Friday, June 25, 2010

Extraction Action

I'm so proud of our bees.

They've been working their butts off. Dad and I pulled off about 3 1/2 honey supers of capped honey, leaving both hives with one super each which we'll wait until fall to extract.

Back home in our newly put together honey room (aka corner area in the basement) we set about cutting the caps off the combs.

We'd started without a cappings tank but I can tell you it's so much easier to work with one. The cappings tank (this one made by Mann Lake) is a double plastic tank with a grill bottom where the honey can drip through to the bottom. Later we'll open the spigot at the bottom to empty the tank. There's a wooden bar across the top that the frame sits on while cutting off the cappings.

While working I remembered my friend Henry mentioning to go slowly and so as to let the electric knife melt the caps. Also it warms up the honey so that it'll flow out easier.

Then into the honey extractor they went for a spin.

The first super of honey had a strong vegetable smell. To me it smelled like tomatoes or sweet chilli peppers. Right after uncapping the smell was strong and it did have a taste of sweet chilli peppers, but without the hot spice. Two days later the smell and flavour had mellowed quite a bit. There's still a little distinct taste that I wonder what the source was...maybe apple blossum nectar considering they had over 500 apple trees to forage from.

The next supers tasted like clover honey with a lovely amber colour. And... there's 73 lbs of it!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First Swarm Collection

Sometimes the paparazzi can't find you so there's no photos. That's what happened in this event. Well, sort of.

I got home from work and was supposed to have a couple hours free before leaving for a meeting. Then the phone rang and I answered. There was a small swarm a couple streets over in a neighbour's backyard bush. The neighbour explained that they'd even built a little honeycomb. This was a good sign that they really were bees and not wasps or hornets. Would I be interested in collecting it?

Sure I thought, why not since I happen to have an empty hive. I called Dad. My first words were "Get your camera", my second were "Meet me at..."

So there was a camera on hand the whole time we collected the swarm.

The swarm collection went like the textbooks describe: Simple and straightforward.

I was amazed to see three small pancake size combs attached to a thick bush. We'd had rain the night before with more storms predicted so it wasn't the wisest place for bees to make a nest. There was capped brood so this indicated that they must have a queen and also that they'd probably been there for at least 15 days--3 days as an egg, 8 days as a larva, and approximately 3 days to build the comb.

Luckily the bush wasn't too tall and a small stepladder was sufficient to reach them. But it is hard to crawl into a bush and maneuver around without dropping combs. Dad held a frame under me like a plate as I worked to catch he bees and comb.

We cut the branches and comb and laid them in the hive and then put the lid on. Many bees began to collect on the outside of the box and move inside.

It was fascinating to watch the air filled with bees flying into the bush. Then in confusion for a half hour or so flying in the air trying to find their home. You could literally watch the bees flying lower and lower in circles while they located their home.

By 6:00 p.m. they were mostly clustered outside the box. By 9:00 p.m. they were all inside. We taped the entrance closed, loaded the box in the truck and I drove 2 streets to my home.

I wondered if the bees would orient back to their old location so I deliberately tried to cause a "forced re-orientation". This is shown very nicely in Mistress Beek's Blog - The Lazy Way to Move a Hive.

You need to totally change the exit so that in the morning as the bees go to leave the hive they will notice things are different. Then they'll do reorientation flights in front of the hive before they leave to forage. That way when they return they'll come back to their new location and not the old.

Small swarms are predicted to be a waste of time. Time will tell, or so I thought. The bees were there in the morning when I gave them a hive feeder. They were still there after 9:00 a.m., when dad dropped by the check on them.

But when I got home at 5:00 p.m. they'd left. Maybe they saved me the effort of trying to nurse a tiny swarm through winter. The experience though was something I wouldn't miss for anything.

And sorry about no photos. Let's blame dad. He brought the camera and didn't use it.


This is a list of beekeepers in southwestern Ontario who will collect swarms.

If you have bees in an attic, garage, etc., or have a swarm you can find beekeepers who will collect them by checking with the bee clubs/associations for that province or state. I have a few of them listed on my web site Associations page.

Sometimes people will sign up to the beekeeping Yahoo group and post a message for help as well. They're also listed on the Associations web page.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Honey Extractors - Which one to get?

There are a couple kinds of extractors available to the beekeeper that I'm aware of made by two excellent companies: Maxant and Dadant.

These brands are reputed to be well made, sturdy and dependable.

There is a plastic two frame extractor that's available but I heard that it doesn't work well (not sure who makes it but I believe Dadant sells it). The advice from beekeepers is to not waste money getting that one. Two beginner beekeepers I know who purchased the plastic one were selling it the next year and buying a stainless steel one instead.

Things to consider with your purchase of an extractor is the size of your operation. This is hard for the hobbyist to guesstimate. Will I stay small with one or two hives or grow more? And if so, by how many?

It appears the 6 frame extractor fits in the middle price-wise and work-wise and is the most popular with beginners and hobbyists. There's a considerable price jump between a 6 frame extractor and a 10 frame.

[This is our shiny new Maxant 9 frame Extractor.]

Good luck if you're trying to get a 6 frame extractor second hand. If they become available they sell so fast you don't usually hear about it. I think they sell from one beekeeper friend to another without a classified ad most of the time. The good news is that extractors' resell value remains very high and they maintain their value over time. If you ever quit beekeeping you'd have no trouble selling it.

They are usually labelled like this: 6/9 and 10/20. The two numbers represent the number of frames it can do, depending on the size of the frame. The Maxant 6/9 extractor holds 6 shallow frames in the radial position plus 3 shallow in a tangential position, equalling nine. Or it can hold 3 deep frames (but don't put deeps and shallows in at the same time).

The honey is spun out of the combs in two ways: Tangentially or Radially. If the extractor is a tangential one, the price might be a little lower - and every frame will need to be removed and flipped--essentially spun twice, once per side, to remove the honey from both sides. (Bear this in mind if buying a hand crank tangential extractor - that's a lot of cranking).

The Radial extraction flings the honey out of both sides of the frame at the same time so frames only need to be loaded once. This is the most popular type of extractor.

Other considerations are whether to have power or crank by hand? How are your joints and hands? Can you take hand cranking for long periods of time? I opted for power for mine since I'm prone to carpel tunnel, and shoulder issues.

A motor that also has speed control allows you to start the frames spinning slowly at first so as not to damage the combs when they are very heavy with honey and then speed up their rotation as they begin to empty. Also it allows you to slow down the rotation prior to stopping.

Extractors should be made of stainless steel and not galvanized metal. The old galvanized versions were made with lead seals and are now discontinued and not recommended for use.

What tips or suggestions do you have about extractors?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

First Honey Harvest of 2010

It was harvest day today.

I think I woke up around 5:00 a.m., and my first thoughts were that today we'd be taking the honey, essentially robbing our bees.

But we'd do it very nicely if I had anything to say about it.

I was far more concerned about the queen excluder that I was convinced to put in last week. You see, I needed to go through all my frames above the excluder looking for larvae to determine if the queen was above or below. This was stressing me all week. At least until I decided to remove it. If the queen had laid eggs in with the honey, I'd leave those frames until they'd hatched. She hadn't though, except a few drone cells underneath the frame - you know that space between the bottom of one frame and the top of the next where the bees love to put drone comb. Those can be easily scraped off.

Last year I noticed when brushing bees from the frames that I injured a few bees' feet. I believe I brushed too hard. So this year I focused on flicking the brush up under the bees, brushing from the bottom up, but doing it very lightly. The results were much better.

We didn't put in a bee escape first because of the queen excluder being in place so we did this with frames full of bees. Lots of glowing black eyes greeted Dad and I as we opened the hive.

The plan was to start and see how we did, knowing we had lots of bees and hadn't used the escape board. If it didn't go well, we'd put the escape in and try again in 2 days. But it went amazingly well. The bees were incredibly gentle. Not a single threatening bump or sting attempts. They are gentle bees indeed. I'm very proud of them. (I must say this queen breeder, Bill Ferguson from Ferguson Apiaries raises incredible queens. He's been participating with our provincial bee association to develop hygienic gentle queens with a tendency not to swarm. They're Buckfast queens and I really like them).

Three supers were full of honey. We took one which was fully capped, left one that they're working on capping and I also left their first honey box that's above the brood. I did that for a couple reasons. One being that it'll create a honey barrier for the queen, another that I want to wait to extract that box until I know the bees have enough honey for themselves.

Last year I felt I took too much honey from one of the new nucs. They survived just fine but it was a really mild winter. I'd rather have extra honey to extract later than reach fall and not have enough to see the bees through.

You might think that I could feed the bees in fall to put weight back on the hive and I did. But last year the summer/fall weather was so cold that the bees wouldn't take the sugar syrup. I did the candy as well just to be sure.

Sorry for the lack of photos. We were pretty busy and didn't get much time to stop for them.

We did two things which made the process much easier. Dad suggested we put an empty super with frames on top of the hive and then brush the bees off into the super. This worked marvelously. Before that the bees were piling up on top of the hive and overflowing (see the photo above with bees piled on the top frames). This gave them somewhere to go.

Next we used a card table. It's portable and light weight enough, yet it could hold two full supers. We set the table beside the hive and when lifting the 40+ pound super we could turn and set it down at table height--no back breaking bending. It worked very well.

We'll be back at it tomorrow, harvesting Dad's hive#2. Let's hope his bees are gentle too.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Swarm... of People

We had my favourite kind of bee meeting. The outside kind. I volunteered this time for the club to come to my yard.

The weather held off for us which was very kind. It was really hot though, high of around 30 and very humid.

We opened Hive #1, my booming hive, and the experienced beekeepers confirmed it hasn't swarmed. The overall comment is that it's a nice hive.

I wasn't using a queen excluder so we put one in. A half hour later though a ton of bees had come out of the top exit and the bottom. I was reassured it'd just take them some time to figure out how to traverse through the excluder.

Oh, and honey! I lifted the second super and had to set it back down quick. It was heavy. I guesstimate the weight to be 40+ pounds. So Dad and I now need to consider extracting some of our honey now. The advice is to remove a few frames and extract them, and put back the empty frames for hte bees to refill.

There was some honey filled burr comb mixed the drone brood between the honey boxes - as a result of no queen excluder in use.

The advice was to clean that off. Now when I did this in the past I'd virtually pick each bee off so as not to snarl them in the comb and squish them. They showed me how to angle the hive tool down low and slide it under the combs and run it the whole length of the frame, picking up the comb and then dumping the whole thing in front of the hive for the bees to lick up.

We loaded it onto a paper plate to pass around first and then set it in front of the hive. Would you believe two hours later that plate was clean and dry. The bees had licked every bit of honey off it.

Of course we'll have to come back in a week to see which side of the excluder the queen is on. That's when it's handy to have a chart showing the development of an egg to bee, showing the growth day by day. That's because in a week I'll be looking for eggs are smaller larva that are younger than 6 days.

We opened Dad's nuc, or I should say he opened his hive. The bees were just getting started on their second brood chamber. In the first brood chamber the advice was to insert blank frames between the middle established nuc frames.

The reason for this is to get the bees to build up the comb faster and the queen to lay in those frames. At this time of year, keeping the brood together for warm isn't an issue as it would be in the spring or fall.

We topped up sugar water on both nuc hives and then we congregated in the grassy area to have coffee snacks and lots of conversation.

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. I was too busy to get many photos of the crowd but I'll upload those later once others email them to me.

Of course with beekeepers around there was advice a-plenty.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Nuc Hive Inspection

Time for the second week inspection of our new hives.

Both appear to be doing fine.
The queen is marked in green representing 2009.
From the outside there didn't appear to be many bees today but once they were opened we could see many bees inside.

I'm taking the advice of many experienced beekeepers and that is to not look for the queen.
A quick glance to see if she's on a frame and then we move on. But if I happen to see her, then we can do a quick photo op.

Today we did see one of the queens.
She was on an outside frame and had laid a few eggs there. The bees need to get busy and finish building combs so the queen can lay more.

They were at about 6.5 frames drawn in the bottom deep so we added the next brood chamber. I'm running a 1.5 system - one deep and a medium as the brood chamber.

Next we checked on last years hives.

I've #1 has 3 supers and still has almost no comb built in the third super - so they've got lots of room which I hope will dispel thoughts of swarming.

Hive #2 with it's one super is now ready for the next one - and here's where I goofed.
I was so busy thinking about the nucs and topping up their sugar water and their next super that I forgot about the older hives and their needs. I did have a bin with some frames so I was able to come up with 8 frames for a super.
Still I'll need to get back out there tomorrow with another frame.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Trying to Avoid a Swarm

My bees have been busting at the seams. Especially Hive #1 with the purchased queen. She's doing a little bit too well.

Since I've been told you really don't want swarms this early in spring there appears to be only two ways to stop the bees from swarming. One is to remove any queen cells that they create (which means opening the hive constantly and checking). The second is to keep giving them more room.

I know that if I remove queen cells they'll just rebuild them. I focused on giving them lots of room. Over the last three weeks I have increased Hive #1 by three honey supers and Hive #2 by two supers. As the bees built comb and filled it, I would add another super to keep well ahead of them.

It's the heat that gets them thinking about swarming so early in the season.

Two weeks ago when I looked at the hives, it was a really hot day - around 28 degrees Celsius. There were quite a few bees on the stoop and quite a few had formed some clumps on the left and right side of the hive. I wondered if they were thinking about swarming. I gave them a super to give them more space.

I also put some tongue depressors (like fat popsicle sticks) between the inner cover and the last super to create a space for the heat to vent out.

The hives are in full sun which makes me think I should have planned my bee yard placement a little better. But remember last year I had to remove my bees in a hurry from the swamp so there wasn't a lot of time to think things through.

At the bee meeting, one beekeeper reported that of his 13 hives he had 13 swarms. Others reported that their hives had swarmed too. A beekeeper selling nucs said he had to go to 25 hives in order to make up 15 nucs - all due to swarming.

I'm very suspicious after seeing my bees last weekend that both hives may have swarmed. At some point I'll see the queen on Hive #1 and if she has paint on her back I'll know she's my Elizabeth Queen. If not, then the hive swarmed and the bees made a new queen.

The hive is plenty busy but just doesn’t seem as busting with bees now compared to 2 weeks ago. Dad says it's because they're all out working. It could be. Also, I didn't tear the whole hive apart to look. No need to disrupt them that much anyway.

This summer is coming fast, furious and hot! Let's hope it isn't a wash-out with rain like last year. The bees are loving it and so am I.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Best Way to Install a Nuc

Dad and I have been super busy with the bees.

A week ago we picked up two nuc hives to install in the bee yard beside our other two existing hives.

Here's the best advice I got from a long time beekeeper about "The Best Way to Install a Nuc". I haven't installed tons of nucs like some beekeepers but these instructions work great!

These steps will stop bee losses from the bees flying around too much in unfamiliar territory and getting lost.

1. When you first get home with the bees set the nuc box in place and then wait until dark. Once dark, open the front flap of the nuc box to allow the bees to come out.

Have a flashlight handy and smoker if needed. Wear your bee gear because they can fly and sting at night. With the flap open they'll be able to explore the area outside the hive, get familiar with the scents, etc. Most of the bees will not fly in the dark but will hang out just outside the flap, clean house and carry out their dead. With the flap open it'll be much easier for them to ventilate the hive so they don't get too hot. (If it's a cardboard nuc you'll want to temporarily tape the flap down).

Make sure you put a covering of some kind over the ventilation holes on the top of the nuc box in case it rains - but don't put it right on top - leave air space for ventilation. A lot of bees have been shaken into that container and they can get too hot quickly.

2. The next morning, around mid morning, install the frames of bees right where the nuc box was placed (move the nuc back and set your deep in its place). The bees will be already out flying and gathering. You'll probably see them coming back with pollen.

Have your smoker lit but you probably won't need to smoke the bees when doing the installation. They usually cling to the frame and cluster over the brood. One of the outside nuc frames should be of honey for feed and you'll find it much heavier than the other frames.

The nuc will have anywhere from 3 to 5 frames. Most nucs are 4 frames. Keep the frames in the same order they are in the box. Put the first new 3 empty frames with foundation on one side of the hive then add the 4 nuc frames. Initially, set them in far apart and after they're set in place, wiggle them gently into position, maintaining the bee space. If there are a lot of bees between the frames a slight wiggle back and forth as you slide the frames closer helps give them a warning and a chance to move out of the way. Then add the last 3 new empty foundation frames (for a total of 10 frames) to the hive. Check out your bee space between frames. Take some photos!

There will be some bees left inside the nuc box after you've removed the frames. Sometimes they get stuck under the flaps of the cardboard nuc. You can hold the nuc upside down over the hive and shake the bees into the hive. Don't be afraid to tap the cardboard to urge them to leave. If you have more time you can set the nuc box in front of hive and leave it for 20 minutes or so. The bees inside will soon smell their queen inside her new home and fly to her.

3. Place the entrance reducer into the hive on its smallest setting.

4. Feed them sugar syrup for at least a couple weeks. The syrup will help them to produce the wax required to build combs on the new frames. I highly recommend a hive top feeder as the easiest to access without disturbing the bees. It also holds the most syrup - don't overfill because when doing inspections you will have to lift it up and the syrup can slop over the sides.

Once 7 of the 10 frames are drawn in comb, it's time to add another deep or super of frames. If the nuc frames had dark brown combs you may find the newly built combs are brown (new combs are off-white). The bees will steal any extra wax from the old frames to build faster on the new frames.

It'll probably take the bees 1 to 2 weeks to draw out comb on the other frames. This is an estimate as the length of time varies depending on nectar sources, temperature, time of year, number of bees in the nuc, etc.

A Swarm in May

There's an 0ld beekeeping poem that says:

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay

A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon

A swarm in July ain't worth a fly
But why do they say that?

If spring heats up quickly the bees can get pretty warm in their hives and start to think about swarming early.
Your mated queen will leave the hive and take about half the hive with her.
The bees left behind will make a new queen.

Everything would be fine for the bees left behind except that the spring drones are too young and haven't had enough time yet for their sperm to mature.
They'll mate with the new queen but their immature sperm, won't last the queen for her lifetime.
The hive is then likely to fail that fall or the following spring. Hence, the load of hay. The swarm might be of some worth but not so much.

A swarm in June warrants a silver spoon because seasonal temperatures are more stable and the drones have had time to mature.
There's lots of time in the season for the new hive to establish itself and create stores for winter.
A swarm in July isn't worth much because it's so late in the year that the swarm isn't able to establish themselves in a new hive and get enough honey stored to survive the winter.

[These are photos of 2 swarms from last year at my friend Henry's place].