|John, ready to check the bee|
We're raising Minnesota Hygienic bees, which were developed at the University of Minnesota over several years. "Hygienic" bees are just that, hygienic. They are the Felix Unger of bees, and if you don't get that reference, just think about bees with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). They keep their hives absolutely spotless, reducing the chances of mites and diseases, and increasing their chances for strength and survivability.
|Our first three hives|
John's job right now is to watch for signs that the bees are preparing to swarm and have new hive boxes ready to be inhabited. If the boxes are nearby and ready, at the right time, John will capture the queen and put her in a cage, then put the cage in a new hive box. Other bees will be pulled to go with her. She'll be kept in the cage, in the hive box until the colony is established. If John misses the chance to do this, the bees could swarm and go high up into the trees or even leave the farm. That would be a big loss for us, since we are trying to grow our bee colonies and potential for honey.
|Opening the hive|
|These are 10-frame hives|
That's a lot of honey, and it sounds great doesn't it! But it's not that simple. All kinds of factors will influence the size of the hives, their reproductive abilities, and the amount of honey to be harvested. Bee health is imperative. Right now, we are lucky to have not just strong hives, but super-strong hives. This, I believe, is due to John's absolute attention to detail in their care. He inspects the hives daily, reads everything he can find about bees, does internet research late into the night, and asks zillions of questions of the other beekeepers at our monthly beekeepers' meeting.
|Removing an outer frame for inspection|
The bees also have to be well fed. In order for the hive to thrive and prosper, you can't rely solely on flowering plants and trees to provide pollen and nectar. When we brought our bees home last June, we started giving them sugar water on a daily basis. Seven pounds of sugar per gallon of cold water was recommended. We kept this up well into fall, until, at one of our monthly beekeepers' meetings, the best beekeeper in the state told us we probably didn't need to give them that much. We stopped the sugar water for a little while, but started giving them a lighter syrup in the new year.
|Frame, bees on both sides, filling in the combs with hone|
|Inner frame, fully covered and filled in|
The bees also have to have a fresh, available water source. There is a fresh-water pond less than a half-mile away, on our neighbor's property, and we keep fresh water near the hives. John has hung a few hummingbird feeders nearby, and, to the right of the hives (see photo above) there is an old humidifier that John re-purposed as a waterer.
|The yellow hive tool is used to separate and remove frames|
It is also important to keep the bees in a poison-free environment. Weed poisons, crop dusting poisons, even bug spray can all take their toll on a bee colony if they are exposed. 5~Acre Farm is, for the most part, removed from populated areas, and we do not use any poisonous chemicals on our orchards and crops. The few neighbors we do have must not be using poisons on their lawns and flowers, because we haven't seen any evidence of it in our hives.
The Hygienic bees are great at keeping their hives clean, but John is still diligent to inspect regularly for signs of mites, wax moth larvae, beetles, and other harmful insects which can quickly decimate a colony.
|John built this removable rack to hold frames while he works|
As strange as it might seem, having a fire ant colony near the hives is a good thing. They keep the surrounding area clean of dead bees, beetles, larvae, and spilled honey and pollen, and anything else that is littering the area.
To sum up, if your goal is a strong, thriving hive, the following points are important issues to pay attention to:
- A nutrient rich diet
- A clean, intruder-free hive
- A fresh water source
- Avoidance of chemical poisons
- Frequent hive inspection
|Larger bees are drones|
John likes to tell folks that we have acquired a half million new employees. They always look stunned. Then he jokes about how difficult it is to fill out all those tiny little W-9 forms. Folks don't always get it right away, but they always have a good laugh when they do!