Monday, February 1, 2016

Bee Pollen Benefits

Honey bee collecting pollen
Honey is probably your favorite hive treat, but pollen has a lot to offer. Pollen is the yellowish powder that comes from flowers. Have you ever smelled a flower so close that you had a colorful powder on your nose? That's pollen! When honey bees gather nectar from flowers, they also collect and carry pollen from flower to flower and finally back to their hive to use as food. Honey bees mix pollen with nectar to make beebread, which they feed to the larvae (baby bees that will hatch soon). 

Related image
Bee pollen collected for humans to eat 

Scientists say bee pollen is a nutritious super food. Have you ever tried it? Pollen granules contain many vitamins, minerals and protein. Eating pollen is said to boost energy, improve digestive health and aid your immune system. One amazing thing about pollen is that it can help with allergies! Eating pollen from your area can help your body build up an immunity to pollens, with similar results to an allergy shot. You can buy bee pollen from a local beekeeper, farmer's market or health food store. It tastes a little crunchy, powdery, sweet and floral--like nothing you've tasted before! Safety is important, so ask your doctor before you decide to try pollen as a supplement. 

Honey bee covered in pollen
There are many benefits to bee pollen, but the biggest benefit comes to us when honey bees pollinate fruits, vegetables, nuts and other crops. Foods like blueberries, melons, broccoli, almonds and apples rely on honey bee pollination. As a bee buzzes from blossom to blossom, the tiny pollen particles coat her fuzzy body and legs. When she arrives at the next flower, a portion of the golden dust is transferred to that blossom and pollination happens. Check out this fun pollination activity you can try at home...with Cheetos! Whether we eat pollen or enjoying the fruits of pollination, we have the fuzzy, hard-working honey bee to thank!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

2016 Representatives Crowned in Jacksonville

The new American Honey Queen and Princess were selected at the 2016 American Beekeeping Federation Convention in Jacksonville, Florida.

2016 American Honey Queen
Kim Kester from Wisconsin

2016 American Honey Princess
Tabitha Mansker from Texas

Congratulations ladies! They will post interesting articles about bees and honey throughout their reign. Keep an eye out for the sweetest representatives in America!
2016 American Honey Queen Kim Kester &
2016 American Honey Princess Tabitha Mansker

Friday, January 1, 2016

Honeybees Vs. Bumblebees

Honeybees and bumblebees are often confused for one another. Both types of bees are frequently seen outside visiting flowers, and their comparable appearances leave many people wondering what type of bee they have spotted. Fortunately, with a little information, anyone can quickly learn to tell the difference between honeybees and bumblebees.


Honeybees and bumbles bees have some similar characteristics, but their differences make it easy to tell them apart. Both types of bees are insects and therefore have three main parts to their bodies; The parts are the head, thorax, and abdomen. In addition, both types of insects have four wings and six legs. However, whereas honeybees have slim bodies, bumblebees have much thicker bodies. In addition, bumblebees have much more hair than honeybees. One of the easiest ways to tell a bumblebee from a honeybee is through color. Bumblebees often have black and yellow stripes covering their bodies, and honeybees show dark brown and golden brown stripes.

A Honeybee Stinger Stuck in the Target
Female honeybees and female bumblebees both have stingers they use for defense. In both groups, the male bees do not have stingers. Honeybee stingers have a barb on the end, and when a honeybee stings, the stinger gets stuck in her target. When she flies away, the stinger, along with her intestines, get ripped out of her body. She dies shortly after. For this reason, a honeybee can only sting once. The stinger of a bumblebee is slightly different because it is smooth. A bumblebee can sting without losing her stinger, and therefore can sting multiple times. However, both types of bees are gentle and will not sting unless provoked.

Living Arrangements
Both honeybees and bumblebees are social insects and have queen, drone, and worker bees. However, bumblebees live in groups of only about 50 to 400 bees, and honeybees live in a group of about 40,000 to 60,000 bees. Another difference occurs during the winter. In a honeybee hive, the queen bee and many of her daughters live throughout the winter in the hive. They eat honey and flex their muscles to generate heat. In contrast, only queen bumblebees survive through the winter, and they do so by hibernating in a hole in the ground.
Bumblebee Nest
Honeybee Nest

Honeybees create a surplus of honey that can be collected by beekeepers and sold. Bumblebees create only a small amount of a honey-like substance that is not collected by humans. Both types of bees gather the nectar used to make honey by visiting flowers. Honeybees prefer open flowers because they have short tongues. On the other hand, bumblebees have different lengths of tongues depending on their species and therefore feed on many different shapes of flowers.

Honeybees and bumblebees are both gentle creatures with small, fuzzy bodies. They can easily be identified through their appearance, and have many differences in the ways they live their lives. Both honeybees and bumblebees are important for the environment and should be loved and appreciated for their work.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Propolis: the Glue of the Hive

A honey bee with tree sap for propolis in her pollen baskets

I’d like to introduce you to one of the amazing products of the beehive--propolis! Propolis is sticky glue that bees make by collecting sap from the buds of trees, then mixing it with beeswax and some of their own special secretions to create a glue. The color and makeup of propolis changes from one part of the world to another, and even from beehive to beehive.  

Bees made this entrance smaller by filling it with propolis
Have you heard that beehives are cleaner than a hospital? That’s because bees like a clean home and because propolis is antibacterial, so it helps to stop disease and bacteria in a beehive!

With more than 180 different compounds, propolis is the hive's chemical weapon against harmful pathogens and diseases. Propolis is antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-fungal, antiseptic, antiviral, and antibiotic. It helps kill all the bad bacteria and keeps the hive healthy.
Scraping propolis off of the propolis trap

Honey bees have many uses for propolis inside the hive. It’s used to coat the whole inside cavity of the hive, smooth out any rough surface, and seal up cracks or holes in the hive. They even use it to imprison small hive beetles (a beetle that likes to hang out in beehives and eat honey) and to embalm (cover) dead animals like a mouse that might happen to die inside the hive.

In ancient times propolis was used to treat wounds
It’s not just the bees who find propolis useful, it has been used by humans for a very long time! Beekeepers harvest propolis from their beehives by using a propolis trap. In ancient times, propolis was used for its medicinal properties in treating wounds and tumors to fight infections and promote healing. The Egyptians even used it to embalm mummies!

Propolis is just as effective today as it was back then, and it is still used for medical purposes for fighting infection, boosting the immune system, healing cold sores, treating skin injuries, and healing the mouth after dental surgery. It can also be found in beauty and skin care products, cough syrups, and healing ointments. Propolis is even used in agriculture to fight plant viruses in certain crops! 
Raw propolis from a beehive

Propolis is another incredible product from honey bees that is important to the beehive and useful to humans. You can find propolis and many propolis products online, at your local health food store, or from your local beekeeper. 

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.