December Flowers

¡Ay, caramba! Time buzzes! I can’t believe it’s already December!

Today I did some of my own research on bee loving flowers, particularly at this time of year when food sources are scarce. I’ve decided to take inventory on existing blooming flowers in our garden for every month of the year so that bees always have a guaranteed “coffee shop” aka nectar sips and pollen pods. Here’s what I found:

Heather

Heather

A classic. Subtle beauty. Resilient. I was lucky enough to spot a bee on this one just last week when temperatures were still above 10 C.

Creeping Rosemary

This one is blooming in December!

Good on salmon and chicken and it still blooms in December. What more could you ask for?!

Fatsia

Fatsia - a pompom tropical look alike that likes shade. At first we thought, it was super populated by bees until we realized they were all wasps. But, that's only because wasps seem to withstand colder temperatures better and were out foraging.

A pompom tropical look-alike. At first we thought it was super populated by bees until we realized they were all wasps. But, that’s only because wasps seem to withstand colder temperatures better and were out foraging.

Mexican Orange Blossom

A fan favorite, it's a good one to have but don't confuse it with its look-alike, a useless weed (see above right pic). To differentiate, crush a leaf and keep the one that has a stronger orange-like scent.

A fan favorite, it’s a good one to have but don’t confuse it with its look-alike, a useless weed (see above right pic). To differentiate, crush a leaf and keep the one that has a stronger orange-like scent.

No flowers and smells disgusting

Weed-like plant and smells disgusting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mahonia

Excellent winter food and resembles a small tree.

Excellent winter food and resembles a small tree.

Red Hot Lips

Cute and practical. They are drought proof and grow like a weed.

This cutie is also drought proof and grows happily in any soil.

Bergenia

yes

There’s not a lot of these blooming in our garden at the moment.

Pineapple Sage

The underdog although it has so much to offer. It attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees and has a pineapple-y smell. Easy to grow and showcases an abundance of trumpet-shaped flowers even in December!

As the underdog, it has so much to offer. It attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees and has a pineapple-y smell. Easy to grow and showcases an abundance of trumpet-shaped flowers even in December!

Calendula

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As a well-known local, these grow wild and are great for bees.

Rhodos

Occasionally bees will try them out when nothing else is left.

So now you’ve seen our collection. What do you have blooming in your garden that attracts bees? Oh, and one more thing. The above flowers are all deer-resistant! A must when you live in Victoria and surrounding islands.

With such a mild climate, we can expect to see some days when bees make an appearance. However, there’s no guarantee that bees will take advantage of a flowering December garden when temperatures dip below 10°C. Did you know that inside their hive, they form a cluster of bees that can shiver to generate a balmy 30°C on a cold winter day? No wonder they prefer the indoors!

Still, let’s give them the best possible chance to get through those cold wet months. If you want to get a head start to the new year, bees really love snowdrops and crocuses in January. So start planting those now. It’s not too late!

Check out our plant sale stand in the front 🙂

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Season 2016 update and a Queenless hive

Quick Summary

Honey harvest: A solid total of 57kg of pure liquid gold. Not as impressive as last year’s 89kg but this year’s season started too soon and ended too soon. It was too dry and by the time the blackberries blossomed, it was all over. Here’s a breakdown of when we harvested this year:

May 2: 11kg20160508_174421
May 4: 6kg
May 6: 6kg
May 18: 18kg
June 4: 7kg
June 8: 4kg
June 28: 5kg

How do you save a Queenless hive after the drones have already been kicked out???

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was inspecting frames and supers of a large hive. Everything seemed to look great but as I got to the bottom of the hive, I started to realize there was no brood anywhere! I also didn’t see a queen. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. We would introduce a frame with eggs from another hive but at this time of year, the drones have already been expelled from the hive and even if a new virgin queen were to be born, there’d be no date for her.

So a quick decision was made to combine two hives so they would have at least one queen. minty-beesThis is a bit tricky. A new colony introduces a new scent that triggers an alarm. A battle would ensue, with each clan thinking their territory had been invaded. To mask the scent of strangers, we added a sheet of newspaper sprinkled with “Wintergreen Essential oil” (strong mint scent) in the separation of the newly united hive. And to separate the potential of two queens (just in case we’d overlooked the second one), we included an excluder.

excluderNow we were set. The worker bees would eat their way through the newspaper to get out.

A few weeks later, I had to check to see if it had worked. I did not see any queens but I was happy to see lots of brood and eggs on one side of the excluder.

 

And that’s a wrap! In the next coming weeks, we’ll be insulating the hives and we’ll vaporize for mite control. Hopefully, that will be sufficient to get them through the winter. Contact us in the spring if you’d like to acquire a set of these endangered species!

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Sugar Shake Test

Bee inspection time! We want to sell a few nucs so we called up the bee inspector to take a peek and run a sugar shake test to check for mites.

So here’s my first time watching the shake get done.

sugar jar 2

As many bees as possible are captured and immersed in icing sugar in the jar to rid them of any mites they may have. Mites cannot hold onto bees with powder

sugar jar

After a couple quick shakes, the bees are released into the hive and their sisters indulge in their sweetness to clean them up quickly.

sugary bees

Meanwhile the contents (powder sugar and potential mites) are poured into a container of water. If any mites are present, they would now be floating on the top but do you see any? I don’t! I think our bees are mites free.

mite test

Hip hip hooray, our bees passed the test! We couldn’t find a single mite. Pretty pretty good.

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A two queen “problem”

So the other day we made an interesting discovery which in the 16 years of beekeeping we have never seen before. As we began running a routine checkup of one of our nucs, we noticed several unusual things right away.

First of all, the green dotted queen was hanging out on the outside frame and was moving very slowly. We thought, “oh no…she’s not doing so well. Maybe she got squashed a little by us?”

green queen

But the real surprise came when my mom discovered a second queen on the third frame she pulled out. There she was…still unmarked. A young, golden and fat fast moving queen eager to proceed with her biological duties.

new queen 3

Do you see her?

Do you see her now?

Do you see her now?

Who's got her bum up?

Who’s got her bum up?

Naturally we felt a tinge of guilt towards the green queen because it was obvious that the new queen was running the hive or if not, she sure gave that impression. What could we do? Well, there were only two choices:

a) Nothing. The two queens will coexist until the new queen leaves for her maiden flight. Upon her return, the stronger queen (most often the new one) will kill the weaker one. Or, one queen will fly away leaving the nuc with half of the honey and worker bees (aka a swarm).

b) We could take one queen out and have an immediate new nuc.

In either case, it’s not so bad to have a “two queen problem.” As much as I wanted to see  which queen would actually win the fight, I did feel some loyalty towards the green queen and didn’t want to lose any honey/bees. So we decided to take out the green queen and transfered her to the littlest white mating nuc.

Yummers! Can't wait to get me that yum yum sugar water!

Yummers! Can’t wait to get me some of that yum yum sugar water!

Three days later, the green queen seemed much better. She was a little faster again. Apparently she had recovered from the shock of a potential threat to her royalty as the one and only. We once tried to retire a queen by setting her free but the poor queen was only programmed to do one thing and so she continued laying eggs even outside of the hive. I don’t know if a natural death exists for queens. In any case, no hive will keep a queen that is sick or not functioning that well.

Here she is...the blue queen we tried to retire.

Here she is…the blue queen we tried to retire.

 

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Honey!

The first harvest of the year is bottled up and oh so sweet. A whooping 23kg!

Honey

We’re anticipating a second harvest very soon.

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Spring Cleaning!

2016…entering my 4th season of beekeeping and have yet to experience what it feels like to be stung. I have been stung but it was so long ago, before I started beekeeping, that I really can’t remember the pain or gain (good against arthritis). It’s mid March of the new year and I can’t believe how much freshly collected nectar I saw today. Despite the rain and some cold weather, the bees have been busy and are out and about today.

Check out our little hustlers:

bees a hustlin'

Alright, so let’s get down to work. One thing we wanted to do today was clean out the bottom board which after the winter season was laced with wet dirt. Knowing that bees like to run a highly hygienic household, this degree of debris is in need of a spring cleaning.

bottom board replacement

Lucky for them, the entire bottom board got replaced with a previously torched one. Nothing like changing into dry clothes, right?! Also notice the new placement of the hive. We would like to relocate this one back to the front yard for the summer but can only do so in one meter daily increments. Otherwise, bees won’t find their way back to their home.

Backyard hive 1 meter move

As we make our way down to the bottom board, we also replaced layers of insulation (pieces of wool carpets) with dry ones. We’ve used newspaper before but they tend to chew that up, possibly because they don’t like the smell of it.

hive insulation layers

Overall, we were impressed. So far we know that two productive and strong colonies have made it through the winter. We saw pollen, brood, nectar, the green queen and excess cell formations. Check out their extra work:

extra cells

With a little welcome back present, I think the 2016 spring crew is off to a great start.

welcome back present

And on such a warm day, I look forward to another harvest! Stay tuned for more to come soon! I have some updating to do from 2015 still! You won’t want to miss it 😉

Magnolias blue sky

Enjoy magnolia season!

 

Posted in beekeeping, Bees, Check-ups, Spring | 1 Comment

Honey 2015!

Cheers to the best honey season of all years!!! We made a total of 89 kg this summer! And we’re keeping it all to ourselves!!! haha, (sorry).

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You might not be surprised at all. Summer 2015 was dry, hot and started early. We began our first harvest on April 30 and from one hive alone, had the first 9 kg of maple tree flavored honey hidden well away from dad. The harvest continued at a rapid rate:

May 9 – 4.5 kgIMG_20150930_164214148
May 13 – 7 kg
May 22 – 4.5 kg
June 22 – 13.5 kg
July 2 – 17 kg
July 13 – 6 kg
July 16 – 9 kg

We’ve never stopped harvesting this early on in the summer but by July 16, the blackberry harvest was over and that signals the end of the main nectar collection. We are 89 kg rich compared to last year’s lousy 13 kg total. 2013 we made 36 kg.

It’s interesting to keep a record and I’m sure different beekeepers will harvest different amounts at different times. For us, all it takes is 4 full frames of honey to fill the extractor. (Click on  “Extractor” to see how we extract the honey).

2013-07-04-15.31.562

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We sold two nucs!

It’s only June and it’s bee’n a beesy summer! The summer has started early this year with consistent sunshine and little rain. And the honey has just bee’n flowing in like no other year. But before we get to the dessert, let’s talk about work!

As we had more than enough hives, we were delighted when we received a call from a couple requesting to purchase a couple of nucs from us. We took every precaution to prep those nucs for their best chance of survival in a new home. Instead of the minimum required 5 frame nuc, we waited until the nuc had such a large brood nest that we could bolster their domain with an additional 5 frames. We didn’t want to take any chances. This way, the customers were guaranteed a reliable substantial set.

As well and as with all bee sales, the bee inspector was called to examine the health of our little ones. This is a mandatory routine as it will prevent the spread of diseases if anything were to be lingering around. This time, our bee inspector ran a sugar shake test to check for mites and inspect for American Foul Brood (AFB) and any other anomalies. We were given a certificate afterwards with a “pass.” Yay!

With a final check to make sure everything was looking good and the queen was, indeed, ruling the hive, we took one last photo of the determined green queen.

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The amateurs finally showed up. I know we had said to arrive early evening when the bees would be back in the house, but arriving after dusk, was not a good move. We were preparing ourselves to get stung (bees don’t like their house to be taken apart after hours, would you?). To our surprise, everything went so smoothly. What a great set of bees they got!

Here’s what you need to know about picking up your first nuc:

  1. Arrive with your own box which includes the box, bottom board, inner and outer cover boards or a mesh screen as cover board. Also bring Tuck tape (the red tape) to seal any cracks. Bring a screen to allow for ventilation if possible.
  2. Gently transfer each frame. Take your time and don’t make any quick movements. A spray bottle with water will can help on a hot day.
  3. Once you’ve relocated the nuc, open the entrance a tiny bit and feed them with sugar syrup immediately.
  4. As you’ve been given a nuc fully loaded with brood, honey, pollen and bees, you should need to expand their house by adding a second box on top fairly soon afterwards.
    1. Check often, feed them, go to a beekeepers club and enjoy your new pets!
Don't forget to bring tuck tape, bottom board, box, inner board and cover.

Don’t forget to bring tuck tape, bottom board, box, inner board and cover.

If you’ve been wondering how much these sell for, we charged $180 for 10 dadant frames. Here’s a breakdown of what commercial beekeepers would charge:

$160-170 for a package which includes about 2 lbs of bees and the queen (obviously)
$20 for 10 wood frames
$20 for 10 wax plates
Total: $200

That $200 does not include any brood, pollen, or honey. Nor does it have any drawn out wax combs yet so it will take more time and work for the bees to get the point of our 10 dadant frames.

If you’re interested in buying some bees from us, please email us in the spring or early summer at beehavenhive@gmail.com

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Insulation

IMG_20150228_133121348_HDRFebruary has never been this fabulous. I think I may have gotten a tan today. Assuming the winter is over, I took a quick peek to assess their winter survival. Upon last year’s “harsh” winter (it dropped to -6 several times) which resulted in some disappointment, we decided to apply several layers of insulation.

Every hive received an empty dadent (box) to serve as space for emergency food and layers of newspapers and woolen blankets. It definitely made a difference in keeping the bees warm and dry. When we pulled back the layers, the woolen blankets were soaking wet from having absorbed the moisture from condensation.

IMG_20150228_133225659_HDR

As to the winter survival results, four out of five hives have definitely made it and are actively participating in spring’s events like collecting pollen. That means there must be brood! Even the nuc is doing extremely well. The only hive in question, is the one with the queen from New Zealand.

IMG_20150228_133724100_HDR

We have encouraged our little friends to indulge in some fine icing sugar mixed with a little bit of honey. We can’t wait for another awesome season and it looks like it has already started. Have a good 2015 everyone! 🙂

IMG_20150228_100338259_HDR

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A Unique look into Beedom

Picture2

Have you ever tasted pollen? Not just the dusty stuff that you find on flowers but “bee bread,” the pollen that bees have collected and delicately mixed into a crumb with honey secretions. We tried it for the first time this year with a pollen contraption device. The bees weren’t happy at all. They were quite hesitant to enter their home by squeezing themselves through tiny openings which disconnected these little baskets of pollen. Although our harvest was not nearly as much as the bowl above, we got a taste of this yellow and orange goodness. It’s surprisingly tasty! But we felt guilty taking it away from them so the contraption was more of an experiment than a regular harvesting tool.

Picture1

Bees are natural builders and problem solvers. When they are allowed to be creative, they will take advantage of the space given to create amazing extrusions of hectagonal cells in various comb forms. But when it comes to foreign objects in their hives, bees are very particular. They do not like it because it does not follow their code of cleanliness. Hence, they make sure it gets encased in propolis or taken out, even if that means bite by bite. The “flower” in the blue sky was unrecognizable after we’d forgotten to take out a honey covered plastic bag in their home.

Picture3

I used to think that bees eat flower pollen and that was it. Now I know that they enjoy a variety treats. Whenever a cell has been accidentally opened, they do not let the content go to waste. After all, much of it may be royal jelly. The same discipline applies to spilled honey and when mom applies her delicious sugar tea water, the bees happily indulge.

Picture4

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