Monday, August 1, 2016

Honeybees Need Your Help

Here are five things you can do to help the honeybee.

1. Plant bee-friendly flowers in your yard
There are many flowers that bees really like and we call these ‘bee friendly flowers.’ Bees need flowers to survive. Flowers produce pollen and nectar. The bees collect the pollen to eat for themselves and to feed to their babies back home. Pollen is the bees source of protein, just like you and I need protein to grow healthy and strong, bees need protein as well. Nectar is the bees carbohydrates. Carbohydrates give the bees energy to do all of their many jobs. Honeybees also use the nectar to make honey! You can help provide the bees with food by planting flowers in pots or in your yard for the bees to come and collect pollen and nectar! 

Bees drinking water

2. Make sure the bees have plenty of water
Just like most creatures on earth, bees need water. Water helps to keep the bees hydrated. You can help the bees by creating a little spot for them to come and get clean water to drink. Pour water in a small bowl and add rocks or sticks to the water so there is a place for the bees to land so they don’t drown. Providing the bees with water is a great way to help!

3. Buy local honey
Local honey for sale
You can support beekeepers by buying local honey. Beekeepers work hard to keep their bees alive and healthy so that they can pollinate our food for us. Many times when the bees make honey, the beekeeper will sell that honey to make money to keep taking care of his/her bees. So you can help the honeybee by supporting and buying honey from a beekeeper in your area!

4. Become a beekeeper
Yes, you can be a beekeeper! Beekeepers are all different ages. So whether you are a young kid or a grown adult, you can start keeping bees. The first step to being a good beekeeper is learning as much as you can about honeybees. There are classes and books that will teach you all you need to know to start your own beehive. Starting your own bee hive is a very fun way to help honeybees! 
Kids who started beekeeping
5. Teach others what you know
Lastly you can teach your friends and family what you know about honeybees. You can teach them how important they are to our food supply and to our environment. You and your friends can plant flowers together, or make bee watering spots, or even enjoy eating honey snacks together all while helping the honeybee thrive. 

Honeybees are amazing creatures and they need your help!  

Friday, July 1, 2016

Preparing for Honey Harvest

The bees have been working hard all summer to gather nectar and convert it into honey. The nectar has been deposited into cells in the honeycomb and the bees have fanned it with their wings to evaporate out much of the moisture. The cell is then capped with wax for storage. At this point, it is considered honey. The honey is their food, or where they get their carbohydrates for energy. This is what we will harvest at the end of summer.

In order to prepare for honey harvest, there are a few key pieces of equipment we need to acquire. Keep in mind that beekeepers can have one hive or one thousand hives, which means there are different setups for harvesting honey. The equipment listed here is for a beekeeper that has a small number of hives.

First, we need an extractor. For a small scale beekeeper, this will be the biggest investment for
honey harvest equipment. An extractor is essentially a stainless steel barrel. Inside are baskets that hold frames full of honey. There is a hand crank or motor mounted on top that will spin the baskets inside the steel barrel. At the bottom of the barrel is a gate that controls the flow of honey out of the barrel.

Hot knife
Next is the hot knife. This is a large steel blade that must be plugged in to heat up. It has a wooden handle to protect the user’s hand from being burned. We will also need honey buckets. The quantity depends on how much honey you will be harvesting and bottling. The buckets are a standard five-gallon food grade pail with a gate at the bottom. This bucket will catch the honey from the extractor. For the top of the bucket, some type of strainer is needed. 

Depending on the facility where you are harvesting honey, you may want to cover the floor with a layer of plastic. Honey is incredibly sticky and tends to get everywhere! The plastic will help make cleanup a breeze. Don’t forget about bottles. Small plastic bears to large glass jars are all acceptable, provided they are clean and do not have residues from other foods. Remember to set aside a whole day or more for harvesting, it’s not something you can rush. Once you have all the necessary equipment, you’re ready for harvest!
Honey bucket
Plastic bottle

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Honey: In the Kitchen

Have you ever tried honey and peanut butter together on a sandwich? How about honey on your pancakes for breakfast? Honey is a great complement to every meal! It can be eaten by the spoonful or mixed with other ingredients to make some deliciously sweet  dishes. 
First, choosing which kind of honey you would like to use. Honey comes in all colors and flavors! In fact, there are more than 300 different varieties of honey in the United States and over 3,000 worldwide. Each of these honeys has a different color and flavor. The flavor of honey is determined by the nectar the bees gathered. Different flowers produce different flavors as well as different colors of honey. Some honey can be light in color and very clear, almost like water. Bees can also make honey that is thick and dark like molasses. Typically, the lighter the honey in color, the milder in flavor. Darker honey is stronger and bolder in flavor. Lighter honeys, like clover honey are great to eat on toast or to sweeten drinks. Many people like to sweeten coffee or hot tea with honey. Honey and green tea is great for when you have a sore throat. The hot tea helps to sooth while the honey coats and works to heal your throat. The next time you have a sore or itchy throat, try adding 2 tablespoons of honey to one cup of hot tea. Darker honeys like Buckwheat are great for cooking and baking. 

Here are three tips when you are baking with honey.
  1. Reduce the liquid called for in the recipe by ¼ for each cup of honey used. 
  2. Add ½ teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey used. 
  3. Reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees F to prevent over browning. 

Whether you’re making a honey glaze for a ham or just adding it to fruits or vegetables in a recipe, the stronger honey will add a bold delicious flavor. Try this simple recipe for honey carrots! Combine 1 cup carrots, 1 tablespoon butter and three tablespoons honey. Heat on medium heat for 12 minutes. Stir and enjoy! Both lighter and darker honey is a great alternative to other syrups. If you want to try something new, use honey instead of maple syrup on pancakes and waffles. Or next time you want some chocolate or strawberry milk, try adding honey instead! Try it on your ice cream. 
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. 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. 
One last tip: remember to keep honey in your pantry--not your refrigerator. The cold will cause it to crystallize. However, if your honey does crystallize, put the container in a bowl of warm water and the crystals will dissolve. Honey never spoils!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Construction Zone: Building Up a Hive

Very new wax
Spring is the time of year when both beekeepers and honeybees are very busy! Once beekeepers install their package of bees in the hives, they generally give them a few weeks to get on their feet. The honeybees' first task is to start building comb. The honeycomb is made of wax that the bees secrete from glands on their abdomen. Each bee can only create a small flake of wax at a time; thus the entire colony must work together to build their comb. When wax is brand new, it is pure white, and then it darkens with age. First year wax will typically be yellow in color. The bees build the comb on top of the hexagon pattern that is molded into the foundation. This process is called "drawing out" the comb. 

New wax being built on black foundation
A closer look, showing orange pollen in cells
The queen will begin to lay her eggs in the drawn comb, one egg per cell. These eggs hatch out into larvae, which look like pearly white crescent shapes inside the cell. The larvae are fed by the worker bees. For beekeepers, seeing eggs and larvae in the hive is a good sign, because this means their queen is working hard and is still alive. After the larvae almost completely fill their cell, worker bees will seal off their cell with wax. This allows the larvae to pupate, or develop its head, thorax, abdomen, legs, and other features of its body. From the time an egg is laid until a new bee hatches from its cell is 21 days.

It is also important to watch worker bees returning to the hive. Do they have pollen in the baskets on their rear legs as they return? If we cannot see pollen on returning bees, we can take a look at the comb. Can we see cells that are filled with yellow or orange? This means the bees are bringing back pollen from flowers, which is a source of protein they will feed to the baby bees. Protein is what helps the baby bees grow big and strong.

With the queen laying up to 2,000 eggs per day and the worker bees bringing in pollen to feed to babies, beekeepers know that their honeybees are off to a great start for the year. They are building up their population to ensure that there are plenty of bees to collect nectar to make into honey throughout the summer.
Comb full of large larvae

Friday, April 1, 2016

Beekeeping Tools

Think of the special tools that are required for baseball players, chefs, construction workers or teachers. These tools equip them to be successful, make their job easier and, when coupled with their expertise, produce great results. Similarly, beekeepers have a set of tools that offer protection and allow them to take care of their bees properly. 

The most important protection tool is the bee suit. It is made up of three main pieces: the veil, jacket and gloves. The veil is to protect a beekeeper's face, nose, mouth, eyes and ears from bee stings. It looks like a hat or hood with netting covering the face. This netting helps the beekeeper see clearly while protecting his/her face. Although honeybees do not want to sting, sometimes it happens, and it's important for a beekeeper to protect him/herself. The jacket protects a beekeeper's torso. It is normally made out of light colored, heavy-duty cloth. Bee suits are made with light colored fabrics to keep the beekeeper cool while he/she is working the bees in the heat of the summer months. Also, beekeepers don't wear dark colors to avoid intimidating the bees by being mistaken for a honeybee predator like a bear. The third piece of the bee suit is the gloves that protect a beekeeper's hands. The gloves are made especially for beekeeping. The gloves are thick and long, reaching above a beekeeper's elbow. There is a thin piece of elastic that hugs the arm so a honeybee can't sneak in. The hand portion of the glove is made of leather. Bees typically can’t sting through the leather portion, so a beekeeper's hands are safe from stings while working the hive. 

The hive tool looks like a thin metal bar that bends at one end. This tool is used to open up the lid of the beehive and to move around the wooden frames inside. Bees use a sticky substances called propolis (tree sap) to ‘glue’ the inside of the hive together to help insulate their home. This keeps it warm in winter time and cool in the summer. The hive tool comes in handy to unstick that propolis so a beekeeper can open the lid of the hive and move frames to check on the bees.

Beekeepers use a smoker to calm the bees. When lighting a smoker, a beekeeper first opens the lid, fills it with wood chips, pine cravings or newspaper and lights this fuel to start a fire. Once there is a small fire in the barrel, he/she puffs the bellows to introduce a little oxygen to feed the fire. Then, the beekeeper packs more fuel in and waits for cool, billowy smoke to come from the barrel spout. The smoke needs to be cool so it will not hurt the bees. The beekeeper puffs the bellows to disperse smoke near the entrance to the hive and over the tops of the boxes. When bees smell smoke, they instinctively (automatically) start eating honey. Because the bees are busy eating food, their defenses are down while the beekeeper goes through the different frames in each box. Afterwards, the bees are full and content. Beekeepers use smokers to calm the bees, but it does not hurt them. 

Beekeeping tools are necessary for a beekeeper's protection and help make it easier to manage healthy hives.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Bees in Boxes: How did they get in there?

A three-pound package of bees
You may have seen beehives near orchards or along fields in your area, but how did the honeybees get in there? Let’s take a look at how bees arrive in the spring and how they are transferred into the hive.

After a beekeeper has pre-ordered their honeybees for the year, they will get a phone call in spring saying the bees have arrived. They drive to the bee supply store to pick up their packages of honeybees. The packages are small wooden boxes with wire mesh on the sides and a can of sugar syrup hanging from the top. Depending on what size package the beekeeper ordered, there are either two pounds or three pounds of bees in the package. There are approximately 10,000 bees in a three-pound package, plus one queen bee in her own cage. This queen has recently been introduced to the bees in the package, which means they all need a few days to get to know each other. By the time the package arrives, all the bees have become accustomed to one another.

When the beekeeper gets the package of bees home, it is time to install it in the hive they have prepared. This is usually one deep hive body with frames inside. A deep hive body is the biggest box we can use for a hive. Frames are wooden frames with a sheet of beeswax or plastic with the honeycomb pattern molded into it, which offers a building guide for the bees to create wax honeycomb. Just like other types of farmers, different beekeepers might have different ways they take care of their animals. Here is one method to install the package of bees in the hive.

Shaking bees into the hive
Deep hive body ready for bees!
First, remove a few frames from the middle of the hive and set them aside. Remove the can of sugar syrup from the package. This can is usually empty because the bees were hungry on their truck ride to their destination! Slide the queen’s cage out of the package, make sure she is alive, and tuck her in your pocket for now. Pick up the package of honeybees, flip it over quickly, and start shaking the bees out into the middle of the box. The package can be tilted from side to side to help the bees shake out through the circular hole. Once almost all of them are out, set the package down near the hive. If there are still a few bees left inside, the package can be left near the hive until they find their way out.

Queen in her cage
Next, gently return the frames to the hive. Be careful as you lower them into the box, making sure you are softly spreading the bees out and not squishing them. Once all the frames are back in the box, it’s time to release our queen! One way to release the queen is called direct release, meaning she will leave her cage immediately. Using the hive tool, the staple holding the wire mesh on the queen’s cage is removed. The wire mesh is held down with a finger until we are ready to release her. Lower the queen cage as deep as possible in the hive between two frames, then pull back the wire mesh from the front of the cage. Keep a close eye on the queen to make sure she walks out onto the frame and does not try to escape!

Put the inner cover on the hive. Many beekeepers will offer the bees sugar syrup after they first arrive to ensure they have a close source of food, especially if not many flowers are blooming and producing nectar. This is simply one part water and one part sugar mixed in a bucket. The bucket has tiny holes drilled in the lid, so when it is flipped upside-down the bucket will not leak continuously. This bucket feeder is placed partially over the hole in the inner cover. A medium box is placed around the feeder to protect it from weather, and the outer cover is placed on top of that.

Bees had already started building comb!
At this point, our bees have been removed from their package and transferred to their new home. Once they find the food and are comfortable with their surroundings, they will get to work!