Category Archives: Honey, Bear in Mind

Honey Bear in Mind: Early June Questions (and Answers)

I hesitated a few seconds before I added “and Answers” to the title of this blog.  Beekeeping is often more art than science.  What I prescribe may be different from other beekeepers’ answer.

We recently found this beauty in a hive that needed a queen.  (We added a frame of eggs from another hive.)  Based on the coloration, I suspect she'll be out within 10 days.  God save the queen.
We recently found this beauty in a hive that needed a queen. (We added a frame of eggs from another hive.) Based on the coloration, I suspect she’ll be out within 10 days. God save the queen.

The lack of black-and-white answers is a maddening thing (and one of the many maddening things) about beekeeping.  It is inherent in beekeeping as there are so many variables behind a colony’s progress.

Sorting through those variables is half the fun.  The other half of the fun is when you make a fairly educated guess, and it works.  (I think that’s happened to me once or twice now in 8 seasons. )



Here are some recent questions (and my answers):

Q.  How often can I get in the hive? And how often should I get in?

A.  Every time you open the hive you disturb them, so that causes a setback of some sort. Estimates range from a few hours to a few days.  So, don’t go in the hive without a purpose.  For newbees, that purpose can be as simple as “you want to see what’s going on so you can learn how to best manage bees.”

That being said, unless there is a problem (like no evidence of a queen (EoQ)) or an issue (having to pull drone comb used in IPM for example), I think once a week is sufficient, and once every 10 days to two weeks better IF you know that the colony is queenright.

What would you be looking for?

  • Abnormal things (mold, a mouse nest, etc.)
  • As always, EoQ
  • If they have too much room, or not enough

Remember, pull a frame from the outer portions first, and work frame-by-frame toward the brood nest (where most of the bees are hanging out, typically in the center.)  And never pull a frame faster than a bee can walk; you don’t want to roll the queen.

Daily is too much, btw.  Had a newbee doing that, and I understand why—bees are just so interesting!  However, that’s quite disruptive to them.

Q:  Do I keep feeding?

A:  If they’re still taking it, I would.  But, recent rains have renewed things.  If they are building up nicely (lots of worker bees and lots of capped worker brood), they hopefully have a workforce and stores to weather any rainy spells.

Q.  When do I enlarge the entrance?

A.  Again, a function of how many bees. If you got your package a month ago, the population is about as small as it should ever be.  It probably took the queen a week to begin laying after installed, and it takes 21 days for a worker bee to emerge … so their build-up is just beginning.  (If this is your situation, it’ll probably be a few weeks to a month yet, depending upon weather.)

Traffic jams at the entrance in the late afternoon are common.  If you see that consistently throughout the day, and / or after a couple cycles of brood have hatched, open ‘er up!  It has been unusually cool, especially at night.  Why not give them all the help you can in keeping them warm?  (Bees need temps in the mid-90s to produce wax, and the queen needs honeycomb built.)

Q.  Is that honey they’re making already?

A.  Probably. It usually appears as dark, clear liquid that stays in the cells fairly well.  After the moisture level is appropriate, they’ll put a wax cap over it and it will be preserved … for like thousands of years!

As we’ve had nice rains, bees are making lots of honey.  You may only have brood on a few frames of (say) 10-frame equipment, and the rest could be predominantly honey.  You may have to add a second box because they’ve filled practically everywhere that the queen could lay, a condition called “honeybound.”  If they remain honeybound, not only is colony progress slowed, but they may think about swarming.

Q.  Do I go through every frame when I do an inspection?

A.  No need. Typically once I find EofQ and verify they have room to work and not too much room (when the population starts to decline), I’m outta there.

Q.  I’ve got queen peanuts. Problem?

A.  First, let’s define those. They look so much like one lobe of a peanut shell (to me anyway) that they’re aptly named.

There are various opinions regard queen peanuts, but most of what I’ve learned suggests they’re just practicing making queen cells—they’re not really making potential queens.

However, once a queen cell is capped, that either means they’re replacing their new queen, or thinking of swarming.  Generally you can tell which by the placement of the queen cell.  (Google to learn more about that—although remember, bees don’t google so they may not always act as we think they will.)

I handle suspected swarming cells different than supercedure (replacement) cells.

Supercedure cells I frankly just salute—they know far more than I do about when to replace a queen.  I make sure to not disturb those cells, and check to ensure the colony is queenright after the new queen emerges (16 days from egg to queen, so about 20 plus days to see if she emerged, got mated, and is laying appropriately.)

New colonies—especially packages—may replace their relatively new queens early in the season.  Perhaps they’ve sensed she’s not laying appropriately, or they think she isn’t because there isn’t the right range of the various ages amongst the current bees.  One theory is that happens often with packages because about three pounds of bees are shaken into it, and they might not be the age distribution of bees you’d find in a colony.  They blame her, and proceed to replace her … even though it isn’t her fault!

Q.  What did you tell Dan to do about those queen cells?

Here are two of the eight queen cells Dan found, almost all were capped (closed.)  They're located in the middle of the frame, which generally means they are supercedure cells, not swarm cells.
Here are two of the eight queen cells Dan found, almost all were capped (closed.) They’re located in the middle of the frame, which generally means they are supercedure cells, not swarm cells.

A.  Leave ‘em “bee”.   He said the hive was queenright.  They are a new colony, just starting to build up.  (If they were more established I might move half of the eight he found to a nuc and try to start another colony.)  They’ll nurture the most viable and hopefully raise the new queen that their instinct tells them they need.

 Q.  You didn’t cover my question. What do I do?

A.  As always, feel free to email or text me or go to my FB page (Charlotte Hubbard, Beekeeper & …). We’ve been handling swarm calls and colony inspections and other fun things so I may not get back to you super quickly, but I will get back to you!

Honey Bear in Mind: Mid-May Considerations

My phone, and my colonies, are buzzing.  The phone with questions, the latter with bees.  Here are some things I suggest you bear in mind this time of year for colonies located in climates similar to SW Michigan.  Yes, this is a long post.  There’s a lot going on in a colony this time of year!

Caution:  spring has had fits and starts, and when your colony was installed and whether it was a nuc or a package plays a huge role in its progress.  Thus, I’m refraining from saying “here’s about where they should be build-out wise” because of the variances.  Instead, I’m just sharing Q&A from the last few weeks.

Good looking queen, but verify that she's laying one egg / cell and predominantly worker bees, not drones.  Thanks Dr. Stephanie for the picture.

Good looking queen, but verify that she’s laying one egg / cell and predominantly worker bees, not drones. Thanks Dr. Stephanie for the picture..

Continue reading Honey Bear in Mind: Mid-May Considerations

Honey Bear in Mind: Most Critical Check

In the bee-ginner classes I taught this year, I said I’d be posting periodic updates of my packages’ and nucs’ progress, so you could compare and ponder whether yours were ahead or behind or what.

Queenie is in her cage, and her colony can't wait for her to get out!
Queenie is in her cage, and her colony can’t wait for her to get out!

Typically packages arrive within a few weeks of each other, and typically nucs arrive about a month later.  Not this year.  Some of you installed packages and nucs three weeks ago.  Some of us aren’t getting our packages until mid-May, due to inclement weather in the south.  It won’t be useful to say “here’s what likely is going on” – because a five-week difference in a new colony is substantial.

A year ago I posted about-weekly updates on what to look for when, and things to do.  You could reference those blogs for some details.  While I’ll strive to do something similar, I don’t have a package installed yet to report on, so I’ll be writing in generalities. Continue reading Honey Bear in Mind: Most Critical Check

Honey Bear in Mind: Bees are Taxing

I’m lying.  To me, bees are anything but taxing.  But, having written a couple big checks this tax season, I’m trying to find some humor in the situation with a play on words.

Speaking of playing, we played with bees this weekend, when we helped some new beekeepers install their nucs.  As their mentor, I thought I was quite clear about when they should get back into the hives.  Bees communicate with scent, so you don’t want to dilute that too much with too frequent openings.

2015-04-12 13.18.48
Welcome to beekeeping A, M and C! What you can’t tell through the veils is that it is a Grandpa and two grandchildren. I’m delighted to be involved with a multi-generational effort. I’m second from left; Hubby Marshall is on the right. We have two deeps at this point because the top boxes house a jar feeder over the hole in the inner cover.

The guidance I provided was that they check the internal feeders (in these two cases) within 2-3 days at the earliest (and keep them filled), and check for eggs to ensure the queen is laying about 5 days after install.

I had to laugh when both groups of newbees called me 24 hours after install to tell me what they’d found.  Yep, they were in the hives, checking it all out—the very next day.  Yep, you could say they’re very excited about bee-coming beekeepers!

I am very excited for them, and very excited to be starting my eighth year.  I sat near a survivor hive recently for nearly an hour—mesmerized by their bringing in pollen and their ignoring of me.  I write for a living, yet words fail me when it comes to describing how magical this insect is, and how smitten with their fuzzy busyness I am…not to mention how appreciative I am of the species responsible for blueberry muffins and apple cider.

We are getting package bees on 4/29, and I’ll be sharing progress, reminders and milestones so others can gain some perspective.  If you already have packages installed, my insights can be found in older entries of this blog from about a year ago.  I did frequent posts last spring for what you should look for and what you should do.

For those of you with nucs installed – please keep providing them feed.  Ours aren’t taking it; they seem to prefer the natural stuff spring is bringing forth.  But, we could get some rainy days, so the option of 1:1 sugar syrup I feel is always a good idea.

Another thing I suggest you do at this time is check within a week of install to ensure the queen is laying properly—one egg / cell.

Multiple eggs per cell likely means you have a laying worker – a problem.

No eggs means either you can’t find them (a real possibility for newbees and we older folks!), or that the queen isn’t there, isn’t properly fertilized, or is possibly recovering from travel.  If you can’t find eggs, check again a few days later for larva (easier to see—the small white worms curled in the bottom of a cell.)  If you don’t find those within 10 days of install, you likely have a queen problem.

As always, the above are just my thoughts and opinions.  Good luck with your bees, and your taxes.   I’m available by email or cell for questions if I can help with the former.  I offer no insights on dealing with the latter!


Honey Bear in Mind: Pre-Spring Activities

I spoke at the Michigan Beekeeper’s Association meeting last weekend, and things were buzzing.  I believe there was a record number of beekeepers and wannabees, and we’re all enthused and excited for spring.

These balmy mid-March temperatures have lured us into thinking any colonies alive now will make it, and hopefully they will.  This dinosaur however recalls significant, sticking-around snowfall in April, and stunningly cold temperatures as well.  It might not yet be over folks …

This blog updates what we should be thinking about now for our live bees, as well as what we should be doing about any dead-outs (common term for colonies that died.)  As always, this is just my opinion and experience.  Others will undoubtedly disagree, and agree.

For the living colonies:

  1. Kiss them all!! (OK, maybe not physically, but emotionally?)  They survived a heckuva winter and should be congratulated!

Continue reading Honey Bear in Mind: Pre-Spring Activities

Honey Bear in Mind: Time to Reflect…and Perhaps Order Bees

Dead bee on lake
I was thrilled to find a dead bee in the snow. While I’m sorry she didn’t make it back, it told me that some bees were out recently on “cleansing flights.”

I’ve been rapping sharply on my hives every few weeks now. Most of them answer back with either a soft, barely discernable “chatter” or a significant “YES WE’RE IN HERE QUIT BOTHERING US!” quite audible roar. Unfortunately I know that bees alive mid-February doesn’t always translate to bees alive in April, but I find their reply reassuring.

Some of the hives are silent. I know from experience this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dead, but if it is repeatedly silent every time I knock … well, time to at least draft their obituary.

Disrupting them with a knock probably isn’t best for them, but I want some idea of how many colonies are still alive. Now is the time to line-up sources lots of colonies will need to be replaced.

With a bee overwintering die-off rate of about 30%, I have few reasons to think our survival rate will be better. It was a cool, damp summer, and many of our hives went into fall without ample stores. We’ve had some bitter weather, and who knows—other than that giant rodent Phil—how long until spring.

Experience has taught me a great deal, but I’m still in the steep part of the beekeeping learning curve. Of course, my 77-year-old beekeeping buddy Jim, with a half-century of beekeeping under his belt, says he’s also still in the steep part of the learning curve!

I continue to learn a great deal about beekeeping. One thing I’ve learned is that just when you think you have it all figured out, the bees will fool you. (And I swear, they giggle a little bit as they do it.)

In the October 1925 edition of Modern Beekeeping, Ralph Ziegler shared a thought that always jars me a bit, and makes me reflect, plan, and ponder:
“…we are inclined to wonder how many of those who started with bees last spring are still beginners and how many are real beekeepers.
All have no doubt made mistakes.
Those who have blamed themselves for their errors, taking steps to correct them and prevent their happening again are real beekeepers, while those who blame the bees, the weather, the package bee shipper, the equipment manufacturers and everything else in sight are still just beginners.”

This is the time of year to order more bees if you think you might need them, and to reflect on what you might do differently to increase success. There are plenty of great bees’ schools this time of year, and plenty of great resources to help you figure out ways to improve.

You will undoubtedly, at some point, have winter losses. But one characteristic of a beekeeper is that hope springs eternal.

Please ponder your methods, and if you have losses, please get right back on the horse. The bees need us to do so.

Honey Bear in Mind: January Apiary Activities

2015-01-11 10.23.36
Of the dozen hives I scraped out in the last two days, only four had beyond-countable numbers of dead bees. This hive had the most. Yet, after pressing my ear to the side and rapping sharply on the side, I unmistakably heard a rush of air (wings?) and a low growl. Perhaps they had the most dead bees because they are strongest? Were best-equipped to carry their dead to near the entrance where I could remove them? Have a strong cleaning gene? The bottom line? Lots of dead bees doesn’t mean a dead hive!

I got a panicked text from a first year beekeeper recently when the thermometer (again) read -8 degrees. The text said: “My bees are all right, right?!?”

I answered supportively that of course they are.

And because I don’t text very well, and because there’s a lot of bliss in ignorance, that’s all I texted. Continue reading Honey Bear in Mind: January Apiary Activities

Honey Bear in Mind: Bee Thankful

Pollinators are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. They deserve our salute and support for that alone.

But beyond that, the food for which bees are integral is the food we really love—pumpkins for pumpkin pie, apples for sauce, the cranberries on the Thanksgiving table. Thanks bees!
Bees on bricks_Thanks
One way you can show your thanks is to give them something to eat if the weather cooperates again. Last balmy Sunday, we poured 2:1 sugar syrup in a shallow tray, complete with sticks so they don’t drown. They were delighted to find it; we were enthralled watching them. Continue reading Honey Bear in Mind: Bee Thankful