Honeychick Homestead

Homestead, Health, and Happiness

Robbing and Swarming!

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CRAZINESS! That’s a good word to describe my bee colonies this September!  It’s been very unpredictable, and they are keeping me on my toes!

As you know, California is experiencing the worst drought in over a century. It is dry, VERY DRY out here. It has been for the past three years. This is the hottest summer I remember since I moving here in 1996, we’ve had several over 100 degree days. The drought means nectar flow season is completely messed up.

Fruit trees bloomed 2-3 months early, and although we typically don’t get rain from May – October, we are normally able to water ornamental plants that provide nectar and pollen for honeybees and other pollinators. This year, many people stopped planting or watering their ornamental plants; that caused the flow of nectar to be less than usual and it also stopped earlier in the season, at least two months early. When nectar flow ceases it’s known as dearth, and although dearth happens every year, the drought conditions have made nectar extremely scarce this year and for the past few years.

Last year, my colonies didn’t experience any robbing. My husband made robbing screens to help protect their entrances from yellow jackets and bees from other colonies who might try to steal their honey.

This year is a completely different story!  I was going to do one last hive check of the season on September 20th, a 99 degree day! Not a fun time to be in a bee jacket and hood 🙂

When I approached Zinna colony I  noticed some weird behavior outside one of the boxes. I quickly realized that other bees were trying to get in and rob the sugar syrup in their feeder and honey inside the colony. Thank goodness I caught it early, otherwise the robbing bees may have overtaken this colony. Here’s pictures of what the early signs of robbing look like: View the pictures →

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Zinnia is Growing!

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Zinnia is one month old and I was excited to take a look at what’s been happening since I released the queen a few weeks ago. I wasn’t concerned with finding the queen but I did want to be sure she was laying eggs.

I left them with plenty of sugar syrup to eat while I am away. Here’ pictures of Zinna’s first hive check, I’m sure you’ll notice a big different from the pictures from Cosmo colony that I shared Friday. View the pictures →

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Cosmo is Thriving!

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I am excited that Cosmo, the colony that was started from a nuc in June 2014, made it though the winter and is thriving this spring!

I haven’t looked at this colony for about three weeks. I’ve decided that I don’t want to disturb my colonies every week. Most things I’ve read recommend taking a look inside roughly every three weeks. I believe this is the recommendation for established colonies; new colonies typically require more frequent checks.

I try to observe my colonies from the outside at least one day each week, just to make sure nothing seems “off,” and that they are coming and going as expected, bringing in nectar and pollen, like they should be this time of year.

Before leaving for Maui, I wanted to check that they weren’t close to outgrowing their home and add a new box, if they needed mores space. If a colony gets to crowded it can sometimes encourage roughly half of the colony to leave or “swarm.”

Swarming is a reproductive process in which one colony splits to become two. The bees that leave take the old queen with them and the remaining bees are left with a soon to emerge virgin queen. When a colony is thriving, it can swarm more that one time in a season.

Swarming is different from absconding, when a colony absconds, the entire colony leaves with the queen. This is what happened to my Verbena colony in January 2015, after about 70% of that colony died. Absconding is not a reproductive process because all the bees leave, and the entire colony moves somewhere else. View the pictures →

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Zinnia is here!

My newest colony of bees arrived a few weeks ago and so far everything is going great! I had my handy, dandy assistant (husband), take some pictures of me installing this package and I’ll share them later in this post.

This year, I got my bee package from Mountain Feed because I’ve been very happy with the nuc I got from them last spring. This package of bees are the carnelion breed and I chose them because they are known for their disease resistance and gentleness. This breed is more likely to swarm if the run out of room but I’m not worried because I plan on giving them plenty of space to grow! You can read more about the different bee breeds and their qualities here.

The month of May has been unseasonable cool and it seems we’ve had more rain than in January…which honestly is great! Thankfully, the weekend I got these sweet bees, it was warm and not too windy.

This year, I picked put the package all by myself, which is kind of big deal because last year I was SO NERVOUS picking up my bees. I was very calm as I drove home with a box of 12,000 bees in my car!

Another thing I did alone was release the queen. I was still VERY nervous because I didn’t want her to fly away. Probably the most difficult thing was getting the bees surrounding her cage off so I could get her out. They were not happy that I was messing with their queen!  I had several bees buzzing angrily around my head as I focused on carefully getting her out!

Thankfully, I was more prepared with all the tools and things went really smooth. She jumped right into the hive box once I got her out of her cage. I didn’t get pictures of the process this year, but if you want to see me releasing “Lorde” the queen from Verbena hive, click here.

Now onto the cool part, pictures of me shaking 12,000 or so bees into their new home. Enjoy!! Continue reading


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Horray for Native Bees!

I’ve been paying more attention to the native bees in our orchard this year and it’s been really neat to watch all the different bees visit and pollinate the blossoms. Some are so tiny, I almost mistake them for a fly or gnat!

High Ground Organics is a local farm that I receive weekly updates from about their CSA offerings and other news of what’s happening around the farm. This week, they included this very cool article about a research study they participated in back in 2012.

I found it super interesting and thought it was “share-worthy” 🙂 Enjoy!

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First Year Beekeeping Lessons Learned

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One of my bees enjoying some honey last summer.

Last February, I excitedly decided to give beekeeping a try. Two months later, I was bringing home my first package of bees! You can read more about that fun day here.

If you’re interested in giving beekeeping a try, this time of year is a perfect time to do your research, and if you decide to go for it, to get your supplies. You can read about how much my first year supplies cost here. It’s easy to find packages of bees for sale via a web search, or contact a local bee guild for bees from your local area.

Speaking of bee guilds, I highly recommend finding out if you have a local beekeeping guild. This website has a comprehensive list, however I didn’t see my local guild. If you don’t see your area listed, do a web search for your city or counties name with “beekeepers guild” after it. Another important thing is to check your city ordinances. Many cities and counties allow beekeeping but may require a permit.

I’ve learned a lot my first year! I hope you find this post helpful and it encourages you to give beekeeping a try! Continue reading


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To Bee, or Not to Bee

 

The bees from Verbena colony finishing up a pollen patty this past October

The bees from Verbena colony finishing up a pollen patty just a couple of months ago.

Earlier this week, I experienced my saddest day as a beekeeper. About, ninety percent of my Verbena colony died. I found myself suddenly scrambling to keep the remaining bees alive! It was not a happy way to end my first year as a beekeeper  😦

Heading into winter, I thought Verbena would be my “strong” colony. I got this colony in April of last year, you can read more about their first day on the homestead here.

Before leaving for Germany for thymus and stem cell therapy, I left both colonies with enough food to last two weeks. When I got home in mid-October, they had eaten it all up, so I fed them more!

At the November bee guild meeting, the mentors suggested it was time to stop feeding so the colonies could reduce in size, just like they do nature. I was a bit nervous about doing this but figured the mentors knew more than a “new-bee” like me did.

The bee guild members, and several books I’ve read said that starvation, or mites are usually the cause of a new colony dying off during the winter. Another concern can be moisture inside the boxes, this can happen during our rainy, wet winters.

To help counteract moister entering the hive, they recommend slightly tilting the boxes of the colony forward so any water that entered would easily run out the front entrance. They also recommended building an “awning” to keep the colony dry.

My awesome husband got busy building a very sturdy, “awning” for each colony, and we had them on before any major rain hit our area. Here’s a picture of the colonies with their “awnings” on top of the boxes.  The bricks on top help keep it from being blown off during windy weather. Continue reading