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.


Monday, August 22, 2016

What is a Resource Hive?

(This is a sample of one of the many blogs we provide in our free Monthly E-Newsletter. In the newsletter we discuss everything from beginner beekeeping to your second year with the hive, product highlights and updates on the current state of beekeeping. It's FREE to receive our monthly e-newsletter just click here to register.)


Introduced to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm's expansive inventory last year, the Resource Hive has become a very popular resource for beekeepers. The Resource Hive consists of a 10-Frame size hive body that has been divided to accommodate two 4-Frame NUCs. It also includes two additional 4-frame NUC boxes so you can expand your NUC to a second story if you need to. The bottom board that comes with it has also been adjusted to create two entrances on opposite ends for each 4-frame portion. It works with a 10-Frame Telescoping Top (sold separately) Its popularity stems from the multiple ways it can be used:

Overwintering NUCs: Trying to keep a NUC going over winter to help grow a hive in the spring? The double chamber in the Resource allows you to keep two NUCs in one hive, using heat generated by both hives to help keep the hive temperature stable through the winter. You can even alternate each story with a frame of brood and a frame of stored honey / sugar syrup (checker boarding) to help provide easily accessible food during the winter.

Boost Weaker Colonies: Needing to build up a weak colony? Condensing a weak hive down into one half of the Resource Hive allows the colony to concentrate more on rebuilding itself than expanding.

Making Spits: With the bottom hive body divided into half, it's never been easier to split a hive. Take the frames from the hive you want to split and divide them on each side of the Resource Hive. Keep note of which side of the resource hive the queen is located and begin to introduce a queen to the other half of the hive. Once the new queen has been successfully introduced to the split you can then relocate both colonies to separate hives to continue their growth.

Raising Queens: Seal off the space between the top and bottom story and you now have 4 separate 4-Frame NUC boxes you can use to raise queens. Use the NUC inner cover entrances as entrances for the 2nd story while using the bottom board entrances for the 1st story.

Learn more about the Resource Hive and order your own here.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Time to Collect Honey, Part 2: Extracting

Read the 1st part of the blog, covering harvesting honey tips, here.


Let's talk about extractors. Extracting your honey frames is exciting but poses many questions. Do I need an extractor? What size extractor should I get? Which is better, hand cranked or powered? There are three main questions you need to ask yourself and the answers will point to the extractor that best fits your needs.

How many hives do you intend to have?
You do not want to outgrow the extractor. You may have five or ten hives currently but you are expecting to expand your bee yard to thirty hives. By the time you reach your thirty hives you do not want to look back and wish you had gotten the bigger extractor.

What is your budget?
Let's be realistic, an extractor is a large investment. There are different alternatives if an extractor isn't in your budget. You may be able to borrow/rent an extractor from your local bee association; you can uncap and let the honey drain from the frames; you can strain your comb through cheese cloth; other methods are also available.

How do you value your time?
Extracting is not a ten minute process that will happen in an afternoon. Each extractor will hold an allotted amount of frames. The more frames an extractor will hold the less cycles you will need to run to extract the honey from the frames. Do you have time to run through thirty extractions on a compact extractor or would it be beneficial for you to run six on a 21-frame extractor?

We have developed a chart that shows the amount of time needed to extract with each extractor. The time depicted is for running extractor and does not include time needed for uncapping, loading, unloading, and any other actions needed for extracting.

Time consumption for extracting will depend on the extractor being tangential or radial. Tangential extractors seat frames parallel to the center and only extract one side during the spin cycle. Radial extractors seat frames perpendicular to the center and will extract both sides at once.

Anticipating the number of hives you will have in the future will help you decide what extractor size will work best for you.

For more information about extractors and what models are available, click here.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Time to Collect Honey, Part 1: Harvesting & Uncapping

Colonies that survived through winter grown enough in population going into the nectar flow to store an excess amount of honey in late spring/early summer. Those fortunate beekeepers will be able to harvest and extract this sweet reward. Harvesting and extracting your honey is a multi-step process.

The first step is to remove the honey super from the hive. Every beekeeper will have their own method of clearing out the honey super in order to remove from the hive and some are easier than others:
  • Using a bee brush to brush off every frame is time consuming and will leave your bees irritated and ready to sting.
  • An escape screen is placed between the brood chamber and the honey supers. A simplistic concept that has the bees 'escape' from the honey super down into the brood chamber. It does require all upper entrances be closed off.
  • Fumes resonating from the sun baking down on a fume pad drenched in Natural Honey Harvester will quickly force your bees to vacate without contaminating your honey. This is the quickest method to evacuate your honey super.

Once you have the honey super removed you will need to uncap the frames in order to extract the honey. The number of frames you are uncapping and the time you want to spend during this step is dependent upon the method you should proceed with. Here are some of the most common methods of uncapping:

Using a Cappings Scratcher is an easy method to work small sections of capped honey at one time. Slide the forks underneath the comb at a horizontal angle and lift vertically to remove cappings. Many beekeepers will scrape the forks against the comb to open the cells. Please note this damages the comb and requires more cleanup from your bees.

A Cold / Hot Knife will slice away larger sections of capped honey from the frame. Place at a slight angle along the top and move down the frame in a sawing motion. Be careful not to 'dig' into the comb or tear apart the frame. The Cold Knife has a serrated blade and can stick if not kept clean. The Hot Knife is temperature sensitive and will melt away the wax. Preheat before use. A Cappings Scratcher may be needed for unevenly drawn out sections of the frame.
The Rolling Uncapper will roll over the capped honey and pierce the cappings. Allow the cappings to be pierced by pulling or pushing the Rolling Uncapper parallel to the frame. Do not push roller into the frame. Clean the central bar if roller begins to stick when rotating.
If time is of importance, the Sideliner Uncapper is a quick and easy method. Run your frames through the roller blades and both sides of your frame will be uncapped. This does not require you to hold the frame and all the debris is caught in the container underneath the sideliner uncapper. A Cappings Scratcher may be needed for unevenly drawn out sections of the frame.


Click here for Part 2 where we talked about trying to figure out what extractor or extracting process would work best for you.