But, is it organic?

“Is the honey organic?” is a question that is often asked.

Nope. Let me tell you why.

Honeybees can travel up to 5 miles to gather their pollen and nectar. Right now, the girls are all about the Dandelions. Are the Dandelions in your yard certified organic? Is the soil organic? Maybe your yard is organic, but is your neighbors’?

I have no idea where they came from to get their bright yellowish Dandelion pollen.

So, why do some honey businesses call themselves organic? Well, if their hives are placed in the center of an at least 5 mile radius certified organic farm, then they can label their honey organic.

We live in the city in Rochester, NY. We cannot prove that everyone’s yard is free from chemicals, herbicides, pesticides, etc. Harvesting organic honey would be completely impossible here.

Interesting fact: If you buy raw, local honey that also claims to be organic, the business is either lying or ill-informed.

Spring into spring

It’s amazing how quickly winter weather can turn into springtime. We’ve been rushing around with bee related things, and are finally able to take a moment to give an update.

Winter survival

Every few weeks during the winter, I place my ear directly on a hive and listen for action. It’s usually a consistent humming sound that I hear when they are doing well. As of February, this was how they were doing:

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While it is sad, it is also to be expected. One of those hives was weak to begin with, and 2 others were tipped back like this one in the middle:

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Something similar happened last year, so I imagine that they died from excessive moisture getting in there when the snow melted. The frames of honey and the dead bees are moldy. To fix this problem, we are throwing down some top soil to try and have the hives on a tiny incline.

Don’t worry, we got some more bees!

We enjoyed our sweet Carniolan bees so much last year (even though they died), that we ordered more from Hungry Bear Farms. We got notification on April 5th, along with a letter telling us not to panic about installing them in winterish weather.

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We pretty much never see bees leave their hives when it is below 45 degrees (brief bathroom breaks only), and they supposedly can’t even fly if it’s below 55 degrees. It was in the low 30s and snowing on April 7th. Feeling too bad about torturing them with the cold weather, we went with this option:

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It ended up being in the mid 40s, so we went for it that afternoon.

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We decided to put them into a nuc box to help keep them insulated while it was still cold. An entrance reducer made out of foam was taped to the front, and we gave them (along with the other living hives) some sugar patties to keep them well-fed. Now we have 3 living hives.

Interesting fact: The bees create a cluster around the queen in the wintertime that keeps the inside hive temperature between 81-95 degrees.

Attempted robbery

I took some videos last weekend. The ladies were in full force of fighting off robbers. They are trying to get ready for the winter and have no space for thieves. If you are interested in seeing some serious security guard work, check the links to YouTube.

Video 1: a 5 second long video that shows the quickest way to get rid of a robber. https://youtu.be/5vdw3e3MrWs

Video 2: Watch them push away the wasp.   https://youtu.be/D3YjSsCtr4U

Video 3: If the intruder tries to fight back, they will lose.  https://youtu.be/1bfmOlEROt4

Interesting fact: Bees rob other hives because their source for nectar is scarce.  They tend to attack other weak hives so that they have a better chance of surviving.

Sorry, we’ve been busy as bees

Our blog has been on the furthest back burner since July, but that doesn’t mean that the bees have been abandoned. Here’s what has happened since our last post.

“A Swarm in July, Let Them Fly”

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I thought about letting them go, but they were right in front of my face. There are risks with capturing swarms later in the summer. Firstly, they are supposed to be grumpier at this time of the year which means the beekeeper is more likely to be stung. Secondly, the chances of them building up the hive in time for winter are slim. This was a risk I was willing to take, if for nothing else, the learning experience of catching a swarm in July.

“Hey Dad, can you build me a nuc box, like right now?”

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When catching a swarm, you need a place for them to live. Well, we were out of hive boxes. They lived in a styrofoam nuc for about a week, and then my father constructed this for us. They have since filled the first box with 5 frames of honey, but the second box is empty. They haven’t even started building up comb on the frames, so we will have to insert some capped honey frames from other hives.

We extracted 6 gallons of honey at the end of July.

After extracting the honey, we rendered more wax than we’ve ever rendered at one time.

 

Then we got married and gave honey as our wedding favor. Super cute label by our Allie.

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As for September, this is what the ladies in our 6 hives have looked like for the past few weeks:

 

We should be extracting more in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

“Shut up and let us do our jobs”- bees

I have made it a point to not check on the girls in weeks. Also, it’s been raining a whole heck of a lot. With all this time, they have been able to work without steady interruption, and in some cases, their progress is really showing.

Here is hive #1.

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This is currently competing for the award of “Weakest Hive.” On April 30th, this was the strongest hive, but since it swarmed 3 times, it is now just a tiny little thing. The last and final swarm of the season left their honey supply almost empty and without a queen for several weeks. There is still a chance it could make a comeback, as there are 2 frames filled with worker cells.

 

Here lies Hive #2, our first swarm caught, and the hive we are pretty certain that Dan is allergic to.

IMG_0284Do not let the 3rd box, our honey super, fool you into thinking that this one is doing well. This hive was once thriving and full of jerks, but it is now struggling to survive. While I was in there, I saw a queen emerge from a supercedure queen cell. Some of the worker bees noticed this happening and decided to get in there and murder her. Selfishly defying nature, I gently pushed away the worker bees so I could watch the queen. She climbed down the frame, where I’m sure the murder was completed. This hive has a whole lot going on that is all wrong. There are spotty worker cell frames in places where they shouldn’t be. There are several queen cups all over the place. I might downsize them to a nuc box if they don’t get it together soon.

 

Here is our precious hive split, now in 2 nuc boxes. Hive #3

IMG_0285While hive #1 couldn’t stop swarming, we decided to try hive splitting. We took one of the many frames with a capped queen cell, a few frames of worker bees, and some empty frames, and threw them in one of these boxes. We were pretty sure this was going to be a failure, but figured it couldn’t hurt to try. You may not be able to tell from the photo, but these boxes can only fit 5 frames, where our other hives fit 8. They are really working hard to fill up the second box. I plan to leave them alone until I treat them for mites.

 

Here is hive #4, our bees from swarm #2.

IMG_0286Ignore the crooked hive cover. These girls were mad at me for messing with them. Dan was stung twice, and I was stung once. I figured I best adjust that cover once they calm down. These are the bees who swarmed between 2 fences back in May. They appear to be doing really well right now. I do not expect to be taking any honey from them this year, but hopefully they will make it through the winter and be awesome for us next season.

 

Lastly, hive #5. Our sweet Carniolan bees who have never swarmed on us, and the lovely Queen Ruth.

IMG_0288This is what we call success. I harvested a ton of wax from them, and gladly saw that our first honey super is 90% finished with capped honey. They are working hard on the second one.

Okay, ladies, that’s enough

If they swarm again, there will be no bees left in that original hive. While we were well-prepared for the previous swarms, this one was completely unexpected.

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Surprise!!!!

Before bees swarm, they gorge a lot of the honey to hold over their appetite while seeking a new home. The hive that all of the swarms came from is now practically empty. The supers can be knocked over by poking it with your index finger.

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In comparison to our previous swarms, this one was a lot smaller. So what is their deal? Why are they doing this? Over the last month, our weather has been all over the place. On days where it was too cold, rainy, or windy, the bees stayed inside their hive. They had nothing better to do than eat and make babies. The hive became quickly overpopulated, so they had to leave. Their mind was made up, and they began the process of creating new queens. The “old” queen went on a diet (so that she could fly again), the workers gorged themselves, and planned to leave as soon as they could.

When a new queen emerges, she is supposed to kill the other queen cells. Well, she didn’t do that, hence the surprise swarm.

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This one was a very easy capture. A couple tiny branches needed to be trimmed, and the bees went right into this nuc box.

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These girls are hopefully going to a new home with another beekeeper.

Interesting fact: After all of this, we smooshed most of the queen cells that remained in the original hive. Girl, bye.

Swarm town

Today was a perfect day for swarming.

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They hang off the edge, they make a loud humming buzz that can be mistaken for a weed whacker, they crawl up the front of the box, and then they swirl through the air before landing at their first stop.

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As discussed in our last post, we prepared to have them land in a box that is perched on our tree. They chose a different location in our neighbors’ yards, in between two fences.

IMG_1916We “rescued” them by having one of us pound the fence on the wooden side, while the other swept the bees into a box on the wired side.

So are swarms really bad? They aren’t ideal for beekeepers, but they are part of the bees’ natural order. This will slow down the honey flow, which means less honey for us.

BUT! Since we were able to capture them, it’s like we got free bees! We started the year with 1 hive that survived the winter. We purchased 1 more.  Now, because of 2 swarms and one hive split, we have 4 1/2 hives.

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Interesting fact: Our Carniolan bees, the type that are known for swarming, are showing no signs of taking off soon.

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For the love of lemongrass

This is our first year being proactive with catching swarms. Our hive that swarmed a few days ago is prepping to swarm again. To increase the chance that they conveniently land in the same tree as the last swarm, we sprayed the lower branches with a mixture of water and lemongrass essential oil. Lemongrass oil mimics the pheromone that the scout bees send out when they are looking for a new place to live, so they are naturally attracted to it.

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Since we now both smell like lemongrass, the bees are attracted to us. We’ll be staying out of the yard for a couple hours.

Wish us luck!

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To catch a swarm

The beginning of May is also the beginning of swarm season. Hilariously, we posted a note to one of our neighborhood social websites early in the morning informing that if anyone sees a bee swarm, to please contact us, and we’ll remove it for free. A few hours later, this was found in our own tree.

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Swarms are inevitable, and we’ve been fortunate enough to witness at least one per year. It’s fortunate because it is one of the most mesmerizing things to see. We knew a swarm would happen soon, as we noticed that one of our hives was in the process of creating 2 new queens. We decided to try splitting the hive and creating a new one. This could create a couple different scenarios. Ideally, with a lot of luck, the original hive would decide not to swarm.  That would result in having the original hive with a new colony being created. Sadly, the queen made up her mind, and decided they have to take off anyway.

When bees swarm, their first stop is not far from the original hive. Typically, they stay in one large clump for up to 48 hours. All swarms that we have witnessed from our hives have landed about 40 feet high up in a neighbor’s tree, completely unreachable, and then they leave for their new “permanent” home within 5 hours.

You can see where our hives are located. The swarm landed right where this beekeeper is pointing:

fullsizeoutput_a7dAs a first time swarm catcher, he asked for some advice, but ultimately figured it out on his own. The bees were attached to a branch, so the branch had to be cut off. The girls were placed into a cardboard nuc box, and then we began the fun process of installing them into a deep super.fullsizeoutput_a7bWe provided them with some food, a few empty frames, and hoped for the best.

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Interesting fact: Swarming bees are harmless. Be nice.