Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Benefits of Digital Hive Tracking

Broodminder Hive Scale
Collecting Data from our Broodminder Scale
As the craft of beekeeping continues to expand, so to do the tools and technologies beekeepers have at their disposal to better understand the health of their hive. Digital hive tracking has not only grown in popularity over the past couple years, but has brought significant advancement in tracking that have made quite the impact on beekeepers. Some of the major benefits of digital hive tracking:

Constant observation of your hive: While hive inspections are a vital component to being an effective beekeeper, there is such a thing as too many hive inspections. Every time you open up the hive to take a quick peak, it disrupts the hives growth. Digital tracking allows the beekeeper to view important data to quickly interpret the colonies health in between regular hive inspections. Strong fluctuations in the data could indicate issues in the hive that could have gone unnoticed until your next inspection.

Collected data can help you understand your colonies activity: Using data collected over time, you can make better judgement such as when to feed and when to harvest honey. Weight starting to go down in your hive? That could indicate the nectar flow has diminished and the bees are starting to feed off their stored honey. At that point you can add a feeder to help them keep their food stores strong. Notice an intense plummet in weight? Their might have been a robbing. Most hive trackers also include the option of a public data center where you can compare your information to others in your area and around the US that could help determine if there may be a greater issue in your area.

Solution Bee Hive Scale
Inspecting a hive on a Solution Bee hive scale
With the rise in technology integrating with beekeeping, some beekeepers may wonder if it's too much. After all, one of the joys in the beekeeping is cultivating a tactile relationship with the bees and the natural world. Just like with concerns about technology ruining relationships between humans, some people hesitate incorporating technology into their beekeeping practices.

Can technology really change the beekeeping experience that much? We believe it does not. No matter how many different gadgets you stick to the hive, there is nothing more important to keeping your hives healthy than going in regularly and visually making sure everything is functioning properly in your colony. As the technology tells you about the colony status when you are not looking, it can help you time your inspections better, and to make more informed decisions about your colony's needs.  Most of us don't want to interfere with a thriving colony, but we do want to know when one needs help.  Hive tracking helps you interfere less with the strong hives and to identify the hives that really need help.


At Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, we currently offer two brands of digital hive tracking



Solution Bee Hive Scale: Reading both the weight of the hive and outside temperature, it can provide a constant flow of data you can use to follow your hives growth or decline during the weeks in-between inspections and through the winter.




Broodminder: Using a weight scale and in-hive thermometer/humidity reader, you can continuously monitor colony health from your smart phone without touching your hive. By using the smart phone app, you can use the recorded colony history to check on queen productivity, brood rearing, swarming, hive robbing, food storage, nectar flows, moisture problems, and more.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Propolis: It Binds the Hive Together...Literally

We've all been there; pushing with all our might on the hive tool just to pry the frames out of the hive, after which, we have this gooey resin stuck to our gloves or suit. Propolis is a nuisance for the beekeeper but a valuable asset for the honey bee. The sticky nature of propolis makes hive inspections challenging, stain pretty white beekeeping suits, and requires a heavy cleaner to remove from your hands. Beekeepers despise this resinous substance but the benefits far outweigh the cons.

Your first thoughts of resin may be that conifers or birch but there is a vast range of different plants and trees that produce a resin to protect their leaf buds from predators. Take a look at a poplar or cottonwood when they begin producing buds and you will find a yellow, brown, or red resin seeping out. There is a dedicated class of worker bees that will forage for resin, scraping it with their mouthparts and store in their pollen basket until they return to the hive. Upon their return, they will go to the areas that require the resin (now propolis) to fill in nooks and crannies. Other house bees are required to remove the propolis from the forager’s pollen basket as the carrying bee is unable.

So why do bees do it? Propolis is not consumed, a pain to collect, and is a specialized task.

  • Bees will use propolis throughout the hive to add structural support. Rougher wood will be smoothed over, holes will be filled, and frames will be secured with propolis. It is the bee’s glue and sealer.

  • Propolis can help in fortification against opportunistic pests. Bees will entomb small hive beetles in crevices with propolis or build “propolis prisons” that prevent the hive beetles from reproducing. The presence and contact of propolis is toxic to wax moth larvae in its early developmental stage.

  • Bees also require the variety of resins to build their immune system and reduce the immune functions of individual bees as they build stronger defenses. Studies have shown that bees exposed to propolis have a lower bacteria load in and on their body.
ProPlus Hive
Healthy bees are essential to a healthy colony. 
Proplus Hives provide a natural way 
for bees to build upon their immune functions.
Colonies will increase the rate of resin foraging during evidence of pathogens. Your colony is constantly vulnerable to fungus, molds, and bacteria. Luckily, honeybees instinctively coat every surface inside the hive with propolis for protection. Propolis provides the bees a natural defense against pathogenic microorganisms. The Brushy Mountain ProPlus Hive delivers a textured surface that encourages propolis production to increase colony health.


We push for beekeepers to provide feed supplements to their colony to increase the overall colony health. Here is another weapon in the arsenal to help beekeepers manage healthy bees. 

Next time you go in for a hive inspection, the headache of prying the equipment should be less painful knowing that the sticky resin is helping your bees!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Beekeeping in the Summer: Maintaining a Hive in the Warm Weather

A few bees getting a drink of water from a nearby stream.
Summertime is here and your hives should be buzzing! With summer in full swing there are a couple things you should keep an eye on. You want to make sure that your hive is properly fed, has plenty of water, and gets proper ventilation, especially now that the temperatures are starting to rise. I don't know about your area but around here our summers can get pretty toasty! Add in the humidity and you're lucky if you don't melt! While it may not get as hot and humid wherever you live, you still want to make sure your hive is well taken care of when the heat starts to rise. The best way to keep a hive from overheating during the summer is ventilation. There are several different ways you can go about providing more ventilation for your hive: 
  • If your hive is strong and healthy you can remove your entrance reducer (8 Frame | 10 Frame) allowing more workflow with the bees as well as more space to allow air flow. If robbing starts to occurs, then you can install a moving and robbing screen (8 Frame | 10 Frame).
  • Using an IPM Screened Bottom Board (8 Frame | 10 Frame) with the corrugated sheet removed is a great tool to help with ventilation. Even during the colder months a screened bottom board assists in helping the bees control the hive's internal temperature.
  • The addition of a Slatted Rack (8 Frame | 9 Frame | 10 Frame) also helps provide space for air circulation. It provides empty space for the colony to expand freely and, during the summer, they can use that space to control ventilation by fanning their wings. Can be used all year round.
  • You can tweak the top of the hive by opening up the entrance gap in your inner cover. If you are in need of more ventilation than that, you can switch out your inner cover with a ventilated inner cover (8 Frame | 10 Frame), while still using your Hive Top.
  • An Imirie Shim (8 Frame | 10 Frame) provides more open air space as well as providing an additional upper entrance.
  • A natural way the bees take care of controlling the temperature in the hive is called bearding. This is when a large amount of bees huddle around the entrance of a hive (they look like a big bushy beard) and fan their wings to provide more air flow through the hive.
  • If possible, by removing a frame and then equally spacing out the rest of your frames, you will provide more space for air to circulate freely through the hive.
A couple hives bearding to help maintain
a stable hive temperature.

During their first summer you will want to make sure that you keep them fed and they have plenty of water available for them. Even though the world is in bloom and your hive has grown in strength there are still moments when they will need your help. An example of when you will need to provide more feed is during long periods of rain where the bees are unable to leave their hives to collect pollen and nectar. On the other side of the spectrum, if you find yourself in a drought where there are no resources available for the bees you will need to make sure you provide them plenty of nourishment. Always keep an eye on your environment and make sure you have some sugar syrup or pollen patties ready just in case.


 Summertime can be one of the best times of the year when you are a beekeeper. You have made it through spring and hopefully your hive has grown strong and is starting to flourish and working at or near maximum capacity. You still need to keep a watchful eye on your hive to make sure they are healthy and receiving the nutrition they need but we are at the time of year where the bees work their best!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Absconding: Why is my Hive Empty?

Your hive is empty? What the heck happened? Beekeeping always has an element of chance when it comes to success.  For every successful hive, there is always the chance that a hive will abscond. Absconding is when an entire colony just ups and leaves their current location in search for a new home. While swarming is a very common action for a colony to take, absconding is much rarer. It can happen any time of year but is most common during the first few weeks of a brand new colony or later in the fall.


There are many variables that can drive a colony to abscond. A few of the of those reasons could be:
  • Lack of Resources: One of the most common reasons is the colony deciding that there is not enough resources available to them in the area. Even if your hive has shown signs of effective foraging and activity, a quick change in the environment can cause trouble. If a colony is new in a hive and, let's say, during a dearth they are unable to find resources at their normal foraging spots, they could decide to pack up and relocate. Slightly similar to swarming except since the colony is so young, it is better for the whole colony to relocate rather than split into half. If you notice that weather conditions are hindering your colonies foraging, it is always best to provide sugar syrup using a feeder.
  • Foul Odors: This can most commonly happen with newly painted hives. If you paint your hive and don’t give it a couple days to air dry completely before installing your bees, the fumes and odors could drive the honey bees away from the hive.
  • Pest & Robbing: Robbing is when honey bees try to invade a different colony and steal some of their resources, whether it be stored nectar or provided feed. Even with an entrance feeder, larger pests could try and dig into the hive to try and feed off the feeder or even the bees. Depending on the severity of robbing, this could potentially cause a colony to abscond. To prevent robbing, keep a watchful eye on your hives activity and the nectar flow. Robbing happens most often during dearth’s or times of minimal resources, so if you notice that your bees are not foraging as much, you may want to reduce the entrance size to help provide your bees with less room they have to protect. Click here to learn more about robbing.
If you discover one of your hives has absconded, there are a few options you have to help build a new colony back up:
Splitting a Hive into a Nucleus Hive
  1. With a second colony that is very strong, you can split the colony and use a portion of it to build up a new hive. To split, select 4-5 frames from the strong colony that include a wide variety of available brood and resources (eggs, larvae, capped brood, and stored nectar). Move these frames into an empty hive and fill in all available frame space (in both the new and old colony) with drawn comb or new foundation. You can allow the colony to try and produce their own queen, but it is recommended to source your own queen and introduce her on your own.
  2. Started your hive with a package or a NUC? There is always the option of sourcing bees out again. Local Bee Associations are a great place to start when looking for the best ways to get bees in your area.
  3. Speaking of Associations, you can always get in contact with fellow beekeepers to see if they have any swarms or hives they are willing to split with you.
The best prevention against absconding is observation. You do not want to open your hive constantly for that could cause just as much disruption with your hive growth (inspection every couple weeks is still recommended), but keeping a watchful eye on their activity in and out of the hive can provide you just as much information.

Absconding is something only a small number of beekeepers ever have to worry about, but it is wise to understand the possibilities and stay informed.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Preparing for your New Bees

A beekeeper can’t be a beekeeper without bees. Packages and Nucleus Hives (NUCs) are the simplest way of finding new honey bees. If you have not pre-ordered your Package or NUC yet, we still have some available for pick-up at our retail stores. Click here to view our pick-up dates and pricing. If you have already found your source for honey bees, you are well on your way to becoming a beekeeper! Before you get started, though, here are a few tips on how to best prepare for your new bees.

Nucleus Hive (NUC) being opened for inspection

Pick up your bees in an appropriate vehicle.

Honey bees in transit are not the happiest. The longer they are confined, whether it be a package or a NUC, the more stressed they become. Would you not be as well? The stress of transporting a colony can cause them to overheat and cook themselves. This is one of the reasons why we recommend you pick up your package of bees rather than having them shipped. They will need constant airflow to keep them from overheating. An open bed vehicle like a truck is a great vehicle to transport bees. If you have to load the bees into a car to travel, make sure you have the windows open and air conditioning on the entire trip. You may get a little chilly but that may be better than cooking your new investment.

DO NOT pick up your hive supplies the same day you get your bees.

Every hive component (hive tops, boxes, and bottom boards) needs either a coat of laytex paint or a sealant to help protect and preserve the wood. The paint or sealant must be dry and the odor dispelled before you install your bees. Picking up your supplies the same day as bees will require an additional 3-5 days before your hive will be ready for the bees. Order your supplies now and get them ready.

Make sure you provide plenty of feed for your new colony.


Installed Package w/ a Cypress Entrance Feeder

Imagine that you have just moved to a new city. Are you going to know where the closest grocery store is located? How long will it take you to build that bookshelf in order to organize your house? While your new colony is learning the environment around them, you will want to provide plenty of sugar syrup for them to feed on. Sugar Syrup is easy to mix and can be fed to the bees in many different devices. Adding feed supplements will provide the additional nutrition to the sugar syrup the bees need. A good rule of thumb is keep feeding your hive sugar syrup until they stop taking it or until the first honey super is added.


It’s never too early to start fighting Varroa Mites.

They are considered one of the key factors in honey bee decline. A small, bloodsucking tick opens wounds on the bees making them more susceptible to infections and diseases that can last multiple generations. Varroa’s reproductive cycle is based upon that of the bees and the female mites will produce young within capped brood cell. One of the best times to treat for Varroa is before the bees are able to cap their brood. Packaged bees will not have capped brood and can be easily treated with a mixture of sugar syrup and oxalic acid, a natural varroa treatment. In a package 100% of varroa mites are exposed so there is nowhere for them to hide.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Wintering Bees Cluster: What's going on?

A common question that non beekeepers constantly ask is how bees survive through cold winter temperatures. “They create a cluster and use vibration to keep the cluster warm” is the typical response that usually concludes “they do not hibernate”. As beekeepers, do we truly understand what is happening within that cluster? We understand that the bees generate metabolic heat, but how?

Honey bees would not have a chance if they did not function as a highly organized superorganism that worked efficiently. Each bee fills a need within the colony and this assigned division of labor allows honey bees to be successful.

To maintain heat within the cluster the colony mush be able to produce heat and use bees to insulate and reduce heat loss. The bees on the outer edges of the cluster act as insulators and will rotate into the center where the temperature is warmest. The “heater bees”, as discovered by Professor Jurgen Tautz at the Wurzburg University, in Germany, are responsible for maintaining the temperature of the brood nest.
Thermal imaging has revealed that heater bees will decouple their wings so the muscles can move at full speed without moving their wings. This movement will increase their body temperature to the point where they should cook themselves, up to 111 Fahrenheit, but are able to withstand. Further investigation revealed that the heater bees would position themselves in empty cells amongst the brood in order to sustain temperature in the surrounding cells. These bees will even place their thorax on cells to increase the temperature within by a few degrees.

The point to be mindful of is that the cluster stays warm, the hive does not. Bees make no attempt to maintain heat throughout the entire hive. A hive that is uniformly warm would not require a cluster to form around the brood. Warmth is essential for maintaining brood health and bee movement.

How can beekeepers help?
  •  Beekeepers are able to help the colony maintain cluster temperature by removing unnecessary dead air space. Condense the hive down to manageable setup and reposition the food stores for easy access.
  • Insulators are great to trap heat but will also trap in moisture. Choose a material that is absorbent or allows for moisture to escape.
  •  Use windbreaks to prevent gusts of wind penetrating the hive.
Some great resources for assisting with the cluster include:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What Makes Winter Honey Bee's so Special?

Have you ever wondered why winter bees live longer?

The Answer: Vitellogenin.

Next question; what is Vitellogenin?

Vitellogenin is classified as a glycolipoprotein as it has properties of sugar, fat and protein. The honey bee colony's health is dependent upon the buildup of this protein reserve as it acts as an antioxidant to prolong the Queen and forager's lifespan. It is also used to produce royal jelly and is a vital part of the bee's immune system. Additionally, it functions as a hormone that affects future foraging behavior. Within the worker bees, those with the highest levels of Vitellogenin are given the job of nesting bees while those with exhausted reserves become foragers.

How does this impact my winter bees?

We always recommend feeding bee's sugar syrup with a supplement going into the winter. This is a no-brainer. What we don't touch upon is the protein intake of a colony. The best indicator of adequate protein is the diversity of pollen stores. Colonies that are still rearing brood can easily deplete their pollen stores and begin to delve into their Vitellogenin during a pollen dearth. The upcoming winter generation needs to have built up lipids and proteins stored in their fat bodies (nutrients held in the bees body) so that they may survive without honey stores. Keep in mind that high levels of vitellogenin going into winter will help with the pollen shortage in early spring.

There are many advantages to feeding syrup and protein sources in the fall. There are several nutritional supplements that can be included in syrup to incorporate the needed nutrients to maintain a healthy colony.

  • Honey B Healthy us used in spring and winter to stimulate the immune system
  • Amino B Booster is a blend of free amino acids that assimilates directly through the mid gut to the bees' hemolymph and hemocytes, then transported to the sites where protein is needed for bee growth.
  • Vitamin B Healthy provides the needed nutrients vital for bee health when pollen sources are scarce or pollen lacks the essential nutrients.
  • Hive Alive strengthens the bees' immune system and helps bees absorb the nutrients, proteins and sugars needed to increase brood production.

Beekeepers with negligible fall pollen should look to pollen sources to sustain or build up protein reserves. The best pollen source would be that extracted from the colony or from a reputable local supplier, however, there are other substitutes that will provided the needed protein and lipids.
  • You need to look to sources with protein levels higher than 25% such as our Ener-G-Plus which provides this with approximately 32% crude protein.
  • Save time with the prepared pollen substitute in patty form.
Honey bees require protein, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins, minerals and water. Ensure the emerging generation going into winter has an abundant, nutritional diet so they may pack in their fat bodies for longer months.