Archive for backyard beekeeper

Queen of the World: Part I

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2010 by PickMeYard

The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is not native to the Western hemisphere.  Stingless bees are native and do produce small amounts of honey.  They also pollinate,  however are not prolific pollinators like the honeybee. In 1622, the Apis mellifera were shipped into Virginia from England.  From that point on they were distributed to many other states. 

A honey bee on a hibiscus flower.

Early beekeepers used to kill their bees when they harvested their honey.  In 1852, a man named L.L. Langstroth designed the bee hive that we still use today.  He is considered the “father of modern beekeeping”.  There doesn’t seem to be a reason to change the standard bee box that all serious beekeepers use…it works. 

Wood that is cut and being used to build bee hives.

In the mid 1800’s a market developed for purchasing queen bees.  After all, it is the queen bee of the colony that determines what type of genetics your bees will have.  She can be a productive mating machine or… not so productive.  It is a learning curve for the new beekeeper to determine when to re-queen a bee hive.  Queen bees can be bought from various companies and are sent through the mail. 

They’ve been sending queen bees through the mail since 1886. You can order a gentle  blond (Cordovan) queen, a Hawaiian queen, a Georgia Purvis brothers queenRussian queens bred to Carniolan “yugo” drones  in California and many, many more.  I always find out where my local beekeeping association  are getting their queens. I’ve got a Purvis queen, two Hawaiian queens, and a wild queen in my boxes right now.  The breeding of bees is a broad topic, but there is no question that a quality-bred queen is the most desirable. 

A box of bees sent through the mail.

A box of queen bees ordered through the mail. Each queen comes in a little plastic container with several attendant bees and some peppermint candy for her to eat.

Keith Councell is clipping this queen's wings so she won't fly away. This does not hurt her in any way.

The dimensions of bee hives and frames are the same throughout the world.  The standard 10-frame box is used for brood (the bottom box where they keep their babies and food).  The box that is stacked on top of the main brood chamber is called a “super”.  The super holds the honey that we harvest from the bees. There is a wire mesh piece that goes between the bottom brood box and the super to keep the queen from laying eggs in the super.  It is appropriately named a “queen excluder”.   

It’s important to always leave the bees enough honey for them to sustain themselves and not take it all from them.  I’ve seen brood boxes with eight supers stacked on top of them.  That ‘s a lot of honey.  

A swarm of bees will move themselves into any container they find suitable as a home.  Bird houses are their favorite.  A beekeeper can’t tend the bees when they’re in a bird house though (such as re-queening the colony).  When bees become wild (feral), they eventually become Africanized in Florida.  When a beekeeper re-queens a colony, it prevents the Africanization of the colony and keeps them gentle.  Africanized bees are spreading through several states.  

Keith Councell (president of our local bee association) did a radio broadcast this week that is worth a listen.  It’s very interesting and the discussion is easy to follow.  He discusses what you need to do to set up and maintain your own beehive in your own backyard in Southwest Florida.  Keith said the bees will not bother your neighbors.  To listen to his broadcast on WGCU National Public Radio, click here.

A colony of bees living on and in the exterior wall of my mom's house. Watching them through the window was fascinating and very addictive.

These bees were relatively gentle bees. An Africanized bee has a "hot" sting and tends to bump against you and hit you. When Africanized bees get angry, they stay angry for days.

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Don’t Worry, Bee Happy

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , on March 11, 2010 by PickMeYard

 

Grayson and I took a beekeeping class at the Lee County agricultural extension office last summer.  As a result, we have become avid backyard beekeepers.  The picture above is Grayson with an Apis mellifera (honeybee) on his thumb. 

 

We have two boxes of honeybees and we absolutely adore them.  We tend to their needs and we do our best to protect them from harm.  Florida has become a difficult place to keep bees alive.  Florida’s beekeeping rules are different from the rest of the country.  I am eagerly waiting for somebody to write the book on Florida beekeeping.  There is so much to discuss when it comes to bees and their keeping.  I couldn’t do it in one post.  But I will write about our bees frequently as we  desperately try to keep our bees alive. 

 

 Our bee boxes on stands. 

We lost an entire box of  bees several days ago.  I believe they were poisoned while out working for the day.  There were dead bees everywhere.  We are very, very sad about the entire event.  I’ve heard people say they were sad when they lost their bees, but I didn’t truly understand the emotion until it happened to us.  It’s becoming difficult to keep bees alive if you live near a golf course or a citrus grove.  The poisons get them eventually.  Are you now wondering what those poisons are doing to us?  Me too.  Our other box of bees are lethargic and barely hanging in there.  We’re feeding them sugar-water prepared a special way for feeding bees and saying a prayer for them. 

 

This is one of our girls on our lime blossoms.  Our garden has been buzzzzing with activity.  These worker bees are out collecting pollen, nectar, water and propolis.  Propolis has wonderful antimicrobial properties.  Bees use it to sterilize the hive and fill in cracks. 

 

During the bees active season, a colony usually has one queen, several hundred drones (males), and many thousands of workers (females).  In the above picture, the queen is marked with a green dot.  This is an international queen color code to determine her age.  She is also marked so that she is easy to spot when tending the bees.  The color green indicates that she is a queen from a year ending with a 4 or 9.  Each year has a different color.  The queen can still be spotted without a colored dot on her as  she is larger than the other bees. 

My colony, in the above picture, is not doing well.  If they were, you would see capped brood in the picture.   The term brood is used to refer to the embryo or egg, the larva and the pupa stages in the life of holometabolous insects. The brood of honeybees develops within a bee hive box.  

some capped brood cells here

If all goes well, this is the honey harvest you can expect at the end of the season.  Most backyard beekeepers get much, much more than this.  

 

This is a local honey stand, at the end of the beekeeper’s driveway, that is not far from us.  

 

We bought our honey here for years before we became beekeepers.  They use the honor system.  You choose your honey and put the proper amount into the money slot. 

Unfortunately, for the first time in history, beekeepers everywhere are giving up… at an alarming rate .  They are not able to keep their bees alive.  Since beekeeping is not our livelihood and only a backyard hobby for us, we will not give up…yet. 

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Gardening: A family Affair!

Posted in Meet our Family with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2010 by PickMeYard

Gardening is fun…so are chickens.  Meet my son Grayson and his favorite hen  “Floofy”.  Most days you’ll find Grayson deep into a new project.  Sometimes it’s a homeschooling project, but most of the time he’s in his garden.  His latest project is researching and planning a huge butterfly, bee and hummingbird garden.  We have removed the sod and will be planting on Wednesday. 

Grayson completed a six-week beekeeping course through the Lee County Agricultural Extension office  .  Now he  is a backyard beekeeper and is a member of the Southwest Florida Bee Association.  We have 2 boxes of bees.  We can’t wait to harvest our honey! Did I mention he is only eight?

Come grow with us!