Painting hive bodies a boring white was the norm when I started beekeeping 20 years ago. Fast forward to the present and everyone is trying to outdo themselves with wild and beautiful designs decorating the bee yard. Art and beekeeping?…. Great combination of two of my favorite past-times and I can give you some pointers on how to accomplish a beautiful beehive even if you have no artistic abilities. Stencils, spray paint, and stickers can all be used to come up with a design that people will think you spent hours on!
Inspired by the designs seen at Beekeeping Like A Girl and IzzabellaBeez on Etsy, I am now thinking about how I can jazz up my apiary. In the past, I have used stencils as a quick pick-me-up for my hives. Once you paint a base coat, it is so easy to apply stencils and you are done! But I would like to do a full makeover of free-hand painting of my hives.
If you have lots of hives placed together in a row that look-alike, customizing your beehive makes it easier for your bees to find their proper hive and eliminate ‘drifting’. Drifting bees can get confused if all the hives look-alike and need a special homing designation to get to their particular hive.
For functionality, start with a neutral base coat and add at least 2 coats to get good coverage to protect the beehive from the elements to last for years. I troll the paint sections of the big box stores for quarts or gallons that were returned and you can pick up for a fraction of the cost.
Everyone paints their beehives to protect them from the elements, but why not make it beautiful and eye-catching? The bees don’t care, and this is your chance to express yourself. Lasting longer in the heat, sun, and, and bad weather that we can get in the Mid-Atlantic region, paint makes your wooden ware last a whole lot longer.
Paint the outside surfaces of the beehive and leave the insides where the bee live free of paint. Use a gloss paint on top of your primer or base coat as it seems to slough off dirt better than a satin or eggshell paint.The color of the primer is not important. But primer is important to seal and protect the wood, and it enables the final coat of paint adhere better, and helps the surface paint resist moisture and mildew.
I want my painted beehives to last. And if you don’t want to bother with painting it yourself, just browse IzzabellaBeez and order one of her gorgeous hand painted hives on-line.
Good raw unpasteurized honey tastes very different from the plastic clover honey bear that you purchase at the supermarket. I compare it to processed cheese vs. a home made varietal cheese. Honey bears are simply an accumulation of many types of honey that have been mixed together, heated and made into a homogeneous mixture which lacks any hint of ‘terroir’.
Raw honey has a sense of place of where the honey bees gathered and deposited the nectar. As complex as chocolate, wine, and olive oil, honey deserves a greater appreciation with many layered notes or flavors. The video below shows how a frame of honey is uncapped, prior to extracting.
Honey tasting is like wine tasting – you wait for the bouquet and flavors to cascade over you. Honey is not just ‘sweet’, there are floral notes that are hard to describe. Butterscotch, caramel, florals, dried fruit, mineral….you name it, honey has it all. The flora, climate, and nature of the terrain determine the flavors of local honey. Below, are the seven geographical regions in the U.S. that determine the taste of honey.
My state of Maryland falls into the Southeast region. And according to William P. Nye of Utah State University, he describe my region as:
” In the mountainous area, sourwood is the prevailing
source of quality honey, along with tulip poplar
and clovers. Sourwood honey is almost
water white, does not granulate readily, and is so
esteemed that it usually passes directly from producer
to consumer at far above the price of other
honeys. Various other honeys, from light to dark
and from mild to strong, are produced in the
There are some sourwoods around here, but the predominant source for me is clover, tulip poplar, and black locust. Go to my post on Black Locust.
Black Locust, not to be confused with Honey Locust, produces a fruity, fragrant honey that ranges from water white to lemon yellow. The lexicon of honey flavors are as varied as the floral sources that it comes from. It can smell fresh as grass or tarry and dark as molasses. Honey varietals are becoming increasingly popular with honey tasting events of local and not so local honey on the menu. These varietal honeys come from primarily one source of nectar such as clover or orange blossoms. More than 300 varietal honeys are produced in the United States. Worldwide, it is in the thousands.
When black locust blooms here in Maryland, I know the nectar season for honeybees is ramping up in full gear.
Many beekeepers use the blanket term “wildflower” for a honey gathered from different kinds of flowers, but what “wildflower” means, varies by region. I label my honey ‘Wildflower’, because it is a variety of flowers that my bees visit for nectar. In my Maryland climate, that means, goldenrod, clover, berries, and sumac; the western Rocky Mountains have cactus, yucca, agave, alfalfa, and mesquite. So a Maryland and a Western wildflower honey will be very different.
Honey overall is enjoying a renaissance. Among the world’s oldest foods, “nature’s sweetener” has been rediscovered by consumers interested in natural foods or locally produced ingredients.
Changing seasons also affect a honey’s taste, texture, and color. A plant only has so much sugar that goes to its blossoms. In spring, when those blossoms are just budding, the resulting honey tastes less sweet. Later on in the season, when plants are competing like mad for pollinating bees to pay them a visit, they disperse more sugar and nutrients into fewer flowers, producing darker, more full-bodied honeys, like the late-season buckwheat and goldenrod.
Buckwheat honey is almost black and I can only describe the flavor and aroma as ‘earthy’. It is an acquired taste but it promotes healing in the body, supports immune function, and boosts antioxidants. It’s also great for soothing sore throats and coughs.
Crystallization occurs in three to eight months after harvesting honey and is not a sign of spoilage nor does it change the taste or healthful properties of honey. It simply changes the texture and color. I notice that honey suppliers are selling crystallized honey as ‘raw honey’. After going to Stockin’s website, they explain that all honey crystallizes eventually and that it is just as good as syrup honey. I don’t agree. When my honey crystallizes, I heat it a very low heat to make it syrup again.
My favorite tasting choice is ‘Chunk Honey’, fresh honey with a chunk of honeycomb floating. Just cut off a chunk of the honeycomb and chew it like chewing gum to get all the goodness out.
Here are some common honey notes:
Floral: Flowers like violet, rose, peony, honeysuckle and jasmine.
Fruity: Tropical fruits like pineapples and mango; berries; citrus (is that a lemon, lime or grapefruit?); and dried fruits like raisins, prunes and apricots. Beyond that, are those fruits ripe and sweet or unripe, like green figs or bananas?
Warm: Burnt sugars like caramel, marshmallow, and butterscotch; creamy notes of yogurt or butter; deep flavors of vanilla and chocolate.
Fresh: Crisp flavors like citrus and herbs like thyme and mint.
Vegetal: Fresh plants, raw vegetables, wet grass, hay and straw.
When I extract my honey, like the above video, it is not heated, just removed from the frame by centrifugal force and strained though a paint strainer to remove bee parts and debris. Pure heaven! For a post on extraction, go to Spinning Honey.
The best way to jump-start a conversation at a party is to tell people you are a beekeeper. Inevitably, people will barrage me with questions about my hobby and how they always thought of becoming a beekeeper themselves. Most people don’t have a clue of what is involved and for people who are intrigued but don’t know where to start, the following pointers should help you decide.
If you are really thinking about beekeeping, first learn all you can about the basics from experienced beekeepers. Oregon Ridge Nature Center conducts a local course by the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association which is called the ‘Short Course in Beekeeping’. Starting in the early spring for 6 weeks and concluding with a delivery of a package of bees which you take home and install, this will jump start your hobby. Hands on demonstrations in a communal beehive will give you a good idea of how to set up your own apiary. The instructor is the State Apiary Inspector who will teach you basic bee biology, management of colonies, and extraction of honey, or as he describes it ” a full year of beekeeping”.
An excellent starter course with lots of reference materials available and encouragement and mentoring from experienced beekeepers, I was primed and ready to go when completed. Even if you are not interested in starting up a colony, the course is fascinating. If you don’t live in MD, just search for a local beekeeping group to take courses from. Increasingly, they are being held all over the country. Attending one of these courses will help you to become a successful beekeeper.
The expense of starting up a hive is considerable-hive bodies, feeders, the bee suit and hat, smoker, and various beekeeping tools will run a minimum of $600 to $1200. For all the bells and whistles, it will cost considerably more. A good extractor alone could set you back $1000. I don’t own an extractor as I rent it for a reasonable sum of $10 from our local beekeeping association. I would advise starting with two hives so you have a backup if one bombs. I sell my honey but only collect a fraction of the cost of what it takes to set up and maintain my hives. Also, don’t forget that you will be buying many 20 lb bags of sugar a season to feed your bees! So, don’t consider this a money-maker – more like a money pit!
The initial investment is steep but once you have your basic equipment, the cost levels off. You can add other items that you need later on, such as solar wax melter, honey strainer, pollen/propolis traps, and a long list of beekeeping paraphernalia, which you won’t need right away.
You can also buy used equipment from a local beekeeper to cut down on your start-up costs but make sure that the equipment is disease free. The cost of your initial package of bees with a queen will run around $145. A Nuc, which I prefer, is a miniature beehive with a laying/working queen will run you more like $170. By attending the ‘Short Course’, experienced beekeepers can help you to obtain the proper equipment that you need to get started.
How much work is involved?
Another question that is asked of me frequently is ‘How much time is involved?’, in maintaining your colonies. The lion’s share of your time is spent in the spring to make sure that the hive is happy and healthy. I spend at least 4-5 hours a week in the early spring, feeding, inspecting, and manipulating the hives. Manipulating the hives just means you are pulling your hive bodies or boxes apart, making sure that the queen is healthy and producing, and that there is sufficient room for her to lay eggs in the frames.
Later when there is a ‘honey flow’, which means the favorite flowers that bees prefer are blooming in abundance, you need to add extra supers, or hive bodies to your hives to handle the extra honey. Go to my post on Honey Flow to see exactly what this means. Bees normally will not produce excess honey the first year that they are hived as they are just starting out building a new home, but will produce extra in subsequent years. In the fall, I spend time taking off the supers (honey storage boxes), extracting the honey and feeding and weather proofing them to get through the winter. I set aside one entire day to remove and extract my honey sometime in August or September. Throughout the winter, I clean and renovate my old hive bodies which become gummed up with propolis that the bees deposit on the boxes to seal them tight.
Will they sting?
I have noticed a greater presence of honey bees in my flower and vegetable gardens and generally around my property. The bees use a nearby pond next to my patio for their water source, so the honeybees are very close to where people frequent. The hives are set about 100 feet from my house.
I have been stung many times as I manipulate the hives or extract the honey because the bees are protecting their territory and that is a natural response. But if I am working in the garden or just sitting on my patio near the pond they never bother me. Guests have never been stung either. Honeybees are non-aggressive unlike yellow jackets and wasps, and on their daily trips to collect pollen, nectar, or water, they will ignore you and go about their business. I have noticed improved production of my veggie garden and love that aspect of beekeeping.
How about my neighbors?
Neighbors are definitely a consideration when you start your own hives. The best way to approach this is to let them know of your intent and to educate them about bees, i. e. – they rarely sting and will not cause problems with their family. I also screen my hives with some spruce trees so that they are not out front and center of my property and there is a buffer between my bees and the neighbors. It also helps if you present your neighbors with a gift of honey!
Most people are fascinated with beekeeping and are quite curious about what you are doing.
Do you get honey?
I have 3 hives now on 2 acres of property. I normally will harvest about 150 pounds of honey from my hives each season and sell it to friends and give it as gifts. It is a fascinating hobby that you can practice on smaller pieces of property, even in a city.
By producing your own honey, you are getting a natural, unadulterated product that has no additives. Read my post about buying honey. Your own honey contains nectar from local wildflower sources that is supposed to help people with allergies to pollen. I use my honey and beeswax not only as a sweetener, but for healing and cosmetic purposes.
Managing your own hives also makes good garden sense as it increases the pollination of your garden and will improve the yield of your vegetable garden. Find out which plants to plant to attract bees at Planting these For Bees. Beekeeping is a big investment in time and money. Hopefully, reading this will help push you to the tipping point in deciding if this hobby is for you.
Remember, that the honey bee is not native. Honey bees were brought over with the early colonists across the ocean to join the native American bees. But the European honeybee is the only one that produces honey.
If you have dogs, especially black dogs, bees seem to target them. My previous border collie Gypsy, was so terrified of bees that as soon as I got my bee hood out of the shed, she fled! My current Border, Tori is totally unconcerned when I look at the bees but I have seen the bees go right for her and burrow into her fur and drive her crazy. So, now I just put Tori in the house when I open the bees up so that she is not tormented.
If you live in areas where bears are common, beware! Winnie the Pooh’s favorite food was “Hunney” and bears are drawn to honey like kids to candy. I have relatives in Vermont who are always battling black bears.
All the bad stuff
Yes, there are lots of drawbacks. Your bees will get diseases and mites. Mites are like little ticks that suck their blood and weaken the bees. As for disease, I couldn’t believe the number of maladies that bees can contract and pests that they attract! There is foulbrood, chalkbrood, colony collapse, wax moths, small hive beetles, deformed wing disorder, and numerous others. The list goes on and on and every year, it seems that a new malady is added! There are various chemical remedies and some organic ones also. But it seems you are always trying to stay ahead of the latest disease. You deal with these problems as it happens.
If that isn’t enough, queens are notoriously fickle and hard to find in your hive. The overall health of your hive depends on the state of your queen. She must be young and fertile to lay those thousands of eggs a day!
To be a good beekeeper, you should not have a fear of being stung and you should also be strong. The hive bodies when full of honey can easily weigh more than 50-80 pounds. You have to be able to lift them up and move those heavy boxes around by yourself.
But beekeeping is such a rewarding and fascinating hobby, I continue to do it. I have been a beekeeper for over 20 years and feel that I have only scratched the surface in learning about this hobby. Maybe in another 10 years, I will feel that I know more about what makes bees tick, but I doubt it. It is always an adventure!
Garden Designmagazine known for its in-depth articles and awesome images has a clean and easy to read design, free of ads. Over the years, I have started and stopped my subscriptions to different gardening magazines, but I will never give up this one. I don’t review many print publications, but I felt that this one richly deserved to be recognized. Not available at the grocery check out line, it is primarily available by subscription. But if you are interested in nature, ecology, cooking, design, gardening, traveling or simply beautiful images, this would be the magazine for you. With 132 pages, there is plenty of space to cover diverse subjects that would appeal to amateur as well as professional gardeners. Most garden magazines have brief articles and I often crave more. In Garden Design, the articles can run 10 to 12 pages long to really get an in-depth look.
What flower can reach 12″ across and up to 18″ long? That is Hydrangeas’ main claim to fame, according to Garden Design article ‘Old Reliable, New Tricks’. The commonly asked questions of how to prune and change hydrangea color is demystified in this informative article. These two questions are asked by many enthusiastic gardeners as there are so many different varieties and treatments for each particular kind.
Using Garden Design magazine as a great design resource, and also for stellar articles on plants, containers, and pollinators, it is always sitting on my desk. More like an add-free soft bound book, I welcome it to my house every season for eye catching photos of gardens, design ideas, and great plant selections. Printed every three months, I am not deluged with monthly issues but instead have a seasonal reference at my fingertips.
The design posts will make your mouth water with all the delicious combinations of plants and good design components. My design of a healing labyrinth made the on-line Garden Design magazine when the magazine went on a brief print hiatus a few years ago. The magazine came back stronger than before chock full of garden inspiration.
And the article by Janet Loughrey, ‘Spanish Lessons’, highlighted three Mediterranean landscapes that show the best of waterwise design. I drooled over these images!
Visiting different gardens is also covered and Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is featured in the latest issue because of the fantastic new fountain show. Perfect timing, as I am visiting it this weekend.
Another mentioned event that I would love to go to is the Swan Island Annual Dahlia Festival. Located in Oregon, strolling and ogling 40 acres of dahlias in full bloom is my idea of a good day. I’ll make it there someday.
A find of a box turtle is always happy but all too rare, and the article by Doug Tallamy explained why. Habitat fragmentation is the main culprit that has placed this species on the Threatened Species list as “vulnerable”. Fulfilling the important job of seed dispersal, Tallamy gave pointers on encouraging these great little natives. Exceeding 100 years old if conditions are right, I learned how to make my property better suited to the colorful turtles.
After doing my post on Watering Like a Pro, reviewing Dramm products like ColorStorm hoses and Rain Wands, the current article about watering tools in Garden Design “elevated this perennial garden task into a real pleasure”. Quality of your tools makes a huge difference in your garden enjoyment and reaffirmed my watering tool selection.
As a beekeeper, I appreciated the article ‘Darwin’s Beekeeper’. Letting nature take its course reflects my policy on beekeeping perfectly. And the foldout on pollinators is pretty enough to be framed. The progression from early to late bloomers is essential information and includes both tree/shrubs, and perennials. Go to my post on Pollinators for more information on what plants to select to attract a wealth of winged beasts to your property- and keep them coming back!
Great Gardens Across America
Probably one of my favorite sections is Great Gardens Across America. Showcasing gardens anywhere in the country, the stories and material and plant selections are always interesting to me as a garden designer.
No matter what zone or coast you live in and what type of nature lover you are, you will find inspiration from this magazine.
Full disclosure: Garden Design magazine is not paying me for this review!
Planting peas by St Patrick’s Day is an American farming tradition that goes way back and I can remember my father relating this age-old practice. He spent his childhood on a farm and knew all the old-time ways. I didn’t have any beekeeping relatives, but if I had I am sure they would have told me to super my hives (adding extra storage boxes for nectar) when the Black Locust blooms. Beekeepers, like farmers, still look outside in the natural world to gauge how to manage their honey crop.
The Black Locust tree, Robinia pseudoacacia, is famous for producing a fruity and fragrant light green honey. Native to the Eastern United State, I always look for this tree to bloom in the spring as a sign that “honeyflow” or “nectarflow” is starting for my honeybees.
An abundance of nectar sources blooming in profusion means a nectarflow is starting with the bees collecting excess nectar. When bees bring in more nectar than they need or can use, that is when a beekeeper rejoices and can remove the extra stored honey for themselves. Contrary to widely held opinion, bees only produce excess honey in the early spring or occasionally in late summer, and beekeepers harvest in July for much of the United States. In southern states, where native flowering is much more abundant over a longer time period, beekeepers can get two harvests.
The Black Locust tree is native to eastern and southeastern North America, but has spread throughout the United States and much of Canada and can be invasive. They grow quickly on roadsides and fields and now the creamy heavily scented branches are hanging heavy over a road that I travel every day. Most people would zip by and not pay any attention at all to these beautiful trees as the blooms are usually high up in the canopy. But I stop and whip out my camera to zoom in on these beautiful blossoms!
Last year, because of the fickle weather, Black Locust didn’t bloom in the great abundance that I see this year, so I am hoping for a good honey harvest. But this spring we have had lots of spells of rainy cold days when the bees can’t fly and that might cut short the nectar flow.
A warm and sunny spell during honey flow means that a strong hive can fill a honey super with nectar in two days! Remember…. that is nectar. Ripe honey has had its water fraction reduced greatly by bees fanning nectar to increase water evaporation to produce the sugar concentration necessary to produce honey. Once honey is ready, the bees cap over the top with wax.
Blooming for about 10 days between April and June, here in the mid-Atlantic, the racemes of blooms of Black Locust opened in early May. Even before the flowers opened, the bees started collecting pollen from the tree which they need to feed their growing brood or larvae. Worker bees will flock to the flowers for the abundance of nectar that they produce, once the days turn warm and sunny and browse from other flowering trees and vegetation, like the Black Cherry. With the onset of blooming, bees start producing wax which requires several times more nectar than honey. And bees need honeycomb built first before storing nectar. The purpose of a spring flow, for the bees, is to provide food for the rest of the year, not honey for the beekeeper!
After this big burst of native bloom, there is usually a summer dearth until goldenrod, asters, and other late bloomers appear. That is why gardeners should plant summer bloomers to supplement their diet. Plant those Zinnias, Sunflowers, etc. Go to Plant These For The Bees.
Healthy hives may produce queen cells in preparation for swarming, as the spring nectarflow builds; their normal method of making new colonies. The old queen and a large swarm of bees will go off and begin a new hive. See Swarming of the Bees.
Interesting and Surprising Facts About Black Locust
Abraham Lincoln, as a young man, built up his muscles splitting logs from Black Locust trees for firewood and fence posts
Extremely hard wood, one of the hardest and rot resistant in North America, the wood is valuable for floors, boats, fence posts, and furniture
A member of the Fabaceae (pea family), the tree has nodules of nitrogen-fixing bacteria on its roots which make it an excellent species for re-vegetating poor or damaged soils
Newly cut wood has an offensive odor which disappears with time
The flowers are eaten in Japan, France, and Italy, battered and fried as beignets or in tempura
The bark, wood, and leaves are toxic to livestock and humans, so farmers remove them from their fields
Black Locust blooms along with privet, multi-flora, blackberries, honeysuckle, and other native vegetation to produce the abundance of available nectar for pollinators; so even invasives play a role in supporting pollinators
Black locust is an interesting example of how one plant is considered an invasive species even on the same continent it is native to
Racemes of flowers can hang 4-8 inches long and intensely fragrant smelling like an orange tree
Highly tolerant of pollution, the tree is planted in Europe and produces the acclaimed ‘Acacia Honey’
One of the best woods for burning in wood stove, it has little or no flame and can burn when wet, burning at a comparable temperature as coal
Compounds in the heartwood allow the wood to last over 100 years in soil
Beekeeping, especially urban beekeeping, is picking up steam and buzz! When I first attended my “Beekeeping Basics” class put on by the local beekeepers club twenty years ago, older men in coveralls dominated and the joke was that the average age of a beekeeper was “from 57 to dead”. As a younger woman in the class, I was definitely in the minority. Sticking with beekeeping for over twenty years has seen lots of changes in the apiary. A new generation of beekeepers have arrived which has injected a revolution in how beekeeping is practiced. Hipsters, young mothers, and middle-aged couples, have taken up the practice in greater numbers than ever before.
The practice of “we have always done it like this,” is slowly but surely disappearing. Beekeepers with new ideas, energy, and ways of doing things are transforming the apiary yard to something that beekeepers from 50 years ago wouldn’t recognize. When problems started to arise 10 years ago with the advent of mites and colony collapse, beekeepers wasted time hoping to return to 1940’s beekeeping. The old guard still wishes that. But with the new crop of beekeepers, they don’t know the difference and attack the problems with renewed vigor and novel solutions.
An apiary’s female dominated society should be especially attractive to women. Historically, people assumed that the bee queen was actually a “king”. Even Shakespeare referred to the head of the hive as a “king”. Females in a beehive basically do all the heavy lifting with the males kept around for only one thing-inseminating a queen bee.
Women are increasingly becoming beekeepers in the traditionally male dominated field. But this isn’t easy for young women because of the physical nature of beekeeping. Try bench pressing 65 to 75 pounds or more of dead weight! – which a full hive body of honey can weigh.
From a creature with a brain the size of a sesame seed, a working hive is incredibly diverse and organized and gets the job done efficiently. Pollinating one in three of our agricultural crops, honeybees are hugely important to our economy. But only until Colony Collapse Disorder in 2007 became publicized, did people sit up and take notice that bees were in trouble or realize that they were vital. A result of that realization is a huge welcome influx of brand new concerned beekeepers, most of them under thirty to start their own hives in concern for the environmental impact of the decline.
A steep learning curve will hit any newbee, and even though I have kept bees for twenty years, I still feel new to the field. Disease, parasitic mites, low winter survival rates, and the high startup cost is still an issue, but I find that new beekeepers are enthusiastic and eager to learn. Inevitably, some people upon learning about the time and money involved drop out. But many are sticking with it and unlike a fair weather fan, they are in it for the long-term. Committed newbees really want to become beekeepers even after hearing about all the recent setbacks in the bee world. Check out my post on How to Jump Into the World of Beekeeping.
I’m sure everyone has heard of the IndieGoGo Flow Hive with its promise of simplifying the honey harvest by simply turning on the tap. So far, Flow Hive has set records for the largest international campaign ever on Indiegogo and was an Internet darling. But critics are railing against the Flow Hive as an expensive gimmick that over-simplifies beekeeping and doesn’t deal with the nitty gritty day-to-day basics. In reality, beekeeping is hard work that requires lots of steps to make sure that your honeybees are monitored and kept free of disease and healthy. The promotional material for Flow Hive makes beekeeping look so simple and easy that anyone could have a beehive in their backyard without any work. I reserve judgement until we look back on this in a few years time. Stay tuned for the results.
BroodMinder-Technology In Beekeeping
And technology has entered beekeeping. I am using BroodMinder which uses the latest in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology and integrated circuit temperature and humidity chips, to monitor my hive. By placing the small bee resistant wrapped monitor with a battery on top of the frames, any heat and humidity created by the bees is recorded as it rises to the top of the hive. Relaying the information to an app on my phone, I can monitor how the hive is doing and even email it to myself. Yes, there is an app for everything!
If the temperature and humidity plummets during the winter, I will know that the beehive needs my help with supplemental feeding. See BroodMinder for more information. They are also developing a monitor that will weigh your hive. I would love this feature to inform me as to how much honey is being stored during the summer so you know the best time to harvest!
Full Disclosure: BroodMinder gave me a unit to test out, but I only post reviews about products that I really like and use.
A miniature honey bee colony or what beekeepers call a Nuc, is a living organism that needs to be cared for properly for it to survive and thrive in your bee yard. A “beehive in a box” is the best way to give your beehives the quickest start right from the gate to start producing honey as they already have a laying queen who is mated, producing eggs, and ready to go.
Live Hive- This is probably the most difficult to purchase. Never buy a live hive until it has been thoroughly inspected by a state apiary inspector and given a clean bill of health. This might be a good approach for instant beekeeping, but you have to find a beekeeper willing to sell a complete working hive and you are unlikely to find one unless the beekeeper is retiring or has passed. Very few beekeepers want to sell a good, live hive and there must be a compelling reason to do this. However, when you are able to purchase a live hive, you are also purchasing all the existing problems such as small hive beetles, tracheal mite, varroa mites, wax moths or diseases such as nosema, American Foul Brood or European Foul Brood, etc. For small hive beetle controls, go to Small Hive Beetles to see how to combat these pests. Before committing, inspect the combs to see how healthy the colony is with plenty of brood and bee bread present on the frames.
Bee bread is pollen brought back to the hive that is mixed with nectar and deposited into cells to feed the developing brood.
2. Packages- Packages have been the way beekeepers in the North have received bees from the South for over 100 years. By shaking bees out of different hives, a package is formed which is housed in a screened cage for transport. Sometimes it may take shaking bees out of three different hives to equal three pounds of bees (about 10,000), the standard. Then, a new queen not related to the worker bees is caged to travel with the new bees.
Some considerations of this method are:
Will the queen be healthy and properly mated?
Since they are from the south, could there be a chance of Africanized genetics, making a more aggressive hive?
Shipping stresses, such as too much time in the package and excessive temperatures can weaken both the bees and the queen.
So, while this is the “industry standard” and has been for a century, it is not risk free or fail safe. I can attest to this as a good percentage of my packages have failed.
3. NUC- A nuc is a short expression referring to the nucleus of a live hive. The nucleus, or nuc, usually contains four or five frames from a complete hive.
The frames include brood in various stages and frames mixed with honey, pollen and brood. The queen has already been accepted and is the mother of all the bees including the brood in the frames. This is a bee hive in miniature – a working and laying queen is included along with her daughter worker bees, brood, pollen, and eggs. I have gotten honey the same year form my Nucs, so I ordered 2 this year.
The best way to acquire a Nuc is to join a Bee Club. Mine is the Central MD Beekeepers Association and they order Bee Nucs every spring from a supplier and transport the Nucs to our Maryland Agricultural Center for pickup for $165 each.
Nucs are the way to go for me, as it is a hive that is ready to go and is already working to bring in nectar during the honey flow. Honey flow is a term used by beekeepers indicating that one or more major nectar sources are in bloom and the weather is favorable for bees to fly and collect the nectar in abundance. For me in the mid-Atlantic, this happens in early to mid-May and can last for a couple of weeks and is always heralded by the blooming of Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia. An unassuming tree that spends most of the year in the fringe woods on the side of the road and one late Spring day it throws out a hanging truss of stunning white blossoms. But not just blossoms! The intense fragrance wafts in the breeze and finds you if you are walking down the road and will drift far from the tree.
Springtime time is also the critical time for swarms- May is swarm month for me! Go to Swarming of the Bees to see how to capture swarms.
Advantages of a nuc:
The frames are from a proven, successful existing hive
The queen is up and running and has been laying eggs in cells for some time, enough to have quantities of capped brood
You receive the existing frames of comb, honey, pollen and brood. You do not have to wait for the bees to draw comb(this is labor intensive)
It is easy to transfer the frames into your own equipment
Disadvantages of a nuc:
Are not usually available until June (I got 2 recently in early April because of my Beekeepers Association who ordered them from a breeder last year)
You receive comb from another beekeeper that could contain pests or diseases
More expensive- For example, I paid $165 a piece for 2 nucs and a package costs about $115 a piece
It is really important to remove and install the frames in the exact order that they are in the original box. And the weather should be at least 5o degrees or higher. Today, I was working in sunny 65 degree temperatures which is picture perfect. When you remove the frames, it gives you the opportunity to look for brood, honey storage, and the queen. Here is a video on installing a nuc into your own hives.
Handling Tips on Installing a Nuc
Whenever you work with bees, move smoothly-like you’re doing Tai Chi! Bees will only sting if they feel like you are threatening your hive, and fast and jerky movements will put them into attack mode. Use your smoke sparingly as the only bees that will sting are the guard bees on the periphery at the entrance and at the top of the frames. If bees come at you and give you a “bump” on the face veil, this is their warning prior to trying to sting and it is best to back off before continuing. Move slowly but surely, not clumsily as this can lead to losing your queen and thus your hive.
Once you move over all your frames to your equipment, there will be stragglers, so I place the Nuc box on its side in front of the hive and by dusk, everyone is tucked up for the night.
Sugar water, 1 part table sugar to 1 part water, is fed to the bees for the first couple of weeks until they can easily find nectar sources. Supplementary feeding is critical to the success of your colony. There are sparse nectar sources in early April, and I like to feed until I see plenty of flowers out there, probably in about 3 weeks.
I continue to feed with sugar water and will inspect the entrance to the hives every day to make sure that there is a good traffic flow, both in and out. That tells me that everything is working well. If there isn’t the normal flow, I will inspect the hive to see if there is a laying queen. In about a week, I will open the hive and check the brood pattern and see if the bees are drawing new wax comb. If everything seems OK, I will continue to feed the hive for several more weeks while they are drawing the wax comb and then taper off the feeding. I believe in minimal handling of the hive. Leave it to the bees! And harvest the honey!
In the dry air of winter, I go through a lot of “body butter”.And what better way to put to use the beeswax and honey that I gathered from the hive last summer? I bought body butter from Burt’s Bees at $15 for a small tub and it was adding up. I like to apply it all over my body after I shower and the butter goes on smoothly and sinks right into your skin and really hydrates. Updating on one of my older posts at Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter, I find that this has become one of my most popular posts of all time. For other uses of beeswax, go to Honeybee Gift-Beeswax or Orange Citrus Soap With Beeswax.
After going through some recipes on-line and experimenting with several, I came up with one that works great and costs about half of what I was paying Burt’s Bees. Plus, I made a dent in all of my horded beeswax. The whole process is so easy, I don’t know why I was spending all that money before. The butter is a little thicker than others that I have tried because of the addition of beeswax but it still feels light and creamy.
First of all, gather your ingredients.
Beeswax: Formsa light coating on the skin helping to hold in moisture. If you don’t have your own hives, contact a local beekeeper to buy some. Available on-line also, and you can buy beeswax already grated which is easier to use.
Raw Unpasteurized Honey: Adds moisture to the skin and helps lock it in, while providing protective benefits. Find a local beekeeper.
Coconut Oil: Naturally rich in proteins which help keep the skin rejuvenated.Coconut oil is becoming ubiquitous in the stores and I am finding more and more uses for it.
Shea Butter: Vitamins, minerals and fatty acids moisturize and revitalize dry skin.
Sweet Almond Oil: Softens and hydrates skin.
Essential Oil: Adds aromatherapy benefits and supports healthy skin. I used lavender oil, but the possibilities are endless-bergamot, lemon, scented geranium, orange, peppermint. I especially like the flavor of lavender and honey and have used this combo in Lavender Honey Ice Cream.
I shopped for my oils at MOM’s Organic market. You could try Whole Foods or online. I used 1 Cup of Shea Butter, 1/2 cup of Coconut Oil, 1/2 cup of Sweet Almond Oil, two teaspoons of honey and at least a dozen drops of lavender essential oil. If you can’t find Almond Oil, you could substitute olive, jojoba, or any other liquid oil. Beeswax is hard to measure, so I just broke off a hunk from my stash and chopped it up into smaller pieces. The beeswax keeps the butter from becoming too soft and scents the body butter with honey. Here is the recipe:
Honey Scented Body Butter
1 C Shea Butter
1/2 C Coconut Oil, which is solid at room temperature
1/2 C Sweet Almond Oil
3-4 ounces Beeswax, broken up into small pieces
Dozen drops of Lavender essential oil
1 T of Honey
Melt the Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, and Beeswax in the top of a double boiler until all lumps melt.
The Beeswax has the highest melting temperature, so will be the last to melt. Beeswax has honey deposited in it so you get the fragrance of the honey from your added beeswax, as well as the added liquid honey added at the end.
Remove from heat, letting cool slightly, and add the Sweet Almond Oil. Place the whole thing into the refrigerator until the mixtures turns almost hard and opaque. This could be 15 minutes or less. If you let it harden too much, just return to the heat to melt the mixture again. You want it soft enough to whip, but not too hard that the mixture will form lumps. Creamy smooth is the key, not hard and solid.
While in the refrigerator, the mixture will turn opaque and become very thick.
Bring the mixture out, adding the honey and the lavender oil and whip it with a mixer or immersion blender until thoroughly mixed. The more air incorporated, the lighter the mixture.
Scrape into containers. I used an old Burt’s bees container and some small mason jars.
With this recipe, I made about 3 1/2 cups of body butter that cost about $25 for materials. I was spending $15 for a 6.75 ounce container from Burt’s Bees. After some calculation, I figured that if I bought 3 1/2 cups of body butter from Burt’s Bees, it would have cost me twice as much. Plus, I knew exactly what went into it.
A food with no expiration date? How is it possible that honey can remain edible even thousands of years later, as evidenced by modern archaeologists finding edible honey in Egyptian tombs? The answer is as complex as honey’s flavor. There is a whole slew of factors in honey working in perfect harmony that makes this amazing substance remain edible in its raw state. There are a few other foods that fall in this longevity category: salt, sugar, and dried rice- but none have the medicinal properties of honey.
The picture below is from The Smithsonian Natural History Museum and reads:
Over 4,000 years ago, Egyptians began keeping bees and harvesting honey. Tomb paintings depict workers cultivating hives, and ancient texts talk of honey as a sweetener and antiseptic. Wax was used for mummification, salves, and even medication.
The king of Upper and Lower Egypt called himself nesir-bitly – “He who belongs to the sedge and the bee.” Ancient Egyptians considered the work of the bee divine, and they associated bees, wax, and honey with the sun god.
But why, exactly, doesn’t honey go bad? Honey in its natural form has a very low moisture content and low pH-between 3 and 4.5. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in such an environment – they just die. The fact that organisms can’t last long in honey means they don’t get the chance to spoil it.
Also, the chemical makeup of a bees stomach plays a large role in honey’s longevity. Bees have an enzyme in their stomachs called glucose oxidase. When the bees regurgitate the nectar from their mouths into the combs to make honey (vomiting!), this enzyme mixes with the nectar, breaking it down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is the key ingredient which stops bad things from growing in the honey.
Is Honey Better Than Sugar For You?
Nutrition experts say honey, unlike table sugar, has small amounts of vitamins and minerals and that honey can aid in digestion. Researchers are looking into antioxidant levels of honey to see if they also can improve one’s health. Table sugar is pure sucrose and highly processed, while natural honey has no processing steps beyond filtering out debris and bee parts. Evidence points to less processing steps leads to healthier foods.
But honey over time will form crystals and many honey eaters sees this condition and think it has spoiled and will throw it away. Stop! It is still good-you can use it in this form or reconstitute it into “runny honey”. Here are some common questions about crystallized honey.
Does It Mean The Honey Is Bad Or No Longer Fresh?
Not at all. Crystallization can occur very quickly after harvest – perhaps just a few days or weeks, and so there is no correlation between freshness and the crystallizing process. Be sure to store the honey in a warm sunny window or just somewhere not in the refrigerator. Cooler temps will hasten the crystallization process.
Almost all unheated, unfiltered honey crystallizes; some just crystallize sooner than others. You can cook with crystallized honey. Scoop it out for tea, use in stir-fries, and as a glaze on poultry and fish. Many times, I think the flavor is more concentrated and easier to use, because it is a more solid substance. If in doubt about the purity of the honey, remember pure honey will crystallize, the adulterated stuff from China that has corn syrup added will never crystallize. Also, when you drop a glob of pure honey into water, it stays in a clump. If cut with corn syrup, the honey will dissipate into the water.
Nectar, the first material collected by bees to make honey, is naturally very high in water–anywhere from 60-80 percent. Bees remove much of this moisture by flapping their wings to literally dry out or remove the moisture from the nectar.
Because honey is so thick, rejects any kind of growth and contains hydrogen peroxide, it creates the perfect barrier against infection for wounds. Thus, its legendary reputation as a wound healer in ancient times and surprisingly it is coming back in vogue in modern times. Derma Sciences, a medical device company, has marketed and sold MEDIHONEY bandages covered in honey used in hospitals around the world.
Why Does It Crystallize?
There are a few honeys that are very slow to crystallize. Acacia, sage, tupelo, and black locust honeys are some of them. But the majority of honeys will start working their way to crystallization as soon as they leave the nice warm confines of a 95F hive. It can even crystallize inside a hive if the winter bee cluster is not centered on top of the honey when temperatures stay below 50F for a while. These factors affect the crystallization process:
1) Unfiltered honey: little bits of things can start the crystals growing
2) Storing temperature of the honey: Don’t store in a refrigerator! Store in the warmest and driest spot in your house. I even place crystallized honey on my front porch in the hot sun to dissolve the crystals.
3) The container is used for storage: Plastic is more porous than glass, thus the air exchange is greater. I only use glass now to store my honey.
4) Sealing the container: Honey is a sugar and is hygroscopic, a term that means it contains very little water in its natural state but can readily suck in moisture if left unsealed. So seal the jar tightly.
The glucose and fructose are the sugars that give honey its “sweetness”. Glucose is the one that influences crystallization. The more glucose in the honey, the sooner your honey will crystallize.
Crystallization occurs faster at certain temperatures. When honey drops into the fifties (towards 50F), it will start to crystallize quickly. When turning your crystallized honey into runny, you don’t want to heat it over 100 degrees. Otherwise, you will kill all the beneficial substances that naturally occur in honey – like pollen, propolis, enzymes, and antioxidants which become useless at higher temperatures. Honey stored between 70 and 95F will stay runny longer. Store that honey in a sunny window! For long term storage, it is best to freeze your honey!
How to Make Crystallized Honey Runny
Place your honey jar in a hot water bath on low. I use a food thermometer to make sure I stay below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Heating the honey slowly and steadily can take several hours so you don’t want to heat honey in a plastic container. The problem is that once the honey cools, it will be more prone to crystallization the second time around so use it up. After a few sessions of heating and cooling, the honey will start to lose its consistency and its aroma. Because of this it’s best if you only heat the amount of honey you want runny. Leave the rest in the container to heat up another day.
It is official. According to Firmenich, a private Swiss conglomerate that has produced perfumes and flavors for over 100 years, honey is the flavor of the year for 2015. Recognized for its unique flavor and versatility, Firmenich believes that this should elevate honey flavor to “classic” status like vanilla and chocolate. I read this news the day that I extracted my honey and thought it appropriate when I was absolutely covered in it.
The Big Event
Honey extraction is a process that requires patience, time, and tolerance for bee stings. After babying the girls- feeding, monitoring, re-queening, splitting, and just plain worrying about them- now is the moment of truth. How much nectar did they deposit in the combs for me to rob from them? And “robbing” is the right term because the girls work hard at it. According to the National Honey board the average worker bee will produce 1 1/2 teaspoons of honey in her lifetime. And one hive has to fly 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey! For more amazing honeybee facts, check out The National Honey Board.
This year was a banner year for me, over 120 pounds of honey from 2 1/2 hives. The “half hive” swarmed early in the spring, so wasn’t as strong as my other two, but there was still enough to harvest some honey. The two strongest were Nucs and that is the way to go for me from now on. Nucs are simply frames of honeycomb that a mated queen bee is already laying eggs, and brood is hatching. In contrast, a bee package that I order in the mail comes with a queen that hasn’t yet been introduced to the thousands of worker bees that accompany her in a “package”. Go to A Bee Nuc or Package to see the difference and advantages. Nucs hit the ground running, and packages need to build up.
It is always an anti-climax when we finally remove and extract – kind of like Christmas – lots of build up and anticipation, and then it is over quickly and we are mopping up the mess.
After removing the bees, see Robbing the Bees-A Honey of a Day to see how to do this tricky part, we are ready to spin out the honey. I never do this in the house as you will be bringing in unwanted guests (hanger-on bees), so set up an area in our garage. Wiping down everything with soapy water and laying down large plastic drop cloths and we are ready to go.
Using a heated knife to remove the wax coverings and a fork that looks like a hair pick, the cells are opened up so that the honey can be flung out.
Think of a large metal trash can with wire shelves inside that spin around and you have a honey extractor. An attached motor will turn the merry-go-round inside, flinging the honey deposited in the cells onto the side of the trash can, dripping down to the bottom where it will exit through a gate valve.
Honey pours out into a large clean food grade bucket that has a mesh paint sieve to filter out all bee parts and debris.
The wax cappings are very tasty and we dive right in and start snacking. Grabbing a dollop of warm fresh honey comb that is dripping with honey is luscious!
Once the honey is all extracted, I take the frames and set them up in front of the hives so the bees can wring every last drop of honey from them. The bees, once they discover the free honey, go crazy and buzz around the yard. I am sure not to have guests over when this happens as it can be quite unnerving if you are afraid of bees.
We set up the extractor and all the tools in front of the hives also so the bees can finish cleaning. I use the wax to make beeswax soap and candles. Go to Beeswax-Honeybee Gift to see how I process and use beeswax.
Filling up the buckets was exciting and we were surprised after weighing one to see that it contained 68 pounds of honey! We quickly filled another with the thick amber honey. Honey flavor and color depends on the terrior and pollens that bees collect, and has different “notes”, kind of like wine. This years honey is definitely darker in color than last years and has a wonderful flavor.
Giving the honey a few days to settle, I start bottling the honey when the weather is still warm, over 75 degrees. If honey gets too cold, it won’t flow properly into my jars.