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Archive for May, 2012

I thoroughly inspected the Themyscira hive this week as I had only had a few minutes to peek at it the previous weekend. I got started on my beekeeping duties late in the day and by the time I opened the second hive it was getting too dark!

Themyscira hive is the one that’s been getting supplemental honey instead of sugar water. Begin new at this, and being that most beekeepers feed their bees sugar water, I haven’t found a ton of good information about how often and how much honey I should be feeding my bees. I asked Bob, an experienced beekeeper in my area, who first recommended that I quit feeding my bees honey because of the disease risks. He then resigned himself to answering my question with this tip:

If you continue feeding honey, you want to keep them on it until they get honey-bound. Basically, as long as the outside frames and upper corners of the inside frames have uncapped resources, you’re doing fine.

Here’s what I found upon inspection:

Top Box

9 frames drawn, working on the 10th

Only 2 frames with honey, the rest (8) with brood

Lots of burr comb between the two boxes with larva in it

Bottom box

1 frame completely undrawn

1 frame partially drawn with pollen

3 frames drawn with honey – mostly open cells

5 frames that have hatched brood. Larger capped cells (drones?) still there along the edges. Many of them. Some honey at the top. On these frames it looked like the bees were cleaning them out. I didn’t see eggs though I suppose they could have been there. It felt like a lot of open space.

Based on my inspection and our spate of warm weather (what a great spring for a first time beekeeper!) I think the bees have enough honey and I’m not going to feed them more unless something changes my opinion.

The cells on the right that look like Kix cereal are drone cells.

My friend Jamie reported to me that the burr comb with larvae in it at the bottom of the top box was probably drones. I am using foundation on my frames, which means that the bees are forced to draw out the cells to the size of the foundation. Jamie suggested that they want bigger cells for drones, so they are making those in the space at the bottom of the box. I felt terrible scraping all that combs and its larvae off. Jamie tried to reassure me by reminding me that since mites tend to like drones better, I might have helped preserve hive health by eliminating drone cells. However, I am now motivated to fix my frames with wire so that the next box can be foundationless.

I felt good about the amount of space my bees had, with most of the bottom frames having been vacated by hatching brood. It was quite exciting to see all those newly hatched cells and to realize how much my hive has grown in one month. The girls never fail to impress!

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Encourage your friends and neighbors to garden organically! So many people don’t realize that backyard pesticides are harmful to bees. You can be the one to enlighten them! The girls will thank you.

Idealist Girl!

This spring I joined the ranks of the estimated 150,000 non-commercial beekeepers in the United States. Backyard beekeeping is quite the trendy hobby here in my neck of the woods, or urban forest as it were. Here in Wallingford, Seattle, I have already encountered four other beekeepers that live within walking distance. Within a few generations, our bees will probably all be cousins.

A lovely happenstance of backyard beekeeping in Seattle is that my neighbors all keep lovely gardens with plenty of plants flowering throughout spring and summer. Especially during nice warm spring seasons like this, my bees have plenty of forage from which to choose. I have always enjoyed walking through my neighborhood and admiring the lovely flowers, but I love it even more now that I am looking at them with a pollinator’s eye.

Soon I may find myself going door to door as a backyard beekeeping evangelist…

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I’ve been slightly obsessed about bee food lately, especially as I have chosen not to use pollen patties and to feed Themyscira real honey instead of sugar syrup. In the course of my musings, I have asked questions of all the beekeepers I know, read books and searched the internet for more information. Here are some of the things I have learned:

  • A hive under stress is more susceptible to disease. The stress of not having enough food, or of having to forage really hard for food, process it and care for the brood, would make bees very vulnerable to disease.
  • The hive itself has flora much like the digestive tract of the human body. If proper balance is not maintained, disease can flourish. This is a case for feeding them honey instead of sugar, so that they won’t risk a potential over growth of yeast.
  • Protein is especially important to bees in the spring when they are rearing brood. The brood needs protein (found in pollen) in order to grow. If the bees don’t have enough, they will feed the brood protein from their own bodies, which weakens them considerably.
  • City bees may have an advantage over rural bees. Bees need a diversity of pollen to supply them with all of the protein, vitamins and minerals that they need. They can’t get those things exclusively from one type of plant. So, bees that live near large mono-culture farms or bees that are used to pollinate a single crop (like almonds) for a long period of time may be weakened. Some apiarists supplement bees in these situations with pollen patties even though the bees are technically getting enough pollen. My city bees have the advantage of having many types of flowering plants and trees available within flying range of our home. Flowers bloom fairly continuously from April through August.
  • In response to my question, “Assuming we are trying to beekeep naturally, why do we even feed bees?” a wise and more experienced beekeeper reminded me that in the wild, only 20% of swarms survive. So, even if I were to assume that my new package of bees had the same characteristics as a swarm [which it doesn’t since package bees are all very young and haven’t been honey-loading], it would only have a one in five chance of making it.
  • Much of what we think we know about bee nutrition comes from commercial beekeepers, particularly beekeepers that are using their hives to pollinate crops. Commercial beekeepers have vastly different priorities than backyard beekeepers like me. I do not need my hives to be ready to pollinate the almond crops starting February 1.

I am planning to examine honey bee nutrition more in depth. I would like to compare what is known about honey bee nutrition with what is commonly used to supplement bees. My early research leads me to conclude that supplemental feeding has developed with the goals of creating enough brood for creating packaged bees and enough bees to pollinate early crops. I am curious what best practices would look like for urban backyard bees, particularly if one cares more about building a strong bee population than about harvesting much honey.

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