Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lesson 30: Spring Management Of Overwintered Colonies, Part I

We've had many pleasant visits to our business over the last few weeks, people buying and picking up hives and supplies and asking lots of beekeeping related question. The phone is ringing off the hook, so if you get a busy signal call back, and if you leave a message, be patient as it may take a day or two for us to get back to everyone.
We continue to be so blessed by meeting more and more wonderful people because of our bee business. Frank Schumacher has travel the farthest, all the way from Germany. Well, I don't think he came over to the US just to see me, but certainly he drove down from Chicago. He's a beekeeper in Germany and we swapped great stories, photos and practices.
We have received many phone calls and E-mails from people who have been attending bee schools and reading materials on beekeeping. This is good. However, many people have been confused over what some bee schools teach and practice that are a bit complicated and confusing. Remember, everyone in beekeeping has an opinion. It doesn't mean it is right or wrong, it just means you must remember that what works for one beekeeper may not work at all for you. He keeps his bees in a beehouse and as soon as he gets back home he'll send me some photos and I'll share them with you.
We are creating web pages with our beekeeping lessons so that they can be more easily accessed and searched, but it is a slow process. And, my wife and I have decided that we will hold our first beekeeping school here on our honey bee farm in October. Students will not only have class instructional time, but time in the field for side by side beekeeping mentoring.
Our family and friends are working very hard to keep up with the hive orders. I will be making my second trip to Liberia, Africa in just 8 days, and will be gone from March 25 through April 5, so if you try to reach me, I will be unavailable. africapreaching However, please place your confidence in speaking to my wife. She is very knowledgeable about beekeeping and can certainly answer your questions. She helps me work the bees, so she knows what she is talking about. In 2005 I led a group of adventurous people from our church into the war torn country of Liberia. Our church started an orphanage in Liberia, and while there, we walked the streets and villages and visited homes sharing the hope and love of Jesus to those who seemed to have lost all hope due to the plight of their country's enormous civil war that killed millions. Please pray for a safe and successful trip for us.
Another important work I must complete before I leave is to be sure all my hives that made it through the winter are well fed and have plenty of space for rapid spring build up. It is a challenge.
This winter, I spent much more time researching what a hive does in the winter, how they manage to survive cold weather and how the cluster behaves. I was very surprised in what I found out. Let me share with you what I have discovered and what conclusions I have drawn based on my research and how this will help you manage your overwintered colonies.
...that working bees when it is at least 30 degrees Fahrenheit can be successful if done very quickly, within a minute or two.
...that the cluster size is critical to colony survivability.
...that we cannot afford to winter our bees with bees that emerge in August. Bees that emerge in October and November are essential to maintain cluster longevity and endurance into February and March.
...that bees protecting January and February brood will not leave that brood in cold weather and feed on nearby honey. They will die before traveling a few frames over to the food source.
...that bees need pollen patties no later than Feb 1st.
...that it is very effective to place pollen patties and sugar water directly above the winter cluster.
Traditionally, beekeepers are told that as long as the hive has 80 pounds of honey, they'll make it through winters up north. And, that's about all beekeepers have done, left plenty of honey in the hive and maybe wrapped some roofing paper around the hive, and accept the fact that there is always a 20-50% expected loss.
To me, that's a bit lazy. To do so little, and settle for such losses is unacceptable to me. My bees are worth more than that to me, and I don't mean financially, but these are my bees that I have been entrusted to care for. Surely I can do better than this. That's why I put extra time in research and monitoring my hives this winter.
Beekeepers often lose hives that have plenty of honey and they usually guess as to why they died with plenty of food. They will say that maybe the Tracheal mites got 'em or maybe the queen died in the fall or maybe it was just too cold or too wet or they had Nosema. Certainly these are possibilities. However, many winter deadouts are caused from poor management...pilot error that could have easily been avoided.
I believe we should work our colonies as soon as we can. Pollen patties should be placed in our hives no later than February 1st. Pollen patties will stimulate the queen to start laying more, while providing the bees some nutrition. Even when it is cold outside, we can quickly open our hives on the warmest day in January with no wind and slide a pollen patty over the top of the winter cluster. lesson2c See this photo of a winter cluster in one of my hives. This is the top of the cluster in the second deep hive body. Then, I simply slide in a pollen patty and let it sit on the top of the frames right above the cluster. I turn my inner cover up-side-down so that the wooden rail is down, allowing more of a gap between the frames and the inner cover to accommodate the spacing needed for the patty. I can do that in less than 30 seconds. In this photo I placed an empty deep hive body on top of the second deep, so that I can feed the bees more easily with sugar water in a jar. Then I put my top cover on top of the third deep box.
lesson28When placing the patty in the hive, LEAVE THE PAPER ON!! If you take it off, the patty will become too moist and can mold. The bees will remove the paper themselves. I know you don't like eating your cheeseburgers with the wrapping on, but the bees do!

CLUSTER SIZE is crucial for hive survivability and endurance into February and March. The colder it is the larger the cluster needs to be. lesson28b That's why hives die in March. Naturally, the cluster is very small in March, and if there is a severe cold snap, a very small cluster cannot stay warm. This cluster is probably not going to make it. They are too small because the queen stopped laying early, probably in August or September and the bees simply died of old age reducing the number in the cluster. We must work our hives in the fall so that the queen continues to lay into October and November. Again, the easiest way to do this is to feed the hives pollen patties and 1:1 sugar water.
Then, people will ask, "But a larger cluster means they will consume more food and possibly starve". Again, what good is it to have a small cluster and 80 pounds of honey and the small cluster dies and the honey is not consumed at all? Take a large cluster of younger bees into winter and if they consume their 80 pounds of honey be February 1, it doesn't matter because you can beginning feeding them pollen patties and sugar water. They'll stay warm with plenty of food. Remember, the cluster generates the heat.
lesson2d Here is a picture of a dead hive that was doing well in early February but died after a very cold snap in late February. They still had 50 pounds of honey three frames over. The queen started laying in late January or early February, as you can see the winter brood in the lower left hand corner of the frame, but the cluster was too small. As a result, the small cluster made one last ditch effort to keep the brood warm, yet were unable to move vertically over to the frames with honey. If they had, they would have become paralyzed by the cold and died away from the cluster and the brood would have died as well. They froze and starved with 50 pounds of honey five inches away. So typical. Had I moved the honey over next to the frame with brood on it, they would have made it fine.lesson2j For example, this is what i did on on another hive. In this picture you can see how I placed a super of honey on top of the top deep hive body containing the winter cluster. You can click on the image for a larger image. Since heat rises, the top of the cluster was able to move up a bit into the super with honey temporarily to eat.
This is why beekeepers must work their hives in February. Frames of honey must be slightly scratched open and moved over next to the cluster.lesson28j DO NOT disturb the cluster, but move the frames of honey either right beside the cluster or directly above it. I placed this pollen patty on Feb. 1 and in 23 days they had consumed half of the patty.

Another effective way to help the bees along is to give them sugar water, 1:1 ratio. This is a bit more tricky, because water will freeze during the winter. I found one method that works great for me. I place sugar water in a ziploc sandwich bag and poke three holes in the top of the bag with a needle or a pen. I don't want the water to drip out, but just make a very small pool on top of the bag. As the bees move onto the bag, more sugar water comes out. lesson2iAnd above the cluster area, it will not freeze. In one month they emptied this bag. I know you'll ask what that strip is between the bag and pollen patty so I'll tell you. It was a larger piece of comb that had honey in it. I removed it from another super and just laid it on top. On the pollen patty you can see where they have eaten the pollen beneath the paper.
Once we begin feeding our bees pollen patties and sugar water, it is best to continue until natural pollen and nectar is available. If we stop feeding, then the queen would have laid lots of eggs, but there would be no sources of pollen and nectar to raise her young. You've fooled her in the worst way. She's a good momma. She will not have kids unless she knows the colony can feed them. If you tell her you'll do the providing until spring comes, then keep your commitment to her and her daughters. Once nature starts producing nectar and pollen you can discontinue feeding both sugar water and nectar on over wintered colonies. However, in newly installed packages you must continue feeding sugar water, 1:1 for as long as they still have comb to draw out. They turn sugar water into wax for the building of their comb. But on over wintered colonies, their comb is already built out from last year. This is why second year hives produce more honey. Incoming nectar can be stored, not converted to wax.
That's enough for today...In our next lesson I'll give you more tips on what to do with your over wintered hives as spring approaches.
lesson28l A customer in Texas sent us photos of the hives he bought from us. They look great don't they! If you'd like to email us a photo of your hives in action, in your yard, we'd love to put them on our web site.
Please keep our contact information close at hand. If you have questions or would like to order hives, bees or beekeeping supplies, give us a call: 217-427-2678. If you'd like to order directly online, go to:
Email us at:
Remember, BEE-Have Yourself!

davidsheriDavid & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lesson 29: You Must Keep Detailed Records

Our family business has been catapulted by the Internet! We continue to meet more and more first time beekeepers daily. lesson27aa I've even made friends with Steinar from Sweden. He sent me a picture of himself working his hive.
We are encouraged to see so many people jumping in to beekeeping with great excitement.
So many of our phone calls are about people who have wanted to keep bees all their life, and finally either they now have space to do it, time to do it, or simply the motivation to do it.

Public awareness about the dwindling bee population and its consequential effect on our food supply seems to be another motivating factor. Beekeeping classes are breaking out all around the country, and prospective beekeepers are filling up these classes.
Our local beekeeping association had a great start to our beginning beekeeping class last week. Here's a picture from the class.


swarmsidewinderWhile I was at the class, a member of our association gave me a photo of a swarm of bees on a side-winder missile on a fighter jet on an Air Force base. Wow, if only they knew what they were sitting on!!

Before I begin today's 27th lesson, I want to remind you that it is not too late to begin beekeeping this year. You can still call in your order, order your hives and order your bees directly form us here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. In fact, last year, orders continued to flood in all year long. There was never a lull. So, feel free to give us a call today and jump into beekeeping. Or call us if you need any supplies. We sell anything and everything associated with keeping bees.
Fourteen years ago, my oldest son started helping me with bees when he was 9 years old. He's now 23. He wrote this entry in our beekeeping log book: "Today Dad and I looked at the hive. I was a little scared at first because I have never opened a hive before. I thought I was going to get stung but I had on my gear. My dad ask me to hold one of the frames of honey on the top super while he took a picture. When we were done, we didn't have any bees after us. I also got to smoke some of the bees too."
As a beekeeper, you will find it extremely difficult to keep detailed records for several reasons. First, if you have lots of hives, it will seems like it requires too much time. You're too busy keeping your smoker going, working on your colonies and trying not to get stung to keep records. Secondly, you think you can make a mental note to jot down when you get back to the kitchen table for lunch. It will not likely happen.
For many years, I kept "mental notes" on my hives which was really no notes at all. "Now which one was queenless...was it this one?" Once I started keeping detailed records, I begin to be a better beekeeper. I began to have greater success, less problems and greater honey production. Record keeping will improve your operations.
lesson27d There are many ways you can keep records. The cheapest way is to buy a spiral notebook and take it to the field with you and write a summary after you inspect each hive. This is one of my methods. I usually buy the hard back date diaries at the office stores because they hold up longer for me. See this one. I've had it a long time! You can click on the image and actually read my log entries. Sometimes it's quick and simple: "C5 - Eggs & good brood."

lesson27c You can keep records in a 3-ring note book. I like this one a lot because it gives me more room. I'm using this as of late. I can take it in the field with me, and as you can see in the picture, I even paste in digital photos into the note book.

I also keep notes in a more technological way. I bought a cheap pocket digital video camera and so I can keep a video log of each colony I inspect.

lesson27eThis works really well because video speak a thousand times more than words. With video logging, you can not only video the hive but of course you can narrate into the video what you see. I went to Wal-mart and bought a VuPoint DV-DA1-VP. It folds up and fits nicely into my front pocket. The picture quality (5 Mega Pixel) is lacking a bit due to the low budget lens I'm sure, but good enough for keeping a video log. See how small it is when it is folded up:

lesson27fIt takes digital videos, digital still shots and voice record. Also has a standard size tripod mount on the base.

Another piece of technology that helps me track my hive's progress is my pocket PC.

lesson27gI use the Dell Axis, and I am able to make notes, keep track of how much honey each hive produces and remind myself of what I must do to each hive next.
Remember, you don't need technology. Just a pad of paper and a pencil works just fine too.
I have found that each hive should be assigned some sort of identification marking. I like to give each of my different bee yards a letter. Then, within the yard, I will assign each hive a number. So a hive is known to me as A1 or D3. I take left over metal from the top cover, and cut it into small rectangles, drill a hole in the top of the metal tag, and then use my permanent marker to place the identification marking on the metal. Then, I attach this to the hive it belongs to with a tiny nail. I try to include the metal marker in my photos of each hive so that I know which hive the photo is from. These tags hang on my hives as opposed to making permanent markings on the actual hive box. Why? Because if I write on the outside of my upper deep brood box, A-5, but later change that box with another hive...I'm all confused.
Now I cannot stress enough how important it is that you keep a good log with as much detail as you can. This will be very useful in determining why a hive is doing well or perhaps why one died.
Here are a few observations you should make in your log about each hive when inspected:
1) Brood pattern. This will tell you the quality of the queen's laying ability. Very spotty brood reflects a poor queen. There will always be some spots on the brood, but here's what you are striving for.
2) General population. Is it expanding as expected?
3) Do you have a queen? Can you spot her or can you see one to three day old eggs in the bottom of cells?
4) Do you have too much bullet brood? Bullet brood is another word for drone brood. It sticks up higher than worker brood and looks a bit like a small bullet. Too much might mean you have a laying worker and the queen is gone.
5) Disease? Rule out American Foul Brood, mite infestation, chalk brood or any other observable problem.
So a log entry might read as follows: "3-4-08 I inspected D-18 and did not spot the queen, but I did see eggs. Brood pattern was good. Good population of bees. No noticeable abnormalities. Need to add a super in about 1 week."
Always keep track of when you started each hive, where you obtained your bees and/or queen. Keep track of how old your queen is.
As we approach the start to the 2013 beekeeping season, we will continue to publish lessons pertaining to the various aspects relating to the beekeeping season. Please review previous lessons.
We are also designing a website for you to access each past lesson with greater ease so that you can look up questions and find answers from previous lessons. These lessons are a tremendous resource of information. Thanks for joining me today.
Remember, if you'd like to order hives and other beekeeping equipment, check out our website at: You can either order online, or give us a call and order over the phone at: 217-427-2678.
Remember, BEE-have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms