I often get questions from folks about what they can do to help feed the bees, outside of a bucket of sugar water of course. People genuinely want to offer passive help to bees (and other pollinators) it seems, so long as it’s easy to do. I’ll share some of the things I’ve come up with, and some cautions I’ve identified.

The simplest thing of course that one can do is just encourage wild flora for the bees to work on, and select native species that offer more nectar and pollen. Some plants are far more prolific than others in terms of nectar and pollen output. And don’t let a beautiful flower, or heavily flowering plant fool you. It may be a food desert in the eyes of pollinators. One quick example in the south is the Crepe Myrtle trees. Man they put on a show, and smell amazing, but if you watch, they won’t exactly be loaded with bees. Conversely, Red Maple and Elm “bloom” in very early spring. You won’t notice, unless you’re looking for it. Or if you happen to stand under a red maple that is buzzing.

It’s great to know what plants to look for. If given the option between two similarly showy varieties, I want to know which one is a better feed source for the bees. Doing a google search will get you all sorts of mixed results on which plants, both native and domesticated (ag crops like alfalfa and clover), are the “best” for any one situation.

A book I recently purchased that I recommend: “100 Plants to Feed the Bees.” You can click the image to get it off Amazon. The book contains a wealth of plant species (well, at least 100) that are beneficial to multiple pollinators, not just bees. I particularly like that it has a zone map for each plant type, so you can quickly identify if it’s a good species for your area. Some of the more prolific plants have an estimate of honey yields one could expect, though I find the #/acre value to be inconsistent, as it doesn’t specify how many hives foraged on that acre. I digress.

I for one just like to put in large patches of bee feed flowers wherever I can. Now I must caution you all, look closely at what you are buying! I have found quite often, that the large bag of seed for sale in most retail places, is actually very little seed. You’ll grab it up as a big bag with pretty colors and lettering and feel like it’s a good deal. Check the back label for guaranteed analysis. Quite often it will be as much as 98% inert matter. That’s right! A 2lb bag of “seed” for example, that might only be 2% actual seed. And then that might only have an 80% germination rate. I prefer to buy pure seed. At times it may seem more expensive, but you’re also getting the real deal.

One good example of readily available (and cheap!!) seed, is alfalfa. Now you have to be careful to get a more natural species. Most modern varieties of alfalfa have been “improved” for more leaf and less flower, to make them good forage crops for herbivores. But we want flower for the bees! All alfalfa will still flower, but if you can find a more flower heavy variety, that should help. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what that is, but you can just click on the picture to get going!

Another basic good one is clover of course. In most cases, clover is a self seeding perennial. Often times in ag use it will be referred to as annual, but it’s because it’s treated as an annual, being cut for hay before it has an opportunity to go to seed. There are several varieties of clover, some more hardy than others. And some more prolific than others. I prefer to stick with something hardy. White ball clover, red clovers, and crimson clover (in the south). There are improved varieties of yellow clover that are known of high nectar yields, but I can’t speak for their resilience in all areas. Crimson clover is what I see all over in the ditches down here around my place in the spring. I think it’s actually one of the lower yielding varieties, in terms of nectar, but it is resilient!

Another great native is vetch. I really like the deep purple flowers mixed in with the rich green foliage. It can be a little messy to walk through. It is another legume, like clover and alfalfa, so it’s excellent for bees and soil building! I don’t know much else about it honestly, but I know it’s prolific once established.

Don’t get hung up on just flowering smaller plants. Trees can be huge producers! In the gulf coast where I’m at, one of the biggest producers is the Chinese Tallow. Now I can’t condone cultivating this tree, as it’s branded as a an invasive species. It will readily take over clearings, thinnings and disturbed areas. With no “commercial” value in timber, and it’s “invasive” status, it’s easy to hate. But it’s also what I depend on for my prime honey flow. My long term goal with my property is to establish more high nectar hardwoods, such as Black Locust, Black Cherry, and whatever else I can find that’s considered native, and ideally also quality wood or fruit.

I’ll leave you to decide what and how you want to plant in your area. I just wanted to share a few easy options and hints. Don’t be fooled by big showy flowers, they might not be as bee friendly as you’d think. Shop around, shop pure seed, and get to planting!

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

Oh boy….well, first, accept that it’s been nearly a year since I updated the blog. Sorry!

Ok, business. The last article was about setting up packages. After the severe neglect (shamefully intentional) in 2017, I had to double down on bees. Now I’ve proven to myself already, that I can rebuild.

So I set up 15 packages, in addition to I think 3 colonies that I had left. Within a couple weeks, one of the new packages was sold as a nuc, and another withered away (I suspect weak queen and merging with a neighbor hive). Throughout the year I did a few removals, but far less than usual, and didn’t have much luck retaining very many of them. I made a few splits here and there, and I think exited the year thinking I had 19 colonies. Not nearly the rebuild that I was hoping for, but it is what it is. I have no shame admitting that I could have done better, and built up faster. Priorities tend to shift rapidly around my place, and unfortunately, the bees (being mostly self sufficient) tend to get the raw deal. But I’m trying to make it better!!

I solicited the services of my now retired father in law to aid. Funny thing about retirement. He seems to think he only has to work when he feels like it… : ) He is pretty good about keeping them fed, but he’s not quite up on the game when it comes to routine inspections, splits, etc. We’ll get him there!

Through the winter I know I’ve dropped a few more. I’ll be generous with myself and assume I’m at 15 now. What!? That’s shameful! All it really means is I didn’t grow any from last year. But I also maintained what I have at little to no cost. I learned a long time ago not to tread on the “failures” but rather to always look for the silver lining to a situation, and celebrate it.

The most important thing to note is that I’m going into this year with 15 stable colonies ready to explode into stronger colonies. And they’re already showing it! We had a few we could have probably split two weeks ago, but I just wasn’t quite ready to do it. And I’m glad I didn’t as we’ve since had a lot of cold and rainy weather which would have really stressed them. I can readily accept that taking it slow is just fine. Thankfully I’m in that position, that I don’t rely on my bees for income.

The stretch goal for 2019 would be to get to 50 colonies. And I say that with a very reserved optimism. That would exceed my current inventory of boxes, meaning a lot more time in the wood shop. And it would mean a lot more splits or better retention on removals. I’d be quite content to get back up around 30 hives. Really, I probably have the box inventory to support 30, but I don’t have the hive rails, and doubt I have bottom and top boards for it. Remember my FIL…? Turns out he wants to learn basic woodworking. Boy do I have the perfect opportunity!

So, here’s to lessons learned, and a bright future!

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

This is exciting times! I just received my order (ok, actually a couple weeks ago) of 15 packages from Mountain Sweet Honey Co in Georgia. I've ordered from them in the past, so expected good things, and so far I've not been let down. Very gentle bees, and all arrived healthy.

Now when it comes to setting up packages, there are two main methods. The "Set and Forget" or the "Dump" method. Both methods of course require pulling the feed can, pulling the queen out, PULLING THE CANDY END CORK, and pinning her cage between two frames. 

The Dump method is certainly a bit more disruptive, but also quicker in the end probably. I'd say this is preferred by larger beekeepers setting up a lot of packages. Or, in my case, setting up in a single box where there isn't a whole lot of extra room. The dump method is what I show in the video here.

So, in the dump method, you are simply dumping the bees out of the package into the hive. This is less chaotic than one might think. I take a few frames out of the hive to make good space for them to fall to the bottom of the box, vs dumping them on top of the frames. The bees tend to roll around in a ball inside the package, so you have to go back and forth a couple times, and thump the package to knock most of them loose. However, those still in the package will find their way out and into the box in a few hours (in nice flying weather). With all the bees dumped in, set the frames gently back in, letting the bees move out from under them, then place the lid on, feed can on (if using it), and set the package on top of the hive. At this point you are done for the next few days. You can come through when packages are empty and just toss them all in the trash, if you're not keeping them for some other reason. I used to reuse them as vac boxes actually in my bee vac. 

The Set and Forget method, as I call it, requires either a larger box (8-10 frames) or a double stack of 5 frame boxes, as the package takes up the space of 5 frames. I've done it both ways with success. Ultimately, instead of dumping the bees, you are setting the entire opened package in the hive in place of a few frames, and letting the bees come out on their own, to migrate over to be around their queen. Some folks prefer this method as it is less disruptive than dumping bees. A few days later, when you do your first check, you remove the queen cage, and the empty package, and replace the frames. So it doesn't really require a second trip to the hive, unless you just want to come back a day later or so and pull the package. 

Whichever you do is up to you. Both work just fine. I think the dump method is certainly more common in larger operations where they don't want to mess around with extra boxes or space, and pulling frames in and out. But from a hobby level, I can see the Set and Forget method being a simpler, calmer approach. 

Which do you use? Share you methods/preferences in the comments! 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

Ok, what happened? For several years now I seemed to be clicking along just fine. Somehow managing all the chaos, while still being a successful sideline beekeeper. I had plateaued around 25-30 colonies of various sizes, honey production around 650 lbs, and I was happy with that. All while increasing my family from 1 kid to 4, the oldest is still only 5. Now to give credit where it is more than due, my wife did pretty much all of that. 

Now, going into 2017 (yes, we're going back in time here) we were starting to build our new home out on the farm. And we couldn't be happier! But this is a huge undertaking. Yes, we tried to hire a contract builder. Too expensive, or else they just simply didn't return a phone call. We figured if we only did the GC work ourselves we'd save at least $50K compared to builder bids. Anything more we did ourselves was just gravy. In the end, we did save that $50K or so, and of course the place still isn't complete. But we are living there, and again, couldn't be happier, despite the subtle stress of the never ending "to-do" list. 

Anyway, as part of the planning, I knew this would be a whole new level of time constraint, and dedication. I sold off the mothballed tilapia project we had, I butchered the last few chickens, and warned my boss I'd probably be more of a flake than usual when it came to ducking out of the office with short notice.

But what about the bees? Well, now was the real test. Just how independent can they be? I made the call that I was going to back-burner them as must as possible. I didn't renew any bee removal ads. I opted to teach less classes on account of likely poor weather anyway. I told myself "I'm not even going to plan to super hives, whatever happens happens." 

So what happened? At first it seemed like success! I did take a few removal jobs, but only the most critical ones to satisfy some long standing clients. I did super my hives, but as a last ditch effort. I'm talking, one random day in May I had a few hours, so I checked hives, and in doing so, went into frantic mode when I saw the white wax of our honey flow. And a month or so later, I pulled the biggest harvest I'd ever had! Over 650 lbs of honey! And with what I felt was the least input ever. In the background, the house construction was well behind schedule, but still progressing. With my record harvest, I was almost bragging, telling folks I'd done the least and got the most. It's as if I couldn't fail....until August.

Those of you in the south know of the small hive beetle (SHB). I seemed to forget about it. It seems every summer in August, we get a spell of about 2 weeks of HOT, HUMID, RAINY weather. Temps around 100 deg each day, and a popup thunderstorm almost daily, just enough to keep the sauna effect in play. And the beetle population explodes! Hives that were doing "ok" finally can't sustain the fight, and succumb to the beetle pressure. As those hives abscond, and the beetle finish them off, the population of beetles increases even faster. It's kind of like the mythical Hydra sea monster. For every head you cut off, two grow back. For every hive that succumbed to beetles, it seemed two more followed. I started losing hives 3-4 per week! And the clock had started ticking on finishing the house on time. Or at least getting it finished enough that we could close out the construction loan and finish it on cash. That's where "done enough" becomes a very real term. 

The catastrophic slide on bees did slow after August, but maybe it's because there just wasn't much left to lose. What about Hurricane Harvey? No problem. I relocated the one colony that was a flood risk, and good thing! Then I tarped them all when the C-130's rolled low dumping whatever it was they applied (ineffectively IMO) for mosquitoes. I want to say going into fall I was down to maybe 10 hives. Dropped a few more here and there. Oh, I know, when I moved the whole apiary to the farm from our suburban home, I lost several more. I think I was down to 5-6. Winter picked off a few more. 

One note on the SHB, I lose colonies to them every year, but not this bad. Usually I catch it early. The beetles win the battle in the end, trashing a hive, but usually I managed to keep the bees before they abscond, and get them set up in a new hive. 

December 26th I swallowed my pride, and dropped $2100 for 15 packages to arrive late March 2018. 

Late January 2018 I checked what I had. I figured I had 4 that I was certain would pull through to spring. 2 weeks later, the two I felt best about both succumbed to SHB, which I've NEVER had happen in late winter. I can't explain it. Late February I pulled off one successful split. Made another split, in which the split survived, but the parent colony was left too small it seems, and ended up absconding (starved out I believe). 

My packages did show up in late March 2018. All looking good. My support goes out to Mountain Sweet Honey Company for delivering quality bees, at an affordable price. Coupled with another split or two, and a successful removal, I'm sitting at about 20 hives again. But I had to pay to play, which really sucks. Let's just hope I can pull my rather large head out of rear end this year, and not repeat the negligence of 2017!

 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

Yes, I'll admit it. I need to admit it. I need to share the story, so hopefully others can learn, and not repeat my mistakes. 

This all started with an offer for a "Free" Flow Hive. Now not to get off topic, but I don't much care for the flow hive. A novel idea for sure, but from my perspective as a sideliner, it's not cost effective to have one for the sake of larger volume honey production. But here was an offer for one for free. An opportunity to actually put my hands on one and play with it, so I can speak from experience. The catch? Well, it's on a hive that is deemed "dangerously aggressive". The exchange was to be, for my service of relocating this aggressive hive, I got to keep all the hive components, including the flow frames, which were full of honey. 

Sounds great right? I've dealt with mean bees. No big deal. I figured the client was overreacting a bit about their aggression, so I figured it would be no big deal. I'd take them home, requeen, and go on with it. 

Now the logistical challenge. A hive full of honey can't just be tossed in the truck by one man. So I asked my apprentice to help me out. The day came, and we headed over to get the hive. A little backstory on my apprentice. Zaykeese (Z) is a high school kid, who is an aspiring beekeeper. He actually tried to start a beekeeping club through his FFA, but unfortunately the school board shut it down. Anyway, his heart is in the right place. But it seems maybe his head isn't entirely in it. Let me explain.

I've been working with Zaykeese for a little over a year now. And in that time, I've seen him get pretty worked up about one little bee buzzing around his head. Despite my stance of "just relax", he can't help but run around and want to swat at it. Now if he puts his suit on, he seems to think he's invincible. Anyway, in the past when he would act up like this, I just thought he was playing and trying to be funny.

So now back the aggressive hive. Before even approaching the hive, Z taped up his gloves, and his pants cuffs at his shoe. This is an important note. He did not have a full body suit, just a jacket/veil combo. As we approached the hive, the bees were very still on the box. But just as soon as we blew a little smoke on them, they took flight and began swarming around us aggressively. Ok, game on! Unfortunately, Z didn't handle this well. He started getting nervous and standing back. I began working to run the bees in the box, and taping up all their entry points. 

As we continued working a bit more, I acknowledged their higher than normal aggressive behavior, and began taking appropriate measures. I got out some soapy water, and began spraying down all the bees on the outside of the box. Now I don't condone killing bees, and I'd never brag about such thing, but I will knock them down when I feel they are a threat, and these were. With them mostly contained, just a few still flying around our heads, I got Z to help me lift the back of the hive so we could get a strap around it and ratchet tie it together. The plan then was to just team lift the entire hive, set in the truck and go. 

Somewhere in this prepping phase, Z took his first sting, to the ankle. He bailed out across the yard, screaming and running as if he'd been shot. Now we all know, getting stung sucks. It hurts like fire. But it's short lived. And I've found that the more you nurse it (this may just be me) the worse it seems to hurt. I managed to get him to come back over, but then bees would start flying around him and he'd panic again. This continued, and got worse.

Now at first I thought he was just kidding, and I was even getting a bit irritated that he was wasting so much time. Then I got really irritated, as he carried his performance out into the FRONT yard in this neighborhood, now becoming a spectacle, and probably a concern for any neighbors that saw it. I got him roped back into the yard, and was working on calming him down. At this point it dawned on me that it was more than theatrics. He was having a true panic attack. Those of you that watch my videos probably have noticed, I don't get too excited about much. I don't understand people that panic, I just don't. 

I got him calmed down, and he said he was ready to bow up and do it. First, we picked the hive up and moved it about 15' to a temporary stand. This was to just get it away from the defensive location, and remove returning foragers from the equation. The final leg of the journey would be the real challenge, a 100' dash to the back of the truck. We even did a test run, acting like we were carrying the hive, and planning our steps, who goes backwards, where are the hazards, etc. 

Ok refresh. At this point, the bees have been sealed in the hive. The majority of those flying outside have been knocked down and killed. We've taken every measure to contain them, except simply killing them. At last we picked up the hive and made a run for it. I was going backwards, trying to look behind me, which doesn't work well in a veil. Z couldn't see either, because the hive was in way. Along the way, he actually backed me right into a tree, but we maintained our hold. When we got to the back of the truck, we did the classic 1-2-3 LIFT! As we did, Z's face pressed against his veil, and he got popped on the lip. And he lost it! He dropped his side of the hive and bailed out! 

OK, now it's a problem, now it's chaos! The hive fell over sideways but remained strapped together. I stood it back up and tried to shift the boxes back together, but 1000's of bees had already poured out and were PISSED! Now's no time to panic! In my best stern dad voice, I barked at Z to get over there and help. And to his credit he did, but sloppily. I took what I could get. We picked the hive up, and basically dumped it over in the truck. Z dove in the truck for safety but there were bees on his suit that stayed with him. As I went to collect the camera, he dove back out, then back in, all the while screaming like he was being tortured. I jumped in the truck and we bailed out. 

Now as we are driving away, Z is writhing in his seat, while also giving me his last will. He thought he was dying. A bit extreme if you ask me, but again, full blown panic attack, so I guess anything goes. At this point I was fully committed to euthanizing this hive, and working a plan in my mind on how to do so without potentially impacting anyone else. We stopped off at a retail store for some supplies and Benadryl, parking far away from everything, then headed on out to the farm to finish the task. 

Now by this point, Z is acting pretty normal. Talking, joking, etc, but still sore and a little worked up. Maybe he was playing tough. On the way home, he got very quiet. I took this to be the Benadryl kicking in. Rather than let him drive from where we had left his truck, I took him home. Here I faced the full wrath of his mother, which I totally understand. She ran me off, and took him to the ER. At this point we are working on 3-4 hrs from when he started getting stung. I'm thinking we're past any risk of serious shock. 

As it turns out, the doctors did what they love to do. They knocked him out, doped him up, and prescribed an epi pen. 

Going forward, I may have lost my apprentice. But my hope is that he'll get a more thorough allergy test done which will confirm he's not dangerously allergic, nor does he need the pen. Heck, I'm highly tolerant of bee stings, but taking as many as he did, I imagine it would sit me down, at least for a little while. 

Long story short here, I made several poor judgement calls. I didn't do it in the interest of profit, or greed, or pride. At that moment, when I did what I did, I thought it made sense, and thought it would work. However, this is reality, and you can't plan for everything. Never in my mind did I think "what if we drop the box". And as Z's panic attack escalated on the scene, I should have reevaluated, but I didn't. I continued with the plan forward. And the fact is, I've done it before, and was successful. Perhaps because I'd never had such a train wreck before, I didn't anticipate it could happen. I can tell you now, never again will I attempt such a risky job. I've got to get better at quickly judging the personality of bees. If I'm presented with this situation again, I promise you, I'll kill them site and not think twice. Not because I get some sick pleasure, or because I don't want to try to save them, but because I can't take that risk. This is the second time in my 5 years of beekeeping that someone close to me has gotten seriously attacked. I take it very personal. I wished both times that it was me in the hospital, dealing with the pain I was partially responsible for causing someone else. 

Be careful folks! What we do is serious. Don't get blinded by complacency! 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen
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Well I've been a bit absent from the blog, no surprise there. Been crazy busy as always.

I just had a new customer pick up two nucs on Friday. I thought he was all set up and ready. I could have sworn he said he already had his equipment when he inquired about buying the nucs. But he wasn't! He didn't even have feeders! Oh well. I'll do my best to coach him through.

Anyway, that led to me digging up this video on how to move the nucs into a full size setup (once he gets his built or ordered in.) With it being spring time, and a lot of new folks getting into beekeeping, I figured it wouldn't hurt to share this again.

It really is this simple! Just move them over from one box to the other. 

Now, in a lot of cases, I've seen commercially sold nucs come with only 4 frames of bees and a division board feeder. This is OK. You didn't get ripped off, it's pretty standard. If that's the case, still center the frames up, 4 in the middle, with 3 frames to either side. If you want to move the feeder over too, that's your call. I prefer to use a Boardman feeder with the quart jar so I can see when it needs to be refilled, and don't have to open the hive to do so. 

Also on setup, I like to reduce the entrance down on the 10 frame box to about only 2" wide so they have a small entrance to defend like they did in the nuc. As they grow out of course I remove the reducers. 

Good luck on your setup! 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

Well this is long overdue I guess, or maybe only a month or so late. But no worries. Since my last post was about preparing for the honey flow, I thought it fitting to report on how it went. 

Many of your that were following that are probably really wondering, "how did the manipulation efforts work!?"

Well first let's just cover the round numbers so it's out of the way. I collected just shy of 500 lbs. That's basically my one time harvest record from 2014. I really didn't expect to get this much, but had a few last minute "boosts" to add to it. Honey weighs 12 pounds per gallon. So a 5 gallon bucket should be 60 lbs. And it's pretty close. I get about 62 lbs gross weight on a brim full bucket, so when you figure for the tare weight of the bucket, it's within a slim margin of error. So now I have a pyramid of about 8 buckets stacked up on back porch. I did have 10, but have bottled some since. I store my honey in food grade 5 gallon buckets and just bottle a bucket at a time as my jarred inventory runs low. I show that effort from January 2016 post when I talked about how I deal with a bucket full of crystallized honey. 

"Ok, enough! What were the boosts?" Or do you want to know about the manipulations?

The boosts as I dubbed them were some last minute honey finds I wasn't expecting. I have a good fried that has started two colonies from my stock, and I act as his mentor when needed. He has two very strong colonies but said he didn't have time to harvest. So I harvested it for him on 50% shares. My take from his 2 colonies was 110 lbs. That means he averaged 110 lbs per colony! That far outstrips my record of about 75 lbs off a colony. One of his hives had over 130 lbs alone! 4 10-frame mediums full and a few deep frames as well!  

The second boost was from the two queen colony. No, unfortunately it was not that the combined hive made record honey. Instead, they had just hidden what they did have. About a week prior to harvest I did a quick inventory to see which hives had honey. The two queen colony had NONE in the super. NONE!! However, after harvesting off a few other hives, I was compelled to look below the QE, and found each had backfilled their upper deep (5 frame) with honey, instead of pushing through the excluder. One of them did this because they actually requeened during the flow, so had the brood nest space anyway. Not sure why the other did, unless, they just didn't feel like pushing through the QE. However, since I have harvest, I left the upper deeps off, and they have now filled the shared medium. Perhaps I did not have them confined enough as I had placed 3 supers on at the start. It's been shown that adding too many boxes at once can overwhelm the bees and actually make them do less. 

The last boost came from a colony that I never expect to get honey from. It was a cutout from back in April. I was already content if they just built up for winter. Instead they have much impressed me. A week prior to harvest they had one super capped, and another full. At harvest they had capped the second! So a hive that I expected nothing from gave me 60 lbs instead! 

Manipulations

As mentioned above, the 2 queen colony didn't meet my hopes, but I think I can chalk most of that up to my methods not being quite right. Also there were the "boosted" hives, which I added a bunch of brood to. Two of those swarmed during the flow. It maybe helped spare one of the weaker hives at the farm, but ultimately I'd say it wasn't worth the effort. Several of the colonies that I didn't "boost" made as much or more honey. 

How the Day Went

I started the day by heading up to my farm where I had 3 hives with honey. I was there around 7 AM and the bees were already out and about. I believe I got about 30 lbs off each hive. They didn't have near as much as I had hoped. Then it was down to another outyard to get honey off two hives, then on home to my main yard where I collected everything there. I stacked the honey up on the back deck in two stacks, 100% mine, and the supers from my buddy's hive.

We started extracting after lunch. I did the shared honey first so I could get it in buckets and get his equipment back to him. After doing that honey it became quickly evident that I would NOT have enough buckets! With two kids down for naps, I took off to get more buckets. Then it was back to hanging on the handle of the extractor. We finished spinning the last of it around 7 PM I think. Of course there was a dinner break in there. I went ahead and washed down the extractor and equipment instead of letting the bees rob it like normal. Then it was in the house to bottle up the first bucket full, as my jarred inventory was non existent. I was screwing caps on the last jars about 10:30 PM, anticipating a beekeeping class for the next day. Saturday afternoon I drained out the last of what honey had collected off the cappings, then set those out to be robbed dry. 

Whew! Made for a LONG Friday and Saturday, but it only comes but once a year, so I can tolerate that. Well, I say once a year, but surveying the hives right now, they may well have another 100 lbs or so hanging out. Might be worth a second harvest effort.  

Every year I say I'm going to make more effort to set up more hives in time for honey flow. Maybe 2017 will be the year I take myself seriously :)

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

Here in southeast Texas, our key honey flow is from the Chinese Tallow tree anywhere from May to June, depending on your latitude. This year it was surprisingly early. Guess we can chalk that one up to El Nino. Middle of May and the tallow tree in my back yard is already half done blooming. 

Now I suggested that the tallow is out "key" flow. That's because it's the one that almost undoubtedly every beekeeper will get something from. We have a lot of minor flows in the spring from things like blackberries, vetch, wildflowers, etc., but it's rarely enough to get a harvest. I have heard of folks getting a flow, depending on location, off of things like bottlebrush if they are in a neighborhood that just has gobs of it. 

Anyway, I put my focus on tallow. Normally in preparation I put 2-3 medium 10 frame supers on my hives. On average my strong hives give me about 60 lbs off the tallow, which is right at two mediums. So the third is usually just overflow. Now an important note is that if you are going to pack on 3 supers all at once (in SHB territory) it needs to be new, undrawn foundation). If using draw supers, I would only add one at a time to make sure the bees don't get overloaded with patrol responsibilities. 

Years past, adding three supers and walking away has worked fine, but this year I wanted to try a few different things.  I wanted to see if I made a few different manipulations, if I could see an appreciable difference in the amount of honey a colony packed in. 

BOOSTING - The first thing I did was tried to equalize and "boost" a couple of my weaker colonies. The idea was that if I could give them a shot in the arm of brood about a month before the flow then they would have a surplus of foragers right at peak flow time. To do this, I added as many as 10 frames of capped brood, sources from a handful of other colonies, to the weaker colonies. This is done with caution, as again, over working the colony can cause them to succumb to beetles. So I did it on hives that had a good support population but just not as much as I'd like. The idea is that the brood would be emerging in the next week or so, and boost the population before a beetle outbreak could happen, and then they'd be fine with the surplus of bees. And again, it should roll on to a bunch of foragers maturing just in time for the flow. I like to use my 5 frame nucs for this purpose. Some of them I took 3 frames of capped brood to boost another hive, and left the nuc to rebuild. 

Once the flow is over, I intend to split them back out into smaller colonies or nucs to build back up for winter.

Now there is a risk here. What is the boost is too much, and the hive is then urged to swarm. Well, funny that should come up. Because it happened! I got lucky and found the swarm cells, so I went ahead and split the hive back a bit before they swarmed, taking the queen and leaving cells in the parent colony. And actually I don't see this as a bad thing. And here is why.

REQUEENING - I have read of others requeening, either with a cell, or "rolling" the queen during the honey flow on purpose. The idea here is that by taking the queen, you break the brood cycle, and rather quickly the bees can drop their focus on feeding larva. This should push the hive into a honey production mode faster. And it opens up the brood nest to have more space to put honey away in if the hive finds it. So in the instance above, the hive basically carried out this requeening for me. If the swarm would have escaped I may have been in trouble if they took too much of the forager population with them. But I'm hopeful that by making a good split, that will satisfy their swarm urge. I've now split two of my honey producers in this way due to discovering swarm cells. 

JUNIPER HILL SPLIT - This is not something I'd claim proficiency on. But the goal with this method of split is similar to the requeening above, except that you leave the existing queen. The idea here though is still to take all the brood so the hive can focus on foraging. The easiest way to do this is with the use of a double deep hive. Three weeks before the split (and start of flow), put a QE between the deeps. Don't bother looking for the queen, you don't need to. When you go to make the split it's painless. One box with have eggs and larva, and one won't. The one with eggs has the queen. Now you need to find her, but you know which box to dig through. 

With the queen in hand, she now goes into the deep without eggs and larva. And she stays in the original location. The other deep full of young brood is simply rotated 180 degrees and placed beside the original hive. The foragers in this box will fly out and go back to the parent colony location. Now you have a box full of young brood and nurse bees, and no queen. Introduce a queen cell or virgin, or let them raise a new one. But ultimately you are done. This leaves the parent colony with a queen and a whole bunch of foragers. Bring on the honey flow! 

TWO QUEEN COLONY - This again is new to me, but is very exciting. Now we all know that naturally a hive does not have two queens. But two queen colonies have been run successfully plenty in the past. The key is just to have QE(s) in place to keep the queens from getting to each other. The goal is to take the population power of two queens and turn it into one monster forager force. A key component of foraging is communicating. If one hive finds nectar before the other, they will inadvertently communicate this with the other colony that they have been pair with. Traditional two-queen colonies put a brood nest on bottom and one on top, with a stack of supers between. I tried something a little different. I put two double deep 5 frame colonies side by side, and then laid one QE over the top and placed on a single stack of 10 frame mediums. As long as the queens don't somehow evade the QE, I think it will work out just fine. 

All this being said, it's not to confuse you further. These are just ideas and different tricks. At the end of the day, the easiest thing to do is just stack on some supers and see what you get. I just wanted to share these different ideas and techniques that I'm trying out. I'll definitely have to give an update on the two-queen colony. I'm very excited about it! 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

So the classic discussion, how, when, why, etc about splitting a beehive. 

There are a few different ways to do a split, so I'll try to put them into a group that makes sense. I apologize if I use a term that doesn't jive with what someone else says, so let's just focus on the logic and methods. 

First of all, why. Why split? Either to grow your numbers, or prevent swarming, which, I guess splitting to prevent swarming also grows your numbers, so that's rather moot. But the point being, someone wanting to grow hive count may split a large colony 3-4 ways. Someone looking to prevent swarms may only split it in half. If you want to prevent swarm but also keep low hive count, you can always recombine colonies later. 

When to split? Depends on the type of split. Spring time when resources are plenty and weather is good, you can pretty well do any split and for the most part nature will take care of things for you. Winter of course you can't because you can't get a replacement queen. Let's keep it simple and just say split in spring/summer. Just know that the later a split happens, the more you may need to aid that colony to get built up for winter. 

Ok, how? First an assumption. Let's assume you have a hive that is double deep 10 frame carried through winter. No mediums to worry about. And let's assume the boxes have a balance of resources within. 

Walk Away (Queenless) Split - This is my favorite and absolutely the easiest. Grab a spare bottom board and cover. Take the upper hive body and place it on the new bottom board and place on the cover. Just make sure each box has eggs. Whichever hive does not have a queen will raise a new one. Move the split across your yard, or some folks like to go 3 miles away. This is to retain foragers. If you move locally, you will have foragers go to the old location. That will make the split low on foragers, but they should bounce back just fine. 
In 3 days, check the hives again. Whichever one has queen cells does not have a queen. At this point, if you have a mated queen, tear down the cells and put her in in a release cage with candy plug. Done! If you don't have the spare queen, then you were done when you walked away on day one. Check back in 2 weeks for sign that the new queen has emerged and then another 2 weeks to look for eggs. Don't sweat in between. Often times a hive may appear queenless when really they have a virgin or newly mated queen that just hasn't started laying yet. 

Queen-right Split - Now in this case you have a mated caged queen on hand the day of the split. This is probably the best way to split as it's the lowest impact on the bees. Now to prepare for this, if you're clever you will prepare. At least 3 days prior to splitting, put a queen excluder between your boxes. Then when you go to split, the box with eggs has the queen. That saves you the otherwise necessary effort of finding the queen. Take the box without eggs and set on your new bottom board, introduce the caged queen and set across the yard. Done! 

Now of course beyond all this you may want to super each split or whatever, but that's up to you to decide based on the strength of your split at the time. 

What I normally do is sporadic version of the queenless split. I will inspect the hive, and if I decide to split will do it right then. I will dig through to find the queen and cage her so I know where she is at. Then I will split the hive, but will give more resources to the hive I intend to move across the yard. That's because they will lose foragers and will need more food on hand. I also like to take the queen to this hive and leave the old colony in place with eggs. I call this a proactive swarm. The idea is that the split you take away realizes they have a queen but lesser population so they figure they have swarmed. The colony you left behind recognizes a lesser population, and the need for a queen, so they figure the old queen swarmed out. This works best if you actually find swarm queen cells and truly do split them before they swarm on their own. 

I always make my splits right there in the back yard and move the split only about 50' away. So I know I'll lose foragers back to original location. To compensate I may shake bees from old location to new a few days later to help balance population back out, but it's not all that critical from what I've found. 

The biggest concern I have found in the gulf coast is splitting too aggressively and overwhelming the bees. This can result in loss due to small hive beetle. 

Long story short, splitting is very simple in theory and action. Some very basic advance planning can save a lot of headache and effort the day of the split. Have fun with it! 

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

For the general hobbyist, this may not seem all that critical. But if you're like me, trying to grow into a small business, while trying to manage an every growing family, and develop a homestead, and work a full time job, it can get pretty intense. And the kids aren't even in school or extracurricular activities yet! 

Anyway, I digress. Let's talk about bees. So why is organization so important? Well again, for someone with just 1-2 hives, it's probably not all that critical. But as you start to try to get more involved and take on me beekeeping roles and challenges, and especially more hives, it's very easy to lose track of who's who? In my early days, I actually had few enough hives, and a sharp enough memory, that I could at least keep up with what hive was what. I would name them from whatever client I got them from, the Alex Smith hive for example. But you start making splits, moving things around, doing multiple removals per week, selling hives, etc, things get lost. Just for grins, let's make all your hives identical, generic white 10 frame Langs. 

More important than remembering where a hive came from, is remembering their unique needs or traits. Let's start with needs. That's pretty basic. Food or space? Inspect all your colonies. Do some need sugar water or honey? Or pollen? Or do they need a super added or removed? Or frames replaced?

I feed by exception, not by default. So it's very important to track what a colony needs, and accepts. I personally do not put on pollen patties. They are pure beetle bait if you are in a SHB area. I have been open feeding pollen substitute for the first time this year, and the bees seem pretty happy to have it. I will offer sugar water or pure honey as a carbohydrate substitute. I prefer to offer this in a per hive basis. My 5 frame hives have top feeder lids. For the 10 frames I have top feeder or Boardman inserts on the entrance. By feeding individually I can monitor how quickly they take the feed. If they don't drain it in a few days, but are taking it, I know to reduce the jar size, or feed intermittently to prevent spoilage (sugar water). You may find yourself surprised when a small nuc drains a quart in a day, and a larger stronger nuc just nibbles on it. Just last night I dumped out nearly 2 gallons of sugar water that I had offered to a 10 frame colony via a hive top reservoir feeder. After nearly two weeks they had barely taken any. I guess they don't want it. I thought based on stores in the hive that they needed it. Wish I would have started with 1 qt and not wasted so much. 

Now for unique traits. This is where it gets fun. Tracking the habits and skills of a hive is critical to raising the better bee. Over the years I have developed my apiary to very gentle bees. Despite being in an area that is definitely influenced by AHB, I have bees gentle enough that I never need a suit, at least in my own back yard. That's easy enough to keep up with. If they are aggressive you tend to remember! But what about their survival traits? Who has more pollen in the hive in late fall, and then late winter? Who has more honey per capita? Who is hauling in early spring honey, and who is still hitting the winter snooze button? In general, you'd think a bigger hive would have more reserves going into winter, and less coming out as they used more. Or should it normalize on a colony size basis? Who knows. What I do know is that some of my 5 frame nucs have gobs of pollen (and associated strong brood pattern) and some of my bigger colonies (and smaller colonies) hardly have any pollen. I don't think it was usage based, as much as it was lack of forage. However, lacking pollen directly affects how well a hive can build up in the spring. It's good to keep track of who seems to be the better foragers as by default they should have better odds of surviving.

On a quick note about SHB and Varroa mite: I neither count nor treat for either. I rely on stronger hives to manage the beetles on their own. If I notice that I hive is letting beetles get out of control (not policing them), I requeen from a colony that does have good beetle management traits. For Varroa, well, I don't know. I don't see them in the hive, but then again I never really look. I think the genetics of natural bees tend to weed that out pretty quick (maybe just my opinion). I recall only once, I removed a colony of bees from an old house, and they were LOADED with mites. And within 2 weeks that colony had perished. The stress of the removal, coupled with the mite load, went ahead and terminated those poor genetics. 

OK, so the grand finale. How do a I keep track? In the past I used to label the hives in my notes by their location in the yard. I have multiple rails and would set 4-5 colonies per rail. So the hive label would be something like R3N1 (row three, first in line from the north), or R2S2 (row two, second from the south end). Are you kidding me? What if I move a hive to another rail? Or to some arbitrary corner of the yard? Well I could update their location, but then I have to track back through the notes as to where they were moved from. I was avoiding physically labeling a hive, because I didn't want to have numbers painted on boxes that then got sold or destroyed.

But it turns out, physically labeling the hives is the best method for me. I bought a pack of paint stencils and went through the apiary number 1-20. Didn't matter 5 frame or 10. I only label the bottom box. Supers get moved around. I labeled the hives, then did my inspections. As I went through, I found colony 8 (5 frame deep) was dead out. No worries. By the time I got to number 13 (10 frame deep) I found they were reduced in size and were better suited for a 5 frame box. So I made the swap. Now box #8 is not between 7 and 9. But it doesn't matter. In my notebook I scratched out "EMPTY" for box 8 and wrote in "Moved in bees from 13. FEED." Now, if #13 had a history, I can go look that up under box #13. Now in this case, there was no extensive history. 

Between removals and selling colonies, I tend to have a lot of hives coming in and out. So I don't have much history on them. But I do have some staples that I keep in the yard. Their notes won't change much over the years, nor should their box number. So a simple header that says something like "gentle, survivors, early foragers" is all I need to see to tell me these are good bees, and I should promote those genetics when grafting queens or making splits. 

Now, if you're still awake, I'll say that it's up to you whether or not you track your hives, and if so, how you do it. I highly recommend it if you have more than just a couple hives. I think you'll find studying the bees can become more entertaining than actually working with them. 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

The need to post a blog article came to mind last night, when I pulled the lid off of a 5 gallon bucket of honey that had turned SOLID. Not just solid, but it was also COLD, about 40 degrees F outside. But I have to get some honey bottled up for sale, I'm fresh out and have folks wanting more. 

I've dabbled with a few different methods in the past to quickly and easily liquefy crystallized honey. I want to share what I've learned to help others perhaps skip a few of the steps I took. 

First a quick note on how the "pros" do it. Either they keep a vat of honey always heated, or they keep the bottled honey in warm storage. The DIY version of warm storage is simple an old refrigerator or chest freezer (or insulated box of some sort) with a heating element installed instead of a cooling element. Hold the honey at 95-100F and you see minimal crystallization over time. 

But me, well, I'm "adventurous." So I put all my honey in food grade 5 gallon buckets when I harvest, hammer the lid on, and stack the buckets on my back deck (out of direct sunlight). That's fine in summer and warmer times, but becomes more of an issue in the cooler months. 

I also learned not to ever leave honey stored in my bottling bucket, thinking it would be an easy tap later. It just crystallizes and plugs up the gate valve, and is a harder issue to resolve. 

Now before buckets, I had all the honey in jars from day 1. If it crystallized in the jar and folks demanded a jar of liquid honey, I'd heat each individual jar in a pot of water and stir with a butter knife. For larger batches I put the jars on a cookie sheet in the oven. But my oven minimum temp is something like 275 F. Regardless of temp, this was very tedious. Now I simply don't do it. If folks won't buy it crystallized in the jar, they have to wait until I get around to heating a bucket back to liquid and bottling more. In general though, I've found my customers to be a bit smarter than the average consumer, and they are aware that there is nothing wrong with crystallized honey, and are happy just to have truly raw, local, honey. 

Ok, back to how I deal with the buckets. Well, first I tried to purchase a cool bucket heater. It's a heating element encased in rubber that wraps around the outside of the bucket. This ran me over $100 I believe and quickly proved ineffective. The heater would warm up and then kick off, and stay off. I finally decided the issue must be that heat is not readily dissipated throughout the honey, so the element would register that it had done it's job and turn off. Now why it wouldn't turn back on as it cooled back to room temp is beyond me. The original reason for this purchase was that I had honey crystallized in my bottling bucket, and I wanted to avoid putting it into another bucket to reheat. 

Finally it dawned on me. I needed a LARGE water bath method. I found I could place the 5 gallon bucket (without gate valve) inside my turkey fryer pot (something like 30 quart pot). It leaves about 1/2" of water all around the bucket. I set a few broken tiles in the bottom of the pot so the plastic bucket was not in direct contact with the hot bottom of the metal pan. Now with a bucket 1/2 full or so, it will actually float off the bottom anyway. I set this up on my outdoor burner and put the gas to it. I do this on a low heat and monitor the water temp, not to exceed 130F if I'm paying close attention. You should see the water steaming but not boiling. 

As the honey starts to liquefy, begin stirring it. This will help move the warmer honey away from the edges. I use a paint stirrer for a 5 gallon bucket mounted in a corded power drill. Now in the event of a totally solid bucket, you can't use the drill at first. You'll need to manually churn it until it gets fluid enough for the drill application. From there, just continue to slowly heat and monitor temp. Do not exceed 100F if you can help it. I'll admit, I don't know the legal definition of how hot honey can get and still be considered "raw" but I just try not to flirt with it. 

I have found that the more crystallized the bucket is, the harder it is to return to a fully liquid form. Recently I heated and stirred a bucket for over an hour and it still had a gritty texture. The temp was just over 100F. In the past I've taken a bucket up to 130 which made it become more liquid, and it retained the liquid state longer. 

This is my setup for heating a bucket. Kids toys optional. As you can see, this bucket has started to liquefy but is still very gritty. The bucket just fits inside the pot. Fill the annulus between the bucket and pot with water for optimal heat dispersion. 

This is my setup for heating a bucket. Kids toys optional. As you can see, this bucket has started to liquefy but is still very gritty. The bucket just fits inside the pot. Fill the annulus between the bucket and pot with water for optimal heat dispersion. 

There is one opportunity for a silver lining here, and that is unofficial creamed honey. Technically to do creamed honey I guess you are supposed to buy some seed crystals from someone. But I've found I can just heat the crystallized honey and stir the crap out of it, mechanically breaking down the crystals to a smoother less gritty texture. Again, it's not "true" creamed honey, but it's spreadable honey. 

All that being said, you can pick what method is best for your operation. I'd think for the avg hobbyist, likely just bottle it all up front and warm the container as needed. That is certainly an advantage to honey in a mason jar vs a plastic squeeze bottle. The jars allow to scoop out solid honey with a spoon. For a large scale hobbyists like me, storing in the buckets and doing batches seems to work. Still I'd be far better off to have a warm storage unit to save the long evenings of warming buckets back up.  

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen
2 CommentsPost a comment

One of the greatest challenges of rendering beeswax is to do it in a manner that melts it but does not overheat it. The other big one, is melting it in a safe and controlled manner. I may have found one of my new favorite methods; using an electric smoker. 

This idea stems from a few other ideas. In the past I had used what some folks call a roaster oven. It's a small electric over normally used for baking a turkey or serving large portions of soup or whatever at an occasion. This worked OK, but I was really limited on capacity to stock beeswax into it. 

I started thinking again, and was debating just shoving a bunch of wax in the oven in the house. I thought however that my wife my kick me out for that one, and also the over only goes down to about 250F, much too high for what's needed to melt beeswax. That's when the smoker dawned on me. 

Now the fact that it's a smoker is irrelevant. I'm not smoking anything. It's really just an upright electric oven with a lower temperature control. But there are several dual purpose components that make it great. The bowl normally used for water/wood chips works great as a water/wax catch basin. The racks where you would put the meat can support plenty of weight for a big chunk of wax or a bowl to ride on. 

I wanted to use this for a final melt method to separate out low gravity contaminants that are close to the same density as beeswax and therefore won't fall out in a water melt method. This means the wax has to be pressed or strained through some filter. Just dumping molten wax through a paper towel at room temp will result in rapid cooling and a lot of lost wax in the filter. 

So for the test setup, I put an inch or so of water in my bowl, then placed on the rack to hold up the strainer. The only reason I'm using the strainer is so wax can drain out, so a colander or just a bowl with hole in the bottom will be sufficient. I laid a paper towel in the bottom of the strainer, then a chunk of beeswax which had been previously rendered and rough filtered in a water bath. 

I cranked the smoker up to high and walked away. After about 10 minutes I could see the wax was started to get soft. It's working! After about 20 minutes I noticed my water was boiling. Oops! Too hot! So I turned it down. Unfortunately my smoker has a temp gauge that reads "cool, ideal, or hot". WTH does that mean!? Give me some numbers! It was reading it was still "cool" but clearly it was warm enough to boil water. 

After about 12 hrs, the ~3 lb block of wax I had placed in had all melted down into the bowl of water, leaving only a black sludge of dirt and debris on the paper towel in the bowl. I shut it down to cool over night and the next day pulled out my very nice clean block of pure beeswax. The dirty saturated paper towel was burned just for fun, but I'd honestly advise saving these somewhere as a handy fire starter if you ever need. 

Now as a second test, I tried stacking in a pile of combs, not yet rendered down in a water bath. It seems to be working OK, but requires babysitting to continue mashing the combs down as they soften and adding more. And all the debris in the combs smells like it's cooking/burning. 

Forward looking is leaning towards a primary melt in a water bath to filter out large solids, then a final melt/filter in the smoker. With a block of pure condensed wax, now I can melt again, and cast into weighted blocks or 1 oz, 1 lb, etc for sale or for reuse in recipes. I'll also keep a large block handy for use when melting a large batch to rewax plastic foundation or for "gluing" wax foundation starter strips to frames.  

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

First, a safety moment. DO NOT LET THE POT BOIL OVER!!!. If you have an open flame this is especially dangerous, and having experienced the risk myself, prompted this blog post. I got distracted, the mix started to boil and froth up, and boiled over, causing flames to start leaping up off the pot, just like a kitchen grease fire. Beeswax is a hyrdocarbon, and with readily burn with a good ignition source. 

Ok, now for the topic at hand, how to render down beeswax. Now there may be several ways others have done it, but I'm posting what I do, as it is working for me. I've tried several variations and will outline them at the end. 

In general, the beeswax I collect is mostly from the cutout jobs that I do. Once a year when I harvest honey I get some high quality cappings wax as well. But I mix it all together. When I do a cutout job, the combs are offered out for open robbing until the bees clean up the honey, then I melt it all down. 

First step is setting up the melting pot. Pick a pot that you don't care too much about, because it's going to get nasty beyond repair. Put the pot on your OUTDOOR burner and fill about 1/3 full with water. Fire it up and get it started warming up. Then start adding your beeswax. As you place the combs in, push them down with a stick to help them fill with water and sink. Otherwise they can tend to float on top the water and the heat distribution is disrupted. As the combs start to melt you can keep adding more wax but leave room in your pot for effective stirring. Also, if your wax has a lot of debris (brood, cocoons, etc), you should melt down less per batch. 

Try to keep the whole mix from boiling. The wax will melt well below the boiling point of water, and boiling only causes more risk of flash fire, and also can cause discoloration of the wax through over heating. Continue to stir the mix until you have a liquid homogeneous mixture. Now turn it off, or drop your heat down low. If you're wax is mostly clean, you're done. Turn the heat off and let it set up and cool. I pour the mix into a bucket so I can reuse my pan to start another batch. As the mix sits and cools, the wax will float to the top and solidify. Solids and debris will sink to the bottom, leaving you with a nice clean brick of wax floating in the water. 

If your wax has a lot of debris in it, you'll want to pre-filter it before letting it settle and set up. Use a screen mesh sieve with a handle, and the flat end of your hive tool as a press. Dip about a half cup of the mix off the surface of the pot, and use your hive tool to press water and molten wax out of the debris, letting it liquids fall back in the pot. Once you feel you've squeezed out as much as possible, dump the strained debris in a bucket to the side. If in the end your pile of refuse sets up in solid block, it still has a good bit of wax in it. If when it cools it is crumbly, you've done a good job. Once you are done with the pre-filtering process where each dip gets you little debris, then you're back to basically "clean" wax. Give a good stir and you are done. Same as before, you can dump into a spare bucket if you need to run another batch, or just leave it in your pot to settle out and solidify. 

In the end, your wax may still have some suspended solids in it. The secondary, and ideally final render, is to place the block of wax in an oven on low heat. Set up with a pan of water, then screen to hold the wax above the water, then a paper towel to catch fines. As the wax begins to melt in the oven, it will soak through the paper towel and drip in the pan of water below. The paper towel will catch and retain the fines, and should leave you with a pure clean beeswax.

For casting into molds, take the block of clean pure beeswax, and use a double boiler method to melt it down. I like a glass measuring cup with a spout in a pan of water. Boil the water and stir the wax as it melts. Once it's all liquid, pour it into whatever mold you are using. Let it set up and you're done! If you are making candles in glass jars, sometimes you can get trapped air bubbles. It's a good practice to take the finished candle and heat it up in the oven once more until it melts. This will let air bubbles escape, then the wax will cool and set up again, and you, at last, finally, are DONE! 

If you are doing a small batch of clean cappings (honey has been washed off), you can do it all in one run. Set up your final render setup with the screen and paper towels, and just place a handful of cappings on top of the towel. I only use the big pot of water for large batches of relatively dirty wax. 

Solar Melters: Solar melters are a great passive way to melt beeswax. I've built one (poorly) and used it with no real satisfaction. When built and used correctly they can be very effective. Look up Ralph Jones III on YouTube or Facebook. He built one out of an old chest freezer that seems to work very well. 

I also once tried a sort of inverted water melt system. I filled the pot half full of water, then placed the wax under a bowl shaped screen in the bottom, so it was submerged under the water. The idea was that as the wax warmed and melted, it would float up through the screen leaving the solids all behind, ideally a sort of inverted deep fry where I would get 100% removal of wax, leaving any absorbent debris saturated with only water. Now it did make for a cool lava lamp effect as the wax globules floated up through the water, but ultimately I left a lot of wax in the debris. It just wouldn't come out. Maybe I didn't give it enough time. Also at one point the system boiled, and knocked the screen around so it all got stirred up and mixed anyway. 

In the end, I use the multi step system I do, because it works well for my situation. Best of luck, and have fun.  

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen
5 CommentsPost a comment

I recently did a cutout and by the end I had a huge mess of robbing going on. Now, a few things happened along the way that exacerbated this. First and foremost was a lack of natural nectar flow, so the bees were already getting scrappy. This particular hive had plenty of honey (only been there for a few months right...?) but it's in all honeybees' programming to take all they can get at any time. Here are a few things you can do to prevent robbing:

Prevent Drips - Easier said than done right? Especially when working overhead as I was. Sometimes you don't have much choice except to just tear in and make some space. But this should be done as carefully as possible. Set you bucket under the work area to catch drips and bits of comb, and if you're really lucky, have a water hose nearby to hose things down occasionally so honey does not accumulate. On this particular job I had a lot of honey that fell on the windowsill, ladder rungs, etc. 

Keep a Lid on it - Honey left unattended is robbing bait more than you can imagine. The bucket will be consumed by bees in a matter of minutes if robbing ensues. Funny, I was warned about this by a mentor years ago before I ever did my first cutout. He said keep a lid on it, and keep it away from the work area. I did, and my first cutout was a success. But I guess I've gotten stupid since then, so this time I did not heed the good advice. I did at least have enough sense to get a pot from the homeowner with a lid for the honey to them, to keep the bees out of it. But my own buckets full got out of control quickly. 

Distraction - Now if you mess up on both of the first items, you may choose to make it look intentional. If robbing starts to get out of hand to where you can hardly work on the removal due to excessive chaos, you can try setting a bait bucket a good distance away. Then, using heavy smoke and repellent, try to get bees away from you. This is very touchy!! Do not use the heavy smoke and repellent if it could cause bees to run deeper into the structure. I try to avoid all use of repellent until I have the whole nest out and have a confirmed catch on the queen (although that's rarely the case). Anyway, the point is, you may be able to get them to abandon robbing the area you are working and instead go for the easy pickings on the bait bucket you set away. 

Patience - If robbing does ensue during a cutout, the best thing to do is just finish the removal work and clean up the site the best you can. Go home, relax and come back after dark. All the robbers that may have been from other colonies in the area will be gone back home. The residual bees will be just the ones that belong. Bring your vac and a red/green headlight and just go suck them up after dark. Of course this is only viable if you live nearby and don't have to go far to go back. But the point being, if you sit there and try to suck up robbers all day, you will literally sit there ALL DAY. 

And it's not just honey combs. They will rob any free honey/nectar out of brood comb sections too, so keep those protected during the job as well.

Robbing does not always ensue during a cutout. But it can be especially bad in fall cutouts when bees are gearing up for winter. It's just one more thing to keep in mind when doing this sort of work.  

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

I posted a prior article about open feeding bees in general, but wanted to add to it with the discussion of open feeding comb honey. This may be a bit different as most beekeepers don't give honey back to their bees. After all, isn't the point to get the honey  from the bees!? Well, not always. If you can afford the excess honey to give some back to the bees, it does make for an ideal food supplement compared to sugar water, since it is after all what the bees really would have. In general though, honey fed back to bees should be pasteurized just to help ensure that no potential disease is transferred back to the bees. This risk is all but obsolete, but still a risk.

Sort the Combs: In my case, as someone that performs a lot of bee removals, I encounter a lot of honey in the combs. I've found that trying to sort, keep clean, and contain it for resale during a job is nearly impossible. Instead, during a removal, I simply keep comb honey separate from anything with brood in it. Once home, I freeze it all for a few days to kill off possible pests, and then can store it at room temp (in a sealed container), or immediately feed it out to the bees. If it has brood or open nectar, it will not keep at room temp so it should be kept frozen or fed immediately. 

Make sure the bees take it: Once fed out, the bees will quickly clean up the combs, impressively quick. That is, assuming there is not a natural nectar flow. If there is a good nectar flow going, the bees will actually ignore honey set out. They prefer to collect fresh nectar. If this is the case, don't set it out. It will just get filled with pests instead and go to waste. Just keep it frozen or in storage until a dearth comes. 

Use a good feeder container: I normally just set the honey out in the buckets it was in from the job. This does limit surface area for the bees to access the combs, but is the easiest thing I can do. More ideal would be to pour it out in a shallow container. Keep in mind there will be liquid honey in the bottom of the bucket that the bees can drown in, so sticks or other aids for the bees to climb on are good. The more you spread the combs out, the faster and more efficiently the bees can clean it up. 

Keep it covered: This is a big one. If you're expecting rain, make sure the feeding area is covered. Bees open feeding on honey will tend to get covered with sticky honey to where they can not fly back home easily. If a rain pops up, they can get stranded in the feeding container and drown. Not to mention, you don't want excess water getting in the honey. If you have a covered porch to set it out in that's fine. Otherwise just rig up some sort of canopy or roof over your buckets. Just make sure the cover is secure so it won't blow off, but suspended above the feeding container so the bees can still easily fly in and out. 

Keep it cleaned up: As the bees clean up the combs, it's good to get the empty ones out of the way. It helps the bees access the rest. I do this nightly, and go out to the buckets and pick off any combs that have been cleaned up. I put them in a bucket and back in the freezer. Frozen beeswax is actually very brittle, and once frozen can be smashed down to a near powder to save space in the freezer. DO NOT just toss the combs in a bucket and set aside. It will be full of pests. I cannot stress this enough. Once set out, if you are in an area with small hive beetle or wax moth, they will infest it quickly. Few things are as sad as that bucket of wax you wanted to keep turning to a putrid mess of maggots. Once you get a good amount of frozen wax, you can melt it down for further use. It takes a good bit of combs to amount to much appreciable condensed wax.

 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

When it comes to feeding your bees, you do have options. Likely more options than even I know. Having covered open feeding in a prior blog, here we are going to cover in/on hive feeders. These are designed so bees don't have to go far to get feed, and should maintain that the feed only goes to that hive that needs it, rather than being a free for all like open feeding. 

For a quick video about the different types of feeders, here is video by a friend of mine. I actually sent him the pictures of the top feeder, so I claim some fame in this one :)

Jason does a wonderful job of laying out the pros and cons in the video so I'll simply reiterate and explain what I've experienced.

For starters, I simply don't like frame feeders. The big downside is having to open the hive to refill the feeder. Also, you have to open the hive just to check if the feeder needs to be refilled. I prefer a glass jar or a hive top feeder where I can take a quick peak. I also don't like the drowning aspect of the frame feeder. Furthermore, I don't like the violation of bee space. Hang around me long enough, and you'll learn that I beat bee space to death. In an area ridden with small hive beetles, proper bee space is critical.

Jar feeders. I use two different types of jar feeders. Boardman inserts on the front of the hive, and top feeders similar to a drip pail design. I like the top feeder as it can't be robbed by other bees. It sits snug down in the lid. I used a 3" hole saw and it fits a regular mouth Mason jar nicely. I've also modified this design to put a 1/8" hardware cloth so the bees can't come out when you replace the feeder. However, the screen does slightly inhibit the bees' ability to take the feeder. I've see far faster consumption when not using the screen. 

For the entrance application I just use the standard boardman insert. As Jason suggests, this can attract robbers, but I've never actually witnessed it. The biggest issue with a boardman is that you have to approach the front of the hive which is typically right in the flight path. If it's a warm night, there may be bees clustering on the feeder as well. Jar feeders do limit you to a quart, unless you can find a bigger jar, but a larger jar won't fit a boardman feeder as it will have a larger lid. Still you can use a larger jar like a pail feeder for feeding inside a super or open feeding. For more volume, you could place several boardman feeders side by side in the entrance of a 10 frame hive, at least 3 would fit I suppose. 

Top Reservoir Feeders: The other feeder I have used is the top reservoir feeder. I bought the plastic insert from Mann Lake LTD beekeeping supply. It fits a 10 frame dimension but is only I think about 4" deep, not quite a shallow super. I like this feeder for feeding large hives large volumes. The bees are screened below so you can remove to outer cover to check/refill the feeder. And the screen doubles as a way for the bees to keep from drowning. I like them as feeders, but don't use them very often, just because I'm rarely feeding that much. But if say you had a large package you were setting up in a 10 frame setup (or you caught a large swarm) they will take feed quickly, and it's very viable to give them 2-3 gallons. That beats filling a quart jar every day.  

So again, these are just the version I have used. There are others out there. Be careful with home made feeder options. Something like a chicken waterer or hummingbird feeder may seem like a quick fix, but in both cases I've actually seen the bees somehow get inside the reservoir, and then of course drown because the don't know how to swim or get back out. 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen
Categoriesfeeding

This can be a touchy subject. Some say never ever do it, some say it's never an issue. And maybe that plays into what you are feeding, as well as many other environmental conditions. 

The first question with open feeding is whether or not you need to. If there is a good honey flow on, then you do NOT. In fact, I've tried open feeding pure honey during a natural honey flow, and the bees completely ignored it. If you are unsure about a flow, just do a simple test, offering out a little bit of sugar water or honey in a saucer and see how the bees respond.

So you do the test and the bees go bonkers for the feed. Then you want to feed more. Well, feed what? And if sugar water, what solution? You'll read about 1:1, 2:1, 3:2, etc. as a sugar:water ratio. Then again, is that based on weight or volume? I did a little test and made this video discussing what I found. 
 

In general, I think the key controlling issue in the ratio of sugar to water is simply the ambient outside temps. If it's getting cold out, you really want to reduce the amount of moisture in the feed. The majority of moisture in the feed has to be extracted back out by the bees anyway, and in cold conditions can condense on the ceiling of the hive, dripping back on the bees and chilling/freezing them. 

When it comes to how much to feed, I'd recommend not more than the bees can take in just a couple days. Mixed sugar water can easily get contaminated and start to ferment. If it does, the bees won't take it, and it just goes to waste. 

Now what about honey? Do you have excess honey that you can actually feed back? This is my favorite, as it takes out all the questions of what ratios to mix, and the risk of contamination by the bees at the feeder leading to fermentation. 

In my particular situation, I often have buckets of excess honey comb from cutout jobs I perform. I don't crush/strain/bottle this honey, but rather offer it back to the bees. They have a natural filter in their honey stomach that is far better than any sieve I own anyway. Not to mention, I'd just as soon let them do the work. I will say, feeding unknown honey is NOT IDEAL due to the risk of transferring diseases such as AFB. But I guess for now I've gotten lucky and in general AFB has been eliminated through good beekeeping practice and genetics. Also a quick note, if I know the bees have been sprayed with any pesticide, I NEVER feed that honey back. All of the honey  and comb get's black bagged at the job and disposed of. Shameful waste, but better than feeding it to all my bees for sure! 

The biggest issue I've had with open feeding honey, is the risk of induced robbing. The latter half of 2014 was plagued by colonies getting robbed in my own back yard, and for a long time I couldn't figure out why. It only started after the honey flow was over, but once it started it didn't stop. Until I stopped open feeding cutout honey...What I finally realized was happening, was that the bees would eat up all the open fed honey, and then go for the next best thing, the colony it came from that I had just brought home. This weakened colony (from the stress of cutout) easily succumbed to the robbing. 

I'm still open feeding cutout honey, but I've changed my practices a bit to mitigate the robbing risk, and it seems to be working. I'll have to discuss that in another post. 

In general if you are going to open feed honey in the comb, do so in an area that gets decent sunlight, but also has some weather covering to keep rain out. The bees will be so hooked on the honey, that if a chill or a rain blows in, or it gets dark out, they may just stay with the honey comb. If that in a bucket, and say it rains about 3" in an hour (like Houston likes to do) you just drowned a lot of bees! Only open feed comb honey in shallow containers, with a perforated bottom that can drain (if your feeder is not covered by some sort of roof). And just as quick as those combs are empty, melt them down, or put them in some sort of protected storage to keep wax moths out. 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

Never something I ever try to do, but sometimes you don't have a choice. If it's warm out, and it's a drizzly rain, then you're probably OK, if you don't mind getting damp yourself. But a heavier rain could be detrimental to a colony on keeping the bees and brood warm.

I didn't have a choice, I had to open the hive and do work after a cutout. So I rigged up a 10'x10' canopy to keep the rain off of me and the bees. It was about 70 degrees and a steady harder rain all day. There was no waiting it out. The canopy worked great to keep me and the girls dry, but had some flaws with the bees wanting to gather up at the peak. 

Still, it all worked out and the bees looked great, so that's a happy ending.

 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen

Now my first thought when I wrote that title was "safe from whom?" Safe from people who don't know any better and will kill on sight? Safe from varmints that might try to ransack the hive at night when the trash cans are empty? 

I often get asked the question by aspiring beekeepers "is it safe to keep bees in a neighborhood?" Long story short, absolutely! Let me explain my story. 

Before I ever got into beekeeping, my wife posed the same concerns. My response was simply that everything I read said it was OK. But until you live it, you never really know. Well, 3 years in, I can testify that it's very safe. Walking into my back yard, if you didn't actually see the beehives, you'd never know they were there. My back yard is not just a constant cloud of bees as some folks envision. And there aren't bees always hanging out pestering us on the back patio. 

In fact, I have a few beehives placed within 10' of my kids playground (temporary of course) and the kids still run and play all around there with no issues. Would I do this with a known aggressive hive? Absolutely not, that would be foolish. My bees have demonstrated exceptional gentleness and tolerance, to the point that I always work them without a suit, and without incident. I maintain my lawn, mowing and trimming right up to and around the beehives without incident. 

In my current situation, I have a lot only 100' wide. I have neighbors on both sides, to the north, they have three children ranging from 5-14 years old, and to the south an older couple. Oh, lets not forget my three children ranging from 4 months to just over 3 years old (17 mos apart!) We've never had a bee sting incident with the neighbors. Sure there has been the occasional swarm that gets people hyped up, but it quickly moves on, no one is harmed, and we all forget in a couple hours that it ever happened. 

So how is that it is in fact so safe? It's a function of the bee line, and the bees' mindset that is focused on work and not on you. Recall the line "he made a bee line for the door". Turns out, bees actually do this. They take the shortest path from A to B. In neighborhoods, we have fences in general 6' high. That means that a bee flying through the neighborhood tends to stay above 6' off the ground. As a matter of fact, I watch my bees leave the yard and actually go up and over the tree line! So as long as we aren't all hanging out in the tree tops, we should be OK. 

Furthermore, the foraging bee is never focused on being aggressive. Try taking a picture of a forager on a blossom sometime. Often they will move away and not let you get a good shot. It can frustrating to be a bee photographer. Honeybees are only defensive when they feel threatened. And for the average backyard hive, that is never. 

So we go back to the question "are honeybees safe in neighborhoods?" Just make sure the kids aren't using the beehives as goal posts in a backyard soccer game, and I think we'll be just fine. 

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen
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I received a refresher course on how difficult some bee removals can be the other night. For this job, I did not get pictures sent to me and just offered a worst case sort of estimate. Turns out I bid low. 

I showed up on the job to find a home overgrown with vegetation from years of no care. Waste high weeds in the yard were covered in stickers, which didn't mix well with my shorts and tee shirt. After locating the bees, in a vegetation restricted area, I thought maybe it would be easier to work from the inside. So I attempted to go in. The code for the lock on the door wouldn't work, but with permission I was able to break the doorknob off, only to find a house ridden with trash, and to find that the inside of the area where the bees were had wall mounted cabinets, so working from inside wasn't an option. 

Back outside I fought my way through the vegetation and set up to work. I pulled down the soffit to expose a large colony that had been there at least two years. As I started working, I found honey combs pulled up out of the soffit and into the attic. I kept going, vac'ing bees and cleaning up honey. Then I found the combs started going down inside the wall as well. And on the other end of the nest, went so high in the attic that I could not reach them from the outside, which meant I had to crawl up in the attic to get to all of it. I did this, and glad for it, as I found also large clumps of bees hiding up there as well.

In the end, the job took ~6 hrs, 7 counting drive time. The only real saving grace is that the bees were mostly pretty nice and I was able to work without my suit on the whole time. I never did rig up my lights, but just used my headlamp on red or green light to see but keep the bees from flying at my face. 

I'm sure happy that job is done, but have another to tackle tonight. The homeowner already warned me "they've been there a long time" so we shall see how this goes....

Posted
AuthorTom Brueggen