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.)
Within one hour they started visiting it.
By 2 hours I could barely see the wax-there were so many bees on it.
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.
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!
So what are bees doing in a gardening blog? Why am I writing about them? Well, bees and gardens go hand in hand. Without bees we wouldn’t have our crops. They pollinate over 90% of all food crops in the world. So please bear (oh oh, bad word for bees) with me while I get another hive established on the property. I’ve learned so much from Caleb and his hive this past year and I’m very excited to get my own. I hope this year is better for the bees than last year. We need more rain this summer.
Wednesday we received our bees and put them in their new diggs (I mean home—I mean hive). Caleb came over early (7am) and realized the stand for the hive was too tall for me (he’s like 6′ 4″ and I’m 5′ 6″) and needed to be cut down so off he went back to his shop to work on it. Meanwhile the bees were delivered to our shop, Liquid Light Glass, (all quarter million of them!) and were surprisingly quiet. I think they liked the warm ‘hot shop’ after being in a cold truck. First we called everyone on our list to make sure they would get picked up that day. Then Caleb dropped off the stand and I went back to the ranch with the stand and the bees. I set up and leveled the stand and hive (bees like their homes on level ground, just like us) while the bees buzzed crankily in their little shipping shoebox’ box (they did not like the ride on the dirt road). So I let them calm down before taking them over to their new topbar hive. We decided to put them in later in the day so they would have overnite to adjust to their new diggs. Caleb came out to make sure I did it correctly and Elodie took pictures of the ‘bee installation’. Amazing success and no one got stung!
Tomorrow the bees are coming! That means about 240,000 bees will be arriving at the studio! Hopefully they will arrive around 9am INTACT. Of course they are not all mine but 15 total orders are on my order and Mike Masse has an extra 5 packages in his order. Honeybee genetics where we all bought them has ganged all the packages together and has used our studio address to deliver them to. The new owners of these bees will be coming and picking up their bees throughout the day. I have one package out of the 15. Each package weighs 4 lbs and there is about 3000 bees per pound so each package has about 12,000 bees to help all us budding or established beekeepers get our hives started. Caleb is coming out with my hive and stand at 7 am to place it on our predetermined site and then we will go to the studio to pick up the beezzzz to pick them up and then back out to the property to place them in their new home. Can’t wait!!
Sunday I took my first official bee class (Intro to beekeeping) with Les Crowder. Mind you I’ve learned a lot in the past year with Caleb and his bees but I want to get more information and experience. Les is a professional top bar beekeeper with 30 years experience who also instructs. We all got to handle the bars with bees on them, find the queen and drones, pet the bees, and even divided a hive that was getting ready to swarm. The class was fantastic! Can’t wait till the next class: Spring Hive Maintenance. The class couldn’t have come too soon- tomorrow the bees come!
Queen of the Sun movie poster
Fact: Of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees. Without them, we would soon starve. We need to be educated and take care to not poison bees with pesticides and herbicides. We need to protect the bees.
Just saw ‘Queen of the Sun’, a movie about bees and their plight and our plight in the world-Excellent movie. The movie won 8 awards at film festivals. Since I now have a bee hive on the property, I want to take care of them and their beekeeper, Caleb is going to teach me through the year. In return I hope they pollinate everything! Bees and gardening go hand in hand.
Along the same lines, believe it or not, I just saw an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ called ‘The Burns and the Bees’ that was addressing the bees problems and it was great! It was done in 2008. The bees are getting some press-even in a cartoon. Hope as humankind gets educated, the bees make a comeback!
In the meantime, grow some flowers and especially grow some sunflowers this year for any bees that may visit your garden. Sunflowers are not only beautiful to look at but the bees like them as well. Also grow a succession of flowering plants through the whole growing season such as Russian Sage, Lavender, Asters, Black-Eyed Susan, Penstemon, Zinnias and Agastaches. These are a few of many flowering plants they love. You want lots of vegetables this year? Well, then help the bees find your vegetables by planting some flowers in your garden that they like. Also look at what pesticides and herbicides affect bee populations and avoid them.