Category Archives: Honeybees

Beehives- A New Invention- A Humble Opinion

capped honey
capped honey

We have a very small apiary on our farm & are relatively new to the art of beekeeping. Admittedly we are totally smitten with honey bees & their world. Recently there has been quite the buzz (sorry) about a new beehive called the ‘Flow Hive’. It is an invention being launched by 2 beekeepers from Australia. It seems the hive does the honey harvest for you, with photos showing sparkling clean honey running directly out of the hives into mason jars for the honey lover to consume.

I have heard many excited comments & gotten multiple questions about this ingenious new bee hive invention. What do I think? I must admit that this whole ‘Flow Hive’ thing makes me a bit cranky. It does have great marketing, eye-catching photos & seems to appeal to many folks. But I’m not convinced of the concept.

We humans have a propensity for things that are, or seem to be, easy. The Flip-A-Switch and Ta-Dah syndrome! Minimal input, maximum gain. This makes me cringe on so many levels.
First- It is called beekeeping, not honey extracting. What about the bees? I didn’t find any mention of caring for the bees, only excitement about crystal clear honey flowing from a hive into open mason jars outside the hive. Hmm- not a good practice, ask any beekeeper.
Second- Like so many other animal products for human use or consumption, the emphasis is on the product not on the care of the animal. Which is just wrong. This exploitive attitude is what has brought us CAFO’s for beef, pork & fryers; gestation crates for sows & battery cages for egg layers. Minimal input for maximum gain & the animals are the ones to pay the price in these systems.

Collecting sparkling clear honey directly from a beehive for your morning toast sounds too good to be true, and probably is. Does it work? -insert shoulder shrug-. Most of the comments I have heard or read have had nothing at all to do with the bees themselves. Only about honey, which by the way, they do not make for us, they make it to feed their colony. Well this hive sell? Probably. Is it a great idea? The jury is still out on that. Is it the next great beehive invention? Probably not.

If you want honey without the ‘bother’ of the bees, go to a farmers market or buy directly from a local beekeeper. Let the beekeepers, who enjoy working with bees, who understand bees, who care about bees, produce the honey for you. If you are interested in starting a hive/hives of your own. Read, study, educate yourself about honey bees. Join a bee club, take a class, find a mentor to help get you started in the art of beekeeping. There is so much more to honeybees than just their honey.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, this is simply mine.

And Then There Was One

Jan 2015
Jan 2015- FullCircle apiary

It is early January 2015 and Violet hive has died. It was not a surprise, expected really, as this hive, though strong and active all season, was discombobulated from the beginning.  These two hives where like the tortoise and the hare. Yellow was sure and steady, nose to the grind stone and efficient. Violet did everything BIG!  Lots of activity, lots of attitude (and stings), lots of brood, lots of drones, lots of pollen stores lots of mites and a flair for the artistic.

Violet may have been robbed, though I never witnessed it or saw any indications of a war having been fought. Going into summer we thought they had lots of honey stored. Maybe even enough to harvest a little. They had turned their top honey super into an artistic canvas of convuluted tunnels of cross comb. This super was VERY heavy. We had left it thinking we would be harvesting that box and leaving all of the rest of their stores for their winter larder. When harvest day came at the end of August there were lots of bees, a shiny fat mahogany colored queen, comb built out on all the frames, lots of pollen but only a minor amount of capped honey and multiple empty frames. Their larder was nearly bare. We did not harvest. The colony was still very busy so we left them to their work.

In early September we consolidated each hive, removing any empty frames and putting both hives into a winter configuration. Yellow hive looked really good, Violet was in trouble. We treated the colonies for Varroa mites with HopGuard II. There was a seasonal nectar dirth so we put feeder jars with 2:1 sugar syrup in the tops of both hives before replacing the roofs. The mites were dropping, the mite board was checked daily.  Violet had many times more mites than Yellow. Yellow was eagerly taking the sugar syrup, Violet was only sipping.  In October at the last hive check Yellow was packed with capped honey. Violet hadn’t really stored much more. It was time to take off the feeders before frost.

Not wanting to repeat last years hive dieing of starvation in February, we built several candy boards for our hives as an insurance policy in case their winter stores were running low. Emergency food to get them to the first nectar flow in Spring.  Shortly after Christmas we slid a candy board onto each hive just above the top super.  Both hives were alive at that time. Warm days saw activity at both entrances.  But in early January Violet showed no activity, a knock on the boxes produced no roar of bees. Violet had succumbed.

Tearing Violet down, doing an autopsy, we found a hive that smelled good, a baseball sized cluster of dead bees in the top super with their heads buried in honey cells. The two hive bodies had nearly empty combs. There was a fair amount of pollen and small amounts of capped honey in the corners of frames. The screened bottom board was deep in dead bees. There was very little mold in the hive. The new hive stands Bob had built had definitely allowed for much better air circulation than the cinder blocks we had used for stands previously. There was no sign of disease. It appears that the colony died of starvation and cold. To small to keep warm and unable to move to more honey stores just inches away.

The cross combed honey super turned out to have quite a lot of honey left in it.  As I was cleaning and preparing the hive for the next inhabitants, cutting the cross combs from the top super frames, capped honey appeared between the folds of comb. Violet has left us with a bowl filled with exquisitely beautiful swirls of honey comb dripping with nectar of the gods. Food for the remaining Yellow hive to get them to Spring. Violet also left a hive filled with frames of comb, a gift to a new package of bees to help them get started come April. As always with honey bees, I am left in awe.

-Thank You Violet for all your wonderful gifts.-

As an addendum- Yellow hive is doing well.  Warm sunny afternoons are showing lots of activity, cleaning, flying and pollen gathering.

FullCircle Farm 2014- A Photo Retrospective

It has been quite a year at FullCircle farm. I hope you enjoy the photo tour thru all the beautiful seasons of 2014.

Happy New Year everyone!

Enamoured with Honeybees

FullCircle Farm Apiary
FullCircle Farm Apiary

Last week, on Mother’s Day, we did our first hive inspection since reestablishing our beehives with packages of bees in late April. We had opened the hives briefly days after installing the bee packages to check if the queens had been released and to remove the queen cages. The only other interference from us has been to remove the roofs and refill the feeder jars with more sugar syrup.

It was such a joy on this day to share the adventure with my favorite people, my husband Bob & my young adult children Beth, Emelia & Will. Bob & I wore our bee jackets and hoods; the kids were armored only with their cameras and curiosity. The day was mildly warm and the bees were actively foraging and bringing in lots of pollen. We chose not to smoke the bees before opening the hive. Our experience with smoke is that it seems to agitate more than calm the bees. We were looking for signs of active queens, eggs, larva, and capped brood and to check on the progress of comb building, nectar (sugar syrup) and pollen storage.

For each hive, in turn, we remove the roof and then the feeding jar station exposing the brood box to the open air. The first sensation to wash over you is the intoxicating smell of the bees, propolis, beeswax and honey. It is heavenly. Second is the audible buzzing of the bees as they continue going about their work despite the human invaders poking about. Then there is the appearance of guard bees lining up at the top of the frames to check us out, the movements of workers dancing about messaging their hive mates, and the choreographed busyness of everyone in the hive working together for a common goal. And finally there is the sheer beauty of the artwork they create, it is breathtaking.

As we carefully begin lifting each frame from the box to examine their progress, human bodies lean in, cameras are raised to capture the moment and a sense of awe permeates the apiary. The girls have been busy. Old comb has been repaired and polished clean. Cells are being filled with sugar syrup, some already being capped as honey. A kaleidoscope of colors, pollen-  nearly white, light green, buttery yellow, deep yellow, bright orange, and nearly black are being stored away. Bees, backs covered with pollen, pollen pouches filled to bursting are everywhere. New combs are being built; exquisite, delicate, lace-like yet so strong. The queens have been busy also. There are many cells containing small white C-shaped larva as well many more cells containing larva that have been capped, a new generation of honeybees developing underneath. The first box on each hive is nearly full and a second box has been added so they have more room to work & grow their colonies.

We carefully put the frames and boxes back as we found them, refill the feeder jars with syrup and replace the roof. We all spend a few moments mesmerized by the comings and goings of the bees at the entrance. We take away with us many photos and a wonderment of the world we have been allowed access to.

Thank you girls for being so accommodating.

The Girls are Back

the girls are back
the girls are back

 

2013 was our first year of beekeeping. Shortly after installing our 1st package of honeybees we quickly decided that we wanted/needed to start a second hive the following year. We learned a lot about the art of beekeeping our first year. But we also learned that honeybees are fascinating & fun! They were gentle, not scary. They were much more interested in going about their daily tasks than they were bothered by us snooping about their hive. We always treated them calmly & with respect and they in turn allowed us access into their fascinating world. What a thrill!

Our first hive thrived over the season and we were even able to harvest a small amount of honey at the end of summer. They went into Fall strong, though probably with too many varroa mites. In February 2014 they still seemed strong. But only a month later a long, cold & wet winter took its toll, the colony died.

Today we started over. We began our 2nd year of beekeeping by installing 3# packages of Italian Honeybees, about 20,000 bees in all, into our 2 modified Warre hives. It was a cool, rainy & blustery day, definitely not ideal. The previous day had been brilliant sun one minute and dark and pouring down rain the next. We took advantage of one of the brilliant moments and set-up a canopy over the hives so we could install the bees into their new homes with out any of us getting soaked. We have chosen to do foundationless frames so the bees need to build all of their own combs. I had salvaged some clean empty combs from the dead hive so every other frame I placed in the new hive boxes had wax comb to give them a head start.

To start the installation we opened up the hives and removed 4 of the 8 frames to make room for the bees. One at a time, each package was banged on the edge of the hive to drop the bees to the bottom of the box. We then removed the can of syrup and the queen cage from the package. The hole for the can was then covered to keep the workers from escaping. The cork was carefully removed from the queen cage and a small marshmallow plug was inserted to keep the queen contained a little longer until her workers could chew thru the plug and release her. The queen in her cage was placed on the bottom bar of one of the empty frames. The package of bees was then shaken into the hive. When most of the bees were in the hive box the nearly empty package was set at the entrance so any stragglers could find their way into the hive entrance. We then replaced the remainder of the frames over the ball of bees letting them settle into place. We then installed an in-hive syrup feeder surrounded by a second hive body above them. We will feed the syrup until the natural nectar flow is adequate enough and then remove the feeders from the hives. Finally the roof cover was placed on top. The bees were safely installed in both hives.

Before leaving them to get acquainted with their new hive, each other and their queen, we spent a few moments gazing at their beauty, drinking in their glorious smell and wishing them well. As I was walking away from the hives I glanced over and there was a new worker bee already checking out the unfurling leaves on the grape vines. The work ethic of the honeybee is to be admired.

Please click on the pictures below to follow the steps we took in installing the packages of bees.

Wishing you well in your Springtime pursuits.

 

Starting Over.

Honeybees May 2013
Honeybees May 2013

The beehive has died.  I had suspected in February they were in trouble.  During the first cold snap in January when I rapped on the side of the hive I could hear a lively healthy roar from inside.  Bees clustered together for warmth but very alive.  After the 2nd cold snap in February the rap on their hive wall brought not a roar but only a buzz.  Later, warm days brought only a small number of bees out to sun on the porch.  By early March the sound was gone.  Yesterday was sunny, nearly 60 degrees in the afternoon, no bees, no sound, so we opened the hive.  It was dead.  The combs were empty of honey, only a small amount of pollen remained.  There were lots of dead bees, many with their bodies buried deeply in the cells, they had run out of honey and had starved.  There was a somberness to dismantling the hive, scraping off propolis and mold, brushing bee bodies from empty combs, examining, studying, learning, reflecting, mourning.  A process much to common in the world of beekeeping today.

The good news-  No signs of disease, no parasite or pest invaders seen, the presence of so many dead bees meant it wasn’t colony collapse disorder.  I believe it is simply a case of new beekeepers, who gave it their best educated effort, meeting with a winter of many cold, wet, foggy days and a series of very cold weather events.  A winter that needed more honey stores left in the hive and possibly artificial feeding to supplement them until Spring.

We look back on this our 1st year of beekeeping with thanks and awe and respect for these lovely, gentle and hardworking creatures.  The bees taught us so much, gave so much pleasure, added a sense of completeness to the farm and in their demise a new sense of determination to do better next time.

The hive boxes will be cleaned, the frames of comb will be reclaimed or reused, a new package of bees is on order.

Starting Over…

Beehive February 2014
Beehive February 2014