TEXAS BEE SUPPLY
Making Beekeeping a Business
Winter Cluster Dynamics
Checking Honey Stores
Cover Photo courtesy: Kevin & Dodie Stillman
6 November Tips
10 Hive Forensics
16 Making a Business out of Beekeeping
24 Temperature Dynamics of the Winter Cluster
28 The Great Drone Dump
38 DIY Solar Wax Melter
44 Winter Inspections
50 Recipe of the Month
55 Checking For Honey Stores
56 Interview Series - Clint Walker
60 How and What to Winter Feed
66 Monthly Q & A
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5. Add entrance reducers, remove queen excluders if you haven't already. Check out our article in the October edition outlining the details on each of these items, or our video on entrance reducers.
6. Keep wax moth crystals on your stored comb. Check out our video on how to store comb!
7. If your hive has been properly cared for and everything has gone right, you should have 8-16 frames of bees going into winter. A well fed hive, with virtually no mites, should easily survive the winter! Check out this video of a hive ready for winter!
8.If you have a screened bottom board, covering it is not necessary. However, prevent wind from blowing underneath the hive by blocking off each side of the bottom board.
9.Fortunately, things like insulation hives, providing an upper entrance to prevent condensation, candy boards, etc. are not necessary in Texas. Our winters are mild enough that none of those thing are needed.
10. Don't forget to go ahead and use this down season to order & build equipment for next year!
11. Last, but certainly not least, if you want more hives next year, make sure to order nucs or hives, and queens NOW! The sooner you order your bees, the earlier the pick up date you will be able to choose! For now, we have not raised prices for 2021, so order soon!
Now we wait for spring!
1. As November progresses, you should begin to see less and less brood in your hive. Many hives are completely broodless by late November. However, on warm years, with strong hives, you can still see a few frames of brood. As the temperatures cool, bees will begin drinking less and less syrup. Hopefully your hive already has all the 30-40 stored pounds of honey/syrup it needs to survive the winter. If not, continue feeding. The goal for feeding at this point is to maintain that 30lbs. Check out how to tell how much honey is stored in a hive here!
2. Do a final mite check. It shouldn't be necessary to test again until February. If you have less than 2 mites per 100 bees, treatment isn’t necessary. Check out our testing and treating videos. It is critical to have a low mite load going into winter! A high mite load going into winter will, in most cases, kill the hive later in the winter months. Because hives have less and less brood in November, treatments like Oxalic Acid and Apiguard become more effective. Check out last month's magazine for an article on treating with OA, or the October Zoom call!
3. It continues to be important that we provide the bees with all the food needed for our bees to rear the final generation of winter bees. We recommend feeding at least 2 lbs of pollen substitute in November to achieve this. A full deep box of bees should be able to eat 1 lb every 10 days. A weaker hive may only need 1/2 lb every 10 days.
4. Any hive that has less than 4 frames covered front and back with bees should be combined with another hive using the newspaper method. Eliminate the queen in the weak hive, and remove the lid of the hive you are going to join with. Place a sheet of newspaper over the hive, and place the box containing the bees from the weaker hive directly on top of the newspaper. Over a period of days, the bees will chew through the newspaper, and merge into one hive. This slow method of joining helps prevent fighting between the two hives. Here is a video showing this process!
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The problem starts when we DON’T react to a situation, then a month later we are faced with the reality that our colony didn’t recover without our intervention.
Photo credit: Dodie Stillman
Photo credit: HoneyBeeSuite.com
Or maybe better titled -
"What in the world happened to my hive?"
I first wrote a version of this article last year about this time and received very good feedback from a lot of beekeepers! Turns out, we all need a “go to guide” for determining “What happened!’ With a few alterations here and there, I hope this article helps when faced with a dead out.
What is a Dead Out?
A dead out is the name given a colony that’s dead! Well, that seems a little too simplistic right? Not really. It more implies a question than a definitive name to a result. If I say I had 3 dead outs in my bee yard, don’t I want to know why? Of course I do. If I say I had a colony die from _____, you would say OK, that’s easy, just don’t do ____ again or do ____ and that won’t happen again! If only it were that easy!
The following is a broad overview of conditions and causes most commonly found in backyard beekeeper “dead outs.” Some of these conditions are “seasonal” but so many of them could be in any season throughout the year.
Hive Condition: Dead bees head down in cells and/or a group of dead bees clustered around what “was” brood but has long since died.
Cause of Death: Starvation– The bees simply ran out of resources to eat. This can happen any time of year, but primarily at the end of Winter and early Spring (March.)
Hive Condition: Dead bees with no evidence of old brood
Cause of Death: Failing Queen in late Fall/early Winter. If your Queen wasn’t laying sufficiently in the later Fall months, you lacked the workforce to stock up on resources, warm the hive during cold weather, feed larvae, as well as groom and feed her. In Spring, Summer & Fall – the colony will quickly die with a failing queen simply because of no eggs being laid; no eggs = no nurse bees = no foragers = no food!
Another Cause of Death could be: Varroa– High Varroa Mite loads can and WILL cause your colony to die. Typically, your indicators were prior to death and are now long gone now because of the decay of the colony. Testing and Treating for Varroa is CRUCIAL for survival ALL YEAR, EVERY YEAR!
Hive Condition: Few bees milling around; may or may not still have a queen present along with an overwhelming bad fermented odor as well as little “worms” (looks like maggots) crawling in and around the cells.
Cause of Death: Small Hive Beetle infestation has overtaken the hive.
Small Hive Beetles are a part of our everyday beekeeping life, but when not controlled they can and WILL cause your colony to abscond (leave) or die a slow miserable death. Staying on top of SHB is truly one of the easiest tasks we face. It doesn’t require any testing and all effective methods of control are mechanical and don’t require medication or pesticides be placed in out hives.
Hive Condition: Few bees or no bees; “worms” and moths crawling around, cocoons and webbing built on the tops, sides, and faces of frames.
Cause of Death: Overrun with Wax Moths because of Neglect
Yes, I said it… Neglect! Wax Moths are opportunistic – meaning, if they are allowed to come in and take over where the bees had previously been, they will completely destroy old comb and even eat into frames and the boxes. The nasty webbing mess is completely preventable. When you have a colony in decline, ideally address the problem immediately. If it’s obvious the colony isn’t going to make it, break the box down and store the equipment for future use. A dead out left in your bee yard will quickly turn into trash if not addressed.
Hive Condition: Some dead bees or No dead bees and no resources.
Cause of Death: Robbing– If the rims of the resource cells (honey/nectar) appear to be ragged or torn and you find a lot of wax debris on or below the bottom board, the colony probably didn’t die of starvation but instead was robbed of all of its resources. This most often doesn’t happen to “strong colonies” but rather colonies with reduced populations due to virus, diseases or failing queens (causing decreased population.)
Another Cause of Death could be: Queen failed– The queen was present but stopped laying; if left unnoticed the colony was doomed. With no new brood to carry on, they had no new house bees to clean cells, warm the brood nest, feed larvae, feed and groom the queen, build wax, ripen nectar, or guard bees to protect the colony. In turn no bees aging into foragers to bring in resources for the colony to survive.
IF – You spot an excess of dead drone brood cells (capped or not) it is possible your queen became a “Drone layer.” What is this? A Drone laying queen means, at some point she ran out of sperm; either she wasn’t mated well or she simply aged out (ran out of sperm). Either way when this happens the colony is hopeless. Recognizing they need to replace the queen, the workers have no “fertilized” eggs to make a Supersedure or Emergency cell at this most crucial time. Colony ultimately dies.
Cause of Death could be: Absconding (the colony left) Often when colonies are sick and failing, starving or have high mite loads, they will just leave! Would you live where the conditions are so bad you can’t stand to stay? Odds are those bees didn’t survive long once they left but they really didn’t have a choice…die if we stay, die if we go.
Hive Condition: Some bees still milling around but Queen long gone, no brood or bad/sick looking (white, black, shriveled) dead brood, maybe an overabundance of nectar but no nurse bees present
Cause of Death: Possible disease or virus present– When a colony dies from disease it can be very difficult to pinpoint the cause. Your “evidence” is most likely gone by the time you find the dead out. BUT – it is very important to know the most common among those we experience. It would take a small novel for me to list the description and explanation of the viruses and diseases Honey Bees are subjected to. For a very good reference guide CLICK HERE to learn more.
Note: Most viruses and diseases are preventable by controlling Varroa Mites. To learn more about Varroa Mites and how to stay ahead of them CLICK HERE.
Another Cause of Death could be: Swarming - Yes, swarming can cause death of a colony! When a colony prepares to swarm, “in theory” they will create a viable queen cell (Daughter Queen.) Depending on how many swarm cells were produced and how well they were fed has a huge bearing on the viability of the “queen left to take over!” OR – the daughter queen left to be mated and never returned, leaving the remainder of the colony that didn’t swarm to fend for themselves, often with bad results.
Hive Condition: Dead Bees on the bottom board (moist and rotting)
Cause of Death: Moisture– If the colony didn’t have sufficient ventilation in the Winter, condensation can occur. Water vapor rises; as it condenses and chills it will then drip back down on to the bees and cause them to chill/freeze. Mold and mildew is also a problem with an overabundance of moisture. It won’t likely kill the bees but makes for a very poor environment for your colony and they will often abscond if left unresolved.
Hive Condition: Dead Bees inside the box, on the bottom board, on the landing and on the ground in front of the hive
Cause of Death: Possible insecticide, herbicide or pesticide poisoning
A good indicator that bees have been exposed to poison is evident if you find a bee dead with her tongue sticking out. Sometimes a kill can be over a period of time if the bees simply foraged in an area recently sprayed. In this case, the forgers may die off slowly and/or carry the poison into the colony causing a rapid kill.
There are so many “if’s, and’s and but’s” in forensics of a hive. BUT – truthfully, it all boils down to 1 BIG point – Doing regular hive inspections and staying on top of the condition of your bees!
When we do the bi-weekly checks and quarterly Hive Inspections on our bees, we are able to see if something needs to be addressed. The problem starts when we DON’T react to a situation, then a month later we are faced with the reality that our colony didn’t recover without our intervention.
Education is the best gift you can give your bees – commit to taking every opportunity to further your education through club meetings, seminars, webinars and in-person classes. The joy of being successful at keeping healthy thriving bees will far exceed the cost of time and money.
By: CHARI ELAM
Photo credit: Annalisa Mazzarella
Photo credit: MorningsideHoney.wordpress.com
Photo credit:Bee Informed Partnership
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I began beekeeping like many others: Slightly timid around bees, uncertain in my ability to find one queen bee amidst thousands of workers who all seemed to be doing the bee dance at once, and highly skeptical of these people who called themselves “beekeepers”. In my all-knowing 12 year old head they simply had to be somewhat strange to be so excited about their career working with millions of stinging insects. Not that I didn’t think beekeeping had its perks, (in what other job can you lick your fingers?) but really, there had to be an easier, less painful way to achieve the American Dream. I never believed those guys who claimed to get used to stings anyway. My two milky white 5-coats-of-paint beehives were plenty for me.
Fast forward a few years, ok, more than a few now, and I’ve spent the years since completely immersed in almost every facet of beekeeping, from migratory beekeeping, to honey production, to pollination, local, state & national club & legislative involvement, honey packing, bee supply stores, selling bees, classes, and more. I kinda took the diversification concept to heart I guess.
Making a Business Out of Beekeeping
By Blake Shook
Stings are a minor inconvenience, and finding queens, well, it’s a bit easier. I’m not sure what changed in me during those years. Perhaps I became a beekeeper…perhaps I lost a few brain cells. I’ll never know for sure what made me go all in. But one thing I can tell you, beekeeping as a career or sideline job is a wild, thrilling, challenging, unique, and well-worth-it journey.
2008 was a pivotal year in my business. I liken that year to where many hobby beekeepers may currently be. I was making a decent gross income, and was about to graduate from high school. I had the choice to begin full time beekeeping, or put that career on hold and head to college.
Perhaps you are in a similar position, and are trying to decide if you should take the leap and end your current job and pursue beekeeping, expand to a sideline business, or keep it as a hobby. I had always heard the common joke that there is money in beekeeping because you keep putting it there. Though funny, I often found myself wondering how much truth that saying held. I found it to be good for a laugh in any crowd, but over time, not quite true. There really is money in the beekeeping industry if you are resourceful and willing to work. So, after graduating at the top of my class (hold the applause, I was homeschooled), I pursued full time beekeeping.
With a bit of that background in mind, let’s move on. While there are countless methods and opportunities to make money in beekeeping, there are some key traits to those who are successful in beekeeping & those who are not. Many years ago as I was just starting to expand into a full time business, I noticed an often painfully clear difference in beekeepers- those that struggled year after year in many areas and those who were largely successful year after year. The successful guys certainly had challenging years, but overall, handled it well and moved on. After talking to dozens from each camp I found some key attributes that separated the two, and have since worked hard to apply these to my business with varying degrees of success.
What follows on the next page is an outline of those traits & how they apply specifically to beekeeping as a business.
Understanding Business & Beekeeping Finances
-At the end of the day beekeeping is a business! Commercially, a business that picks up and moves around the country several times a year no less! On all scales, understanding basic business principles and especially “beekeeping finances” is critical. That looks like having realistic expectations of expenses, annual losses, average honey yields, wholesale honey pricing and more. This is where sharing your business plan with an experienced beekeeper is critical.
-Sharp beekeepers don’t put all their eggs in one basket. They know years will come where they have major die offs above norms, poor weather will ruin honey crops, etc. Having a variety of sources of income is critical. It could be pollination and honey production, selling bees, selling honey retail, sending bees to almonds, raising queens, producing pollen or propolis, or hundreds of other concepts.
-New beekeepers are great at this! Beekeeping best management practices can change fast. Good beekeepers stay up to date through publications, conferences, sharing ideas and more. New pests come into the US, mite treatments fail, weather changes, laws change and more. Be adaptable, and never assume what worked last year will work this year.
-I know this seems simplistic, but honestly, it’s one of the biggest things that separate the successful beekeeper from the unsuccessful one. Beekeeping, especially on a sideline or commercial level, is just plain hard work. It takes an incredible work ethic and discipline to be successful. If it's cold, hot, raining, etc your bees still have to be cared for. If you’ve not slept in 2 days, bees still have to be cared for. If you are a week late treating for mites or supering bees, it could have a major negative impact on your business. Partner up with a beekeeper the size you want to be, and ask to work during a few of the hardest weeks. Make sure you know what you are getting into.
-Your bees must come first over other aspects of your business. You MUST super, feed, treat, split, requeen, move, and fix hives ahead of, or right on time, no matter what. If this isn’t done, and with great consistency, your bees won’t make it. This is one of the most common reasons for failure.
-Beekeepers can be like a big family, for better or for worse. I can honestly say that a large (greater than 50%) percentage of the opportunities that have come my way over the years are due to having relationships in the beekeeping world. Networking is incredibly helpful!
Having a Long Term/Ahead of Schedule Mindset
-For individual hive care, this looks like never skimping on the care of vibrant hives and being quick to combine or shake weak hives that aren’t growing. Keep in mind that 10 strong hives will always outperform 50 weak hives. It’s being willing to spend money now to make it later when it comes to bee care and equipment purchases. The investment has to make sense, but with beekeeping, the ROI is often 1-2 years or less. Also, always think ahead. When you are making splits in March, your mind should already be on your upcoming honey crop and what you and your bees need to be doing now to prepare for it. A good beekeeper is always looking 6 months ahead.
Never Forget the Basics
-In beekeeping if the basics are cared for, it is hard to go wrong. Bees need plenty of food, good forage, plenty of space, and mites & diseases need to always be under control. Don’t get caught up in the endless array of products and methods and lose sight of the essentials. Bottom line: Take care of your bees and they will take care of you.
-Don’t ever underestimate the power of marketing. If you are strictly a migratory commercial beekeeper this isn’t quite as applicable, but it still has its merit. As an industry we are far behind on the marketing front when it comes to honey, retail, our businesses and more. If you are selling honey, invest in logo and label design. Invest in good photography. Invest in a decent website. Do those things, and you will already be ahead of most other businesses.
Involvement in Associations
-This is one of the best ways as a newer beekeeper to establish relationships, learn, and most importantly, talk to those who’ve made all the mistakes. Join state & national organizations as soon as possible! Good beekeepers never stop learning, and many serve in organizations as well to help protect the industry and get to know others even faster.
Interested in turning a profit in beekeeping and creating a business?
Join Blake Shook virtually as we discuss the various ways & options for turning beekeeping into a profitable venture!
Blake will cover:
-Transitioning to a sideline & commercial operation
-Diversifying with products other than honey
-Selling products- websites, markets, grocery stores
9:00 am - 12:00 noon
Class and Live Q & A from the comforts of your own home!
Don’t Get Discouraged & Get Help
-Even when we follow all the right steps everything doesn’t always go right. I don’t know a single experienced beekeeper who has not had major losses (often unexplained) and major setbacks. It’s part of Ag and beekeeping. Having friends in the business to help during those times is critical, and important to help you realize we’ve all been there. My business is built on 1000 mistakes...keep learning, keep planning, and keep going.
It has been a long time since I was skeptical of beekeeping and friends have finally stopped politely asking when I’m going to get a real job. I have long since thrown the “strange beekeeper” idea out the window and accepted that we beekeepers are “unique” as my old friend John (see an interview with John here) says…not “strange”. And to discover that fact all one has to do is discover the wonderful world of beekeeping.
Here is the punch line of this article…I was making a decent living from beekeeping as a 20 year old kid. If I can grow a beekeeping business from nothing to something of a success, with no college degree, more energy than sense, and making every mistake in the book, so can you! I don’t have any special skills or abilities…just a willingness to work, accept help, and learn from my many mistakes.
Many have done this before me, and many after me can as well. Hopefully this was helpful to you as you try to discover your journey in beekeeping. If you are interested, I will be taking a more nuts & bolts look at being successful in beekeeping during our “The Business of Beekeeping” class November 14th. You can sign up here. All the best,
Desert Creek Honey & Texas Bee Supply
THE BUSINESS OF BEEKEEPING
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Extremely small winter cluster that died during a late season freeze
Video Credit: Clifton Kern - "This is a time-laps from inside the feeding chamber of the beehive. It was started around 9 PM and stopped around 10 AM the next morning. the minimum temp was around 4* F that night."
of the Winter Cluster
By: Lauren Ward, MS
It is that time of the year – winter is nearly here!
Granted, this is Texas…winter weather is apt to come and go randomly through much of the season. Despite its unpredictable nature, our bees prepare in much the same way as they would in a more northern climate. They have been hard at work finalizing their winter honey stores, removing the dead weight of drones and aged workers, and raising the generation of bees that will hopefully carry them through the winter.
Honey bees are unique in that they overwinter as a colony. Bumble bees, leafcutters, and the myriad of other native bees hibernate as mated females or dormant pupae and must start out the year alone, rebuilding their numbers over the course of the spring and summer. Hibernation is not in the program for honey bees. Instead, an entire colony dramatically changes its physiology and behavior to hunker down and ride out the winter.
Like most insects, honey bees do not maintain a constant body temperature. They are able to produce heat, however. Even normal activity generates very small amounts of heat, and with colony populations often numbering in the 10,000’s, this can be significant by itself. Bees can also produce extra heat when they need it most. Their trick is using the strongest muscles in their bodies, the large paired flight muscles, to “shiver” their wings. Instead of producing the alternating up- and down-strokes needed for flight, they contract these muscles against one another to heat their thorax with little to no wing movement. Shivering for on-demand heat is a powerful tool; however, it is an energy-intensive activity and only sustainable for short bursts. This means that they would run out of fuel rapidly in winter if each bee had to warm themselves individually, or if large numbers worked to warm the entire hive cavity.
This is where the winter cluster comes in. If you have opened your hives when the temperature is somewhere south of 60° F, you have likely seen your bees clustered together in a spherical mass, clearly upset at the intrusion but briefly unable to fly. This clustering behavior begins when the temperature inside the hive drops to around 57° F. As you might expect, the usual Texas winter often has our bees bouncing back and forth, breaking cluster on the warm days and reforming most nights and when cold weather comes in.
What looks like just a ball of bees is actually an active and organized winter cluster. Layers of closely packed worker bees form an insulating “mantle” or “shell” on the outside of the cluster. They tend to orient with their heads pointed toward the center and their main function is to insulate and regulate airflow in and out of the cluster. Mantle bees may remain cold to the point that their movement is significantly slowed (around 50° F), though some are actively producing heat as needed. Inward from the mantle is a much more active and loosely packed core. Activity of all these bees, supplemented by relatively few shivering workers maintains warm, stable temperatures near the center of the cluster. Additionally, packing into a sphere minimizes the cluster’s surface area to volume ratio ensuring the least amount heat is lost. The insulating outer mantle and heat-generating workers allow the center of the cluster to function fairly normally. Queens slow or cease egg laying activity as fall turns to winter, but colonies may maintain a small patch of brood on and off for much of the winter in our typically pollen-rich southern climate. Any brood and the queen will remain near the center of the winter cluster and be cared for accordingly. The cluster responds quickly to temperature changes. If the temperature inside the cluster drops, more bees shiver their wing muscles and insulating mantle bees pack tighter to reduce heat loss.
As it warms, the cluster loosens and allows heat to escape. This leads to an incredibly stable temperature in the middle of the winter cluster, with broodless colonies maintaining approximately 80° F or more and those with brood keeping it in the mid-90’s despite whatever the winter throws at them!
Bees cannot stray far from the edge of the cluster as long as the temperatures inside the rest of the hive remain cold. Individual bees lose heat quickly outside of the cluster. This means that their source of winter fuel, sugar – in the form of honey, uncapped nectar, or whatever supplemental sugar we provide – must be within reach if the weather stays cold for long. This is relevant to colonies of all sizes, but it especially important for those with small populations (more on that below).
The location of a winter cluster slowly drifts over time as they consume stored honey. Ideally, colonies in Langstroth-style hives go into winter with the population located low and in the center.
Wasted space such as undrawn supers are removed so that a relatively small brood nest area is surrounded to the sides and above with food. This setup gives clustered bees easy access to honey and explains why we find most bees occupying upper hive bodies by early spring.
A relatively large winter population has the advantage of more bees to insulate and produce heat, whereas a very small cluster is one poorly timed cold snap away from death. Personally, in central Texas, I am pretty confident when I see a tightly packed winter cluster about the size of a basketball or larger.
That said, I have seen much smaller clusters, down to approximately softball-size, survive the winter here. I attribute those tiny survivors to a combination of setting them up just right…and luck. These very low population hives will keep you wondering about them all winter and struggle to build up in spring, which is why most beekeepers recommend combining them with another hive in the fall. On the other end of the spectrum, an extremely large colony is unlikely to die just because the temperature drops. A word of warning though – extra-large colonies can consume honey like it’s going out of style! Make sure they don’t starve in February or March.
The genius of the winter cluster means that our honey bees are already equipped to withstand a much harsher winter than any we should ever encounter here in Texas!
Successfully overwintered colonies have the workforce to capitalize on early resources and build up in time to take full advantage of the main spring flows.
What Do Bees Do In Winter By: Deboki Chakravarti
Photo Credit: Randy Oliver - scientificbeekeeping.com
By: Lauren Ward, MS
Board Certified Entomologist
Owner: A Bar Beekeeping
Healthy, medium-sized loose winter cluster in January
by - James Elam
Video credit: MichiganShooter
Video Courtesy - Tom Moss
It’s fall! You’ve been looking forward to this time of year, unless you’re a drone honey bee. As beekeepers, we soon will be witness to “The Great Drone Dump” to occur at the entrance of our colonies.
May be best described as a pushing and shoving match between boys and girls; the actions of the guard bees restrict drone re-entry to the colony. Physical removal of drones from within the colony also happens at the hands of other workers. The occurrence of the drone “dump” is an important aspect of internal winter colony management, coupled with instinctive survival demands.
Considered mostly non-productive within the hive, drones are known to be a heavy drain on resources because they have really large appetites! Drones do not forage and are thus consumers and not suppliers. In other words, they are really good at drawing down colony food supplies. You would think that their primary purpose in life, the 2-5 seconds of mating with a queen, would be an area in which they excelled.
Practically speaking, drones are highly adapted physically to the task of mating, however, practice does not make perfect in this instance. It is known that only a small percentage of drones actually ever mate and those that do, well, you know the rest of the story. The competition to mate is great and the queens available for mating are few. With these really bad odds, the probability of being dumped by the girls is real! Worse yet, getting dumped also guarantees that the free food supply chain has ended, and starvation and unbearable cold temperatures will follow.
Any drone bee that finds itself in a position to stay home and “just hang out” can live significantly longer than its more romantic buddies. Not unlike worker bees, flight time is directly associated with mortality. Less flying potentially leads to more time to hang out and a longer life. Practically speaking, what is the cost of this potential inconsistency with nature? After all, the “Great Drone Dump” must occur! Right?
Drones present during winter?
Interestingly enough, colonies don’t haphazardly make the dumping decision. Sometimes a really strong colony with abundant resources may not actually care that free loaders are present. All hands (”wings”) on deck when cold weather arrives! A sudden drop in colony and brood nest temperature brings even lowly remaining drones into action for the purpose of creating friction heat from their fanning uncoupled wings. Finally, something productive for a house drone to do!
Another circumstance of drones present in a winter colony can be found in one that is queenless. This makes sense when you rationalize the purpose of the Drone. They are logically keeping them around to mate with the potential replacement Queen. It’s even said that workers will “rob eggs” from neighboring colonies in order to produce the needed larva for an “ill timed” Queenless scenario. Once again, our honey bees are working beyond the intellect of an insect!
Have you seen drones on the ground in front of your colony in fall or being pulled out by a diligent worker bee? Take a minute to watch – you are witness to the annual Great Drone Dump!
By: James Elam
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YIELD: Makes 6-8 servings
4 T - butter
1 package - English muffins, split
1 lb.- thick bacon
1/4 cup - honey
1 dozen- eggs
salt and pepper to taste
2 packages - Hollandaise sauce
2 cups - 2% milk
1 stick - butter
fresh parsley or chives and paprika for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Spread each muffin half with butter and bake for 10 minutes on a sheet pan, set aside.
Spread the bacon out on a parchment-lined sheet pan and drizzle with the honey. Bake for 20-25 minutes turning once. Remove each piece of bacon to a cooling rack to drain and cool. Cut each piece of bacon in half.
Prepare the hollandaise sauce according to the package directions and keep warm.
Place the muffin halves on a sheet pan and evenly divide the bacon over each muffin. Gently break one egg over each muffin half and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the eggs are cooked to your preference.
Serve immediately topped with warm hollandaise and garnished with fresh herbs and a sprinkle of paprika.
TIP - You can use the traditional method of poaching the eggs if you prefer, but this method of baking the eggs is much easier and great for entertaining.
Breakfast with HONEY!
DIY Solar Wax Melter
By: Michael Kelling -
President Central Texas Beekeepers Association
Michael owns approximately 100 hives that he uses mainly to provide Ag Valuations to landowners in Washington County, as well as working toward getting his Master Beekeepers certificate.
I have always heard that drawn comb is a beekeepers most valuable possession. That’s because it takes 8 pounds of honey to make a pound of wax.
But what do you do with your comb once it is no longer useful or the wax moths have destroyed part of it, or you have wax cappings from extracting honey?
Being an old farmer (or put another way, a FORMER FARMER,) I am cheap and have come up with a useful "Do It Yourself Solar Wax Melter" that cost me less than $8! A “Wooden Solar Wax Melter” from Mann Lake is listed at $169.95.
The first thing you will need is an old deep brood box that is still solid enough to not let the bees in through any cracks. It doesn’t hurt to caulk up the holes because bees will be attracted to the smell of melting wax, and if they can get in, that would be a horrible way for them to die.
You will also need a 16 X 20-inch piece of glass. Fortunately, a pre-cut piece of glass from Lowe's fits perfectly! The Lowe's in Brenham has stacks of them already cut. They are around $6 each.
Other items in my version include some duct tape, 6 small wood screws and 4 long wood screws, a cookie sheet (standard 9 x 13) and a small loaf pan from the dollar store, a couple of old frames (without foundation,) a couple of small bungee cords, and a sheet of plywood to fit the bottom of the brood box - An old migratory cover will do.
The first thing I do is to cut the top bars of the two old frames to the WIDTH of the brood box. These will be the supports for the cookie sheet.
Next, mount the supports about 3 inches below the top of the box. I intentionally mount the supports with one side 3/4 inch lower than the other, and one end 1-1/4 inch lower than the other to allow the wax to flow naturally to one corner of the cookie sheet. Then I use two small screws to attach the cookie sheet to the support that is the highest.
For safety and to help create a little bit of a seal, I put a layer of duct tape around the glass. If the glass breaks, at least it will not shatter everywhere.
I also put a small dam at the bottom of the cookie sheet made from the bottom board of an old frame to keep some of the solids from running to the edge of the cookie sheet and falling into the loaf pan underneath.
Since a good gust of wind will blow the glass off of the box, I add four small screws to the side of the box and two bungee cords to hold the glass down.
Attach the box to the piece of plywood/migratory cover, put the loaf pan under the cookie sheet, put it in full sunlight, and you are ready to go.
Add your old comb/cappings to the cookie sheet and let the sun do your work for you.It will take 3 to 4 hours of full sunlight to melt all of the wax. Of course, you don’t expect anything to happen on a cloudy day.
The melted wax will flow down the cookie sheet, under and around the dam, and drain over the lower corner of the cookie sheet into the loaf pan underneath.
Most of the solid impurities will sink to the bottom of the cookie sheet and you should have almost pure wax in the loaf pan. You can even run the wax through the melter several times to purify it further.
You DON’T want to work with the melter at the end of the day. Melted wax can burn your skin. It is better to wait until the next morning.
To remove the loaf pan and the clean wax, simply remove the glass, raise the lower end of the cookie sheet and lift the pan out. You can clean the trash from the cookie sheet with your hive tool. There should be very little wax left in what is still on the cookie sheet. You could probably use a small piece of screen wire over the cookie sheet to make it more efficient.
Because the loaf pan is below the cookie sheet, it is in cooler temperatures and the wax will build stalagmites of wax as it runs down and cools. You can even the wax out by setting the loaf pan on the cookie sheet the next day and the wax will melt again and settle.
The things I have learned from making several versions of this solar wax melter, is that it is important to get the old comb as close to the glass as possible. At the same time, you don’t want the unmelted wax to touch the glass or it will be hard to clean off. If you put the cookie sheet more than 3 inches below the glass, the heat will stay near the glass and not melt the wax.
You may also want to use a larger cookie sheet. These would cost a few dollars more but would be a larger platform to hold more wax and would keep the heat nearer the top of the melter because there is not as much space around the side of the cookie sheet. An 11 X 17-inch cookie sheet is $5 at Walmart. This would be a better buy for $4 more.
This is definitely a small wax melter, but all you have to do is load it every morning and it is pretty self-functioning until the next morning.
Why go to all this trouble? I use my wax to put an extra layer of wax on the plastic foundation. I find the bees accept the plastic foundation with extra wax as readily as pure wax foundation. There are other folks who make lip balm and other items with bees’ wax.
Please make improvements and share them with me as you can.
Photo courtesy: Frank Cormier
Photo courtesy: William Downing
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...so now what? After months of activity caring for your bees, it's finally time to take a deep breath and wait for spring. If you are like me, waiting is the hardest part! Every cold rainy night, or cold front, I wonder what's going on with my bees, when can I check on them, is it too cold to take a look, etc. Here are some answers to common winter inspection questions:
1. How often should I inspect?
I recommend some form of inspection 2 times per month, November-January. For November you should be adding a pollen patty each inspection, and doing any last minute feeding. One inspection in December and January can simply be to lift up on the hive and peek under the lid to ensure proper food stores; then the other inspection can be to quickly look inside the hive.
2. When should I inspect?
Bees do a decent job of keeping their hive warm, and recovering after the hive has been opened. If you are simply checking food stores, and not breaking the boxes apart or lifting frames, it can be done anytime. If you are lifting frames out or breaking the boxes apart, I recommend around noon on a sunny day. This will give the bees plenty of time to form their cluster before it gets
Winter is finally here...
how often, when, and what should i be looking for?
before it's cold again at night. As far as temperatures, I've inspected plenty of hives around 35-40 degrees if it's sunny, and the inspection only takes a few minutes. If you want to pull all the frames out one at a time, and do an inspection that lasts several minutes, it needs to be flying weather, so 50s and sunny. But, to just break the boxes apart to see the cluster side, and pull a frame or two out, it can be quite cold and not damage the hive.
3. What should I be looking for?
Typically winter inspections are gauging syrup/honey stores. If your hive has less than 30lbs in their second box, you can feed. Check out how to tell how much honey is stored here! It will take the bees several days to drink syrup in the winter. During the winter, that's about all you can do. Outside the hive, make sure the lids are on securely, water isn't pooling on the bottom board, and your wind blocks are in place. If you do have a bright sunny day, and want to pull a few frames out, you should see the queen beginning to lay eggs early to mid January. A pollen patty or two starting in early January will help jump start that process.
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GRAND OPENING WAS PICTURE PERFECT!
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"10 Most Important Things You Should Know!"
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Thank You to ALL of those who came out to celebrate our Grand Opening! To the Presenters, Staff and Helpers ~ THANK YOU for your hard work and participation; we couldn't have done it without you ~~~ Texas Bee Supply
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Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Line an oven proof baking dish with foil and spray with Pam
Mix mustard, honey, vinegar, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Place chicken in baking dish in a single layer and pour
sauce over chicken. Turn so that chicken is coated well
Bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 165 degrees in top 1/3 of the oven. Baste with pan juice half way through cooking
You can brown with broiler at the very end but watch closely.
Garnish with rosemary or herb of your choice. Let stand for 5-8 minutes
Serve with spoonful of gravy over top!
4 - 5 Servings
Honey Cough Syrup
Recipe of the Month
By Beth Derr
Treasurer - Marshall Beekeeping and North East Texas Beekeeping Conference as well as the Louisiana Beekeeping Association. Originator of the Honey Bee License Plate now available in Texas!
zest of 2 lemons (approx. 1 1/2 T)
1/4 cup - ginger, peeled, sliced, or 1/2 tsp. of ground ginger
1 cup - water
1 cup - honey
1/2 cup - lemon juice
In a small saucepan, combine lemon zest, sliced ginger and 1 cup of water. Bring mixture to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, then strain through into a heat-proof measuring cup.
Rinse the saucepan out and pour in 1 cup of honey. On low heat, warm the honey, but do not allow it to boil. Add the strained lemon ginger water and the lemon juice. Stir the mixture until it combines to form a thick syrup.
Pour into a clean jar with a lid.
Note: This can be refrigerated for up to 2 months.
For children ages 1 to 5, use 1/2 to 1 tsp. every 2 hours. For children ages 5 to 12, use 1 to 2 tsp. every 2 hours. For children 12 and older and adults, use 1 to 2 T every 4 hours.*
* Remember, honey is recommended for children after the age of one.
For Nurse Barb's Honey Lemon Cough-sicles Recipe, click here.
Recipe courtesy of Nurse Practitioner Barbara Dehn, RN, MS, NP.
Honey Mustard Chicken
Have a Recipe you'd like to share ? Email us at Editor@TexasBeeSupply.com
1 .5 - 2 pounds of skinless boneless chicken thighs (usually 6-8 pieces)
1/2 cup Dijon Mustard
1/4 cup Honey
1 TBS Seasoned Rice Wine Vinegar (or any kind you like)
salt and pepper to taste
Fresh Rosemary to garnish (optional)
Click Here to Print
In all the places I have lived, it seems there is always one house somewhere nearby with way too many people living there. Neighbors probably thought the same about my house growing up with eight of us, and just as many cars, sometimes parked out front!
In my apiaries I have witnessed a similar imbalance at times. Some colonies grow larger with bees gained from neighboring colonies, while other colonies grow weaker as they lose their populations. Beekeepers attribute this to “drifting” and try to avoid creating conditions that cause it.
Honeybee drift is common when hives are located close to each other but can also occur over greater distances.
Several factors can play into why a bee ends up at a different hive and is allowed entrance or permitted to stay. Sometimes it is accidental. Ever watched a slow motion video of foraging bees coming in for a landing full of nectar and pollen? It can be quite comical – bees bobbing around, looking drunk and unsteady, and running into each other while trying to land. Hard enough when they’re at the right door. Now add some prevailing winds to the mix and suddenly they’re on another porch!
Bees fulfilling a guard role are usually the first to greet drifters. Chemical signals on the drifting bee with a close match to the guard bees own hive, can pass the test and in they go. Available resources can also be a factor. Full resources in the hive can give some complacency to the guards, whereas an in inadequate supply of pollen and nectar availability in the forage area can lead to guards challenging more and aggressively defending what resources they already have. Foragers bringing much needed resources to a foreign hive are also apt to be admitted. Once inside a new hive, a drifting bee begins to take on the pheromones and chemical signals of the new hive thus being less likely to be challenged on subsequent foraging trips.
Sometimes bees will leave one colony behind and move to another on purpose. Pests and diseases may trigger a population of bees to abandon their colony and seek out another. Accepting these drifting bees into a healthy colony could then spread those same pests and diseases. This is a good reason to try and prevent drifting.
According to many studies, worker bees tend to drift more during their orientation flights and before foraging regularly. Drones seem to drift much more frequently than workers. When raising queens, drifting can be a big concern. Queens returning from mating flights risk entering colonies that already have a queen if unable to locate their own colony. This could lead to a potential loss of a queen should a fight ensue.
So how can you help prevent bees drifting into other colonies? One way is by controlling the placement of hives. Long straight lines can make it difficult for bees whose colonies are situated in the middle; distinguishing which one is theirs when the hives look the same. While placing hives in lines may be aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and can provide for simplified maintenance paths (both of which the author is guilty as charged for implementing,) foraging bees can over time drift towards the hives nearest to the ends as they are easier to identify.
Steps can be taken to break up the pattern presented to foraging bees by painting neighboring hives with different and contrasting colors; breaking the line with gaps between groups of hives or using natural landmarks to break up the line. Anything to provide a reference point for the bees to locate their home.
A couple of years back I was experiencing a drifting issue with a run of five hives. Placing an upright section of a log cut from a downed tree in front of the middle hive made all the difference and remedied the issue.
If mitigation efforts are exhausted and don’t seem to be working with drifting taking place consistently one-way, use the stronger colony to manually balance your apiary out by supplying weaker colonies with its resources. In other words, share frames of bees.
If you’re interested in seeing what drifting may look like in your own apiary here is a simple experiment to conduct in the spring. Take a queen marker pen and mark a few dozen drones. Over the following days and weeks you may see the drones show up in nearby colonies. Some may even show up in a nearby beekeepers colonies. Reach out to them and let them know to be on the lookout and give you some feedback if they see your drones.
Numerous studies have been conducted on the topic of drifting. So many in fact that listing a few here would seem to be an injustice to the others. The experiments taking on pairs of hives vs. rows of hives, different hive formations, entrances that are offset or different colors and orientation - direction of drift as relative to the compass, propensity to spread diseases or parasites, drone vs. worker drift, and age of drifting bees are just a few examples. Charts, diagrams, percentages and lots of bedtime reading can to be found.
Like all things beekeeping - yep you guessed it - lots of differing results and opinions! That is not to say that there can’t be some truth in all of them.
At the end of the day being a good steward to the little ladies in your charge by paying attention to what is going on both inside and outside your hives - understanding what you see and what that means for the near future of your colonies, then you can take steps to mitigate drifting in your yards.
Wait - This isn't my House!
By: Scott Souders
Early days - Scott and his Mom
By: Scott Souders
Checking for honey stores is very important throughout the next few months!
Do the tilt test
Do hive checks every 2 or 3 weeks
One hive inspection mid to late November for a final check prior to super cold weather
Maintain 30 - 60 # of Honey stores or Feed!
Watch this video to see how we do it!
James & Chari Elam
Checking for Honey Stores
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Join us for this fascinating discussion with renowned beekeeper and entrepreneur Clint Walker! We discuss diversification, the greatest challenges in beekeeping, what the future holds, life lessons & much more!
Building a Diversified Business, Greatest Lessons, the Future of Beekeeping & More!
Applies to Purchases made for your Beekeeping venture
Beekeepers can claim “exemptions” from some Texas taxes (sales tax) when purchasing certain items used exclusively to produce agricultural products (as it relates to beekeeping) used for sale.
Example: Beekeeping Equipment (protective clothing does not apply)
Note: Merchant has the right to determine whether or not to grant you
the tax exemption at time of purchase. You also must carry the Ag Exemption card with you and fill out a form with each merchant to keep on file.
To apply :
Application Form AP-228-2 completed and turned in to the Texas State Comptroller either online or by mail.
Applies to land taxes only
Beekeeping is an agricultural use and shall qualify for agricultural use productivity
valuation if used for pollination or for the production of human food or other tangible products having
a commercial value. (Sec. 23.51 (2) Tax Code)Requires 5-20 acres
Note: Each county will have their own interpretation of this Tax Code.
You will want to call or meet with your local appraisal district to follow their specific instructions on application and qualifications.
To apply: File Application Property Tax Form 50-129 to your local county appraisal district.
If accepted, land that falls under the criteria will be appraised at a lower value per acre saving you money on your year end land taxes.
Time sensitive filing deadlines apply
Do you know the difference?
If your hive was fed sufficiently in the fall, odds are they won’t need any additional feeding. However, if they did not go into winter with sufficient stores, or are eating stores faster than expected, you may need to feed during the winter. This can be challenging, since it is difficult for the bees to move around enough in cold weather to access syrup.
Here are some tips to give them the best shot at drinking syrup, or having enough food:
1. Feed 2:1 syrup. This will allow them to use or store it immediately.
2. Use a division board feeder, or a top feeder directly over the cluster. The closer the food is to them, the more likely they are to drink it.
3. Take a few frames of honey from a different hive with excess honey, and place them immediately beside the cluster.
4. If the hive is completely out of food, place a gallon zip lock bag of syrup ½ full of 2:1 syrup, with all the excess air removed, on the top bars directly above the main cluster, and poke 10-15 small holes, or 1 inch slits on the top of the bag. This will give the bees direct access to food with minimal movement.
5. For southern beekeepers it's not necessary to feed fondant. Some beekeepers feed a thick sugar patty placed on the top bars for winter feeding. This works for northern climates where bees can't access syrup for weeks/months, and syrup freezes even inside the hive. Unfortunately, bees have to turn that sugar into a liquid before they can use it. Syrup is much easier for them to use and in the south, there are plenty of days the bees can access syrup.
How & what to Winter Feed
hINT-iT'S NOT FONDANT
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From Bugs to Books: How I went from backyard beekeeper to published author - Featuring speaker: Frank Mortimor
Collin County Beekeepers
It would take about 1 oz. of honey to fuel a honeybee's flight around the world.
Out of 20,000 species of bees, only 4 make honey.
A Deep frame covered in bees is about 1/2 a pound or about 1750 bees.
It takes about 3500 bees to weigh 1 pound.
Click photo for Zoom Link
Combining Hives in the Cold
Q: What is the coldest temperatures you should combine hives in?
A: I would wait for a sunny day above 40 degrees to combine hives. Check out our article in this month’s magazine about temperatures to inspect hives for a bit more info. You can also see how to combine here.
Q: What's the best type of feeder to use during the winter in Texas? In hive feeder? Top feeder? Something else?
A: I recommend a feeder that is as close to the winter cluster as possible. If you use an entrance feeder, the bees will struggle to access it on cool days. My favorite anytime of the year, but especially in the winter, is the division board feeder. It stays inside the brood nest, and provides quick & easy access to food for the bees.
Transferring bees to a new Hive
Q: I need to move some bees out of one hive and into another. The hive box needs to be repaired. How should I move them to a new box?
A: I recommend picking a sunny day above 50, since you will be majorly disrupting the hive. Have your new box ready, and transfer 1 frame at a time into your new box. Move quickly and gently, and use plenty of smoke. The key thing to remember is to keep all the frames in the same order that they were in originally. When you are done, brush any bees left on the walls of the old box into the new box, and you are done!
How Much is 30 lbs?
Q: How can you estimate 30-40 lbs of honey to know there is enough to get through the winter?
A: Great question. There is a video here that will help! A medium frame completely full of honey is about 3-4lbs, and a deep frame completely full of honey is 5-6lbs. together when you finish an inspection, or bees will forever continue widening the frames & comb to fill any space. Other than that, you can scrape off burr and cross comb until they are more moveable.
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Have a Question? Email us at help@TexasBeeSupply.com
of honey/syrup is about 3-4 lbs, and a deep frame completely full of honey is 5-6 lbs.
How Much Honey in Bottom Box?
Q: If we have 20 to 40 lbs of honey in the top deep THEN how much do you expect to have in the bottom deep?
A: My goal going into winter is to have about 30-40 lbs of stored honey or syrup in the top box, and 3-4 frames of honey/syrup stored in the bottom box.
Q: When do you remove the in-hive feeder? It seems to take up a lot of real estate in the bottom box.
A: I actually leave them in year around. It does take up space, but if you have 2 brood boxes (either 2 deeps or a deep and a medium) there is plenty space for the bees.
2:1 or 1:1 winter feeding?
Q: For winter feeding, should I be feeding 1:1 or 2:1 syrup?
A:The goal over the winter is for the bees to store the syrup, and/or use it as quickly as possible. They are able to do both those things faster with 2:1, so I recommend feeding a thicker, 2:1 syrup (2:1 by weight or volume) during the winter.
Q: Can I put mothballs in my stored supers?
A: No. Mothballs are a different chemical than wax moth crystals. They should never be used in stored supers! Always use wax moth crystals to keep wax moths out of stored supers. You can find them here!
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Granulated Honey? Check out our bucket heater! Wrap it around a 5 gallon bucket of honey, plug it in & watch it liquefy your honey!
Texas Drought Status
How many pounds of honey was produced on average per hive this year in Texas?
For real time info, click here
Bees are attracted to heat during cold days and can cluster on humans to keep warm!
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