Tag Archives: beekeeping

Starting Over Again – Bees 2013

As I mentioned in an earlier post this winter, we had a roller-coaster of a summer last year with our bees.

After being so thrilled that we had successfully wintered our bees for the first time since starting beekeeping, we were devastated to discover that they had swarmed in May because we waited too long to divide the hives and they became too crowded.  The early spring last year and the warm temperatures moved everything ahead and because of our inexperience, we missed the signs that they were preparing to swarm.

All was not lost however, because when bees swarm they leave behind a portion of the worker bees along with new queen cells, one of which eventually becomes the new queen.  We observed the hives over the next few months and it appeared that things were back on track, they had a new queen, and were rebuilding their population.  Of course, the hives were not nearly as strong as they would have been had they not swarmed, but we knew we would still get a honey harvest.

The honey started flowing and the bees had built up a good amount of supers of honey.  Once again, our optimism for our honey harvest was shattered in October when Jesse went out to the hives to check on them and discovered they had been robbed!  Yes, hives can be robbed by feral bees.  All the frames that the bees had worked so hard to fill all summer long were stripped completely clean, as if they had never had a bit of honey in them.  The other unfortunate effect from robbing, is that the honeybees usually die in the process of defending their hive against the invaders.

Needless to say, we lost both hives of bees and only ended up with a very small amount of honey to harvest…another year of learning about all the things that can go wrong beekeeping.  We have just put in our order for two nucs of bees this spring.  We are not giving up; we’re just starting over again.

So, spring finally arrived and so did our two nucs of bees.  The bees arrived to our supplier on a rainy and dreary Friday afternoon.  Jesse and our daughter went to work getting the hives ready to add the nucs, which are about 5-6 frames of bees with a queen and brood.

After adding a few frames to each hive of honey from last year’s bees, it was time to get suited up and put the frames in the hive.


The bees were very riled up and it was a little scary, so I did not stay too long to photograph. I don’t think they enjoyed the ride across the plowed field in the back of the 4-wheeler, even if it was a slow one. 🙂bee3

Our daughter braved the angry bees for the installation of one nuc and only received one sting on her leg.  She decided to let her dad install the other hive.bee4

We have not examined the hive to look for brood, but after about 10 days it was clear that the bees were multiplying and Jesse decided to add another brood box. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and he can take a peek inside soon to see how things are going.

bees5In the meantime, I can tentatively say that things appear to be going well so far this season with the bees.  I know all too well however, that any number of bee disasters might be ahead yet this summer.  We are continuously learning and expanding our knowledge of beekeeping, so I am hopeful that it will be an uneventful beekeeping season.

For any beekeepers out there, how is your season starting out?



Filed under Bees

Bee Students

Saturday we attended a course entitled “Beekeeping in Northern Climates” at the University of Minnesota.  Dr. Marla Spivak and scientist Gary Reuter from the Department of Entomology taught the course.  There were about 160 people in attendance (the interest in beekeeping has dramatically spiked in recent years).  It was a very informative course and we came away feeling like we learned several ways to improve our beekeeping this year.  Below are a few of the highlights.

Wintering Bees

After the loss of our first bee colony last winter (described here), some of the most pertinent information for us was on successfully wintering a hive in our cold Minnesota climate.  The first tip that we learned was that a larger bee population would increase the odds of the colony to survive through the winter. Wintering with 2 brood chambers in Minnesota is possible, but the UofMn recommends the use of 3 brood chambers to increase the colony population and honey stores. We will definitely increase from 2 to 3 brood chambers to improve our odds next winter.

Bottom two boxes are the larger brood chambers, and the smaller boxes are honey supers. We will have them fill three brood chambers before we add honey supers this year..

Jesse believes that moisture build-up due to insufficient ventilation was the primary cause of the colony failure this winter. The dead bees were black and wet when we opened the hive in February. There were also honey stores still remaining in the hive. We learned that the UofMn recommends drilling a 1 inch diameter hole 3 inches from the bottom edge of the hive body. The hole is normally plugged, but in the winter the hole in the top brood chamber should be left open for ventilation. Another recommended practice is to place a piece of “buffalo board” over the inner cover to help draw the moisture out of the hive, and one flap of the hive protector should be tucked along the hive to create more space for air flow.

Disease and Pest Control

It was very interesting and refreshing to learn that the UofMn is promoting that beekeepers move away from using chemicals and antibiotics in their operations, except as a last resort. Dr. Spivak believes that over-treatment of the bees has led to poor natural resistance and the bacteria, viruses, and pests have become resistant to these treatments. For example, Terramycin is a common antibiotic that research has shown is becoming ineffective at treating American Foulbrood (AFB). Instead, the UofMn is advocating that better results can be achieved by improved management techniques and using bees bred to exhibit hygienic behavior.

Some of the management techniques we will follow after attending this class are: (1) replacing brood combs every 5 years; (2) shake, requeen, and burn comb if AFB is detected;  (3) order MN hygienic queens next year; (4) use the 2 hive horizontal rotating method to keep our colonies strong and young queens; and (5) buy Varroa mite traps for our hives to improve colony health.

Our bee supplier called today to tell us our packages of bees will be arriving some time this week.  After attending this class, we are even more excited to start our second season of beekeeping!

Leave a comment

Filed under Bees

The Bees are Dead!

It was our understanding as beginning beekeepers that it was possible to winter our hive here in Minnesota so long as we took steps to help them through the harsh season.  The first task was to provide the bees with sugar syrup (since we harvested most of their honey) for them to cure for their winter food store.  We prepared the sugar syrup (a 2:1 ration of sugar to water) and put it into a feeder in the hive.  It was still warm enough that the bees were active and they went to work curing the syrup.

As the cold weather set in, Jesse continued to prepare the hive by building an insulated hive cover to help keep the bees warm and block chilling winds.

Around the beginning or middle of December when Jesse checked on the bees, they were still alive and thriving in the winter cluster.  According to our go-to beekeeping information source,“The Beekeeper’s Handbook” by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile, bees form a winter cluster in the late fall and winter that expands and contracts as the outside temperatures rise and fall.  The bees remain active in the cluster and continue about their business.  However, their activity continues to produce water vapors, which must be allowed to escape the hive. 

After the extreme cold snap of weather that we experienced over the holidays, Jesse went to check once again on the bees.  The scene was quite different this  time when he removed the hive cover.  Silence.  No bees.  No activity.  Nothing.

With our limited knowledge and experience, we have concluded that the bees did not have adequate ventilation and that too much moisture built up inside the hive.  Another possibile reason for the loss of the bees is those extreme holiday temperatures.  In any event, despite our best efforts, we failed our bees. 

We went out to the hive yesterday to take a closer look.  After taking off the cover and lifting off the boxes, we saw the carnage.

All of our wonderful, hard-working bees…dead.

So we end of our first year as beekeepers with feelings of mixed success.  We managed to make it through the summer and fall with no failures in the hive or diseases.  Most importantly, we enjoyed a moderately successful honey harvest for our first year.  After these successes, the loss of the honeybees this winter is quite disappointing. 

Like all failures, however, there are lessons to be learned.  Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby and we intend to continue our education and become more knowledgeable in all aspects of managing bees.  We have already placed our order for two packages of honeybees to arrive some time in April.  We will also be attending a one day course offered at the University of Minnesota on beekeeping in northern climates this spring.  Hopefully our next year with honeybees will have a better ending than our first year!


Filed under Bees