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Posts Tagged ‘honey’

Image by Björn Appel (honey bees fanning their wings to circulate and cool the air in the hive)

We have had the busiest “bee” year that we have ever had since we got our first hives in 2007. If you’ll recall, we came out of winter this year with these two hives, both of them super strong and healthy.

This is what we have now…

I couldn’t fit them all into one photo so I had to splice two photos together. We are up to 6 hives, well above our goal for this year!

I’ve mentioned before that our main goal is to get all of our hives converted over to Warre’ hives which allow the bees to make their own comb and is a less intrusive/controlling method of beekeeping. We’ve currently got all but one hive moved over to Warre’ hives, we’ll probably move the last standard German hive over next year.

So how did we get so many hives? Well, it’s a long busy story, but I’ll try and condense :O)

This year P volunteered with the local Swarm Hotline. When people find swarms in their garden, they can call and the nearest beekeeper is contacted and goes to access the situation, either catching the swarm or counselling on how best to deal with the bees.

"The Bee-Mobile"

Over the past month our tiny Renault Twingo has been converted into “The Bee-Mobile” loaded with swarm boxes and containers, veils, bee suit, smoker, branch cutter, a swarm catching bag-on-a-stick, even a special bee vacuum-cleaner attachment for those pesky hard-to-get-at swarms! Anything that he might need is in there. So far P has responded to a dozen or more calls, many of the swarms flew away before he could get there, some were way too high to catch, and one unfortunate swarm apparently had been poisoned and died. Out of all of those phone calls, P managed to bring home 3 healthy swarms…but then the swarming season isn’t quite over yet so there is a chance, if we’re lucky, we’ll get one or two more.

Strange Incident of a Queen in the Morning

The strangest occurrence, which led to one of our new hives, happened about a month ago. P went out to check on the bees early one morning and sitting there all by herself on the side of one of the hives was a virgin queen bee. It was strange because it was still too cool outside and none of the bees were flying yet so what was this queen doing out on the hive-box all alone? Possibly she had been out on a mating flight the previous day and for some reason didn’t re-enter the hive, or possibly she was one of a group of just hatched queens and she left the hive, or was kicked out? Or maybe she wasn’t even one of our bees at all! Who can say… it remains a mystery but P caught her and commenced to making a hive for her.

He put her into this queen cage and then went out to our strongest hive and collected enough bees to give her a decent start.

He put everyone into this Warre’ hive then put them into the cellar where they stayed for 3 days. This gives them time to become acquainted with the new queen and hopefully accept her, they spend a day or 2 eating a plug of honey or candy away from the cage opening which then frees the queen, at which point they are ready to go outside and begin building their new hive. So far this hive is doing really well, it went smoothly with none of the numerous complications that we had last time we tried this.

So that unusual incident gave us our first Warre’ hive of the year!

Honey!

(Sorry about the recycled photo, forgot the camera this year, this image is from our 2008 harvest.)

Yes, we harvested this year, last time we harvested was in 2008. We don’t harvest every year as a rule, we don’t sell honey and there is only so much honey that two people can eat in a year! We do give it away quite often and still one harvest typically lasts us for 2-3 years. We got a record harvest this year with a total of 100lbs of honey! That was from just 2 hives.

During the honey harvest P shook all of the bees from one of our standard German hives into one of the Warre’ hives which leaves us with just the one standard German hive.


Kenya Top Bar Hives

In addition to all the other bee activities, we also built 2 Kenya Top Bar Hives, which are my official first hives. I will write about these in a separate post.

So to sum up…

1st new hive this year came from our Mysterious Queen Incident

2nd new hive was a captured swarm we learned about from our neighbour who is also a beekeeper.

3rd new Warre’ hive was a transfer of one of our established hives during the honey harvest.

4th and 5th new Warre’ hives came from swarms located through the Hotline.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. On the same day that P caught the first swarm, one of our original German standard hives threw a very large swarm which of course flew to the very top of the tallest tree on our property and were way too high to catch, so we lost 1 swarm of our own, but gained 3.

Whew! Did I mention it has been a VERY BUSY SUMMER?

I haven’t even mentioned all the work going on in the garden. I think I’ll save that for another post!

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Hi everyone, I know it’s been a long time, I apologize. There just hasn’t been much to share that anyone would find of interest and life in general is keeping me pretty busy in other directions. But we’ve had a few questions about our Warre’ hive experiment and how it is going, so here’s a brief update.

We started in June of 2008 by building 5 Warre’ hives. The plan was to gradually move the bees from the standard German boxes that we were using, into the Warre’ hives as the bees swarmed. Well, it sounded like a good plan…

That year we had 2 swarms, the first one we caught and moved into one of the hives, unfortunately it did not thrive and died out over the winter of 2009. The other swarm we were unable to catch.

Next, we followed the advice of a local beekeeper and tried to create an artificial swarm. He gave us a queen that he was  going to replace in one of his own hives (he does alot of experimental breeding and so forth). Well that was a complete and total disaster from start to finish. Despite Peer’s best efforts to keep it together, that hive never took and it gradually dwindled down to nothing. The queen kept crawling away (she had a clipped wing and couldn’t fly). The hive was in complete and utter chaos and many of the bees few away…total, TOTAL disaster. Do NOT try this at home kiddies.

So we began the spring of 2009 with 1 dead Warre’ hive and 4 hives in standard German boxes. Two of those hives were really weak and the other two, while not quite as weak, we felt were not strong enough to harvest honey from and so we didn’t. We left them completely alone for the most part to see if they could build themselves back up over the summer.

With the exception of one hive, they continued to be weak. The summer was not a great one for bees, it was cold, dark and rainy much of the time so this didn’t help matters. There were no swarms at all over the summer so we never got the chance to start another Warre’ hive.

Since they were doing so poorly, we also checked them early for mites and they seemed to have quite a few, even though Peer had, as per standard mite treatment recommendations, treated them the previous autumn. So he treated them again. We think that we’ve lost yet another hive this autumn due to the mites and then the wasps moved in, the hive was not strong enough to fend them off. So we are down to 3 hives. I think we may lose another one or two over the winter since they are already weak going into it…

It might be that we have to buy new bees and start over again, but Peer wants to give these guys a chance first. We’re in no rush, we don’t really care about the honey, for us it’s not about the honey, we just enjoy having the bees here. So we’ll be patient and give them a chance.

And so, needless to say, it was a very bad, bad, bad, bad year!

I hope that next summer I’ll have better news!

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This actually took place a few weeks ago on May 24th. I’m a bit late writing it up.

In the early spring our bees begin their busy season by collecting pollen from nearby willow trees. Next comes blackthorn and soon after comes dandelions, with several other early blooming things added to the mix.

If we had neighbors, I’m sure they would probably hate us because we never cut down our dandelions until they have gone to seed. In early spring, our yard is a blanket of golden yellow filled with happy buzzing bees. They need the pollen and we just happen to like dandelions :O)

Here in our village we are literally surrounded by fields which is common in Germany, crops are planted on nearly every patch of ground that isn’t used for housing, or forest land, or grazing land, that’s the only way to support such a huge population in such a relatively small country. Here in our village the main crops are wheat, oats, rye, barley, corn, rapeseed, potatoes and sugar beets. Rapeseed is the earliest flowering crop and it makes up a large percentage of what our honey is made of.

This is a shot of the fields just on the other side of our fence, just behind our berry patch. Just one of many rapeseed fields in full flower.

I did a post last year which shows more of the actual honey extracting process, you can find it in my old blog, here (scroll down to the May 22nd entry). This year I was out of town when Peer harvested the honey but a friend took a few pictures for me.

Many of the beekeepers in our area do 2 harvests a year, they harvest in the spring and then again in the summer. We did that last year but we ended up having to feed our bees with commercial “sugar water” so that they could survive over the winter. That didn’t make a whole lotta sense to us, for one thing it’s expensive to buy, it’s not sustainable, not to mention that we don’t need all that honey so why not let the bees keep it? From now on, we’ll only harvest once a year, in the spring.

Anyway, here is the honey after it has been extracted from the comb and filtered. Peer is pouring it into a large bucket which has a spigot at the bottom designed for filling small jars.

Peer’s assembly line :o)

Since we don’t sell our honey, we don’t need a special room for this, our honey is only for us and our friends and family, so we do it the old fashioned way and just use our kitchen..

Mmmm, honey….

We ended up with 80 jars from 3 hives which is not necessarily a big harvest, but it’s more than plenty for us!

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There is so much to update you on, I’m not sure where to begin, but I think I will start with the bees. This is our second year with the bees, we went into the winter last year with 4 hives and I’m happy to report that we didn’t lose any of them! Early in the spring Peer checked each hive and found one or two that were running out of food so he fed them enough to get them through til the willows began producing pollen and the bees would begin producing their own food again.

I forgot to mention that we moved the bees in the very early spring, before they began leaving the hive. They use to live right beside my studio and our veggie garden. This spot was a bit crowded and made it not so convenient to work in the garden during the afternoon hours because the bees were flying directly overhead. We moved them to a larger, less active area on the other side of the house. I think they like it there and I like having them there :O)

There are many different systems for keeping bees; different philosophies, methods, different hive arrangements and construction designs, etc. Last year we were using the typical framed hives found here in northern Germany, the ones you see in the picture above. These require quite a bit of care and hands-on maintenance. We personally feel that for a backyard beekeeper it’s more beneficial/healthier/less stressful for the bees if they are left pretty much to do their own thing without a lot of interference from humans. We wanted to try a less hands-on approach, after all, bees have been doing their own thing for millions of years without humans telling them how to do it!

We decided to try a different system, one which was designed specifically with this philosophy in mind. The system was designed by Emile Warre’, who was a village priest in France, during the 1920’s. Peer got a translated version (in english and german) of his writings which include the instructions for building the hives and he just spent several weeks building 5 new hives. The biggest difference with these new hives is that they are much smaller, they do not have frames, they have smaller flight holes and they can be built without needing a lot of specialized materials. Because they can be built with scrapes of lumber and things that most people probably have laying around the property, they are called the poorman’s beehive. The next few pictures show the construction process.

The first thing Peer did was to make a shopping list for all the lumber he would need since we didn’t actually have any here that wasn’t already planned for something else. The lumber yard cut all the pieces to the specifications that Peer gave them.

Peer began by building 20 box frames, 4 boxes for each hive. There is no bottom and no top, just the sides.

These are the roofs…

And the bottoms…

After all the pieces were assembled they needed to be treated to keep them from rotting in the weather. Peer used a mixture of hot linseed oil and melted beeswax, which he painted onto every single piece.

Then set them out to dry…

Instead of frames, which have machine formed wax comb (as seen in the image below)…

…this system uses 9 thin slats of wood per box, each with a single strip of beeswax painted down the center. The strip of beeswax shows the bees where, and in what direction they should build their combs, without actually doing the job for them.

First peer melted wax that we collected during last year’s honey harvest and then just painted it on with a paintbrush. He set the pan of hot wax over a tee light so that the wax wouldn’t harden as he worked.

He had to paint 180 of these!

The next step was to nail all of these prepared slats into the boxes, 9 in each box. They had to be nailed so that the distance between each slat was the same so that the bees will build in a consistent manner.

A completed box…

Actually this system calls for 8 slats per box but there is a theory that by using 9 slats, thus creating a narrower working space, the bees will build smaller cells which may greatly reduce the likelihood of mites.

There are a few steps I didn’t capture on film but these were the main ones. After all the pieces were ready, Peer put them together to form 5 complete hives and stored them until we would need them.

What we are going to do is slowly phase out of the old system and as our bees swarm we will move the swarms into the new boxes…now all we need is a swarm!

Stay tuned!

P.S. If anyone is interested in learning more about this system, just drop us a line!

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