Monday, December 31, 2007

Lesson 20: Different Types of Honey Bees

 Here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, we are committed to help you be a successful beekeeper. David is a certified master beekeeper. We are offering 2 days of Queen Rearing classes June 27-28, and two Basic Beekeeping courses Oct 4 and Oct 25. Click here for more information.

One thing that I have discovered is that we must learn to enjoy life, be good to others, reduce our stress and have something positive to look forward to and give back. My family encourages me and gives me joy. And our church family is encouraging to us. And as weird as this may sound, my bees give me a lot of joy! The more hives I have, the more stress is relieved. And to be honest with you my bees give me something to look forward to each year. I believe that if we stay busy, learn a hobby like beekeeping and keeping our minds on positive things, we are all around better off--at least I am.
I promised to share about the different types of honey bees in today's lesson.
Honey bees are not the same as bumble bees, wasps and yellow jackets. The scientific name for the honey bee that we have in America is Apis Mellifera. Apis Mellifera is actually one of eight species of honey bees. Apis Mellifera actually means "honey carrying bee". This is slightly incorrect in that a honey bee carries nectar not honey, but the name still stands.
Stay with me on this; I don't want to lose you. Apis Mellifera is a species of honey bee but within that species there are races. My favorite is the Italian honey bee, known as Apis Mellifera Ligustica, known to beekeepers as the Italian honey bee. This is the bee that most of us enjoy keeping the most. Then we have Apis Mellifera Carnica known as a Carniolan honey bee. Another popular honey bee is Apis Mellifera Caucasca, known as the Caucasian honey bee. These different races are unique because they were introduced into America from specific geographical regions from other parts of the world which gives them each unique characteristics.
Another species of honey bee that makes the press is Apis Mellifera Scutellata, the Africanized bee, imported into America from Brazil in the 1950s.
Now that we know about the Italian, Carniolan and Caucasian honey bee, let's look at other honey bees. Some have crossed these races of bees or have selected certain traits and have produced hybrid honey bees from within a species. This has given us Cordovans, Buckfast, Russian, Starline, Minnesota Hygenic and many other honey bees that have been bred for specific traits.
Which Honey Bee Is Best?
It is a matter of opinion, and my opinion is the Italian. But, let me give you some commonly accepted traits of each species and the common hybrids. Before I do, let me say that these claims of trait specific races and hybrids are claims. Certainly selected breeding has produced unique characteristics and I'm sure someone scientifically measured the results, but results can vary.
Russian bees, known for their resistance to mites, can die of mite infestations. Italians that are known for not swarming as much, can still swarm alot. Carniolan that are known for their rapid spring build up can fail and for some reason not build up fast in the spring. But again, let me give you what is commonly credited to the difference honey bees.
Italian- Apis Mellifera Ligustica
GOOD TRAITS: Very gentle, good brood pattern, isn't so prone to swarm as much, great honey producer, light on excess propolis and makes nice looking white comb honey. A great bee for someone new to beekeeping. POOR TRAITS: Can drift between hives and not find their home. Are prone to rob other hives during a dearth. A dearth is a lull in nectar flow.
Caucasian- Apis Mellifera Caucasca
GOOD TRAITS: They have a long proboscis or tongue. So they can work certain flowers other honey bees cannot. Very gentle. POOR TRAITS: They don't build up very fast in the spring and are very heavy on propolis, making the hive very sticky to work. Can rob more.
Carniolan- Apis Mellifera Carnica
GOOD TRAITS: Explosive spring build up, are not so prone to rob, are very, very gentle, and good comb producers. POOR TRAITS: Explosive build up means more swarms. Honey production is less than the Italian bee.
Russian- Hybrid
A product of the U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture's Honey Bee Breeding Genetics, and Physiology Lab of Baton Rouge, Louisiana by importing this bee from the Primorski region of the Sea of Japan because it had survived mites for 150 years. It is not a species but a hybrid.
GOOD TRAITS: Bred to be more resistant to mites and more winter Hardy. POOR TRAITS: Produces lots of propolis, always seems to have swarm cells in the hive, and moderate honey producer.
Buckfast- Hybrid

A product of Brother Adam (1898-1996). He spent his entire life perfecting the Buckfast honey bee hybrid. He claimed to have eaten a teaspoon of honey a day and in case you don't want to do the math, he lived to be 98!

GOOD TRAITS: Strong resistance to tracheal mites and good hygienic behavior.

POOR TRAITS: Can be defensive.

Minnesota Hygienic- Hybrid
A result of the work of Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota. A few months ago, my wife and I traveled to a queen rearing conference in Ohio where Gary Reuter was one of the main speakers. Gary is a Research Technician at the University of Minnesota working with Dr. Marla Spivak. Dr. Spivak and her team were able to produce a trait within breeder queens, a trait where the bees are able to reduce disease by being exceptionally hygienic.
GOOD TRAITS: Good honey producers and more able to resist American Foul Brood disease. POOR TRAITS: Those mostly common to the Italian bee since this is an Italian bee.
Many other beekeepers and breeders have their special line of queens that they are breeding, making claims, that to them, are very true and founded. But to be honest, there is always the flip side. To gain a positive characteristic may mean you gain two negative characteristics.
In my opinion, beginning beekeepers should begin with an Italian bee. Then, as your apiary expands, you can experiment with a different bee, and see how it goes.

I've tried many different races, and have gone back to the Italian bee. My Russians were too aggressive, didn't make enough honey, and swarmed WAY TOO OFTEN.

Bee-Have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

LESSON 19: Requeening A Hive

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.


Welcome to Long Lane Honey Bee Farms Online Lessons! Visit our MAIN WEBSITE AT: We have a complete line of hives that we build right here in Illinois. We offer classes, sell queens and much more. Give us a call at: 217-427-2678. Our hours are: M-Th 10am-4pm, Fri 10-Noon Central Time.

As a beekeeper, you must understand several important factors regarding your queen. The queen is the most important bee in the entire colony. She lays the eggs. She determines the overall health and productivity of the colony. She even influences how hygienic her daughters are toward mites and disease. And though she may live four or five years, she will be at her best only for one to two years. After that, she needs replaced. Out of all the hives I have lost over the years, yearly requeening would have saved most of my hives.

The queen! You gotta love her. You know that when you go to bed at night, your queen is keeping order, giving directions and expanding your hive. She's in charge. You keep bees, but really the queen is the real bee keeper. The hive's success is kept under her watchful eye.
But here's another hard fact to face. Not all beekeepers replace their queens every year or two. Though requeening has so many positive benefits, it just takes time and it is expensive unless you raise your own queens. Therefore, many beekeepers don't bother, and yet they complain about how they didn't take off as much honey or how the hive has mites.

You should seriously consider requeening your hive once a year. You will have to determine where to buy your queen, from stock that you prefer. I don't like buying queens from others. Even though there are many impressive breeder queen suppliers, you just really never know the quality of your queen until she is released and goes to work in your hive.

I'll address queen stock in a moment, but for now, let's consider requeening a hive. Who? When? What? Where? and Why? These are questions surrounding requeening a hive. Beginners seem to be reluctant to requeen, because most beginners do not have the confidence yet to open a hive, maticulously search every frame until the queen is located, grab her in your hand, and put the hive back together quickly. But, it really isn't all that bad. Let me give you some tricks of the trade.

Simply put, here's how to requeen a hive. Find the old queen if the hive still has a queen, remove her and introduce the new queen. That's it. Sounds simple, and sometimes it is just that simple. However, more often than not, it takes a bit more work.

We've talked about why to requeen, not let's talk about when. September is often viewed as the best month to requeen because it allows your young queen time to become well established with her hive prior to winter. In fact, she may lay some good brood of winter bees. Winter bees live a month or two longer because they are not working much during their lifetime due to mainly riding out the winter in a cluster. And, when Spring arrives, a new queen will be ready to lay as the weather warms up. However, requeening in September is more difficult because during September there is not a heavy nectar flow and bees more readily accept a new queen during a heavy nectar flow.

I prefer September because it produces the most Spring benefits. However, it also carries with it the most liabilities. A liability might be that they bees will not accept her, and the weather may keep me from inspecting to insure she is accepted and laying well. Thus, there is a risk in removing an old laying queen for a new one, because the new one could be a dud, worse than the older one. No queen in September means no winter get the picture. It's worth the challenge, but it is a challenge.

Use marked queens. A marked queen helps you spot her, and lets you know if she has been replaced. For those of you living in the deep south and southwest, where there are reports of Africanized bees a marked queen ensures you that your queen has not been replaced by an Africanized queen.

Use a frame holder. Back in my early days of beekeeping, I had trouble finding my queens, because I could carefully search a frame, put it back in the hive, pull out another frame and never find her. Why not? Because I missed seeing her, or as soon as I started pulling a frame out, she would jump onto a frame that I had just inspected and placed back into the hive. The trick? Use a frame holder. We sell these simple frame holders that slip onto the top of the hive body so you can hang inspected frames outside the frame until your inspection is complete, preventing the queen from jumping back onto an inspected frame.
Learn to spot the queen by those around her.
Click on the picture to the left and see if you can spot the queen. The bees have formed a partial circle near her.
When looking at a frame full of bees, if you can't find the queen try looking over the entire frame and observe how the bees are behaving.
Two things signal a queen. First, she is often encircled by bees. Not always, but often enough that you should look for this circle of bees. Secondly, bees get out of her way. In addition to these two signals, I've even tracked her down by her occasional sound she sometimes makes. It's almost like a faint sound of a smoke detector only more rapid and with a slight buzz. This is called piping. It is most common when a queen is newly released and it not heard so much from mated, established queens unless there is a new queen being introduced in a hive that already has a queen and the two are politicking for followers.
Look for freshly laid eggs. Another trick that I use is to carefully examine the unsealed brood cells. I look for freshly laid eggs. Ah, then I know the queen was at that cell not too long ago. It's sort of a bread crumb trail. I rarely find queens on full combs of honey or pollen, but mainly only on opened cell comb, that's just right for laying eggs.
I Found Her And Want To Replace Her...Now What Do I Do?
Normally, a queen will not sting. Unlike the working bee, the queen does not lose her stinger but it is rare for her to sting the beekeeper. I've never been stung by a queen, even when holding them captive in my hand between bee yards. But it is possible.
Usually if you are removing a queen to requeen a hive you probably do not want to use that queen in a nuc or another hive. You are requeening her usually because she is too aged or substandard. Let me put it nicely. She's done. I’ll leave it to your creative thinking as to how you wish to end her life.
Timing is important. You need to have your replacement queen on hand before you kill the substandard queen. Once you remove the old queen, wait at least 24 hours before introducing the new queen. You may even wait up to 2 days. However, remember that your bees will know that they are queenless and will begin to resolve their problem by raising their own queen from a fertilized egg. This is one way to requeen a hive, just allow the bees to raise their own queen. In doing it this way, you have to wait three to four weeks before she will emerge, mate and begin laying. And remember that by raising your own queen she will have most of the characteristics of her mother. That may or may not be what you want.
So, after waiting a couple of days, you can now introduce your new queen. Before doing so, check the hive to be sure there are no queen cells. You can remove sealed queen cells and use them in other hives such as splits, nucs or queenless hives by gently pressing them into the comb of a queenless hive.
How Do I Introduce A New Queen?
There are many ways to introduce a queen. It boils down to two basic methods. Direct release and indirect release. Direct release is rarely a good idea as the bees will usually "ball" the queen and kill her. On rare occasions I have directly released queens into queenless hives successfully. Once I covered the queen with honey, and set her near the entrance. Bees will come out, clean the honey off the queen, and usually she will walk in once she is well groomed. Sometimes I have sprayed down the hive with sugar water with peppermint extract in the water. The smell seems to neutralize the bees from attacking the queen.

On the other hand, the indirect release method allows the bees a chance to get used to the queen before she is free to walk among them. However, prior to her release, she must be in the hive, but kept safely from the bees who may want to initially kill her.

Old time beekeepers used a method that is still very successful even today, though many people have either never heard of it, or don't use it. It's a queen cage made out of hardware cloth, shaped like a square, about 1/2 - 3/4 inch tall with the bottom missing. It is pressed down over sealed comb with the queen inside, holding the queen within the cage. Be sure that no other bees are in the cage, only the queen. This gives time for the queen to be accepted by the other bees.

What has almost replaced this method is that of indirectly releasing the queen in cage she was shipped it, the mailing cage. These shipping cages are the same that are included with packaged bees. However, some queen suppliers are using a combination of a mailing cage and a push it screen cage.
Click on the two videos below to see the cages in greater details.

When your queen arrives in her mailing cage, the cage will have a candy plug on one end. You will have to remove the cork to expose the candy plug. Now, take a very small nail or pin, and carefully poke a very small hole through the candy plug. Be careful not to make it too large. And when you poke it through, be careful not to injure the queen on the other side. This hole will encourage the bees to begin to eat their way through the candy. This usually takes a couple of days.

Place the cage between the frames. By placing the candy plug up, the queen can always climb up and out and the opening will never be blocked by her dead attendants. By the time the candy plug has been eaten through, the queen will have become accepted within the hive. It is very important to wait one week before opening your hive after installing the new queen.

In one week, inspect the hive to ensure the queen is out of her cage, alive and if you have drawn comb you can inspect to see if she is laying.

Now, let's go back to the old fashioned cage that is pressed into the comb over capped brood. I like it! It works well. Any emerging bees within the caged area immediately take to their new queen. Her pheromone has a chance to spread over comb and on to other near by bees. This is a good method to use in September to help the queen become accepted in the absence of a nectar flow.

We make and sell these cages. Our cages do come with a small opening where you can insert a mini marshmallow. This serves as a candy plug, giving time for the bees to accept the queen while they eat through the marshmallow.

How Do I Select New Queens And Where Do I Find Good Suppliers

Trial and error will lead you to a good queen provider, and the supplier may or may not be a well known and long established breeder. You may find that the best queens are raised by the beekeeper down the road who has 30 or 40 hives and is willing to sell you sealed queen cells. I have pursued the various ads boasting of a great queen only to find didn't live up to how she was advertised. However, there are some suppliers who go to great lengths to raise the best possible quality queens.
Personally, I am more successful in operating my hives with survivor stock queens, queens that I find in barns and trees, feral queens who have already demonstrated that they can survive cold winters, mites, disease and swarm very little. I keep track of the hives in my yards that continue to survive year after year and produce an above average amount of honey and from these hives I raise my own queens.
I use a new queen rearing system that allows me to never have to graft eggs with tools. This system works great and can produce hundreds of queens in several easy steps. We also sell these systems. They are expensive, but can pay for themselves after producing just 10 queens. It is worth the investment.
Which Race Of Queen Is Better?
There are many races of queens each claiming to have unique characteristics. Here's a few common ones:
Italian, Minnesota Hygienic, Cordovan, Caucasians, Carniolans, Russian, and Buckfast . We’ll look at the different characteristic of these queens in our next lessons.
Please keep in mind that the Spring beekeeping season is fast upon us. I will begin brief inspections and placing pollen patties in my hives in less than 60 days! I will place all my supers on my hives in 120 days. That means I must get everything ready and in order within the next 120 days. There’s lots for me and you to do to get all of our beekeeping equipment ready for Spring. Let’s not put that off.

Merry Christmas from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
David & Sheri Burns

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lesson Eighteen: How Many Hives Should You Start With?

Here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, we are committed to help you be a successful beekeeper. David is a certified master beekeeper. We are offering 2 days of Queen Rearing classes June 27-28, and two Basic Beekeeping courses Oct 4 and Oct 25. Click here for more information.

Hello from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, and greetings from David & Sheri! This is the time of the year when our family celebrates the birth of Jesus, and enjoys time with relatives. Not to mention it's also the time of the year I eat too much homemade yummies! So Merry Christmas from our family to you.

Today, I thought I was going to talk about requeening a hive, but I want to answer some common questions surrounding the matter of how many hives to start with when keeping bees. I'll try and get to requeening next time. Before I share today's lesson, let me tell you a few other things. The kind of things friends chit-chat about when they first get together...

I haven't heard a peep out of my bees. In fact, their hives are all covered with snow. Take a look at the picture below of some of my hives. I took this picture Saturday. You can click on the picture to see a larger version. Isn't that pretty? I think you can right click on the picture and save it to your computer and make it your desktop background image!

You might be wondering about my entrances being glogged with snow. Normally, I would clear them after each snow. However, since I use screen bottom boards, I don't worry about ventilation through the entrance. But, I will need to clear it out before the next warm day when the bees will want to take a potty break.

I like it when it get's cold like this because it keeps my bees in a warm tight cluster, not eating much. If we have warm winters, they can get more active and eat more. I'm often guilty of taking off more honey than I should have, cutting the bees pretty close on winter reserves.

Now for today's lesson! How many hives should you start with?

When getting started in beekeeping, a common question is, "How many hives should I start with?"
Many people who are first starting out wonder if they can handle more than one hive. They rationalize that if beekeeping doesn't work out, then it is easier to get out of it with only one hive. Let me tell you what my opinion is on how many hives to begin beekeeping.
Keep in mind that colonies of honeybees can and do sometimes die out even after we do everything right. I call it a natural death.  If you have only one hive, and it goes wrong, then you don't have any hives left! With a few hives, two or more, you're always able to compare hives and keep going even though you might lose one along the way. Click here to see our two hive discount. I'm not ashamed to admit it that I've lost a few hives due to my own neglect or mismanagement. I'm just thankful I had a bunch of other hives to do it right with after I learned from my mistakes. This is why it is better to start with multiple hives than just one.

When people ask me how many should they start with, I usually tell them, "As many as you can afford". Many people who start with one or two usually call back and order more the next year. For those who truly enjoy beekeeping, they are always seeking ways to add more hives to their apiary. I realize that available space and time has to be considered. However, there is always a way to gain more places to place bees without having to buy land. Many farmers and land owners will gladly let you place your bees on their property for nothing more than a few jars of honey in return.
The average backyard hobbyist should always start with 2 or more. Why? With two hives, you can compare the hives to each other. Usually if both hives are acting the same way, it is a normal bee "thing". If one colony loses its queen, then you can place a frame of brood with 1-3 day old eggs from the other hive into your queenless hive and they will raise their own. And if one colony becomes weak, you can equalize the two hives by adding more bees to the weaker hive. With one hive these management practices are not possible.
Let me answer several questions that I am asked regarding the number of hives to begin with:

If I get more than one hive, will it require a lot of time?
How much time you dedicate to beekeeping is entirely up to you. The extemes are, you can do nothing more than install your package in the Spring and do nothing at all, to the other extreme of inspecting your hives every two weeks. A good management practice is to inspect you hives every two weeks. This should only take about 15 minutes per hive. So for two hives, that's only a hour a month. But, here's how it really works for a lot of folks just getting started in beekeeping. They love it so much, they are always in the hive, looking at it, pulling frames out and showing friends and realtives. I opened one hive 5 times in one day show interested people the inside of a hive. It does disrupt their activities, so it is best to limit your inspections to twice a month, but some new beekeepers can't stay out of the hive, because it is so much fun. And the distruption is worth the experience you get by opening up the hive. With the more hives you have, the more you can inspect different hives and enjoy your hobby more.
I once had a real nice motorcycle the kind you have to polished after every ride. I spent less time keeping 100 hives than keeping that motorcycle waxed! It really is manageable.

With several hives, will the bees from one hive be confused and not know which is their hive?Will the hives fight each other?
Bees keep to themselves pretty well. Each hive has a unique smell, to the bees, not to us. They will not bother other hives. As you can see by the snow picture above, I try to keep about 6-8 inches between my hives so that on windy days, they don't drift into the wrong box. Even if a few do, it is not a big deal.
Will they fight each other? No. They keep to their own business. In the fall, during a dearth of nectar, a very strong hive might try to rob a very weak hive. But through proper management this will not be an issue. Proper management means keeping hives equal and avoiding attracting bees to another hive by mishandling honey or honey supers in the weak hive. Don't work a weak hive for very long in late summer or early fall.

How close together can I place multiple hives?
I've had hives on pollination pallets which were only 3/4" a part from each other, 4 hives on a pallet. But I think 6 - 8 inches is a minimal. And if you have a bit more space, give them a foot or two. Don't place them too far a part or else you'll be walking too much to work them. I keep them close so I can go right down the line when I am working my hives. If you have more 4 or more, try to make a "U" shape bee yard, like a horseshoe shape apiary yard. This helps the bees identify their hive quickly and it provides a little wind break for landings and takeoffs.

Can too many hives in one area deplete the available nectar source?
I've heard people argue that too many hives in one area can cause a depletion in nectar in that area so that only the strong hives do well. That might be possible if you live in the middle of a desert with only a hand full of flowers within 12 miles.
Most of us live in areas where there is plenty of nectar sources. Bees are sharp when it comes to finding nectar. Just like we are sharp in finding food when we are hungry. You know where some good restraunts are and if you don't you know how to go out looking for that perfect steak house. Bees are even better than we are at finding food.
It is extremely important to remember that bees fly 2-3 miles out to gather nectar. I think some people think of bees as dogs, meaning that they think the bees will stay in their yard. Unless you have a huge yard, it aint' going to happen.
Now, let's say you live in town and you own a regular lot where beekeeping is permissible. Your bees will fly 2 to 3 miles around searching for nectar. One of my bee yards is located just on the edge of a city of 10,000 people. The bees fly straight up and out and late this summer they brought in a lot of alfalfa honey. They weren't getting this in town!
Within a 2 mile radious there are over 8,000 acres. A 3 mile radius includes over 12,000 acres of nectar to choose from! Wow!
Now, to better illustrate how much nectar is within a 3 mile radius, I've taken a satelite image of my home where I have about 30 hives. I have superimposed a circle that represents a 3 mile radius. Look at how much land that emcompasses.

Even though I'm about 4-5 miles away from some towns near me, it's only about 3 miles the way the bee flies. And if you notice near the top of the picture, there is a large river that runs through the 3 mile radius which means lots of river bottom flowers even in dry weather.
It just makes better practice to start with two or more hives. I started with one hive and through neglect it died off and since I had only one hive, I was out of beekeeping for several years.

Now don't let me discourage you if you can only start with one hive. You can start with one and do great! You can add more and more hives as the years go by. And, your one hive may never die. Instead, you might get many splits from your first hive. You just never know. But, your chances of success are increased by the more hives you have.
Thanks for dropping by and spending some time with me today, talking about beekeeping. It's lots of fun, isn't it! Feel free to email me some questions and I'll be happy to consider turning them into some future lessons! Together we're all learning so much!
Be sure to check out our website for all your bee hive needs at

You can order directly from us, at 217-427-2678!

See ya next time and remember to BEE-Have yourself!

David & Sheri

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Beekeeper's Calendar Of Important Events

We are excited that our hives and beekeeping equipment are in such demand! Wow, and what excites us even more is that many of our new customers are new to beekeeping! Honeybees are going to make a come back as more and more people begin to keep bees!! Several of you have been sharing this blog with others...THANK YOU!! And, others have been sharing our prices with others, and sending more customers our way...THANK YOU!!

Today, my father-in-law broke his morning record and built 42 deep and medium supers. He hammered 1004 nails!
Sheri and I are ordinary folks, who started keeping bees as a hobby and eventually found it to be so enjoyable and rewarding that it turned into a business. However, to be honest with you, we are a mom and pop operation. So when you call in, you're either get mom or pop! We'll treat you like family and do our best to answer your questions and help you any way we can. If you ever stop by, you'll find me in a flannel shirt with old blue jeans spotted with wood glue and paint. We're just hard working folks. And we appreciate your business.

Although we are always learning more and more about beekeeping, we've learned a lot over the years. So, these lessons are FREE, a gift from us to you, so that you can avoid the mistakes that we made, and hopefully get off to a much easier start keeping bees. Back in 1994 when I started my first honeybee hive, I didn't know what I was doing and had no one to talk to much about it. I was lost and made huge mistakes. So, you've got a friend in us!

In today's lesson, we want to give you a yearly calendar of what we think you should be doing as a beekeeper each month and a summary of what your bees are doing. This may vary slightly due to the variation in climates, but you can make the adjustments accordingly.


JANUARY AND THE BEES: The bees are in a tight cluster staying warm and consuming very little food. On days when the wind is calm and the temperature rises above 40, you'll probably see a few bees flying out taking a cleansing flight. Since bees do not go to the bathroom inside their hive, they fly out on warm days and this is called a cleansing flight. Winter bees live a little longer than summer bees, but remember, bees live short lives. Many of your bees will die during the winter, just from old age. When bees die during the winter, they fall to the bottom of the hive. In the summer, die bees are immediately carried outside the hive by their sisters. But, in the winter, when the hive is clustered, the dead bees accumulate on the bottom board. On warm days, other bees might try and drag out their dead sisters. When snow covers the ground, you will noticed more dead bees around your hives. This is normal. Don't panic! It is a sign of a strong hive when they drags out dead bees. But, if you don't see anything don't panic either. It just means they will probably do this later on.

JANUARY AND THE BEEKEEPER: Monitor your hives to make sure winter winds have not disturbed the tops. Also, make sure that after it snows, that the openings are cleared of snow so that the bees can continue to get enough air, and move freely in and out of the entrance on warm days.

Many bees suppliers will completely sell out of package bees by the end of January. You must call and place your bee order as soon as you can during the first week of January. Otherwise, you may not be able to secure your bee purchases for the 2008 year. Those of you who will be ordering your bees from us, Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, we will be prepared to take your orders for package bees and nucs beginning on Wednesday January 2nd and everyday thereafter until we run out. Call early!

Make sure you join and attend your local beekeeping club, read up on beekeeping, and clean up your smoker and hive tool.


FEBRUARY AND THE BEES: Sunlight is becoming slightly longer and a few more warm days triggers the queen to start laying a few more eggs. Their cluster has worked its way upward into the top deep brood chamber. They are basically behaving the same as it January.

FEBRUARY AND THE BEEKEEPER: On a warm day, 50 degrees or more, you can open the top briefly and look in on the hive. Do not remove any frames, as this will chill the bees and the brood. Upon inspection you can assess if the colony still has enough stored honey for food. If not, you may want to consider emergency feeding options.

Emergency feeding is just emergency. So do whatever it takes to get some sugar in the hive. Dry sugar will work but only if the bees have warm enough days to fly out for water. There may not be many days warm enough in northern states for dry sugar feedings or hard candy feedings. Sometimes I have soaked sponges in heavy sugar water and jammed the sponge between the frames near the cluster. You can also place a plastic zip-lock bag full of sugar water directly over the cluster and poke a few holes on the top of the bag or make a slit in the bag. Do anything you can think of...after all it is better than letting the hive starve to death. Of course, if you have frames of honey available, that's the best way to feed them, but most of us have sold all our honey by now.

You might also consider placing a pollen patty on top of the upper deep box. This will really work well if the end of winter is extremely mild and there are many warm days. Pollen patties stimulate the laying of more eggs. However, if the weather turns cold again, then the bees may not be able to keep this early brood warm and fed. So it is a gamble this early for northern states.

Finally, if you did not order your package bees in January, you must do it now! And if you did not order your new equipment, hurry! You want all of your hive equipment ready by March.

MARCH AND THE BEES: If the hive was low on honey going into winter, then March is the month they may starve out. They have probably moved all the way up in the hive and their overall population is very low due to normal die-outs throughout the winter. The bees are going to be flying more in March, and they will find pollen even in northern states. The queen will start laying much more in March. The entire hive will begin to return to an almost normal operation now that winter is almost over. There will be cold snaps, but the bees will do fine as they begin to expand.
MARCH AND THE BEEKEEPER: Continue emergency feeding if needed, and place entrance or top feeders on the hive and feed 1:1 sugar water, one part sugar and one part water. Continue with the pollen patty feedings.

Inspect your hive! March will provide you with a few days when the temperature will rise to 50 degrees or higher. At this temperature you can look in the hive and pull out a few frames. Keep in mind that since there is not a heavy nectar flow, and since it is cooler, the bees might be a bit more aggressive. I am stung more during these cold inspections than the rest of the year. So wear protective gear.
March is a great month to start feeding the pollen patties. If you don't make your own patties, we sell the pre-made pollen patties which can be placed right in the hive. Pollen patties truly do jump start the hive. I highly recommend that you place a pollen patties in your hives in March.
The bottom board will probably be filled with dead, winter bees. They did their job, so play "Taps", salute them, and toss them in the yard for the mice and birds to enjoy. Serve your mice an eviction notice.
You'll be able to assess how many of your colonies have died out over the winter. Clean out these boxes and freeze the comb if you can. This will prevent the spread of wax moths. This link provides information on how to freeze your combs and for how long.
March is our busiest month in hive equipment and bee sales. Everyone calls and wants their hive yesterday! Please do us a big favor and order your hives in January.

APRIL AND THE BEES: Now the bees are almost fully operational. There will still be a few cold snaps, especially in early April, but by the last two weeks, the weather is good for bees to rapidly expand and to even start bringing in more and more nectar and pollen. The queen is laying well now. The hive is expanding.
APRIL AND THE BEEKEEPING: Keep feeding! Feeding helps the bees build up. No supers are on your hive yet, so their intake of sugar is not going into your honey product. You are just feeding to help the hive off to a great start. Keep the pollen patties on top too. Remove entrance reducers.
April can be cold and wet which means that your bees may have limited opportunities to fly out for food. So you must continue to inspect the hive to be sure they have enough food stores. Also, inspect your hive for any abnormalities. You want to see a solid brood laying pattern from your queen. If not, consider replacing her now!
Reverse your brood chambers! This is extremely important as it gives more space for the queen to lay. Simply take the top deep brood chamber and place it on the bottom board and place the one that was on the bottom on top.
If your bees are no longer taking the sugar feeding, discontinue, put supers on, as the bees will now begin to collect dandelion nectar and nectar from Maple trees, Locust trees and other early Spring flowering plants and trees.
This is a great time to equalize your hives. You may have to combine weak hives with strong ones. Even though I know better, every year I seem to become too compassionate toward a struggling hive, and try to nurse them back to health. Last year, I successfully did just that with one hive, but another hive bit the dust in September after I nursed them along all year. It is usually not worth it. It is costly to spend too much time on a struggling hive. It takes money and time to requeen the hive and to continue to work it. It would be far better to combine it to another hive if it is disease and pest free. After all, a weak hive is an invitation for pests and disease. Strong hives chase away pests and disease. So, your weak hive could spread disease to all your other hives. Don't take the chance. Keep your hives strong.

MAY AND THE BEES: Bees are in full operation now that it is May. You can stop feeding strong hives now because they are bringing in lots of nectar and pollen. The hive is expanding rapidly. The brood chambers are filling up fast and becoming crowded and congested.
MAY AND THE BEEKEEPER: RED ALERT!! BEES SWARM IN MAYYou will have to implement a swarm control strategy. Keep in mind that bees swarm as a way of multiplying. It is not a sign of being a poor beekeeper. However, there are some important steps to implement to try to prevent swarming. Review the link above. Keep in mind that you must provide room for your hive to expand. And, you should put on honey supers in May. Put on as many as you'd like. I think it is good practice to have a minimum of two honey supers on all hives during the nectar season. Three or four supers are even better. Don't wait to add your supers or you may miss particular nectar flows. Get all supers on by May 1st!
Consider having an extra, empty hive on hand so you'll be able to capture a swarm. You will want to capture your own swarms or you will probably receive phone calls once your neighbors learn you are a beekeeper. We receive several calls each week all Spring and Summer.

JUNE AND THE BEES: The bees will be working hard filling supers. They can still swarm during June, so keep an eye out for swarms. There is no need to feed the bees. They are gathering plenty of nectar and pollen. You may see the bees hanging out on the front of the hive at night. This is normal. On hot and especially humid evenings, many bees will spend the night outside the hive, clinging to the front of the hive or they may form a beard on the ground in front of the hive. This phenomenon is called "bearding". This would be like you enjoying your cool porch on a hot evening.

Continue to monitor your hive. We suggest inspecting your hive every two weeks to ensure the queen is laying well. The bees will need water, so be sure to keep a water source near your hives. We fill bird baths with water so that our bees stay out of our dog's water bowl and our neighbor's pool.

Most beekeepers begin to consider the amount of mites within hives during June. Some even begin to treat. However, no treatments can be administered in a hive while supers are on. This could contaminate the honey with chemical residue. We do not use chemicals in our hives but we do treat for mites with powder sugar. However, we wait until the last summer nectar flow is over before treating with powder sugar. For Central Illinois, the summer nectar flow ends about the first week of August. If mites become a problem it will be during the summer and fall months. We do not like to disturb our bees during Summer nectar flows, nor do we want any traces of powder sugar to be added to the honey. So we wait until August or September to begin our powder sugar treatment program.


JULY AND THE BEES: The bees are behaving as they did in June.

JULY AND THE BEEKEEPER: Continue to check your supers! You'll now be removing and extracting your honey.


AUGUST AND THE BEES : Since the nectar flow will end this month, the bees will become much more flighty, searching for nectar which is now not as plentiful to find. The bees are making a final effort to store up for winter, searching for final nectar sources. Golden rod and Aster plants can provide an average nectar flow in the fall.

AUGUST AND THE BEEKEEPER: If you have multiple hives, you must be careful not to let a strong hive rob a weak hive. If nectar is still coming in, continue to place supers on the hive. Be careful not to open up the hive for extended periods as other hives may try and rob the hive while it is opened. I usually will place a 5 gallon bucket in my bee yards and fill it with 2:1 sugar water, 2 parts sugar and 1 part water. Then, I will fill it with clean sticks so the bees will not drown. After a few hours the bucket will be covered with thousands of bees. Don't put this close to your house. This is a great way to fed your bees and to prevent them from robbing other weaker hives. If you have just one or two hives, this will not be necessary.


SEPTEMBER AND THE BEES : The bees will still be working fall flowers but in most states, the amount of honey produced in September will be minimum. The days are still warm enough to allow the bees time to gather more last minute nectar prior to the first major hard freeze or frost which will kill the flowers.

SEPTEMBER AND THE BEEKEEPER: This is the start of the beekeeper's year! What you do in September will determine how well your bees do next year, and how well they overwinter. Here's your work list for September:

1) Consider requeening. You don't have to, if your queen has done well. But it is advisable to requeen in September. If you can afford to requeen your hive each year, it would be best to do so in September. A new queen means a much younger queen who has stronger pheromones and who will be more apt to lay eggs more efficiently in the Spring. In a future lesson I'll teach on how to requeen a hive.

2) Take off all your supers. There is no need for them now, and you will want to tighten up the hive by removing excess supers.

3) Weigh your hives. This is guess work unless you invest in a hive scale. Find something around the house that weighs around 70 pounds. Lift it up slightly with one hand. This will give you an idea what 70 pounds feels like. Now, go to your hives and with one hand, slightly lift the back. Only lift it an inch or two so that you can sense how heavy it feels. It needs to feel around 70 pounds. If not, you will want to start feeding the hive 2:1 sugar water.

Because robbing is a problem this time of the year, here's what I suggest. But first let me discuss my experience with feeders. My favorite feeder is the front feeder, the one that slips into the front of the hive opening at the bottom and a mason jar slips down into it. However, in the fall, bees from other hives can make their way to the front feeder, and eventually rob the hive. So I do not use this entrance feeders during the fall. By the way, this is called a Boardman feeder.

Top feeders are large resivors of sugar water above the hive, usually made of plastic and they have a small space where the bees can climb into a screened area and go down into the resivor to consume sugar water. Here's what I don't like about that. If the top cover does not cover it well, bees from other hives make their way into the top of the feeder and drown or rob the hive. If you make the top cover fit tight enough to keep robbing bees out, then the sugar water cab mildew and mold. And, once I had a top feeder break and leak 2 gallons of sugar water onto my hive, drowning and disrupting the hive for several days. There are some nice top feeders available, but I don't like to use top feeders.

Frame feeders are feeders that slip in between your frames, and actually take the place of a frame. Essentially it is a thin bucket that is about the size of a frame and the bees can eat from within their hive. These require going deep into the hive to load and they aren't perfect either.

So, what you should do duirng September is purchase our fall feeder system. Or you can make your own. Our system resembles a brood chamber size super but with a bottom. A round hole with a mason lid is placed in the bottom of the feeder. Now, you place your mason jar in the lid and place your inner cover and top cover on this feeder. These work great and the feeder winds up being right over the cluster, so you can even feed the bees long into the winter if needed.

Also, stay out of your hive as soon as you finish your hive work. Propolis is the glue that holds all the pieces of the hive together. Every time you open your hive, you break the propolis seal. If you do this late in the year, when warm days are over the propolis will never seal again, and your hives can be blown a part in the winter by bad winds. So plan to get out of your hives early enough so the proplois can reseal on a warm day.


OCTOBER AND THE BEES: There are less reasons for the bees to leave the hive. Flying is cut way down. The queen is laying very few eggs. They are now shifting to winter mode.

OCTOBER AND THE BEEKEEPER: Prepare your hives for winter. A wind break should be considered. Entrance cleats should be placed in the front opening to restrict mice from entering the hive. A word about bees and winter. A large hive will not die from cold weather. They stay warm by clustering in the hive. They keep each other warm. The temperature in the hive is only warm within the cluster. They do not warm the entire inside of their hive, only the cluster. They can survive extreme cold weather. But, moisture can develop within the hive as bees do give off moisture like we do. If this moisture gathers above them, it can drip onto the cluster. This is what can kill bees during the winter. They are much like us. We can be cold and get by. But, we cannot stay alive long if we become wet and cold. Bees can get wet in the summer and it is not a problem. But you must prevent your hive from becoming cold and wet from condesation developing within the hive.

Here's how we do it. We use screen bottom boards, fully opened. We do not restrict or cover our bottom boards for winter. Nor do we place any gaps near the top cover. The open screen bottom board allows enough ventilation within the hive to aleviate moisture build up. We do not wrap for winter, although many do. It has been shown to slightly help. Black roofing paper works great. We have too many hives to wrap. Keep in mind that by wrapping your hive, you might be increasing the chance for condensation to collect within the hive.

Winter winds can be strong, so place a heavy concrete blocks on your hives.


NOVEMBER AND THE BEES: The bees continue to cluster for winter. They may not yet go into a full winter cluster, and may actually develop two clusters. They may break cluster frequently on warm days and recluster at night. But they will begin to cluster for the winter.

NOVEMBER AND THE BEEKEEPER: Feed your light hives as long as the sugar water doesn't freeze. Finish up all winterization of your hives. On a cold day when the bees are all inside, weed-eat around your hives. Enjoy Thanksgiving! Start purchasing next year's equipment.


DECEMBER AND THE BEES : The bees are happily clustered in the hive keeping warm having fond memories of how well you took care of them during the season. They will only leave the hive to take cleansing flights on warm, sunny days. Naturally dieing bees will pile up at the door of your hive or in front of the hive if it warms up enough for other living bees to carry them outside.

DECEMBER AND THE BEEKEEPER: Relax and review our bee lessons for Spring! Order your equipment so that you can have it ready. Enjoy celebrating Christmas. Stay warm and keep the snow away from your hive entrance. Consider expanding your apiary.

Thanks again, everyone, for your compliments and phone calls about these beekeeping lessons. It's great to talk with you and we do appreciate your business! Even our youngest son and sixth child sends his greeting to you too! His name is Christian, and he was born September 13 and weighed 10 lbs and 1 oz.

Be sure and give us a call to order your bees and hive equipment. We'll help you get set up to keep bees, even if you don't have the slightest idea on what to do. That's why we are here. Our number is: 217-427-2678 or visit our website at:

In our next lesson, we'll look at how to requeen the hive.

Remember...BEE-HAVE yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms