My hives have survived another winter, well some of them. Yes, it was one of those winters. The kind that makes you question why you are still a beekeeper. Even though it was one of the most mild winters on record my hive loss surpassed the dreaded fifty percent mark. I thought I had done all the right things last season, good honey crop, got the mite treatments on at the right time, extra feeding for the light hives throughout the fall, but by November cluster sizes were crap.
As a kid I always called them ‘bee boxes’ but the industry refers to them as a ‘hive body’ or ‘super’. I recently purchased some new hive bodies to assemble from a local supplier. Some of my equipment is old and wearing out. Before I sort through my dead hives each winter, I like to have some new boxes to switch out. This was a fun project I was able to do in my garage with my older children where they got lots of practice pounding in nails. Below are instructions of how I build hive bodies.
Until a few years ago I used Bee-go on my fume boards to harvest honey supers. Some people say it smells like vomit, but it never bothered me. I guess over the years I got use to it. The only complaint I had is that the fumes would sometimes burn my eyes. It’s a very effective product, but has become difficult to find. Three years ago I switched to Honey Robber. Even though it has the same active ingredient (butyric anhydride) as Bee-go it doesn’t work as well. In searching for alternative products I came across Honey Bandit with its claim to work better than Honey Robber so I purchased a bottle and decided to put it to the test.
Most of the honey that my hives produce would be classified as clover, wildflower or alfalfa. The only specialty honey I have access to is lavender. Each summer around the third week of June I load up fifty to sixty hives and move them to a nearby pasture just south of the lavender fields.
I made an interesting observation this past summer which again reinforced how the summer honey crop affects the health of the queen bee. Most of my hives are spread out in fourteen bee yards in two different valleys. Both of these valleys generally average the same honey crop per hive each summer. Two years of drought conditions have caused both valleys to underperform, but in comparing the two areas with each other, one has produced significantly more honey and in effect had a much lower rate of queen failure.
Most beekeepers that venture into providing beehives for pollination services will often use holding yards. Holding yards are needed when large quantities of hives are temporarily transported to one location while they wait to be moved into orchards or summer locations. Listed below are some strategies to help reduce the stress on hives while they wait in a holding yard.
My hives have returned from California where they have been since the end of January. Even with the early bloom and dry weather, the almond pollination was a success.
Natural beekeeping is a recent buzz word in the industry. Natural beekeeping, a fluid term, roughly refers to minimal disturbance and manipulation to the hive. This system attempts to create a natural environment for the bees where they are left to their own devices to survive – nothing added and only a small amount of excess honey taken. Strategies are put in place to limit or altogether eliminate chemicals and antibiotics from the hive. In some extremes, natural beekeeping forgoes supplemental feeding of sugar syrup, use of foundation and moving hives to assist in pollinating commercial crops. But, are natural beekeeping practices the answer for all beekeepers?
Each year as spring approaches I reflect on my strategies of how best to run my beekeeping business. I look at what went well the previous year as well as what improvements that could be made. Below is a list of my 2014 goals.
Sorting out equipment from dead hives is a necessary evil for a beekeeper – one of my least favorite tasks. Most of your equipment can be reused and will save you time and money as you prepare the equipment for the upcoming spring spits or package hives you will be adding to your operation. Below are a few guidelines I have used over the years which I’ve found very helpful.