2017: The Year We (Tom) Unexpectedly Became Beekeepers
We have been discussing beekeeping for a couple of years now. We both agreed we need classes and possibly mentor. Which everyone recommends you do. Mentors can help you look for and identify any problems, answer questions and calm your worries? We have taken several ‘seminars, webinars and read many books, but still feel unprepared. We (mostly Marie) decided we needed a comprehensive class before we even get a hive tool.
As we are both veterans, we are involved with Farm Veterans Coalition (FVC). We have found many helpful programs for our farm through FVC. We found out about a summer long program afford by Heroes to Hives (H2H). This is a class afford by a couple of veterans through the FVC to veterans. This is a hands on and class room program. Just what we wanted. We applied, but did not get in and were told try again next year. We were very disappointed. We saw this as another opportunity to help our farm dream along.
Long story short, one of the cohorts had to drop out and Tom was asked if he was still interested. YES!!!! Next class is in 2 days, bee conference is that weekend and we need to get Tom basic equipment. He already missed the first class, but the instructor said being we had taken his three part seminar last summer he was actually ahead of everyone else. (sigh of relief)
We found out certain dealers offer veterans discounts (Thank you). We get Tom a few basics he will need for class. Things like hat and veil, hive tool, etc. But no hives or bees, really want to take this class first, so next year.
On 2 April H2H had an equipment build, this is where they learn how to build their own hives, frames, etc. At this build a gentleman came in with hives. He had heard that H2H was all veterans and wanted to help them. Asking if anyone wanted/needed hives. He had a truck full of hives. As we did not want to start until next year we did not jump, after everyone got what they wanted he asked us (Marie had to be convinced it was ok).
We now have a hives and some equipment but no bees. Most bees are ordered the fall before or at the latest March. Everyone we asked did not have any left for sale. (sigh) We keep looking and keep adding to our equipment and boxes. The one thing they always tell new beekeepers, no matter how many boxes you have you always need more, they are right.
Through a series of unfortunate events we found someone with bees. So maybe not so unfortunate. On the 20 May we picked up a package of bees. Bring them home and dump them into the new hives, hoping they make this their new home
We were very nervous (still are) about them. Our fears included the queen’s flight out to Drone Hill. So much can happen to her and she not make it back. What if they don’t like the hive boxes and leave? Critters (two legged, four legged and winged) Can get after the hive. Yes bees do have their own defenses but still…….
The past week have been dreary and rainy. We feed (sugar water) them three times. Refilling their feeder each time. To be fair we did not set the feeder correctly the first time and the food ran out the bottom.
Week 1: Checked the hive found brood, honey, comb, no visual queen but fresh brood. Very docile
Next day diatomaceous earth, bees aggressive, a quick call to our mentors and reassured just the weather. Apparently they can have a bad day too.
Week 8: We did a mite check. It was a little late. Should have been done in week four or five. This can be done in several different ways. We chose the one and only way that does not kill the bees.
You may have noticed all the fabulous colors. I was told as long as they were not black all is good. So insteasd of the tired primer white or yellow I said pretty. So I paint them with a paint that is a pretty color and primer in one and then decotor them. You can see them no matter where they are. Nice and bright. As we get more we will have more colors. I will make sure of it.
Well it has been a while. Our cats danced across the key board in the middle of the night and deleted several files. Including this one. Luckily I sent a copy to an Aunt and was able to retive it. My cell phone with all the pictures also went down. So many pictures are inaccessible. Sigh. Still trying to recover pictures and files.
The girls are doing great. We have stoped feeding. Checked for mites again, (our count is still zero). We have added two more boxes. We doubt we will harvest honey this year. It is their first year and we would rather they keep it to eat through the winter. But if they keep going like this we may change our mind.
The boxes are also called supers
Well I am sorry, I have not kept up with documenting things weekly. It has been very busy around here. Our weekly classes, daughter getting married, and other life happenings took place. Luckily we keep notes.
We have checked several more times for mites, the last two times we checked our count was four. We did a “treatment” on them with a product called Mite Away Quick Strips. Mite Away Quick Strips are a Formic Acid polysaccharide gel strip which, when placed in the brood chamber of a honey bee hive, is an organic miticide that kills the Varroa mite where it reproduces under the brood cap. 2 strips per hive. We did half treatment (only one strip). Our count is considered very low, we wanted to get rid of a
few before winter hit.
We want to try to do some pollen collection. Our problem is that we cannot find affordable pollen collector for 8 frame hives. We also wanted one easily to open and close and small enough that we did not need to remove their waterer. As we do not want to collect pollen every day, we need it easy to open or close. So we started to build our own. This took several attempt before we could get it right. Yes the fluorescent orange paint is awful. It is only a proto type.
A few more tweaks and all will be great. One of those tweaks is a different color. Another is a more even build. We have decided this will be put on strong hives only and early spring but the gate will be closed only one or two days a week and only during high pollen flows. They need some pollen to make it through the winter. We will be using it to make pollen patties (a winter food for them) and yes there is a market for this as well.
After talking to our mentor and showing him pictures of our hive. He said we needed to harvest some of our honey.
He recommended two boxes. Making sure all supers left on the hive were full. He told us the ratio of honey, pollen and brood to leave. looking at our schedule we choose the weekend of the 14 October.
Here Tom is scraping the honey out of the frames
We need to get these girls ready for the winter. We had started to feed them again with a 2:1 sugar water mix once we got a hard frost. The frost meant there was no longer any flowers to get nectar or pollen from. So we helped them out a bit.
As our weather got colder and colder we had to do other things to help them. The sugar water was freezing which made it so they could not use it. So we add a candy board
The thin pink box at the top is our home made candy board. This hold the equivalent of a ten pound sugar cube. Which is eight of the little loafs. We used sugar, Honey-B-Healthy (a multivitamin for bees) and honey (Yes we used their honey). Let it set to dry and put it on the candy board.
You may also notice we add a mouse excluder for the winter as well
Come mid-February we will add pollen patties. This will ensure they have the protein they need for the brood the queen will being laying right about then.
Now is the scariest part of this adventure. Yes we have pampered and spoiled them with all the care we could do. We have done all we can to prepare them for the winter. They could still die, and there is nothing we can do to help them. Come late February early March we will know if the made it through the winter or not.
If all goes well we will try to split this hive (make into two hives) and add a couple new hives. This hive being an established hive we should get more honey out of it. We are expecting 75 or more pounds. And the new hives will be little to nothing from them. First year is all about establishing them and making them a strong hives, not about the honey.
We are going to try adding a shallow box or two to get cut comb. We have talked about trying to make some creamed honey, and make some lip balm and paw wax. This is all a maybe. Sorry we have to wait and see. Hopefully in a year or two we will be able to say exactly what we will have and not have.
One thing we are working on is a hive sponsorship program. We are still working on the details. It would be where you help us with cost of the setup of a hive for X amount of dollars. You get a share (thinking half) of the honey your hive produces for three year. This could mean you get 200 pounds or more of honey. Only one sponsorship per hive, you share the risk (yes your hive could die). We have a five page document worked up, and still working on. If you are interest please let us know.
We are exploring many product options and production options. Our bees and honey products are certified as Homegrown by Heroes as of 21 November 2017. We enjoyed our Year We Unexpectedly Became Beekeepers so much we are looking forward to continuing and expanding.
We would like to thank everyone that helped us make it through this year,
Adam Ingrao: One of the Heroes to Hives instructor and our mentor
Megan Milbrath: One of the Heroes to Hives instructors
Lacey Ingrao: Helped make the Heroes to Hives program work
Toby Sewell: J&T Beekeepers, Where we were able to get our bees from
Anonymous person that gave us our first hive boxes, Think his name was Steve
Sorry abbot Side view pictures, This site would not let me rotate
After a winter storm we go out to check on the girls, Make sure they are still upright and BUZZING.
The feeder and the girls are eating from it
Here they are checking us out. After feeding them, they come to the top to check things out,
Proof of concept. We did get a small amount of pollen. Took the girls a couple of hours to get this. But it works
Once the cheese cloth was full he squeezed the honey from the wax. You can see the sieve we used to hold the cheese cloth in place
If you look close you can see bees of different coloring
Some are “Blonds”
Some are “Brunetts”
Some are “Redheads” I did not see any redheads in this picture. We do have a few.
Here is a picture with the reducer gone. Even though they are still establishing themselves it is getting hot and air flow is more important for survival
This not an eyes. This is a mite we saw on a bee larvae. It was in between supers. So as we took the hive apart we unknowingly broke it open. But what a great picture.
This frame is full of capped honey
Here is what some of our honey looks like.
One of our girls working a sunflower
Tom very nervously dumped the package into our new hives.
The purple ones are the gift. Nicely painted by Marie. Whose only instructions were Bees can’t see black so no black.
Here it is on the hive the gate is up. The girls were confused as to this new thing and have problems crossing the gate when it was closed
The diatomaceous earth helps keep pest such as small hive beetle out of the hive with out hurting the bees.
Step5: Now we really upset the bees. In a white bucket shake out the sugar. The mites will fall off out into the bucket. Again we shake vigorously for 2 minutes. Then release the sugar coated bees back into the hive. They are unharmed but mad. They become very popular in the hive because the sugar. Our count was Zero.
Sorry abbot Side view picture, This site would not let me rotate
Yes they were brought home in the car. A slightly nervous ride with the AC on. For their comfort not ours
She is full of pollen, bringing it back to the hive
Step 3: Gently roll the jar for about 2 minutes or so. This loosen the grip the mites have knocking them off. It also upset the bees in the jar
An Organic Farm
This frame is full of brood, the future to the hive
In their new home. So far still there
Brunhylda, our queen. This frame is “empty”
A package of bees is three pounds of bees and a queen. You ask how many bees is in three pounds, about three thousand.
This is the start of next year hives.
They are fanning the hive. When we open the hive the smell weakens. The fanning helps strengthen it so it smells like home again.
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A new baby bee,
Sorry so blurry was so excitesd to see this
Here is a couple of pictures with the gate closed and in one, one of the girls is not sure what to do next
Sorry abbot Side view picture, This site would not let me rotate
This frame is mostly brood
When we count boxes we start at the bottom.
Box 1 (bottum purple) is honey and some brood
Box 2 amd 3 are brood and some honey
Box 4-5 is all honey
Box 6 fresh. Just put it on
Sorry abbot Side view picture, This site would not let me rotate
Here is Tom and our mentor Adam doing some volunteer work at the honey festival in Frankenmuth, MI. They were demonstrating mite checks. This was a very good weekend.
We are supposed to let the honey set for a day or two after extraction. This helps get rid of the air that got into it during the process. We started to do just that. Our pail sat for about 8 hours when we noticed a leak near the gate area. We quickly transferred the honey into canning jars.
Step 2: Add about 2 table spoons of powdered sugar. The lid has a mesh top so you can add this through the lid
Waiting for the bees, Set up the night before pick up.
Step 1: You need a cup of bees. Tom scoops up about a cup of nurse bees. Nurse bees are young bees unable to fly. We have found a better way of doing this step.
Step 4: Let the jar rest for about 2 minutes. This allows more of the mites to fall off
So we took the hive apart and sorted and re- arranged the frames in the supers appropriately. Keeping brood frames in the same place. Dispersing the pollen throughout the hive and filling the rest with honey frames.
We were so excited to do this. Of course the weekend we did this is was raining. The girls were not happy and we made them angrier. They stung Tom at least seven time and me once. The only time I was stung all year. Totaling Tom’s stings to about 20.
We took the two supers up to the house. As we were not prepared to harvest honey this year it was all done by hand. We had to get a food grade pail and add a “gate”. We decided to make our honey, raw honey at the beginning of the year. Our definition of raw is no heat. We run it through cheese cloth to remove wax and other particles (like dead bees) but there is no heat involved. We got approximately twenty four pounds honey.
Door reducer in place, Helps keep predators out while they establish themselves
In this picture you can see the waterer. Yes two very different things. Just plain water here
The Happy Bee Keeper
Here we set up the boxes with the “wet frames: in them. As we scraped as much honey out of them as we could we set up a “robber hive” This is where we put the frames that are no considered wet out for bees and other critters (hopefully more bees then others) come and harvest the honey and wax we could not remove.
Two frames full of comb and honey, the white stuff is capped honey
One more thing before the winter hits us full force.
We wrapped the hive in tar paper. This helps keep the hive a bit warmer and keeps some of the wind out of the hive.
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