Archive for beginning beekeeping in southwest Florida

Catching a Swarm of Bees

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2011 by PickMeYard

I caught a swarm of bees a few days ago.  It’s strange, but I think the bees called me over to them somehow.  They beckoned me with their minds.  I was unloading my truck and decided to stop what I was doing to go look at our macadamia nut tree.  I walked around it and smelled the wonderful blooms on it.  Then I noticed something dark up in the tree… a cluster of honeybees.

Blooms on our macadamia nut tree.

A swarm of bees in our tree. They’re surrounding their queen.

I believe the swarm is from one of my other hives, but I’m not sure.  They probably outgrew their box and made themselves a new queen since their boxes are healthy and full of brood and honey.  They could have gathered a group together with a new queen and took off to find a new home.  I should have split the hive myself to prevent them from doing this because they were crowded, but I didn’t.  This beekeeping practice is called a split.  Honeybees will make pointy honeycomb on the bottom of the foundation in their boxes when they’ve made up their minds to leave.  These are called swarm cells.  A beekeeper can pull them off to deter the bees from leaving, but it doesn’t always work.  There are several methods of swarm prevention.

I didn’t have a box big enough to put the swarm in so I called a fellow beekeeper.  She gave me an empty bee box to put them in.  (Thanks, Penelope!) I threw on my beekeeping jacket with a veil and lit a smoker.  I held the box up with one hand under the swarm and cut the branch off with big garden sheers with the other hand.  This was tricky, but where there’s a will, there is a way.  The idea is to get the queen into the box so the bees will stay.  If the queen flies off, her swarm will go with her.  I was lucky that the swarm was on a low branch.

Penelope gave me a queen cage to put the queen in if I could catch her.  It would be set into the box between the foundation.  The toothpicks would help the cage stay between the foundation. There’s a little bit of marshmallow stuffed into the end.  The honeybees would eat through the marshmallow over a couple of days to let their queen out.  This process would up the odds that the honeybees would stay in their new box. 

A queen cage.

I couldn’t catch the queen.  I couldn’t even find her.  The bees started getting frustrated with me since I was taking so long so I just gently put the top on their box and walked away.  Within a few minutes, every single bee had made its way into the box.

Every one of these bees went into the box because their queen was in there.

It’s been a few days now and the honey bees are still in their box.  I opened them up and they’re making beautiful white comb.  My instincts tell me they’re not going anywhere and have found their new home. 

New home for honeybee swarm.

Soon I will re-queen them to keep them gentle.  This is an important step for beekeeping in Southwest Florida.  The practice of capturing a swarm of honeybees is not supported in Southwest Florida because we’re in Africanized honey bee territory.  I felt very comfortable catching my swarm though and I didn’t have a nervous bone in my body.  I really wanted that swarm.  Beekeepers develop emotional attachments to their honeybees.

The Beekeepers Association of Southwest Florida is holding another class for beginning beekeeping on June 17, 2011.  Click here for more information about them.  Click here for their blog.

Come grow with us! 

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The Land of Milk and Honey: Part I

Posted in Bees & Hummingbirds with tags , , , , , , , , on May 3, 2010 by PickMeYard

I became a backyard beekeeper because of my love for honey.  I remained a backyard beekeeper because of my love for the bees.  If you told me a year ago that beekeeping was in my future, I would have answered that you were crazy.  Look at us now.  There is something incredibly wonderful and addictive with these honeybees.  They have a magnetism that can’t be explained. 

We only had 2 bee boxes a couple of months ago and one of them died.

A swarm of bees moved into our empty bee box. We bought 2 boxes of bees from a fellow beekeeper. Now we have 4 hives.

Grayson and I added a "super" on top of 2 of the hives. This is a good thing and means our bees are making lots of honey.

Grayson and I are beginners in the world of honeybees.  We got into beekeeping from an advertisement in our local paper.  Our local beekeeping association offered a beginning class for beekeeping at our agricultural extension agency.  They close  the registration at thirty people.  Grayson and I were the last ones to get in, we felt very lucky.  We took the class… we LOVED  it.  They will be offering another class in the summer of  2010.  Check their website at www.swfbees.com for their announcement. 

Grayson with a box of bees at the "field day" for the beginning beekeeping class. No fear.

The class gave us tons of information about bees. The first three weeks were mostly in a classroom.  By the fourth week, we had learned enough in our classroom setting to go into the field with live bees.  However, I think most of the class was apprehensive about actually going into a real hive.  I was nervous.  Grayson says he wasn’t, but I think he was too. It didn’t take long for us to be completely comfortable with bees buzzing all around us.  This single experience opened up a whole new world for us.  It was instant love… we both fell hard for these amazing creatures. 

Grayson in the honey house at the monastery.

One of our class trips included a visit to Keith Councell’s bee farm at a monastery.  Keith is our local bee association   president. He comes from a long line of beekeepers in his family (4th generation).  I call him the bee whisperer.  His knowledge of bees and keeping them in Florida is mind-blowing.  His phone rings all day long… non-stop. 

Shelves stacked with beeswax.

That is beeswax covering everything.

Making candles with beeswax.

Beeswax before it's melted and molded.

Beeswax candles.

Grayson at the monastery learning more about bees from Sister Amanda.

The class was fun but it isn’t the only starting point to becoming a beekeeper.  Though it was nice being in a group to help us gather the nerve to walk into a cloud of thousands of flying insects for the first time .  In my opinion, it is most helpful for a beginning beekeeper to join their local bee club.  There you will make great friends and learn what others are doing with their bees.  Our local bee association has many members that don’t even have their own hives, they just enjoy being a part of the association.  Volunteering to help a local beekeeper with their bees is an excellent way to learn with hands-on experience. 

By the way, Haagen-Dazs  is helping with the honey bee crisis.  Their website is definitely worth visiting.  Don’t skip the videos, they are hilarious. 

Needless to say, Grayson and I love our bees.  We are really looking forward to our honey harvest this year.  (Okay, that’s an understatement).  Our bees, our honey… what a concept.  We will continue to learn how to best tend to our girls and keep them healthy, year after year.  There will never come a point where we will feel that we know everything there is to know about bees.  It will truly be a lifetime journey. 

 

Come grow with us!