Monday, May 21, 2012

Maryland beekeeper

Maryland beekeeper
Back in Georgia, we used to keep 3 hobby beehives. The bees were little trouble, fun to watch, and they kept us, and all of our friends, in 100% pure honey. 

A lot of the honey on the market today has been diluted with cheap sweeteners. Imports are also flooding the market. A good rule of thumb for buying honey is to stay away from supermarket honey and buy local. Finding a beekeeper is always a good idea, but local produce markets usually carry honey from area beekeepers. Read your labels and ask questions.

Pure honey is nutritious and will last a long time if properly stored.  We have a large jar of honey in our cupboard that was extracted 10 years ago. It is our last jar of honey from our beekeeping days, and it will  soon be opened.

We were getting a little nervous about the thought of finishing up the last of our honey when some friends of ours decided to set up a hobby-beehive in their yard. Though we are not expert beekeepers like many of the people we met in the Georgia Beekeepers Association, we certainly know how to set up and care for a few hives, and when you belong to an association, there is always someone willing to  help you with any problems that arise.

That said, our friends just received their first shipment of bees. Bees are shipped by USPS and needless to say, once they arrive, the new owner must pick them up at the post office - ASAP. 

I remember when our first shipment arrived. What to do with 12,000 bees in a box? Why, call a friend who also had a few hobby-hives, of course! In no time, we were quite proud of ourselves, but not so much as when we harvested our first bounty.

A few days ago, we headed to our friend's house where I took photos of my hubby hiving the bees. I did not have a suit on and so stayed at a distance for these photos.  I will suit up and get some close-ups of the little darlins' once they settle in good.

Photos, day 1 - arrival and hiving the box:

Bees in a box and around the box (queen had just been removed from shipping box). These bees were actually shipped from Georgia (not uncommon).

The queen comes in her own little cage. She is guarded by a few workers:

The queen must be "set" in the hive between the combed frames.

Once the queen is set, bees are released into the hive. They know the scent of the queen, and will follow her.

Here you can see bees are already congregating around the hive and the opening near bottom of box where they will eventually come and go.

The queen was "set" between the frames you see at box opening. Bees are already protecting her and trying to free her. Because she is sealed in the little box with sweetener at the end, the bees must get busy eating her to freedom.

More frames of comb are inserted inside the box, leaving room for the queen's box. In a few days, the queen's empty box will be removed and another frame set in place (shown in part 2 at end of post).  Bees can make their own comb, but if they are provided with comb that frees up their time to make more honey.

The lid is carefully placed on the hive. Worker bees will immediately begin to seal this with wax, so well in fact, in a few weeks, it will take a crowbar-type tool to open it.  When this box has been filled with honey, a second, third, or fourth box will follow. Some beekeepers like to keep stacking and some like to do three-four stacks, then start a new hive.

A inverted jar of sugar water has been positioned at the entrance to "feed" the bees as they settle in and begin to explore the area.


Congratulations to the proud parents of 12,000 bees! Start knitting those little booties. And thanks for letting us help. We know you will enjoy this rewarding hobby.


Photos, day 3 - checking for queen: 

After a couple of days, the hive must be checked to make sure the queen has been released from the box. Her cage is removed and the final frame put into place. There is not much to do after this except keep the sugar-water jar filled, make sure they have a fresh water source, and occasionally checking for disease and making sure the hive is thriving.

We had the owner of the new beehive suit up for his first chore (he is holding the frame that will be inserted as my husband removes the top):

My husband "smokes" the bees with a small amount of smoke created by putting a little pine straw in the bee smoker and lighting it. This practice makes the older guard bees (the ones with the most venom) send a message to the other bees to gorge instead of attack, so that they will be well fed in case of an emergency evacuation. When eating, they are less likely to attack. These bees are Italian bees, just like the bees we kept in Georgia. Italian bees are known to be docile, so even when the hive reaches it maximum numbers, little smoke will be needed for checking hive.

The new beekeeper removes the queen's cage. Though it is covered with bees, careful examination shows that the queen has been freed.

Umm? These bees seem to be congregating in this corner. Could the queen be there?

The boys re-space the racks before adding the final rack.

Yep, we forgot the entrance reducer (I know some beekeeper somewhere will see this and wonder where it is. They installed it after lidding the hive).

Carefully closing up the hive, making sure not to kill any bees in doing so. 


FYI: Drones are male bees. They only have one job. To mate with the queen who lays around 1,500 to 3,000 eggs a day (depending on what source you read; I read where a queen will lay one million eggs in her lifetime). 

Drones have no protection as they have no stingers.

Worker bees are all female, and do all the work. A full-blown summer hive can consist of 60,000 bees. 

Worker bees have many jobs: some just hang out and cool the colony with their wings on hot days, some are housekeepers, keeping the hive clean, others have the responsibility of guarding the colony, and of course, there is nectar gathering, wax producing (comb), and the feeding of the queen and care of larvae. Worker bees are all equipped with stingers. They sting once and die. But remember, honeybees are non-aggressive.

Want to know more? Check the Lower Eastern Shore Beekeepers Association.

1 comment:

Jackie said...

This brings back so many wonderful memories, Patty. We had bees, and I worked in them with my Daddy. I helped build supers, extract honey, and even helped rob honey. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I learned so much from Daddy's beekeeping years.
These are awesome photos, and like I said, they bring back wonderful memories to me.
Thank you for sharing.