Honey Bees at Clean Slate Farm
The arrival of not one, but two queens
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.
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.