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Beekeeping 101 – Hive Inspection

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Our beekeeping journey at Clean Slate Farm continues.

The frustrating thing about beekeeping is maintaining patience. As I pointed out in previous posts, patience is indeed a virtue. The bees do what they want to do, when they want to, where they want to. When you keep bees, at least as a newb, you want to check on them all the time to make sure they are doing their bee thing. You poke about, open the hives, look around, sit and watch, and pine for some activity to alert you to what the bees are up to.

As this is our second month into beekeeping this inspection was enlightening. The bees are doing fine without our assistance. The first inspections had us worried though. There didn’t seem to be a lot of comb building or new brood in the hives. The hives were alternately active and inactive. One day Ruby was going gangbusters, the next Mom was ripping up a storm. Our first inspection allowed us to see both queens while the next inspection we only saw Ruby.

On this inspection we saw Mom but not Ruby. However we know that both queens are there by what the frames showed us. There was capped brood in both hives meaning the queens are present and laying eggs. We’ve yet to see eggs but we have seen larvae…in both hives. The eggs are extremely tiny and we figure once we get a better handle on what to look for it will give us another indicator of what’s going on inside the hives. The patience thing again.

Today brood comb was plentiful meaning the queens have laid eggs in the last three and one-half to nine days. Let me explain. Bees are incredibly timely little buggers, like the Swiss rail system. This predicability is helpful to the beekeeper because when you see larvae you know that they hatched from eggs within 3 1/2 days. So the queen had to be present to lay the eggs that are hatched. When you see capped cells you know that were capped between 8 and 10 days ago and will emerge in 20 to 24 days depending if they are workers or drones.

In this inspection we saw larvae that was about 4 or 5 days old and larvae that was capped so it’s at least 9 days old. So we know there are bees being born soon and another batch on the way. All we need is patience. Here is a bee timetable from egg to bee activity.

Queens will hatch in 3 1/2 days, will be capped in 8 days (+/- 1) and emerge in 16 days (+/- 1) they will begin laying eggs in about 28 days (+/- 5)

Workers will hatch in 3 1/2 days, will be capped in 9 days (+/- 1) and emerge in 20 days (+/- 1) they will begin foraging in about 42 days (+/- 7)

Drones will hatch in 3 1/2 days, will be capped in 10 days (+/- 1) and emerge in 24 days (+/- 1) they will begin mate in about 28 days (+/- 5)

There is a little more to this than the above but the upshot is a pretty regular schedule. Our next challenge is to hope for a heavy fall nectar flow where fall weeds an flowers produce lots of nectar and pollen for the bees to harvest. This will allow them to build more comb, lay more eggs, and hatch more bees so the colonies are strong going into winter for survival…a whole different set of worries.

What we saw today though is promising, more so than our first two inspections. Click on any image to see a slideshow of the inspection.

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Honey Bees at Clean Slate Farm

Honey Bee
Clean Slate Farm Bee (Right click to enlarge.)

Well the honey bees have arrived at Clean Slate Farm and the hives are buzzing.

The bees arrive in what is called a nuc, short for nucleus hive, which contains roughly 1,000 to 2,000 honey bees, which we set up next to the hives they would eventually take over as their home. Here is a YouTube video of us opening up the nucs the day before we install them into the hives. I did get a slow motion video posted and you can see that here.

We are finding that beekeeping is an extremely interesting hobby and we’ll be learning a lot over the next few years. There are a host of things we need to watch for as beekeepers: varroa mites, wax moths, tracheal mites, wasps robbing the honey, and getting the hives strong enough to make it through winter.

Let’s talk about some of these challenges we’ll face starting with varroa mites. This is a relatively new pest that has shown up in the past 15 to 20 years in beekeeping. Here is a photo of three varroa mites on a honey bee. Varroa mites literally suck the blood out of the bee leaving the bee prone to infections. High mite concentration in the hive can cause the bees to die off and eventually kill the hive. There are several ways of detecting and treating for varroa mites and we’ll be using an organic method of treatment with a product called Hopguard made from hops. Yes, the hops used in making beer.

Varroa Mites
Varroa Mites on a Bee

Wax moths can invade a week hive, such as one infected by varroa mites, and start eating the wax. Again, the hive will die off. If the hive is not strong going into winter it will also die off.

A hive will need 40 to 60 pounds of honey in the upper hive bodies for the bees to eat during the winter so they can make it to spring and the next nectar flow. If the hive is not strong and full of food for the honey bees going into winter it will also die off. A hive will need 40 to 60 pounds of honey in the upper hive bodies for the bees to eat so they can make it to spring and the next nectar flow. We are feeding our bees a 1:1 solution of sugar and water so they can build (draw out) comb for the queen to lay eggs so the colony can increase in size and be healthy going into winter.

When the queen lays eggs they take up to 24 days to emerge from the cell. Queen bees, if the hive decides it needs a new queen, will emerge in about 16 days. The queen will the go on a mating flight to find drones to mate with and return to the hive. She will never leave the hive again unless it becomes too crowded and the hive collectively decides to swarm. Yet another challenge in beekeeping, preventing the hive from moving out to a new location…wherever that may be!

Worker bees, always female, will emerge in about 20 days. They have different duties ranging from cleaning the hive to guarding the entrance as they age. Only when they are old enough will they leave the hive to forage for nectar and pollen.

Drone bees, always male, will emerge in about 24 days. The drones job is to hang out and make mating flights. Yes, they are pretty much slackers. In the winter the workers will throw the drones out of the hive to conserve honey.

I’m finding the hardest part, due to my curiosity, is waiting for new bees to be born and start building the hive strength. It’s difficult not to go poking around the hives and bother the bees because the hives only need to be inspected every two weeks or so. An impatient beekeeper opening up the hives too often will disrupt the bees from doing what they need to do. Bees got along just fine for thousands of years without humans bothering them and the smart beekeeper will bear that in mind. But I am so interested in what is going on inside. Here is a photo of the inside of the Ruby hive I took when adding more sugar syrup recently. Right click the image and take a look at all that new wax waiting for nectar and bee babies.

Honey bees on new wax
Bees inside the hive we call Ruby

 

 

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strawberries
Honeoye Strawberries

Several years ago while making jam I was struck with the amount of sugar needed to make a batch. For jam using four or five cups of fruit one needs to add six to seven cups of sugar, and that started me questioning the whole process. I want to taste the fruit not the sugar. There is no doubt that a sweetener can bring out the flavor in fruit, much like salt does on other foods, but only when added in correct amount. Otherwise all you taste is fruit flavored sugar. That’s where Pomona’s Pectin comes in.

Pomona’s pectin allows you to use very little, or even no sugar at all. It sets using calcium powder rather than sugar. Scientifically this is a high-ester (Sure-Jell) vs. low-ester (Pomona’s) issue. It is also far more scientific than I am willing to figure out at this point in my life. All I know is Pomona’s uses less sugar, therefore it’s better for me, and I taste the fruit not the sugar.

So this all started today when I went down to check for ripe strawberries and was rewarded with a half basket full, a little more than 8 pints. We started the plants in the spring of 2013 and had a tiny harvest that year knowing 2014 would bring on the goodness. It did…and will continue to judging by the number of unripe berries on the plants.

With that many strawberries the only option was jam, and using Pomona’s Pectin is a fast method. At least is seems so compared to the Sure-Jell method. In a little over two and one-half hours I had filled eight 8 ounce jars and had everything cleaned up. Keep in mind that included digging all my canning gear out, washing it, sterilizing it, and all clean up at the end. Not a bad haul if you ask me. I actually made two batches, one with honey as the sweetener and one with maple syrup as the sweetener. The maple syrup batch has a nice mellow hint of maple flavor. If I’m going to taste the sweetener it may as well be interesting. Agreed?

The berry plants were purchased from Miller’s Nurseries, now owned by Stark Brothers. The variety we decided to start with is the Honeoye variety, which is pronounced HUN-e-oy. Presumably this variety was developed in Honeoye Falls south of Rochester, NY near where Miller/Stark is located. Honeoye is a June bearing plant so once it’s done producing for the year we’re done as well.

We planted 50 roots (for the absurdly low price of $15.00) and all of them took. As the 2013 summer progressed we soon found the plants were sending off runners like crazy. It wasn’t long before I was pulling rooted runners and tossing them in the compost pile. We simply don’t have the space for them and with the way they are  producing we would have an over abundance of berries, as odd as that sounds. And yes…it pained me to toss those little buggers.

Click this link to see the process of making this recipe. Then go out and get some Pomona’s Pectin and strawberries to make your own batch!

Pomona’s Pectin can be found on Amazon or in many health food stores.

Strawberry Jam Made with Pomona's Pectin
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Jam
Ingredients
  • 4 cups mashed strawberries, about 6 cups chopped
  • 2 teaspoons calcium water
  • 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Pectin powder
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
Instructions
  1. Wash, hull, and mash strawberries. Measure mashed strawberries into sauce pan.
  2. Add calcium water and mix well.
  3. Thoroughly mix pectin powder and sugar in a small cup.
  4. Bring fruit mixture to a full boil. Add pectin-sugar and honey or other sweetener of your choice. Stir for 1 minute while mixture returns to a full boil. Remove from the heat.
  5. Fill hot jars to ¼” of top. Wipe rims clean. Screw on 2-piece lids. Put filled jars in boiling water to cover. Boil 10 minutes (add 1 minute more for every 1,000 ft. above sea level). Remove from water. Let jars cool. Check seals; lids should be sucked down. Source: Pomona's Pectin

 

 

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