Continuing my resolution to be a better beekeeper and bee steward, 2014 marks my fourth season of bee herding and while earning my Apprentice Badge adds a nice bit of flare, beekeeping and stewarding is more about doing than passing a test, a lot like life and career …. There is no GPA in the hives, its pass or pass with “opportunity” for improvement. I don’t think you can really fail. Even if your hives died, your honey was full of bee legs and you got stung on your lucky mole 13 times – you still probably helped educate friends and families about bees, aided in pollination and have frames of honey ready to feed back to your next package in the spring (unless disease took the bees). This year I am only running one hive due to some upcoming “competing commitments”. I might try catching a swarm or splitting a hive this year if the opportunity arises. The In The Hive tasks for Summer (June/July) are all about letting the girls do what they do, keep them and nearby humans safe and make some scholarly observations.
Worker Bee Tasks
Inspect the Hives: When inspecting on a nice warm sunny afternoon, you should see evidence of the queen laying eggs, bees bringing in pollen and the honey stores building up.
Watch for grasses, flowers etc growing up and blocking the entrance to the hive. Remove them (I like to do this early in the morning before they are active).
Take note of brood versus drone cells. Drone cells look like pencil erasers. You do not want a bunch of loafing drones. You need strong female workers to forage and raise brood. You might need replace your queen (or let the hive do it for you) if it looks like she is only laying drones.
Don’t forget to track your activities and observations!
Queen Bee Ideas
Watch for swarms and booming hives: Activity and colony size pick up in spring and by now your hives should be pretty busy. Swarming is still a risk but perhaps a little less than springtime. Know what your local beekeeping organization has available as resources. In my neck of the woods, PSBA has a helpful page with a call list, tips and talking points (e.g. the bees aren’t angry).
Do not panic if you see lots of bees covering the outside of the hive. They are probably just hot and helping to regulate the hive temperature.
Know what nectars and pollens are available: Not all flowers and other plants produce nectar and the weather, especially Seattle rain, can often make it hard for the forager bees to get out – remember Junuary, although for sure there is a much greater variety of flowers and plants this time of year. My lavender is in full swing but just like the past years, the honeybees do not frequent it, only the bumbles…. Here is what the science says about this, other than we don’t live in Provence. Sigh.
You have to eat, so make a honey recipe. Here is one of my most recent experiments.
Attend your local beekeeping organization meeting. Great way to stay on top of the bee season.
Busy time of year for beeks!
Make a simple Bee Waterer: just place some marbles in a dish and fill with water (picture below). The bees will be able to land on the marbles and drink, without drowning. You can use rocks and sticks as well.
I hope you celebrated National Pollinator Week! It is never too late and I try to celebrate them every week. If you are even the tiniest bit politically inclined there are several government actions recently set in motion to save the pollinators. Learn about them, maybe sign in support.
Continuing my resolution to be a better beekeeper and bee steward, 2014 marks my fourth season of bee herding and while earning my Apprentice Badge adds a nice bit of flare, beekeeping and stewarding is more about doing than passing a test, a lot like life and career …. There is no GPA in the hives, its pass or pass with “opportunity” for improvement. I don’t think you can really fail. The “In the Hive” tasks for early early spring or still winter frankly for many (ok – how about February – March-ish) are still mainly out of the hive, but important nonetheless.
Worker Bee Tasks
Keep entrance clear of debris, snow, dead bees etc
Inspect the hive if there is an unseasonably warm day. Good time to assess food stores, tell if the queen is starting to lay a lot and prepare to maybe feed or add a box. Be quick though.
If it snows, you can also tell how the hive is doing by watching how the snow melts on the lid. Melt first in the center before it melts elsewhere? Probably means a good cluster. Evenly melts along with all the other snow. Might mean a weak cluster.
Get ready for your pollinator friendly garden, order seeds and think about some cool weather starts indoors.
Queen Bee Ideas
By now you should have ordered your package bees. If not, it’s probably not too late but will take more leg work and probably do-re-mi on your part. For 2014, I am only going to run two hives, my two Langstroth. I’ve concluded my top bar hive design is suboptimal and I want to take some time to research and revitalize for 2015. It is hard to tell if both my hives will make it, so I am going to gamble and just order one package of bees.
Candied Garlic: Combine garlic cloves in honey in a jar and let it sit in refrigerator one week or so.
Read a good novel with some bee or honey influences. This month, I recommend The Zookeeper’s wife, not for its abundance of bee references but for the interesting discovery of bees and Nazi rule.
Study and take your state’s apprentice bee keeper exam. Here is the link for Washington.
Attend your local beekeeping organization meeting. They will likely be doing a lot of education and prepping for the upcoming busy season.
Play beekeeping roulette. Flip through your beekeeping texts and chose random passages. My favorite book for this? ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture 1975. Check out this great illustration on the evolution of hives in America: more abodes likely than homes and most would definitely not pass the removable frame requirement. Beautiful creations however. I wonder what a history of hive designs will look like in 2075?
You can promote bee keeping and pollination in so many ways, other than keeping them personally.
Find out what local organizations are doing to strength our pollinator populations. I recently learned about The Common Acre. Check them out.
Download some Bee Apps. Smart phone plus propolis is not a good idea, but hey it’s still pretty chilly and you aren’t fiddling in the hives much.
Warning – some of these apps are time sucking games of mindlessness! Um, it is all about raising awareness, I mean…. J
Here is a review of some apps that I have tried out…
Remember that your geographical location will influence much of your hive management techniques, so keep that in mind when researching. Connect with a local group or beekeeper. I keep bees in Seattle, which seems to be damp and soggy and not too cold this time of year, compared to say the Midwest, where the bees are still experiencing below freezing weather, with some sporadically warmer days.
My strength was renewed when I tasted a little honey. 1 Samuel 14:29
While nothing beats the feel and smell of a book in your hands, there are some mobile apps that might have just the information you are looking for. I put together an app collection for managing hives, staying on top of bee news, connecting with others, planning a garden, pass the time or serving as a conversation starter.
Bio Bees: Mobile version of the popular beekeeping site biobees.com. A plethora of information on natural beekeeping, of which I have only scratched the service. Nice collection of podcasts, video posts etc from the always informative Barefoot Beekeeper. I love his top bar beekeeping book as well.
Honeylove.org:Honeylove.org is a non-profit organization promoting urban beekeeping in LA. This app houses video content, including some of the best waggle dancing footage ever, done like only LA would. The org’s website is fantastic and makes me long for something oh soo swanky as a yellow-tie event in Seattle. Their shop is full of great gifts too. It is not all LA, one of the featured videos is from right here in Seattle, The Flight Path Project at the Common Acre. Download the app and enjoy the videos and learn a few things too. NOTE: I WILL be making black and yellow bow tie for the hubs collection.
Beekeeping Forum: A hand held forums for bee keeping, hives, honey, honey products, help, questions and more. Based on the web versions, also includes some article and news etc. Great for perusing, seeing what are the hot questions and repository of information. Topics range from bee medicinal, blueprints, swarms and alternatives bees. Some geographical sorting available. Free and handy!
Honeybee Helpers by Heritage Farms: An interesting app with a quiz, some live video feeds in the hives, state bee facts and a nifty anatomy overview. Good thing it is free as pretty limited in terms of information and I will likely uninstall if I can’t get the hive video feed to work (granted it was night when I was playing around) but the skep image looks great on my phone and I like the anatomy portion. It also links out to Haagen-Dazs (yes the ice cream), a company in clear support of the honeybee.
BeesMe: This free app is pretty simple with logically organized basic beekeeping information. What sets this app apart is its month by month description of what to be doing in the hive. Of note, it is out of the UK, so some of the recommendations may not be applicable to your local. It also has a forum to facilitate interaction with other beeks.
Hive Management Tools
Beekeeper Lite: This free app is designed to help track your hives and inspections/observations. You can add multiple hive locations, add hives, and track details of visits, including pictures etc. I added my three current hives and can see how this could be helpful, however, I can’t figure out how to delete locations or hives and the data does not appear to be backed up anywhere, so you would risk losing seasons worth of data if you deleted app etc. It also doesn’t appear downloadable, so if you are recording observations in pursuit of Journeyman or Master Beekeeper, this might not be the right platform.
There is another similar app, Hive Manager, that is $14.99/year. It looks to be much more detailed in terms of data recorded.
Another online hive management tool with associated app is beetight.com. You can sign up for free and manage up to 6 hives online but not via the app. More hives or want the app? Upgrade to the Pro version, which includes the mobile app and you can add up to a 1000 hives (holy guacamole!), for $15/year. Lots of cues about what to observe, do and record. I am going to use the beetight.com online tool this year [and uninstall the beekeeper lite and beetight.com app] to see how it plays out in the real world. Stay tuned! BBE-tech has also assembled an indepth evaluation of these tools.
BeeCalc: Handy calculators for common beekeeper math. Just plug in your numbers to find out answer like how much honey and wax to expect from a super, how much frame wire you might need based on umber and frame depth and generally useful metric conversions (temperature, distance, weight etc). from the beekeeping.org website.
Beeyond the Hive
BeeSmart: A free app designed to help you plan the best garden and landscaping for your pollinator friends. This app is free and includes geo-location specific plant recommendations: for bees to hummingbirds, bats, beetles and butterflies. Enter your zip code, then choose a target pollinator, color, sun requirement, soil type (e.g. loamy, acidic)and plant type (e.g. annual, tree, vine). From here the app provides you with a list of NATIVE plants for your region that meet your criteria. You can then click on the plan and learn more about it and also add it to your favorites. Definitely useful tool for garden and yard planning. The list will seem shorter since it focuses on native plants (read: I love lavender but it doesn’t come up for my region).
Honey Health: Repository of information about honey applications in health and beauty. I would caution against relying on this app for quality information. I think they are stretching the facts of honey too far. That said, the About Honey portion of the app contains useful information. I do wash my face with honey regularly and use it as an acne spot treatment (thanks to Crunchy Betty) but I won’t be turning over my every ailment to this liquid gold any time soon. There is better research and resources out there for medicinal benefits of honey than this app, in particular the use of honey on bed sores and slow healing wounds and pollen for attenuating seasonal allergies. But, face it, honey tastes delicious, feels good in the mouth and why wouldn’t you find a reason to add it to your daily life.
There are also apps for candle making and other DIY crafts.
Honeybee Mapper: This app from the savethehives.com group supports their efforts to build a national database of hives, designed to further research into Colony Collapse Disorder and other honey bee health issues. The app has an updated roster of podcasts and honeybee research articles, links for schools (ecology, stewardship and behavior topics) and bee photo gallery. This might be a useful tool for local beekeeping groups to utilize – not much in the way of registered hives in my neck of the woods though. The app doesn’t appear to have the information on beelining that is on website, so take a detour and check that out too. I think my main utilization of this app will be for the meta-search results. I have something similar delivered to my email daily but think this on demand version suits me better.
Just for Fun
Cute as Can Bee – Picture Me: This app has nothing to do with keeping bees and everything to do with getting a few laughs and maybe intrigue some people into learning more about bees, or at least you (or completely creep them out). Basically you take a photo of yourself (Selfie!), the free app then makes a story all about you complete with tinkling music and thick plot line (joking). A great way to pass time and you can bet my Mom is going to get a copy of this. Picture me…..
Disco Bees: A game app centered on lining up like objects in a row to clear them (a la Candy Crush, Bejeweled, Chuzzle, Connect 4, Tic-Tac-Toe….). It is a bit trickier on the eyes as the shapes are hexagon honeycombs and while the levels I have played thus far are pretty easy, it is still rewarding to see the bees do the waggle dance in celebration. Mindless, yes, but cute bee graphics, a great way to bring up the waggle dance and maybe built a few new neuronal pathways. Pretty sure adult beekeepers are their target demographic given the flower power hipbee character, Euro 80s Punk bee level and reference to Notorious BIG – “Mo Honey Mo Problems”. Among the cleverly named levels, are two about Zombees on Earth and Mars … how very timely. More info https://www.zombeewatch.org/ It’s free and a way to pass the time waiting at the DMV or for the more active months of beekeeping….
Bee Leader: Another free-bee game, sort of like Angry Birds or Robot Unicorn (missed that one? Too bad.) I found it hard to control (maybe I need to work on my coordination) and grew weary quickly. Cute graphics and quite a few levels though. It does teach about pollination although the bee will chose red flowers at the same frequency of other colors, which we know is not always true.
Honey Boo Boo – just kidding!
So which apps will I bee keeping?
I would love to hear about your beekeeping app and website experiences!