Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Heating and Freezing Honey

Heating Honey:

In the previous post we looked at why honey crystallizes. Since it's a natural for the sugars in honey to crystallize over time, what's the best method to re-liquefy it?

The answer is to use heat, but the question is how much?

The melting point of crystallized honey is between 40 and 50 °C (104 and 122 °F). Too much heat will destroy the nutritional elements of honey. Heating up to 37 °C (98.6 °F) causes loss of nearly 200 components, some of which are antibacterial. Heating to 40 °C (104 °F) reduces enzymes.

Many commercial beekeepers invest in heated honey storage tanks. With the constant heat the honey never gets a chance to form crystals. These tanks are always kept around 125 degrees F. (More on this later when I learn more about them…)

With our small time operation with no heated tank (not yet at least) we keep all our honey in glass jars. Using glass makes it easier to heat the honey up. In previous years we kept our honey in food grade plastic containers but then it crystallized in those containers and then had to be scooped out into jars and then heated to liquefy. So now we're skipping the plastic entirely.

All family members and even a few friends save and wash all their glass pickle, relish, jam jars, etc., for us to use. We don't put all our honey in "for sale" jars until we need them. That way we don't have to buy boxes and boxes of for sale jars all at once. When ready, we heat the jars to liquefy the honey and then pour into the for sale jars as needed and label them.

[Photo - Last year's plastic pails.  We still use them but the jars are used first.]

We use a pressure cooker to heat the honey in a hot bath. This is the marketing manager's (Dad's) job. He and Mom boil water in their pressure cooker. Then they turn off the heat and set the honey jars inside the hot water. The pressure cooker has a wire base which keeps the jars from sitting directly on the metal bottom. They leave the jars for a couple hours and the heat works to slowly melt the crystals.

The key is to not let the temperature get above 40°C (104 °F). At 50 °C (122 °F) honey will caramelize.

Pasteurized honey available in grocery stores has been heated at 161 °F (71.7 °C) or higher. Cooking at this heat destroys yeast cells, reduces enzymes, darkens the colour and changes the taste and smell of the honey.

Freezing Honey:

Below 5 °C, the honey will not crystallize and the original texture and flavour are preserved indefinitely.

Honey will not freeze solid. Instead, as the temperatures become colder it becomes thicker (think of the saying like Molasses in January…). While appearing or even feeling solid, it will continue to flow at very slow rates.

My preference is to scoop the crystallized honey straight from the jar and into my hot tea. In my opinion that's the best way to melt it.

(Many thanks to those experts who contribute to Wikepedia where this info came from)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Does Honey Crystallize?

All honey eventually crystallizes.  The higher the glucose/fructose level in your honey (such as Aster flower honey) the faster it happens.

Here's Wikepedia's description of the properties of honey found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey

"Crystallized honey is honey in which some of the glucose content has spontaneously crystallized from solution as the monohydrate. Also called "granulated honey."

Honey that has crystallized over time (or commercially purchased crystallized) in the home can be returned to a liquid state if stirred in a container sitting in warm water at 120 °F (approx 49 °C)."

"The physical properties of honey vary, depending on water content, the type of flora used to produce it, temperature, and the proportion of the specific sugars it contains. Fresh honey is a supersaturated liquid, containing more sugar than the water can typically dissolve at ambient temperatures. At room temperature, honey is a supercooled liquid, in which the glucose will precipitate into solid granules. This forms a semisolid solution of precipitated sugars in a solution of sugars and other ingredients.

"The melting point of crystallized honey is between 40 and 50 °C (104 and 122 °F), depending on its composition. Below this temperature, honey can be either in a metastable state, meaning that it will not crystallize until a seed crystal is added, or, more often, it is in a "labile" state, being saturated with enough sugars to crystallize spontaneously.  The rate of crystallization is affected by the ratio of the main sugars, fructose to glucose, as well as the dextrin content. Temperature also affects the rate of crystallization, which is fastest between 13 and 17 °C (55 and 63 °F). Below 5 °C, the honey will not crystallize and, thus, the original texture and flavor can be preserved indefinitely.

"Since honey normally exists below its melting point, it is a supercooled liquid. At very low temperatures, honey will not freeze solid. Instead, as the temperatures become colder, the viscosity of honey increases. Like most viscous liquids, the honey will become thick and sluggish with decreasing temperature. While appearing or even feeling solid, it will continue to flow at very slow rates. Honey has a glass transition between -42 and -51 °C (-44 and -60 °F). Below this temperature, honey enters a glassy state and will become a noncrystalline amorphous solid.

"A few types of honey have unusual viscous properties. Honey from heather or manuka display thixotropic properties. These types of honey enter a gel-like state when motionless, but then liquify when stirred.

"Regardless of preservation, honey may crystallize over time. Crystallization does not affect the flavor, quality or nutritional content of the honey, though it does affect color and texture. The rate is a function of storage temperature, availability of "seed" crystals and the specific mix of sugars and trace compounds in the honey. Tupelo and acacia honeys, for example, are exceptionally slow to crystallize, while goldenrod will often crystallize still in the comb. Most honeys crystallize fastest between about 50 and 70 °F (10 and 21 °C). The crystals can be redissolved by heating the honey."

The problem with these crystals is that they aren't very pleasant on the tongue.  But enter Creamed Honey/Whipped Honey and it's another product the beekeeper can sell.

In my next post we'll explore how to Make Creamed Honey.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's Still About Bees

I've taken a little blogging break while I work outside in the yard.  I've been raking leaves, draining and storing the garden hoses, emptying the eaves troughs of leaves and putting all my garden paraphernalia away.

[photo - yellow butterfly bush in my back yard]

I feel a rush of adrenaline as I hurry to catch up and get these outdoor tasks done.  Soon it will snow.

And before I know it it'll be spring again and I'll be so busy with the bees my backyard will again become neglected as the focus shifts back to the bees.

But did it ever actually shift away from them?  I don't think so.

They are tucked away with their warm wraps on.  I visit them still once a week.  I even made some sugar water for them since the next couple days are predicted to be 10+ degrees C so the bees will be flying.  I have two hive top feeders set up on a robbing table close by that they can go to.

At home I've surveyed my yard and gardens.  As I plan my chores and make my To Do lists and check them off it's always with a mind to get it done now in the fall or winter when it's quieter and I have time.  Because once spring comes there's no time any more.

I rake a little faster and trim the trees a little more than usual. Oh yes, I remember how busy spring can be.  Now I know where my busy adrenaline rush is coming from.  I'm still thinking about the bees.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Beekeeper's Day Off: Road Trip to Alvinston, Ontario

Yes, a beekeeper's day off!

It was time for a road trip.  Now this trip just so happened to head south down to Alvinston.  Our bee club was booked to have a tour of a large beekeeping plant at Munro Honey, a family based business.

Here's photos and descriptions from our tour.  If you're a small time beekeeper this can certainly get your saliva running.  Just think of it as something to aspire to :)

Let's start with the Mead, honey wine.  Munro honey makes award winning wines that they ship all over the world.  They said they can't ship to the USA but they can ship overseas.

They make flavoured honeys and I couldn't resist a jar of Raspberry and Jalapeno pepper honey.  It was an amazing taste experience.

Of course we did wine sampling and I bought my favourites (I prefer sweet wines to dry) Blackcurrant, Sweet Wine, Raspberry Melomel and an incredible Aged Mead that tastes like a liquor.  Amazing.

What is not pictured is the loading dock where the trucks can back right in, nor the large hot room where the deeps are put prior to extraction.  The hot room warms the honey up so it flows out of the combs better.

This is the stainless steel custom built uncapper and extractor.

The deep is first set on the flat bit of metal.  Then a foot operated hydraulic lift raises the deep up and lifts the frames so that they're hooked on a carrier.  (You should have heard the groans of envy when he demonstrated the lift).

There's knives that cut the caps off the frames and then they travel to the extractor.

This giant extractor, with the curved lid up while it's open, can hold 120 frames of honey.  It spins the honey at 200 revolutions per minute--that's fast.

They run it for twenty minutes.

They only use frames with plastic foundation.  If the frames were wax foundation they'd fall apart in the spinning process.

Here's a another photo of the equipment at the starting point but taken from the other side.

They said they take the equipment apart in winter and put it all back together.  They clean it and replace worn parts.  They can't afford any down time in the honey season due to broken equipment.

The upright rectangular box attached to the left holds hot water where the knives are stored.
This is the cold room.  It's a giant refrigerator.

As you can see it's stacked from top to bottom with silver painted honey supers.

The cold temperature halts the spread of wax moths and keeps them from being a problem.

The room can't be set to freeze though which is what the owners wish they had now.

With small hive beetles on Canada's doorstep, a huge frozen room would be perfect to store frames and to kill beetles.
This is a honey meter which weighs the honey as it's poured into a jar.

This way each jar is filled identically.

It was interesting to note that with a plant this large they still fill their jars one at a time.  But one does have to have something left for the Christmas wish list :)

Munro Honey runs about 3,000 hives.  In addition to honey they sell comb honey, wax, mite resistant Buckfast queens and nucs as well as beekeeping supplies.

This guy, Dad, is our Marketing Manager, but in this photo he's shopping in Munro Honey's gift store.

He couldn't resist a jar of cinnamon and butter honey.

I couldn't resist a painted wall hanging that said:

"Buzzed on Local Honey"

Their gift shop is well stocked with tasteful items, most of them bee related.

These are large vats that hold the honey wine, called Mead.

Now for a short history, mead is considered to be the oldest alcoholic beverage.

To quote Wikepedia:  "Mead is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, although archaeological evidence of it is ambiguous  Its origins are lost in prehistory. "It can be regarded as the ancestor of all fermented drinks," Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat has observed, "antedating the cultivation of the soil."

This is a super large melting tank.

The wax is poured out into the plastic bucket which makes nice large bricks.

The bricks can then be nicely stacked on a flat.

Or used as a table to set your lunch on.

See more below...

This equipment is used when making special honeys such as the flavoured honeys I mentioned previously.

When the honey is extracted it's piped across the ceiling and run through this machine.

The honey and any bits of wax are spun at a high speed.

The honey is heavier than the wax and floats to the outside.

The wax stays in the center and knives inside the machine cut it to keep the wax at the same size.

The cuttings of wax fall down to the floor where they are collected.

Then the clean honey is piped to the next room.

This is a large heated tank where the honey is stored. 

The honey can sit to bubble out for a few days.

Then it goes into this large heated tank and from there it can be piped to any number of machines or bottlers by turning a valve.


Next we looked at a heated tank that holds a few gallons of honey ...

well maybe more than a few gallons.

This is a micron filter.

Our tour guide told us that it filters out any debris but it doesn't remove pollen.

Which is great because you don't want pollen removed from honey.
This is a label machine.

We didn't see it in action but I can guess it does a pretty nice job.

The day would not be complete without seeing the huge refrigerated tank used to make creamed honey.

I must say their creamed honey was very smooth.

Thanks to Munro Honey, run by the Bryans family for taking time out to give us a tour.  They're great to deal with over the phone and even nicer in person.

So, are you surprised I spent my day off at a honey plant?

Honestly, it really was a beekeeper's day off.

I didn't see a single bee the whole day.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Black Wraps are Warm

It feels weird thinking that the bee season is done.  After being so incredibly busy balancing job and house (I don't think I did any housework all summer) and our growing hives now I'll have time to do something other than bees.

Well, you know me, whatever I do it'll have something to do with bees!

A few days ago I fitted the hives with entrance reducers (once the Formic Acid treatments were done).  Yesterday and today I put wraps on the hives and removed my hive top feeders.

Our temperatures are dropping at night to -2 degrees so it's certainly time to do it.

For the first time I found bees were landing on me--seeking heat.  I'd not experienced that before.  As always I warmed cold bees up with my hands until they could fly again.

One hive feeder was full of bees.  It was really late afternoon and it was cold.  I shook the bees out of the feeder and all they did was land on the porch in a stupor.  It would be dark soon and I knew they'd die.

So I took them home.  I put them in a pail with a lid.  I gave them some honey and left the pail on the kitchen counter.  It wasn't long until I could hear them moving around--the warmth of the house brought them back to life.

In the morning they were all clustered on the paper towel in the bottom of the pail.  I returned them to the yard.

[Photo - warming up some cold bees]

It was funny watching them go in their hive.  Bees came outside to see them and it was like they had a big party.  I'm sure those returned bees had a story to tell about their big adventure.

The sun came out today and it was warmer which helped as I finished wrapping.  I noticed how much heat those black plastic wraps can generate for a hive.

The plastic gets really warm and it's pleasant to touch on a cold day.  I'm sure the bees are feeling much warmer now.  Like bugs snug in a rug.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Little Snack

A calmer moment.  Actually it was a beekeeper's day off.  I spent the day at a friend's alpaca farm in Thorndale, Ontario.

After my visit I planned to head to the bee yard.

When I went to my truck I saw that some honey bees found my sugar water jugs.  I've been using orange juice jugs lately.

My friend said a neighbour down the road has kept bees for years and years.

I noticed his bees were pretty friendly and I fed a couple with sugar water droplets.  [Photo - see the tongue at full extension while she slurps up a sugar droplet].

I enjoy these quiet moments, the beekeeper and the bee.  I hope you do too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In the Zone

My big dream is to educate people, especially children.

So when I get any chance to talk to families about honey bees I pretty much feel like I'm in the zone.  That's when at the end of the day I may be physically tired but mentally I feel energized.

Fall of the Farm at Pioneer Village over the long weekend was just that kind of an opportunity.

Every time I see a child less afraid of bees or parents with a deeper understanding of them I feel I've done my job.

Then there's the Marketing Manager (Dad).

He had another occupation which he retired from years ago as a teacher/principal but what I've always known is that he has the heart of a salesman--and the gift of gab.  That's why he loves being in charge of our honey sales.  He can network and chat with lots of people.

So all weekend he was in his niche telling people about bees and doing the honey talk.  He proudly told people how he does the extraction and bottling of the honey.

Here he is so busy tabulating his sales that he didn't realize I'd been talking to him.  He didn't know I took this picture either.
The weather was phenomenal.  We had 3 days of 25 degree Celsius weather.  Blue cloudless skies greeted us each day.

The leaves on our trees are turning into reds, oranges and yellows and are breathtaking.  This photo is Fanshawe Lake.

As the season of beekeeping winds down I look forward to some down time.  But I know I'll miss seeing the bees so much, especially when the snow comes.

I do have a list of winter projects though.  I'll tell you about those another time.

Oh and our honey sales?  They were great.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Celebrate Fall on the Farm

The weather is much too perfect this weekend to stay indoors.

If you're in or around London, Ontario this (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend, 8 to 10 Oct, why not come out to Pioneer Village.

They're holding a Fall on the Farm weekend with hay rides and pioneering demonstrations such as weaving, ploughing and of course Beekeeping!

The Marketing Manager (Dad) was at full throttle today with 'his' display of honey.

He did let me have a couple tables for showing off bee equipment.

Of course I love talking to people about bees and answering questions.  We even brought bee gear for the kids to dress up in.

I don't have an observation hive this time out but I did photograph my bees, print it in colour and taped it into a super frame.

When held up for photographs it looks like a frame of real bees.  This is popular with moms and dads who usually have a camera with them.

And of course we're selling our honey.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What is that Smell???

I am guilty of wearing my footwear without socks.  It makes my shoes and my feet smell.  I'm also guilty of grabbing the first pair of socks I can find and often they're on the floor--yesterday's socks.

So wearing the same socks on day two I guess you can imagine how embarrassed I was when I went to a meeting at a friend's house where we were expected to remove our shoes.  Yikes!  I do have painful feet and don't go without footwear so I convinced her to let me keep them on.  It wouldn't be good to have people passing out all over the place.

By now you're wondering what my stinky feet have to do with bees.  Well, a lot actually.  Let me explain.

This summer was quite hot with many very humid days (London, Ontario is in the Great Lakes area which bring moist air).  Many days were 40 degrees Celcius and our city even set up cooling shelters for citizens.

The bees of course were busy ventilating and keeping cool.  As mid August came I noticed a smell in the bee yard.  As the month progressed and the warm weather continued the smell grew stronger and stronger.

And it smelled just like my feet after wearing socks for two days.

I was removing honey supers and I remember thinking, these hives need to have their lids removed to air them out, just like my feet.

Yes I did wonder what the smell was.  I knew it was a bacteria smell.  Was it because the hives needed airing?  My hives have keyhole entrances at the top and the bottom entrances were fully open.  Was it something really bad like a disease?  Was this AFB (American Foulbrood)?  I had read that it had a bad smell too.

I realized I needed to ask an experienced beekeeper what AFB smelled like.

Recently while meeting with some fellow beekeepers I was busy talking but two words got my attention and my ears perked right up:  Stinky Socks.

Uh oh.  Could he smell my feet?  I asked him to repeat what he'd said.  "The bee yard smells like stinky socks this time of year," he said.  "It's the Goldenrod."

I had the AHA moment then and my mind flashed back to the Introductory Beekeepers' Course.  I had heard this before but had forgotten.  The instructors mentioned how the fall goldenrod honey tasted fabulous but you had to suffer the smell of it.

I was relieved.  I don't know what made me more happy, knowing they weren't commenting on my feet or that my yard didn't have AFB.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Carlo the Beekeeper

I met Carlo De Marco two years ago when he began attending our local bee club meetings. He had an uncle in Italy that was a beekeeper. He was feeling a strong pull that many do when they reach their middle age--an urge to connect with their roots and their heritage.

My beekeeper friend Janice and I did a road trip With Carlo earlier this summer to our favourite beekeeping supply store. We helped him load up with all the first time beekeeping equipment. Hive parts, bottom boards, veils, helmets, etc. He bought one hive to start and planned to put it on his property.

John, the owner at Oxford Honey & Supply was there to answer a gazillion questions (he does it so patiently). Then we were invited to go outside and watch while he worked on checking his nuc boxes. There were about 30 small boxes lined up outside. John pulled frames and we observed queens and looked over brood.

The next thing I new I got stung right on my upper arm. I complained about how I got stung when all I did was stand there innocently. Then Carlo commented that he'd been stung too, right between the eyes.
I was shocked. I asked him if he was okay and he said he was. He sure looked fine - no swelling and no redness at all. Now if there's any sign that you're suited to being a beekeeper I'd say that was it. Even later when I talked to him he said he never got swelling at all.  Janice and I were jealous. We'd been getting stung and swelling up with itchy red patches.

On the drive home we talked about bees. We also chatted about our interest in the skills and trades of bygone days such as cheese making, sausage making, etc. Carlo told us about his family and relatives in Italy and the uncle that kept bees.

It was his uncle's influence that had captured Carlo's imagination and put him on the path to becoming a beekeeper.

And now sadly I must report that on 21 August 2011, Carlo, at age 51, died suddenly from a heart attack. I send my dearest condolences to his family. He will be greatly missed.  Carlo was close with his family and spoke of them with love and admiration.

I am glad I had an opportunity to meet him. There are few people willing to talk about bees for hours but Carlo well understood how beekeepers become obsessed about bees.

Carlo's back yard will hear the buzz of bees. His oldest son has decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a beekeeper. It would appear the apple does not fall too far from the tree. And we all know who pollinates those blossoms.

Carlo would like that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Marketing Monster is at it Again

On Thanksgiving weekend, I booked myself to attend our local Pioneer Village's "Fall on the Farm" event.

The focus is on historic agriculture and of course bees are a perfect fit.  This year I don't have an observation hive but next year I will probably take a frame or two of bees to show the public.

The organizer has told me I'll have a table at the general store and if it rains I can go inside.

Then she said we could sell our honey and gave me the contact person to discuss the details.

So, I gave the info to the Marketing Manager, Dad, since that's his area. [Photo of Dad lifting a 75 lb pail of honey, but I did help].

[See the jars on the counter?  We're saving all our jars.  We put the honey for our use in them].

A few days later Dad called me.  Yes we could sell our honey and he'd have to be there very early in the morning, not mid morning like I had arranged.

I said he didn't have to go.  I could sell the honey.  Not so, he said, because he's the Marketing Manager and it's his job.

I said I'd be taking beekeeping equipment to put on the table.  Oh no, I can't do that.  He needs the table for the honey.  I said we're to share the table.  He said he'd bring his own table and if it rained he could go inside the general store.

I think that means I get to stay outside and get wet.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Robbing Station

I got lucky.

In the bee yard was a bit of a junk pile and this large spool, probably from some heavy wire for construction, was sitting there.

Perfect for a robbing station.

It's sturdy enough that animals like raccoons can't knock it over and better yet, they can't climb it like they can with most tables.

I set out my wet supers and usually cover them with an inner cover and then over that I put a plastic tablecloth and then a brick to hold it down.

Today was a lovely day with temperatures around 24 degrees Celcius.  It was hot!  The bees were busy flying.
We're supposed to have rain over the next few days so the plastic cover should keep things dry.

I also set out some honey frames from Hive #2 which was combined with another hive.

I've observed hornets and yellow jackets as they rob the frames but nobody can clean up frames better than honey bees.

I'll have to check with some construction companies to see if I can find more of these giant spools.

Here's a video of the activity:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tips When Buying a Smoker

I got an FW Jones smoker when I started beekeeping.  It was a nice size and came with the protective cage around it, pictured at left.

My only complaint was that the lid didn't fit down completely tight and it would puff a little smoke from the side of the lid.

See the photo - how the cage goes all the way up.  It also has a hook on front for hanging it.

Later on I got a second smoker, one to leave in the bee yard for those occasions when I showed up there without my regular smoker.  That one is a Dadant smoker.  It's sleeker and also has the protective cage as well.

We've used both smokers and both are great.  It turns out that the FW Jones one that didn't seal completely is actually easier to use.  The Dadant smoker lid comes down with a tight seal - to the point that the creaosote from the fires would seal it shut.

Photo - the Dadant smoker is lighter - the top is taller than the bellows which is good.  The cage doesn't go all the way up and that hasn't been a problem.

I did manage to pry open the Dadant smoker so I don't have any complaints about it.  With the slightly wonky lid on the FW Jones smoker, it never sticks shut from the creaosote.  So I pefer using it as my regular smoker.

A friend has a smoker - a short squat one.  Actually it wasn't what she really wanted but it was the only one available at the supplier at that time so she got it.  This one is well made but the problem is that the top of the smoker is level with the top of the bellows.  So when the lid is open when you're lighting the fire the flames come up and burn your hands while you're trying to puff the bellows.  So you must close it if puffing the bellows.  Neither of us recommend getting that kind of smoker.

Both my smokers are taller than the top of the bellows so you can leave the lid open and puff the bellows and keep your fingers safe from the flames.

Just something to consider if you're shopping for smokers.  Stings are bad enough, so you don't need burned fingers too.

Have you made a smoker kit?  If not here's a post about creating a smoker kit

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Ants and the Bees

We've had some interesting weather in Ontario this year.  Some of it has been pretty scary.  A tornado in Goderich, Ontario, destroyed many beautiful heritage buildings and homes.  Red Cross called me and I volunteered in their reception centre for a couple days.

Back home in London we had tornado warnings, lots of heavy rain and high winds.  It was concerning.

This bad weather gets me thinking how my hives are faring.
After a night of particularly heavy rains I went to the yard and after lifting off the outer cover of the hive I saw many black ants on the inner cover.  They had their eggs there too.  I realized that during the night with the heavy rains they probably had to relocate to prevent drowning.

But what really caught my eye was while I worked on the hive, the ants all stood on the sides of the hive.  Many of them holding eggs in their mouths - as pictured.

I did my thing with the hives and closed up.  A few days later I was back again and opened the inner cover.  Again the ants were there with their eggs.

That's when I clued in.  The ants were holding the eggs and not running away with them because they planned to return.  And they did.

No harm no foul.  I don't believe they'll cause a problem since they're between the inner and outer cover.  What's interesting is that they seem to be smart enough to know that my interruption to their new home would be temporary.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Soft Touch with the Bee Brush

My first year in beekeeping I was trying to do a fast flick with the bee brush to remove the bees but then I noticed several bees with their feet brushed off.  I was brushing from down to up as recommended but I was doing it too hard.

[Photo - Dad taking a turn at brushing bees].

Trust me, seeing bees with no toes is a sad sight.

The next year I brushed much slower and lighter.  The frames in mid summer were heavily covered in bees and they fell off in clumps.  On occasion a bee would sting the brush but for the most part they were cooperative.

That worked fine last year.  But this year was a different story.

This year the yard was behaving differently.  Robbing was a real problem and the attitude of the bees when extracting on a few occasions in late July was pretty intense.

So I kept everything covered as best I could.  But my brushing was pissing them off.  Normally with a brush stroke I might get one bee stinging the brush.  But this time I would get about 10.  They were really mad.  Then they were stinging my fingers and bumping me.  They were upset.  I got stung so much I had to put gloves on for the first time.

I smoked the air which I believed helped (normally I never have to smoke them) and I rethought what I was doing.  I was brushing them lightly but quickly.

So I slowed right down with the brush and I used super light strokes.  It worked beautifully.  I mostly used the top 2" of the brush to lightly touch the bees, stroking from the bottom up.  They would fly up or drop down into the hive.  But the huge difference was their attitude.  It was like they didn't realize I was there.

From that time on I continued with this technique, as well as covering everything up.  It took longer to go slower but the end result was that I didn't need gloves, didn't get stung and I didn't need to use smoke again.

Another thing we learned this summer is that not all brushes are alike.  My friend Janice bought a yellow/orange bristled brush but we found her bees got mad too - the bristles were thick and stiff and with each stroke its like the bees were being slapped.  When she switched to my softer brush the bees calmed right down.  So check the bristles on a brush before you buy one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hives are Heavy - Save Your Back

A medium super can weigh around 50 lbs and hefting them can certainly put your back out.  I'm not so young anymore and I find my back complains more frequently with my activities.

Dad and I developed a technique to use for inspections and when taking honey that works well for us.  I found it really difficult to hold onto a 50 lb box and bend down to set it to the ground.

The lower I got the harder I found it to hang onto.  Often when the box is a few inches from the ground I felt I was losing my grip.

Our hives are on a platform which is about 10" from the ground so that helps.  When removing boxes we set them on a card table that we put next to the hive.  That way the box is removed and set down at standing height.

Another trick if you need to bend down with a heavy box is to set an empty deep on the ground and set the box on that instead. 

Sometimes if my back is aching from bending over a super that's too low down I'll put an empty super under it to bring it higher up.  Then the back ache goes away.

Why suffer if you don't have to?

Remember you only get one back in life so be sure to take care of it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cry Murder!

Everybody has to eat right?  But often one creature's dinner is a fresh kill.

When watching nature shows I'd feel sorry for the poor wildebeest or zebra being chased by the hungry lion.  Then they'd show the baby lion cubs and I'd feel for them too.  After all they were just hungry and Mom was trying to feed them.  Everybody has to eat don't they?

Nevertheless, it's still killing isn't it?

This brings me to report that I returned to the bee yard after three or four days.  My plan was to check on the small swarm that was living in a medium super.  A few days ago I shook them out of their hive only to find they had a queen.  Their equipment quickly reassembled and them back inside I fed them sugar water.

I did have the foresight to protect them.  I reduced all entrances down to a tiny keyhole.  I knew the yard was in a robbing mode--between blooms from summer into fall--and I had given them sugar water to help give them a boost.  With a tiny entrance they should be able to defend themselves easily.

Or so I thought.

In hindsight I should probably have removed the hive from the yard and brought it home.  Or maybe just let it go since they were so small.

When I removed the inner cover I couldn't see any bees at all.  I hefted the super to look from underneath but once I had raised it I saw what had happened.

They were all dead.  Their bodies were spread all over the floor of the hive.  Actually I should say their body parts.  All that was left was their heads and legs.  They had been eaten.

I'm pretty certain they fell victim to wasps or hornets--those omnivores that were over hungry at the end of summer.  It was only last week that I discovered they had a lovely little queen.  Then I had to be out of town a few days.

It was a sad homecoming.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Queenless Hive

This time I recognized the signs right off and didn't delay.  I think this means I'm finally getting a clue.

I inspected Hive 3 and found the deep to be full of honey - most of the other hive's deeps were busy with brood and some honey but not full.

Next, the supers were full of honey too, capped and uncapped.  And the real teller:  No brood of any kind.  No capped cells and not a larvae in sight.  Also, there were two more supers with drawn comb that had nothing in them.  There were lots of bees in the hive.  I pulled most of the frames in the deep and did not see a queen.

It was enough for me to conclude the hive was queenless.  The bees were in good spirits and the lack of brood was actually a relief - better than seeing only drone cells like with hive #2.  A drone layer can really complicate requeening.

I got on the phone to Ferguson's Apiaries and ordered a queen.  Bill Ferguson works with our bee association to create hygienic Buckfast bees.  He ships all over North America.

It's was his queen which got my Hive #1 going well and it's my most productive hive.

She arrived by mail.  In the UK they call their mail system Royal Mail.  That's very fitting.  In our case the queen came via Canada Post in a little crate with ventilated sides.  It was marked Live Animals and I had to go to our local post office to pick her up.

I enjoy that part because the couriers always find our bee shipments interesting. 
The postal gal informed me she could hear them buzzing.  I could feel the cool air conditioning in the building and I wondered if the bees were cold.

Once outside the buzzing stopped.  The truck was nice and warm so I kept the windows up and sweated it out for them.  Next I wetted a piece of paper towel with water and set it on a portion of the screening covering the cage.

Yes they were thirsty.  The workers wasted no time and stuck out their tongues to lap up the water.  Next they busied themselves with the sugar candy.  Water probably made it easier to eat.

Next it was off to the bee yard.  It was threatening rain and I could see a huge five mile black cloud headed towards the bee yard.  I raced, trying to get ahead of it.  I knew setting the queen in would only take a moment.

I got there in time, but it was starting to sputter rain.  I already made the decision to do the rim spacer, set the cage on the bars and close up.  It'd be the fastest solution and also there's often quite a few bees at the top of the hive and they'd find her quickly so she wouldn't get cold.

I took the cork plug off the candy end, being sure to leave the cork still in place on the other end and set the cage down.  I carefully put a small hole in the candy to help give the bees a start (the candy was soft so careful when pressing a sharp tool into it.  You don't want to stab the queen.)

I set the lid down and waited a minute then peeked again.  A few bees noticed her but they weren't doing too much.  Should I worry?  I decided not to.  It would take a few minutes for her scent to permeate the hive.  So I closed up and left them alone.
Six days later I returned for a check.  My plan was not to pull frames, only to lift the inner cover to check if the cage was empty.  It wasn't.

The bees had been busy with the candy.  The cage was covered in a huge cluster of bees.  They were all very calm and looked most eager to get her out of there.  No bees were setting their butts to the cage as if to sting.

[Photo - the queen, marked in white, as she exits the queen cage.  Note the small green rim spacer on top to create a space for the cage to sit].

The cage was totally covered in bees and it was difficult to pick up.  After picking up and setting down a few times there were less bees.

I wanted to release the qeen.  I removed the cork from the non candy end.  Then I waited.  First a nurse bee came out.  The bees were very eager and greeted her with a great deal of enthusiasm.  After a few moments the queen walked out, patiently, taking her time.  The bees ran after her as she walked across the frame and down into the hive.

I cut the screening to release the other workers and they scurried after their queen.

The signs looked good.  I'll give them a bit more time to acquaint and settle in before I inspect again, looking for signs of larvae.

I noted that looking down on the cage it looked like the candy hadn't been touched, but afterwards I could look through the end and saw the bees had indeed been most busy and they had chewed out a tunnel in the candy.  In another day the queen would have been freed.