Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Winter Prep

It has come to that time of the year where beekeepers are either antsy to make sure their bees will survive the winter months or relieved that not much is needed to be done during the winter. Either way, hives need to be prepared for the winter months. Feeders should still be on the hives and your mite treatment should be finalized. Appropriate feed for the hives would be a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water or corn syrup. Feeding bees is how you have strong colonies. Having feed for your colony will stimulate brood production and allows beekeepers to supply bee nutrition.

Hive Top Feeder
Now is the time to get into your hives and check the honey stores and the brood. The queen's laying will reduce but the brood chamber should include 3 or 4 frames of brood in fall. If you are not seeing the proper amount of brood, stimulate your queen laying with feed and bee nutrition. When checking, determine the strength of your colony by counting the spaces between frames that are full (not half full) with bees. Strong hives should have at least 10 frames of bees where as weaker colonies will have fewer than 7 full frames of bees. Weaker colonies need to be combined with other hives.

Frames of Bees

Before the winter months are upon us, we want to rearrange our hives so that the brood is on the bottom and  honey and pollen are on top. The queen should move down into the bottom super and once temperatures decrease, beekeepers should resist the urge to check on their bees.  Now, start planning for next year!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Harvesting the Sweet Rewards

Beekeepers enjoy taking advantage of the fact that the honey bee will store more honey than the colony will need. A typical hive will store a surplus of 60 to 80 pounds of honey. Beekeepers set their goals on extracting this honey and filtering it into bottles.

  •  Hives entering their second (or later) year should undergo spring treatment before the honey harvest. Certain treatments would not affect the purity of the honey, but the use of harsh chemical treatments will contaminate the honey supers. In either case, treatments should cease during the honey harvest.
  •  Beekeepers want to ensure that their hive is well maintained and offer feed for their bees as a reliable source of food to collect for the colony. Having a feeder on during the honey harvest will allow for the bees to store sugar water instead of honey. This does not affect the harvest from being edible but will give the honey an influential sugar water flavor. Beekeepers want to harvest honey instead of sugar, therefore remove the feeder while honey supers are on the hive.
  • Preliminary steps need to be taken to ensure that the queen does not enter the honey super and begin to lay eggs. A queen laying eggs in the honey super will limit the amount of space to store honey and will pollute the honey with larva upon extracting. Adding a queen excluder will guarantee that she will not enter the honey super.
Photo By: The Sacred Bee's Blog

Worker bees will be able to go up into the honey supers and store nectar that is being foraged from flowers. The queen excluder will prevent the queen from entering the supers but will allow workers to easily move up. The key step in harvesting honey from your hive is to clear out the honey supers. Every beekeeper will have their own method to clearing out the honey super 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 an easy way to harvest that will ensure that once your bees have left the honey supers, they are challenged to get back into it.

  •  Using a fume pad and a Natural Honey Harvester will quickly force your bees to vacate without contaminating your honey.

After harvesting frames from the honey super, take the frames into the extracting room and begin to uncap each frame. There are multiple methods in uncapping frames: Sideline Uncapper, Cold Knife, Hot Knife, or an Uncapping Fork are some methods for beekeepers to use. Here are some videos on these uncapping methods.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Spring Treatment

During the winter months, beekeepers expect their bees to be clustered in the center of the hive and production of brood to have ceased. This winter seemed to be an exception with such mild temperatures. Hives were able to raise brood and replenish their losses before spring arrived. Beekeepers experienced early swarming and stronger colonies that required splits.

Every hive needs a thorough inspection to ensure that the mite population is not overwhelming, diseases are not found, and there is a strong population in your colony. During this thorough inspection, some things to check for:

1.  Diseases (American foulbrood, European foulbrood, Chalk brood, Stone brood). If diseases are found, contact you state inspector.
2.  Check brood pattern and population of your hive. There should be several frames nearly filled with brood and your frames covered with bees in the top hive bodies.
3.  Pest control. Most pest can be seen by the naked eye during inspection but to get an accurate count, further testing needs to be completed.

Verroa Mite
Varroa Mite  Photo By: Barbara Locke

Checking For Mites

Varroa Mites can greatly weaken a colony by creating open wounds on the bee, leaving the bee more prone to infection. Mite control is an essential process that needs to be treated on a regular basis. With a mild winter and continuous production of brood, the mite population will grow faster and be larger and the colony will need to be treated. There are several ways to check for mites within your colony. The Varroa Mite is the most predominant mite that create open wounds on the bee, leaving the bee more prone to infection, as well as vector (transferring) viruses, which compromise the health of the bees and the entire colony.

Sugar Shake. Place a few table spoons of powdered sugar in a mason jar (replace the lid with #8 hardware cloth) along with roughly ½ cup of bees (around 300 bees) and gently "slosh" them around, ensuring they are fully coated. The sugar will dislodge the mites, allowing them to fall through the hardware cloth onto a clean surface. Count the mites that are dislodged from the bees; if the mite count exceeds 3, treatment is recommended.

Corex Sheet. This is a sheet which slides under a screened bottom board. Spray the corex sheet with a cooking oil so when the mites fall from the hive they stick to the sheet and can then be counted. Insert the sheet for 3 days and then remove it to count the mites. Once you have a total, divide it by 3 to get the average mite drop in a 24 hour period ; if the mite count exceeds 10, treatment is recommended.

Corex Sheet
Corex Sheet  Photo From: pollinatethis.org/beeblog

If this is your first year in beekeeping or you just purchased a NUC or a Package, and you received your bees from a reliable source, they would have already been treated for mites prior to your pickup. These colonies should not need to be treated until late summer/early fall.


Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods work with the behavior and biology of the target pest to aid in its control. Several methods that can control the mite population include:
  • A screened bottom board which allow the mites to fall out of the hive
  • Drone trapping/Varroa trapping using a Drone frame or Drone foundation
  • Remove frame after cells have been capped and freeze for 48 hours. Reinstall frames after thawing.
IPM methods often are not a sufficient form of control and more traditional methods need to be used. We, and many in the scientific community, strongly encourage the use of “soft chemicals”. These are naturally occurring products and many naturally existing in honey. The two most common are Api Life VAR and MiteAway Quick Strips. Api Life VAR is made with thymol, which is used in mouthwash, and other essential oils. Evaporative wafers are placed on the hive and the thymol vapor kills the varroa. MiteAway Quick Strips use food grade formic acid, which naturally occurs in honey.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Managing a Honey Bound Hive

During the course of keeping bees, one of the main attractions is the ability to harvest honey. What happens though, when your bees have filled all of your frames, in the brood chamber, with nectar and your queen has nowhere to lay?

Honey Capped Frame

This is a common occurrence to have your brood chamber become "honey bound" during the main nectar flow. A typical hive body will have a brood cluster in the middle and the outside frames will contain honey. A honey bound hive happens when brood begins to emerge, it is replaced with nectar. With a heavy nectar flow coming in, the space for your queen to lay will become overrun with nectar.

A queen that has no space to lay will cause complications within you hive. If you notice that your hive has or is becoming honey bound, increasing the area for brood is necessary. A queen that does not have the space to lay can lead into a swarm.

Emerging Worker Bee

To help manage a honey bound hive, add an additional brood chamber on top of your hive. Switch out your outside frames that are filled with honey ( in the honey bound body) with empty frames (in your new brood chamber). This will create room for your queen to be able to lay and grow your hive.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Checking back with your Colony

By now some of you have already installed your bee packages and are antsy to get back in there to check on them. Try to hold off for 4 to 5 days before you revisit your hive. This allotted time period will give your colony ample time to become use to the queen and release her on their own. Being a new colony that has not drawn out comb to store food, it is still necessary to check and make sure that your feeder is filled for their convenience ( this needs to be checked every other day without disturbing the hive).

Pulling Out Frames

As you get back into your hive to check your queen cage, try to notice how your colony is reacting and be prepared to check for laid eggs. This is still a weak colony and your outer frames might be bare with no drawn comb but as you move into the center of your hive you should notice frames in development. As you are removing the frames, be very cautious that the queen is not on the frame you are handling. Working your way from your outside frame, begin to check for nectar and laid eggs to make sure your colony is doing well and your queen is laying ( there is the possibility that you might see your queen). With everything checked out, remove the queen cage and reassemble you hive.

Your colony is doing well and you are on  your way to becoming a better beekeeper.

That would be a nice scenario to go through but because honey bees don't follow a text book, everyone's experience is going to be different. Some things to be cautious of as you go back into your hive:

Bees in Hive

1.  If you notice that your queen has not been released but yet your are still seeing eggs within your frame, there was a queen in your package other than the one in the queen cage. You do not know about the queen (not in the queen cage) that came with your package: how old she is, is she strong, or how she will do with your colony. From this point there are many options that you can attempt.

    • Pinch off the queen that was not in the queen cage and let your colony accept the other
    • Release the caged queen and let them find a victor (this is not reliable because the weaker queen could fight off the stronger which would not be good for your colony)
    • Remove the queen cage a create and split from another colony or re queen a separate hive ( more advanced but would end up giving you two colonies)
The queen that with your colony now is a working laying queen. They have accepted her and if there are eggs it is best to leave her be. The best option would be to remove the queen cage and introduce it to a separate colony or create a split from a different hive.

Photo taken from Mark's Bee Blog 

2.  When checking your frame you begin to notice queen cells. This indicates that your colony finds your queen insufficient and are trying to replace her. This can happen when introducing a new queen to a new colony. Your queen is caged and is not laying which projects to your colony that she is weak and needs to be replaced. Once she is released and begins to lay, she will kill off the queen cells and everything goes back to normal. Simply remove the queen cells and check to make sure your queen is properly laying.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bee Informed Partnership and Colony Loss

We recently held a webinar with Dennis vanEngelsdorp from Bee Informed Partnership (BIP)(below is the link to the recording). BIP is a five year project which is focusing on which management practices have less winter loss. Information from anonymous surveys, taken by beekeepers, are analyzed and formed into reports that are posted for public review. These reports hold data that interpret different management practices to the amount of winter loss.The success of this project and these reports hinges on beekeeper participation. 

Bees in Hive

Ever since varroa, beekeepers have been looking for the "Silver Bullet" to solve our winter loss issues. Well, there is no "Silver Bullet" product that will do the trick but this survey and the results which come from it is the closest we are going to come. As beekeepers, we have a vested interest in this project and should participate in the survey. Stop waiting for some magic product, be part of the solution. Participate Now by Clicking Here. 

Still not convinced? Here is a sample of one of the 200+ reports that will be released. 

For those who were unable to join the webinar we have uploaded the Broadcast  or check out Bee Informed Partnership for more information.

Frames in Hive

Pesticides and honeybees
In recent years there have been numerous claims that a class of pesticides know as neonicotinoids is the cause for Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). While they have been shown to have a detrimental effect on colonies, few are saying they are sole cause. Just within the last week there have been a few studies that provide insight into just how detrimental. 

The first two were released on the website for the journal of Science. Both studies looked at the sub-lethal effect of pesticides and levels which they are exposed to in "the wild". They first found that exposed honeybees were 2-3 times more likely to die while away from the hive than the untreated bees. This finding as well as others suggests that they are unable to navigate home. The second study was similar but used bumble bees. It found that colonies treated produced 85% fewer queens and were 8-12% smaller than untreated colonies.

A third study looked at strawberries grown on conventional farms versus those grown on organic farms and the pollination success. It found that the organic farm had about 45% full pollination compared to 17% conventionally grown. While the study was not designed to answer the question why, they do discuss the possible higher abundance and increased diversity of the pollinators. 

The answers are out there. Be apart of the solution. Take the survey.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bee Days at the Bee Farm

We have had two Bee Package pick up days thus far with another coming this Thursday (March 30, 2012). These days have been buzzing with exhilaration as customers pick up their packages of bees and watching the demonstration of an installation. 

Keeping Packages Cool

Having 300 packages of bees with two industrial fans keeping them cool was a great reason for customers and spectators to stop by the Bee Farm and see the excitement in the air.

Holding the Queen Cage

For those customers who missed out on the demonstration or for those who are interested in how to install a package of bees, Brushy Mountain offers an online video (an updated version is soon to come) that can be accessed on our website: http://www.brushymountainbeefarm.com/Resources/Videos.asp

Showing a Drone

Holding a Drone

Difference Between Working and Drone

During the demonstration, spectators were able to overcome their fears and hold a bee as a Drone was passed around. This brought on many questions and an understanding of how harmless Honey Bees actually are.

Our NUC pick up days are coming up at our North Carolina location. For those who are new to purchasing a NUC rather than a Package of Bees here are some advantages:
  • Queen is already accepted within colony
  • Colony is established with 5 frame of drawn cone
  • Little wait before colony brings in their own food supply
  • Have a NUC box for future use (or credit upon return)

This is the first year that Brushy Mountain has offered NUCs for purchase and pick up. We will be holding a demonstration on each pick up day so if you are unfamiliar or unsure about the installation process of a NUC we welcome you and recommend you stay and ask questions.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Seizing the Swarm

With such mild winter weather there have already been many reports of swarming. If you have come across a swarm or have been notified of a swarm and unsure on what to do, call your local Bee Association for assistance.  There are many beekeepers that enjoy capturing swarms (mainly because they are FREE Bees), so do not hesitate to ask for assistance. Swarms can be astounding and frightening in appearance but know that because the bees are not protecting any brood and are looking for a new home, they are not aggressive and can be harmless if they are not threatened.

Swarm in Tree

Swarming is a natural occurrence that produces a new colony of bees. During a swarm the old queen leaves with about half of the worker bees and it is caused by three primary factors: overcrowding of the hive, over heating with poor ventilation, or a lack of pheromone in the old queen. Swarming is a vulnerable time for the honey bee. Leaving the hive limits their food supply to what the bees can carry and leaves them unprotected from weather conditions.  They will begin fairly close to the hive until they can scout a sustainable living space.

Helpful hints to help manage swarming:

  •          Provide more room for your bees before they need it by adding more supers
  •          Adding new frames with undrawn foundation
  •          Reverse your hive bodies
  •          Keep a constant airflow throughout your hive
  •          Check your hive for swarm cells

BIP - Reducing Colony Losses

The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP) is 5 year grant which is focused on reducing colony losses. There have been numerous projects before this one which have attempted to gain an understanding as to why we lose a 1/3 of our colonies each year; however, BIP is taking a very different approach. Their whole approach is to collect information from you, the beekeepers. Each year a survey is opened and beekeepers fill it out. The information is analysed to see what works and what doesn't. With more beekeepers participating, the better and more robust the results.

As a beekeeper, you have a vested interest to participate in the survey. Want to hear more? Tune into Brushy's webinar with the BIP Project Director, Dennis vanEngelsdorp on March 27. Registration is free but you must register in advance.  Click here to register

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Welcome to the Bee Farm Blog

Brushy Mountain Bee Farm is committed to helping beekeepers succeed. Over the years we have published newsletters, used social media, and online webinars to provide information to the beekeeping community. We are now adding a blog as yet another way to reach beekeepers and offer information which helps us all. We hope you will stop by to get the latest information from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm and the industry.

Shane Gebauer
General Manager