Saturday, December 1, 2012

Holiday Honeybee Gift-Giving!

Honey makes an amazing gift!

For many people, the holiday season is a time for exchanging gifts with friends and family members. For many beekeepers, the holiday season is a time for giving homemade gifts made from products of the hive. You can join in all the fun and give homemade honeybee-themed gifts, too!

Honey is the gift that keeps on giving. It is pretty inexpensive, but it can last forever because honey never spoils. For gifts for your family and friends this year, try buying honey from a local beekeeper and repackage it in smaller decorative jars. You can even ask your parents to help you buy a few varieties of honeys from different regions of the United States, packing it in tiny containers, and gifting a sampling of many unique honeys, as well. Or, for a more fun idea, use craft supplies such as felt or foam sheets to “dress up” your honey bears in festive holiday wear. Who wouldn’t love a honey bear wearing a scarf and hat, or one dressed like Santa Claus?

Winter is cough and cold season for many people. Luckily, honey is able to soothe a sore throat and can help reduce coughing, as well. A cheerful coffee mug filled with a variety of herbal tea bags, along with a honey bear would make a great gift! Your friends and family will be able to enjoy a hot cup of tea with honey to recover and relax.

Hand-crafted beeswax ornament.
Beeswax is another great product of the hive that has many uses. Beeswax candles burn bright and clean and make perfect gifts. With an adult’s help, you can quickly make molded beeswax candles of all shapes and sizes in many decorative designs. Beeswax also can be poured into shallow molds to make ornaments that you can decorate and personalize. In addition to candles and ornaments, you might consider using beeswax to make homemade lip balm or hand lotion. There’s nothing better than homemade beeswax hand lotion when it comes to moisturizing dry skin in the winter months. Here is a link to a great beeswax lotion recipe.
In recent years, honeybees have been mysteriously disappearing and scientists are not sure what is causing their decline. We all need honeybees to pollinate our food crops. Every person has the power to protect honeybees. This holiday season give your friends packets of pollinator-friendly wildflower seeds. Not only will they be able to grow beautiful flowers in their own yards, but they will also help to provide great sources of nectar and pollen for our honeybees.

Honeybees provide wonderful products of the hive that can be used to create a variety of gifts for the holiday season.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Diseases of the Hive – Honeybees get Sick just like we do!

I think everyone can remember a time when you were sick, and you had a parent, grandparent, or friend take care of you to help you get better. Beekeepers take care of their honeybees when they get sick, just like when someone took care of you! Today, I’m going to talk about different honeybee pests and diseases.

This hive as a jar of sugar syrup to make sure the bees
have enough food. 
One way honeybees get sick is when they get a virus. Viruses are a lot like a cold. There’s not much beekeepers can do to treat them; rather, they just try to keep their hives healthy to avoid them. Beekeepers can try to keep their honeybees healthy by making sure they have plenty of honey, pollen, and water, and they can make sure their hive is prepared for the cold winter months. Beekeepers keep a close eye on their bees for any signs of disease, but sometimes even beekeepers who have been keeping bees for many years still have beehives that get sick. One very common pest in the hive is called a mite.

This is a close up picture of a mite.
It's usually only the size of a tip of a
The mite is a parasitic insect that is very tiny – only about the size of a tip of a sewing needle. The mite attaches itself to the honeybee and sucks its blood. Eventually, there are so many mites in every hive that they weaken the colony, and if it isn’t treated, the colony may die. When many of the bees have been attacked by mites, the adult bees in the hive become too weak to take care of the brood. Think of it this way: if your mom and dad were sick, it would be much harder for them to care of you. Thankfully, beekeepers can reduce the number of mites in a beehive by using medications or special equipment.

 A close up picture of a mite on the honeybee's back. 
There are many other diseases that affect honeybees. Beekeepers try to keep their honeybees healthy and avoid disease. It’s important to us, too. Since honeybees get sick, it’s important for us to help the beekeepers who care for the honeybees that pollinate so much of the food that we love. If you want to help honeybees you could plant some honeybee friendly flowers, buy local honey from a beekeeper, or even tell a friend how important they are for us.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Help the Honeybees!

Over 100 crops are pollinated by honeybees!

Honeybees are helpful insects. Sure, they make yummy honey for us to enjoy, but they also help to pollinate nearly 1/3 of the foods that we eat every single day. It is our job to make sure that honeybees are healthy so they can continue pollinating in the future. Every person has the power to protect the honeybee! Here are some ways that you can help!

Just like you need to eat a variety of foods to stay healthy and strong, honeybees need to gather nectar and pollen from a wide variety of flowers to maintain their healthy as well! You can help the honeybees by planting more flowers, especially pollinator-friendly kinds. Pollinator-friendly plants contain lots of pollen and nectar for all pollinators, not just honeybees. Once they bloom, you’ll see more honeybees, hummingbirds, and butterflies in your yard, too! Visit for a list of plants that can grow in your area. Here is a video showing how to plant a pollinator garden: 


Pledge to protect honeybees by joining the “Bee Buddies”. This online club is dedicated to teaching kids more about honeybees. By joining, you are promising to protect honeybees in your area. Learn important facts about honeybees and teach your family and friends why it honeybees needs to be helped.

You and your parents can buy local honey at a farmer's market!
The next time you visit your local farmer’s market, pick up a jar of local honey. Not only will you get a taste of all the floral sources in your area, but you’ll also be supporting a beekeeper in your area. You can also consider keeping honeybees yourself; talk to your parents about becoming beekeepers! Having honeybees is an exciting hobby that you will enjoy while knowing that you’re doing your part to help the honeybees in your area.

If this seems like too much work, there is one last thing that you can do. The next time you go to the store to buy ice cream, check out a brand called Häagen-Dazs. A lot of the ingredients in Häagen-Dazs ice cream are pollinated by honeybees. Each year, Häagen-Dazshas pledged to donate money to honeybee research programs to try to find a cure for the mysterious honeybee losses.

So what are you waiting for? Start helping the honeybees today!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

From the Hive to the Bottle: Extraction!

One of my favorite things to eat for breakfast in the morning is a peanut butter and honey sandwich, and I love to bake with honey. Have you ever wondered how beekeepers get the honey from the honeybees and put it in a bottle? Beekeepers do that through a process called extraction!  Let’s take a look.
This bee brush is used to get the bees off from each frame!
Step 1: The first thing beekeepers have to do is take the honey supers, or boxes of extra honey, off the hive. To take the boxes off, beekeepers must first remove the bees from inside. There are many different ways they do this. They might use a special scent that the bees don’t like so they leave the box. Another way beekeepers get the bees out is by brushing them off each frame by using a bee brush, and there are even bee blowers that beekeepers can use to blow the bees of from each frame – kind of like a vacuum only it blows air out.

A beekeeper using a hot knife to get the wax cappings off. 
Step 2: Once the honey has been taken off the hive, and the majority of the bees are gone, the next step is to remove the wax cappings that cover the honeycomb on each frame. You see, when honeybees are making honey, they put the honey in beeswax cells and put a thin layer of beeswax over the top to keep the honey from coming out. To get the wax off, beekeepers might use a hot knife and cut them off or use a machine that will take them off.

This is a type of extractor that you crank!
Step 3: Next, each wooden frame is placed into a big cylinder, metal machine or piece of equipment called an extractor. Some beekeepers have big extractors that may hold hundreds of frames at one time, and others may have smaller ones that only hold a few.  

Step 4: Either by cranking or by a machine, the extractor then spins the frames in a circle at a high speed, which causes the honey to fly out of each frame like a centrifuge. The honey slides down the sides of the extractor, and can then be strained to take out anything that got in the honey like beeswax pieces or pollen.
Straining the honey!

Step 5: The honey may be put into a storage tank before the last step, which is to bottle the honey. Like you see in the picture, the honey flows right into each bottle.

Step 6: The honey is taken to be sold at a store or farmers market for you to enjoy!!

So, next time you eat some honey think about all the steps the beekeeper had to take so you could enjoy the liquid gold!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Honeybees in your daily routine!

If I were to ask you how you thought honeybees affected your daily activities, what would you say? Maybe you haven't thought of it much before, but honeybees have an effect on most everything you do throughout out the day! Let's find out more by taking a peek into the life of a typical elementary school student.

7:30 AM- Wake up in a bed covered in cotton sheets. Honeybees pollinate our cotton crop every year. In some states, you can find cotton honey on the store shelves!

7:40 AM- Shower and use lotion made with beeswax, a product of the hive that helps seal in moisture.

Cotton is honeybee pollinated!

8:00 AM- Get dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, both of which are made of cotton that is pollinated by honeybees.

8:20 AM- Breakfast: Blueberry pancakes and a glass of orange juice. Honeybees pollinate both blueberry bushes and orange trees. Without honeybees, we would not have these fruits.

8:40 AM- Brush your teeth and use beeswax-coated dental floss.

8:45 AM- Catch the bus to school.

9:00 AM- First class is American History. Many of the crops that were very important to our Founding Fathers were dependent on honeybee pollination. Read more about early American farming here. Do you remember the story about George Washington and the cherry tree?

10:30 AM- Snack time: Apples with peanut butter honey dip. You can tell if an apple has been fully pollinated by slicing it in half to look at the "star" inside. If you count 10 seeds, a honeybee has pollinated your apple completely.

11:00 AM- Art class. Many crayons contain beeswax.

12:00 PM- Lunch: Pizza, fresh fruit, and chocolate milk. Honeybees pollinate a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, but they also pollinate clover and alfalfa. These crops are used as feed for cattle. Cows eat clover and alfalfa and they are able to produce milk, which an also be made into cheese for your pizza.

12:30 PM- Scrape your knee at recess. The nurse might give you a cotton bandage coated with honey, a natural antibacterial and antibiotic substance!

1:00 PM- Spelling "bee" in English class.

2:00 PM- Learn about insect metamorphosis in Science class. Honeybees are complete insects that go through all stages of development.

3:00 PM- Break the rules and chew a gumball. Many candies are made with a coating of beeswax.

4:00 PM- Get on the bus to go home. Do your homework worksheeet. Paper is a product from trees. Did you know that trees have flowers, too? Some trees are pollinated by honeybees, ensuring that seeds will form and new trees will grow!

5:30 PM- Dinner: Spaghetti with meatballs, Parmesan cheese, garlic toast, and a glass of apple juice. Honeybees pollinate the vegetables in your spaghetti sauce, the feed for cattle that produce the milk needed to make the Parmesan cheese and the butter on the garlic toast, and also the apples needed to make your apple juice.

The average person is affected by honeybees at nearly every stage of the day! Tomorrow, take some time to think about all of the ways that honeybees change your life for the better and remember the hard work they do!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Home Sweet Hive

Hives can be many different colors, but as you
can see,they are like boxes that beekeepers stack up!
Just like you have a home that you live in, honeybees also have a home they live in too! Beekeepers call this home the hive; you may have seen a beehive in a field or orchard while on a trip with your family! Today, we are going to talk about the different parts of the hive.
This is what it looks like inside each hive box. As you
can see there are 10 wooden frames that we can take out!

Each hive is made up of boxes, which have wood on four sides and are open on the top and bottom. Beekeepers stack up these boxes and paint them.  Often they are painted white, but some hives are brightly colored! In each box, there are 8-10 rectangular frames that fit perfectly inside.

This is a close up picture of a frame. You can see the
yellow foundation that beekeepers put in the middle
so that honeybees could start building beeswax. 
The outside of each frame is made out of wood, and on the inside, beekeepers give the honeybees a thin sheet of beeswax, which we call foundation.  From that beeswax sheet, the honeybees build six-sided beeswax cells. The hexagon is the perfect shape for the bees to make in order to not waste space or beeswax! Inside the beeswax cells the honeybees will store everything they need to survive: the queen will lay eggs in some cells, and in other cells the bees will store honey and pollen.

In the spring, beekeepers usually start out with one box because after winter there aren’t a lot of workers to fill the box up with honey, but as summer goes on the honeybees will run out of space in that one box, so beekeepers put another hive box (with frames) on top of it.

In the boxes on the bottom of the stack, the queen lays eggs. Beekeepers call this section the “brood chamber” because that’s where the eggs, larva, and pupa (called “brood”) of the honeybees develop before they hatch out of their cells.

Since beekeepers don’t want the queen to lay eggs where the bees store the honey in the hive, sometimes we put a queen excluder in the hive. The queen excluder looks like a wire rack that the worker bees can fit through to get to the top of the hive, but the queen’s body is too big to fit through, so she stays at the bottom of the hive. This queen excluder is placed right on top of the brood

The Queen Excluder keeps the Queen in the bottom boxes!
As you can see, it's like a wire rack. 
After the queen excluder is put on the hive, beekeepers keep adding more boxes on top of it as the honeybees make more honey. Beekeepers call these boxes “supers” because that’s where the honey is stored. By the end of summer, the hive could be taller than you!

At the very top of the hive there are two covers. There is an inner cover, which gives the bees a little more room or insulation, and an outer cover or telescoping cover protects the hive from rain and predators.

A very tall hive because the
bees made lots of honey!
Keep an eye out for a honeybee hive next time you’re traveling somewhere!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Swarm Season!

It’s June… and you know what that means. School’s almost out for summer! I’ll bet you’re ready to just buzz on out of the classroom and start enjoying your time outside. And that’s just what the bees are ready to do, too! The period of time between mid-May and mid-June is typically referred to as swarm season, because honeybee colonies all across the country are splitting up and dividing in anticipation of summer’s abundance.

 Perhaps you’ve seen a swarm hanging from a branch or clustered on a fence post. You may have felt a little bit scared or uneasy, but don’t panic! The honeybees in that swarm are extremely gentle. They do not want to give up their life to sting you because they are protecting something very special. Deep inside the core of that living ball of bees is a queen bee. The workers surrounding her are protecting her while they send out scout bees to find a new home.

 But why do bees swarm anyway? During the winter, the queen stops laying eggs and the population of the hive decreases until spring. Once the queen begins to lay up to 3,000 eggs each day in the spring time, the hive becomes very crowded. When it is too full, worker bees start to produce queen cells (visit the January blog post for more information on queen cells). At just about the same time that the new queens are due to emerge from their cells, worker bees start to rush around inside of the hive, telling other workers that the time is right, and urging them outside of the hive. Eventually, the queen bee and up to half of her workers leave the hive and settle in a new home. The hive is no longer crowded, and it now has a brand new young queen bee, ready to start laying eggs.

 Many beekeepers keep busy during swarm season catching swarms. Because a swarm is a cluster of bees with a queen, it is very valuable. Due to the gentle nature of swarms, a beekeeper can easily shake the bees into a new hive and then add it to his bee yard. 

 If you see a swarm of bees in your area, don’t be afraid. Just call your local beekeeper as soon as possible. If you don't know a beekeeper, look online to see if you can find a local or state beekeeping club's contact information.  You can also try calling your county's extension office.  Watch the swarm rescue process from a safe distance- you’re sure to bee amazed at what you see!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How Honeybees Fill your Plate

In school, you might have learned about “My Plate”, which is similar to the food pyramid, and tells us the amount of food in each category we are supposed to eat each day like you see in the picture. Today we are going to talk about how honeybees help get that food to our plate.

Did you know that unlike most insects, honeybees are fuzzy? They have little hairs all over their bodies--even on their eyes! When honeybees fly away from their hive, they go to flowers to collect nectar, but while they are collecting nectar, they are also doing something else that is very important: pollination.
You can tell how fuzzy honeybees truly are from this picture!
Pollen from the flower that the honeybee visits sticks to the little hairs all over the honeybee’s body through static electricity. Have you ever rubbed a balloon on your head and then stuck it to a wall? The pollen sticks to the honeybee in almost the same way. A honeybee may fly to over 100 flowers on one trip, so the pollen from the first flower gets moved to the next flower, and the pollen from that flower gets moved to the next one, and so on. When the honeybee pollinates a flower, it allows that flower to make a seed.

This is part of an apple, and you can
tell it was pollinated because of the seeds!
According to MyPlate, HALF of what we are supposed to eat every day is fruits and vegetables! What kinds of fruits and vegetables do you eat that have seeds? Apples? Oranges? Cucumbers? Pumpkins? Watermelon? I bet you can think of many more! Honeybees pollinate many of our fruits and vegetables, and so they already help fill about half of our plate.

A field of buckwheat that is pollinated by honeybees
Next, about a quarter of our plate is
 grains. Although the wind pollinates many of the grain crops, honeybees are still important for some. One type of wheat that honeybees pollinate is buckwheat. Buckwheat is often used to make pancakes! If we didn’t have honeybees we would be missing some grains!

The last quarter of our plate is protein; nuts, beans, and meat make up this section of our plate. Did you know that honeybees pollinate many of these foods too? Over 1 million hives each year go to California to pollinate almonds, one type of nut. Honeybees also help pollinate different beans like lima and kidney beans. Honeybees even make it possible for us to have meat and dairy products because honeybees pollinate alfalfa, which is a food that cows and other animals eat!

As you can see, honeybees pollinate many of the foods that help us fill up our plate. One out of every three bites of food we eat is pollinated by the honeybee!

Let’s eat!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Honeybees and Easter

What are the first things that come to your mind when you think about the Easter holiday? Bunnies, baby chicks, egg dyeing, and of course many different candies… Do you think about honeybees? Many people don’t realize, but honeybees play a very important role in this special holiday because they produce beeswax.

Natural honeycomb inside the hive.
Worker bees secrete beeswax from four paired glands on the underside of their bellies. Beeswax is used to build honeycomb inside of the hive, but beekeepers can harvest beeswax from the hive and use it in many different ways.
Paschal candles are 51% beeswax!

The most common use for beeswax is in candle-making. During the Easter season, the Catholic Church burns Paschal candles, which are special candles made with at least 51% beeswax. Beeswax burns brighter and with less smoke than other waxes, and the candles last for a longer time.

Decorating a pysanky egg.
If you enjoy dyeing Easter eggs, then maybe you would like to try decorating Ukrainian pysanky eggs. These eggs are dyed many times using beeswax which covers the egg in patterns on each layer. The result is a beautiful and elaborate brightly colored Easter egg.

Beeswax is also an important ingredient in many candies. Do you like jelly beans? Beeswax is sometimes added to the shell of jelly beans to keep them firm. Many chocolate candies have a coating that is made from beeswax. This gives the candy its shine and protects it from melting quickly.  But don't worry; you really can't taste it!

This upcoming Easter, as you decorate eggs and enjoy yummy candies, remember to thank the honeybee for her role in making your Easter celebration great!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

More bees, please!

          One common question that we get asked in schools is, “Where do you get your bees from?” With spring being just around the corner, beekeepers are starting to think about how many colonies or hives of bees they want this year. Beekeepers may want to get colonies for several reasons; he or she may be just starting this new hobby for the first time, getting more colonies to replace the ones that died over winter, or adding more hives to their operation.

            There are a few ways beekeepers can get more colonies of bees. They can try to catch a swarm of bees that may have left a different beekeeper’s hive or is living in the wild (this can be very difficult), beekeepers can buy hives from other beekeepers, or they can order packages of bees. Today we are going to talk about packages of bees.  

Beekeepers shaking a frame of bees into the funnel
that leads to the package. 
            In different parts of the United States there are beekeepers that raise package bees. Typically they live in warmer climates like California or Georgia. These beekeepers will take bees away from colonies that are “boiling over” with bees. In other words, the colonies are really healthy, and it would not hurt the colony to take bees away from it. The beekeeper will take frames that are covered with bees from these colonies and shake them into a type of funnel that leads into a package, and the package is on top of a scale. Here is a picture of a package: 

As you can see, it is similar to a wooden box with screened sides. The beekeeper will continue to shake bees into the package until it weighs 2 or 3 pounds. Each pound contains around 3500 bees.

A Queen bee inside of her separate cage. This will be put
inside the bigger package! 
            Once the package is the correct weight, a queen bee is put in the package, but she is kept in a separate cage that looks like this. She is kept in a cage so the other bees in the package get used to her and accept her as their new queen!

            The last thing that is added to the package is a can of sugar syrup. The bees have a long trip before they arrive at their new home, and they will eat the sugar syrup while traveling.

            Lastly, the bees are put on a semi-truck and are delivered to the beekeepers who ordered them. It’s just like when you receive a package in the mail, except the package buzzes a bit more!       

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A New Year - A New Queen (And Princess!)

It’s a new year, and a new American Honey Queen and Princess have been chosen to represent the American Beekeeping Federation and travel across the country speaking about honeybees and beekeeping. A panel of judges makes the final decision, but have you ever wondered how a honeybee colony gets a new queen bee?

In our world, a person might be elected or chosen to become a queen, but in the world of the honeybee, a tiny egg is destined to develop into a queen from nearly the first day of its life. The queen bee has the very important job of laying all the eggs inside the hive. If a queen bee is growing old or if she suddenly dies, the worker bees must make a new queen in a hurry so there will be a queen in the hive to start laying eggs again.

To make a queen bee, workers select a few fertilized eggs and they begin to expand the size of their cells. These special queen cells are about the size and shape of peanut shells. The queen bee is the largest bee in the hive, and she needs plenty of room to develop and grow. As the egg grows into a larva, which looks like a fat, white worm, the worker bees start to feed the young larvae a special substance called royal jelly, which is produced from glands inside the workers’ mouths. Royal jelly is bee super food. It is very rich in calories, vitamins, and proteins. Every honeybee larva, including workers and drones,  eats a small amount of royal jelly during its development, but a larva that is going to be a queen bee needs a lot of it every day of her life. As the larvae eat the royal jelly, their bodies change and they develop into queen bees instead of regular worker bees. After 16 days, a brand new queen emerges.
A queen larva inside her cell. Do you see the royal jelly?

A queen cell is about the size and shape of a peanut shell.
For beekeepers, the next step is to use a special marker to paint a dot on the backs of new queens. They do this to make the queen easier to find inside of the hive, but also to show how old each queen is. As an industry standard, beekeepers around the world have a system, and they use 5 colors to mark their queen. Each color corresponds to a different year:

Years ending in 1 or 6
(Like 2011 or 2016)
Years ending in 2 or 7
Years ending in 3 or 8
Years ending in 4 or 9
Years ending in 5 or 0

This queen is marked blue. What year was she born?
Beekeepers will use a yellow dot to mark all queens produced in 2012. What color would you be if you were a queen? Use the chart to find out! For example, if you were born in 2003, you would be marked with a red dot.