Friday, September 28, 2007

Lesson Six: Honeybees In The Hive

Let's follow the growth cycle of the queen, drone and worker bee. Let's begin with the worker bee.

The queen lays an egg in the bottom of a cell within the brood chamber. When first laid, the egg appears like a piece of rice, only much, much smaller. The egg stands up in the bottom of the cell immediately after it is laid, and will hatch, lie on the bottom of the cell after 3 days as it molts into a larva. From day 4 to day 9 it is known as a larvae and feeds upon royal jelly and worker jelly. Around day 9 the top of the cell is capped off and between day 10- 20, the larvae spins a cocoon in the cell and begins to transform into a pupae, finally emerging from the cell on day 21.

Many people believe that once a bee emerges from its cell, it flies out of the hive and begins to gather nectar. However, the new bee will not begin visiting flowers until 22 days after hatching as a new bee. Here's what the worker bee will do first.

After she is born she will clean her cell and other cells and keep the brood warm for the first 2 days of her life. Then, from day 3-5 she is trusted with the task of feeding older larvae. From day 6-11 she is then assigned the task of feeding younger larvae. From day 12-17 she then begins to produce wax, build comb and transport food within the hive. From day 18-21 she is commissioned to guard the hive entrance from unwanted intruders. Finally, from day 22 through day 35 she flies out to gather pollen, nectar, propolis and water for the hive.

The queen determines when she wants to lay an unfertilized egg which becomes a drone. The cycle of the drone is the same as the worker bee except that drones emerge from their cell on day 24, 3 days later than worker bees. The drone has no responsibility in the hive or in gathering nectar. Instead, they simply wait to mate with a virgin queen.

Finally, the queen. The cycle of a queen is the same as the worker and drone bee except she emerges on day 16. The queen is fed royal jelly or queen jelly during the larva stage of her life. It is note worthy that a queen emerges the soonest, on day 16 because if a hive is queenless, they will perish within one month without a queen laying eggs. So she must emerge quickly to save the hive.

Each hive must have only one queen. Without a queen the hive will perish unless they replace her quickly. The hive can raise their own queen by making a queen cell on the side or bottom of the comb. The cell resembles a peanut. To raise their own queen, a hive must have eggs less than three days old. By feeding very large amounts of royal jelly to a young larva within the queen cell, they are able to raise a new queen.

When the queen emerges, she will pursue, fight and destroy any other virgin queen in the hive and immediately begin giving orders to her new hive. Within a few days, she will take her mating flight, mate with several drones, return to her hive and begin laying eggs for the rest of her life.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lesson Five: The Honeybee

After learning about the woodenware that the bees live in, now we are ready to learn about the actual bees themselves. Honeybee can be spelt as one word or two. Both are correct. It never ceases to amaze me at the number of beekeepers who actually know very little about honeybees. So let's start simple.

There are three caste to a honeybee hive: The queen, the drones and the workers. A honeybee hive has only one queen per hive. The hive must have a queen in order to grow and survive. Without the queen they will perish. The queen is the only bee in the hive that lays eggs producing the next generation of bees. She lays between 1,000-3,000 eggs per day...yes, per day!

The queen is noticeably different in size and shape. She is longer than the worker bee and has longer legs, so she can back into a cell and lay an egg on the bottom. Once you become familiar with her appearance, she is more easily spotted when examining the hive. It is good to examine your hives every two weeks to be sure the queen is alive and healthy. However, it is very time consuming and sometimes impossible to see the queen. So one way you can be sure she is in good health is to look for newly laid eggs. These are tiny white specks at the bottom of the cells. This tells you that she is alive and laying. The queen usually lives significantly longer than workers and drones, sometimes up to 3-4 years or longer.

The queen does have a stinger, but it is not a barbed stinger. She rarely uses her stinger, and usually only in fighting other queens that may emerge in her hive as virgin queens. It is very rare for the beekeeper to be stung when handling a queen. I am constantly picking up queens and have never been stung.

Here is one of my queens. The white dot on her back is paint that I put there to help me easily identify her. The other bees have been trying to clean it off. Notice how the attendant bees circle the queen. This is called retinue. This is another helpful hint in trying to locate the queen. Rather than trying to spot her, try looking for the circle of bees around her, or observe the frame. The queen stays on the move and the other bees get our of her way.

Next, we have the drones which are the male bees. Their only objective is to mate with a virgin queen. They differ in size and shape from the worker bee in that they are stockier, have larger eyes, usually appear slightly darker in color and do not have stingers. The will not and CANNOT sting you. They eat and wander around looking for a virgin queen. They are the only bee allowed to travel from hive to hive. They are important to have so that virgin queens can mate and begin laying eggs. Once the queen has mated with several drones during her mating flight, she will be able to lay eggs the rest of her life and will never mate again.

Drones live around 90 days. In the fall, in colder climates, the worker bees will begin to kill the drones. They are no longer needed for winter, and they simply become a costly liability to the wintering hive. So, they are not allowed to winter in the hive, and die outside. In the fall, some beekeepers become concerned about the increased numbers of dead bees outside the hive entrance. A closer examination reveals these are the perishing drones who are no longer needed.
Finally, the worker bee. Worker bees are all female and they do not lay eggs. If a hive becomes queenless for 3-4 weeks, a worker bee might begin laying unfertilized eggs as a result of the absence of the queen's pheromone. However, this only produces more drones and will not help a dying hive. It is believed that this is one of the last things a dying hive can do, produce drones to mate with other queens. It is easy to spot eggs laid by a worker. There is usually more than one egg per cell, and they are seldom at the bottom of the cell since the worker bee is shorter than the queen and cannot drop the egg on the bottom.

The worker bee will work in the hive until she is around 21 days old. Then, she is rewarded her wings and begins foraging for nectar, water, pollen and propolis. In the summer, she will work herself to death, usually only living 35-45 days.
As a new beekeeper, become familiar with the difference between the queen, the worker and the drone honeybee.

Next, we will examine how long it takes the drone, queen and worker to hatch and what they do in the hive.

Monday, September 24, 2007

LESSON 4: Hive Components: Lesson Four: Inner & Outer Covers

WARNING: There is a push to make beekeeping appear practically hands free. New beekeepers are failing to implement best management practices. I want to be your mentor. I am currently accepting positions to mentor a limited number of beekeepers. You'll have access to my personal cell phone and private email. And you can send me videos or pictures of your hive when it just doesn't seem right or you don't know what's going on. You'll also receive 4 new instructional videos from me and a weekly tip of what you should be doing. Click here to see if spots are still available.

Thank you for joining me for these free online beekeeping lessons. Tell your friends! They can easily scroll down and start with the very first one.
Today, we continue becoming familiar with the actual beehive box. It is important to know and to understand how the wooden ware fits together. In previous lessons, we started at the bottom and worked our way up the hive. Now we are ready to take a look at the two most top pieces, the inner cover and the top cover.

It might seem unusual to have two covers on a hive, the inner cover and the top cover. This is the common configuration, to place an inner cover on the top super, then place the top cover on top of the inner cover. Why? Good question. Here's the inner cover.

Before I answer that question, let me say it is not essential, at least not in my opinion to use an inner cover. I believe it is good, and can certainly aid the bees at times, to use an inner cover, but it is not always necessary. It is suggested that an inner cover, with an oval shaped hole in the middle, provides a dead air space between the top of the hive and the outside world. Many claim this insulates the hive from the heat or cold. Others claim that the inner cover is to keep the top cover from sticking to the frames.
We make notches in the inner cover rim, allowing the bees to have a top entrance or exit if they so choose and to increase ventilation.

Inner covers with notches make it difficult to seal the top of the hive in the event it becomes necessary, like when you want to seal your hive to move them, or keep them in when farmers spray chemicals or when other hives may try to rob the hive.

So, to add ventilation, I simply find a small stick, and put it under the top cover, which provides a slight opening, a slight air vent at the top. I use this on hot days, and during strong nectar flows to help the bees dry the moisture from the nectar speeding up the time it takes the bees to cap the honey.
Our inner covers also come with the oval shaped hole in the center. About half of our hives in our bee yards have inner covers. Some of our hives just have what is called migratory lids, just a flat wooden lid that covers the top of the hive.

We recommend the use of the inner cover because it does become useful throughout the year. If nothing more, it does make the top cover easier to remove.

The inner cover has a rim of wood, a wood strip on one side only. Customers often wonder which way this goes on the hive, with the rim down or up? Typically, the rim of wood faces up. In other words, the top cover goes down and lands on the rim of the inner cover. This provides the 1/4" spacing if the bees want to hang out between the inner cover and top cover, and a few do hang out there.
There are times when it is necessary to reverse the inner cover position, and place the rim down. I do this when I place pollen patties on the top bars of the frame. The extra spacing the rim provides is just right to accommodate the thickness of my patties and to place my top cover back on.
Throughout our years of keeping bees, we have been disappointed with inner covers that are made out of several pieces of wood. These seem to always fall apart. We build our inner covers from one piece of wood.

What's the oval shaped hole in the inner cover for? Good question. Obviously the bees can go in and out, but there is a reason it is oval shaped. We cut our holes perfectly to accommodate a bee escape. This is a small, usually plastic device, that many beekeepers use to get the bees out of the honey supers just prior to removing the supers full of honey. Here's how it works.

First, when you see that your honey super is sealed or capped with wax, you know it is ready to be harvested. But, there are still bees crawling over it. So, simply take the inner cover off, insert the bee escape in the oval shaped hole, and place the inner cover (rim up) under the super you wish to remove. The bee escape is designed so that the bees can walk out of the escape, but cannot get back in. Over the course of 3-5 days, most of the bees will be gone out of the super. Pretty cool huh! It will not work if a drone gets stuck or if there is brood in the super.

Migratory lids are often used by pollinators because it allows hives to be easily stacked. I do use migratory lids on many of my hives simply because I find them easy to work. No inner cover, just one flat piece of wood covering the top. My bees seem to do just as good with a migratory lid as without one. However, I don't like to winter my hives this way. I live in central Illinois and the winters are hard. Migratory lids don't keep out the elements the way an inner cover and top cover do. Notice two of my hives side by side. The white one on the left has an inner cover and a telescoping top cover. The green hive on the right simply has no inner cover, but a migratory lid that I added a piece of metal to.

Finally, the top cover. It is often called a telescoping top cover because it hangs over the hive body. Most telescoping top covers hang over between 1-2 inches. ALWAYS PLACE SOMETHING ON TOP OF THE HIVE TO KEEP THE LID DOWN. I've lost several hives because of strong winds and I did not have a brick or rock on the top and the lid blew off and the storm drenched the hive.

Tops do not have to have metal, but it does protect the wood from the weather. It is very important to allow for some ventilation at the top of the hive in the winter. Without some top ventilation, condensation can develop on the inside of the top of the hive, and drip cold water down onto the winter cluster of bees. This can cause the bees to die, not from the cold, but from being cold and wet. A little ventilation at the top can help the condensation to evaporate.

Tomorrow, we'll start taking a look at the honey bee. Can't wait!! Tell your friends!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

LESSON THREE: Basic Beekeeping: Lesson Three: SUPERS

In lesson one, we took a look at the placement of a hive, the hive stand and the bottom board. Then, in our last lesson, we examined the deep hive body. These lessons can be viewed at anytime by simply scrolling down or back.

Today, let's take a look at the honey super. Some new beekeepers pronounce "super" incorrectly, calling it a "supper", like what you eat at night. It only has one "p", so it is pronounced the same as when you say, "super size it please." Since we have already discussed the two deep hive bodies, sometimes also called deep supers, today we are looking at the supers that are placed above the hive chamber, on top of the deep hive bodies. These are the supers we place on hives with the intent to remove whatever honey the bees store in these supers.

The width (16 1/4") and depth (19 7/8") will be the same for all boxes, including the honey super. The difference with the super is the height. There are three sizes used for honey supers. Beekeepers with strong backs sometimes use the deep size, 9 5/8" in height. A very common size is 6 5/8" in height. This is also called the Illinois super or a medium super. Then there is the small super. It is 5 5/8" tall.

Here's a picture of all three sizes, side by side. As you can see, the only difference is the height, which is very critical, because the greater the height, the larger the frame in height, and the larger the frame, the more honey it can hold. Therefore, a deep super full of honey can weight close to 90 pounds. A medium close to 60 pounds and a small 30-40 pounds.
There are some limitations when using the small super. There is no plastic foundation made for that size super. And, during a heavy nectar flow, you will have to super your hives more frequently. Also, it takes the same amount of time to uncap a small super as it does a deep or medium super. And, you get a lot less honey from a small super for the same amount of work. In an upcoming lesson, we'll discuss when and how to add supers. But for now, we are merely getting familiar with the hive components.

Some beekeepers use only 8 or 9 frames in a honey super, while others use all 10. It does make a difference. Obviously, if you use 9 frames, the comb on each frame will be drawn out wider by the bees, thus making much more space for the honey. It is true that a 9 frame super will usually contain more honey than a 10 frame because all nine frames are larger and can hold a total that exceeds 10 smaller drawn frames. Wider combs are easier to uncap because the comb exceeds past the wooden frame, allowing the uncapping knife to ride along the wooden frame as a guide and uncapping all cells. Sometimes if the frames are not pulled out past the wooden frame edge, the uncapping knife cannot uncap the recessed cells. In our hives some have a total of 9 and some have a total of 10 frames.

To help achieve the 9 frame spacing, a metal frame rest is often used. This frame rest is different from the plain frame rest in that it actually has notches to hold each of the 9 frames, giving a perfect spacing between all 9 frames. Be prepared for a few challenges with 9 frame spacers. First, you cannot slide your frames horizontally. They are held tightly in the notches. There are times when you need to slide your frames. But if you use 9 frame spacers, you will have to lift them straight up and out to move them. Secondly, the various gaps around the metal notching gets pretty gunked up with propolis, giving nice hiding places for wax moth or small hive beetle to hide and lay eggs. If you don't have problems with these pests, then it's not an issue. Notice the build up of propolis in this picture on a 9 frame spacer rail below.
We'll discuss supering a hive in a future lesson, but for now, you can place as many supers on your hive as your bees want to fill up. I typically have at least 2-3 supers on my hives during the Spring and Summer.

Our next lesson will be the two final pieces to the hive, the inner cover and the outer cover. See you then!

Please tell your friends about these online beekeeping lessons. Thanks! Remember, we are beekeepers manufacturing beekeeping equipment for beekeepers, and we currently operate hives located in East Central Illinois We know what you need and what you want! To place an order, feel free to call us at: 217-427-2678.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

LESSON TWO: Basic Hive Components: The Deep Hive Body

Hello, we are David and Sheri Burns  at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. We are committed to help you be a successful beekeeper. David is a certified master beekeeper. You may consider joining us for one of David's beekeeping classes. Click here to see our upcoming classes.

We are a family business, a turn key beekeeping operation. We manufacture the hives ourselves, hand built for you, and we provide you with the bees and all the equipment you need. We appreciate your business and you'll find we won't treat you like a customer, but like a friend. And when you purchase your equipment from us, we're here for you. You can call us with your questions. We won't leave you hanging wondering what to do. Click here to see our complete online beekeeping store.

In our previous lesson, we learned about the bottom board. As we work our way up from the bottom board, we are ready to examine the details of the next item, what is referred to as the deep hive body. It sometimes is called a deep super, hive body, a deep, and a hive chamber. Unless you live in the deep south where winters are very mild, you will need two deep hive bodies on your hive. This is where your bees will live and raise their young. This is where the queen will lay her eggs for new worker and drone bees. This is where the hive will store their own reserves of honey and pollen, their food source and future winter stores.

The standard and common size for a deep hive body is: 19 7/8" in length, 16 1/4" wide and 9 5/8" in height. A deep hive body is heavy when it is full of bees, honey and pollen. Therefore, some beekeepers choose to use the medium size super for hive bodies. The dimensions of the medium super is the same except for the height. It is 3" shorter, with a height of 6 5/8". If you choose to use medium supers for hive bodies, you will need to plan on using 3 supers if your winters are cold, and 1-2 supers if your winters are mild. We will assume your winters are cold and you plan to use two deep size hive bodies on your new hive.

Here's what a deep hive body looks like. The hive bodies we manufacture have rabbet joint corners. This reduces the "raw edge" exposed to the weather. We also use exterior glue on all corners and 8-hand driven 8 penny nails- per corner! We also place nice size handle holds on all four sides of our have bodies. Our deep hive bodies have been specifically designed to provide exact bee space needed in the deep hive chamber. We also insert metal frame rests, so that the individual frames rest upon metal rather than wood. This makes it easier to slide and remove the individual frames for inspection.

It is a common practice to use 10 individual frames per hive body. Using only 9 frames in the brood nest area will have aid in ventilation, but will decrease the amount of cells for eggs, pollen and honey storage, because instead of 10 frames there are only 9. Our frames are strong, have no knots and have full 3/8" side or end bars.  We have found the best frame and foundation combination is what is known as the top and bottom grooved frame. This means the frame has a groove in the top and in the bottom so that a piece of plasticell foundation can snap and lock securely and easily into the frame.

Wood frames with plasticell foundation works very nicely. The plasticell is a hard plastic about 1/8" thick and is coated with real beeswax. Before we place the foundation and frame in a hive, we spray sugar water (1 part water, 1 part sugar) onto the foundation to speed up the time it takes for the bees to draw out the comb. The foundation already has the comb cell pattern embossed on both sides, making the bees' job much easier.

Some beekeepers use real beeswax foundation and use wire to hold it onto the frame. This was the common practice for many years. However, today, plasticell is a much simplier foundation method and is as good in our opinion. Look at how nice this frame and plasticell foundation looks! Our bees love it.
Also the millimeter size of each cell in very important. The larger the size of the cell in the foundation, the larger the cell will be drawn out and the larger the bee will be. So, we use foundation that is specifically around 5 millimeters. This is an average, industry standard.

It is important to remember that where winters are cold, two deep hive bodies are needed so that plenty of honey, around 60 pounds, can be stored for the bees to enjoy throughout the winter months.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the next item, the honey super.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lesson One In Beekeeping: Introduction To Placement & Hive Components( 217-427-2678

Welcome To Your First Lesson In Beekeeping
We are David and Sheri Burns and we want to thank you for using our website to learn about beekeeping. Our main website is: And here's our number, and we'd love to talk with you: 217-427-2678

We are happy that you are interested in beekeeping. Good for you! We think beekeeping is so fun. We need bees to pollinate our fruits, vegetables and crops. One out of three bits of food is pollinated by the honey bee. Not only do we need honey bees for pollination, but the honey is so sweet and has many proven health benefits.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a certified master beekeeper on the other end of the phone or email whenever you had a question. I started my new membership program and members are loving it. Beekeepers around the country have jumped on board. We still have room for more.

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We are a family business, a turn key beekeeping operation. We manufacture the hives ourselves, hand built for you, and we provide you with the bees and all the equipment you need. We appreciate your business and you'll find we won't treat you like a customer, but like a friend. And when you purchase your equipment from us, we're here for you. You can call us with your questions. We won't leave you hanging wondering what to do. Click here to see our complete online beekeeping store.
Before we get into the actual insect, let's talk about the current hive. Beekeepers, for the most part, still use hives designed by Rev. L. L. Langstroth in the early 1850s. Prior to this, beehives were kept in what looked like up-side-down baskets known as skeps. With skeps, the comb along with the total hive was destroyed when honey was harvested. Langstroth is credited with the removable-frame hive and with specific bee space. In other words, he invented the ability to remove the frames of comb and place them back in the hive without damage to the hive or comb. Langstroth also discovered what is known now as "bee space" and is generally thought to be between 1/4"- 3/8". Anything less, they will add their glue known as propolis. Anything greater than 3/8" they will build comb.
Almost all hive boxes today are modeled after Rev. L. L. Langstroth's design with slight modifications over the years.
A typical hive consists of the following pieces, starting at the bottom and working up:

The Hive Stand
The Bottom Board
The Hive Bodies
The Medium or Small Honey Supers
The Inner Cover
The Top Cover

Today, let me explain the hive stand and the bottom board. The hive stand makes up the very bottom of the hive. However, many beekeepers do not find the hive stand necessary. I personally do not bother with hive stands. They appear impressive because they have a ramp leading up to the entrance. And some people feel this helps the bees walk into the hive. However, I have watched the bees land, and they really don't land on the ramp nor walk up all that much. Bees prefer to fly, not climb. In the natural, they don't have ramps. I would recommend not using a hive stand to reduce cost and it makes it easier should you need to move your hive.

So, in my opinion the first piece of equipment you need is the bottom board. But before we place our bottom board, we have to consider where to place the hive, the direction the hive faces and how much to elevate the hive off the moist ground. I like to use wood pallets that I can obtain free from local factories. Usually one pallet is enough, but sometimes I'll place two pallets on top of each other to elevate the hive around 5-6" off the ground.

Then, I place my bottom board on the pallet. Pallets work well, but so do concrete blocks or any structure that will elevate the hive off the ground. You want the hive elevated for two reasons: To make it less stressful on your back and to raise the hive above the moisture in the ground. Bottom boards do draw moisture and so will be the first item to deteriorate over time. So, keeping the bottom board dry will help then last longer. Plus, it also means less moisture in the hive. Elevating the hive makes it easier on your back. But, do remember that eventually you'll have lots of supers, and if you elevate the first hive body to a comfortable range, you may soon find you need a ladder when you place 5 or 6 supers on. 5-6" is a good range of elevation.

Which direction? Which direction should the hive face. It really doesn't matter. We typically try to avoid the North so that cold winter wind will not blow into the front. And we typically try to face the hive Easterly so that the early morning sunrise will get the bees out working faster.
Shade or Sun? AVOID SHADE!! Get your hive in total sunlight. This is extremely important. They can keep the hive cool. Don't worry about the heat. Shade can attract pests such as Small Hive Beetle, ants and wax moths. Place the hive in direct sunlight. If you cannot avoid the shade, try to place the hive where it will receive the most sunlight.
Let's talk about bottom boards. There are many different variation of bottom boards. In the past there was only a standard solid bottom board. Now, with the introduction of mites, we have found that screen bottom boards help reduce mite populations and the screen also improves overall hive ventilation. A screen bottom board is part of what is known as IPM: Integrated Pest Management.

There are many different types of screen bottom boards. Some are simple and some have various slots and grooves to insert sticky boards or winter panels. Get the simple screen bottom board! If you want to slide in a white board or sticky board to count your mites, you can place it under the screen. And you can make your own sticky board using vasoline. If you need to restrict the air flow when applying a medication, you can slide in a small piece of cardboard or metal.

We have put much time in designing our bottom board manufacturing to produce a simple, yet very effect screen bottom board. Our bottom boards come completely assembled with an entrance reducer cleat. Our bottom boards are designed for a 3/4" opening in the front of the hive. However, with a slight modification, the bottom board can be flipped over and a smaller opening can be used. It is not advised and if reversed, an additional piece must be added to the back of the bottom board.

Sometimes new beekeepers ask which way the bottom board goes. When the bottom board is in the correct position, the screen is up. You can see the staples going into the screen. Also, the top of the bottom board has three edges.

Our bottom boards are made very strong, routed in such a way to lock sections together and are glued with exterior glue.
Finally, the bottom board's entrance is determined by the placement of what is called the entrance reducer cleat. It is a 3/4" x 3/4" piece of wood with two different sized openings. The cleat can be turned so that only one of the openings is used at a time.

In this picture, you can see the smallest setting of the entrance cleat. When would you use this small setting? 1) When installing your package of bees. They can still come and go, but it keeps them from wanting to fly away until they nest. 2) In the winter, when you are trying to keep mice out of your hive. 3) When the hive is being robbed by another hive. There is less entrance to protect.

The next picture shows the larger opening on the entrance cleat. When would you use this setting? Anytime you need a larger opening, but don't want to open it up all the way. This could also be used for all three reasons above.
Though the pictures shows the opening facing down, please remember to have the opening facing UP! When bees die during the winter, if the opening is down, then dead bees will fill up the opening. However, if the opening is facing up the bees can still fly out over the dead bees which you can clean out later on a warm day if the bees do not clean things up first.

Once your hive is more than a few weeks old and is not being robbed and the weather is warm the entrance cleat should be removed and stored in a place where you can easily find it for future needs.
This ends lesson one. You've learned about hive location, placement and the bottom board. In our next lesson we'll discuss the next section of the hive, the deep hive body.

Now that you are considering beekeeping, we invite you to purchase all your equipment and bees from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. We are a hard working family business located in central Illinois. I am an EAS certified master beekeeper and we are here to help. We recommend you start with two hives, so click here to see our two hive offer.

Thank you!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Interested In Becoming A Beekeeper?

So You Think You May Want To Keep Bees?

When I was growing up in the ‘60s, I remember one of the theme songs for Coca-Cola had a line that said, “Apple tree and honey bees..” In the ‘60s I remember honeybees! I stepped on my fair share and got stung. It seemed there were more bees then than there are now. All I knew about honeybees was that you have to pull the stinger our and it hurt! But oh did I ever love honey. I would beg my mom to buy comb honey because I loved to chew the wax and suck the honey out of the comb. I would take my fork and reach way down into the jar and spear a big chunk of comb filled with dripping honey and cram it in my mouth. What a treat! Little did I know that some twenty years later, I would be producing my own comb honey from my own beehive!

When I lived in Ohio, a friend introduced me into keeping bees. He helped me take my first hive out of a fallen tree. It was great. I fell in love with it and it has been in my blood ever since.

Let me say right up front that you don’t have to get stung. That may sound impossible, but it’s true. You can wear protective gear and learn how to handle bees and rarely get stung. On hot summer days, I sometimes work my bees without a shirt, just a hat and veil. I’ve learned how to read the bees, how to handle them and how to select the best day to work them when their temperament is the best. Besides beestings aren’t all that bad.

You may want to keep bees just for some honey for your family to enjoy. Or perhaps you need bees to pollinate your fruit trees, garden or crops. Or maybe you’ve decided to start your own beekeeping business. I do all three, and all three are very enjoyable.

Over the next few weeks, I'll introduce you to beekeeping. Then, maybe by the first of the year (or for Christmas) you'll convince someone to get you a new hive for this coming Spring. For now, rest assured that you CAN be a beekeeper!


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I Can't Figure Out Why Everyone's Not A Beekeeper!

For the life of me, I can't figure out why everyone doesn't keep bees. It is a blast! I suppose bees have been falsely portrayed as "killler bees" taking over homes and whole cities. That's Hollywood, not reality. Anyone can keep bees. It's easy. As you continue keeping bees over the years, you learn more and more.

Most beekeepers find their bees to be very calm and workable. About a month ago, I worked about 20 of our hives with no shirt on. Not one sting. Sometimes, I just sit by my hives, and watch the bees work, flying in and out. It's therapeutic. Here's what a few hives looked like this afternoon.

Honeybees are extremely profitable, with one hive alone making nearly $500 per year. Not to mention what hives earn in pollination. My long range goal is to operate 4,000 hives, raise and sell queens and packaged bees. I am currently attempting to breed a special Illinois survival stock queen. Wouldn't it be something to able to breed a queen that is resistant toward the cause(s) of CCD! Like Thomas Edison, I've eliminated a lot of mistakes in queen rearing in 2007. I'll be that much ahead for 2008.

To help finance the increase in the number of our hives we manufacture beehive wooden ware.  We also provide beekeeping equipment such as electrical hot uncapping knives, micron honey filters, protective clothing, smokers, hive tools, fume boards and fume and the whole works!!

Not only do we sell honey, but we also melt and mold our own beeswax. People love to buy pure beeswax. It smells so good and can be used for making candles, lotion, lip balm, and lubricating bows or sticky drawers--just to name a few of its many uses. After processing the honey supers, we have a lot of wax cappings left over. These cappings make the finest, and newest beeswax. They are washed thoroughly to remove any honey from the wax. We repeat this wash cycle several times.

Then, we melt our wax the old fashion way. We simply melt it in a large pan on the family's grill. Here's how we get our grill going good to melt our wax. Seems like a few steaks and some chicken gets the fire good and ready to melt the wax. Of course, the fire is only ready about the time I have finished my steak dinner. After all, there's no need to let all that good charcoal go to waste, right! Who needs to buy an expensive wax melter when you can have such a good excuse for eating steak!

After the wax melts, I allow the more solid matter within the wax to sink to the bottom of the pan. Then, I pour it into another container that has a cloth filter on the top. From this container, I am now ready to pour the wax into my various shaped molds. It hardens very fast, then it pops out real easy. It is then wrapped and sold, locally or through our Internet stores.

So you can see why I ask, "Why doesn't everyone keep bees?"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Are Wax Moths & Why Do They Bother Hives?

ADVANCE BEEKEEPING COURSE JUNE 11, 2014 9am-3pm Central Illinois!!

Have you considered the importance of taking our one day Advance Beekeeping Course?  I'll be joined by my good friend and fellow certified master beekeeper Jon Zawislak. Jon and I have written a book on queen rearing and we recently authored a two part articled published in the American Bee Journal on the difference between Northern and Southern bees. Jon and I will be teaching our Advance Beekeeping course June 11, 2014 here in Fairmount, Illinois and we have around 6 seats available. You don't want to miss this opportunity to be around me and Jon and learn about bees for a whole day. Click here for more information.

When I moved from Ohio to Illinois in 1995, I brought my bees with me. They did well for a while, but then I noticed they were weakening. Eventually, the hive was filled with wax moths. They make a mess! They spin their webbing throughout the hive and the larvae burrow into wood and comb. Left untreated, the hive will abscond. Beekeepers like to use the word abscond. It is just a fancy word for saying "the bees left".

Wax worms make moths, specifically called Galleria mellonella L. or Greater Wax Moth. Or there is the Lesser Wax moth Achroia Grisella which is probably more common.

They usually only take over weak hives, hives that are stressed or have gone queenless or have mites really bad. As a general rule, strong hives are the best defense against wax moth. If you have wax moths, you need to see if you can find out why the hive became weak enough for the wax moths to take over. Some suggest that most hives have a few inside, but they are kept in check.

Just like we keep bees, some folks actually raise wax worms and even buy starter kits. Fishermen use them for bait, and some people even eat them for protein. Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile, in their popular book, THE BEEKEEPER'S HANDBOOK, have a whole section on wax worm rearing (appendix H).

What does a beekeeper do when wax moths are out of control? Freezing frames works well. A deep freeze will kill all stages of the wax moth, including the eggs. Here is the formula: 4.5 hours at 20 degrees F, 3 hours at 10 degrees F, 2 hours at 5 degrees F. Measure your deep freezer temp and decide how long.

Next, crowd the bees by removing unused frames and boxes and freeze those frames. If possible, and depending on the size of the hive, shake all the bees into one deep brood box with comb, then freeze the beeless and broodless frames. If the amount of bees is too large to fit into a single hive body, shake them into a deep and medium super. Crowding the bees will cause them to chase out the moths and reduce the empty space for moths to hide. Reduce the crowding after frames have been frozen by putting the clean frames back in the hive.

You may have to freeze your hive bodies/super bodies too as the moths do attach eggs in cracks in the wood. Blowing smoke into the hive with a smoker, two or three times a day, will stir up the bees and help run out pests too. Keep the hive in solid shade.Strong hives, sunlight, freeze comb, crowd the bees and smoke 'em. A non-chemical approach to gettng rid of wax moths!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bees Are Doing What Bees Do In September

Even though it is September, we continue to sell hives and supplies! Our shop is humming to the sound of saws, routers and staple guns. The bees are doing what bees do in September. They seem to know that winter is imminent. They are trying to build up their final honey stores before the first hard frost that will kill the flowers and end the nectar flow.

Here are some bees on our hyssop. It's a beautiful plant and the bees love it! In the morning, the bees gather pollen from ragweed. Ragweed is of the genus Ambrosia and has small, greenish, unisexual flower heads. It grows at the ends of the corn fields around our house. It produces an abundance of pollen. Ragweed pollen in the air is one of the chief causes of hay fever. However, eating local honey with traces of flower pollen such as ragweed can help build your immunity up against these types of allergies.

I notice that early in the morning, the ragweed sounds like a swarm, it is so full of bees. Watch this short video and see if you can see two female workers coming in with yellow ragweed pollen in the pouches on their back legs.

I have crossed the halfway mark in the honey room on dry wall completion. It is looking good.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Clean Honey Room

A clean honey room is not only essential, but difficult. Honey is sticky and messy. One drop can be tracked all through the room. Honey is hard to clean up. Hot water is essential! Once we got our equipment up and running, we began working on our room. Since the building was already build, I simply had to add insulation, wiring and plumbing. Okay I went a little further and added high speed Internet and satellite TV. Once the insulation, wiring and most of the plumbing was complete I began hanging the dry wall. Hanging is the easy part. Mudding, taping, sanding, mudding, taping, sanding...that's the tedious and hard part for me.

The main part of my honey room measures 12' x 14' but it also has a 4' x 5' section where one door takes you to our honey display room, and the other door takes you to our hive manufacturing area. But, you'd be surprise how little space is need to house a lot of honey processing equipment. I contacted our state health department and obtained their guidelines in what they want to see in a honey room.

I purchased a high powered 6' fluorescent fixture and also bought the plastic bulb covers. This is more than enough light for the room.

Next it was time to add the honey pump and the 1 1/2" pvc to carry the honey.

First, I had to rebuild the pump. It mean taking the pump apart several times, cleaning it, replacing O rings and making sure it worked. Roper, the manufacturer of the pump, has an excellent support staff that helped me configure my pump for my operation. My pump is a Roper 2835P. The P stands for packing. I also bought new packing for the pump. The pump is powered by a pulley from a 3/4 horse motor. This motor was in good shape, though I had to re-wire it to reverse the motor rotation.
Once the pump was ready, we simply started plumbing the pipe from the catch tank beneath our uncapper up to our 500 gallon storage tank. As you can see in the pictures, the line is angled so that we don't waste honey sitting in the line. Sometimes, we need every drop. So, by sloping the line, we can easily drain the honey from the lines and wash the lines out if needed.

We added clean-outs to drain and clean the lines.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Building & Designing The Honey Room

Buying Out Another Bee Business...
From Florida To Illinois

Back in August of 2006, I traveled to Florida from Illinois to purchase the bees and honey processing operation from Mr. James West, the inventor of the West Small Hive Beetle Trap. I purchased around 70 hives, two huge radial motor powered extractors, a nice honey pump, a hot-water tank, a 500 gallon stainless steel honey storage tank, a cowen automatic uncapper, lots of old hive bodies, supers, queen excluders, beetle traps and other beekeeping equipment. What a journey!!

It took me exactly one year to design and engineer my honey processing building. First, I had to place a pump in the well located near our honey building. I rented a Terramite backhoe and started trenching a water line to the building. Then, we had to add cold and hot water lines throughout the building. We also had to dig a dry well.

The next step was to design a way for hot water to flow to the sink and down the drain, but also create a way for hot water to recirculate through the 500 gallon honey storage tank, as well as through the knife blades on the automatic uncapper. The blades require heat to melt the cappings from the frames. With the help of my brother, Mark Burns who works for WPS Industries Group, I was able to complete the hot water recirculation plumbing.

Why run hot water through the honey storage tank? Actually, the tank is doubled-walled, so the water never touches the honey. In the winter, we want to make sure the honey does not freeze and crystallize. So, the warm water allows us to keep the honey around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit during our Illinois winter. The room in which this tank stands is sometimes not heated during the night.


The next step was carried out while doing all the above. That's why it took me a year! I had to restore the old equipment, primarily the honey extractor and the uncapper.

Below is a before and after shot of a section of the Cowen Uncapper. I had to replace worn out bolts, bearings, bars, chains and rewire it. I know every piece, personally, and totally repainted every piece.

What is an uncapper? When the bees produce honey, they seal it off in the comb with a wax capping over the cells. In order for us to extract or sling out the honey, we must uncap the wax seal first.

Many beekeepers use a hot knife for small operations, which is all that is needed.

However, larger operations can process more frames at a time with an automatic uncapper. In our case, our uncapper will uncap 10 frames of medium supers in 60 seconds. Both sides!

Here's a video of the uncapper...

Once uncapped, the frames, filled with honey, travel down a conveyor belt to an operator who then places them into our 33 frame radial extractor. This extractor is operated by a pressure clutch system and is driven by a 3/4 horse motor. We coated the inside of the extractor with FDA Food approved epoxy coating, primarily to make it easier to clean up after each use. In the photo to the left, you can see the uncapper being wired, and the extractor in the background.

Stop back in tomorrow for a continuation of our tour through the honey room!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Beekeeping In September

There is a lot of work to be done in the month of September. Over the last few weeks, we have been sprinkling powdered sugar in the hives. The bees become covered with this dusty sugar, and so in an effort to clean themselves up, they also clean off the mites. Mites to a bee are like fleas on a dog. Only the mites do more damage to the overall health of a hive if they get out of control. There is research being conducted that may suggest that mites contribute to the cause of CCD, Colony Collapse Disorder. So, to keep them under control, we dust our hives with powdered sugar.

The Procedure We Use To Dust For Mites

Sometimes we grind our own powdered sugar. This can be accomplished either in a coffee grinder or a blender. You can only grind a small amount at a time, so we find it easier to go to the local grocery store and buy the powdered sugar. Even though it contains some corn starch, this small amount isn't suppose to bother the bees.

It is important to pour at least 1 cup of powdered sugar over the top of the frames of each hive body full of bees. Then, we use a bee brush or our gloves to sweep the sugar down between the frames. Some people dust each side of the individual frames, but I don't like putting sugar down into the cells that are uncapped. 1 cup per hive body is plenty, though some people use two cups.

If you noticed in the picture above, we've made a framed screen so that we can lay the screen onto the top of a hive body, then pour sugar onto the screen. This holds the bees down while we spread the powdered sugar around. Then we remove the screen and sweep the remaining sugar down between the frames. We then add the next hive body on top and repeat the process.

Speaking of repeating the process, this "sugar drop" has to be repeated on exact day, in three consecutive weeks. In other words, for three Monday in row, or three Saturdays in a row...whatever day you did the first drop. This consecutive treatment allows you to break the mite cycle and kill those which may have been in the sealed brood chambers.

Some good advice is to use LOTS OF SMOKE! Especially if the weather is adverse or your bees are adverse!

Tomorrow, we'll go inside the honey room and show the progress we've made here, and continue the work, now that the honey production is over for the year.