Windy Days Keep The Honeybees Inside
It’s been a blustery week as Winnie-The-Pooh might say. His nemesis, the honeybee would agree.
The Rogue Honeybees know better than to go outside during a week like this. They could easily succumb to hypothermia because of the wind and rain.
When the weather improves, they’ll find a growing buffet of pollen and nectar just waiting for them. The Big Leaf Maples near the Hop ‘N’ Bed are now blooming, and so are the ornamental fruit trees over by the neighbors’ place. And we’re seeing flowers coming out at some of the wild bushes near the Hopyard.
The spring nectar flow is just around the corner.
Baby Steps Towards Spring
The Rogue Honeybees are flying and foraging every day this week. The temperatures rise consistently into the 50s and there’s more nectar and pollen to be found.
On the menu are birch, alder, juniper and some of our maple trees. Dessert includes daffodils and wildflowers. Things will pick up in a few days when the Big Leaf Maples near the Hop ‘N’ Bed start blooming. The flowers are tiny, but come out in the gazillions, making Big Leaf Maples an excellent source of high quality nectar and pollen.
Rogue Beekeeper Josh Cronin visited the hives just the other day and noticed that the honeybees are already storing honey. It looks like the 2013 Rogue Wildflower Honey season is off to a good start.
Honeybee Meets Daffodil
A week into March and it’s feeling like spring.
Around the Hopyard some of the early blooming wildflowers are popping up. So are the daffodils. On those days when the temperatures rise above 50°F, the Rogue Honeybees don’t waste any time sampling the first nectar of the season.
Next in the lineup for spring nectar are the maple trees, more wildflowers and then the cherries in the nearby orchards. When the pink cherry blossoms begin bursting, then we’ll know the spring nectar flow is in full swing.
Talk Like A Beekeeper, Part 14
Bee bread - a mixture of collected pollen and nectar or honey, deposited in the cells of a comb to be used as food by the bees.
Castes - the three types of bees that comprise the adult population of a honey bee colony: workers, drones, and queen.
Decoy hive - a hive placed to attract stray swarms.
Honey extractor - a machine that removes honey from the cells of comb by centrifugal force.
Nucleus (plural, nuclei) - a small hive of bees, usually covering from two to five frames of comb and used primarily for starting new colonies, rearing or storing queens; also called "nuc."
Proboscis - the mouthparts of the bee that form the sucking tube or tongue.
Rogue Honeybees Take Flight As Spring Draws Near
We’re seeing a lot of activity at our 19 honeybee hives on the Rogue Farms Hopyard. The temperatures are just warm enough to encourage the honeybees to leave the hives and forage.
So what’s out there for them to eat this time of year?
Rogue Beekeeper Josh Cronin says the honeybees are coming back to the hives with light yellow pollen, which means they’ve been visiting the Kirk family hazelnut orchards next door.
Pretty soon, the Big Leaf Maples that surround the Hopyard will bloom. Their flowers are so small that most people don’t notice them. But they produce high quality pollen and nectar and the honeybees love them.
And in a month or so, the fruit trees will begin to blossom. When flowers appear on the apple and plum trees next to the Hop ‘N’ Bed, and on our neighbor’s cherry orchards will signal the start of the spring nectar flow.
The change of seasons is just around the corner. Our bees are the first to know it.
Man At Work
It’s crunch time in the workshop at Rogue Farms in Independence, Oregon.
This May, our 19 Colonies of Rogue Honeybees will increase by another 100 hives. It’s a massive undertaking, especially when you realize we have to add another 200 hive boxes, 200 honey supers and thousands of frames.
All that falls up on the shoulders of Rogue Beekeeper Josh Cronin.
Cronin is gearing up for a one-man construction season. He’s ordered a compressor to help him nail and assemble the parts faster and more efficiently. But he’s also got to glue and paint the hive boxes and supers – that work is done by hand.
Soon, Cronin will be in the workshop full-time and we may not see him again until spring. When he emerges, all haggard and harried, the job will be done right and on time.
February 1st, 2013
Honeybees are busy creatures, little bundles of energy that are constantly up to something, whether it’s foraging, feeding their brood, raising the young, attending to the queen, or storing honey.
But being busy doesn’t make them efficient. At least not as far as farmers are concerned.
A study in California’s almond orchards reveals that honeybees can be kind of lazy. They prefer to hang out in a small group of trees instead of foraging widely through the orchard. From the bees’ point of view, it makes sense to use as little energy as possible gathering nectar and pollen. From the almond growers point of view, the more trees a honeybee visits means a better job of spreading around the pollen, and more almonds at harvest time.
And yet, the honeybee behavior is very different when wild species of bees are also pollinating the almond orchard. Honeybees will travel farther and visit more trees in search of food if other bees, like bumblebees, are present. The researchers also observed a similar effect in sunflower fields.
The researchers believe that honeybees are fussy eaters, and won’t stop at a flower that’s already been visited by another species of bee. That forces them to explore a little bit more, and makes them more efficient pollinators.
So why go to all this trouble? More and more of the foods we eat are pollinated. Farmers and scientists are looking for ways to increase food production without using more chemicals and fertilizers. More efficient honeybees may be part of the answer.
Shake, Waggle and Roll
When honeybees want to spread the news about a good source of nectar, they communicate the location to others in the hive by dancing.
It’s called the waggle dance. And to the untrained eye the bee just appears to be vibrating intensely.
But for honeybees, the dance moves contain a ton of information. The harder the bee vibrates, the further the source of the food. The angle is important, too. If the dancing bee points up, the food is located in the direction of the sun. If the bee points down, it’s telling the other foragers to fly away from the sun. The angle of the dance depends on the location of the food source.
Sometimes there can be dozens of returning bees in the hive, each with their own waggle dance, each with their own audience. A bee that has yet to forage for the day will choose to follow one dancing bee, but ignore the others. An unreliable dancer may be ignored by all the bees in the hive.
It’s not a perfect system. The angle a bee chooses to dance may be off by a bit. So the dance is repeated several times and the other bees learn to “average” the angles and intensity before heading out for the day.
Do Not Disturb (Too Much)
Honeybees don’t hibernate. But you rarely see them outside the hive this time of year in the Wigrich Appellation. That’s because honeybees can’t tolerate temperatures below 50°F, and it won’t be that warm until March or April.
Even if they could go outside, there’s not much forage out there for them to eat. This is the time of year that Rogue Beekeeper Josh Cronin has to visit the hives every so often to restock their supplies of food and water. Honeybees are like any other livestock. When they can’t feed themselves, it’s our job to feed them.
The challenge is that even a brief stop to change their food and water exposes the honeybees to cold temperatures and can stress the hive. Cronin has to move fast.
Fortunately, the honeybees don’t need much food and water during winter. The hive’s population naturally drops this time of year and the honeybees cluster into a tight ball to stay warm. Cronin only checks on the hives when absolutely necessary. That way our bees are well fed and warm until spring arrives.
Honeybees From A to W
Abscond: When all the bees of a hive leave due to extreme stress, disease, pests, or danger.
Bee venom: the poison secreted by a bee when it stings.
Fanning or scenting: worker bees produce a pheromone and send it out to bees away from the hive to help them find their way back.
Italian bees: the most widely used race of honeybees in the United States; originally from Italy.
Laying worker: a worker that only lays drone or male eggs.
Nurse bees: bees 3 to 10 days old that feed and take care of the brood.
Pollen: Used by honeybees as their source of protein.
Worker bee: a female bee whose reproductive organs are undeveloped. Worker bees do all the work in the colony except for laying fertile eggs.
Boom Times For The Rogue Honeybees
It was while trying to solve a problem that Rogue Beekeeper Josh Cronin discovered a bit of Oregon’s bee history.
The challenge: How do you efficiently move hundreds of beehives around the Hopyard? Right now, we’ve only got 19 colonies. But we’re expanding to 150 hives by spring. Cronin needed a way to load the hives off and on the truck without breaking his back. So he started asking around.
As he soon learned, a Salem man named John Fruetel solved that problem decades ago with the invention of the Fruetel Bee Boom. His boom was attached to a trailer hitch. It reached over the bed of a truck to lift and move tons of beehives. Beekeepers loved how easy it was to work and its affordable price.
Fruetel stopped making his booms by the 1980s. Since then, most commercial beekeepers have moved on to bigger machines and Fruetel’s bee booms were relegated to become rusting pieces of yard art.
Which is where Cronin found his Fruetel Bee Boom, the yard of another beekeeper who was going to sell it for scrap. Some cash was exchanged and soon Cronin was headed back to the workshop with the pieces of a bee boom piled in the back of his pick up.
Cronin says there’s nothing wrong with the Bee Boom he bought. All it needs is some simple repairs and maintenance. That will be one of his chores for the winter.
When spring comes, and Cronin has to shuffle dozens of hives around the Hopyard, he’ll save his aching muscles and will have John Fruetel to thank for it.
How To Build A Nuc
Growing the size of an apiary often begins with a “nuc”.
Nuc is beekeeping slang for nucleus, a small group of workers, drones, a new queen and a mini-hive with enough food and brood to get them started on becoming their own colony.
Beekeepers buy nucs to add more colonies and increase honey production. Or they may build a nuc from one of their current colonies. This splits the hive and prevents swarming.
Either way, the key to a successful nuc is making sure the new queen gets along with the workers before she’s introduced. A special device, called a queen excluder, separates the queen from the rest of the hive until it’s clear that everyone is getting along.
Whether a nuc is a success or a failure should be obvious in about eight days. After that it’s okay to remove the excluder. And then after about a month, the new colony can be moved out of the mini-hive and into a regular one and begin foraging and producing honey.
How To Talk Like A Beekeeper, Part Seven
Memorize these terms and you’ll sound like a beekeeper in no time.
Bee bread - a mixture of collected pollen and nectar or honey, deposited in the cells of a comb to be used as food by the bees.
Cappings - a thin layer of wax used to cover the full cells of honey. This layer of wax is sliced from the surface of a honey-filled comb. (See photo to the left.)
Chunk honey - honey cut from frames and placed in jars along with liquid honey.
Decoy hive - a hive placed to attract stray swarms.
Nectar flow - a time when nectar is plentiful and bees produce and store surplus honey.
Play flight - short flight taken in front of or near the hive to acquaint young bees with their immediate surroundings.
Propolis - sap or resinous materials collected from trees or plants by bees and used to strengthen the comb and to seal cracks; also called bee glue.
The Buzz On Beeswax
One of the byproducts of the Rogue Farms Honey harvest is beeswax - lots of beeswax.
The Rogue Farms Honeybees produce beeswax for a variety of reasons. One of them is to cap off full honeycombs and preserve the honey as it mellows and ages.
When Josh harvests the honey, he first slices off beeswax caps from the honeycombs. That’s what allows him to extract the honey in the spinner. But that’s not the end of it for the beeswax. This week, he melted it, strained it to remove impurities and then let it cool into solid blocks.
Beeswax has another life beyond harvest. It’s used in soap and candles. It’s also used to build what’s called honeycomb foundations. These are honeycomb designs that are stamped into beeswax, framed and put into the hive. They become the foundation for the new honeycombs the bees will build the following spring and summer. A place to keep their brood and store honey that we’ll harvest again next fall.
A Beekeeper’s Checklist
During this slow season the Rogue Honeybees hunker down for the winter, our Beekeeper Josh keeps a close eye on the bees’ supply of food.
There is nothing left for them to forage. All they’ve got is the honey leftover from the summer, and what Josh provides them on his weekly visits to the hives.
How much food the bees eat up changes according to the weather. During cold periods, the bees need extra food to stay warm as they form clusters in the hive, keeping eat other warm as they beat their wings to generate heat.
During warm periods, the bees are comfortable enough to leave the hive in search of food. They won’t find anything – it’s the wrong season. But the extra energy they use flying around also requires extra food from Josh. He’s learned to anticipate their needs by watching the forecast.
The primary food sources are sugar syrup and pollen patties. Each plays a different role in a bee’s diet.
Sugar syrup provides quick energy, much like nectar does in the spring and summer. This time of year Josh will mix a thick batch, two parts sugar to one part water.
Think of the pollen patties as a bee’s idea of a power bar. Rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, the pollen bar completes the bee’s diet much like real pollen does.
Both food sources keep our bees healthy as they fight off colder temperatures, diseases and mites. So when spring flowers return, they’ll be ready to explore their outside world again.
Once again, Rogue Deputy Under Secretary of Agriculture: Department Bee, Josh Cronin answers your questions about the Rogue Farms Honeybees.
Q: Do bees eat anything besides nectar?
Q: What’s propolis?
Q: How does an ordinary bee become the queen?
Build Your Own
When Rogue Beekeeper Josh returns from the annual meeting of the Oregon State Beekeepers Association, he’ll be spending a lot of time in the wood shop building hive boxes and supers.
Our goal for next spring is to add another 130 beehives to our Original 19 Colonies, bringing the population of Rogue Farms Honeybees to about 9 million workers, drones and queens.
Considering you can have as many as two boxes per hive, plus another couple of supers, that could mean building 520 boxes and supers. He could also buy them, but Josh wants to make sure the job is done right. So he’ll do it himself.
How We Harvest Rogue Farms Honey
Ever wonder how honey goes from the hive to the bottle? Our crack video team followed Rogue Beekeeper Josh this fall to see how he harvests the honey from the Rogue Honeybees at Rogue Farms in Independence, Oregon.
Don’t expect any fancy commercial equipment. Everything Josh does, from removing the honeycombs to extracting the honey, is done by hand.
Attack On The Drones
If you’re a drone (male) honeybee, your only job is to mate with the queen of another hive - and then you die.
If you’re a drone bee, and you haven’t mated by the time cooler weather arrives, you’re kicked out of the hive. And then you die.
Either way, the outcome is the same. But it seems to us the first option is probably the better way to go.
And yet there are drones that, for some reason or another, fail to fulfill their prescribed destiny. They are the ones being pushed out of the hives as the Rogue Honeybees prepare for the winter. Honeybees simply can’t support large populations during the cold weather months. There’s not enough food and space. With no males around, the hive population will shrink to sustainable levels and will survive to begin breeding and growing again in the spring.
Tales From The Hive
Winnie The Pooh Gone Wild
This month, two bears ransacked the hives of the Ballard Bee Company in Washington State, destroying two hives and stealing $1200 worth of honey. On its Facebook page the company noted, “Bears 2, Ballard 0”.
The Bite Of The Honeybee
It’s Different Down Under
The Lazy Days Of Fall
Sleeping in late and turning in early may sound like the perfect way to spend a cool fall’s day. The Rogue honeybees certainly seem to think so.
As our Beekeeper Josh reminds us, honeybees can’t fly unless it’s 55°F or warmer. So with the temperatures dipping into the 40’s at night, and the sun rising later, it takes longer before the outside temps are warm enough for the bees to go foraging. The reverse is true at night. Things cool down sooner and the bees come back to the hive earlier.
It’s all part of the natural rhythm of an apiary during autumn. Come winter, the honeybees will spend their days inside the hive, tightly clustered to keep themselves warm, just waiting for the return of spring.
Yes, But What Would The Honey Taste Like?
Scientists in England and Harvard University are trying to develop robot bees.
If they’re successful, these robot bees would act just like real ones, going from flower to flower and pollinating crops. The challenge is to design a robot bee that can fly and think for itself instead of just following a programmed set of instructions.
The scientists also hope to use robot bees for:search and rescue (e.g., in the aftermath of a natural disaster);
Make Room For Hives
Now that the honey harvest is over, and our Chatoe Rogue 19 Original Colonies Mead is brewing, we’re looking at a major expansion of the Rogue Farms Apiary.
Our Beekeeper Josh is going to add another 150 hives to the original 19 next spring. That’s a huge undertaking and Josh is already getting to work on the project.
First, he’s got to build 300 hive boxes. Months of sawing, nailing, gluing and painting will fill his days from now through winter. Then he’s got to build the honeycomb frames, the supers and order the new bees and queens.
Next, where is he going to put all the new hives? Josh is scouting locations around the Hopyard and likes one that’s next to a cherry orchard, clover field and wildflowers. But that decision can wait.
By next summer, our population of Rogue Honeybees could total 8.45 million!
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