Bee Bearding — it’s a real thing.

bearding copyJuly is a great month to be a bee. This is the time of year that beekeepers refer to as the honeyflow. This is when flowers are in full bloom, nectar is abundant and the air is full of the sweet aroma of summer. 

Bees will make dozens of trips into the urban jungle each day, visiting their favorite nectar sources. They will deposit the nectar in the wax comb where it will eventually become honey. They will also tell their sisters where they found the nectar, enticing them to join in on the bounty.

July is also hot. Hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch. When the humidity rises with the temperature, bees will instinctively ventilate their hive. Incredibly, they line up in front of their hive entrance and beat their wings, creating a powerful breeze that flows through the stacks of honeycomb.

To improve ventilation on particularly hot days, thousands of bees will step outside the hive to create more room and to reduce heat build-up. This is called bearding. It is a natural and normal thing for bees to do. It does not indicate overcrowding or swarming, though it can look alarming the first time you notice it.

If you see bees covering your hive on a hot day, think cool thoughts and watch them do what they do best: make honey.

Early Pollen, and other thoughts

pollen beeIt’s good to be a bee in May. Temps are warming up, the queen is laying eggs, and even though you may not see a lot of blooms, the bees are finding them. During the early evenings, you may notice bees like the one in this picture with little dots of yellow and gold on their hind legs. Honeybees are equipped with pollen baskets on these appendages.

Pollen is extremely important for bees in the early spring. Pollen is their protein source. It gives them strength and is also what they feed the developing larvae. Without pollen, their sisters-to-be will perish.

Take a few moments on a nice day to get close to the hive entrance and watch as bees laden with pollen return home. It is fascinating to see the different hues of yellow, gold and orange pollen that they find.

Thank you 2013 Hive Hosts

honey-bee-backyard-hiveSeven inches of snow, sleet, ice pellets and rain is on the way. Temperatures hover in the 30s. We haven’t seen the sun in days. But dag’gammit, the new honey bee hive hosts have bee hives in their backyards! Thanks to everyone who decided to host a hive this year. I know the permit process is a long and arduous task. Your love of honey bees saw you through, and now you’re hosting your very own hive. A thousand thank yous, and tens of thousands of thank yous from all the honey bees that have a place to live!

Cheers,
Skinny Jake & Kerstin

Honeybee Management Plan

I have copied a sample of my honeybee management plan below. Use this as a starting point for your own. You can modify it to meet your specific needs:

Sample Honeybee Management Plan

Colony Management (to prevent swarms):

  • I will use the honeybee management timeline provided by the University of Minnesota’s Department of Entomology, which includes schedules for feeding syrup and pollen, hive reversals, and upkeep.
  • I plan to provide three brood boxes (deeps) for the hive, beginning with one and adding additional boxes as the hive grows.
  • I will install a 2-lb. package of bees to start my colony, feeding them syrup and pollen until sufficient nectar can be collected.
  • I will perform upkeep on the hive every 7 to 10 days, observing the population of the hive, monitoring any diseases or pests (including varroa mites and AFB), and assessing the strength of the hive.
  • Once the brood boxes are fully drawn out and inhabited by bees, I will monitor the location of the queen, performing reversals of the brood boxes. The queen-occupied brood box will be moved to the bottom of the hive, ensuring that she is constantly moving upward. This method will ensure that the queen does not run out of room to lay eggs and that the brood boxes will be evenly populated, preventing crowding, which can lead to swarming.
  • In the event that I detect queen cells, I will remove them and add brood boxes to give the bees more room and less stress

Hive Upkeep & Maintenance:

  • My hive will consist of three painted brood boxes and additional painted honey supers (medium supers), an inner cover and a telescoping outer cover.
  • My hive will be placed on sturdy, level cinder blocks and rest on a painted, well-constructed hive stand.
  • I will perform upkeep on the hive every 7 to 10 days, observing the population of the hive, monitoring any diseases or pests (including varroa mites and AFB), and assessing the strength of the hive.
  • I will destroy any equipment that I suspect or have concluded contains AFB spores, and I will replace it with new equipment.
  • During upkeep, I will remove any queen cells, should I observe them.
  • I have low VOC, white latex paint on hand to paint any new equipment that I acquire, and to paint over any repairs I make to the hive.
  • I have a shed dedicated to storing my bee equipment, protecting it from robbing, mice and pests.
  • I will take these steps to keep a strong, healthy, clean hive that can defend itself from intruders, fend off diseases and pests and produce healthy brood while storing nectar and pollen and creating honey stores.
  • I plan to winter my hive in early November in three deep brood boxes dedicated to storing honey solely for the survival of the colony. My wintered hive will be covered with a black box, the opening of which will match the 1-inch opening on the side of the hive.
  • The following spring, I will feed my hive syrup and pollen until sufficient nectar can be gathered.

Harvesting:

  • I will harvest honey from medium supers off-site at my father-in-law’s property in Spicer, Minnesota.
  • I will use a queen excluder during high honey production to ensure that my supers contain cells filled with only honey.
  • I have a capping knife, a 4-frame honey extractor and glass jars available to extract and store the honey.
  • I will label the honey in compliance with Minnesota state law, assuring that it contains no more than 18.6% moisture content.
  • I will filter the honey before bottling it to ensure it is clean and free of foreign debris.

March 2013

IMG_1277The bees, my friends, are coming. I’m planning on installing new hives the first week of April. Hopefully you’ve received your permit application packet from the city and have been gathering signatures from your neighbors. If you need talking points, read through the bee letter I posted last month.

Many of you have been contacting me about fly-away barriers. The city wants to make sure that if you are within 25 to 35 feet of your property line that your honeybees won’t fly directly into your neighbor’s yard. A bush, a garage, a tree or a fence all act as a fly-away barrier.

 

Bee Letter

While you are gathering signatures from your excited and enthusiastic neighbors, you may encounter some questions that you aren’t prepared to answer. You can always contact me directly for help with this process.

The following link is to the letter we wrote to our neighbors before we asked for their signatures. It is full of some helpful facts and answers to some common questions you may encounter. Please use it as a guide or fact sheet to feel more prepared to answer questions your neighbors may have about honeybees. Good luck!

-Jake

February 2013

winterhiveFebruary always feels like the longest month to me. It is one of the toughest for the bees, and is usually the month that hives will succumb to the elements. The unrelenting cold forces the bees to eat their surplus honey for energy to create heat and stay healthy against varroa mites and other diseases that plague them.

The good news is that in only four weeks or so when there are more consistent non-freezing temps, we will begin feeding the hives that survived the winter. These hives will be split into new colonies of bees, many of which will be finding homes in your backyards this spring!

Here’s the February checklist for Hive Hosts:

  1. Signatures! By now you should have begun talking to the neighbors you need signatures from for the city permit. If you haven’t spoken to anyone yet, there is still time. The sooner we get those signatures, the sooner you can get your hive! If you are shy or unsure about how to start the conversation, consider sending out this letter to your neighbors before you knock on their doors. If you’d like, I can join you when you knock on doors to help answer questions or give you some confidence while asking for signatures. I’m also willing to sweeten the deal with some samples of honey if push comes to shove. :)
  2. Fencing Requirements. In your permit application packet, there should be detailed information about fencing requirements and flyaway barriers. Read them carefully and make sure your yard meets the requirements. If it doesn’t and you’d still like to host a hive, call me and we can make an action plan for meeting the guidelines.
  3. Consider Location. Your application requires a map of your property and the location of your hive. You don’t have to set anything in stone just yet, but consider all of the requirements you need to meet for approval, and then consider that bees need a good windbreak from the north and west to survive the winter, as well as southeastern exposure for morning sun and afternoon shade. No yard has the perfect conditions, and honeybees are able to adapt very well.

 

January 2013

babybees2

January 2013

Spring and summer seem far away, but it’s already time to start preparing for hives in your backyards. Winter is a great time for reading and learning about bees, thinking about where in your yard the bees will do best, and preparing your application materials for a hive permit.

Here is a quick winter checklist, including some reading material:

  1. New hive hosts should call Minneapolis 3-1-1 to request an application packet from Animal Control.
  2. The application will give specific information about where a hive can be placed in your yard. You can call or e-mail me to assess what location in your yard will be best.
  3. If you are interested in learning more about honeybee behavior, beekeeping techniques or just want to see some cool pictures, I recommend reading Honeybee DemocracyThe Hive & The Honeybee, and The ABC and XYZ of BeekeepingSome of these books were published more than 100 years ago, which shows how incredibly consistent honeybees are in their behavior!
  4. Start thinking about all that delicious honey that will be made from the flowers in your backyard and neighborhood. Yum.