Package Pickup 2013

We traveled to Northern California to pick up 2013 packages. Here we are, back in Utah and unloading. About half of our packages were sold as such and half will be turned into nucs and then sold.  

All who ordered picked up their packages successfully. This is a feat in itself with order changes, date changes from the bee breeder, equipment pickup, major road construction, multiple pickup locations, and hundreds of (fabulous) customers. Customers came from Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Idaho. We had a very low bee mortality rate, which means the driver did a great job trucking the bees! Bees were in great shape to get started. 

The office staff

I love this rose beekeeping veil! So pretty! Stan got it when he was over in Russia.

Stan answering a few last-minute beekeeping questions. This just looks like great beekeeping talk. 

A friendly insect


How to mix sugar syrup (and a little on pollen patties)

One-Ton tote of sucrose (table sugar) 

After purchasing a new package, you will probably need to feed it until nectar flow is strong. Leftover honey is the best bee food, and second choice is sugar syrup. Bees prefer sucrose (table sugar) to other sugars. You will probably use about 20-25 pounds of sugar per hive in the spring. 

Light Syrup (1:1). Use to feed bees in the SPRING. 
1/2 gallon sugar
1/2 gallon hot water.
Mix together and pour into feeder. It doesn’t have to be exact.
Feed bees in the spring until there is a steady nectar flow, they have drawn comb in most of the frames in the bottom box, and they have two full frames of honey. In 2012 in Utah, this never happened, and beekeepers had to feed bees the entire summer, due to a drought. 

Plan on feeding pollen substitute as your package gets started as well. Purchase pollen substitute commercially-made in the form of patties or powder. Mix the powder according to package directions so that it is about the consistency of cookie dough.  

Heavy Syrup (2:1). Use to feed bees in EARLY FALL. 
1 gallon sugar
1/2 gallon hot/boiling water, or enough to fill the container.
Mix together and add to feeder. It doesn’t have to be exact. 

Your hive should be about 100 pounds, gross weight, going into winter. This includes the lid, bottom board, frames, bees, and 2 deep boxes. If bees do not have adequate honey stores, feed heavy syrup to make sure there is enough honey to make it through the winter. 

Do I feed pollen in the fall? 
Pollen is often stored under honey in the hive, and bees probably will have more than you think. Also, extra pollen stimulates brood-rearing, which bees need to slow down for winter. However, if you are trying to “brood up” for almond pollination, you may want to feed pollen to encourage brood-rearing. It depends on your intentions for bees in the early spring.

Inside the sugar tote

Note about the ratios for the chemist out there: 
Sometimes people get confused about if they should use weight or volume measurements when mixing sugar syrup. We weighed a cup of granulated sugar and a cup of water. They both weighed 8 oz. This means ounces by weight and ounces by volume can be interchange on both water and granulated sugar. 

We use division board feeder trays that replace a frame in the hive. We mix the sugar syrup then pour it into a garden watering can. The watering can is useful to pour sugar syrup into the feeder tray. 


What should I focus on as a beginning beekeeper?

Honeybee on parsnip flowers

With an overwhelming amount of beekeeping information out there, what should I focus on during my first year of beekeeping? 

The first year of beekeeping needs to be spent on the “basics” of bee management. After you have a bit of experience, you can start experimenting with different management practices, queen breeds, etc. For now, here are a couple things to focus on. 

  • Learn the life cycle of your colony. This will be different for each beekeeper and location. Get to know your hive. Learn about bee biology and notice eggs, larvae, and pupae in your hive. Notice amounts of propolis and where they put it. Determine when the queen lays peak numbers of drones and workers. Notice how attendant bees act around the queen to help you spot her. Learn the time of day to bees start working at various times of year. Note about how long it takes before you add another box. Note how long it takes bees to draw out comb. Etc.
  • Learn the timing of nectar flow in your area. What are the first flowers to come out in the spring? What are the last things in bloom during dry August? When do the fruit trees in your area bloom? How long does the bloom last? Which other flowers attract bees? Do you see bees on roadside flowers? Are there bees in your vegetable garden? Does honey taste different at different times of year? Etc.

Here is a partial list of important blossoms to honeybees in Utah, in semi-order of appearance. 

Willow, Oak, Dandelion (one of the most important spring flowers to bees), fruit trees, birdsfoot trefoil, clovers, vetch, sumac, alfalfa, linden trees (basswood), sunflower and other asters, goldenrod, rabbitbrush. The main flow of nectar will be from late June to early August. 

Honeybee on aster. Photo from Grandpa Arthur Andersen's collection around 1966.


What do I do when I check on my bees?

Photo of AEVAC Educational posters. Not the old-school aluminum paint on the box. 

You have installed a package into the hive, and checked it about a week later to make sure the queen is doing well. Now it is time to make regular inspections, about every 7-10 days through the summer. 

Remember that it will take about 21 days for new bees to emerge. The original worker bees in the package will dwindle in number during this time. Look for eggs and brood in various stages of development. Make sure the worker bees have enough pollen and nectar to feed all those hungry mouths. 

Honeybee stages of development. Photo is of AEVAC educational poster.

Continue feeding bees until there is a steady nectar flow, they have drawn comb in most of the frames in the bottom box, and they have two full frames of honey. 

Once bees have filled 8 of the 10 frames and are starting to work on the outer-most frames, add a second deep box. This will take about 4-6 weeks. 

To add the second box, remove the lid from the colony, puff a bit of smoke across the tops of the frames, and remove one full frame. Replace it with a frame of foundation. Place the full frame in the second box, along with 9 frames of foundation. This will prime the bees to build in the second box. Place the second box on top of the first and then the lid on top. Bees should be free to move between boxes. This second box a main part of the brood chamber. 

Which frame you choose for priming depends on the weather and progression of the hive. If it is hot, you can use a frame from the middle of the brood chamber. This is ideal, especially if the hive is very crowded. If it is still cool at night, use a frame of honey (maybe 3rd from the end) to prime the bees into the second box. 

Add the 3rd box when bees are working on the outer two frames on the second box. This will take 8-10 weeks. Repeat the priming process. On our hives, we use only deep boxes as supers and brood chamber boxes. We do not use a queen excluder. An old saying goes, “A queen excluder is a honey excluder.” However, if you are using a queen excluder, it should go between the 2nd and 3rd boxes. 

Note: If you are starting from drawn comb rather than foundation, bees will fill frames in one box about 2 weeks faster. 

Add additional supers as needed during nectar flow. Some beekeepers continue to stack supers on the hive to harvest all of the honey in the fall. Others let one super fill up, remove it, extract honey, and replace it. For this method, it is nice to have an extra super handy. 

Three rooftop hives, stacked 4, 6, and 6 boxes high. 
See the beekeeper adding a fourth super to the stack of boxes. He has removed the lid, and is adding the box to the top. He then will replace the lid. 

Here is another 1966 photo of Grandpa Arthur Andersen checking bees inside the chicken coop. I can't get enough of these awesome photos!

Another bee yard, which we manage 2 or 3 boxes tall. When supers are full, we replace them with an empty super, put them on the truck, and take them home to extract. 


What should I do one week after installing my honeybee package?

About a week (4-7 days) after installing the package, you will want to check to see if the queen has been accepted. 

First, light the fuel inside your smoker. We use old burlap bags or cotton denim as smoker fuel. The smoker should be producing cool smoke, and no flames should be coming out of the nozzle. Use caution starting fires in dry fields. 

Use the hive tool to pry off the lid. Puff a small amount of smoke across the top bars of the frames. You should see bees go down between the frames. 

Grandpa Arthur Andersen keeping bees at 99 years old. Using the smoker.

Carefully remove a frame from the middle of the cluster. Look in the cells of the drawn comb to check for eggs. Eggs are long, thin, round, and white.  In the photo below, almost every cell has an egg. Sometimes they are tricky to see because the skinny end will be poking up toward the top of the cell. (It's like looking at a pencil eraser head on.)

If you need to remove bees from the frame to see eggs more clearly, hold the ears of the frame, smartly rap the bottom bar onto the hive box to jar the bees from the frame into the hive. (Some people use a bee brush, but we think it just makes the bees mad.) 

Keep feeding bees light syrup until there is a steady nectar flow, they have drawn comb in most of the frames in the bottom box, and they have two full frames of honey. You will probably use about 20-25 pounds of sugar per hive. 

If syrup smells  off (fermented), rinse out the feeder and replace with new syrup. 


What should I do the day after installing a package?

The day after installing your package, 24 hours later to be exact, check to make sure bees are getting some sugar syrup by looking at the level in the feeder and compare with yesterday. Disturb the bees as little as possible. 

Also, look to make sure bees are clustering in the middle of the box. If they are clustered to one side, try to center the cluster. You can remove some empty frames, and then gently slide the clustering frames to the middle and place the empties back in their place. 

Your hive stack should include, from the ground up, a hive stand or pallet, the bottom board, the hive body box with 10 frames, and the lid. 

Photo from Grandpa Andersen's files. Taken around 1966.

(Source: Beekeeping in Northern Climates, by Furgala, Spivak, & Reuter, p 33)


Recommended Beekeeping Manual

I recently came across a new (to me) beekeeping manual put out by the University of Minnesota Extension Bee Lab. I am a long time admirer of Dr. Marla Spivak and her work on hygienic bees. I was delighted to find a beginning beekeeping manual put out by her lab and associates, Dr. Basil Furgala, and Mr. Gary S. Reuter. 

Here it is: Beekeeping in Northern Climates. It is available, along with Honey Bee Diseases and Pests from the University of Minnesota Bookstore online. Both books together were around $20, after shipping. For us, it is rare to find a manual that matches our ideas about beekeeping so closely. There are some differences in wintering bees in Minnesota compared with Utah, but otherwise, it is spot on.

One of my favorite features is the plant list with bloom times. It is quite similar to Utah.

In Honeybee Diseases and Pests, I enjoyed the full color photo insert in the middle of the book. It is very illustrative of the things they discuss in the book. 

Here’s one beekeeper’s wife (me) sending out a big thanks to Drs. Furgala, Spivak, and Mr. Reuter! Great work and thanks for all the information you put out. To order your own copy, click here.

I read on their site that there will be a free online bee disease course coming summer 2013. I look forward to it.

"Bee" Prepared for Your Bees

You've ordered bees and equipment. What steps do you need to take to get ready for their arrival?

(Need help for ordering equipment and bees, see Buying Bees.)

Above: vintage photo of Grandpa keeping bees in August 1966.

Prepare your equipment. 
  • Assemble woodenware, if necessary. Avoid splitting the wood and make sure all joints are tight. On boxes, you may want to leave a few box joint fingers free from nails or screws. A few years from now, joints may separate and you will have whole wood to add nails and re-tighten the joints. Related post: Rough Side in Or Out?
  • Install plastic foundation in frames, or other support. We prefer plastic foundation because it makes each frame much sturdier. Otherwise, new comb may fall apart when you inspect it for eggs, and especially when extracting. (Down the line, you may want some wax-only frames in supers so you can cut out honeycomb, but it is good to use foundation in the brood chamber boxes.)
  • Used Equipment: We recommend starting with all new equipment to avoid disease and pesticide residue. However, if you are using used equipment, purchase new foundation and replace it, or at least scrape off the wax with your hive tool and wash old foundation. 

Assembled boxes, lid, bottom board, and frames.

Stack of frames with and without foundation installed.

Paint woodenware.
  • Paint the outside of the boxes, lid, and bottom board. Pay close attention to the joints. Don’t paint the inside of the box or the frames. The bees will “paint” it later with propolis, an antimicrobial tree resin which helps with colony immunity. 
  • Use exterior primer and then 2 coats of exterior paint (or you could also stain boxes, but make sure the stains won’t harm bees).
  • Color doesn’t matter to the bees, but dark colors may get too hot in summer. You can get creative or go with traditional white. 

Establish the hive location. 
  • Remember that you need to be sure about the location. To move bees across the yard, for example, you need to move them 3 miles away for 3 days and then back to their new spot. Or move the hive 6-10 inches per day. Either way, it can get complicated. 
  • Hive Stands keep the bottom board off the ground and will prolong the life of your equipment. We use pallets. Four hives will fit on each pallet. Face the four hives different compass directions to avoid drift. (Drift is when bees drift from one colony to the next, leaving one weaker and one stronger.) 
  • Place hives in full sun, if possible. They will produce more when they are warmer, especially on cool mornings. 
  • Your location needs to be within 2 miles nectar and pollen for the entire season. This year, really focus on the timing of flowers blooming in your area. 
  • Place hives away from high-traffic areas, and meet city codes for property boundaries (10 feet away from property line is required in Orem). 
  • Make sure the location has good air drainage, away from a depression or flood plane.
  • Establish a wind break, if necessary.
  • You will also need 100% accessibility, 24/7, as beekeeping happens at all hours of day and night. You may want to be able to drive up to your hives to avoid excess lifting. 
  • Develop a water source in your yard, such as a bird bath, chicken waterer, baking pan, etc. Place stones or sticks in the water to provide a landing pad for the bees. They cannot swim. 
One of our pretty bee locations

Dandelions: an important nectar and pollen source for bees.

Prepare to Feed Bees.
  • Learn about feeding bees 
  • Obtain about 25 pounds of sugar for each hive (or use honey if you have it).
  • Purchase commercially-made pollen substitute, either pre-made patties or powdered form. Follow directions on the label. 
One-ton tote of sugar

Other items.
  • Obtain beekeeping license (See Utah Department of Agriculture and Food for online form). 
  • Make sure you have a smoker, protective clothing, and a hive tool or two. 

Some bee customers getting ready to install packages