April 20, 2015

Hiving Success! (But I Wish I'd Gotten Those Bee Gloves)

Honeybee pickup was Saturday, although there was some question as to whether the rain would cause a postponement. It poured all Friday night but Saturday brought clearing skies and sunshine - perfect!

3-pound package of Italian honeybees. They are clustered
around the syrup can & queen cage at the top of the box.

I originally planned to bring the package inside on the back porch temporarily, but changed that to the bench outside the porch door. That was because the bee pick-up area had bees flying everywhere and the packages had dozens of loose bees on them, including the package the gentleman handed me. All the way home I could hear busy buzzing in the back of my jeep. After I got them unloaded, I lightly sprayed the package screens with sugar syrup mixed with a touch of Honey-B-Healthy. By the time I came back out with my camera, all was quiet as the bees feasted.

The exciting moment came during the installation process after I removed the sugar syrup can. I pulled on the attached shipping strap to which the queen cage was supposed to be attached. No queen cage! Now what. I was pretty sure it was on the bottom of the package under a pile of bees. I quickly called the bee folks who told me to dump them into the hive and try to catch the cage as it fell out. Just what I wanted to hear, especially since bee gloves are still on my to-get list.

I procrastinated getting bee gloves because I hadn't planned to use them for this procedure, although I know they're handy for certain situations. It appeared I had one of those certain situations. I grabbed Dan's welding gloves which are way too big and therefore awkward, but I managed to catch the queen cage and proceed as I was supposed to.

With a Warré hive the bees are dumped into the top
box. The queen cage has already been placed on the
top bars of the bottom box. The package is leaned by
the hive entrance for whatever doesn't get shaken out

The next morning (yesterday, Sunday) it was raining again. Less bees were flying but some were on the outside of the hive. I checked my feeder and added more sugar/HBH syrup. Lots of bees were busy feeding which made me happy. The package box was empty so I took that away. The weather is supposed to clear in a day or so and I'll check the queen cage then. I'm fairly certain she's free because I followed the advice to poke a small starter hole in the candy.

Some of you have asked about the placement of our hive. I tried to choose a spot which would have a decent amount of summer shade, plus be protected from bitter winter wind. Below is a detail from our 2015 Master Plan.

Detail of our current Master Plan including bee garden and more.
Things we've added are in blue. The blue lines indicate fencing.

The red dot is where Honeysuckle Hive is located. On the full version of the plan that side yard is named "Bird Garden." As you can see, we have renamed it "Bee Garden" because I believe it will accommodate several more hives. What's nice is that I can see the hive from my kitchen window (near the blue dot which is one of our rainwater collection tanks).

So far so good! I still have a lot to learn, but I'm looking forward to learning it. While I'm at it, I think I'll get a couple pairs of bee gloves. :)

April 18, 2015

Essential Oils and Feeding Bees

Not too long ago I was reading Kaat's post at Robin Hill Gardens about making candy boards for her honeybees. I saw she mentioned adding Honey-B-Healthy to the mix. I had no clue as to what that was and had to do some research.

Honey-B-Healthy (HBH) is a feeding stimulant which is added to bee feed as a supplement. It was developed at West Virginia University from research done by J. W. Amrine and R. Noel, Jr., on the use of essential oils (EOs) for controlling honeybee mites. It has been developed into a product for sale, but also(!) I happened across a recipe for it at The Wasatch Beekeepers Association website. The recipe would enable me to customize it a bit, so I decided to buy the essential oils and make my own.

The recipe calls for 1 cup of water, 1 cup of honey or 1:1 sugar
syrup, I capful of liquid lecithin, 1/2 ounce each of spearmint,
lemongrass, & lavender essential oils, plus 1 drop hand dish liquid.

The key ingredients to HBH are spearmint or wintergreen essential oil and lemon grass essential oil. Researchers found the spearmint and wintergreen EOs to be especially helpful in treatment of mites, however, the bees themselves didn't care for it. The lemon grass was especially appealing to them, so it became the other standard ingredient for HBH. The lavender essential oil is also offensive to Varroa mites, so it was an easy addition. Because water (in the sugar syrup) and oil don't naturally mix, lecithin and drop of liquid dish detergent are added as emulsifiers.

Dosage is 1 - 2 teaspoons HBH to 1 quart of syrup. In one of his videos, Chris at The Warré Store recommends 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, with 1 tablespoon HBH per quart for the initial feedings after installation. That brings us to my new feeder (made by Chris) which is said hold up to a gallon of sugar syrup.

Warré hive top feeder. It is placed on top of the top hive box (more here).
The bees come up beeways on the sides. Mesh keeps them in the bee area.

If you read the claims for Honey-B-Healthy, you'd think it's really the bee's knees: helps control Varroa mites, helps prevent absconding (which is where the bees, for whatever reason, decide they don't like their new hive and simply leave), faster drawing out of comb, helps prevent rejection of a new queen, helps calm the bees, and helps prevent stinging because the lemongrass essential oil contains some of the same natural pheromones that bees use to attract workers. The only negative is that it promotes robbing because the bees love it so much. The only precaution I could find is that EOs evaporate fairly quickly and so keep them and the HBH tightly covered until time to use.

Bee pickup is today if it isn't rained out, so I will know shortly whether or not HBH lives up to its claims. I'm hoping I won't need to feed for long because things are blooming around here. My honeybees will have missed all the early spring blooming, such as the fruit trees, but things like clover, honeysuckle, and the roses have yet to bloom. Then there will be the gardens. I'm also working on lists of new things to plant because I definitely want happy honeybees.

Results of Research: Using Essential Oils for Honey Bee Mite Control
Essential oils used to control mites in honeybees (list of) WVU
Honey-B-Healthy at West Virginia University
Honey Bee Healthy Recipe at The Wasatch Beekeepers Association
Organic Treatments at Wolf Creek Apiaries
Benefits of HBH and where to buy

April 16, 2015

Beehive: Painting and Naming

Warré hives are not usually painted. I suppose no paint goes with the natural in natural beekeeping. But our humidity is such that our outbuildings all grow a patina of green mold wherever they remain in the shade. For the service life of the hive, I decided to paint it.

I started with white barn paint because we had a partial can in the carport.

At one time it was standard to paint beehives white. I read that was because white implied cleanliness in handling a food product. Nowadays any color goes and if you do an internet search for images of painted beehives you're in for an eye candy treat. Even though I plan to keep my hive out of our scorching southern sun as much as possible, I decided to start with white as a base color because of our summer heat.

The Honeysuckle Hive
It was the naming that gave me a theme for painting. It's funny because I'm not one to name things. I've never named a car or bicycle, our homestead doesn't have a name, and neither do any of our chickens. Heck, I'm usually slow to name our goats. But for some reason I had no trouble naming our beehive. I got the idea after reading a professional beekeeper discuss his commercial hives. They were named according to location and number, and that made sense to me. Since I'm hoping to eventually have several hives, naming them seemed like a good idea. Our first beehive will be Honeysuckle and it turned out better than I thought.

I had hoped to have set it up outside by now, but it's been pouring rain. Hopefully that will subside soon because bee arrival day is imminent.

April 14, 2015

Rainy Day Progress on the Bay Window

There is so much to do outside but the weather must cooperate to do it! Thankfully we've had house projects for the recent rainy days. Foremost on the list was trimming out the interior of the bay window.

Here it is before we put in the window seat (photos and details on that here.)

Bay window interior before.

And here it is now -

Trimmed out but unpainted. The longer top moulding will accommodate
the curtain rod. The walls are cement board and harder to nail into.

A couple of close-ups...

Ceiling before. The original ceiling is actually the porch ceiling.

Ceiling after. Dan had a couple scraps of drywall for the alcove ceiling.

He used the same moulding for finishing both the seat & ceiling.

The interior angles were a bit tricky. Dan finally came
up with a pillar look made from chair rail moulding.

All trim in place

The next steps will be to fill any cracks with painters putty and then paint. Once that's done I can put up a window treatment and we can get our living room back in order!

Hopefully we'll get clear weather for outside work next. If not, we'll resume working on the front porch. As much as I'd rather be planting, it will be nice to get that part of the house done too.

April 12, 2015

Getting Ready For My Bees

I've been amazed at the interest there has been in my "My First Beehive" post. I shouldn't be, really, because honeybees are a wonderful addition to any farm, garden, or homestead. I promised more information, so here are some details on preparations for my Warré hive.

Preparing the quilt

The quilt is placed on top of the hive boxes and is said to provide insulation. The quilt box consists of a 300mm x 300mm box and piece of cloth, commonly burlap (hessian).

The pieces of the quilt

The burlap is sized to stiffen it and then fastened to the bottom of the box.

Sizing was made of flour, water, and laundry starch. Recipe here. It
is said to help prevent the bees from chewing holes through the cloth.

I painted it on and let it dry in the sun until stiff.

Since I stiffened the burlap so well, no stretching was necessary.

The quilt box is filled with absorbent material such as straw,
wood shavings, dried leaves, or shredded paper. I read that
cedar shavings help deter ants, so that's what I'm using. 

An interesting alternative for the quilt can be found at the Milkwood blog, "Quilt box design mod for the Warré hives".

Preparing the top bars

In a traditional top bar hive, the bees draw their own comb from bars at the top of the hive boxes. Because they have the annoying habit of building their comb at angles rather than straight across the bars, the top bars are painted with a thin strip of melted beeswax as sort of a "start comb here" signal to the bees.

Kind of hard to see since the wax is the same color as the wood.

It is possible to get frames or modified frames for Warré hive, but I just started with the basic hive.

Installing the top bars

3/4 inch brads help hold the top bars in place. The spacer
(right) helps get the bars at the natural bee acceptable spacing.

Some Warré beekeepers prefer to attach the bars to the box, but my top bars came with notched ends. We used evenly spaced brads, setting each top bar over them. Once the first set of brads was measured and in place, the spacer made a quick job of getting the rest in proper placement.

Observation Hive Box

This did not come with my kit nor did I initially think about getting one.

A piece of plexiglass completes the observation window.

However, five boxes are recommended to have on hand, but the kit came with only four. While I contemplated that bit of advice, I got some bad news about my honeybee order.

I originally ordered my bees from BeeWeaver Apiaries in Texas. They raise naturally resistant, chemical free bees and that appealed to me tremendously. I bit the bullet and ordered a package. My delivery date was scheduled for April 20. I had a near panic attack when I received an email from them, advising me that there were problems: UPS had suddenly changed their policies so that shipping bees with syrup was no longer permissible. The bees would have to be shipped with solid food. Unfortunately UPS did not give BeeWeaver enough time to make new shipping boxes, so I had a choice of cancelling my order or risking USPS (known to be slower with such deliveries). I opted to receive a refund, but it left me frantically trying to find bees.

Happily the local beekeeping group still had packages available. Neither resistant nor chemical free, they are considered "hygenic" bees because of their tendency to monitor the brood comb and remove dead, diseased, or infested larvae and pupae.  At any rate, they were considerably cheaper, and would only require my picking up at a designated location rather than worrying about UPS or the mail.  I used the extra money from the refund to purchase the observation box and a top feeder.

I'll show you the feeder in an upcoming post. The nice thing about the observation window is that it's another way to check on the bees without opening the hive, plus it gives me an extra box for years of good honey flow.

Last but not least -


If you are interested in Warré beekeeping, I would recommend the following resources for more information.


Online resources: