Author Topic: Bees, so far so good  (Read 2338 times)

Offline CharlesH

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Bees, so far so good
« on: January 04, 2018, 07:40:32 PM »
My fall/winter experience has been good, though a bit mixed.  I bought two nucs locally in June fairly cheap.  I used them to split and build two new hives with russian queens.  In August everyone got a series of Api Life Var for varroa.  Because of the late splits I had to feed them all.  One of the queens in the original nucs was a mess, I replaced her but it was too late to save that hive.  In September yellow jackets swarmed that hive and the bees absconded.  Bummer.  However, the other three hives are all still alive, two with russian queens and one with an italian mutt.  We’ve had record setting cold here the last two weeks but it is supposed to warm a bit next week so they should be able to move to fresh honey.  It has been quite the learning experience.  My hope is to build a 100-hive sideline business in the next five years.  This year has given me confidence to persue that goal.

Offline fritz_monroe

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2018, 07:24:03 AM »
Glad your beekeeping experiences have bee pretty good.  How long have you been keeping them?

In my area, the problem that a lot of the beekeepers have is finding places to keep their hives.  Usually they don't have issues finding places to keep them for the Spring since every orchard in the area wants to have them for pollination.  But come Summer, the orchard owners don't want them around anymore.

I know that some of them have also had issues finding places to sell their products.  A lot of the local farmers markets only allow a certain number of certain types of providers.  If they already have 3 people selling bee products, they don't allow the new ones.

Some have complained about having to explain in detail why their honey is far superior to the majority of the honey in the supermarkets and why they are charging a higher price than what is in the supermarket.  This problem is slowly going away, but it still exists in some places.

Not trying to put you off on your goal of the business, just bringing in some of the problems that the beekeepers in my area have voiced to me.  I hope you succeed in your goal.

Offline CharlesH

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2018, 10:10:36 AM »
Thanks for the insights, I appreciate the candor.  I started off as a kid with my dad in the 70’s.  He only kept 4-8 hives but leveraged them for a bit of cash flow through education.  He was an environmental educator and we lived on a nature center in Ohio so it was a good niche.  I went off to the army and other government agencies through the 80’s, 90’s, and early this century before buying a farm and settling down to teach.  I’ve been in the hobby again since 2006, minus time for a couple of deployments with the MI National Guard.  Learning to deal with mites was my biggest curve.
 
The model I’m playing with has little cash flow from honey, wax, and propolis and none from pollen.  I budgeted for 25lbs of honey per super and 3% wax by weight of honey harvested.  My main profit centers I’m hoping for will come from polination services, nuc sales, and education/consultation.
 
I live in blueberry, and fruit orchard country and while polination sales are in the dumps right now, I am expecting them to improve.  I am budgeting $63 per hive for that.  Nucs sell as fast as they come availabe in Michigan and net over $100 each.  That would be my main opportunity.  Consultation is just an idea, I did not include it in my business plan, but I’m a professional educator and my dad made it work and I remember how he did it.  Who knows, I might fill in a niche there, too.
 
This is never intended to be more than a sideline and the total income from the farm (we also finish hogs each year by reservation and deposit and sell a few hundred meat chickens) will only be a supplement to off farm income.  But it does keep me young dreaming about it!

Offline CharlesH

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #3 on: March 17, 2018, 04:02:13 PM »
Yes!  All three hives made it to March.  I’ve seen them out a time or two during some warm spells and even enticed two of them to take some syrup a couple weeks ago during a 48 hour warm up.  But today was the big day.  All three of them were bringing in pollen!  Up here in Michigan that means the maples are blooming.  And 40 years ago when I was doing this with my dad, he always said seeing the pollen come in was a sign your queen had made it through winter.  Very excited!

Offline fritz_monroe

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #4 on: March 17, 2018, 06:12:34 PM »
Mine haven't fared so well.  Both my hives are dead.  We had a couple of really warm days in February.  I saw no activity.  I went ahead and opened the hive that was strong and saw no activity.

But I'm really happy that you are having success. with them.  It's so cool to see your hives make it through the winter.

Offline CharlesH

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #5 on: March 17, 2018, 08:08:03 PM »
Ouch.  Very sorry.  I’ve had a string of bad luck myself.  Last year I got a bit more proactive with my care and it seems to have helped.  Dealing with diseases these days is much tougher than it was in the 70’s.  I can tell you that...
 
Last year I bought two nucs that had been created from overwintered Michigan bees.  Once they were built up I split them both and transitioned the splits to Russian hybrids.  In August I treated all of them with ApiLife Var and I fed syrup to all of them in September.  One of the original queens petered out for some reason and I lost that hive before it got cold to robbing from yellow jackets.  The rest seem to be doing fine.  I won’t risk opening them before I get a sunny day in the mid 60’s.  Then I’ll clean off bottom boards and reverse my deeps for a month or so.  I’ll also do an oxalic acid vapor treatment (3x at six day intervals).  I don’t plan to split them this year, but collect honey.  I’ll keep a swarm trap out, though.
 
I assumed I’d lose some over the winter so I ordered four packages of Russians from KY.  Having seven hives will be fun!

Offline LvsChant

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2018, 07:44:30 PM »
Sounds like things are going very well for you and your bees, Charles. I hope you'll keep us posted on how the plan goes...

Offline CharlesH

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #7 on: April 16, 2018, 06:56:23 PM »
So far so good. Though one hive was definitely looking weak from the outside.  This April chill and storms in MI has definitely not helped.  I gave the weak hive a couple cups of warmed two year old crystallized honey on the inner cover last week when we had a few days of semi-warmth and they lapped it up.  But while the other two hives were out foraging for pollen they were hardly leaving the hive (even After they’d finished the honey).  I’m preparing myself to lose them.  If it happens I’ll make a split from one of the other two and be fine.

Offline LvsChant

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2018, 08:31:16 AM »
Too bad... I wonder what causes it? Is it just a weak queen, typically?

Offline John Doe

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2018, 12:36:50 PM »
Too bad... I wonder what causes it? Is it just a weak queen, typically?
Lack of (close) food, disease, Varroa mites :(

I just finished a beginner beekeeping course with my daughter.
I highly encourage anyone looking for something to do/learn to take a course like this.
It was very enlightening & ultimately I hope to enlist bees in my homebrewing of mead, mmmmmmmm

Offline fritz_monroe

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2018, 02:13:54 PM »
Too bad... I wonder what causes it? Is it just a weak queen, typically?
Could be many things.

Based on nothing but timing and how the others are doing, I'd guess that maybe this hive just doesn't have a queen with a lot of sperm left in her sack.  She may be laying eggs that aren't fertilized.  Do you see a lot of drones?  It could also be that this hive is in a location that doesn't get heated up the same by the Spring sun.  She may not have started laying eggs until a couple of days after the other queens started.  They might just have started hatching.  The new bees have other work to do to make sure the cells are ready for new eggs.

Be careful with giving them honey.  It can promote robbing. 

Offline CharlesH

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2018, 03:19:43 PM »
I’m leaning towards a late start in this case.  It was a mid-summer split from an Italian queen to a Russian.  They seemed to be doing well, but the timing was marginal.  I’m ruling out varroa as I kept my mite counts low.  There was no sign of staining on their front porch to indicate nosema last month, either (I know one of the forms of nosema doesn’t leave that indicator so I can’t rule it out).  It’s also possible they’re fine. People  I follow who keep Russians say the size of the winter cluster is very very small and they don’t start laying lots of eggs until there is a good food supply available.  This is my first spring with Russians so we’ll see.
 
Good point on the robbing.  I put the honey inside on the inner cover and didn’t have an issue.  I’ve always been lucky in the spring and the bees seem to be good about not robbing each other in the fall, too.  But yellow jackets?  That’s a whole other story.  I’ve seen weak hives completely emptied out by them...

Offline fritz_monroe

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2018, 06:09:59 PM »
People  I follow who keep Russians say the size of the winter cluster is very very small and they don’t start laying lots of eggs until there is a good food supply available.  This is my first spring with Russians so we’ll see.

This is what I've heard also.  And when they start building up, they build up REALLY fast.


Offline CharlesH

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2018, 01:31:31 PM »
I got into all three hives today.  Sunny, calm, with temps in the mid 60’s.  All three were encouraging, even my weak hive.
 
#1 is a queened with an Italian mutt I bought as a nuc here in MI last June.  She is unmarked and I did not find her.  Lots of bees, though, and I saw both capped and uncapped brood with a good pattern throughout.  Lots of honey still in there and they are packing in the pollen.  I might actually put a honey super in this one by early May.  I use wood bleach as a vapor treatment in the spring for varroa so I guess I need to get on that now so I’m done when the honey supers go on.  (I will vape them on days 0, 8, and 16 to catch almost all the mites).
 
#2 is queened with a Russian hybrid (Russian egg, the resulting Queen was open inseminated on her own).  They looked good, much fewer bees, which is what I expected from Russians.  Also lots of new pollen and old honey left but also lots of free space for this year.  Good looking brood patterns but covering a smaller area than #1. I’ll see how fast they catch up to the Italians in population.  We found this queen (she’s marked).
 
#3 is my weak hive.  Also a Russian hybrid.  There were actually more bees in there than I expected to find but not a ton yet.  The brood pattern was small but tight and the marked queen was easily found.  All the bees were on top and I reversed the supers.  I have seen mixed advice about doing this, but they were not using the main entrance, just a vent hole on top so I decided to do it for them.  The bottom board on this one had collected more dead bees that had not been removed than 1&2 so I cleaned that up real good.  We won’t need to go into this one again for several weeks.  But I think they will make it.
 
I only got stung once, and it was the Italian mutts that did it.  It seemed unprovoked, too (on the back of my thumb where it wasn’t being pinched and while my hands were outside the hive).  We did not notice any unusual aggression from the Russians. It was great to get in there and see the girls. 

Offline LvsChant

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2018, 02:44:35 PM »
Good news, Charles!

Offline CharlesH

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #15 on: May 06, 2018, 06:34:02 PM »
Got four more packages of Russian bees this week.  These were pure, not hybrid, from Kelley bees.  They all seemed to go in to their hives fine.  We’ll look in on them Tuesday.
 
  We also looked at our over wintered hives today.
 
  #1 are my Italians.  I did not notice a ton of activity coming and going from this hive the last two weeks but when my son and I opened them they were full of bees and brood.  In fact they were doing so well I put a shallow honey super in.  I expect locusts to come out pretty soon and I might get s full super of that.  I’ve heard that honey locust honey is quite pale and sells well.
 
  #2 are my strong Russian hybrids. They always have a lot of bees coming and going.  They were less full than the Italians, but had lots of nice brood.  I took three frames of brood from this one to give to my weak Russian hive.  If I hadn’t I would have put a honey super on this one, too.
 
  #3 My weak hive.  I had only looked at one super two weeks ago and we looked through the other super today.  The first thing we found was an area of dead bees in the shape of a cluster.  It covered two frames.  I have never seen this pattern in a hive that survived winter.  These must have died out during a later cold spell while others managed to move on to fresh stores.  It was very strange to see.  We took those frames and one other out and replaced them with three frames of brood and nurse bees from #2.  We put three frames of fresh foundation in #2 and I’ll remove the foundation of dead bees and replace it with fresh.

Offline CharlesH

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #16 on: July 19, 2018, 01:55:01 PM »
Well, the topic title still fits!
 
We’ve got the seven hives and a nuc now.  Following up on the hive report above: 
 
 #1 My Italians have three honey supers on them now.  One I added today.  The other two were about 95% capped when I looked in.  They are doing well.
 
 #2 My strong Russians from a split from #1 and a purchased queen last year.  I had taken frames from them to help #3 and I suspect they swarmed, though I missed it completely (comparatively few bees in June when I looked, couldn’t find a queen, no recent brood.). They have come back nicely and even have a honey super on them which is about 50% capped.
 
 #3 These came back strong with the addition of brood from #2.  They look good and are active.  They have two honey supers on them which are about 70% capped.
 
 4-7 all have two supers on them now and are on track to be ready to overwinter.
 
The Italians seem to be collecting the most honey, and they built up bees fast in the spring.  These are huge advantages to commercial beekeepers, both for the honey and for strong hives early in the year when pollination services are needed.  I’d like to offer pollination services to blueberry farmers near me.  A Russian hive, just starting to build up brood would not offer the same quality service as an Italian hive that started laying eggs before the flowers were out.
 
Anecdotally I’d say the Russians are more protective of their hives.  All the hives behave the same when I open them and have a smoker handy.  I use a veil, long jacket, bloused pants and no gloves.  I get a few stings but It’s usually my fault for rushing or pinching someone.  But I have had several more stings this year when I am near the hives and doing something else.  Twice I was mowing.  I’ve never been stung mowing before.  Once I was about 30’ away and the other time I was about 60’.  Another time I was stung about 45’ away doing nothing but looking at an apricot tree.  On that occasion a second bee head butted me for 100 yards until I entered a darkened barn.
 
I like having genetic diversity here.  For the next several years I will probably be making my own queens.  My hives are in two groups about 1/4 mike apart so they will probably breed from each other.  But they will also find drones from other hives in the area.  This will gradually move my hives towards a stronger Italian bias.  But that’s fine.  As I said above, I am seeing first hand some advantages to the Russians.  I have not compared mite counts, however, which is supposed to be an edge for the Russians.  I am becoming convinced I can combat mites in my future “mutt” hives by replacing queens with ones I breed in late June to create a break in the brood mites need to reproduce, and removing honey supers in mid to late August and treating for mites, before the winter brood eggs have all been laid.  I’d like to maintain diversity by bringing in one queen a year that I buy.  This would be a non-Italian.
 
Finally, honey supers should come off next month.  That will give the two year old hives time to focus on winter and it gives the bees 100% of our last nectar flow (honeysuckle).  It also lets me treat for mites.   This year I am using ApiLife Var.

Offline LvsChant

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Re: Bees, so far so good
« Reply #17 on: July 22, 2018, 09:10:46 AM »
Great news! So glad to hear things are going well...