Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tools of the Trade: Basic Beekeeping Tools

As with any other activity, there are special tools used when beekeeping. Many of the most common beekeeping tools are used for protection against honeybee stings. Honeybees are protective, not aggressive. They will only sting if they feel they must to protect their hive and their queen. However, when a beekeeper opens up a hive to work inside, the bees might think the beekeeper is trying to hurt them and respond aggressively. With the proper tools, beekeepers can work with bees with a minimal risk of being stung.

The first tool of beekeeping is proper clothing. Some beekeepers choose to wear a full bee suit that covers their entire body. This suit is made of a thick material the bees cannot sting through. The beekeepers might also choose to wear gloves so none of their skin is showing. The suits are often made of white material because bees are less aggressive towards lighter colors. The reason for this is thought to be that honeybees’ natural predators are often dark in color. Imagine a beekeeper in a black or brown bee suit. The bees might think a bear is coming to destroy their hive and become very upset. On the other hand, very few animals that harm honeybees are light in color, so the bees are not as concerned if a beekeeper in white works with the hive. Bee suits are a great tool because they fully cover the beekeeper. However, bee suits can be very hot to work in and/or restrict movement, which is why some beekeepers choose to only wear a veil instead. A veil is a special hat with netting around the face. The netting keeps the bees from being able to sting the beekeepers face. Honeybees are very busy on warm summer days, so often a veil is all that is needed for protection.

Another tool used by beekeepers is the smoker, which, as suggested by its name, is used to create smoke. The first purpose of the smoker is connected to honeybee pheromones. Pheromones are scents honeybees use to communicate with one another. One scent, called the alarm pheromone, is used by worker bees to tell other workers bees something is wrong and they need to defend the hive. The bees might choose to use this scent when they see the beekeeper open the hive. As more and more bees smell the alarm pheromone, they are more likely to defend the hive against the beekeeper. However, the smell of smoke made by the smoker is stronger than the smell of the alarm pheromone. If the beekeeper uses the smoker on the hive, they bees won’t be able to smell the alarm pheromone, and they will stay calm. The second purpose of the smoker is to make the bees think their hive is on fire. Researchers think when the bees smell the smoke they believe the hive is on fire and they will have to leave the hive. However, they don’t want to leave empty handed, so they fill their honey stomachs up with as much honey as they can hold. However, having full honey stomachs keeps them from being able to sting, so the beekeeper is safe. Once the beekeeper finishes working in the hive and stops using the smoke, the bees realize there isn’t a fire and put all the honey back in the cells. The smoker is very effective and does not harm the bees in any way.

One tool used that isn’t connected to the safety of the beekeeper is the hive tool. Hives tools are used for a variety of purposes. First, honeybees have a tendency to seal everything in the hive using wax and propolis. Hive tools can be used to scrap the wax away to tidy up the hive. Second, honeybee hives are full of frames, which are used to store honey. Beekeepers can use the hive tool as a level to pull out individual frames when needed. Third, hive tools can be used as a hammer on loose nails or staples in the hive. Creative beekeepers will use their hive tools for any number of tasks throughout the day including scraping paint off a wall or cutting open a taped up box. There is no limit to the uses of hive tools.

Successful beekeeping is possible without any of these special tools, but they certainly make the job easier. Imagine a house-painter working without a ladder or a carpenter without a hammer. These workers would still be able to do their jobs, but it would be much more difficult. In the same way, beekeepers’ jobs are made easier with bee suits, veils, smokers, and hive tools.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Swarming Nature of Honey Bees

A swarm of honey bees

Have you ever seen a swarm of bees and wondered what they were doing? Swarms play an important part in the life of a honeybee hive.

Imagine you are a fuzzy little honeybee. You live and work in a beehive with around 60,000 sisters. That’s a lot of siblings! The hive is growing, the queen is laying eggs, and you’re all working hard to make honey. Then one day, you start to run out of room! There’s not enough room to store honey or for the queen to lay more eggs, and there’s not enough room for all of your siblings to fit inside the hive. What are you going to do? Swarm. That’s what beehives do when they run out of room. Half the hive leaves with the queen to start a new home. 

A queen cell with a new queen bee being raised

Before the swarm, you and your siblings start preparing for a new queen bee that will reign when the old queen swarms. A few days before the new queen hatches, it’s time to say goodbye to 30,000 (or half) of your siblings and get ready for your trip. Before you leave, each of you will eat as much honey as you can hold, which makes you kind of slow and not able to sting since you’re SO full. You will need that honey to make beeswax for your new home. Now you’re ready to leave. 

A swarm flying around before they gather on a tree branch

The scout bees give the signal and half of you fly out of your hive, surrounding the queen to protect her. You all circle in the air until the scouts find a good branch on a nearby tree where you gather in a big ball, continuing to surround the queen. It’s almost night time now, and soon it will be too dark to fly. You decide to spend the night on the branch. In the morning, as soon as the sun comes up, the scout bees head out to look for a new home. After a little while, the scouts return and begin excitedly doing special dances to tell everyone that they found a new home! All the bees take flight with the scouts leading the way to your new home. Your new home may be in a hollow tree, an abandoned corner of a barn, or in a beekeepers empty beehive box. 
A beekeeper shakes the swarm into a beehive box

Now, you and your siblings work together collecting nectar and building comb so the queen can lay eggs. Your hive may be small right now, but someday, when this new home is full and buzzing with lots of bees and busyness, it will be time to start the swarm process all over again. But for now, you all work together to build a strong and healthy hive.

The hive is happy in their new home

Now you know what a swarm is! Just remember, you don’t have to be afraid of a swarm, because the bees are so full of honey that they can’t really sting, and they have no home to protect. You should still leave the swarm alone and stay a safe distance away. If you ever see a swarm, leave it be or call a beekeeper. You never want to kill a swarm. A beekeeper can put the bees in an empty hive box where they will start a new home and have a healthy hive. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Honeybees are Buzzing! Sun, Rain, or Snow!

Honeybees would love to spend every day of their lives collecting nectar and pollen. However, sometimes weather can become a problem. Below, you will find the answers to what honeybees do with their day depending on the weather outside their hive.

Honeybees love sunshine. When it’s warm and sunny outside, special worker bees called foragers leave the hive in search of nectar and pollen. Later, they bring home their treasures to store in the hive. The nectar is transformed into honey, and the pollen is packed away as is. The bees back at the hive work to raise young bees, transform the nectar into honey, make beeswax, guard the hive, and perform a variety of other jobs. Honeybees forage when it’s nice and sunny outside because that is when the flowers produce nectar for them to gather. They gather and store food so when there aren’t any flowers to visit, they have food saved to live on. The bees eat honey as a source of carbohydrates and pollen as a source of protein. They are so good at their job of creating honey, that they often produce as much as 40 to 100 pounds more of it than they need for themselves.

Imagine trying to run across a yard with giant bowling balls falling from the sky all around you. That is what it would be like for a bee to try to fly in heavy rain. When it rains hard, honeybees are unable to fly because the rain drops knock them out of the sky. Honeybees are unable to swim, so if they get knocked into a puddle, they will die. During a light rain, honeybees may be able to fly, but the cold will chill their flight muscles and make the job more difficult. Honeybees that get too cold may lose their ability to move.  For these reasons, honeybees prefer to stay in the hive when rain is on the way. Luckily, honeybees can sense when it is about to rain because the pressure in the air changes. Honeybees that are away from home and sense rain coming will do their best to return home before the rain begins. Back at the hive, forager honeybees will take on new tasks or rest until the rain clears up. Some may become guard bees and stand at the entrance of the hive watching for intruders. Others may use their bodies to generate heat throughout the chill of the storm. The important thing to remember is that honeybees all work for the better of the hive. Just because the foragers can’t complete their job of leaving the hive, doesn’t mean they’ll give up on work all together. Instead, they will change their plan for the day and help their siblings within the hive.


In many states, it snows during the winter. During this time, honeybees rarely leave the hive. Before winter begins, the worker bees kick all the drones (male bees) out of the hive because they no longer need them. Then, all the worker bees cluster around the queen to make sure she stays safe and warm. The worker bees spend the winter eating the honey they have stored and using the energy to shiver their flight muscles to produce heat. The honeybees keep the core of their cluster at around 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Their only job when there is snow outside is to stay alive and warm. They do not forage for nectar because there are no flowers to visit. They also don’t raise young bees or make beeswax. When the weather warms and the snow starts to melt, the bees will once again begin raising young bees and creating honey. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Honey, the Liquid Gold

The many colors of honey!
Have you ever wondered why there are different colors and flavors of honey? Each kind of flower produces a different flavor and color nectar that bees use to make honey. We have different kinds of honey because honeybees are flower consistent. This means that instead of going from one kind of flower to another, (like from a sunflower to an orange blossom, and then to a clover flower) she will work one kind of flower on each trip until there is no more nectar in those flowers. When beekeepers bring their bees to pollinate a specific crop, like blueberries, the bees will only be visiting blueberry flowers, so it will make blueberry honey. There are actually more than 300 different kinds of honey in America, and more than 3,000 kinds in the world! Each type of honey has a unique flavor and color. The color of honey can range from a clear “water-white” to a dark brown color. The lighter honeys have a mild flavor, while darker honeys have a strong, bold flavor. It’s fun to try different kinds of honey and taste and see the difference between each of them.

Besides its deliciously sweet taste, honey also has many health benefits that make it good for you. Honey is a good source of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are your body’s primary fuel for energy. This makes it a great energy booster! If you play sports, try some honey before your next game or practice to give you an extra energy boost. Many athletes and Olympians use honey for energy. Honey is also full of antioxidants which help protect cells in your body from harmful molecules. There are also lots of vitamins and minerals in honey. Vitamins and minerals boost your immune system, help you grow and develop properly, and help cells and organs do their jobs. Lastly, honey is antibacterial, so it kills bacteria and keeps you healthy. 

Honey is also wonderful to use in cooking, and is useful as more than just a sweetener. It can add a special touch to any recipe. With all the unique flavors to choose from, it can add great flavor to your recipes. Honey is a humectant, which is something that holds moisture and water, so it helps keeps baked goods moist and soft. Honey is antibacterial and antifungal so it keeps bacteria and mold from growing and helps baked good last longer. Honey is also an emulsifier and thickener. If you were to take water and oil and mix them together and shake it vigorously, little oil droplets are dispersed throughout the water. Then, if you let it sit, the water and oil will separate. What an emulsifier does is bind things together, so it would help that water and oil to mix together and not separate. Because honey is an emulsifier and thickener, it works well in sauces and dressings. 

Try this delicious and easy honey recipe to cool off and get energized this summer!

Fruity yogurt honey pops 
Honey is a sweet addition to any recipe.

  • 1 cup - pitted cherries or ½ cup strawberries (or other fruit of your choice)
  • 1 cup - nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons - honey
In a small food processor or blender, puree the fruit for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Do not blend for too long or the puree will become too watery. In a measuring cup or bowl with pouring spout, stir together the yogurt and honey. Stir in about 2 tablespoons of the fruit puree. Taste and add more honey or fruit puree as desired. Pour fruit and yogurt mixture into popsicle molds, filling about ¾ of the way. Add wooden sticks and freeze for at least 3 hours. To remove: run warm water over the bottle of the popsicle mold and gently twist and pull out the popsicles.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Honeybees Can Sweeten Your Entire Home

Often, honeybees are thought of only as producers of honey, but honeybees can do a lot more for humans. Through creating honey and beeswax and pollinating flowers, honeybees are able to help in every room of a house.

Honey can be used in the kitchen in many different ways. To start, you can use honey on toast, cereal, pancakes, or any number of other foods. You can also bake with honey. One of the great things about honey is that it comes in many different flavors. Just like the fruit from an orange tree tastes different than the fruit from an apple tree, the honey made from an orange tree tastes different than the honey made from an apple tree. There are 300 different flavors of honey produced in the United States alone. Worldwide, over 3,000 different flavors are available. These types of honey range in color from being almost clear to being dark brown and have vastly different flavors. You can change the flavor of the foods you make just by using different types of honey. Try the recipe below from Gimme Some Oven ( to start baking with honey today!

·         1 cup (dry) oatmeal
·         2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
·         1/2 cup peanut butter
·         1/2 cup ground flax seed
·         1/2 cup chocolate chips or cacao nibs (optional)
·         1/3 cup honey or agave nectar
·         1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.      Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for half an hour.
2.      Once chilled, roll into balls of whatever size you would like. (Mine were about 1" in diameter.) Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.
3.      Makes about 20-25 balls.

Pollination is a process honeybees undergo to help crops grow. One crop honeybees pollinate is cotton. Without honeybees, there would be less cotton in the world. Take a look at the sheets on your bed and the clothes in your closet. A lot of the things you use every day are made from cotton. You can thank honeybees every morning that you wake up and put on a cotton shirt!

Did you know honey can be used to treat small cuts and burns? Honey is antibacterial, so putting some honey and a Band-Aid on a small cut will keep it from getting infected. The honey will also keep your skin soft and help it heal quickly. Honey can also be used in products such as shampoo, conditioner, and face wash. Honey is full of vitamins and minerals and can be used to keep your hair and skin healthy and soft. Rumor has it that Cleopatra bathed in milk and honey to keep her skin healthy and beautiful. In addition, beeswax can be used in products such as lip balm and lotion to further soften your skin. Try this simple recipe from Dr. Axe ( to begin your journey of using honey in the bathroom!

·         1 cup water
·         5 tbsp honey
·         5 drops lemon essential oil
·         5 drops melaleuca essential oil
·         Glass bottle with dispenser

1.      Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well
2.      Transfer to a container. Mix well before each use

The Rest of the House
Beeswax is used to make many things including wood polish and candles. Look around your house for wood floors, tables, and chairs. All of it can be kept looking nice by using beeswax wood polish. Now search your house for candles. Beeswax candles burn brighter and longer than candles made from other waxes. Do you own any candles made from beeswax?

Honeybees are tiny creatures with a mighty job. They help humans in endless ways every single day! Be sure to thank the honeybees next time you use something they helped make!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Pollen: the Protein of the Hive

A honey bee brushes pollen grains off of her fuzzy body
Pollen is a fine powder that flowers produce as part of its growing process. When it is transferred from flower to flower through pollination, pollen fertilizes flowers and helps them grow seeds and fruits, vegetables, or nuts. When a honey bee lands on different flowers, she is covered in pollen, because it sticks to tiny hairs on her body. When she is completely covered in pollen, she hovers over a flower and uses special combs on her front legs to brush the pollen from her body into two pollen baskets on her back pair of legs. These baskets are like pockets made of tiny hairs. When the baskets are full, they will have bright round balls of pollen in them. She takes the pollen back to her honey bee hive where other worker bees take the balls of pollen off of her legs and pack them into cells for safe keeping.

Honey Bees store the pollen in cells in their beehive

Honey bees need pollen for food because it's a good source of protein that helps with muscle and organ development. Just like we eat nuts, meat and fish, cheese and yogurt or beans and lentils for protein, bees eat pollen. Honey bees also mix the pollen with honey to create “bee bread” which is fed to the baby bees and helps them grow and gives them energy. Pollen also contains fats, vitamins, and minerals which keeps the bees healthy. The pollen from one plant varies from another, and it comes in a rainbow of colors both bright and pale depending on the plant from which it was gathered. The colors of pollen include yellow, orange, green, pink, and blue. 

A pollen trap on the front of a honey bee hive
Beekeepers sometimes collect pollen from beehives by placing a pollen trap on the entrance of a hive. The pollen trap is made up of holes that the bees can easily fit through but are not quite big enough for those large balls of pollen to squeeze through. When bees crawl through holes in the pollen trap, it causes the balls of pollen to gently fall of their legs and into a tray that catches it. 

Pollen is very healthy for humans to eat because it contains many vitamins and minerals and is a rich source of protein. It is a great natural energy booster that helps keep you going all day. Bee pollen also has enzymes that aid the body’s digestive system (the breaking down of food into substances that can be used by your body). Enzymes help your body get all the nutrients you need from the food you eat. Also, pollen can boost your immune system and protect your body from disease and sickness. Lastly, pollen can be used to soothe inflamed and irritated skin and helps protect skin and build new skin cells. 

I’ll leave you with an amazing fact about pollen: it takes a bee working 8 hours a day for 1 month to make one teaspoon of pollen which contains over 2.5 billion grains of flower pollen in it!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Hive Life

Have you ever wondered what a honeybee does with her day? Below is a short story following the bees in a hive from morning to night. As you read the story, imagine what all the happy, little honeybees look like as they fly from flower to flower before returning home to their siblings. 

Hive Life
The bee yard is cloaked in stillness and silence. It is a slumbering baby peaceful and safe. The earth’s breath exhales, and a whisper of a breeze blows through fragile pine needles scenting the air. The trees keep a watchful gaze over the small, white towers resting beneath them. They seem frozen in place as if anything more than the slightest movement could break the spell. Even a drop of syrup, formed beneath the knob of a pine tree, stays in place. The trees cast sleepy shadows on the uneven ground covered in grass, pine cones, and aged pine needles, all wrapped in a liquid dew blanket. Above, the sky is as 
blue as a child’s bright eyes and lightens with the promise of a beautiful day.

Under a canopy of pine trees, the bee yard begins to stir. As the worker bees emerge from their cozy homes, the cold chill of the morning air greets them. One bee, eager to begin the day, approaches the edge of her small porch. The morning sun glints off her fragile, transparent wings, as the shadows shift with the rising sun. The bee’s bronze and deep brown, stripped body is covered in tiny hairs, which she combs with her front legs as she stands preparing to take off. Her small head, with her innocent chocolate brown eyes, shifts slightly as she takes in the sight of her familiar home.  She takes one step forward, and then pauses as if drawing in a deep breath. Finally prepared, she lifts her wings, and rises into the damp air. All around her, scouts from neighboring colonies join her in flight.

As the sun lifts higher, and the air begins to warm, scouts return home from their morning mission. They fly near the entrances of their hives, and then circle as they check to verify they have approached the correct tower. Moving closer, one scout comes within an inch of the hive and hovers as though she is a helicopter the moment before it lands. Soon, she lets herself drop the last inch, and she lands on the porch of her home.

In the hives surrounding her home, other scouts are mirroring her actions. Excited to gather information, worker bees surround the scouts as they explain the position of flowers through a dance. Soon, hundreds of bees line the porch ready to begin their day. As the bees take off, the buzz in the air grows louder. The world begins to vibrate with the beating wings of tiny workers. They are filled with purpose as they speed off in search of the brilliant blooms.

Upon spotting a bright flower, a worker hovers for a moment before dropping onto the soft pad of pollen. As she does, her tiny, fuzzy body becomes coated in the powdered pollen. Using her front legs, she combs her hair carefully. Then, she dispenses her findings into her pollen baskets. While on the same flower, she lets her straw-like tongue make contact with the flower’s nectar and carefully fills her belly with the sweet substance. Satisfied, she lifts off again and takes a short flight to a nearby flower. Soon, the small bee is too full to carry any more. Weighed down, she begins her flight home using the sun’s position as a guide.

Back at the hive, the nectar filled bee begins transferring her gatherings to a waiting worker bee. The young bee is excited to taste the sugary, sweet liquid. Beginning her instinctive job, she transforms the nectar into honey and carefully packs it into the small, waiting hexagons. Beside her, hundreds of bees carefully pick their way across the combs, completing various tasks.

Beneath these vigorously working bees, in the first story of the hive, a host of female workers surround one very important bee. The queen is pampered and fawned over. Her doting daughters continuously surround her long, elegant body tending to her every need. She is the center, which the hive surrounds, and the life giver of all other workers. As the ruler takes confident, purposeful steps, her loyal subjects keep a careful circle around her. They watch as she carefully lowers her head into a nearby cell and uses her large, watchful eyes to inspect it. Once she has decided the comb has been properly cleaned, the queen strides across the cell and positions herself in front of it. Then, with great care, she arches her body so the tip of her behind dips into the comb and lays an egg. Stepping forward, she begins to inspect the next comb.

Later on, as the vibrant colors of yellow, orange, and red smear the sky, the last of the worker bees return home. As they make their final landing, they are greeted by waiting nurse bees who groom them like affectionate mothers. Weighed down by their precious loads, they quickly join their siblings within the hive to finish packing in the day’s haul. As they travel throughout the hive, they hear a comforting buzz and can smell their beloved queen. These small signs let them know the hive is safe.

Outside the hive, the world is settling down for the night. The fiery hues of the evening fade into a sea of endless black as the luminous moon takes its place in the sky. Milky white light slips off the moon and floats gently to the earth giving the grass a peaceful glow. Within the grass, crickets begin their lullaby taking the place of the subsiding buzz, and the rustle of leaves join with harmony. The air is filled with cool moisture as if the twinkling stars above are washing away the day. Filled with peace, the entire yard is a serene escape untouched by human flaw. With a final gentle breeze, the earth says goodnight, and the bees respond with a nearly silent buzz. The yard slowly falls back asleep dreaming of the day to come.