The Beekeeping Blog

A site for, by and about beekeepers and beekeeping.

Humans vs Nature

I subscribe to a lot of mailing lists. I like the discussions that take place there. I like that I can follow along, or jump in at any time, using my email client. My email is usually close at hand and I usually pay attention to it over other communication channels. So any time something interesting comes along, I read it pretty quickly.

Some of the beekeeping lists I follow are Bee-L, BackwardsBeekeepers, WarreBeekeepers, FeralBeeProject, and OrganicBeekeeping.

More Technology and Beekeeping

So some French employees of Cisco got into keeping bees urban style. They started three hives on the top of their Paris office. They harvested 220 pounds of honey the first year.

What I’m more interested in is finding out more information on is the monitors they installed and the data they collected.

Tech and beekeeping are something I have been interested in for many years. I want to know how expensive it was to install the monitors, what types of data they collected and what they learned from it.

This is very exciting times for beekeeping. If you know more about this project than what is published here, here, and here, please contact me and let me know. I am very interested in this. Thanks.

Calling It Quits

It’s become painfully obvious to me by my lack of updates and posts to this site that it’s time to cal it quits on managing my own custom blogging software. My lack of updates are directly related to the unfinished-ness of that code base. It was a fun learning experience and I wrote some cool code for it, but all of that is hindering my time in actually writing about bees. And since that is the reason I started this, it’s time to focus on what really matters. So I’m calling it quits on writing my own CakePHP powered blogging engine. :-) What did you think I was quitting?

Just because I can write my own blogging software, it doesn’t mean I should.

I’ve moved the posts over from http://www.beekeeping.cc/blog to http://blog.beekeeping.cc, After a day of piddling, I decided I like the blog better at http://www.beekeeping.cc/blog/. A 301 redirect is in for that, and I’ve added a updated the feedburner feed, 301 redirected the old feed urls. So you shouldn’t have to update anything. Soon I’ll fix the theme too.

It’s time to move on and get out of the ditch I’ve dug for myself.

Please let me know if you have any trouble with the feeds, articles, or links.

Thanks.

Technology and Beekeeping

For as long as I’ve been a beekeeper, since 2006, I’ve wanted to combine my love for technology with my love for beekeeping. This website is but one attempt of mine to do such a thing. It has long been my goal to offer a web based app to keep track of your hives. I’ve got most of it working and it’s pretty well thought out if I do say so myself. Why then haven’t I released it? I had a set back with a corrupted hard drive. It took months to duplicate the work. I now have several backups. Then my wife and I had our first child, a little boy. And since his birth I’ve spent a lot of time with him. Then I learned about Beetight and HiveTracks. Proof that I’m not the first to come up with the idea and certainly not the first to implement it.

Enough with the excuses already. I simply want to combine my two loves into one. I will do that if if takes me eons to complete. Why? Because my mind won’t give me a break until I do. So until that time comes, or our good Lord returns, please keep me in mind and ask me how things are going. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to make useful tools for others. I hope to have something to share before the end of this year, 2011.

So other than the hive records, what other ideas have I been cooking up? How about:

Ideas (apparently not unique to me)

A embedded linux system with sensors that monitors:

  • Temperature both inside and outside the hive

  • Humidity both inside and outside the hive

  • Hive weight

  • A sound monitoring device based on the apidictor that monitors for swarms, but digital by design

  • On board data storage

  • Various communication channel modules to send data to data processing computers (think sms,gprs,edge,hdspa,3g,4g,wifi,dongle,usb,serial,zigby)

Today I learned of even more kindred spirit out there known as the BeeHacker from friend Bryan Stalcup. Cool name BeeHacker! It appears he, as well as others if you read the comments, have also had similar ideas. There seems to be varying degrees of progress made by others. But one thing is clear, we all desire the same things.

There is one last idea, that as far as I’m aware of is all my own at this point in time. With progress being made on data collection for beekeepers and web apps reporting systems in place there are 2 things missing that I’d like to see.

  1. An open source data input API (XML-RPC, REST, SOAP) that these data collection units could submit data to these websites on your behalf

  2. A common open source data definition that these websites output their data (JSON,XML) that researchers could consume to glean important information about the state of the honeybees.

These two API’s would allow for various front-ends to be developed and data input into them using a combination of automation and manual human intervention. And various data reporting tools, feeds, and reports, that can aggregate all the data into one large picture.

What good is it to have all this data if it isn’t to make use of it? What good is it if the worlds beehives’ data is split between multiple store houses? Silos of information that leave holes. All this effort should be focused into one collective where the big picture can be derived.

I will continue working on my ideas and projects. But I’m tired of seeing others get mention for the same ideas while I sit idly by. I know I’m not the first to think of these things. I’m certainly not the first to implement them. But when these ideas come to me, they don’t come to me by way of another. Every time I hear of my ideas though I go “Shoot! Really?” Why didn’t I just speak up? So now I’m speaking up. I can not get mad at myself over this one. And if you’re reading this and you too had the idea of marrying the automated data inputs to the data stores, congratulations. It’s a good idea. It needs to be done. Please consider helping me in some way.

That’s a load off. These are exciting times for the Beekeeper. What with all the press and attention, bees are cool. They’re a heck of a lot of fun too. Beekeepers are a historically inventive bunch too. Most of the inventions are to scratch one individual’s itch though and rarely make it to a retailer’s shelf.

I’ve enjoyed sharing this and hope I can keep up the momentum. I have several other things I want to get on here. Poke me if you haven’t heard from me in a couple of days.

My Beekeeping Management Plan

I have been keeping bees since 2007. Since that time it’s really been what I’d call a hobby. I have spent the time learning about bees and how to keep them. I don’t consider myself an expert on the subject matter, but I know a few folks that are.

Since the beginning I’ve felt that I needed a plan. Something that I could put into practice and tweak as the years go by. To a certain degree I’ve been doing this all along. But this year I intend to formalize my plan. One aspect of that is to talk about it. How better to gauge the plan’s successes or failures than to have it published and shared. Later, you can ask me how the plan is going.

Starting this year I’ll likely have around 10 hives starting in spring. Each hive is scheduled to receive 3 standard deeps for brood, pollen, and honey. I will not use a queen excluder. I will bottom super the hives, meaning that when I add a new super it will go under all the existing ones. In fact there will be two empty deeps below the super containing the brood. One for them to expand onto and one for protection and hygiene. The box directly below the brood will contain frames. Yet the one below that will not. By bottom suppering, I’m encouraging them to build downward as they do in trees and most other spaces. I’m told queens won’t usually lay eggs above the honey line. So harvesting the top boxes once full should contain little to no larva.

I will not provide foundation to the bees. The bees must draw their own comb. This should cut down on wax moth. As well as allowing them to expand the comb where and how they see fit. I will provide a bead of wax in the groove of the topbar for the bees as a guide. This bead of wax will come from naturally made comb from last year. I believe that bees need to make wax and I need not be so greedy and impatient by depriving them of the task.

I will not use any chemicals, treatment, pesticides, miticides, fungicides, antibiotics, or fumigants. I do not want to consumer or sell honey that might contains any such thing. I will not artificially feed the bees with sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, pollen substitutes, or anything else. If they are unable to collect enough food to store and sustain themselves resulting in death, then so be it.

I will split each hive into two after the second major honey flow, but before it gets too late in the year. July or August should do nicely. I will take each 10 frame deep down to two five frame nucs. I will split each hive in two. They will each get two five frame deeps, one for brood, one for honey. In this way I will double my hive count going into winter. If I loose a few over winter, I’ll still be ahead come spring. The idea of wintering in nucs came to me by accident. I had wintered one hive in a nuc last year. They consumed less over winter. They were also the fastest to build come spring. I split that hive 4 times last year. I believe it’s because they have less area to cover and warm. All the resources are within easy access to the cluster. I’ve seen hives that starved during winter that had stores all around the cluster. I’m told that this is fairly common. I’m also told that the cluster moves up to access additional resources. Not out. By giving them a tall narrow area to work with this should suit their desire well.

What honey isn’t used to supply the nucs with 5 frames each of honey will be harvested via the crush and strain method. This should be the second and final harvest of the year. I will bottle and sell what I get.

Come spring I will do inspections and decide which ones and how many hives I’d like for that year. Any nuc above that number will be sold. The remaining hives will again be expanded to ten frame deeps as the above starts over again.

I will market the fact that the honey I’m selling is supplied by chemical free bees. I expect to charge a fair bit more for chemical free honey as I believe it is worth more. Be able to get a higher price will depend on educating the consumer what makes my honey different and special. If they don’t want to pay the price they will have plenty of other choices among cheaper honeys.

That in a nut shell is my 2011 Beekeeping management plan. Along with that I intend to practice queen rearing and possibly selling queens at the local level. We’ll both know this year what worked and what didn’t in this plan.

If you have experience with anything I’ve mentioned above, please leave a comment. Thanks. God bless

Buckwheat Honey Butter Biscuits

One of my favorite treats is home made honey butter. It’s better when made with buckwheat honey. It’s best when served with home made butter and biscuits.

Here are some pics of me making honey butter.

  1. Cut a pad of butter and pour honey on top. Homemade Buckwheat Honey Biscuits

  2. Get a fresh homemade biscuit Homemade Buckwheat Honey Biscuits

  3. Mash the butter and honey together with a fork. Homemade Buckwheat Honey Biscuits

  4. Rip off a piece of the biscut and dip in the honey butter, Eat and Enjoy!!! Homemade Buckwheat Honey BiscuitsIf you’ve never tried any of the darker honeys, I suggest you do. The flavor in a darker honey is out of this world. Much more complex than many of the lighter honeys I’ve tasted. When combined with butter, it’s causes a flavor explosion in my mouth. Writing this is making me want to ask my wife fix more biscuits. Mmmm, mmm.

Upcoming Webinars From the Extension.org Service

The Extension.org is offering several webinars for free. They cover a range of topics covering various farming related issues. The one most interesting to me as a beekeeper is “Yellowjacket Life History Shifts Modify Invasion Impacts in Hawaiian Ecosystems” on December 1, 2010. It is presented by Erin Wilson of UC Davis.

Yellowjackets are a pest of the honeybee. If we’re having a bad year for yellowjackets I’ll set up a trap to try and catch many of them.

If you’re looking to listen to the experts speak and can’t or don’t want to travel then consider Extension.org’s webinars.

7 Rules for Staying Safe Around Bees for Non Beekeepers

Many people, and I do mean many, are afraid of bees. Bees of all kinds, honeybees, carpenter bees, and bumblebees. I believe the reason for this fear is that honeybees in particular look very similar to yellow jackets. And many people, including yours truely, have had very unplesent experiences with the aggressive yellow jacket. In any case, I wanted to share some information that will hopefully help alleviate some anxiety over being around a colony of honeybees.

honeybees, in general, are very calm and not very defensive. This is one of the reasons that man can keep bees. If they are too arrgessive, it would be more trouble than it’s worth. Such is not the case. Even though many beekeepers wear protective gear, there are probably just as many that don’t. The ones that do wear the protection because they are entering the brood chamber, where the babies are, and the bees can become a little defensive then. Smoke is the main tool of protection for a beekeeper. The smoke causes the bees to gorge only honey which makes them less aggrressive, and therefore less likely to sting.

So enough of the descroptive paragraphs, lets get these rules of behavior around honeybees into a list.

  1. Never approach a hive of bees from the front. They perceve it as an attack and will retaliate. Always approch from the side or better yet the back.

  2. Wear light colors. White is the best color to wear. honeybees are aggitated by the color black.

  3. Keep pets out of the bee yard. In fact don’t pet your dog before going into the bees. The bees can smell it and they don’t like it.

  4. Stay calm. bees are like any other creature, they can sense and react to fear.

  5. DO NOT jar the hive. This includes not throwing things at the hive, knocking on the side of the hive or knocking it off it’s stand.

  6. Don’t make sudden movements. Honeybees will “jump” at you if you make sudden or quick movements.

  7. Don’t wear strong perfums or scents. Some cause the bee to think you’re a flower. Watch out for strong scented shampoos and conditioners too.

Not a rule exactly, but this is very important to know and remember. bees only attack when they are defending their young, the brood. Singular bees out on flowers won’t usually attack. However, if you step on one, it may sting you. But a sting from a single bee isn’t the same as an attack. Yet, to the allergic, a single sting may be all it takes. There are anywhere from 40 - 100 deaths resulting annually from stings of bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and other stinging animals acrroding to page which is using the government statistics as their source.

Similarly, if you see a swarm looking for a new home there is no reason to fear. It’s been observed by many experieced beekeepers that bees are the most docile when in a swarm. Again, there are 2 main reasons for this. 1) They consume as much honey as their bellys will hold before leaving the hive. 2) They have no brood to protect. When honeybees swarm they fill up on honey to prepare for the journey and the activity of building comb at their new home. All this requires energy, which the honey provieds. Since they have left the colony in search of a new home, they left all the soon to be hatched bees behind. Protecting the young is the main reason for defensivness. Without that motivation, an experienced beekeeper can scoop up a swarm of bees and not receive a sting.

honeybees are some of the most gentle of the stinging insects. It’s a quality that forged the relationship between man and bee. Man has since breed his bees to be even more gentle. Still, they are wild creatures and can be provoked to sting. Bees are not looking for a reason to attack though. Keep the above list in mind when around honeybees and you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience. Who knows, you may even fall in love and become a beekeeper yourself.

Help Christopher Stowell Convince the Boy Scouts of America Reinstate the Beekeeping Merit Badge

I recieved an email from the admin over at BeeSource explaining that a 13 year old Boy Scout named Christopher Stowell is seeking support in trying to convenience the Boy Scouts of America to reinstate the Beekeeping Merit Badge. This is important for our beloved hobby. An interest in beekeeping by young people helps spread the knowledge gained by older generation on to future generations, there by preserving valuable knowledge. As many of you reading this already know, beekeeping is a very rewarding hobby, and a source of income for a lot of beekeepers.

I’ve not read this anywhere, but I suspect that the reason that the BSA stop the Beekeeping Merit Badge in the first place was over concerns of people allergic to bee stings having reactions. I can just imagine a concerned mother, of a son with allergies to bee stings, raising an issue to the point that the BSA just decided it was easier to not to have to deal with the potential liability. I suspect that this is the same reason that many cities have also banned the hobby, including NYC. Which I hear that they have now reascended, and it is once again legal to keep bees.

The problem with banning beekeeping is that keeping bees is beneficial to our plants, many of which we depend on for our survival, and to our enjoyment. One of the reasons that I keep bees is they provide me with an unlimited amount of stimulation to my curiosity. I think I will never completely understand them. It’s interesting to read about a manipulation technique and the reported results, and then to reproduce those same results in one’s own bees. Why deprive people of such a rewarding experience? I understand the fear associated with the allergy. My Mom is deathly allergic to insect venom. Has been all of her life. But there are very effective mitigations against Anaphylaxis shock, where the body tries to fight the venom’s effects. I keep an epi pen on hand in case a visitor happens to have a reaction in the event of a sting. I reccommed that you do the same. How ever if one will keep in mind a few rules when around a hive of bees there is little chance of an issue.

If you’d like to support Christopher Stowell in his effort to encourage the powers that be at the Boy Scouts of America then visit his beepetition and add your support. At the time of this writing it’s already 270 pages of comments. At 10 pledges per page he’s already got 2700 signatures of support. If you’re interested in offering your services as a mentor to anyone that will seek the Beekeeping Merit Badge you can do so at this thread over at Beesource. Or if you prefer you can download, print, and mail this pdf. And if you’re a member of a club you can help pass the resolution showing your support by downloading, printing, and mailing this pdf.

One of the joys of beekeeping is sharing that joy. Let’s show our support of Christopher Stowell’s effort by signing his petition and offering to be a mentor.

Beginner Lessons in Feeding Hives Sugar Syrup

We have been blessed this spring with our hive count having increased by 900%. We began this year with essentially one hive when our second one didn’t make it through winter. That hive split into two and swarmed once. The swarm got away. Each of the splits each swarmed once. We caught them. Two random swarms showed up at the house. We boxed them. We installed 1 package at the beginning of spring as well. We then purchased a queen from a fellow beekeeper at the NCSBA Summer Meeting who won it as a door prize. We’re up to nine hives now. Completely amazing! This is exactly what we wanted. We want to get our hive count up to around 20-25. Thank the Lord.

The original hive has been struggling. After all the splits and swarms, I believe they went queenless for a while. They raised another and she was beginning to lay. The package hive and one of the splits from the original hive were the strongest.

The Beeks in our local club were aware that most of our hives were new and weak. The advice we kept getting was feed, feed, and feed. We were reluctant to feed. We wanted to see if they could make it own their own. But, early in the spring here in NC we had heavy rains that have really messed with the pollen and nectar flows. So on Saturday July 11th, 2009 I decided to feed the bees. I fed five of the weakest hives. It was about 5:30 PM and HOT! We had to promptly leave town for a family cookout. The next day, Sunday afternoon, I looked out the window towards the hives as I do so often. I saw bees all over the place. I went outside quickly and there were bees all over 2 of the hives I had fed the day before. It kind of looked like when they’re swarming or a very busy orientation flight. I looked closer and saw lots of fighting. They were being robbed! I had no idea how to stop it. I suited up and put entrance reducers on all the hives. I called a more experienced beekeeper and explained my plight. He headed right over. He took a look at everything and laughed a little. He said, “I’ve been where you are. In 5 years from now, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a call from someone asking for your help.” Ultimately, he took the strongest of the weak hives with him. It happened to be the ones that were being robbed out the most. He also told me that putting the entrance reducers on was the right thing to do. Our first hive that was struggling so hard to recover got frustrated and swarmed to an Oak branch nearby.

The robbing didn’t stop after he left. The robbers proceeded to the other hives with feeders. I was still at a loss for what to do. We were scheduled to leave town for a break that day as well. Finally I decided to pull the feeders from two of the other hives that were being robbed. That taken care of we packed up and took our new queen along with some frames of brood, pollen, and honey from a very productive hive to a new location for installation. Don’t forget there is still a swarm from a weak hive hanging out on a branch. But we left town, anyway, frustrated and somewhat defeated. We figured we would just let nature take it’s course.

Vacation was nice and I didn’t think about the bees much at all. On the way home we checked on the new queen. They had freed her but we are not sure if she lived or not. More to follow on that in a later post. After we arrived home and unpacked I took a walk around the property to check everything out. To my surprise the swarm was still hanging out on the Oak. I picked up a nuc and was able to retrieve them. The next day I moved the two strongest hives that were doing all the robbing to a new location in a different county. This would allow us to continue to feed all the weak hives with little fear of a repeat robbing event. We’re also not taking any honey off this year due to the low flow and the fact that are hives are weak. We want them to have as much food as possible going into the winter. With any help we’ll make it through to spring with what we have now. In which case the idea is to split them and we’ll be roughly around our desired 20 hives. That’s the plan anyway.

The lessons here were this. Be careful when feeding weak hives in the presence of strong hives. As the experienced beekeeper said, “Feed as close to dark as possible.” We have really had an awesome spring in only our second year of keeping bees. What happened that Sunday was a real shame and was so discouraging I was ready to throw in the towel. But with the help of an experienced beekeeper and some understanding family that have allowed our apiary to expand onto their properties we’re sticking with it. Always remember that bees are insects. They behave the way that God programmed them to behave. They are not malicious to the beekeeper. If there is a supply of weakly guarded food they will exhaust it till it’s gone and stored up in their hive. At first I was upset with the two stronger hives. But, honestly, that is what I want from a hive. Survivors. Strength. Growth. Population. They looked good. But I can’t have them here with so many weak colonies. It can be frustrating sometimes. But for me, working through it and finding the lesson is the reward. I love to learn. That is why I got into beekeeping. I wanted to learn something new. There is one more lesson. All the advice we received about feeding from all the other beekeepers should have had a disclaimer that we didn’t find out about until it was too late. Feed as close to dusk as possible.

With the two strong hives gone we have begun feeding the weak hives again and I’m happy to report minimal to no robbing. There’s a little fighting but no more than normal. I filled the feeders at dusk and was careful not to spill any. So far so good. We’ll see in a few months if it’ll all pay off or not.

If you’re a new beek also, or have a story you’d like to share please leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.