesota Honey Producers Association who are gathered in Fergus Falls for their three-day summer convention. Twice each year, this group comes together so members can connect with others involved in this unusual work. Formal presentations are held in town at the Best Western, where throughout the convention Spivak has been networking with the beekeepers who’ll attend her slide-show presentation tomorrow morning. The association donates ten to twelve thousand dollars annually to Spivak’s research program. Spivak, in turn, donates twenty inseminated “Minnesota hygienic” queens from her breeding program to the association. Spivak’s queens, with their desirable genetic traits, have the influence to change behavior in the hive. On the open market, they’d sell for two hundred and fifty dollars apiece. Here at the convention, they are auctioned off for cash, which is funneled straight back into association’s general funds. Eventually, it funnels out again in the form of the association’s annual grant toward Spivak’s research. In essence, Spivak’s queens are given freely to the beekeepers in return for the financial support the university has received from the Minnesota Honey Producers for decades. “I started donating the queens in 1997,” Spivak said, “when the beekeepers asked what they were getting for their research dollars. Somehow, I knew the right answer wasn’t ‘research.’ ”

But donating the queens also furthers Spivak’s work, since it enables her to propagate and monitor her selectively bred bees in working apiaries. Generally, that has gone well. Dave Ellingson and Darrel Rufer are two outspoken beekeepers who’ve been working with Spivak’s bees for years. Neither Ellingson nor Rufer suffered large-scale losses during this last devastating spring season. “It’s been mostly good,” said Spivak about her queens in the commercial apiaries, “though not always. There have been some disasters.” That kind of straight talk has, after twelve years, earned Spivak the beekeepers’ respect. “It’s taken time,” she admitted. “They weren’t sure at first that I could do this.”

Spivak says the afternoon’s roundtable discussion on pollination at the Best Western was especially good. But after this year’s tough hits, there’s a certain din of commiseration in the buffet line as the beekeepers inch up to the Elmer’s Texas Bar-B-Q and au gratin potatoes. Spivak lets the rush die down while she guides me through the Sundberg honey house for an abbreviated tutorial on the extraction process.

Everything here is a little sticky. Evenly spaced along the inner wall of the large room are vintage posters splattered with countless years’ worth of all things bee. Faint line drawings of various beekeeping tasks are explained in brief captions such as “Weighing packaged bees for shipping and shaking swarm into hive.”

“Wow,” said one beekeeper passing through Sundberg’s extraction room with a cold beer. “This equipment is getting ancient.” What would a more modern system look like? “Basically the same, just newer,” said Spivak. Both the process and the equipment used for honey extraction are remarkably simple, and largely unchanged since the first wave of mechanization. In simple terms, the frames of honeycomb are freed of their wax seals, then loaded into a cylindrical chamber and spun at high speeds until the honey is extracted by centrifugal force. The honeycomb remains intact for reuse in the hives, and the extracted honey is sold to commercial food producers across the country for use in cereals, baked goods, barbecue sauces, and, of course, jarred honey. At one time, all honey was packed by the same beekeepers who produced it. But in the years since World War II, specialization has set in, and most bee farms no longer package their own honey. Darrel Rufer’s bee business experimented with packaging in the eighties, and, as he put it, “That just wasn’t my deal.”

“Darrel is a character,” Spivak confided. “He’s colorful and outspoken. That’s why I like to have him using the hygienic bees in his apiaries. If he thinks it’s working, he’s going to spread the word and he’s going to be heard.” Broad and darkly tanned with gray hair and a mustache, Rufer was dressed in a leather vest thickly decorated with Victory Bikes insignias. His father kept bees not far from Fergus Falls, in Tintah, Minnesota. “The best bee country in the world used to be right here, in the Red River Valley,” he told me. Once carpeted with clover and alfalfa, Rufer’s childhood stomping grounds are now heavily planted with other crops—corn, soybeans, barley, and potatoes—meaning less clover and less bee pasture. These days, his main focus is not honey or pollination, but selling bees to other apiaries. “We sell queens all over the country,” he said. “They’re daughters of Dr. Spivak’s artificially inseminated queens, and they have the traits we’re looking for. Dr. Spivak and I have been testing her stock in my apiaries for three years now. The goal is to use less chemicals, softer chemicals.” He stopped short and looked toward the horizon. “Beekeeping,” he concluded, “was a lot easier in the past.”

So it was. And as a result, beekeeping as a way of life has dropped off substantially since the 1950s. At first, the shift was fueled by the transition to an industrial economy and the loss of land to subdivisions and highways. But in recent years, price competition from imports teamed up with the spread of disease and parasites in a double whammy that’s driving a lot of U.S. beekeepers out of business. Between 1976 and 1990, the estimated number of commercial beekeepers in the U.S. dropped by almost half, from 212,000 to 125,000. And things have only gone downhill from there.

Bonnie Woodworth, a petite blond woman with a perfect manicure, presides over the North Dakota Beekeeper Association. Bonnie married into beekeeping in 1972, and since then she’s seen all manner of unbelievable change in the bee business. “It used to be so easy,” she said. “You had feed, labor, and trucking. Now we spend more on medication than on feed. Just keeping your bees alive is an insurmountable task. If you let your guard down for one minute, something will take you out.” Bonnie has watched the number of new beekeepers entering the field dwindle and disappear. “It’s too hard a life, it’s back-breaking work, and then there’s the moving back and forth . . . as far as the money, well, there is none. It’s just not there.”

Woodworth said the bee business she owns with her husband practically went broke last year due to Varroa.” We lost more than half our bees and had a bad honey crop,” she said. “It was disastrous, just disastrous.” Furthermore, Bonnie is truly saddened by the onslaught of imports and imitations sidling up next to the real honey on grocery shelves. “It’s threatening the whole industry,” she said, handing me an article on the imitations. “It’s so fraudulent. Everyone loves using the name ‘honey,’ but the actual ingredient is corn syrup instead. Do Honey Nut Cheerios have any honey in them? Very little.”

With her very next breath, Bonnie renewed her pluck as if, by sheer force of will, she might reinvigorate an entire dying way of life. “Beekeepers are tough,” she said. “Life hasn’t been easy, but it was never boring. It takes a lot to get a beekeeper to quit.”That’s true. Beekeepers, not surprisingly, tend to maintain a certain “getting stung’s just part of the job” mentality. But is there an eventual breaking point? What would happen to the honey market, to the pollination of crops, to the propolis research—what would happen to it all if the last of the beekeepers quit tomorrow, and the colonies all flew free?

“About eighty percent of the current bee population would die off fairly quickly,” said Spivak, “if beekeepers stopped chemical treatments cold turkey. But the survivors—those ten or twenty percent left behind—would propagate a whole new, tougher breed of bees with the traits they need to take care of themselves.”

Essentially, that’s what happened in Brazil and most of South America when Varroa struck, primarily because the beekeepers there couldn’t afford chemical interventions. “Now their bees are resistant,” said Spivak as she rummaged through the bee suits, searching for one my size. She handed me a wide-brimmed, veiled hat. “Let’s adjust that,” she said. “I think it’s a bit loose.” She snugs it in a notch and we’re set to visit the hives. “You won’t be able to write with the gloves,” she warned. “But you need to take them anyway, because it’s really important that you’re comfortable. Just don’t put them on unless you need to.”

The sun was white hot in a clear sky as we entered the apiary through the chain-link gates that enclose it. A few paces away was the university’s soccer practice field, which explained the number of cars parked along the apiary fence. “They have no idea what’s sitting right here,” said Spivak. “Few people do. But we like it that way.”

Spivak has a smoker (it looks like the Tin Man’s oil can) to calm the bees before she opens up hives—which are actually wooden boxes painted in pastel pink, blue, green, yellow, and white to help the color-driven bees find their way back home. “We probably wouldn’t really need the smoke,” Spivak said, and I wonder aloud whether this is because the bees are in a good mood today. “These bees are always in a good mood,” she said. This morning she was checking in on some artificially inseminated queens she recently introduced to her colonies, and some from stock sent by a friend in Vermont. “He doesn’t use any chemicals, not to be organic per se, but for his own reasons. He’s sort of an oddity.” She fished around on the frame with her bare hands, oblivious to the bees crawling between her fingers. “There she is—see, she’s marked. Blue 51,” Spivak said, releasing the inseminated queen with the blue numbered tag on her back from her containment cell. “Come on, sweetie,” she cooed. “She looks great. I can tell the bees like her. She’s looking for something to eat right away, so she’s fine.”

In one colony after the next, Spivak checked on the queens. “Blue 52 is doing well,” she said. In fact, all but one of the queens had been accepted by the workers. “Uh oh,” she said, sifting through another colony. “That’s a shame. I don’t see any eggs. I don’t think she’s here. We’ll have to go to the queen bank and make a withdrawal.” All around us, bees were flying and buzzing. One landed on the veil right in front of my eye, and stayed there for a good while. When Spivak shook the frames, there was an angry roar to which she was seemingly oblivious. Getting stung, she said, is a given. But it’s not as bad when you’re used to it, because you know exactly how much it’s going to hurt, and for how long.

This must be true, or people wouldn’t keep bees. There are many reasons beekeeping is in decline, but stings are not one of them. “Oh, I know they say beekeeping is a dying art,” said Spivak, “and times are tough. But I’ll tell you what I think. Beekeeping will never disappear, for one simple reason: Some people are drawn to bees. There’s this peculiar relationship that exists between bees and certain individuals. It’s primal and ancient. There are rock paintings of the interaction between humans and bees in Europe, Africa, and Asia from 8000 to 2000 B.C. That’s how far back this goes. What’s the likelihood that’s going to change—now or ever?”

Spivak has seen all she needs to out here; the heat is too thick for dawdling. But she’ll be back soon. She is, after all, pulled by the bees, with whom she undoubtedly shares the enigmatic bond she so passionately describes.

Original article here:
Life-Giving Secret of Bees

The Bee Queen

By Robyn Dochterman

Sunny weather puts honeybees in a good mood, and researcher Marla Spivak seems to be in one as well as she prepares to visit the bees. She slips off her black clogs and laces up the purple canvas high-tops she keeps in her locker at the bee lab. Next she reaches for a helmet draped with a veil of fine nylon netting and secures it so it covers her face and neck. White coveralls hang untouched on the cinderblock wall, and Spivak doesn’t even look at the elbow-length leather gloves nearby.

Both the suit and gloves are de rigueur protection for beekeepers. But after 32 years of working with bees the University of Minnesota entomologist is not afraid of being stung, though she knows she almost certainly will be; the painful pricks are an everyday hazard of her work. “Ten stings a day is OK,” Spivak says. “Twenty stings is a lot.”

Hollering distance from Cleveland and Larpenteur avenues on the St. Paul campus, the apiary, or bee yard, contains about 30 colonies of honeybees. Tucked just out of sight of speeding cars and strolling pedestrians, its busy residents make honey and pollinate residential flowers in relative obscurity.

“Many people don’t even know the bee yard is here,” Spivak says, nodding to a nearby field where Gopher soccer players practice corner kicks and thigh traps. The bees and the bee yard have a low profile on campus, but Spivak has just the opposite stature in the apiarian field. She’s leading an epic fight against bee diseases and a tiny parasite that is wreaking havoc on honeybees and the crops they pollinate.

Once known primarily for honey, bees have gained cachet for their larger contribution to agriculture: pollination. As they buzz from bloom to bloom collecting nectar for honey, bees become dusted with tiny grains of pollen from male flowers, which they distribute to nearby female flowers, fertilizing them. In California, almond growers depend on bees to pollinate their half-million acres of orchards, paying beekeepers to truck their hives to the orchards from all over the United States. Some apple, cranberry, and blueberry growers do the same. But during the winter of 2004–05, almost half the honeybees in the country died, jeopardizing the almond crop.

The primary culprit was a mite called varroa destructor. The parasite catches a ride on bees and feeds on them, much like a tick takes its meals from a deer or dog. If enough mites get a foothold in a hive, they weaken the entire colony to the point of collapse. For years, beekeepers kept the mites in check using pesticides and antibiotics. While chemicals control 95 percent of the mites, those that survive develop resistance, eventually resulting in a thuggish mite population impervious to chemicals.

Spivak’s work breeding bees that can better protect themselves against the perils of disease and mites may prove imperative to the future of beekeeping. Some honeybees can sense when immature bees have been besieged by problems and remove the diseased or mite-riddled larvae from the hive, literally throwing them out the door. The hives that are best at this are known as “hygienic” and are healthier than hives that aren’t so good at it. Spivak began selecting for this trait as she bred bees. Called “Minnesota Hygienic” (because it was developed at the University) her line of honeybees capitalizes on naturally occurring strengths.
“My hope is we can help bees defend themselves so they don’t require as much chemical treatment,” says Spivak, who views the bee situation as emblematic of a larger agricultural dependence on chemicals. “In my mind, that’s the most important thing, so we can get the bees off the chemical treadmill and back on their own six feet.”

On her way way to the apiary to check the health of one of the queens, Spivak starts to smolder wood shavings in a metal can. Soon, a ribbon of smoke pours out of the spout and she heads into the grassy yard filled with beehives. If the queen and her colony of workers are doing well, Spivak will continue to breed from her line. If things don’t look top-notch, she’ll try other queens.

The hive sits in a small circle with other colonies. Each consists of a stack of three pastel wood boxes. Amber-colored bees return from foraging flights, their hind legs dotted with bright yellow or orange pollen collected from neighborhood flora. They land at the hive entrance and then disappear inside. The vibrating wings of nearly a million bees in motion fill the yard with a sonorous hum.

Spivak lifts the cover and peers down into the hive. Thousands of insects move in different directions at once, like the swarms of people at the State Fair. They crawl over wooden frames in the box. They crawl over each other. A few crawl on the scientist’s blue jeans. Spivak is indifferent to their presence there.

She puffs smoke from the can into the hive to calm the bees and encourage them to move deeper inside. Spivak uses a small pry bar to loosen the frames from the edges of the box and slowly lifts out a frame, scanning it for the queen. The bees have built a waxy comb stretching from one side of the frame to the other and now cover almost every hexagonal cell of the comb. What looks like chaos is, in fact, an intricately choreographed routine of bee roles and responsibilities.

Some cells of the comb contain eggs so tiny they make a grain of rice seem super-sized. Because the queen is the only bee that lays eggs—up to 2,000 a day—Spivak immediately knows she’s alive and busy, but she wants to see the queen to judge her fitness.

In other cells, a shift of nurse bees is busy feeding small, comma-shaped larvae. As Spivak slowly turns the frame, a new drone, one of the few male bees in the colony, emerges from a cell and looks around. Still other bees guard the entrance to the hive to protect against predators. The field bees returning with pollen are the oldest in the hive and have already completed stints as attendants, nurses, or guards.

How hives manage such extensive coordination among thousands of individuals is still mostly a mystery, Spivak says. It’s one of the things she finds especially fascinating about her subjects. “I like looking at how the behaviors of the individual work in a hive,” she says. “No one bee is in charge. The queen doesn’t tell them what to do. There’s no central authority. None of the bees has the big picture. And yet, they just do.”

Spivak has been fascinated by honeybees since she came across a book about them while attending Prescott College in Arizona. “I stayed up all night reading it,” she recalls. “I couldn’t believe that some insects were social and that some people interacted with their bee colonies like pets. I drove everyone crazy until I could see a bee colony.”

She soon went to work for a commercial beekeeper and then completed a bachelor’s degree in biology at Humboldt State in California. After graduating, she traveled extensively in South America to sight-see and visit beekeepers. While in Peru, she fell ill and was hospitalized briefly. Her doctor was a beekeeper, she discovered, and she recuperated while taking care of bees on his property. Spivak continued her education at the University of Kansas, where she earned a Ph.D. in entomology and spent two years investigating Africanized bees in Costa Rica. While she was doing post-doctorate research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bee Research Lab in Tucson, Arizona, she saw an opening for an apiculture position at Minnesota.

David Ellingson of Ortonville, Minnesota, was among a group of honey producers who interviewed Spivak for the job. It was 1993, and mites had been gaining ground since 1987. The group quizzed Spivak about her view of the situation and ideas that might help them in their commercial operations. Ellingson, who has 3,000 hives near South Dakota and is the president of the 1,200-member American Beekeeping Federation (ABF), was impressed with her foresight. “She looked at the whole picture and she had this vision of something that would work,” Ellingson says. “Marla said the [mites’] resistance would build up. Boom! Just like that, it happened.” Now an associate professor in the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences, Spivak has provided hygienic bees to some beekeepers so they could see the strength of the line for themselves.

One reason for giving away queens is that “beekeepers are hands-on people,” Spivak says. “If they see it, they will believe it and then adopt it.” Ellingson, among the first to try the new line, did just that. With hygienic bees in his hives, he was able to reduce the miticides he used. He has become one of the most vocal proponents of Spivak’s line, which is now available to all beekeepers through a commercial distributor. What’s at stake for him is his livelihood. For the public, the stakes might be even greater.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture credits bees for involvement in nearly a third of all the food Americans eat. That adds up to $15 billion a year in food products, according to the ABF. Native bees do their share of pollinating, too, but since the 1600s, when honeybees were imported to North America from Europe, they have been the easiest to manage, and one of the few to sweeten the deal with honey.

Without sufficient bees to pollinate produce, the quantity and quality of avocados, blueberries, cotton, cranberries, cucumbers, hay, nuts, oranges, pumpkins, squash, strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkins, and watermelons all suffer. Even milk is affected, since many cows eat alfalfa, which bees also pollinate. Poorly pollinated plants—in which not enough ovules received pollen grains—bear fruit that is misshapen and less sweet and that has fewer seeds.

In early 2005, when almond farmers discovered that only half the usual number of bees were available to pollinate their crop, they doubled the price per hive they paid beekeepers in hopes of luring more of them to California. Some of those bees were already engaged in other pollination jobs. “The beekeepers pulled the bees off alfalfa,” says Ellingson, one of several Minnesotans who truck their colonies west each year. “So if you don’t see alfalfa sprouts in your salad, it’s because there weren’t enough bees.”

The queen is not on any of the frames in the top box, so Spivak lifts it off the stack to get to the one below it. The elusive queen is not on any of the frames in the second box, so she sets that aside, too, and begins to look through the third and final box. “Some queens are like this,” Spivak says. “They run and hide.” She moves the 60-pound boxes smoothly. At 5-foot-6, her size belies her strength.

Whenever she speaks to an audience about her research, Spivak begins by projecting a photo of herself in the bee yard. She began adding this element to her presentation after speaking to beekeepers not long after she received her Ph.D. “I noticed everyone’s glazed eyes when I was done,” Spivak says. “Finally one gentleman stood up and very politely asked, ‘How does a little thing like you lift those honey supers [boxes] anyway?’ I realized they didn’t hear—and didn’t understand—my words because they couldn’t make the connection between me on the podium and me in the bee yard. I found it to be a genuine question, and funny, and I learned from it.”
It’s that kind of response that has helped Spivak build rapport with Minnesota beekeepers, says University entomologist Gary Reuter (B.S. ’75), who has worked with her for 12 years. “They really respect her,” Reuter says. “She’s earned their respect. They can tell she knows what she’s talking about.”

They respect her because she takes the time to understand their concerns. Beekeepers are driven by economics and ritual—what they learned about beekeeping from their parents and grandparents, Spivak says. “I just have to encourage them to see that bees bred for resistance produce as much honey and don’t require as much chemical input— and let the beekeepers make up their own minds.” Spivak’s work is becoming known worldwide, and Minnesota Hygienic bees are starting to make a difference for beekeepers all over the country.

The sun is high, heating up the bee yard, as Spivak searches for the elusive queen bee. There! On one of the very last frames. The queen is marked with a yellow dot and the code “85C” on its back, but its long abdomen would have made it stand out, even without the dot. No other bee in the hive looks like 85C. Spivak recognizes it as one of the bees she tagged after insemination in August 2004.

Each year, Spivak selects the daughters of the queens with the strongest hygienic traits and breeds them to continue and strengthen the line. During the summer, Spivak, Reuter, and their students collect drones from the hives and gather their sperm in a syringe. Then they anesthetize unmated queens. Spivak gets out her headphones, puts on some rock music or singer Cesaria Evora, and begins inseminating the queens under the bright light of a microscope.
Now, nine months later, 85C has laid an even pattern of eggs with few empty cells between them. One clear indicator of a thriving queen, that quality pattern was just what Spivak hoped to see. Not so far down the line, daughters or descendents of this hygienic queen could end up helping bees everywhere fight off hive hazards and stay healthy. The queen might have been elusive, but she is strong.

Read the original article here:

Robyn Dochterman is interactive editor for She lives in Scandia, Minnesota.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Blog Changes

You may have noticed some changes to the overall layout & design of this blog. I’m attempting to do several things:

  • Generate more traffic and increase the popularity of Urban Apiary
  • Add additional design features, change the layout and make it more aesthetically appealing
  • I’ve added the Google search tool, Google AdSense & have become and E-Bay affiliate. Hopefully this will generate some additional traffic as well as some income. Although, I could care less about the income. I want the additional traffic!
  • I’ve also submitted this site to several search engines and have used Pingoat to notify services that keep track of weblogs and publish them. By pinging, you let the services know that your blog has been updated and they crawl and index your site, publishing your blog contents, hopefully increasing the popularity of Urban Apiary.
  • Anyone wishing to link directly to my posts/blog are welcome to do so. This will also help to increase my traffic.
I would like to solicit your feedback regarding the changes I’ve made so far and also ask for any suggestion on future changes or features. Your thoughts are always welcome!

Additionally, if there’s someone who has HTML, XHTML, RSS or other programming experience that would like to assist me with making this a top-rated blog, I would certainly welcome your help!


Monday, October 09, 2006

Hive #2 has absconded ! ! !

After the last inspection I placed an order with Mann Lake for several hive top feeders. I need to feed a 2:1 ratio of sugar syrup to ensure they have enough stores to make it through the winter. The order from Mann Lake arrived Friday and I spent most of Monday morning painting them so they could be installed this afternoon. After work Brian stopped by to give me a hand, the picture above is of Brian pouring the sugar syrup into the last hive. The hive top feeder is housed in a shallow honey super and is made of molded plastic. It holds approximately 4 gallons of syrup.

I also took the opportunity today to replace some of the older boxes that were on the hives. I replaced 2 deep brood boxes and 1 honey super. I simply moved the frames from the old boxes into the new ones. During this process I found that Hive #2 was in terrible shapes. I didn't find any eggs, larvae, pupae or capped brood. The population of the hive consisted of a few hundred! Evidently sometime about 21 days ago the bees absconded! I found no apparent reason inside the hive that would have forced them to find alternate living quarters. The last time I did an inspection, I failed to pull out every frame in this hive (my back was bothering me). Had I done so, I would have realized a lot sooner I had problems. This late in the year I doubt they swarmed. I guess it's possible the were Queenless and the remaining bees drifted to the other 3 hives??? To be totally honest, I ain't sure what the hell happened to this hive ! ! ! Most of the frames were completly empty of any nectar or capped honey, apparently the other hives have robbed them of the remaining stores. I did have a couple of partial frames that I place in the weakest hive (hive #1)

With that being said..........I'm now down to a total of 3 hives. With the addition of the hive top feeder and the 2:1 sugar syrup, I feel good about their chances for overwintering. Notice I didn't say that I feel great about their chances. I feel badly about Hive #2 and cannot believe I totally missed the issues. Well, I guess that's another lesson learned the hard way! To top it all off....I also got stung today! Geez.....I'm starting to feel like the bees are keeping me instead of the other way around ! ! !

Sting Count:

Chris - 7
Brian - 2

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Getting Ready for Winter

Brian stopped by and we did an inspection. Here's what we found.

Hive #1 which was installed from a package in to new woodenware on June 1st, 2006.
  • This hive is healthy and disease free aside from some small hive beetles & I'm treating for them with CheckMite strips. This area of Georgia has been hot, dry and mostly drought conditions since the Spring. The hive has been resistant to drawing new comb & has only drawn enough for brood rearing and minimal stores. The hive appears to be thriving except they aren't gathering much pollen or nectar. There has been no nectar flow to speak of. Overall this hive is NOT ready for the winter. The hive consists of 1 deep brood chamber that is probably less than 50% full and it doesn't weigh much.

Hives #2, 3 & 4 were acquired through some horse trading and put in my backyard in late July 2006.
  • All consist of 1 deep brood chamber that is packed full of brood, pollen, nectar & honey. The brood chambers are 100% full & very heavy. These colonies are a solid bet to make it through the winter (I guess??). All hives had a medium honey super when I got them. Hives #2 & 3 were empty supers with drawn comb. They have not added any nectar to these supers & I just pulled them off to store for the winter. Hive #4 came with a full super of honey and is still in place. I added an empty medium super to this hive but they didn't draw out the comb or gather any nectar.

It's very apparent that I haven't had a nectar flow since installing these hives in my backyard. Next year I will move them to another location in hopes of catching the second nectar flow. This is also referred to as the Fall flow. The drought conditions are most likely responsible for the lack of nectar. I truly hope the Spring is a different story.

My next move will be to "rob" a couple frames each from the more established hives to give Hive #1 enough to make it through the Winter. Additionally, I'm going to start feeding them a 1:1 sugar water ratio until the brood chambers are "honey bound". I intend to feel all 4 colonies to prevent any robbing. I will have to closely monitor the hives to ensure they all make it to Spring.

Sting Count:
Chris - 6
Brian - 2

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hot Hives

I finally got around to taking some pictures today when I did an inspection. I managed to snap the Queen in Hive #1 (left photo w/white dot). The other pictures is of a brood frame from Hive #1. The inspection of the 1st hive went smoothly and all seems well in this colony. I did see a few small hive beetles, but no big deal. They are expected to be present in most hives. That was the end of my good fortune, all 3 of the remaining hives were "hot" say the least! Hive #4 which is by far the biggest was really "hot". So much so that I didn't get to do a thorough inspection. As soon as I cracked the lid and hit them with the smoker all hell broke loose! Immediately they began flying into my veil and bouncing off. They just kept coming. Within the first 60 seconds I took a sting through my shirt...right in my stomach. That was 5 hours ago and I can't feel any pain/discomfort. The area is only slightly red and isn't swollen. I don't know if the rainy weather has them upset or I need to replace the Queen in order to change the temperment of the hive. I fear the latter as this is the 2nd or 3rd time this hive has stung me. They always seem a lot meaner than the others. I'll wait and see but I will most likely re-Queen sometime in the near future.
Sting Count:
Chris - 6
Brian - 2

Weather, Hive activity & The Farmers' Almanac

It started raining Tuesday 9/12 in the late afternoon and continued until Wednesday 9/12 at 12/noon. During that time my rain gauge recorded about 1.25" of rainfall. This is great, since we've been in drought conditions for most of the Summer months. Just two weeks ago the average temperature was in the 90's for most of the day. Recently the temps have been in the mid-80's which is a much welcomed relief. Today the current temperature, as of 12:15 is a nice, cool & breezy 77 degrees (yeep-eeee). The overall trend has been a lot cooler with more rain in the past few weeks than we've had since early Spring.

All 4 colonies are extremely busy since the rain stopped. The area around the hive looks like a major airport with all the traffic in/out. I spent some time today just observing and I'm surprised that most bees returning from foraging are loaded down with pollen. I wonder if large pollen loads = large amounts of nectar? I sure hope so! The population of the colonies seem to be holding steady, if not increasing. I've decided to do an inspection later today and take some pictures which I will post later.

I can remember as a young child that my Grandmother used the Farmer's Almanac religiously. Since I've become more "in tune" with the weather, rain fall, etc.. I decided to grab the 2007 Farmers' Almanac. I'm going to use the calendars for planting nectar producing plants in the Spring for the bees & also a small vegetable garden. Additionally, I'm going to use the weather forecasts to plan outdoor events, etc.... According to the Farmers' Almanac their weather predictions are > 80% accurate. I would highly recommend everyone getting the 2007 edition of the almanac.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sting Count

Earlier this week I received an invitation from Billy "Bad Boy" Pate to come watch the UGA football game at his house. Billy has an awesome "Man Room" in his basement for hosting such events. This was an invite that I couldn't pass up! So, I made plans to travel to Cumming, Georgia on Saturday, September 9th to watch the UGA vs South Carolina football game. I last inspected the hives 1 week ago and all was well. I couldn't resist "taking a quick peek" prior to our departure for Billy's. Since I was only going to take a peek, I didn't feel the need for the smoker or "getting geared up". I went into the Apiary wearing shorts, t-shirt & flip-flops. I lifted the outer & inner covers on hive #1 and peered down into the top super. I killed 6 small hive beetles that were on the inner cover, all looked good so I carefully placed the covers back on. I almost started to walk off and head to Billy's when, in my infinite wisdom I decided to take a look at one more hive. Hive #2 wasn't as forgiving as the first. As soon as I removed the inner cover, 3 angry bees immediately came after me. The 1st sting was to the inside of my right forearm and the 2nd was to the inside of my right bicep. I quickly removed the stingers and carefully replaced the covers. This took several attempts as the colony was rather "pissed off" at the moment! The initial pain of the stings wore off within a few minutes and we started off on the 1.5 hour drive to Billy's house. By the time we arrived, the area around the 1st sting was swollen considerably. 24 hours later it's still very swollen and is very sore. I expect by tomorrow (Monday) or Tuesday the soreness will be gone and everything will be fine. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought when/if they saw me dancing in the Apiary trying to avoid getting stung. I knew the instant they came out of the hive at full speed I was doomed. The odd thing is that the 2nd sting site didn't swell at all and is not sore today. I wonder why that is? I would have thought it would be the worse of the two stings. I guess I learned a valuable lesson on Saturday. Use your smoker and wear the appropriate protective gear when going into the Apiary, even if it is for a "quick peek".

Sting Count:

Chris - 5
Brian - 2

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Bees reared in cities are "healthier"

Originally published by BBC News Corp.

Bees reared in cities are healthier and more productive than their country cousins, a study by French beekeepers' association Unaf has found.

Urban bees enjoy higher temperatures and a wider variety of plant life for pollination, while avoiding ill-effects of pesticides, the study said.

Read the entire article here:

Why London's beekeepers are a growing band

Laura Barnett finds out what beekeepers get out of it - and why shops are clamouring for their honey.

Published: 04 May 2006

The first summer that Nicky Faith kept bees in her back garden, she built a pyramid 15 jars wide with the honey they made. Now, 10 years on, her three beehives take pride of place in her garden, and the labels on her jars of Willesden Green Honey picture a bucolic scene far from this crowded corner of north-west London.

Read the entire article here:

Gloves or a lack thereof

As a 1st year "beek", I've been a little timid when it comes to stings. Prior to Saturday I had only been stung twice. The 1st time was at the Beekeeping Institute during the practical exam portion of the Certified Beekeeping course. This sting was located in my "ear hole". Yes! You read that correctly. My right ear was bright red, I could feel my heart beating in my ear & it had a fever. This lasted for 3 days ! ! ! If that wasn't enough, Dr. Keith Delaplane was giving me the exam and had to remove the stinger. Dr. Delaplane is very well known for his honeybee work at the University of Georgia and I was a little embarrased by the whole incident. The 2nd time was when I moved the 3 new hives I acquired from Mike Sorensen to my apiary. I forgot to zip up my pants after tucking in my shirt and got stung on the inside of my upper right thigh. Needless to say that hurt a helluva lot more than the sting to my ear! My wife got a good laugh out of that, right up to the point that I told her I needed her to help "ice me down". All of the sudden it wasn't so funny to her!....LOL

Yesterday, I received the 3rd honeybee sting of my life. I have noticed that it's difficult to work in the hives while wearing leather gloves and have been contemplating not wearing them anymore. Brian has been stung twice while working in my beeyard so when I shared my thoughts about foregoing the gloves, he was all for it. He thought that was the greatest idea ever. I wonder why? I made it as far as the 3rd hive and was reaching for the outer cover to put it back on when...............BAM! Outta nowhere I got nailed on my index finger. I quickly removed the stinger and within 3-5 minutes the shearing pain & throbbing went away completely. I didn't think anything about it until a couple of hours later when I noticed my whole left hand was very swollen. I mean SWOLLEN! It's still a little swollen today (about 24 hours later), and it's very sore.

I've been a little eager to get stung I guess you could say. I just haven't been able to allow myself to actually get stung. I even thought seriously about intentionally placing a bee on me in hopes it would sting me. With more stings comes the benefit of becoming immune to the sting and I will not have any symptoms (so they say. Although I haven't identified who "they" are). It's not the pain so much as not knowing when it will happen and being able to mentally prepare yourself for the sting.

Sting count:

Chris = 3
Brian = 2

Brian's Urban Apiary

The picture posted above is of an area Brian recently set up in his backyard. Brian lives 30 miles South of me, in an area very similar to mine. He lives "in town" and the area also has lots of ornamental & decorative plants, bushes, trees and shrubs that are beneficial to the honeybee and the production of honey. We don't intend to actually put any hives @ Brian's until the Spring. But....just in case I have any "issues" with my current location we can quickly relocate my hives to his house (that's called a backup plan!....LOL). I have some green mesh cloth that I will give to Brian to use as a barrier along the chain link fence and also obscure the view from any "nosey" neighbors. I know he's very excited about becoming a "Beek" and can't wait for Spring. I'm going to attempt to split a couple of my colonies and give them to him. He'll need to purchase a couple of Queens and some additional woodenware.

In an attempt to supplement his income, Brian is a distributor for XS Energy Drinks. A couple of weeks ago Brian asked me to place a link on my blog to his website. I didn't think my blog would generate traffic much less any sales. Well.........I was wrong! Someone purchased $387 worth of energy drinks and the traffic originated from my website. Brian works in commercial HVAC and like many Americans he needs to generate additional income to pay the bills, support his family and "just get by". If you have a need or know of anyone that has a need for sports drinks, energy bars and supplements... please direct them to his website. You can click on XS Energy Drinks in the link section of this blog or go directly to

Game Day Inspection

Brian stopped by with my nephew to watch the UGA football game on Saturday. I haven't been in the hives in more than 2 weeks, so we decided to do an inspection. Trenton got an up close & personal look at the inside of a hive (pictured above). I was really surprised to see that in all 4 hives there were at least 3-4 full frames of brood. The brood was in various stages: eggs, larvae, pupae & capped brood. Most hives had 2 full frames (both sides) of capped brood. Usually the Queen will begin to decrease the population of the colony this time of year. I'm hoping this is a sign that we will get a Fall nectar flow and the Queen is increasing her population to ensure they take advantage of that flow. The remaining 6-7 frames were full of capped honey, nectar & pollen. I'm starting to feel a lot better about the chances of the hives to make it through winter. 3 of 4 hives consist of 2 deep brood boxes and at least 1 honey super. Overall, I'm very pleased with all 4 hives. They seem to be thriving and are looking good. I did notice the population of the Small Hive Beetles seems to have increased significantly. I will treat for them in a few weeks. The packaged colony has 1 full deep and I just added a honey super. Hopefully they will fill the super with the Fall flow. This will be their food for winter!

In the past few weeks we've seen an increase in the amount of rain. For most of the Summer it really didn't rain at all. The recent rains have turned everything very green and I'm hoping for a Fall nectar flow. I don't know if we'll get one, we'll just have to wait and see.

As a side note: Brian and I attempted to equalize the populations of the hives several weeks ago. That seems to have worked as my packaged hive has really increased in population and the strongest hive has less bees.

I've posted some pics of the most recent inspection Brian and I completed yesterday. Take a look:

Friday, September 01, 2006

Football Saturday in the South

Yup. That's right! The college football season is upon us once again. I have to admit I wait impatiently for this time of year beginning just after the college bowl season is over in January. 8 months of wandering aimlessly through the weekends, begging & praying for the Summer to end so I can follow my beloved Georgia Bulldogs. The typical Summer temperatures in Georgia hover in the mid 90's from late May through August. The real killer is the humidy...typically 90% or higher. The college football season will bring cooler temperatures that are a much welcomed relief to the area. I know the bees will appreciate it as well.

I have a ritual that I like to follow, it usually begins on Friday afternoon. I start by cleaning the deck & grill, icing down the Bud Light, getting the plasma tv & satellite hooked up outside and starting some boiled peanuts.

Boiled Peanuts? This is an obvious Southern favorite that I've enjoyed since I was a kid. I can remember stopping at roadside fruit/vegetable stands and getting fresh boiled peanuts. They are usually served hot, right off the fire! I use a turkey fryer that I purchased at Wal-Mart to cook them in. I use 8lbs. of raw peanuts in the shell, one container of table salt and fill the pot 3/4 full with water. I will boil them for 6-8 hours on Friday and I let them sit overnight to absorb the salt and allow for the nuts/shells to soften. I fire them up again about 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, add another container of salt, more water and leave them on a "rolling" boil for most of the day. By noon on Saturday they are close enough to being finished that I can start munching. They are best served hot, so I usually dip them right out of the boiling water and start eating them immediately. Making boiled peanuts is not a quick process. It usually takes a good 12-18 hours of cooking to get the perfect taste. I've been experimenting with this process for a couple of years and have just gotten it down to perfection (atleast I think so!)

Note: The keys to great tasting boiled peanuts are salt (lots of it!) and time, time & more time. Anyone on a low salt diet should not eat boiled peanuts! ! !

"The Beekeeper" vs ? ? ?

When I decided to establish an Apiary in my backyard, I wanted to protect the bees as well as my neighbors. I placed the hives at the rear of my property line in a fenced area. The property line has about 10' of overgrowth (bush, plants, weeds, etc...). I felt this was an adequate barrier and would prevent any unwanted attention from the neighbors.

I purchased UV rated green nylon mesh cloth (seen behind the hives in this picture) and "hung" it on the chain link fence. This would further obscure the hives from the casual onlooker and ensure the flight paths of the bees are immediately elevated above eye/head level. This will prevent inadvertent collisions between humans and bees.

I used zip ties to attach the nylon mesh to the chain link fence. When I installed it, I secured it over the top rail of the fence. Within a few days I noticed that a couple of the zip ties had "broken" and the mesh was now hanging away from the fence. I thought it was odd but didn't think much of it, I just replaced the zip ties. To date, I have replaced about 50 zip ties! I've now become obsessed with finding out what is causing these to "break". At first I thought maybe the zip ties were brittle due to heat exposure. I used a pack that had been inside my truck for a couple of years. I purchased new ones and guess what........they are still breaking! Next thought was perhaps some of the neighborhood kids were playing games with me. I have never seen any kids near my backyard, so that wasn't a reasonable explanation.

I noticed squirrels use the top rail as sort of a "highway" across my yard. The area I live in has an enormous population of squirrels and I love seeing them in the yard. I have to admit it never occurred to me the squirrels were chewing through the zip ties. I asked my brother (Brian) his thoughts on who/what may be the culprit. He's convinced it's the squirrels and suggested attaching the mesh fencing but not draping it over the top rail. Brian seems to think they don't like walking across the mesh. I'm not totally convinced the squirrels are the root cause, but decided to taken Brian's advice and adjust the mesh so that it's not over the top rail of the fence. It's been 3 days and not a single broken zip tie. It would appear Brian was correct and my 5 month mystery is now solved.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Beekeeping to get rich

Everything considered, the small time hobbyist beekeeper probably won't quite break even. A well managed colony in a decent area will produce about 100 lbs. of honey per year. At $1.75 per lb. retail or $175.00 that does seem nice, until you start to consider equipment cost of more than $150.00 for each hive; then there's extracting, bottling, transportation, marketing, hive maintenance, medication costs, requeening, etc. etc.. However, frugal spending and diligent management can keep these costs to a minimum. The real value is in the opportunity to practice the age old art of beekeeping - the hands on personal experience of manipulating, and managing a hive that houses one of the most fascinating organisms on the planet. Honeybees are a gentle, and truly wonderful insect in many important ways. I could go on and on about the bees, and their value as pollinators. I could cry about the hard times facing the beekeeper, but hard times seem to be going around. Much of society does not seem to realize how much we depend on honeybees.

The value of a honeybee

The Honeybee (Apis melifera) is one of the most beneficial insects in the world. There are some 150 U.S. crops and more than 50 California crops pollinated by honeybees, for example, apples, fruits, berries, almonds, melons, cucumbers, clovers and alfalfa. We have the honeybee to thank for one third of all the food we eat. Without the bees, we would be eating mostly rice, wheat, and corn instead of the wonderful variety of fruits, vegetables, and nuts we enjoy today. This insect pollinates BILLIONS OF DOLLARS of agricultural crops each year. In addition, it is impossible to determine the tremendous value these pollinators have in our urban gardens. Now, since the demise of all of our feral (wild) honeybee populations, their value in our neighborhoods is greater than ever.

Urban Beekeeping article

by Keri Fisher

Nancy Mangion remembers the first time she met a beekeeper. Her horse-drawn buggy was getting fixed in an Amish village when a man came up to her and asked, " Wanna see my honey house? " She was afraid of bees at the time, but she followed him. " There were bees everywhere, " she remembers. " He took a scoop of honey with his finger from a wax frame. ‘Wanna try some honey? It’s nice and fresh.’ So I tried it. " The man told Mangion that he hadn’t had a cold or allergy since he began keeping bees. That’s when she decided to get her own.

Now she’s the nonchalant bee-lover trying to calm a hysteric: me. When I pull up to her house and see them swarming around, I almost turn around and go home. She has to hold my hand as we walk by the hives to her gazebo. When I point nervously to the two insects buzzing above, she laughs. " Those aren’t bees, " she says. " Those are wasps. " Comforting.

Read the rest of the article here:

Keri Fisher is a food writer living in Belmont. She can be reached at

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Visitor: Erin - Ashley

We had a visitor from San Diego, California stop by to see us today. She's my 7 year old niece and her name is Erin-Ashley Roganti, she's the daughter of my sister Ginger. Ginger is a Chief Petty Officer (E-7) in the U.S. Navy. Ginger is stationed in San Diego at Balboa Naval Hospital where she's a Radiology Instructor. Erin is visiting Georgia for a couple of weeks and came to stay with us today while my parents (AmMa & AmPa) went to work. She was here when Uncle Brian came to help me with the hive arrangement. After we finished I was able to coax her down to the fenceline for a photo-op. The entire purpose of this photo is to see how excited Uncle Chris & Uncle Brian can make Mom (Ginger) when she sees her little angel so close to 100,000+ honeybees.

Equalizing The Colonies

Many of you may remember my brother, Brian from previous posts. Brian has been stung every time he's helped me in the beeyard. I felt guilty after last week's episode and ordered him a better hat, veil and some leather gloves. Brian stopped by today to help me change the position of my hives. I have two very strong hives, one medium & one weak. When the foragers were out during the middle of the day we swapped the order of the hives. The thought is that bees from a strong colony leave to forage, we swap hive positions with a weaker hive and when they return this helps equalize the population of the colonies. We swapped hives 1 & 3 and 2 & 4. I've also been feeding 1:1 sugar water with Honey B Healthy to all four colonies. This will ensure they get through the nectar dearth and are strong for the anticipated Fall honey flow. As a side note.....Brian managed a "sting free" visit today. It really helps to have someone assist me with labor in the yard. Brian is also interested in beekeeping, so he's tagging along and I'm sharing as much information as I can with him. In the Spring, I'll make a couple of splits to get him started with his own colonies.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

General Honeybee FAQ

Honey bees collect nectar from a flower, which is then turned into honey by a combination of the bee's digestive enzymes that invert the sugars, and evaporation. It is due to the types of flowers visited by the bees as to why honeys vary in taste, color and tendency to crystallize. Some flowers, like cotton blossoms for example, can produce nectar that results in an almost clear, and very light flavored honey. Others like Tahoka daisies can produce a dark honey resembling something very much like molasses in both taste and smell. Clover blossoms, due to their abundance of both long flowering seasons and high nectar production provide one of the largest sources of nectar used by bees to produce honey in many areas. Most clover produces a light golden-amber honey that is not overly delicate or strong and appeals too many. Clover honey has saturated the market in many areas for decades, so much so that some people growing up today may not even know other delicious honeys even exist!

Together with pollen, the nectar gathered from these flower blossoms provides food for the bees. They will easily hoard as much as they can, and often more than they could ever use. The nectar is brought back to the hive by a field bee (the older worker bees), where it is then given over to a house bee (the younger worker bees). The house bee will then take the nectar and place it in a cell, whereby the constant flow of air over the cell produced by other bees "fanning" their wings slowly draws the moisture from the nectar. Bees will usually place nectar that is being processed into honey above the areas of honey that have their cells capped for storage. These cells are in turn usually located above or outside of those used for storage of pollen, with the nest of brood residing in cells located in the center of the nest below the pollen storage areas.

Honey is more than just nectar concentrated by evaporation, however. As the nectar is moved by the house bees from cell to cell until is finally ready to fill a cell and be capped over with a thin layer of beeswax, it is ingested by the bee into its honey stomach where enzymes act on it to invert the simple sugars in the nectar into honey. This combination of inverting the simple sugars in nectar and evaporating it to a viscous state of approximately 18% or less moisture provides the bees with a food that can be stored for more or less indefinite periods of time. Even when the cells of honey have become heavily crystallized, bees have been known to add water to the crystals to dissolve them.

The bees will use this honey as food, as well as mixed with pollen to create a substance known as "bee bread" to feed to their young. In order for a hive to make it through the winter, a healthy storage of honey needs to be collected. Fortunately for us bees are hoarders by nature when it comes to honey and often collect far more than they need. If ready with strong hives at the start of a season of heavy nectar flow, the amount of surplus honey a beekeeper can harvest at the end of the season can be quite considerable.

How does honey get from the beehive to the store shelves?

Once the honey is ready to be harvested, the beekeeper will leave behind plenty of honey for the bees to make it through winter (and then some), and collect the rest. The honey collected from domestic beehives is contained in "frames" of honeycomb. Each frame of honey is usually about 1 1/2 inches thick, and made of individual beeswax cells emanating outward from a central rib, or sheet, of beeswax. The beekeeper can tell when the honey is ready to be harvested as the bees will cover each full cell of honey with a thin layer, or "cap", of beeswax. Once a frame of honey has almost every cell capped, it can be pulled from the hive.

Anywhere from 8 to 10 frames of honeycomb will fit in each section, or layer, of the beehive. These layers are usually referred to as "supers", and a beehive will usually consist of anywhere from one to five or even ten or more of these supers. The bees usually raise their young in the bottom one or two supers, storing honey in those supers above the nest. When a super or more of frames are fully capped (and is honey the bees don't need themselves), the beekeeper will harvest these supers of excess honey.

After collecting the honey, the beekeeper will either use the honey comb as it comes right out of the hive, or extract the honey from the frames of honeycomb for bottling. Special frames are usually used to produce comb honey for use or sell, and frames of comb are often taken from the hive as soon as they are capped (versus waiting for the entire super full of frames to be capped). This way the comb's appearance is light in color and very appealing. Fresh comb honey is often spread on breads and toast or even eaten "as is" or chewed until a lump of beeswax is all that's left, and then spit out.

Having more uses, extracted honey is more popular than comb honey. Therefore, the majority of honeycomb harvested is processed for bottling. The beekeeper, using a heated knife, will shave the caps off the comb, exposing the honey stored inside each cell. Once both sides of the frame have been "uncapped", the frame is put inside an "extractor". This apparatus is a machine that steadily spins the frames around until the honey is literally thrown out of the cells and drips down the inside walls of the extractor's tank, collecting at the bottom. When all the frames in the extractor are emptied of their honey, they are taken out and replaced with other uncapped frames.

As the level of honey rises in the tank, it will be drained off into a strainer and then filtered through fine-mesh nylon. The resulting honey is often called "raw" honey, as it still contains any pollen or the tiniest bits of wax that made it through the filter, making it slightly opaque in appearance. Many prefer their honey raw, considering it more "natural" at this stage, and are as far as some beekeepers go in the extracting process. Some commercial honey-producing operations may take it a step further and heat the honey slightly (making it less viscous, or thinner) so it can be strained through even finer filters. Much of the honey seen on store shelves that is a very transparent golden or amber color was processed by this method, with it's clarity due to the further filtering of wax and pollen out of the honey.

Once the supers of frames have had their honey extracted, the beekeeper will usually put the supers of sticky frames back on the hives. The bees clean them up very nicely, moving any remaining honey still stuck to the cell walls after the extracting process back down into their hive with their other stored honey. The beekeeper will then either leave the supers of frames of empty and dry honeycomb on the hive to be refilled again if a strong nectar flow is still going on or is approaching, or remove most or all of the empty supers if the nectar flow is over, or in preparation for winter.

How do honey bees carry pollen?

Honey bees carry pollen back to the hive in a small "basket" of fine hairs on the outside of their hind legs. As the bee scrapes pollen off its body, hairs on the leg collect the pollen. It is then transferred to the basket opening with a minute comb at the mid-joint of the leg. There is even a "pollen press" as part of the joint that will pack the pollen into these baskets. When the basket is full the bee will return to the hive and unload the pollen "pellets" out of the baskets into a cell. The house bees then take care of packing the pollen down in the cell until it's needed for food for the brood.

Where do bees get beeswax?

Bees actually produce their own beeswax. On the underside of the bee's abdomen there are eight glands that secrete the liquid wax. As the wax hardens it forms small flakes that are then removed by the bee with its hind legs and brought up to the bee's mandibles. Here, it is masticated into a malleable form where it is then used to build comb. To give you an idea of just how small these flakes are; one pound of the wax equates to about 570,000 of these flakes.

What are supers?

Supers are wooden boxes that have no top or bottom. Supers are stacked one on top of another as needed when the bee's population or honey storage requirements grow in size. A "standard" hive has a bottom floor, one or more supers that act as a hive body for the brood nest, usually one to several supers for honey storage and a cover for the hive. In the U.S. most beekeepers have standardized on supers that hold ten frames and come in four basic sizes... deep (9 5/8"), medium (6 5/8"), shallow (5 11/16") and comb (4 1/2" for round section, 4 3/4" for split section). In Europe other sizes and styles are used including the more garden ornamental WBC to National, Commercial or even a large Modified Dadant. In some areas plastic or Styrofoam supers are marketed and used.

Why do beekeepers paint their hives white?

Actually, not all beekeepers paint their hives white. A lot do, and this is to help the bees in keeping the hive cooler in summer, especially if the hive is located in direct sun during the heat of the day. White (or light colors) have also been proven to be colors bees don't seem to mind. Some beekeepers in colder areas stain or paint their hives a darker color to help the bees keep the hives warmer in the early spring when they start raising brood. Commercial beekeepers often use whatever light colored paint they can find on sale. Light blues, yellows and greens are not uncommon.

How do honey bees keep their hive at a constant 93-95° Fahrenheit temperature?

Honey bees do this in several ways. As the temperature rises inside the hive due to warm weather, they will ventilate their hive by having some bees create an increase in air flow through the hive. The bees do this by lining up in one direction into the hive and back out again, and fanning their wings. This creates an intentional draft through the hive that keeps temperatures down. Should the weather get hotter some of the bees will then collect water, placing these drops of water in cells and spreading thin sheets of water between their mandibles. The bee's fan-current evaporates the water, lowering the temperature even more (and you didn't think bees knew about air conditioning!). During cooler weather and winter the bees will actually "cluster", creating a ball shape that is hollow with the queen in the middle. The bees take turns eating honey and vibrating as they move through the cluster wall. The heat given off by calories being burned in the process warms the cluster. However, during the dead of winter when there is no brood being raised the temperature does in fact fall below the 93-95° range to about 85° Fahrenheit.

How do beekeepers get the honey out of the comb?

There are several ways of doing this, and the amount of honey being collected usually determines the process taken. If the beekeeper only has a super or two of honey, the comb can be broken up and strained through a fine-mesh bag into a bucket. Another alternative is a pair of wooden paddles hinged together to form a press that is used to squeeze the honey from the comb. Both these methods destroy the comb, which bees use honey to produce. As such, beekeepers usually use what is called an "extractor". An extractor is a round stainless steel (or super heavy-duty plastic) barrel with baskets (tangential) or frame clips (radial) inside attached to a vertical rod. The rod extends through the top of the extractor and is attached to pulleys or gears. The baskets spin inside the tank when a hand crank is turned (more expensive or very large models are motorized). The frames of honeycomb, once the capping have been removed, are placed in the baskets or frame clips and then spun around until all the honey comes out of the combs by centrifugal force. The bottom of the extractor has a valve for draining the extractor of the honey collected. Using an extractor enables beekeepers (and bees) to use the frames of empty comb again, saving the bees time and honey in creating new comb each time they're needed.

My jar of honey is crystallized. Is it ruined?

The sugars in honey may start to crystallize over time (honey from some nectar sources faster than others). This in itself does not harm the honey in the slightest. As a matter of fact, many commercial honey producers intentionally crystallize barrels of honey by storing them at temperatures of about 52-56° Fahrenheit. It makes them easier to handle. "Whipped honey" is honey that as been "seeded" with very fine honey crystals, then occasionally stirred over a period of days until the honey is uniformly crystallized and smooth. To liquefy a jar of crystallized honey, take a pan of hot (not boiling) water and set the jar of honey down in the water bath (top cracked open and well above the water level). The crystals should melt and become liquid again. Repeat if necessary. If your honey is "raw", unprocessed (but filtered) honey, make sure the temperature of the hot water is not over 95° Fahrenheit to preserve the full "naturalness" of the honey.

Why do some queen bees have a dot painted on them?

Most suppliers of queen bees will mark the queens they ship to you with a colored dot of paint on the top of the thorax for a very small fee (.50 cents or so). This colored dot not only helps you quickly find the queen among the other bees in the hive should you need to, but will also signify what year the queen was introduced into the hive. Queen breeders use a color numbering system so that queens marked with blue indicate years ending in 0 or 5, white a 1 or 6, yellow a 2 or 7, red a 3 or 8 and green for years ending in 4 or 9.

What is "bee space"?

In 1851 a beekeeper, Rev. L.L. Langstroth noted that honey bees allowed themselves 3/8" between combs. If a hive had a 1/4"-3/8" space it wouldn't be filled with comb. Anything over 3/8" was filled with comb, anything less than 1/4" was filled with propolis. He took this "discovery" and created the first movable-frame hive and is called by many the Father of Beekeeping.

Why is some honey light and some dark?

The color of honey depends on its nectar source. Usually, early spring honey is lighter than honey collected in fall, again due to the nectar source. Some flowers produce a light, almost clear honey (such as cotton); other blossoms provide nectar that produces a golden amber color (such as the common clover honey seen in stores). Others, such as buckwheat produce a very dark, almost molasses-color honey. There are shades of honey that cover the spectrum between these colors as well. Besides the color of honey, the nectar source also determines the taste of honey. It is common that the lighter the honey the milder the taste (but not always).

What is propolis, and what do bees do with it?

Propolis is a combination of gums and resins bees collect from trees and plants, as well as wax, pollen and oils. Bees like a tight hive, and use propolis to "glue" loose items in the hive and seal cracks. That's why you'll find frames glued down with propolis, and cracks between supers sealed. Some strains of honey bees, such as the Caucasians, use propolis heavily in their hive, and even use it to narrow the entrance as needed. Propolis is usually sticky when warm, and brittle when cold. It is also high in antibiotic properties and has been used in medicinal remedies since ancient times.

What is a queen excluder?

A queen excluder is a metal or plastic grill (similar to the wire shelving in refrigerators) that is placed between supers. The space between the grills is .16", which prevents the queen or drones from entering the supers placed above the excluder. Beekeepers place the excluder above the super containing brood to keep the queen from going into the honey supers and laying eggs. Since pollen is usually stored close to the brood, this ensures that the supers will contain only honey. Excluders are usually put on the hives in spring before the main honey flow, and removed in fall after the last harvest of honey.

If supers hold 10 frames, why do some beekeepers use 9?

Using nine frames in honey supers has a definite advantage when it comes time to extract your honey. Some beekeepers use only eight! For one, even though there is the same amount of honey there are fewer frames to extract. Also, if you are using an uncapping knife it is much easier to cut off the capping as the comb is wider and the capping extend beyond the edges of the frame. However, if frames of foundation are placed in the super, you should always use 10 frames. If you don't the bees will create burr comb to fill the space between the frames (which is too big... remember the 3/8" bee space?). If you've got frames of already-drawn comb, try using 9 in the super next time. I think you'll be impressed!

Won't setting sticky supers outside after extracting cause robbing behavior in the apiary?

It depends on a couple factors. If there is a dearth of nectar coming in from the field it very well may lead to robbing. If the supers are placed in close proximity to other hives (especially if there are weak ones present), probably "yes" again. If you choose to put the supers outside for the bees to clean, make sure to stack them so there is plenty of access to the frames in as many areas as possible to keep fighting to a minimum. Personally, I prefer to put the supers back on the hives over the inner cover (make sure the oblong hole in the inner cover is open). It may take a little longer for the supers to get clean, but I haven't had any problem with robbing by doing so. Make sure there's empty comb below the inner cover for the bees to store the honey from the extracted supers or you may find they use the very supers you want them to clean!

Do you have to sterilize jars before bottling the honey?

No. Honey is anaerobic, contains natural antibiotics in minute amounts (hydrogen peroxide is one of them), and therefore does not need to be stored in sterile containers. They do need to be clean, though! Many beekeepers use canning jars, recycled mayonnaise jars, plastic milk cartons or whatever they find that will work. Commercial producers use newly manufactured jars. Run the jars (new or recycled) through the dishwasher rinse and dry cycle right before you use them to remove any dust particles (which hastens crystallization).