Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Apiary Update

“The bee is more honored than other animals, not because she labors, but because she labors for others”
~Saint John Chrysostom

In case you are stumped, an apiary is simply where you keep your bee colonies. Also called a bee yard, it can contain one hive like mine or many hives. So my apiary is in my side yard, between my house and garden. I’m small potatoes compared to most,  at this time it’s a manageable size for me.

I’m happy to report that my bees have survived the winter admirably and are a VERY strong colony (meaning there are LOTS of them). In March, I opened up the hive for the first time this year, reversed the boxes, replaced several old frames of wax with new foundation, treated organically for mites, checked honey stores and looked for the queen or evidence of a laying queen. All checked out fine to my eye, so I closed it up again and left them alone for another month.

I opened the hive again yesterday and found that they are almost finished drawing out the new wax foundation that comprised the uppermost box (box #4, I use all western size), are storing new nectar in it and that the queen is laying there too. I didn’t see the queen but there were many eggs, properly laid in the bottom of cells and many, still standing indicating that they are only one or two days old. So over the 4 boxes containing brood (larvae/pupae), honey and pollen I added a queen excluder and added a honey super with new foundation since the top box was mostly drawn out and filling up with nectar. It seems early to do this to me, but as I said they are strong, and I don’t want to risk a swarm. They are working fast even though this has not been a stellar spring.

All evidence points to a busy, thriving colony and maybe, just maybe they’ll make enough honey for us too this year. This is their third year, each stronger than the last, but I haven’t taken any honey off as of yet as I never thought they had made enough for us and themselves. Honey bees store pollen and honey for their survival (protein and carbohydrates respectively) and if a beekeeper takes all or too much of the honey for him/herself, the bees will starve or the beekeeper will have to feed them (sugar/water syrup) for their survival till the weather warms and plants and flowers begin to bloom after winter again. Their natural honey is always the best dietary choice for them, and feeding them means more work for me so, I have left the honey. So far it has paid off…I didn’t have to feed them at all this year, which is a win-win situation for us all.

I realize I’ve used a lot of unexplained beekeeper jargon in this post. I apologize for not breaking it down more by way of explanation, it would probably be too lengthy. I know it can be confusing for those not familiar with bees, but hopefully you now have some insight into the life of bees and their keepers. In a nutshell…all in all, life is good in the apiary today!

Got a question? Click on comments!

If you want to explore the world of beekeeping more fully, I recommend perusing your local library’s shelves. Two excellent books on the subject are Beekeeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston and Natural Beekeeping by Ross Conrad.

In bloom in my garden today: Syringa ‘Adelaide Dunbar’, Iris, Huckleberry, Geum ‘Lady Stratheden’, Viburnum davidii, Saxifrage, Bergenia ‘Winter Glow’, old fashioned Coral Bells (Heuchera), Tellima (Fringe Cups), Ajuga (Bugleweed), Solomon’s Seal, Wisteria, creeping phlox, Oxalis oregana ‘Wintergreen’, Dodecatheon (Shooting Star), Alpine strawberry, Heather, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’, Wood Hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

Bee on Huckleberry top photo courtesy of Pat Chissus


Cindy said...

between you and my husband I am getting a feel for the jargon!

we are pretty sure we know where we are going to put our "apiary" HA look at me!!!

I love how you are trying to balance what you take and keeping them happy and healthy.

I was always fearful of bees growing up...and now I ADORE THEM

so so vital to the health of our plants, and food.

will you ever keep the wax for wax?

just curious. also, if your hive ever gets, not sure the word...full..can you use pollen too?

how many hives or boxes do you have?
we are planning on having just one box.
thanks for educating us on bees!

Joan said...

Hi Cindy!
I'm so excited you are getting bees! And glad you are no longer afraid of them. You may want to expand your education by way of the two beekeeping blogs mentioned in my righthand sidebar. One is in San Francisco and the other in UK. The one in UK had great pix and the UK jargon is different than ours, and their hives are not our standard Langstroth size/shape. It's fun to see what other beekeepers encounter.

I have one hive, consisting of 5 boxes now. It will get taller as more honey comes in. I use 'westerns' which are usually called supers. They are 6 5/8" and easier for me to lift when full of honey than the standard 'deep' which you'll likely have if hubs has a good back. A hive of 4 westerns will be approx equivalent to 2 deeps.

I do melt down wax when I have it and I've sold some to a massage therapist who also makes her own salves etc. I considered making candles but it's more work than I'm interested in.

As for pollen, to collect it you put a pollen trap in front of the entrance for a day or so then remove it for a week or so and so forth so (not sure of the time amounts) as not to take too much from them...I've not tried it yet. I do believe in the health benefits of it tho and buy it periodically. I may try it some day.

If you have Dadant or Mann Lake catalogs laying around the house they are great for learning the jargon!

When will you get your bees? April is bee arrival/installation month up here.

Cindy said...

I don't know when we are going to start. Hubs is the bee keeper, but I am his assistant.

between you and him i am learning so much!

All I know is that he is for sure on board...but like things in our life..

in due time.
(like my pool)

did I mention i have an AVO tree!! haha

that was another "some day"
and here it is!

i'm off to check out your other bee bloggers!
have a great day!

Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

Hi Joan! So sorry for the delay on blog reading yet again! :) I seem to get a bit more behind every day!

I had NO idea that bees produced honey to nourish themselve!

Just curious, when you first set up your hive, do you "buy" bees somewhere, or is it kind of a "if you build it, they will come" scenario?

Loved this post!

Joan said...

Hi Shari! I understand it takes time to get back into the swing of things after being away.

There are a few ways to get bees, but the two most common are...the easiest way is to get your equipment and hive ready, then buy a package of bees from breeders to install in your equipment. You can order a 'package' of bees, to be shipped (UPS, USPS) or pick them up if you live near the breeder. Or bee clubs order large quantities of packages based on club members orders, and you would pick them up at a central local location. A 'package' is a (ventilated, shoebox size) screened box of bees, usually 3 lbs of bees, containing 10,000-15,000 bees, a queen and a can of syrup for them to eat during transit. Or you can try/hope to catch a swarm (a natural division of an over crowded hive) using a bait hive of some sort...there are many, and then take them to your apiary. I put up a bait hive in my back yard every year but haven't caught any yet. If I did catch a swarm and I didn't want another hive I could sell or give them to another beekeeper. Swarms are safe in our cooler climes but I read in the southern states there is too much chance they could be Africanized so baiting is not practiced there.