Our honeybees swarmed!

Bee swarm on juniper branch

We are beekeepers and love our bees, their pollination of our plants and in some years the honey they provide. Plus we want to support them by not using chemical pesticides or fungicides.

This spring our bees were starting to outgrow their digs and were planning to swarm. How do I know? They made queen cups and started laying eggs in them and producing queen larvae. Once they decide to make a new queen, it is hard to turn their thinking around. So when we saw a queen cup with a developing larva and royal jelly in it and another queen cup with a new egg in it, we knew they would swarm and split their hive unless we split the hive before they did.

Swarming is good thing for a bee hive. It means it is doing well and has too many inhabitants and some need to move on. So we found the existing queen and transferred her and some brood and honey and pollen bars to an empty hive we had. Great! They seem to be doing well. So now we have two hives. But there were still queen cups in the original hive with about 10 developing larvae in them. We thought the other bees would take down the queen cups.

We thought that would be the end of it but no, there’s more to the story. Last weekend, I was out in the part of the garden closest to the first hive and noticed they were getting very noisy and started leaving and circling around in a great mass of bees and I knew they were going to swarm. I assume that one queen hatched and saw all the other queen cups with larvae in them and decided to leave with about half the hive before the others hatched. A hive can only have one queen and when a new queen hatches, it will go along and kill off any other queens that are ready to emerge with it except this one was quite further along in it’s development while the other larvae were not very developed yet.

The swarm ended up on a tree branch about 30 feet away and had formed a long ball of bees about 30 inches long by 12 inches wide where many thousands of bees had gathered. I’m guessing about 30 thousand! From there the swarm sends out scouts to find a new home in which to move to. The swarm waits to hear the reports from the scouts before moving again which can take from 3 hours to 3 days depending what the scouts find. Of course we suited up but when the hive swarmed, they are the most docile as they are out of their element so to speak. We ran over to another empty hive we had previously set up and put some more bars of brood and nectar in it from the original hive.

Then we went back to the swarm and I cut the branch down while Elodie held a big tupperware container underneath them and they fell  about six inches with the branch into the box. We then carried the box over to the new hive and put them inside. Hopefully they are happy and have a good queen to get them going. The original hive now has a lot fewer bees in it so hopefully this is the end of swarming. It is exciting we caught them before they left the property but also it is a little newvewracking too! Now we have three hives!

Native Bee class

Here is a class that I’m going to bee at this coming Sunday and I can’t wait! We have more native bees than honeybees and need to encourage them to visit our gardens. I own one of these native bees houses and they really do attract them. Hope some of you can make it. There are still some spaces left for attendees. It’s sponsored through homegrownnmexico.org

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Sunday, July 7th
12 noon to 2 pm

Get the Buzz on Native Bees!
Do you like melons, pumpkins, and squash? Well, you should thank the native bees! Honeybees might get the most attention, but native bees really are the major pollinators of food crops. Did you know that there are more than 500 species of native bees just in New Mexico alone? Do you know the differences between the native bee and the honeybee?

Come to the Native Bee class July 7 and learn all about these often overlooked pollinators. Bob Zimmerman, retired biology teacher, will show you how to provide a bee friendly yard for native bees and how to make a native bee house to encourage them to hang around your garden!

Instructors: Bob Zimmerman
Location: Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association building
2520-B Camino Entrada (next to Habitat ReStore on south side of building) • Santa Fe
Fee: $5 for members/$10 for non-member

Please sign up through Eventbrite below:

Eventbrite - Native Bee Houses

Check your bees lately?

bee art

I love this image I found. So true-the life of a bee (and a gardener). I always thought of them as pollinators. I never thought of them as gardeners, but they are—they pollinate so many of our food crops. Without them, we would not have 90% of our veggies and fruits.

I have seen our bees flying around on some of the warmer days and was wondering how their honey supply is holding up. I start to get nervous around Feb and definitely in March regarding the bees. Most bees die in the early spring when they run out of their own honey before there are any blossoms to visit. So this past week I took a peek at our bees on a warm 50 degree day to make sure they still have enough honey. I haven’t looked at them since I put them to bed in October and was waiting for a warm, non-windy day to check on them.

I didn’t go through the whole hive as I didn’t want to be in there that long. I  just looked at a few bars to see if they still had enough honey. I was glad to see they still have plenty of honey, but to be sure, I put a jar of creamed honey (so it doesn’t flow out everywhere) for them at the very end of the bars. Late January-early February is a little early to check them but what’s the harm in making sure they have enough honey as long as you only check on a warm day. Now I feel comfortable with this next winter storm coming in tomorrow that I can wait till late February before I check again. Glad the girls are fine!

2015 honey

bees on bar

Bees on a brood bar capping honey

Before I talk about how our bees did this year, here are some mind boggling facts about bees and honey that should make you appreciate them.

—Bees need to visit 2 million flowers and travel about 50,000 miles to make a pound of honey.

—In its lifetime a bee makes about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey so it takes 36 bees to make a tablespoon of honey.

Honey bees make little flakes of wax about the size of a pin head. It takes 500,000 flakes of wax to make one pound of bees wax.

—Bees pollinate about 90% of our food crops.

In a strong hive there are 70,000 – 100,000 bees in a hive in the summer and their numbers go down in the winter.

—Bees do not hibernate.  They stay inside their hives maintaining a temperature of about 95-96-degrees at the middle of their cluster all winter by beating their wings to stay warm.  Bees rotate from the outside of the cluster to the inside as they get cold while the ones on the inside rotate to the outside, all the while keeping the queen warm.

 

honey in jars

Our 2 hives produced over 8 lbs of harvestable honey this year which is wonderful as we haven’t collected honey in two years. We always left them with enough honey to get through winter which sometimes didn’t leave us any. With all the rain and flowers this year, they were super busy making honey and there was plenty for all. We left lots of bars of honey for them for winter. In our land with many droughts, plenty is not a word we use a lot when it comes to honey production. For other areas in the country, this may not seem like a lot, but for us it makes us appreciate our girls more. Oh yea, all the bees that you see outside on the flowers are girls-go girl power!

Based on the info above, our bees visited 16 million flowers to make that 8 lbs! Unbelievable! So next time you spread that tablespoon of honey on your toast, think about all 36 bees it took to make it and appreciate all the bees for their wonderful gift.

honey final_2015

We’ve put them to bed for the winter last month in October. We’ve put a false wall to make their living area smaller so they stay warmer and straw bales around each of their hives to give them extra insulation from the wind and cold. We hope they make it through winter.

Apple blossoms and bees

Yesterday Elodie took some fantastic pictures of both honeybees and native bees visiting the apple trees blossoms. The blossoms are in full bloom now which are gorgeous and smell heavenly but tomorrow night  (Wednesday) and Thursday night is supposed to get in the high 20’s at night which is a real bummer because the cold will probably knock off the blossoms and that will be the end of our apple season again… Meanwhile let’s enjoy these great pictures while we have them.

I call this the drunken bee-drunk on nectar!

I call this the drunken bee-drunk on nectar!

 

bee getting pollen on apple blossom_blog

Here’s a closeup of a bee

 

bee on apple blossom_blog

This honey bee has some pollen on her legs

 

Native bees visit the blossoms too!

Native bees look very different from honey bees

bee on apple blossom5_blog

Honey bee visits an apple blossom

 

 

 

Dorothy is ok!

DOROTHY closeup APRIL 2015

Here is Dorothy in the middle of a comb being attended to by the other bees.

When we had the micro burst of wind happen last week, we found our queen bee, (promptly named Dorothy because her house was turned upside down), outside the hive. I quickly picked her up on a bar that was tossed to the ground and she seemed ok. Queen bees are very delicate and can get easily injured so we worried that she might not be able to lay eggs even though she appeared fine. Yesterday, Elodie and I inspected the hive and she is truly fine.

DOROTHY_ eggs_closeup

Look! We found eggs which means she is not damaged and the other bees will be capping them soon. They are in the comb-notice they look like tiny grains of rice. We are so relieved because a hive without a working queen is a doomed hive and the hive could not survive as the queen keeps the continuum going with the hive. Since the worker bees only live about 6 weeks, it is the queens only job-laying eggs, making brood so more bees can be born to keep the hive going!

Micro-burst wind throws new bees around

new bee

Yesterday I was planting vegetables in the greenhouse, when this huge micro burst of wind came and almost tore the window shutters off of the greenhouse. Afterwards, I inspected the shutters that were slapping so violently to see if the hinges were damaged. Luckily they were ok. Then I decided to check on the new bees we had just put into a hive on Sunday. The hive got turned almost upside down with all the topbars, bees, honey and sugar-water thrown on the ground behind it. I called Elodie and she came and together we put them back in. I tried to quickly put all of them back in because the queen was already out of her cage and I needed to find out if she was dead or alive. The queen was in that pile on the ground and luckily she was surrounded by thousands of other bees and I found her running around on one of the combs we had supplied. How lucky is that?! She looks fine and I hope she is not damaged or she will not lay any eggs. I’ve named her Dorothy after the Wizard of Oz when she and her house got thrown around in a tornado. I will check in a few days to see that she has started laying eggs, otherwise we will have to get another queen. Keep your fingers crossed that Dorothy is ok…

2014 garden-then and now

long shot of garden

Fall harvest season is full blast right now!

Harvest season is full blast right now. Started out with our Home Grown New Mexico ‘Jam On’ class where we made a Strawberry-balsamic jam and a terrific Blueberry jam.

Himrod grapes-yum!

Then the grapes ripened-ate lots and dried some into raisins for later.

bread n butter pickles

The cucumbers ripened so fast I was making lots of pickles. First I made bread and butter pickles, then cornichon pickles and then dill pickles-crock, refrigerator and canned. Must have about 30 jars+ and now the 5 gallon crock is full where I am fermenting some with salt brine. After I was bored with pickles,  I made some sweet pickle relish which I haven’t tasted yet. Will probably make more of that with the giant cucumbers I miss when looking for little ones. So far I’ve made pickles with Jody, Nick and Elodie.

peach jam and raisins

Then I bought 20 lbs of peaches from the Farmer’s Market and Mernie and I made 3 different peach jams.

9tomato sauce-finished in bags

Now the tomatoes are coming in and I’m starting to make the raw tomato sauce that I freeze in gallon plastic freezer bags. Later in November after I recover from harvesting, I will take them out of the freezer and make different pasta sauces like puttenesca, marinara, penne alla vodka and good ole spaghetti sauce.

 

Potatoes dug out just in the nick of time!

Potatoes dug out just in the nick of time!

Soon I will harvest potatoes too.

2013-part of the fall honey harvest

and we will harvest honey from the bee hive.

Of course then there is all I take to the Farmer’s Market that I harvest every week-tomatoes, eggplants, shishito peppers, beans, tomatillos and sometimes rhubarb, kale and chard when I have the room on the tables. Phew! Busy time of year!

The best part of it all is I haven’t bought any vegetables in the store since early July and I’ll have a full pantry for winter when harvest season is done.

Sunflowers in the fall

sunflowers sunset

I love sunflowers. Every year I plant many varieties because they are so beautiful in the garden. An added bonus is that many bees both native and honeybees love them too. Being a beekeeper I want to help my bees by planting bee friendly plants. Bees like both nectar and pollen from sunflowers so they are a great flower to plant for honeybees and native bees. Individual sunflowers rarely self-pollinate but depend on the bee to help them. In fact bees are the major pollinators of sunflowers. The bees get covered in pollen when they visit a sunflower and then visit other sunflowers pollinating them. Here are some pictures from the garden of my sunflowers. They are particularly beautiful in the fall.

 

Fall Honey Harvest-2013

2013-part of the fall honey harvest

2013-part of the fall honey harvest

This year I was able to harvest (13) 5 oz jars of honey from my hive. This was from the same hive that went on sharp decline in June when I lost my queen (she disappeared) and I had to re-queen for the hive to survive. I had bought a new queen to try to save the hive and the remaining bees in the hive had her lay an egg in a queen cell they built and then raised their own queen and killed the queen I bought. Oh cruel world! But they knew better, as the queen they raised has been an unbelievable egg layer and brought the hive back from the brink of disaster. (see story here)

Which brings me to my harvest. The hive with her leading, came back from 2 bars with barely any bees on them to 17 bars loaded with brood and honey-and all since June which is phenomenal! The rule for beekeepers is to always leave enough honey for the bees to get through winter and then we harvest the rest. In our cold climate in Santa Fe, my teacher, Les Crowder says we should leave 12 bars of brood and honey for them to get through winter but I left 14 bars this year in case we have a long winter, harvesting 3 bars of honey only. If they don’t use it all, I can take the honey after the flowers come in spring (assuming the flowers do come).

honey 2012

This is last year’s honey in 2012. It was lighter than this year’s honey.

This year’s color was very different from last year. Last year we didn’t get a lot of flowers because of the drought and I had to feed them some sugar-water to the end of August to subsidize them and the honey I harvested was very light in color because we only got mainly chamisa flowers in the fall. This year I fed them a little in spring but stopped once the rains came and we had many different flowers all summer than the previous year which resulted in an amber colored honey with slightly stronger taste than last year on my property.

3 honeys 2013

2013-Here is my honey on the left, Sara’s honey in the middle and Bob’s honey on the right

It’s interesting because my friend Sara had light-colored honey this year while another friend, Bob had darker honey-even darker than mine so where you live, even in Santa Fe, can affect what your honey will be like. We like to trade so we can taste each others honey to see how they differ.

My bee hive looks good going into fall!

Bee on Borage-photo courtesy of Elodie Holmes

Bee on a borage flower—Photo courtesy of Elodie Holmes

I went into my one and only topbar hive today to see how the ‘girls’ were doing and am thrilled to report that they have 18 bars-10 full of honey, 1 bar being built and 7 full of brood. They look to be in really good shape for winter. I didn’t see the queen today as I was in a hurry but that was ok as there was lots of capped brood and larva in those 7 bars and lots of activity with the bees coming in and out of the hive carrying in pollen and nectar.

Around my property right now native plants such as Apache plume, chamisa and asters are all blooming and the bees are loving them. Plus my Russian sage, catmint, spireas, lavender, honeysuckles, Datura, borage and my out of control, drought tolerant silver lace vine (all over my fences) is full of little flowers and the bees are loving all of them as well. I’d say they are truly ‘busy as a bee’.

I can’t tell you how happy and grateful I am for this to have happened as this past June I almost lost all of my bees. Nothing is worse or more depressing for a beekeeper than to not have any bees! My queen had disappeared after winter sometime in late spring, and I suddenly discovered I had only 2 bars with a few hundred bees roaming around aimlessly, not knowing what to do without a queen. I had two friends, Bob Z and Les Crowder each give me 1 bar of brood so the hive could survive until I got a new queen acclimated to the remaining bees. The surviving bees had the new queen lay an egg in a couple of queen cells they made to supersede the queen I bought. This process is called ‘supersedure’ which is the bees way of replacing an existing queen in the hive with a new queen without a beekeeper’s interference. They obviously wanted to raise their own queen instead of accepting the one I bought. The queen I bought ‘disappeared’ and a new queen of their choosing emerged and took over. The rest is history. She has been one kick-ass queen to build up her hive so big in such a short time. I just hope no bear will come by this far south but they are always worrisome in the fall and one has been seen not too far away. I’ll keep my fingers crossed it doesn’t come my way.

Bee check up-April 28th

DSC_0071

I went and checked the bees out today. I haven’t gone through the whole hive since last October although I did check them out in March just to see if they had enough honey-they did. Now that the fair is over I actually had some time to catch up on a few things and the bees were definitely on my mind. I wanted to check out the hive to see how they were doing. I saw a fair amount of drone cells, not many worker bee cells, maybe a start of a few queen cells- maybe not but their thinking about it) and a lot of busy bees. As usual I couldn’t find Houdini (the queen). I named her that last year as she is very good at hiding from me! I worry a little since I didn’t see a lot of brood cells so I will be watching closely and will check it out in a week. Perhaps a bunch just hatched as there were so many out and about. I also saw lots of bees at Caleb’s hive (which died in February) and was wondering if mine were swarming but upon inspection, my bees were after his hive’s crystallized honey although there wasn’t a lot. So I cleaned up his whole hive, took off much of the old comb and swept out all the bees that had died. I left the old combs out on top of the hive for the bees to clean out the honey since they seemed so interested. Now that hive is clean and ready if a swarm comes by!

This week I will also put together a new beehive that Elodie’s brother, Mark built for me. Pictures will be forthcoming!

Fall Bee Honey Harvest-2012

honey 2012

It is now almost January but I must share something that is very exciting for a first year beekeeper. I was able to harvest 12 jars of honey last fall from 3.5 bars of honeycomb before I put the bees to bed for winter last October. I still left them 14 bars full of honey and brood to survive the winter which should be more than enough food for them. This was my first year with Italian honeybees. I put them in an empty topbar hive (there is one more established topbar hive with Russian honeybees on the property that I didn’t take any honey from this year). The Italian girls did spectacular, producing many bars of honey for the first year in a rather dismal year for flowers and nectar. Molto Bene! I started them from a 4 lb package of bees I received last April and I did subsidize their food for a bit while they established their hive to give them a good start and I think it helped them kick ass later. That plus having my huge veggie garden for them to visit and I grew many flowers that they like such as borage, zinnias and waves of sunflowers.  I also have developed ‘bee gardens’ in other parts of the property with drought tolerant plants that bees like for nectar. My new motto is  ‘to only plant new perennials that the honeybees like’.

The bees are located on the back half of the property so after walking out to their hives, I opened it up and cut off the bars of comb loaded with honey, (you must leave the combs with brood in the hive for the bees). Then I put the combs into a 5 gallon bucket, put the lid on (the bees will try to get it) and took the combs up to the house. I crushed up the combs with a potato masher and strained the honey about a day and a half through a kitchen colander into a big bowl to get as much of the honey as possible. Then I re-strained the honey with some fine muslin to take out any impurities. Afterwards I poured the honey into the jars which you can see above. The beautiful jars are Bormioli Rocco Quattro Stagioni (wow-that’s quite a mouthful!) and can be bought from Amazon here. How appropriate! Italian jars for Italian bee honey! My good friend Mernie turned me on to them.

My bee teacher, Les Crowder from For the Love of Bees, a bee master whom I studied with this year told us in class that we could take the leftover comb wax which is still sticky with some honey (that won’t drain out) and put it outside and the bees will take any leftover honey from it. So I put the sticky wax on a cookie sheet and left it outside by the bees water source. (If you are new to topbar beekeeping and live in New Mexico, I highly recommend Les Crowder as you will learn so much from him and gain lots of confidence in handling bees.)

wax with bees on it

Within one hour they started visiting it.

wax with bees on it 2

By 2 hours I could barely see the wax-there were so many bees on it.

bee wax

Within 2 days they had cleaned up the wax so thoroughly that it was no longer sticky and they were no longer interested in it as they had taken all the remaining honey from it.

I put the cleaned wax in a plastic baggie until I decide what to do with it (the bees won’t reuse the wax). Since these combs were new this year, the wax is a beautiful whitish-golden color. Older combs turn brown or black as they get older.

Bees-Day 7

I checked the new bees yesterday on day 7 and they have 3.5 combs built already with lots filled with the sugar water nectar I feed them. We are supposed to feed them for (I think a month) to offer support as they establish their hive which is good as we are not into the nectar flow out this way yet.

At first I couldn’t find the queen, even with a bright yellow dot on her (you can get the queen marked for easier ID). I mean how hard could this be on only 3 combs but I couldn’t see her. It took me 3 times of looking at the combs (both sides) before I finally spotted her. For a moment I thought she was gone, died or left but no finally there she was. They were hiding her!