Friday, September 11, 2009

Bee Venom Therapy (BVT) or Apitherapy!

Check out some of this information on Apitherapy, or bee-sting therapy. Keith and I have been doing quite a bit of research on the effects bee venom can have on the central nervous system. There have been many benefits shown related to bee stings, including increased circulation, and reversal of paralysis-like feeling in nerve endings! Check out the link above for some information on a woman in Iran that suffered from GBS (Guillain-Barre Syndrome) which gave her numbness and paralysis throughout her legs and arms as well as severe fatigue which often confined her to bed for long periods of time! It truly is fascinating to learn what our little ladies are capable of!!

New (to us!) Hive Body Design!!

Here are some pictures of our brand new (to us, this theory was developed in the 1600's from the natural round skeps commonly used for "primitive beekeeping") hive body. It is known as the warre hive, named for its creator Abbe Emile Warre. The hive design is a hexagon, and the idea behind it is to maximize the bees space and allow them to draw and fill comb to their specific desire, but to also recreate a more natural environment for them. Remember that bees have existed for millions of year, evolving throughout time, but still desiring the shelter of an old, hollow tree to that of a commercial beekeepers hive body. The Warre hive eliminates pockets of heat and draft that can occur in a naturally oblong structure. When you think of the bees and their ability to cluster and stay warm in the frigid Michigan winters, part of their survival is related to their heat retention. Bees do not hibernate during the winter; they cluster into a ball and keep the queen in the middle nestled at around 93 degrees. Throughout the winter depending on the frigidity of the weather, the bees will contract and expand in the hive to cover combs filled with their winter stores of honey. Should there be too many cold days during a particular winter and it is not uncommon to see entire colonies that have starved to death mere inches from nourishing honey stores. If it is too cold for the bees to expand and cross the comb to, say the other corner of the hive, then they risk starving to death, not freezing to death. The principle of the Warre hive plays on that design. A hexagon is a geometric shape that has equivalent angles and compliments, but not specific corners. Using that principle, the colony has a better chance of retaining their nest scent and heat so they might never lost the ability to cover the comb they worked so hard to fill and cap during those hot summer days. Above is the link where we discovered information and photo's of the hives original design, and there are some pictures of our first established Warre hive.

We constructed the hive out of leftover lumber, 2 x 4's and a late-season feral swarm that took off from one of our four hives at Keith's parents house. Nectar flow is slowing right around now, even though some plants are sill producing pollen, it is only half the nutrition the bees need to create honey and survive. Typically swarms that form this late in the season do not survive. There is not adequate time for the bees to build comb, fill it with nectar and pollen and then store and cap the honey. There is also brood to be laid, workers will need to survive throughout the winter to keep the colony orderly and clean through the harsh winters.

This is the first hive we have attempted. We have been feeding them sugar syrup and they have established some comb with nectar, so we have a chance they could survive, but probably because we will be over-wintering them indoors to limit the stress on the bees.

It's true that we do want the fittest of our colonies to survive, but it doesn't mean we can't try some new approaches to make happy, healthy bees!

Progress check!

This is some of the progress we've had in one of our hybrid hives. For this particular hive, we got it as a nucleus hive from our supplier, Turtle Bee Honey Tree Farms. A nucleus hive is an established colony, usually with four to five combs drawn out with some brood and nectar. A standard Lang box will house ten frames, so we chose to use top bars in place of filling the rest of the box with frames. For a nucleus hive, the body that will house the brood, or baby bees, will be a deep super. This is just a natural step, followed by many beekeepers to give the bees their biggest house for maximum brood rearing. When it came time to add another super (another box) we opted to go with all top bars in their honey super.
This is some of the above progress. Notice that they still build the comb perfectly straight, as if it were in a frame? Without the foundation or the sides and bottoms to the frame, the bees are left to decide the perfect size for the cell. The bees do not naturally need to attach the comb to the side, but often use the sides as a bridge, because we as the beekeeper are obtrusive and our continuous opening of the hive causes them to need extra support. One thing we've become familiar with, is how to handle the top bars. Obviously they can can tear or crush from their own weight if you do not handle them with care. The shape of honey comb is naturally designed to be strong, durable, and handle the vast weight the bee's carry (Half of their body weight of nectar or pollen is not unusual!!) but there are natural ways the comb lie that will reinforce the cells integrity. Notice how Keith handles the comb by flipping it over end to end? That keeps the cell structure at its maximum, as well as uses centrifugal force to keep the nectar that is not yet capped honey from spilling from the cells. Fascinating huh? Who would have thought that mathematics, physics, woodworking, and agriculture could convalescence into such a perfect craft?!
We are preparing ourselves for winter and getting our strategy ready to get lots of work done over the winter so we can have happy bees come spring time!! Happy beekeeping!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Combining hives for winter

So the established colony that Keith and I worked so hard for in Holt, ended up having a injured, and eventually dead queen. It would not have been much of an issue if it had not been so late in the season, or if she were working strongly enough to lay some more brood to prevent a queenless colony. Sometimes when a colony become queenless, the worker's will take a larvae and remove it from a standard worker cell and put it in a queen cup.

This is a cell or 'cup' the bee's fashion out of wax, but each cell size is different, and those different cell sizes tell the queen or the workers what type of bee will be laid in that particular cell. Worker's (female) and Drones (male) are laid horizontal in the standard honeycomb shape. Drone cells are larger. Queen cups are built on the bottom of honeycomb and are vertical as opposed to horizontal. How each bee is fed and which cell the larvae has been laid, will determine the sex of the bee. A queen bee is just a sexually mature female bee and the worker population are just unfertilized and sexually immature females.

If a colony was to become queenless the female workers would take a laid larvae that has not been capped over with wax, and move it into that queen cup. Within a queen cup the new larvae is fed special blends of the bee's nutrients called Royal Jelly. That is why it is so valuable, not all bee's produce it, and it is only kept in very small amounts in the hive (especially compared to the amount of wax, pollen, nectar, and honey!) Since the queen does not tend to her own brood once they are laid, it is up to the worker's to provide protection and nutrition to the gestating larvae.

Sometimes when a colony becomes queenless, there is not enough established brood to simply remove a larvae and place it into a newly made queen cup. When this happens, a female worker bee (read: sexually immature and unfertilized) will try to step up and repopulate the hive. The major problem with this is that she is infertile and has not been inseminated by the drone population. Therefore the worker bee is only capable of laying unfertilized eggs, which will only produce more drones, or male bee's.

This is not beneficial to the hive at all. At season's end, when the female working population prepares for winter, they will drive all drones out of the hive. It's tough to say, but the bee's rely mostly on the female population to stay active and have enough stores of honey to survive; the males merely mooch off of their work and contribute nothing to the hive other than if they are part of the lucky few that the queen chooses to mate with.

The above scenario happens to be the situation we are in now. We captured an established colony, late in the honey-flow season, and the queen died. In her place a female worker tried to lay new brood, but only would produce a heavy drone pattern. We had decided on combining the hive to prevent the chance that we could lose the entire colony over the winter if we left them to survive knowing they were not strong enough. We have since introduced them to our WS1, which is the first feral colony we captured in Brighton. The hive is located at a small organic farm in Whitmore Lake, and appears to be improving by the day.

It is not a very technical procedure to introduce two colonies, but it is something to do carefully because nest scent and pheromones are a very integral part to the bee's acceptance of one another. To introduce two colonies you only need a sheet of newspaper; but the sheet is the most important tool in a successful combination of two colonies. Setting the newspaper between the established colony and the new weak colony you are adding allows them to keep a barrier. Slit a few holes in the newspaper for the bee's to chew through. In the meantime their personal nest scents are mingling and they are becoming aware of another presence. As the bee's chew through the paper their scent's will mingle and the queen will accept the foreign bee's into her colony. As the paper disappears, their heat and scent mix and the weak colony will accept their new queen and the stronger, established colony, will not harm the newly added bee's.

Ultimately our goal is to combine these two colonies for the winter, and to give them adequate stores to thrive in the cold Michigan winter, and to split them apart in the spring to create two healthy colonies.

To make a split it will involve using some of the healthy brood (baby bee's) and some of the existing worker's and putting them into another hive. Without a queen to produce that calming pheromone, the bee's will not have order and will become anxious. This is the case where we hope the first description of requeening will come into play. If the brood and worker's are healthy they will create a queen cup, move an egg into the cup, and create their own new queen!

Voila, two healthy colonies from one!! We'll let you know how 'D' and "WS1' progress throughout the season and into winter!!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harvesting our first super of honey

Today we removed our first super of honey!
About a month ago, Keith and I supered two of our Langstroth hives. We chose to put the empty super above the brood chamber, but below the other super of drawn honey comb.

Early in the spring the bee's we having trouble building on the comb without foundation, but Keith and I have chosen not to use foundation in our hives; in fact we are going to be phasing out our Langstroth hives and switch completely to top bar hives that are either Tanzanian or Kenyan top bar hives. In the meantime we chose to let the bee's continue on their way and draw out the comb. However with the progress that they have made, we decided to super them earlier than planned. With that progress that has led us to take the plunge, and harvest our first super of honey! Keith and I took the comb out carefully so we could harvest as much cut comb as possible. We took it home today (in our filled five gallon bucket!!) to crush the comb and extract the honey. We filled lots of lovely mason jars, various sizes and with both cut comb and strained honey, and are ready for the purchasing!

I must admit that it was simply thrilling to harvest our first honey super! It was so exciting to see all of that drawn and capped honey, and the variety of color! There was golden straw colored honey down to deep, almost molasses colored! The taste is magnificent! It's so floral, yet light, I don't want to brag, but I think our bee's have created the world's best honey! Plus, it's medication free. Many conventional commercial beekeepers choose to medicate as a preventative measure, but I, first of all, do not find it necessary to medicate something that is not sick, and secondly, to put an unnatural chemical onto a natural, agricultural, process that has been around for million's of year seems to me, pretentious. Hooray for honey! Save the honeybee!

I must also mention I have entered a new chapter in beekeeping by re-queening our first hive! Keith and I had noticed that we had a very creative, yet slightly unproductive, colony. We have a few pictures of the intricate comb they established, but that along with a heavy drone pattern (a lot of male bee's, which are not a integral part of the hive's survival) it is a sign that the hive should be re-queened to insure the entire colony isn't lost in the cold of winter. So far the progress has been promising, I think it has helped and we didn't even feel too guilty squashing the queen; but a little guilty, I must admit! Off to dream of sweet honey and saving our lovely honeybee!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Top Bar Beekeeping and the Nucleus Hives: To combine or not to combine?

So as mid-summer approaches, we find ourselves thinking about winter, and over-wintering our bee's. It also has us considering what path we want to take as beekeeper's. Are we in it for commercial production?For manipulating for maximum honey production? Or do we want natural, productive, happy and disease free bee's? Yes, the answer was that simple for us too. It's just a matter of making use of all the materials we have invested in. Not to say that every beekeeper out there is a commercial beekeeper that trucks hives cross country to pollinate and produce maximum stores of honey; but if you're a beekeeper that only practices beekeeping using the conventional methods, then aren't you really just participating in their weathered ways of beekeeping?

Beekeeping started out as a hobby, but the more we've read, researched, and learned, the old ways of beekeeping could be what is making our bee's sick in the first place. We've now dedicated ourselves to the research of honeybee behavior, and how we're manipulating the bee's, and ultimately extinguishing their population with our practices.

We have 12 colonies (13 if you count the hive that we sold!) four top bar hives, and eight Langstroth hives.

The hive we sold was also a top bar hive, we now have a new design that is easier to construct, has a bigger observation window on the side and is much lighter! Though the top bar hives are not as portable as the Langstroth hives, when you think about it, beehives do not need to be portable.

The great benefit of using the top bar hive is that it is self-contained. A standard Deep Super (Langstroth box) holds 10 frames and measures roughly 9 5/8 inches deep. On average, a strong colony will have two of those deep boxes for brood, or baby bee's. On top of that, a first year beekeeper could figure to have three supers of honey stores. The honey supers are more shallow than the brood boxes, measuring about 6 inches deep, but are still the standard ten frame hive. Within each of those frames is a stamped piece of wax foundation. You will also need a coil of wire to crimp into the foundation to hold it into place (meaning you need a foundation crimper as well.)

Using standard Langstroth hives, you must have this equipment on hand, but you cannot store the un-used equipment on the hive. The bee's are designed to fill the space they are provided with, but to do so at too quickly a rate overworks the bee's and stresses them out. The stress causes them to gorge on more of their stores; to have to consume more food to work harder to either heat more space or work twice as fast to establish that space. So the material must be stored appropriately elsewhere.

The foundation also poses another problem. It conforms the cell size to one universal size. This is easy for the beekeeper, but detrimental to the bee's. If that particular genus of bee is smaller than the cell size, then the excess space is left open to disease, mites, and bacteria. If that particular bee's genus produces larger bee's than the cell size given, the bee's are forced to develop sub-standard brood and thus rendering some of the population developmentally delayed, or even mentally retarded. Over time the constriction of the cell size will gradually de-evolve the bee, and they will begin to show deficiencies that they could previously stave off. Does that sound like foundation is the way to go? That's like saying that once size fits all, for everyone, even if you are a colony, a million bee's strong.

Though Keith and I have decided we definitely want to continue using our top bar hive system instead of the Langstroth hives, we have two weak Langstroth Nucleus hives we got in the spring, late May, that have stopped progressing, and we aren't sure the next step we should take. They are in the standard Langstroth hive body, but they are a hybrid hive of both Langstroth frames and top bar frames (The pictures at the top of the blog are of an enclosed standard frame, and that of a top bar.) we cannot decide what we need to do with them to get them strong enough to over-winter? We are considering re-queening the colony, by buying a new, mated, queen and installing her into the hive after removing and killing the defective queen. We are considering combining the two weak hives into a top bar hive and letting the superior queen kill the weak queen, and use the strength of the bee's combined to take splits in the spring and possibly get two or three colonies out of it. We are also considering a method we have never practiced: Two queen colonies. We sat in on a seminar about it at a beekeeping convention this winter, but we aren't sure they are strong enough to be that productive. One queen may gain dominance and kill the other queen, in which case we would still hopefully end up with one decent colony.
The deadline to re-queen a colony in time for them to build up adequate stores for winter is August 1st. So I will surely let you know the status of our dilemma!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The White House gets Beehives

You can even see the White House in the background! I think this is truly a breakthrough for the agricultural world! Honey bee's are responsible for every third bite of food that we consume, yet not even every third person knows this fact. I think it says tremendous things about what this President wants to convey during his term with his actions and I couldn't be more pleased! Regardless of the social and political views, it is the actions they take that will truly be there Presidential legacy. I cannot say I have agreed with everything President Obama has done thus far in office, or will do throughout his term, but I will tell you this: It gives me pride in our president to know that they are a family, with a backyard garden, a swing set, and most importantly, a beehive! The White Hose kitchen isn't the only thing to benefit. The Obama's will enjoy bountiful harvests from their vegetable garden with increased pollination, as well as an eight mile radius around the White House! Not only will you get a direct benefit of having bee's but the indirect benefits to you and to your neighbours should be more than enough to convince you! Michelle Obama is the first First Lady to plant a vegetable garden since Eleanore Roosevelt did after World War II, which she called her "Victory Garden." I certainly don't think we need to be involved in a war for our President and his family to see that we've lost value in the fact that we used to be an agriculture and farming land. Mass agriculture poses threats to humans as well as to our honeybee's, so why not consider alternatives? The alternative is something as simple as picking up a shovel and sowing some seeds!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

We've sold our first Top Bar Hive

We currently use four top-bar hives. We also have standard Langstroth hives with top bars in them in place of standard frames. We've found that we've had tremendous success and progress with our top bar hives thus far into the season. There are typically two honey flows in a given year. We have finished our first honey flow season, so now it's a wait and see with how well these top bars have progressed. We got up early and made our way out to Dearborn to meet our first clients that bought an observation top bar hive, which has a 4 in. x 15 in window in the side for easy viewing pleasure, and we put one of the feral swarms in the hive body! It's so thrilling to see our first business transaction go so smoothly!! Save the honey bee's! We'll post some pictures soon of the progress our hives have made so far, and a picture of our top bar hive that we hope to manufacture and begin selling on the market and at conference's! Lots of people looking for information and we're just dying to get our name out there!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

National Pollinator Week!!!

All Hail Honey bees (And Their Pollinating Pals)
by Deborah Franklin

In celebration of National Pollinator Week, NPR's Melissa Block checked in this afternoon with Tucson entomologist Steve Buchmann about the status of America's imperiled honeybees, and what backyard gardeners can do to help save them.

The precise cause of "colony collapse" among honeybees is still a mystery, Buchmann says. But he cites a glimmer of good news for farmers and produce lovers:
Mother Nature has lots of other pollinators -- typically five to ten types -- that visit a single plant.

Still, bumblebees and bats could use tending, too, he says. To improve their lives, try to plant local wildflowers and heirloom fruits and veggies. Native plants suited to the local climate and soil are likelier to flourish and feed bees. Steer clear of the ornately ruffled sophisticates that have spent generations in a hothouse.

Breeding a plant for our taste often inadvertently breeds out the goodies--the sweet nectar--that pollinators seek.

The Pollinator Partnership has an interactive online map to help you figure out what plants will please bees in your zip code. And you can hear more of Block's interview with the former beekeeper tonight on All Things Considered.

How are the honey makers doing in your neighborhood?
Have you noticed a bee decline?

Mission: Capture established colony in cement building

I do think the pictures really speak for themselves. Keith received a call Tuesday that we may have another established colony to capture. The owner of the building says they have been there for probably three years and have never been a bother to him, but the neighbours have begun to complain. This looks like a very healthy colony. If they've been there for three years, I wonder what kind of comb construction they have established within cinder-blocks. We will have to just wait and see, Saturday morning we are heading to Holt to meet with the property manager and see what we can do about capturing these little ladies! We also met with some, potential clients perhaps? A couple that are friends with Keith's Uncle that are interested in beekeeping. They had been wrongfully misinformed that to become a novice beekeeper you must invest a exorbitant amount of money. This is very untrue.In our first year of beekeeping we succeeded with just a single standard hive tool (A small crow-bar looking tool) and a smoker (Billows to feed smoke to the bee's which calms them and urges them to gorge themselves on honey should a fire come and they have to leave the hive). We bought a standard box hive, called a Langstroth hive, and extra supers and 10 frames for each of those supers, and foundation to put into each of those 10 frames. With all of that included with the actual bee's, we only spent maybe $200. Looking at how we have changed our practices of beekeeping in just a year, we have seen that our expenses can be trimmed even more when we construct the hives ourselves, and better yet, construct our own hive designs. But with this couples interest in us constructing one of our top-bar hives for them to use, which is the type of hive we have located at Keith's Uncle's Bed & Breakfast in Ann Arbor, we may have just branched into a new area of business!! It's fascinating to see where the bee's take you! You may just find they can change your life!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Swarm season is over!

So bee's have a typical swarm season, which typically lasts from about May 15 to June 15, typically. So we are thinking that our first year of capturing feral swarms during their prime season has come to an end. All in all it was great! It was fascinating to see a feral swarm up close and to explore another chapter of beekeeping. We captured three feral swarms and one established colony in the past month, and two of the feral swarms and the established colony are still thriving. One captured swarm did vacate the hive and we did not relocate them. Often when bee's evacuate a hive to swarm, they do not stray very far from the parent hive. The queen is larger, and also full for laying brood, so it is more difficult for her to gain speed and altitude, as well as travel for long periods of time. But with no luck, we had to let that hive go and consider it a loss. There will always be more bee's, we will make sure of that!! So to date we have on record four Top Bar Hives, and eight Langstroth hives, for a glorious total of twelve colonies! I am eager to see the progress the hives make throughout the summer. We are daring to be a bit experimental with out bee's and are using a combination of Langstroth hives (Standard box hives) and Kenyan Top Bar Hives that Keith and I built ourselves. We built the top bar hives and constructed an observation window in one of them. We have bought as well as built our own Langstroth hives, and we choose to use a combination of standard hive frames and top bar frames. For more information on top bar hives, which I highly recommend should any of you choose to explore beekeeping, I prefer this site: It gave us a lot of information about how to work with our traditional beekeeping knowledge and incorporate more natural ways to tend the bee's and give them a more suitable, less confining, habitat. It also gives you information on how you'll have to work differently handling the frames and extracting, information is not something you can ever have too much of. Learning of new ways to house the bee's and then to see their progress is amazing! Just look at what they create and you'll want them to be happy and productive! Because that's what it's really all about; making happy bee's!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

We've captured our first established colony!

So it was only a matter of time before we transitioned from just capturing feral swarms, to capturing a swarm that has established itself in a crevice of some sorts. Tuesday we got a phone call from Walter Pet. He's the head of entomology (study of insects, pollinators, etc) at MSU, and there was an established colony in a boarded up window of a martial arts academy! The coolest part about capturing a colony is that it is already established, meaning it already has drawn out wax comb cells with capped honey and brood in it! This is a good sign of a strong swarm and a good queen! The great thing about capturing this particular colony was that they were inside a window in a storage closet that had been boarded up, therefore it becomes an observation hive! We got to see the entire colony before opening it up and cutting it down!

We went in through the basement and looked at the colony, then it was off to work. The first step was removing the caulk and getting the plywood board down. We noticed that they had built comb long-ways in the hive from the inside, but when we removed the board, we noticed that they had built some extra starts of foundation in between the metal grate and onto the plywood!

Keith was like a superhero pulling the wood off the window and getting the grate off, then he went straight to work on getting each of the frames of wax down. They were well established, but probably had not been in that space for a long period of time. Sometimes, the progress of the honeybee can be astounding, but they can work mighty fast. I estimate that the colony had only been there for a month of two and had made a strong colony with good brood in that short period of time.

One issue we did run into when capturing an established colony is you cannot expect a feral colony to build all of their honey and brood cells to fit magically into the frames you'd like to transport them into. We ended up having to brush all of the occupying bee's into the hive body, cut down the entire comb, and cutting that down to string into different frames for the bee's to reattach. Over a short period of time, the bee's will take the cells that we had tied in there with cotton twine and reattach it with burr and bridge comb, and then they will cut the twine away and remove it from the hive! (Above is a picture of me holding a top bar frame with some established comb on it, and to the left, you can see some comb has been tied on with green string for them to reattach.)

We tried taking pictures of the capture, but unfortunately they did not turn out! Call us old-fashioned, but the only way to justly document our progress is on a real 35mm FILM camera!

We also feel more professional because we did break down and buy bee brushes and coveralls. The coveralls coming to the house was the first piece of official mail that has come addressed to Steller Apiaries! It's a small step but I'm easy to please! I'm also pleased my mom can sew and has the awesome ability to make patches, it'd be so cool to have company patches that say "Steller Apiaries" in a honeycomb pattern with my name on it and Velcro to close up my pant legs and arm sleeves; we've discovered those bee's like to climb!!

I hope every one's garden is coming along nicely, the rain has been healthy for our little green plants as well as for encouraging our lovely honeybee's to swarm! I'm excited to see what we harvest out of our hives as well as our multiple garden's this year with a grand total of 12 hives!!! TWELVE!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

On my way to capture ANOTHER swarm!

So it looks as though we had an issue with the second swarm we captured. The queen has vacated the hive. I checked it this morning and to my dismay, there were less than 100 bee's in the hive. A small or even weakened colony you could expect to see 3,000 - 10,000 bee's, so a triple-digit population is heartbreaking. On the plus side, we did find an ad on Craig's list.
Honey bees for bud light

but they're settling for some of our homebrewed beer and mead in place of the bud light. trust me, any sane person would do the same, I'm sure they won't be disappointed.

I'm off to Ann Arbor to save some more honey bee's then it's off to the hive on the other side of Ann Arbor to set a vacant hive next to one of our top bar hives, we may get a swarm off of one of our established hives this year! How exciting!!

Monday, June 1, 2009

We've captured another swarm!!

So Friday afternoon I received another phone call from Ron, the same guy that had called us about out first swarm in Brighton, he was calling to tell me he found us another swarm! Talk about a lucky charm! He works over near Kensington Metropark in those rock quarry's off of Muir Road, and inside a weight of a front-end loader, was a rather large swarm of bee's!

This is not your usual situation in which one comes across honey bee's, but when you find them, you either take them up or the swarm will disappear within hours. It's in the bee's nature to take habitat in a temporary place with their queen while other worker bee's go out and orient themselves to the landscape and search for food and shelter. How the bee's came to find shelter in a small cavity about the size of a carton of half and half, is beyond me, but I'm glad we met Ron and got that call!

Keith and I took to the bee's with just a spray bottle of sugar syrup and a small paint brush. Sugar syrup is a dream when you're working with bee's that are feral or swarmed, because they don't have anything to protect, so they're very docile but you don't have anything to calm them about because they don't have anything to protect(i.e. brood stored in cells and capped honey stores) Sugar syrup is 1 part cane sugar to 1 part water and helps the bee's to clump together and not fly around so much in a disturbance, and it also helps to calm the bee's because now they're concerned with cleaning each other off and making the most of this free nectar, rather than discovering why you might be invading their territory. The paint brush was not so much a technical tool as we didn't have any other way to get the bee's out of that crevice other than using our hand! There is a such thing as a 'bee brush' and it is a technical tool. It's made of very soft, durable fibers that gently brush bee's off of a frame or, say, away from a steel plate, which would enable us to scoop or brush them into the hive body we brought along. We never thought too much about using a bee brush, and we don't currently have one, but after capturing that hive, we have a new found respect for the bee brush. During the spraying and brushing of the bee's from the small cavity, many of the worker bee's sacrificed themselves and stung at the paint brush, alerting us to their dislike. But for lack of better options, we continued to use the brush.

Capturing a swarm is a rush, but it's not as terrifying or complicated as you might imagine it to be. We just show up with a spray bottle and spray them down heavily, then we brush them with the bee brush, or in our case, the paint brush, then we wait for a few to calm down and not fly so directly in to us to scare us off and then repeat the process.

Something to be aware of when capturing the swarm is that it can take hours for all of the bee's to migrate into a hive after you've located the queen, and it's not always possible to spot the queen when dealing with a swarm. A swarm is a time sensitive matter. There is always the chance that you're capturing a swarm without their queen and all of your work will be for nothing; a swarm without a hive, that is then captured without a queen has no chance of survival. So your choices sometimes fall down to either "stay and spot the queen and get her into the hive" or "get enough bee's into the hive body that will then alert the other bee's of a proper shelter space, and hope that they will lure the queen with their 'waggle dance.'" Luckily Keith did brush the queen from the front end loader, but it did take a good while to spot her. I noticed her walking across the bee's with her long abdomen, and she had a spot on her rather than striping like a standard bee. Most of the queen's we have do not have striping, however we are opening ourselves to the fact that a queen will always be most distinguishable by her size and shape rather than her coloring or striping.

The genus we captured this time was the standard Italian bee, which is what almost all of our hives are comprised of. The feral swarm we captured in Brighton however, was the European Dark Bee. The European Dark Bee used to be a Michigan standard bee to keep years ago. But they are prone to swarming, and do not overwinter as well as the Italian, so the Italian has become the standard practice of beekeeping, and the European Dark was left to become a Michigan Feral strain of bee's. The European Dark is also not as strong of a honey and wax producer, therefore, having a apiary full of European rather than Italian bee's will yield you less honey per harvest.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Capturing our first feral swarm!

We've captured our first feral swarm! Have you ever seen on television a huge cluster of bees stuck to a tree branch? That's what we've captured and now have in our front yard! This will make an even ten hives, which is exhilarating considering we only had the one hive last year and we're growing and doing so well with the business start up. We're getting our official DBA license from the State of Michigan, and we've already got our business cards stocked and our information in with animal control, pest exterminators, and wildlife control!

Keith and I received a call last week, that a small mobile home park in Brighton had a swarm stuck in a tree. We were lucky that it was in a 6 foot crab apple tree, otherwise it would have been difficult to capture. We took an old hive body that we had leftover from our last years colony and were on our way. It was such a rush to see all of those little honey bee's there just enjoying their time, not bothering anyone. The residents of the Starlite Mobile Home Park said they have seen swarms around the park before and believe it was from an apiary that is stationed nearby but not well maintained. It is a wonderful feeling to see the bee's and to tell people about them and let them know they are not dangerous to you, they're not even agitated, a honey bee in a swarm of bee's is probably the most docile you will ever see a honey bee.

When a hive senses that it is getting near maximum capacity, meaning they have filled their allotted space, and must either expand or find a new larger place to dwell, they will create a queen cup out of wax and affix it to the bottom of a frame of wax or honey. A queen cup is just a different shaped cell that the current queen will drop an egg into a cell, and worker bees will move that egg into the queen cup and begin feeding it. The main difference between a standard female worker bee and the queen bee is the matter in which they are fed before reaching the pupal stage. The worker bee is fed with the correct combination of nectar, pollen, and honey, but for the queen, her diet will also consist of royal jelly. Once the queen is developed and ready to hatch, she will do so, and flee with a swarm, or a population of the bee's that abandon their current hive for a new queen, food source, and location.

Before that swarm can establish itself as a colony it must find a suitable food and water source and adequate living space. That in between period is when you will find that all of the bee's that left with that new queen will gorge themselves on honey, almost to the point where they could not support themselves by flight because they have added so much weight to their body in honey stores alone, and that distends their abdomens so they cannot sting. If you were a nomadic creature that had to leave your home, you would pack enough food for the trip wouldn't you? That's all the bee's are doing, and in doing so, they've made themselves more docile and less likely to be agitated by outside disturbances. You can stick your bare arm into a swarm of bee's and not be stung, just remember that!

We were getting a crowd around us to, and as soon as we cut the limb off the tree and shook them down, bee's were a-flying! It's a good feeling to see people your own age just standing there watching you save a hive of bee's from termination (The family wanted to burn them, which is not a good idea, they're an agricultural animal and provide you with every third bite of food.) After the swarm was in the hive body, we left it there to collect the last of the remaining bee's. After a bit of time they would all regroup and cluster around the queen, or in this place, prepare their new living space that we put the queen into.

On top of all that, the owner of the tree we cut the swarm from, is a fan of mead! A lot of people have heard of mead in passing, so it was also a prime time for us to network with people that are interested in trying our mead made from our own bee's honey! I can't wait to harvest honey stores off of the swarm we captured! Hooray swarms, from a beekeepers perspective it's just free bee's (Get it? Freebies!)

And if you see a swarm of bee's in a tree, remember pest control can't help you, but we can! Save the honeybee!

We've won a mead competition!

Keith entered our traditional sweet mead into the World Expo of Beer up in Frankenmuth, MI and he won first place! Steller Sweet took first place in category 24C at the Homebrewers at the WEB. We entered through the Cass River Homebrew Club, and I actually drove this batch up to Saginaw myself to be entered! He received his medal and his score sheets in the mail, but we are currently waiting on his gift certificate. He will receive an undetermined amount for more mead making supplies, which is great, we need more mead in the world!

Speaking of more mead, last week I made my first batch of mead. We picked fresh apple mint from our garden and crushed the essence into the mead to make a methoglyn. It will be drier than our traditional sweet mead, this particular batch only used two pounds of honey per gallon whereas the batch we entered into the W.E.B. (World Expo of Beer) was nearly 5 pounds per gallon! I'm anxious to try it once it is finished, which should be around the time we get married next year!

Here is a link to the competition results!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Great Sunflower Project

This website has a great idea for tracking honey bee health. Just sign up and enter your information about your yard or garden and they will send you free sunflower seeds to start, and just check out the bee's once in a while and report what you see.

The number of bee's located within a specific small in a certain period of time is crucial for understanding the population of bee's. I usually look at a square foot of the lawn (full of dandylions and unmowed of course!) and time it for 30 seconds to a minute, and if I see three or more bees in that time then there is a healthy population of bees and a definite increse in pollination!

Don't forget that keeping bee's will increse your blooms and yields in just one season!! Want more flowers? Want more fruits on your tree's? Get a beehive!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Colony Collapse Disorder

So last year Keith and I were both in a composition class that required a final thesis paper. We chose to write ours on CCD, or colony collapse disorder. It includes a ridiculous amount of information on the honeybee, what factors are contributing to CCD, and what people can do to help prevent it (And no, you don't all have to become beekeepers, but I do encourage it!!)
It's still a research paper, so it's by no means an enthralling read, but there is a lot of great information within it regarding bee's, and what we can do as civilians. We all need to start doing our part! This world is no longer at a point where it can save itself! We need to take action, plant a garden, recycle, compost, get a beehive, DO SOMETHING!

Keith and I have started our garden for the year. We're still renting our house in Whitmore Lake, so we've decided to invest our money for landscaping into our parents' houses. Last year we had our one beehive at Keith's parents house. This year we are anticipating nine hives and have three of them at my parent's house, where we plan to have our garden this year. It will also be beneficial to have good landscaping at my parent's house because so far, our wedding looks like it will be a rather small affair in their backyard. Anyway, I have started seedlings for over 40 different types of fruits and vegetables this year! With the help of our bee's last year we had (Personal) record breaking crop yields. We ended up canning 6 1/2 gallons of tomatoes alone! So I am hoping that this year having three hives at my parent's house will do wonders for their flowers, trees, fruits and vegetables. Keeping a garden is the next best thing you can do to help the honeybee! We need plants to pollinate to keep the bee's! There are actually provinces in China that are no longer able to house honeybee's because due to growing populations and pesticides they killed off pollinatable plants, and ultimately killed off any chance of having honeybee's return to pollinate future crops. Most pears that we import from China have to be hand pollinated because they did not heed the warnings of others that if we strip the land of pollen and plants, then surrounding areas will suffer with a lack of pollen, blooms, and fruits and vegetables to bear! If you like, I've included our essay on what is CCD and what we can all do to help! We all must before it's too late!

What is Colony Collapse Disorder and can we save the honey bee?

What is colony collapse disorder? Do you know how drastically it can affect you? Apis Mellifera, or the honey bee is a truly fascinating animal (Schingler, 2008). We rely on the bee for pollinating plants and trees, producing honey, and making possible the harvest of foods from earths’ end to earths’ end. But lately across the globe, bees have been disappearing. Bee keepers have reported record losses in colonies since 2006, and many are still asking where the bees have gone to? With our dependency on bees, the epidemic known as colony collapse disorder (CCD) could take away the amazing creature known as the honey bee and all its’ bounty we too often take for granted. CCD has made itself known in 45 States, as well as South America to Europe; the bees are leaving the hive never to return again. Since CCD’s discovery in 2006, approximately 600,000 bees have disappeared, nearly 1/3 of the worlds’ bee population never to return again (Long Island Business News, 2008). All too often the honey bee is under-looked when it comes to the role of importance it plays in the food we eat all across the world. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating over 90 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts annually around the world. Research has been done only to come to the conclusion the colony collapse disorder is stemmed from many stresses and is often brushed off as a “case by case basis” (Cox-Foster, 2007). This simple answer must not be good enough and we as students and citizens of Michigan must be made aware to take action. Flowers bloom each and every spring, and with that will come new life. Gardens rich with vegetables, fields blooming with wild flowers, and orchards brimming with fresh fruit is what is at stake here. Colony collapse disorder is a serious and growing matter, but with a helping hand we can give a much needed boost to our friend the honey bee.
Becoming a backyard beekeeper is the single most effective step that can be taken by a single person. Mass agriculture is a growing trend in America. Farmers are aiming for larger and larger crop yields every year, far beyond the normal measures of nature. Not to mention we as a society have come to love the convenience of year round fruits and vegetables. With mass agriculture comes the need for more cleared land, as well as the necessity for pesticides to be present. Cleared land forces the natural pollinators of that habitat to take flight and the ultimate cost of creating more land for farming is to have to truck in honey bees to pollinate the larger crop. With a single person creating massive crop for our consumption, there is a greater pressure to produce as much of that crop as possible. Two factors that have also been attributed to CCD is the use of pesticides and malnourishment. To produce as much out of a crop as possible often only leaves one answer to a grower: Pesticides. They were designed for producing fruits and vegetables that are free from pests, but one “pest” in particular that it is affecting happens to be the life source for crops to begin with. Beekeepers have also found that bees used to pollinate single crop harvests were more likely to develop malnourishment because they are not receiving other nutrients to aid in their digestion. Pesticides have been becoming more prevalent since the 1980’s in North America; today we still use neonicotinoid, a pesticide that’s use has become limited or banned in other countries due to its’ possible link to CCD (Shultz, 2007). Becoming a backyard beekeeper, or hobbyist, is a strong way to support bee colonies overall health (USDA, 2007). The honey bee can travel miles to gather pollen, but why make the little guy work so hard? Having a vegetable and flower garden in your backyard is enough to produce pollen to full fill a hives’ satisfaction and at the same time bring you more robust fruit and larger blooms. If donning a bee veil and opening an active hive is not your way of giving back then perhaps just a trip to your local nursery will do. Planting gardens of fruits and vegetables, as well as flowers is an easy way to bring a beautiful array of color to your backyard, as well as the little honey bee (Loeck, 2008). Bees can travel up to eight miles to collect pollen and nectar, and have the ability to tell their fellow bees where more food can be found. The presence of variety will encourage the honey bee when it comes time to collect nectar and pollen.
Agricultural departments, doctors and scientists alike are trying to bring awareness to factors that can cause a colony to collapse or disappear, but stop short of recognizing colony collapse disorder, and labeling their research as such(Cox-Foster, 2007). The honey bee is a creature of form and function, designed to do a specific job with great efficiently. It is na├»ve to think that something as noticeable as 1/3 of the worlds’ population of bees dying off in a matter of months could be left to chance or a streak of freak occurrences’. Studies have been conducted regarding the chemicals found in pesticides, but what is being done once those chemicals have been found? “Studies have shown that pollen found on bees can contain over 40 different types of chemicals (Schultz, 2007). There have been many myths that have been disproved regarding massive colony deaths, but fall short of being studies for the purpose of colony collapse disorder. Recognizing these studies that are only of face value and ignoring the real problem will never solve the original issue. Bringing up one portion of a problem will never produce an answer to correct 100% of the issue. One famous fable that has been dispelled is that cell phones are confusing bees and getting them lost. Only one study has actively been demonstrated and the scientist in fact, refuted the original claim. Yet, so many are looking for a quick fix and simply an answer to their problem; when it comes to CCD there is no quick fix. It comes with awareness and action.
Many have attempted to correct the massive amounts of dying bees, but it will not save them from the chance of colony collapse disorder. Americans use approximately 400 million pounds of honey annually and we are currently unable to meet that need within our borders. With the effect of honey bees affecting the overall amount of honey, many apiarists are taking to shipping in bees from abroad. This ultimately will lead to more loss because we are unable to produce enough bees to pollinate what we reap every year. For every year that we are bringing bees abroad, we are pollinating fewer plants, and ultimately producing fewer products. Add to that the cost to ship bees in and out of the country and you have supplied yourself with one very inferior understanding of solving CCD. Continuously replenishing a supply of sick and weakened bees is in no way bringing answers to the problem, but looking at one solution for one portion of the problem. One cannot look simply at the population of bees as purely a number and try to increase that number to cover the main issue. Colony collapse disorder needs to be recognized as a serious problem and real answers for the problem as a whole. Bringing awareness to only one third of the problem will only delay the inevitable devastation by masking it with slight-of-hand research. Bees will sacrifice themselves for the good of the hive. Meaning if one is sick, she will leave the hive never to return again to prevent her fellow worker bees from infecting and bringing down the hive as a whole. One major problem with the noble honey bee lately has been the sick bees aren’t just leaving the hive, they’re vanishing. To fully understand what is becoming of the honey bee, we must look at what we can do to study them. Research and funding are necessary to discover where the bees are going and why.
Honey bees are responsible for pollinating over 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, totaling in the United States alone nearly $15 billion in revenue. Without action, prices will increase for the farmer that needs to have crops pollinated, which will in turn cost more to have those fruits and vegetables harvested and shipped. Higher shipping costs will add to your total when it comes time to purchase those favorite fruits and vegetables from your local grocer. The ultimate loss if nothing is done about colony collapse disorder will not stop at the loss of the honey bee; we will also lose many specialties such as, honey, varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts across the world, and even a loss of rice, grain, and corn, which are staples for cattle and livestock. If honey bees continue to disappear at their current rate, the honey bee population in the United States will cease by the year 2035 (Schengler,2008) . That is the generation of our children and I just don’t think I can imagine a world without the honey bee, the flowers, and the trees.
Take to your local nurseries; buy native non-invasive Michigan crops to plant in your backyard. Write to your local congress to encourage research on the honey bee and colony collapse disorder (USDA, 2007). Encourage local cities and parks to participate in community gardens. Contact your local University or Agriculture department for more information on amateur beekeeping or even an agriculture class or two. You never know when something as small as the honey bee can change your life.

Bee keepers: Colony collapse disorder not a problem for Long Island beekeepers.” Long Island Business News. (August 1, 2008): NA. General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Baker College. 8 Dec. 2008
Cox-Foster, D. Statements for hearing to review the colony collapse disorder in honey bee colonies through the United States. (March 29 2007)
Loeck, K. The buzz on vanishing bees.(GREEN GAZETTE). Mother Earth News. 230 (Oct-Nov 2008): 25(1). General Reference Center Gold. Gale. Baker College. 7 Dec. 2008
Schultz, D. (Writer). (2007). Silence of the bees [Television series episode]. In D. Schultz (Producer) Nature. New York: PBS

Shingler, D. BEE SHORTAGE COULD STING; Believe it or not, we need 'em, and recent losses have state and agriculture officials buzzing. Crain's Cleveland Business. 29.27 (July 7, 2008): 1. General OneFile. Gale. Library of Michigan. 7 Dec. 2008

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. (13 Jul 2007). USDA announces colony collapse disorder research action plan. Retrieved 11 Dec. 2008 from

Monday, May 11, 2009

Saving the honeybee- and starting a business

My fiance, Keith and I have decided to become beekeepers. Not only become beekeepers, but to make it our career, our passion. I don't know what it really was that drew us into creating a business out of it, but our idea is to keep honey bees more naturally, focus on their health and the production of flowers and crops for the bees to pollenate, rather than keeping the bees for solely honey production. Although we do have plans for some if that honey we're going to harvest. With that excess honey, we plan to create mead, the oldest fermented beverage in the world. If you're looking for an adequate depiction of vikings consuming mead look at the movie Beowolf. Or visit . We currently brew beer and mead as a hobby and have entered it in international, as well as state, competitions. Not only will we receive happy bee's and honey from our hives, we will also harvest a great deal of excess wax, and with that wax we can sell it as-is, create candles, soaps, lotions, and chapsticks, etc. Not to mention, use the wax for future beehives as we grow and expand our way of life!

We began keeping bees in spring of 2008. We purchased a nucleus hive from Time and Kathie Bennett of Turtle Bee Honey Tree Farms ( ) and began an adventure that has changed our lives. They have been very helpful with our beekeeping venture and always available for questions and supplies. Our first hive did not make it through the winter, and we were left heartbroken. To see an empty hive and realize the lives inside are no more is sad, like your pets, your babies are gone. But luckily, one can pick up where they left off. Keith and I began doing research on a more natural approach to beekeeping, and looking at alternate hive designs that could possibly effect the bee's productivity and lifestyle. We began looking at the Top Bar Hive (Also called TBH) It is currently used more popularly outside of the United States, with similar designs that have been traced to both Africa and Rome. We obtained blueprints online and did further research about not only the benefits of the top bar hive, but also some of the concerns associated with the modern Langstroth hive design. This winter Keith and I attended the Michigan Beekeeper Association's annual beekeeping conference at MSU and learned a great deal about handling bees, collecting swarms, installing packages and harvesting honey. One sad thing about using a new hive design, is that most American beekeepers like to use universal equipment, and reuse it year after year. Many currrent beekeepers conform to standard designs and do not support using new or improved hive designs. Keith and I were full of information, yet discouraged at the lack of information available to us about different methods for keeping bees.

Colony Collapse Disorder is alive and prominent across most of the world, and there are definite factors that are contributing to it. We believe that not only are pesticides an issue but we as humans are a cause to this disease as well. Our population, our pollution, our increase in roadways and decrease of mass transport are factors that leave humans with room to reign, but not the honeybee. We have become obsessed with mass agriculture and record breaking honey harvests and it's killing the thing we depend on to pollenate our foods.

Over time I intend on keeping a blog about the ways of beekeeping. I'll include pictures of our hives and mark their progress. We will be keeping strict records of all of our bees to insure that we're doing all we can to save the honey bee. For further information about our bees, or our mead, feel free to email me, or call our office at 734-449-8437. I hope this has been informative and I will be posting our progress regularly! Save Apis Mellifera (the honeybee)!