Thirsty Bees

Bees, like other creatures, need water. According to Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine, they use it to dissolve crystallized honey, to dilute honey for food for larvae, and evaporate it to cool the hive. They also enjoy a cool drink on a hot day. (For more on the subject, see “Why Honey Bees Need Water” from the “Bug Squad” blog.)

In our beekeeping class, the teachers stressed the importance of a water source when deciding where to place a hive. Since we have a stream that runs sporadically on our property and maintain a birdbath full of fresh water for the birds even in the winter, I figured we had the water source covered.

But for the first month or so, we didn’t see any bees on the birdbath, and I assumed they’d found water elsewhere.

Well, guess what! They’ve discovered the birdbath!
I was so excited I went out to take a picture.IMG_2321
Then I crept closer and took another.IMG_2322
Closer for another.IMG_2323
And another.IMG_2324
I’ve been taking pictures of thirsty bees ever since. But I promise, this is the last I’ll share.IMG_2330
Then we did our hive check on Sunday, and once more, I freaked out over something that turned out to be nothing.

You see, as soon as we opened the hive, there was a nasty little beetle staring right at me. I tried several times to smash it with my hive tool and missed. The darn thing ran right back into the hive.

Sigh.

Beetles, if you don’t know it, lay eggs that turn into larvae capable of turning a hive into a slimefest faster than you can imagine.

So, of course, I immediately imagined anything that glistened was slime. I was so creeped out I sent this picture to the Bee Guru. She said it was just nectar and pollen.
Whew! IMG_2340I’m not completely stupid. The frame above looks vastly different from the one below from a few weeks ago. Don’t you think?
IMG_2245
We’re quickly discovering that beekeeping is an education in how little we know.

Everything But the Bees

On Friday, we drove to Blue Sky Bee Supply to buy The Engineer a bee jacket and veil.

Then, on Sunday, we took down a dead tree, a preventive measure to prevent it falling on our hive during some future storm.

I also did battle with a wild rose that was taking over that area of our property.  The rose won — I have scratches to prove it — though I retaliated by hacking it to the ground.

The wild rose (also know as multi-flora rose, rambler rose, or Japanese rose) has a self-preservation instinct strong enough that the Ohio Weedguide calls it a “noxious weed.” The plant earns this distinction partly due to its prolific seed production (up to 500,000 per bush per year) and partly because one bush can cover a patch more than thirty-three feet in diameter.

Also, did I mention the thorns? Wickedly sharp and plentiful, they seize any piece of clothing or skin that happens to brush against a cane, and refuse to let go.

And yet, the scent of this plant is beguiling, sweeter than any hybrid on earth, so I can’t bring myself to kill it, even if I could manage that near-impossible feat.

rose

Photo from Ohio Weedguide

I predict our bees will be sipping its nectar within the year.

With tree and rose bush down (or at least in temporarily restrained), we were able to place the paving stones for our hive stand, mulch the area, and (finally!) place our stand outside.

Here it is. FullSizeRender-13

All we need is the bees, which brings me to the point of this post. (You did know there’d be a point eventually, right?)

When people learn we are going to keep bees, they inevitably ask one question: “Where do you get them?”

I can’t answer without mention a fact I found astounding: Honey bees are not native to the U.S., although there are many native bees, which also pollinate. If you’re not squeamish about insects, check out this Popular Science article. It includes lots photos and a link to the U.S. Geological Survey’s great database for even more bee photos.

So, all honey bees came from somewhere else. Later, I’ll write a post about the different kinds, but for now, let’s talk about where you can get them.

Probably the most common way of populating a hive is to buy a package of bees. A package is basically a box of three pounds of bees (about 10,000 insects) and an unrelated, unmated queen. This can be shipped or picked up depending on where you purchase. For example, Draper Super Bee Apiary uses either UPS or Priority Mail. (This is not an endorsement. I just found them online and know nothing about them.)

In our area, many people purchase their package from Queen Right Colonies, a local bee supply store. Queen Right orders their packages from California, bringing in two semis full of bees each spring.

Since a package queen is unrelated to the bees she’s shipped with, a beekeeper must make sure she’s accepted before introducing her to her hive. Otherwise, the other bees will kill her. Since she’s unmated, there is a lag time involved for her to mate and produce eggs, as well as the amount of time it takes to raise the eggs into worker bees. (Drones generally come only after the hive has enough bees to get the work done.)

queen

Here’s a queen from a package, safe in her little cage until she’s accepted. Photo from Donce.Lofthouse.com‘s photo essayy on hiving packaged bees.

This lag time can be useful for new beekeepers, allowing them time to get comfortable with their hive before they have new bees. But if the new queen doesn’t take, she’ll have to be replaced, starting the introduction process all over.

A second option is a nucleus hive or nuc. This is like a starter hive, usually including three or five frames with a mated queen and brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae). Having a proven queen and brood can provide a head start on developing a strong hive. On the downside, nucs cost a bit more, and you have to trust the person you’re buying from since nucleus hives tend to come from individuals or smaller beekeeping businesses. If you buy from the wrong person, you could end up buying someone else’s problems (pests, diseases).

nuc-270x250

Cardboard nuc box. Photo from Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association

A third way to acquire bees is to buy someone’s hive(s). Rarely available and ditto on the idea of buying someone else’s problems.

Lastly, some people get bees by swarming. This can be done using a swarm trap, hoping to attract swarming bees, or by placing your name on a swarm list for people to call when bees swarm on their property. While I’m not sure we’ll ever be ready to acquire bees this way, it looks interesting. That many bees can seem a bit scary, but I read somewhere swarming bees are at their most gentle because they have no hive to defend. Sometimes, they’ll just walk right into the box.  Click through to see it happen.

Did we make the right choice? Only time — and our bees — will tell.

Links
Queen Right Colonies’ summary of pros and cons of the four methods of getting bees.

Map showing where wild bees are disappearing via Bee Culture magazine’s “Catch the Buzz” newsletter.

Another swarm marching into a hive via YouTube.

 

 

Little Insects, Big Investment

There’s no two ways about it — getting into beekeeping is a costly endeavor. To make it worse, it’s generally advised that you buy new equipment. The reason is simple, and you probably know it already unless you live under a rock, in which case you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Raising bees these days means launching yourself into an ongoing battle against diseases and pests. Buying used equipment can mean buying another’s problems, definitely not the way to start.

Since I’m the queen of thrift shops and garage sales, and The Engineer is strongly (and intelligently, I might say) anti-waste, starting a new activity with completely new equipment is a rare exception to our usual mode of operation. A sense of foreboding warns me beekeeping may prove to be an exception in a lot of other ways too.

To begin with, it’s best to take a class. Ours was held at the local library on two Saturdays and cost $85 per person or $100 per family. We spent fourteen hours learning about the fascinating world of the honey bee.  If you ever take up beekeeping, I highly recommend you do the same. The $100 included a book, The Backyard Beekeeper, by Kim Flottum, which has rapidly become our bible.

I must add the world of the honey bee is also a frightening one. And that has nothing to do with their sting. It’s those pests and diseases I mentioned, especially the Varroa Mite.

A Varroa Mite is a scary thing. Their scientific name, Varroa Destructor, is well-earned. These nasty creatures latch on to bee larvae and pretty much devour them alive. But that’s not the scariest part. They also latch on to the adult bees, thereby making the bees vulnerable to a laundry list of other diseases and pests. (I won’t share that list. Just thinking about it is a little worrying.)

Varroa_Mite

Varroa Destructor  See what I mean? Scary! Photo credit: Wikipedia

Still, forewarned is forearmed and all that. <crosses fingers>

We also learned what we’d need to start a hive. Having already visited a beekeeping store, we weren’t too shocked, but the list of required tools and equipment can be daunting.

Here’s what Flottum recommends:
Screened bottom board
At least 3 assembled medium-depth brood chambers (sometimes called supers) with assembled frames and foundation (30)
At least two additional medium supers for honey
Entrance reducers for the hive’s front door
Inner cover, outer cover

We chose to use “deeps” for the brood chambers, which meant we only needed two. Getting them plus honey supers, entrance reducer, inner and outer covers, bottom board, and all the frames and foundations in a kit for $275.00 (unpainted, but assembled). 

 

Parts-std-hive2

Photo from articles.extension.org

Queen excluder (optional) $10.95
Mouse guard $2.95
Bee suit with veil (Some people say the suit is optional, and many recommend gloves, but everything I read said you need the hat and veil at the very least. Also, many people wear a jacket instead of a full suit.) My jacket with veil, and my gloves came to around $150.00. It’s very chic.
Hive tools, at least two $6.00- $15.95 each
Smoker and fuel $34.95-$42.95 — we went for the medium priced one at $38.95
Hive stands to hold heavy hives (should support at least 500 lbs) The Engineer made ours out of lumber we purchased using a Lowes gift card he got for being such an exceptional engineer. His preliminary design, the design he used, which he ammended from one I found online, and the final product are pictured below. It’s pretty sturdy, will be set on four patio paving stones, with mulch around the area. 


Hive-top sugar-syrup feeder pail, jar, or hive-top feeder, can use mason jars. I’m a canner, so we have plenty.
Books, magazines, catalogs, and other information Along with Flottum’s book, we got lots of catalogues at our beekeeping class. Subscription to beekeeping magazine was about $20.00, and I also bought a few additional books costing a total of about $40.00.

Honey bees and a queen Cost depends on what kind you get, and where you get them. I will do a separate post on this later. 

To our list, we added baby powder (for gloves, figure a couple of dollars) 2 mist bottles (one for sugar water and one for alcohol to make clean-up easier, Lowes gift card), paint for the hive (also Lowes — it was less than $5.00), duct tape (always useful and always on hand — what design do you think the bees would like?), a frame perch to hold empty frames while inspecting the bees (The Engineer is making), blocks for on top of hive (on hand), notebook (plenty left over from Darling Daughter’s school years), pail to hold tools, a piece of board to scrape waste on, a bee brush ($6.00), and a cell cap scratcher ($8.00). We will purchase or make velcro scraps to discourage bees from exploring up our trouser legs (not sure of cost), pollen or pollen substitute ($6.95 – $82.00 depending on how much you need) and an eating stimulant ($30.00- $150.00, depending on how much you need). These were all recommended in one book or another and made sense to us.

I should note here that you can save money by making, assembling, or even just painting your own hives and stands. There’s also another type of hive that’s more easily constructed, and thus more economical, called a “top bar hive.” Click through for more information.

And when we get to the point where we can harvest honey, there are more supplies to purchase.

You can total it up if you like.
I’d rather not.