Sunday, April 15, 2012

Things I Never Knew Existed (Before We Started Beekeeping)


-posted by Jayne

I was wondering around the farm the other day when I stumbled upon this:
I thought to myself. "Funny. A few years ago I wouldn't have had a clue what this is. Now, I have bowls of them lying around our place." Then I realized I had a whole list of random things that adorn our farm, and most people who saw them would be clueless as to their uses. Then I thought, "I bet some of our blog readers would be interested in some of the random things that beekeepers know about." So here you have it. My list of "Things I never knew existed before we started beekeeping." And I still have a lot to learn. But I thought I would start by sharing a few...

1. So I'll start with the above image. It's an empty queen cage. (The bowl above was full of queen cages). Sometimes, when a hive is really strong, we will split it in two. We leave the old queen with some of the workers, and then we take the extra nurse bees and brood and combine them with the new queen. The queen arrives to us with some worker bee attendants who take care of her until she is transitioned to her new hive. The bees actually have to "eat" their way to her through a little candy plug in the side of these boxes. If she is introduced too fast, the worker bees can reject and "ball" her, basically suffocating her. So we do it slowly, and cross our fingers that they will accept her as their new queen.
2. Propolis. See the dark brown grimy stuff between the two frames of honey? It's propolis! I am just beginning to learn about all the wonderful aspects of propolis. What is it, you ask? Propolis is a type of resin that is actually produced by the sap of trees among other things. Bees, being amazingly hygienic creatures, will collect the sap and use it to seal up gaps in the hive. Propolis is one of the main reasons beekeepers need to use a "hive tool" to pry open hives when they want to work with them. Another neat thing bees will do with propolis is use it to encase a dead mouse. That's right, you read that correctly. In the winter, mice sometimes enter the hive looking for a tasty treat, or a place to spend the winter. A strong hive can sting it to death, and encase it in propolis, which keeps bacteria out of the hive. Pretty amazing, huh? This summer I plan to collect propolis and use it to make salves. More on that later, though.


2. Outer covers. These are not that exciting, but I did find a stack of them in the barn (behind Lucky and her dog food bowl). Outer covers sit on top of a traditional Langstroth hive (the kind most beekeepers use). There is an inner cover, too, that sits between the outer cover, and the supers. Now, on to Supers...
3. Supers. Why are they called supers? I'm sorry to say I really don't know. But a super is essentially a box that holds frames of honeycomb and honey. When there is a nectar flow, you can add more supers. In the winter, you take the supers off and leave the bottom hive body, which holds the queen and some workers. When a super gets full of honey, we take it off and extract it, and then return it to the hive for the bees to continue working and re-filling with honey. We always make sure to leave enough honey for the bees to survive in the winter. We feed sugar only when a hive gets low on honey, and if we fear it won't survive without supplemental feeding.
4. Entrance Reducer: This white metal piece that sits in the front entrance of our beehive is used to keep those pesky mice out of the hives in the winter. You can slide the little bar from left to right to allow more or less entrance holes to the hive. Sometimes bees do something called "robbing out" other hives (essentially stealing each other's honey). We can limit this by limiting the size of the entrance to the hives. We don't have these on every hive, but one of my Dad's Amish friends makes them and has given us a good deal on them, so we try them out on a few hives.
5. Pollen trap. This photo was taken last summer when we were out collecting pollen. Before we became beekeepers, I didn't really understand the whole flower-nectar-pollen connection. Basically, the bees drink the nectar to make honey, and they gather pollen as a protein source for the hives. It is especially significant for the baby bees, who eat it as a "bee bread." It is a healthy supplement for us, too, since it is packed with vitamins and minerals and essential amino acids. We harvest it through the use of a pollen trap (Isaac is holding the tray here), which knocks the pollen off their legs as they enter the hive. We can turn the trap on and off from time to time, to leave enough pollen for the bees to thrive.6. Slum Gum. I saved the best for last. This picture is of a yucky substance affectionately known as "Slum Gum". This is a beekeepers term for the residue left over after cleaning beeswax, after the honey has been extracted. Appetizing, I know. Don't worry... remember about how I explained that the bees were very hygienic? Slum Gum is not mixed in with the honey at any point... it is left from propolis that has been scraped off the beehive, along with bits of wax, pupal lining from brood comb, etc etc etc... We stick these in our wood burning stove to help get the fire burning, and let me tell you... it gets very HOT. The first time we did it I seriously thought our house was going to burn down. Don't worry, the house is still standing, and we still use these to heat our home. We just learned to use smaller amounts at one time.

So, that's it for today. I know I missed a lot (queen excluders, feeders, extractors... that's for another post, another day). I hope you all learned some new (and slightly weird) things about what you might find day to day when you live on a bee farm!

3 comments:

  1. I did learn a lot, thanks for sharing all of that cool information.

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  2. Thanks for the lesson. I am so interested in bees but have never worked with them - just watched them at work in the field and eaten lots of honey. I love Honey Run Farm spring honey and look forward to getting more this year!

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  3. Great information. I loved reading about it and seeing the photos. Hmmm...I need to subscribe to your blog. I live a block away from the Worthington Farmer's market, so I'll have to introduce myself soon!

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