Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Wonderful World Of Beekeeping

So we're thinking of adding beekeeping to our minifarm. We're do-it-ourselfers by nature and so it only seems fitting. We're totally unfamiliar and inexperienced but crossing that threshold comes along with being a do-it-yourselfer. :) From what I've read once you have it together there's little maintainance.

Meet Neal Watkins, 2nd generation beekeeper and swarm catching expert. Mr. Watkins was generous to share his many insights and into the world of bees and beekeeping when he came out this morning to retrieve what he said was a1.5-lb swarm.

He makes his hives boxes, supers, frames and also this particular box, his bee transport box. The box has two sliding doors, one screened, one open. The screened side can be opened for ventilation and the other for release of the bees. There are also two circular holes one on each end. One is also screened and one not. He attached the vacuum to the screened end to keep the bees from being sucked into the vacuum.

It is easier to cut a limb down much like the video in the last post, but this limb was too big and it also doesn't belong to us. We're just renting it. :) So, since the bees were all nestled up together in the chilly morning air, vibrating their little bodies to stay warm, he vacuumed away and they came off in huddled clumps with little disturbance at all.

This is a frame from the inside of one of the hive boxes. It has some starter comb on it. Apparently there is a debate as to whether to use the comb and create larger bees by it for greater honey production vs. allowing the bees to make smaller comb and remain their natural size and there by be a hardier bee and disease resistant. Say that 3 times fast.

Before a swarm takes off it will gorge itself. When a swarm has been on the fly for a couple days it can be a little tempermental because it's hungry. Sugar water in a spray bottle is a good remedy for this.

A small bee box with lid removed so you can see the top-loading frames. Also down below is the bottom entry.

Getting the last of them.

Bees secrete a pheromone so they can find each other. Each queen has her own distinct smell. All the worker bees can tell the difference between their queen and another. When joining to hives, you can place a couple sheets of newspaper between the two. By the time the bees chew through the paper they will be familiar with the smell of the other hive and they won't war with the other hive members.

A box of bees

A sliding trap door, Mr. Watkin's handy work.

If you're thinking of taking up beekeeping, it's really looks like no big deal at all. On the "scary meter" it didn't even register.

Mr. Watkins shared info on:

Hive rodents, the uses of sugar water, the damage that hail can do to a hive if the wild flower population is destroyed. He also covered things like the characteristics of bees. How far they'll roam when foraging, how Africanized bees can be feisty and how a bee with a full tummy is pretty laid back and easy to work with bee. He does have a bee suit but it was not a necessity today. Bees are like any animal it has it's temperament and it's predictablities. He also explained the use of a smoker and centrifuge.
Also, for all those that use a lot of honey in their cooking, 100-300 lbs a year is not uncommon for good hives! That could even go higher on a good hive.

Mr. Watkins is looking forward to making queens and establishing new colonies from his more docile hives. Some of his hives he'll not come within 5 foot of because they are quite pesky. Others he can handle and examine with no problem at all.

He shared some stories of cuts-outs he's handled. Cut-outs are when you have to go inside a house and "cut out" a section of a wall and remove a swarm. One wall in particular was made of railroad timbers. He made his way through it via a chainsaw.
When asked how many times he's been stung, "If I don't get stung 3-5 times a week, I'm not trying hard enough" :)
He continues, "Sometimes, while sitting and watching my bees, I'm sitting eye-level with the entrances and a guard bee will hit me [purposely]. Sometimes they sting immediately and sometimes they just head butt you. I remember when I was helping my father catch a swarm. I was standing on top of the truck holding the hive body over my head while my father brushed them into the hive. (This was before bee vac's, and I had a whole lot more hair on my head then). These bees had been on the "wing" for awhile. When he started brushing, they started flying and stinging. He pulled his hand down and there were hundreds of bees stinging his hand. We had to stand fast. The bees got into my hair, down my shirt and were all over my arms. We literally got stun hundreds of times. True story. And here I am 35 years later."

He also shared "Why are bees in July not worth a fly." There are often not enough flowers in July to sustain the bees need for food and honey production.

Looking for a good source of beekeeping information? http://www.beesource.com/
An update from Mr. Watkins:
"Bees are in their new home. I simply put the hive box on top of the vac box and opened the sliding door with no screen. Tonight they will go up into the hive and tomorrow morning I will put them on the bottom board and the hive will be complete. I will keep them closed up with a jar of 1 part water and 1 part sugar sitting on the top. It has a hole in it that allows the bees access to the feeder. Tomorrow evening about 7 PM I will open the access and allow them to be free. Thanks again. Neal"

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