Archive for the ‘bee package’ Category

bees and barn

Waiting to check in …

Last Saturday morning found my friend Andy and I each picking up a new package of Italian bees from Dan Conlon at Warm Colors Apiary. As I have stated in earlier posts, I really hate buying packages but I know I can trust Dan. My problem with packages is we are bringing in bees that have already been across the US and back doing almonds, the bees have no relationship to the queen and it’s a great way to bring critters that bother southern bees and drop them right into your apiary. I greatly prefer northern-raised nucs from trustworthy, local beekeepers. The nucs have either overwintered with the queen  or, as in the case of “spring nucs”, a northern-raised queen was added to a nuc in late April or early May and has proven herself by laying several frames of healthy brood before the colony is sold. In either instance, the queens are already accepted and the colony has proven itself to be viable prior to arriving in your apiary.



Apiary facing organic orchard, veggie garden and 50+ blueberries eventually needing pollination

So… if I do not like packages, why did I buy one? Pollination. I need bees now as we already have blueberries starting to blossom, as is one of our plum trees. The apples and peaches will be next and the 4 nucs that I have coming will not be ready for at least another 2-3 weeks. Since I order my bees in December and January–before we know if it will be a good or bad winter for bees–betting on nucs is a bit of a gamble. While there certainly are no guarantees in beekeeping, one can readily anticipate a package ordered late fall or early winter will actually arrive come spring. When that package is coming via Dan, it’s as solid as it can possibly be.


So I said good-bye to Andy and Dan and headed home to hive the Italian ladies into a hive consisting of a hive stand, a screen bottom board, a slat board to raise the bottom brood chamber away from the bottom entrance (still cold here at night with a couple of nights dropping into the 20’s) two 10-frame mediums of drawn small cell, a hive top feeder and an outer cover. Yes, I installed the package directly onto drawn small cell comb and did not worry about regressing the bees from large cell to small. I have never done so and have not had a problem.


Didn’t your mother tell you never shake 3 lbs of bees into a box?

As with every package I have ever installed, the bees were incredibly gentle and I never lit the smoker. You may wish to have yours lit and available but I didn’t take the time. You can also have a spray bottle of syrup handy if you so desire. Again, nah…I removed one frame from the lower medium to create space to hang the queen cage and removed all of the frames from the upper, leaving the upper hive body in place. After shaking the bees into the hive,


Make sure cage screen faces open area so bees can feed the queen until she is free

I hung the queen cage in the space created in the middle of the lower hive body when I removed the one frame and replaced all 10 frames in the upper medium. After adding a gallon of 1:1 syrup (1 pint water to 1 pound of sugar), I closed them up, put a wooden entrance reducer on the bottom entrance (opened to about 3 “) turned on the bear fence and walked away. Naturally, you DO have a baited bear fence, right? Shortly later the girls were doing orientation flights in front of their new abode.

Day 4:

Due to weather, on day 4 I finally went out to check  on the queen and found her in the upper medium laying eggs. The bees had stored about 1/2 of the syrup and were bringing in pollen to feed the larvae.

Day 7:

Yesterday, the bees had finally stored all of the original gallon of syrup. Cold nights meant cold syrup that had to warm up during the 50-60º days and delayed them a bit.

I decided I want all or at least most of my hives to have a deep bottom brood chamber. I’m thinking it may help in winter so I placed a deep of fresh small cell foundation on top of the 2 mediums and added a gallon of syrup with some Honey-B-Healthy to help stimulate feeding. Packages can build comb quickly so I am hoping they draw out the deep foundation and I can put the deep on the bottom of the stack prior to the nectar flow.


I cannot tell you how wonderful it is for us to have bees again! We really missed them and love hearing them fly by when working in the yard, see them hitting the dandelions and just sitting out by the hive watching the entrance. I plan on monitoring the feeder but otherwise leaving them along for the next 10-14 days and let them build up. We should be getting an email about that time saying the nucs are ready and then the apiary will REALLY be buzzing!


Package is in 2nd green hive. Bear fence is solar powered and baited with bacon.

BTW, in the pictures you will see I have 3 additional hives already in place. I did this so the package bees are immediately  familiar with the eventual apiary configuration which will hopefully reduce drifting later on. Also, at night, I reduce the entrance down to about 3/4″ and open it to about 3″ during the day to prevent too much congestion at the entrance.


I hope your colonies are quickly building up and that spring has finally arrived to stay! If you were lucky enough to have overwintered any nucs, get them hived  and be ready to add supers for their growth spurt!

The next post will be about the apiary plan for 2017.

Keep your bees buzzin’!




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I recently had the honor of becoming the VP of our local beekeeping club. One of the opportunities this presents is the chance to help teach this year’s class of new beekeepers–the first class being what equipment they should purchase. Naturally, this makes me think about my original purchasing decisions and what I would do differently if I was starting fresh today. This chapter looks back at what I think I did right and wrong with my equipment choices. The findings are based solely on my experiences and do not reflect the results others may have had.

The original apiary

If you have been a reader of this blog, you are aware I chose to have 2 Beemax polystyrene hives (2 deeps and 3 mediums ea) with Pierco large cell frames in one and Mann Lake small cell plastic frames in the other. I also purchased 2 Beemax polystyrene top feeders and 2 packages of bees shipped from GA. While the Beemax hives have been excellent and my bees continue to survive the last 2 winters, I wish I had never bought the plastic frames. Compared to the wood and wax foundation I have used since then, I can only say that my bees prefer drawing comb on wax, not plastic. While plastic has several benefits over wax, i.e. easier to use and definitely more durable, I have never been able to get my bees to draw out all of the frames in a hive body. While I know other beeks who have great success with plastic, this Spring I will be moving all of my bees to wax. Besides, it makes better candles!

My primary mistake with the hives was to mix deeps and mediums. Michael Bush is spot on. While this is a traditional configuration for Langstoth hives, I have found during the past 2 years that I seem to always have honey, brood or comb on the wrong size frame for the task I need to address immediately. By this I mean I have extra medium frames of honey when I really need deeps–like last Fall. Earlier in the year, the exact opposite was true. To make my life easier and to be able to respond to whatever the bees needs are I am moving all of my hive bodies to mediums. This way I will always have the right size frame available as everything in my apiary will be consistent. Plus, the days of lifting 90 pound deeps are over, allowing me to continue beekeeping well into retirement. The only caveat is to keep my honey frames separate from the brood frames so that the honey can remain cleaner.

Speaking of frames and foundation, I believe there is something to be said for natural cell/small cell foundation. Two of my hives and the nuc are small cell while the other 2 hives are large. Too confusing… While I have not done a mite drop comparison to prove that small cell is better in my apiary, I believe it is from my inspections and I’ve decided to regress my 2 large cell hives to natural starting this Spring.

As for the feeders, in my apiary hundreds of bees have drowned in the polystyrene feeders over the past 2 years and I have quit using them. I really like the dual plastic tray feeders from Rossman Apiaries (G56 Hive Top Feeder). The screen the bees use for support is immensely safer for them to traverse as they feed vs the plastic sheet provided with the polystyrene. While I still have had bees drown using my new feeders, it is less than 2 dozen vs hundreds.

As I have mentioned above, the Beemax hives have performed well but, in reality, so has my wooden hive. As I get older I find more joy in working with natural materials and even tho’ the Beemax have proven themselves, I will only be adding wooden hives to my apiary this year. Now that I have a complete woodworking shop I can easily make my own hives at the quality level I prefer. I’ll still keep using the Beemax mediums until they give out.

A comment about “starter” kits–those kits provided by the sellers that contain “everything you need to start raising bees”. Today, I would avoid purchasing starter kits and buy exactly what I need, not what a marketing/sales person wants to sell me. Why? First off, I NEVER use the beekeeper’s gloves they provide. Being respectful to the bees while working their hive requires manual dexterity. On a scale of 1-10, those gloves reduce my dexterity to a 3. I only let visitors who are not going to be in the hives wear them so they feel protected. Secondly, I have not found a starter kit that allows me to just buy mediums. Third, the veil, the included book, the queen excluder and the feeder are useless to me. I would rather spend my dollars on an extra hive tool, a good veil/jacket combo and a feeder that works better. As for the book, buy the new edition of Kim Flottum’s Backyard Beekeeper. It’s the best book I’ve read for newbies.

Lastly, the bees. If you look at my early postings you will see that the first year I lost both queens and had to purchase a nuc to combine with Hive 1 so it would survive. The best way to start a a hive is from a nuc. A nuc from a reputable breeder has a laying queen that is already well accepted by the colony, a couple of frames of brood and, most often, has been raised locally and is suitable for your climate. I know so many beeks that have had the same distress I had the first year that I simply cannot recommend buying a package of bees that has been shipped 800 miles, been chemically treated and has a queen that may not even be the same race of bee. The trouble is that is what is most available to us and the way most new beeks have to start. It’s actually how I will populate my top bar hive this year. Hopefully, it will be the last package I ever buy. Smart beekeeping means to be prepared in advance and know where you can purchase a local queen should yours come to an early demise.

So how did I do 2 years ago? Not that well. I spent the last half of my first season fighting to keep my hives alive, I spent a lot of money on things I did not ever need or use, bought hive bodies the wrong size and now have to replace them as well as all of my original frames. Meanwhile, my bees still did fine tho’ possibly would have done better if I had not tried so many variables. The right things I did was buying a solar powered bear fence, reading, reading, reading and joining http://www.beesource.com. The absolute best part is I still have never chemically treated my bees and my hives continue to survive (said with crossed fingers which makes it really hard to type). I have learned what my bees seem to prefer and I have the wherewithal and desire to correct my mistakes. The top of this blog states that you will see the things I try and learn of my successes and failures. You’ve just met my failures. Meanwhile, I know other beeks who have had great success and swear by many the things I am changing. May their bees continue to prosper as I know my bees now will too.

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Seems strange to begin this year’s blog immediately after plowing 15″ of snow from the driveway but it’s good to dream of warm summer days ahead. Last year’s beekeeping ended with a thud. Gayla’s dad suffered a massive stroke in September-just as work travel accelerated-leaving precious little time for tending to the bees.

The best news is Dad is an obstinate ol’ bird and refused to give in to the stroke and is recovering wonderfully! Now to the girls…

As I said, my getting the hives ready for winter was seriously cut short. When I left the hives in August, everything seemed to be going well. I had anywhere from 2-3 supers on all the hives and thought all would be fine. When I returned to the apiary in October, I was surprised to find the deeps were basically empty and the hives were very light. I immediately started feeding 2:1 syrup. Luckily it stayed warm enough for the girls to go through over 40 pounds of sugar before it became too cold.

I installed a bamboo reed windbreak on the North side of the the 3 main hives and piled evergreen boughs against the back of the other hive and nuc (pic 3). I still thought a couple of the hives were light so I decided to try the Mountain Camp Method of feeding. This is where you add a medium to the top of the hive, line it with 1 sheet of barely damp newspaper and pour in granulated sugar to provide food for the bees during the colder months (see pic 4). Make sure you lightly wet the edges of the sugar pile to help them start to take it. Replace your inner and telescoping covers back and cross your fingers. This will not only serve as a food source, it will also help reduce moisture in the hive as the sugar will absorb it. The bees will eat through the newspaper and hit the sugar as needed. I do believe this will be a mess come Spring and should only be used in a definite emergency. This pic is from a couple of weeks ago.

Since I have done this, I have learned that this technique may actually increase the chance of nosema, as pure sugar changes the pH of a honey bee’s stomach, making it more susceptible. Hereis an excellent discussion about this started on Beesource.com by Michael Palmer www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?t=237506 It is definitely worth reading and is a big reason why I will not try this again and will pay A LOT more attention to my bees in August through October. Michael is a phenomenal beek with over 700 hives and nucs in northern VT. I have one of his queens and have 2 more already on order for my June splits.

Current Conditions:

This is the most dangerous time of the year for northern hives. The bees are getting low on stores and the queens are starting to want to lay. It’s critical to make sure they have food or the hive simply will not make it until Spring.

As of last weekend, the ladies were out and buzzing in all hives and the nuc. I added a pollen patty to 3 of the hives late January (pic 4) and, except for Hive 1, they were definitely devouring them. All of the hives seem quite content. Hive 1 has a very small cluster and a fair amount of bee excrement on the front of the hive. As they are Buckfast, I am not worried about the cluster size. When I checked inside, the hive appeared clean so I’m not sure if I have a nosema problem or not. There is plenty of honey left which is not surprising for Buckfast honey bees. Again, I do not treat for any condition with the exception of starvation and if I manage my hives properly I will not have to worry about that either.

Plans for Spring:
Assuming they all continue to survive, this year I hope to be able to split 3 of the 4 hives and will definitely move the nuc into a new home. That will make 8 hives, 2 of which will be off site. I intend to also build a Kenyan top bar hive (TBH). I need to decide if I’m going to try to use my bees or buy one last package to get it started. No offense intended, however I hope to never again buy a package from down south. Many of the packages (forget the queens!) do not even make it to Fall, they increase the chance of importing Small Hive Beetles, mites and other parasites, as well as increases the chance of bringing Africanized genetics into our area. I am seriously trying to generate all of our bees from overwintered hives and nucs. More on this and TBH later.

Come on Spring!

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