The Buzz at Windy Ridge Apiary

The Buzz about Beekeeping Equipment

Doug FulbrightThis time we will look at the equipment we use to house the bees. First I will list the equipment we are using to start up these new hives.

The type of bee is Russian. Their main traits are: very resistant to the mites, fast build up in the spring, slow down raising new bees when food supply slow down, gentle to handle, winter in smaller clusters there by needing less food.

The hive body is a polystyrene hive box by BeeMax.

Bee keeping equipment

It is 1 ½ inches thick with an R value of at least 3 which will help the bees just like insulation in our walls helps keep our houses at a constant temperature. I will have one hive of wood, since it was cheaper and I hadn’t planned on three complete hives this year. I will wrap it next winter though.

More bee keeping equipment

The foundation is small cell 4.9mm pure wax. The cell size is what the bees will naturally build for their brood area if left to their own devices. Someone in the past thought bigger bees would be better, and they where for a time. Researchers have found that the varro mite likes to hatch in the bigger cell, drone cell preferably. So the smaller, natural cell helps to discourage mite population growth. It is hard to find small cell foundation, although suppliers are starting to offer more choices. I did order three plastic frames from Mann-Lake that are small cell. If the bees accept these frames I will probably go to them.

Bee keeping equipment frames

The frames for the comb I bought from Walter T Kelley supply. The included picture shows a grove in the top of the frame into which you insert the foundation. It works really well and saves time installing the foundation. The only drawback is the assembly of the frame. Wintertime is the perfect time for assembly though. When you can’t work with the bees, you can still keep close to your hobby by getting equipment ready for the spring. A sturdy workbench is advisable. It takes time to assemble so you need to be comfortable so it doesn’t turn into a chore.

Bee keeping equipment assembled

In the supply catalogs you will see 8-frame equipment and 10-frame equipment. A few years ago they started the 8-frame line to reduce the weight of the hives for easier handling. I am using 10-frame equipment because I like the bigger brood area. Also when it comes to painting the hives, they are usually painted white. This is generally done to keep the hive cooler in the summer, which is fine but. I believe a bee sees basically what we do, so the next time the sun is out go up to a white building and try to look at it. You cannot look directly at the building, so I am going to paint the area above the entrance with a color. Research has been done at what bees recognize best by Dr. Karl Von Frisch. They also use these colors to recognize their own hive. The colors are: yellow, blue, orange, violet.

The bottom board is generally a solid piece of wood raised enough to allow an entrance at the bottom of the hive. Now with the presence of the varro mite, beekeepers are starting to use a screened bottom board that allow any mites that fall from the bees to fall through the bottom board thus eliminating them from the hive. With a solid bottom board the mite falls to the floor and waits for the next available bee. If you have hygienic bees that groom the mites off, this can be a big help and no chemicals are involved. I will be building my own. The ones for sale look okay, but it looks as though they have a very fine mesh wire for the bottom. Common sense says that cappings and other debris will soon fill the holes and you are no better off. My plans are to use a bigger screen size, say like for a rabbit cage, to allow everything to fall through.

Syrup feeders come in many different varieties. My choice is a top feeder from Mann-Lake. The bees feed from the center of the feeder instead of the end. This should allow the bees to feed even when its colder outside since they can stay toward the center of the hive. Also a hive top feeder can be refilled without opening the brood nest and possibly chilling the young brood. Along with syrup feeding which the bees use for their carbohydrates, they also need protein in the form of pollen or pollen substitute. Real pollen is the best, but its expensive. Pollen substitute with real pollen added is a good alternative. Pollen is needed in order for the eggs and larvae to be fed a good healthy diet while growing. The wax makers building new comb need the sugar syrup in order to build new comb. So both are necessary.

Now lets move to the actual apiary site. A good location should have the morning sun, face away from the prevailing wind, have good drainage, be protected from strong winds and look for any potential hazards for the hives like falling limbs. I have a lot of deer around my place so I will place my hives along a fence so the deer don’t run over a hive in the middle of the night. Spacing is another thing to think about. Bees do drift and Italian bees are know for robbing. Place your colonies a ways apart if possible. If not slightly turn the hives at angles from each other. It doesn’t look nice and tidy but that’s not our goal. Also be sure the hive is on a sturdy foundation. A hive full of bees and honey could weight 200 pounds or more. Remember you will also need room to work the hives, needing to sit a hive body to one side sometimes. Running room is sometimes needed too! Don’t forget about ‘WATER’. The bees use lots of water. It is used for cooling the hive along with their other needs. If you see water in burr comb on top of the frames, that is the bees air conditioning. I cools the hive and keeps the humidity level where the bees need it to be. If you don’t have a constant supply of water the bees can count on they will go to the neighbors swimming pool or bird bath which will probably not sit well with them.

The things for you will be a veil, gloves, smoker for quieting the bees, a hive tool, bee brush and clothing the bees cannot get caught in, something like kaki clothing.

Bee catalogs are a wealth of information. They will send you a catalog for free and I would recommend the following suppliers:

Betterbee (my favorite)
Walter T Kelley

In looking through some old photos I found this picture of my grandpa and my dad on a TO-20 Ferguson tractor cultivating a cotton field in July 1958. I noticed a beehive in the background.

Dad and Grandad on a TO-20 Furguson tractor in 1958 -- behive in the background

Honeybees in Swarm Season

Doug FulbrightSpring, and thus swarm season for the honeybee, are here, “already”. It seems no matter how much planning we do before it gets here, we aren’t ready for it. Everything needs to be done at the same time. With the blooming of the trees and the buzzing of the bees, our laid back winter lifestyle just changed into sunup to sundown activity. Here at Windy Ridge Apiary the bees have had to take a back seat to the other springtime chores. Not that I want them to. I wish my bees were here working those first flowers and the early blooming trees. In the mean time we will get the garden planted, the clover seed spread and the pasture rolled. Since the area I want in clover is covered with grass and weed stems, I am going to try rolling the clover seed in with a water-filled roller. Hopefully this will get it in close enough contact with the dirt to germinate. If it does, pictures will be posted. 

It’s swarm season for the honeybee. Swarms have already issued from southern hives and they are getting ready around here. A swarm is the way a colony of honeybees reproduces itself. It is their instinct to build up in late winter and when pollen is available and the temp is right, a swarm will leave when the newly hatched queen is ready to go. Swarms are good and bad. They can leave a colony weak and not able to make a honey crop. The good is if you can retrieve the swarm you can increase your apiary. Usually the bees don’t land where you can retrieve them without the risk of breaking your neck trying to get the swarm from a tree just a bit higher than your ladder. Our southern friends now have to worry about the swarm being an African swarm. We have heard about the "killer bees" for years. They have spread across the South, and the beekeepers are learning how to deal with them. If you live in the South, be careful about approaching a swarm of bees. If they seem the least bit aggressive, avoid them completely. Swarms are usually gentle. The bees have engorged themselves with honey before leaving the hive, so they have food when they arrive at the new location. The swarms you see are probably from a managed hive since the mites have just about destroyed all the feral colonies. I am putting out a nuc box with a swarm attractant to try to attract any swarms that might be in the area. 

If you have bees, swarms seem to be attracted to your area by the smell of your bees. The hive has a distinct order, which I look forward to smelling again. This is why to me it makes no sense putting chemicals in the hive. So much communication among the bees is done with pheromes the bees release. If you introduce chemical odors the bees lose their ability to communicate effectively, which may be part of the cause of CCD.  If I attract a swarm, I will go through the procedure of hiving the new bees. 

Swarming is natural for the bees, but beekeepers don’t want our bees to swarm since our goal is to have strong, well populated colonies for the honey flow. This is where management on the part of the beekeeper can lessen the chances of a colony swarming. Although once a colony has decided to swarm, it is almost impossible to stop them. Some ways of preempting this is to check the hives as early in the year as the weather permits. A warm day (50 to 60 degrees) with no wind will allow a quick internal inspection. Just be careful not to chill the brood, as this is the time of brood rearing for the spring flow. If a colony has abundant bees at this time, mark them for nucleus division or taking a frame or two of brood and young bees to give to a weak colony. Always check food stores in the early spring also. This is the time the bees will starve. They are raising brood which takes honey and also building their population before the nectar is available. If they are short on stores you can either take honey from a colony with ample stores or feed sugar syrup. Don’t have the mind set that if you have to feed, something is wrong. We supplement feed all of our other farm animals. I went to part of a beekeepers meeting last month. The man talking about checking your bees in the spring made it sound like if the bees need anything now, you’re just wasting your time. I couldn’t follow his logic. That being said, I would suggest a lot of reading from many different sources if you are going to have bees, so you can discern what makes the most sense in managing honeybee colonies. I’ll promote Bee Culture magazine again, it’s the best source of bee-related information I have found. 

I have been assembling the rest of the bee equipment. The frames with the wax foundation is about the last thing to do. The wax foundation is more fragile than I remember. I am going to have to evaluate the value of assembling wooden frames and wax foundation against plastic frames with wax coating. I have bought three such frames and I guess we’ll let the bees decided if they like them. I have read that some bees don’t draw out the plastic foundation very well. Along those lines I will share with you my plans and thoughts about the equipment I am going to use in my next blog. I’ll try to catch some bees at work, too.

The Love of Bees

What?!? Love bees, are you crazy, how can you love a bee that stings? Those of us who keep bees are considered kind of different. But let me say that there is no bee like the honeybee. Bees produce many products for us and they stir within us a deep appreciation for the undying love they have for the colony. An individual bee will only live 3 to 4 weeks in the summer and work herself literally to death for the rest of the colony. She will make honey she will never eat. She is tireless in her work. If we could only emulate a small part of her character in our lives. Mankind does not benefit from any other insect more than we do from the honeybee. The honeybee colony pollinates our crops, which gives us more food from the field. She turns nectar from the flower into honey, she turns honey into beeswax, and we also use other products from the hive. Just think how the pioneers benefited from honey for food, a great sweetener and ingredient in cooking, beeswax for candles, waterproofing and sealing their canned vegetables. We love the honeybee because she does so much for us and we also enjoy the Art of Keeping Bees. We beekeepers love to talk about bees and this is why I am sharing with you my time with the bees. Come aboard and join the fascinating world of the Honeybee! Bee careful you might just catch bee fever!

honey bee resting

Hi y’all, greetings from the Ozarks of Missouri, I’m glad to be here. The purpose of this blog is to inform and share with you the Art of Beekeeping. It is an art because there is no specific way to do it, each beekeeper has his or her own way of doing things and his/her own ideas about how to manage the bees, hopefully the outcome will be healthy bees and a good honey crop.

I am not an expert. I haven’t had bees in quite some time, but I have kept up with what has been going on in the beekeeping world and I have done a lot of reading and common sense thinking.

working the hive

I have had the bee fever (explanation later) since before high school, a long time ago. I have finally succumbed to the fever and without total support from my wife, decided now is the time to jump back in with both feet. I have put together a roadmap of how to keep the bees alive and produce a honey crop. Only time will tell if it will work. I have read every article in Bee Culture magazine for the last five years and tried to decipher what will and will not work to keep the bees alive and producing.

Just to touch on the problems of the last 20 years when all the problems started with mites and disease. Around 80% of the beehive population and 99% of the feral bee population was wiped out by the varro mite which attaches itself to the bee and feeds off of it until the bee dies, and the mites also spread disease. Then, as you have probably heard about, we have CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder, where the bees disappear leaving the queen, a few bees and the brood in the hive. At this point we do not know exactly what causes it, only the symptoms up to the point when the bees disappear. Right now it points to nutrition and pesticides, possibly. But still with all these problems beekeepers still love their bees and will replace them when they die and try again.

Let’s explore “bee fever.” When I was a teenager, my best friend and I went to stay the night at his grandmother’s house. In her big barn, up in the hayloft was a huge feral bee colony that had built its comb onto the back wall of the barn. The barn was no longer used much for hay so the bees were left to themselves. We went up there and with a stick broke off the comb on the outside edge that had the honey. We ate some and chewed the beeswax just like gum. We took the rest and put it in a metal cup and set it on her warm morning stove overnight. In the morning the honey had separated from the wax, and we had pure honey for our pancakes. After this I had a love for bees and the bee fever. It wasn’t long after that, a teacher at school learned of my interest in bees and gave me a Walter T. Kelley catalog, thus started my beekeeping hobby. I had three or four colonies when I left for college. I ordered the equipment and one package of bees when I had 60 acres, but other things took my time so I sold that colony to a young man.

That brings us up to the here and now. I have a 10 year old son that I think will like working with bees, and I have the desire more than ever to get bees again. As I stated earlier, I am jumping in with both feet. I have three packages of Russian bees ordered, the first one to be here the last of April and the other two to be here the last of May. I will be sharing with you the beginning and the growth of Windy Ridge Apiary. My goals are to expand my apiary, sell nucs in the spring, and educate anyone interested in beekeeping. This blog is my first step in the education endeavor.

Windy Ridge Apiary is located in Southwest Missouri on 20 acres. I have built all the buildings and house on the place. Six years ago the area was hit by a tornado and stripped of the fences, barn and mobile home that were here. I bought it from the man who owned it when the tornado came through. I now have everything finished enough that I can concentrate on turning this 20 acres of grass into a food producing farm.

view from my front porch

I am planning on some feeder calves, couple of sheep and, of course, chickens. We have one hen now that is about five years old that has survived attacks by dogs in town and opossum out here. Other chicks will soon join her as Orscheln is now selling chicks. Enough about me and the place. My goal here is to talk about honeybees. Most beekeepers are happy to talk about their bees, they are fascinating insects.

As a reader of GRIT, you are interested in the rural life and the things that go on out in the sticks. You like to hear about gardening, canning, sheep, cattle, etc. The honeybee is just as much a part of the farm as the others. Back when many farmers in the country had a cow for milk, a garden for vegetables, and chickens for eggs and meat, they also had a hive of bees for honey and the much used beeswax. My hope is that with more people moving out of the city to small acreages, they would consider a hive of honeybees a part of the rural life as much as a horse or calf, if not a hive at least plant some clover or wildflowers on the land. Grass is pretty but doesn’t help our wildlife, plus it has to be mowed to look nice

In the following months I will tell you how to establish a hive of honeybees and how to take care of them. We’ll talk about equipment and its many variables. Even the honeybee comes in different strains, which we will also go over. Most anywhere you live (with the exception of places where there are ordinances against having honeybees) you can have a single hive. They are easy to take care of, and one hive won’t cost that much or take that much extra time, while at the same time giving you the satisfaction of knowing you are helping pollinate the plants in your area and producing pure delicious honey.

Towards the end of April we’ll be installing that new package of bees, so stay tuned. If you have questions, just post in the comments, and I will cover what topics you’re interested in. Thanks for reading.