Jon Christie, owner of Wild Mountain Bees in Western North Carolina, explains the various ways one can begin with bees: catching a swarm of bees, buying a package of bees, or purchasing a bee nuc. Each option has its pros and cons. Since the introduction of the varroa mite in the early nineties, most feral bee colonies have died off. Buying a package of bees can help ensure a stronger start. A package consists of about three pounds of bees with a caged queen. The introduction of the queen to the colony could go one of two ways. She could be accepted and begin drawing comb and laying eggs or she could be replaced. As a new bee keeper it may be difficult to deduce the queen’s status which is why a nuc is an attractive option. A nucleus colony comes with several frames of drawn comb, a queen that is already accepted and laying, and brood that is ready to hatch. This might be a better option for a new bee keeper.
Jon Christie, owner of Wild Mountain Bees in North Carolina, reviews the recommended tools for bee keeping. We take a look at the smoker, a device that is used to disrupt the communication between bees. This is thought to dull the alarm response among the bee colony and facilitate a bee keeper’s work within the hive. Jon uses dried pine needles in his smoker and makes sure that once the fire is lit at the bottom, the smoke that bellows out is cool to the touch. It’s important not to have the fire too hot as it could injure the bees. A hive tool is helpful in separating the boxes of the hive, especially once they become sealed over time with wax and propolis. Once the hive is opened, this tool is also used to lift frames from the box. Lastly, good protective gear is recommended for a beginning bee keeper. Bee stings release pheromones that warn other bees and can potentially give rise to more stings, so wearing protective gear can greatly improve a beginner’s experience with bees.
Multiple factors should be considered when deciding where to place a hive. It’s important to consider the bees’ flight path, especially in urban areas. Raising the hive off the ground by a foot and a half helps to ward off predators. Skunks, in particular, are fond of eating bees. Sunlight should also be considered, as warmer conditions will prompt the bees to leave the hive in search of pollen to feed brood during the colder months. Jon Christie, owner of Wild Mountain Bees, explains the different hive configurations bee keepers use throughout the country, depending on temperatures. Northern bee keepers use two deeps to insure that their hives have enough food to survive the winter. Bee keepers south of the Mid-Atlantic region tend to use one deep and a super. Another popular arrangement uses three supers which are easier to lift.
Once your smoker is lit and filled with fuel, you have your hive tool nearby, and you have your bee suit on, you’re ready to open the hive. Jon Christie pumps a bit of smoke around the base of the hive, lifts the lid, and pumps some smoke inside, allowing the smoke time to work before removing the lid completely. By moving slowly and taking care not to crush any bees, minimal alarm pheromones are released and the bees are less aggressive. We take a look at a fully capped frame of honey. Honey needs to be 18.6 percent water or less in order for it to be ripe. Honey with a greater percent of water runs the risk of fermentation. A frame that is about 70 to 80 percent capped with wax is generally at the proper moisture content, but in order to be certain, a refractometer can be used to verify the water content.
Jon Christie, owner of Wild Mountain Bees, explains hive maintenance and honey collection through the course of a year. For back yard hobbyists, the job is fairly simple. It’s best to start with two hives so that a comparison between hive health and honey production can be made. During flower blooms and honey flows, bees should generally be left alone, as disturbing a bee hive during that time can hinder honey production. Bee hives should be checked periodically however, to ensure that the queen bee is producing brood and the hive is in good working order. A beginning bee keeper generally would obtain a nuc or package in April or May and should feed their hive at that time. Spring blooms should help to boost the hive. At this time, adding more deep honey supers might be a good idea to allow the hive adequate room to grow. If enough honey is produced during this time, it can be collected during the summer. Bee colonies should be left with honey to eat over the winter. While providing feed will help your bee colony, the honey from autumn is best left in the hive to sustain the bees over winter.
Meet the members of the hive. Jon Christie, owner and operator of Wild Mountain Bees in Western North Carolina, opens up the hive to check the health of the colony. Newly laid eggs and developing brood indicate that the queen is actively laying, even if she remains hidden among the hive members. Jon points out a drone with larger eyes and body than the female worker bees have. We learn to identify the difference in appearance between capped honey, stored pollen or brood food, and covered brood cells. Although this hive appears to be flourishing, a healthy hive’s brood is also the strongest incubator of varroa mites.
Jon Christie, owner of Wild Mountain Bees, locates the queen bee in the hive. We take a look at her distinguishing features as she searches for an empty cell to fertilize the worker eggs. She has a long, lean abdomen and is noticeably larger than the other bees. The queen takes one flight out of the hive, soon after she hatches and gains her strength. During that flight, she mates with as many other drones as possible and carries their sperm back with her to the hive. She is then responsible for laying the eggs and fertilizing them for the rest of her life.
Jon Christie, owner of Wild Mountain Bees, explains all of the many factors that contribute to bee stress. Insecticides, fungicides, pesticides, varroa mites, and lack of nutrition due to herbicides are several reasons bee populations are in decline. Many power line right of ways are sprayed with herbicides, thus greatly diminishing a pollen and nectar source for bees and adding to nutritional deprivation. Jon takes a look at some bee brood to check for varroa mites and explains how to administer organic treatment to eliminate mites from the colony. Varroa mites reproduce in drone brood and should be checked in late July and early August when mite populations peak. They vector viruses and live off of the hemolymph of the bee. When drone brood is poorly located within the hive, a bee keeper mite scrape that brood off the frame in order to check for varroa mites. Treatment for varroa mites is only administered within the bee brood supers where the mites are found, not within the honey supers harvested for human consumption.
While keeping bees might seem straight forward, there are many tricks of the trade that will help keep your bee colony in good health. In this video, we discuss how to move a bee hive once it has been established. It’s important to decide on the location of the hive ahead of time. The flight path of the bee should be considered in order to avoid confrontation with neighbors, traffic, or any other factors that may contribute to conflict. We also cover the topics of feeding bees, anticipating and responding to hive growth, and wintering bee hives.
Honey should be around 18.6 percent moisture or less when it is harvested to prevent fermentation. If harvesting honey on a large scale, a dehumidifier can be placed in the room with the honey frames to decrease moisture. A hobby bee keeper can tell if the honey is ready when it is capped at roughly 70 percent. A refractometer can be used to test the exact moisture content if necessary. Once the moisture content has been assessed, a heated knife is run over the surface of the comb or a textured roller is used to punch holes in the comb. A textured roller removes less wax and saves the bees time in repairing damaged comb once it’s placed back in the hive. Centrifugal force is used in a honey extractor to spin the comb until the honey is released onto the sides of the extractor and runs down into the valve.