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It is honey season right now! Let me back up just a little, based on my March hive inspections I was anticipating a stellar season. I had nectar coming in and over the next couple of weeks I added honey supers. Some hives went up to two and several went to three. Mother Nature had different plans. April turned out to a a dry month…..bees were bringing in lots of pollen but upon a late April inspection it was like the taps shut off.

The inspections showed a lot of nectar, boxes were heavy but little, if any frames were being capped. In some cases the additional top supers were untouched. I adjusted to make sure I didn’t give too much room for the bees to defend against the small hive beetles. I put out a posting to my customers who were patiently waiting for their doses of local honey…..I hung my head and asked them to wait a little longer.

The rain began to pickup in early May. By the day of the third week of May I decided to see how much it had helped. Great progress on getting nectar dry and capped in many cases. The top supers were heavy with nectar but mostly uncapped. The local area Tallow tree flow was on and I felt better! I wound up with a pretty good haul from three locations.

Three locations, the darker honey is 12-14 miles from the location of the middle honey. The lightest honey is almost 20 miles from the darker honey and 6 miles due East of the middle location.

I bottle by the postal zip code in which the apiaries are located. I has it’s pluses and also drawbacks. The health benefits are pretty much identical but some folks have been hooked by the “hyper-local” concept. I aim to please and we, my sales manager wife and I, try to do our best to meet expectations. I still have two locations a little further north and east to be harvested in the next day or two……dodging thunderstorms now…..and the bees get a little pissy sometimes when inclement weather coincides with a planned visit.

Rainy days are good for me to make my creamed honeys, plain and with cinnamon……so good. It takes a little time but those that have tried it love it. During the off and on rains I place the extracted frames out in my garden and miles away from my hives for the local population to clean up!

The girls do a great job cleaning up the comb. I freeze it for a couple of days and may cycle some of the frames back into strong hives for a refill. Comb already drawn out accelerates the process.

TTFN

Bishop

Bee Rescue – Giving Back

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I am in the midst of a trap out for a woman that can’t afford to pay the usual $400.00 to do a cut out. My wife made the connection with the woman and I was reluctant because I don’t want any part of the work and effort to do a cut out. I hemmed and hawed for a week, then asked for a photo…….good news, the location seemed to lend itself to a simple trap out. My biggest concern is Fall……once out I will need to baby the bees for them to make it through the winter.

The location- in the wall of an out of service cold box with wood clad external sides. Apparently a knot in the wood rotted out and left a very nice 1 inch diameter hole. The flat surface of the cold box simplifies the process. First build the escape cone.

Start with 1/8 inch(#8 hardware cloth), create a cone with an exit hole a little larger than than a pencil thickness. I drilled a 2 5/8 inch hole in a thin piece of plywood, sized so 6 or 7 inches of the cone protruded through. Trimmed the fat end to create wings, covered the wings with duct tape and secured with staples.

The bees were foraging and calm when I installed the cone.

The wire cone and small escape hole is not well seen by the bees complex eyes.after escaping to forage they return and are locked out. They mill around, they smell their hive and scramble trying to find a way back in. Sometimes there are other access holes and they will find a way back in. Fortunately, I got lucky….just a single entry hole.

Now I need to make them comfortable. I have a short topbar box needing bees and it has 4 bars of drawn comb, some old heavily propolized bars and a packet of queen scent. Today was day three and the escapees have found a home. I just hope that the weather holds long enough to starve out the queen. Workers are bringing pollen in and I will add a feeder shortly.

Love watching the girls work and drawing in more recruits. If the weather was warmer I would be tempted to bring this box a bar of eggs and brood. I really need to get the queen to recognize that no resources are coming in and choose to leave. I will give her a little time and may poke another hole to pump some smoke into the cavity to encourage her to leave.

Update….. 8 days later and the bees have found some rotted out wood at the base of the old cold box back around the backside. I have sealed up the area but will have to wait for flying weather after our cold snap to gauge my success. Looking for something north of 50-55 degrees F to check it out.

TTFN

Bishop

Bee Swarms – A Model of Consensus Building

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First, it may be beneficial to understand why bees swarm. If you consider the colony to be an organism, it like any organism, must reproduce to ensure its survival. If left to their own devices, a beehive/colony will almost certainly swarm. Typically there is a prime swarm, the existing queen and up to 60% of the colony gorge up on honey and leave looking for a suitable nest. Sometimes colonies will divide themselves more than once. This inborn behavior, to swarm and reproduce, is both a bane and a positive event for beekeepers.

The positive;

Beekeepers keep an eye on the colony in early spring looking for signs of an impending swarm. Evidence includes an increase in the number of drones, male bees, being produced. The next piece of evidence is the building of queen cells in preparation of the queen leaving. The colony will need a new queen to replace the departing grand dame. The colony may make a dozen or more queens, only first to emerge will survive and mate. Side note…she may not even survive a mating flight…..she could become a tasty morsel.

The bane;

The bees swarm on there own leaving behind a much smaller population that may not build up quick enough to put away enough honey to harvest.

This reproduction discussion is cursory…..it is a lot more detailed and fascinating than this space provides. What prompted this post was observing bee behavior around my swarm trap boxes. I have three swarm trap boxes in my backyard and if the timing is right I see a lot of what is described in the large paragraph I plucked from Wikipedia. It begins with a few scout bees finding potential nest site.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarming_(honey_bee)#Nest_site_selection

“Nest site selection

The scout bees are the most experienced foragers in the cluster. An individual scout returning to the cluster promotes a location she has found. She uses the waggle dance to indicate direction, distance, and quality to others in the cluster. The more excited she is about her findings the more excitedly she dances. If she can convince other scouts to check out the location she found, they may take off, check out the proposed site, and may choose to promote the site further upon their return. Several different sites may be promoted by different scouts at first. After several hours and sometimes days, slowly a favorite location emerges from this decision making process. In order for a decision to be made in a relatively short amount of time (the swarm can only survive for about three days on the honey on which they gorged themselves before leaving the hive), a decision will often be made when somewhere around 80% of the scouts have agreed upon a single location, and/or when there is a quorum of 20-30 scouts present at a potential nest site. When that happens, the whole cluster takes off and flies to it. A swarm may fly a kilometer or more to the scouted location, with the scouts guiding the rest of the bees by quickly flying overhead in the proper direction. This collective decision making process is remarkably successful in identifying the most suitable new nest site and keeping the swarm intact. A good nest site has to be large enough to accommodate the swarm (minimum 15 liters in volume, preferably ≈40 liters), has to be well protected from the elements, have a small entrance (approximately 12.5 cm squared) located at the bottom of the cavity, receive a certain amount of warmth from the sun and not be infested with ants. In addition to these criteria, nest sites with abandoned honeycombs are preferred, as this allows the bees to better conserve their resources.

Today I witnessed what I suspect were the final two nest sites in the selection process. There were 20 -30 bees running in and out of two of the swarm traps located in my backyard. Being an eternal optimist, I thought I was about to pick up two swarms.

 

This white box is larger in volume than the brown box I will show you next. Both boxes a baited with queen scent and have at least two fully drawn frames of old brood comb.

 

This video was taken a few minutes after I shot the white box, showing a significant increase in action.

An hour or so later I realized that I was not lucky enough to snag two swarms in my backyard. Dang!!!!!

 

They are moving in and claiming the brown box. It is much smaller than the white box but has had the advantage of capturing two previous swarms. That scent left by previous bees is a strong attractant.

I am not giving up on the nice white box, there are still a few “lookie lu’s” checking it out but the consensus? A smaller box with the familiar scent of a home was the swarms choice!

As a bonus, I have a swarm trap in my backyard that will be moved within the next few days. Today, as the new swarm moved in, this box was exhibiting a curious activity called “washboarding”. Lots of theories of why, but it remains a bit of a mystery. I thought I would share the video with all y’all. I shot it in slomo but it starts full speed and ends full speed. It is just fascinating to watch them. FYI, it was very warm and humid!

When the old queen leaves during a primary swarm, she already has a few miles on her. A queens productivity declines steadily, forcing many commercial keepers to replace her every year to maintain peak production. If you are lucky enough to capture a primary swarm, you have a queen on the decline. The queen really does not rule the hive, the workers do! It is very likely that the swarm will create “supercedure ” cells and replace her!

“Supersedure cells are often begun after the eggs are laid. The bees, knowing they need to replace the queen, begin feeding royal jelly to a young larva they have selected. They build a supersedure cell around this larva (or several larvae) and it hangs down from the face of the comb. Swarm cells, however, are built in preparation for swarming and are not intended to replace the queen, but to raise a second queen. This way, there will be a queen for the part that swarms and a queen for the part that stays.”

From; https://honeybeesuite.com/is-it-a-swarm-cell-or-a-supersedure-cell/

 

TTFN

Bishop

Learning The importance of a Gesture

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It has been probably 6 years or more since a chance meeting introduced me to beekeeping in Oman. Maybe it wasn’t totally chance, I had been hired to teach a class for a large oil company and one of the attendees was the grandson of a traditional honey gatherer. His grandfather would search the Wadis in northern Oman seeking bees and the honey located in the cracks and crevices of the canyon walls.

The video attached below is the technique he said his grandfather used. No protective gear, sometimes a little smoke but the key was to move slowly and gently! The young man in my class, and for the life of me, I can’t recall his name, would go with his grandfather carrying the bucket used to transport the honey.

The young man did something that only now do I fully understand the importance of his gesture. The last day of the class he brought me what looked like a 750 ml screw top wine bottle filled with honey from his cousins apiary. His cousin had transitioned to more modern techniques but the honey was truly Omani mountain honey. The cap was not a tight seal so I taped it up tightly and packed it, well protected, deep inside my checked luggage. I thanked him profusely, knowing that similar size bottles I saw in the old market at the port of Muscat were $ 75.00 USD or more.

Six years later;

This morning while reminiscing I pulled up the article linked below detailing beekeeping in Oman. I cut a portion of the article enclosed in quotes below. I now know that gesture from 6 years ago carries much more weight than I ever imagined.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/features/liquid-gold-price-omans-sweet-success

“Twice a year, from March to May and September to December, Hamrashdi, 48, harvests honey according to a method that he learned from his father.

Destined for local markets, the precious golden liquid is traditionally bottled by Omani farmers in recycled glass Vimto bottles, a beverage of choice during the month of Ramadan in the Arabian Peninsula.”

I now recognize that ill fitting cap and the shape of the bottle. My gift was from the heart and a reflection of Omani culture. The honey, WOW, the flavor was unique. It was almost spicy in flavor. I selfishly doled out the precious liquid on special occasions, or, to share it’s uniqueness with friends. Now, how do I go back, reconnect and give the appropriates thanks? I need to add this return trip to my bucket list!

TTFN

Bishop

Oh Honey

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Cutting the cap off a beautiful honey laden frame releases a burst of honey and floral aromas. Mmmmm finger licking good!!

Includes screen shots from the uncapping video.

That pure and clean capping wax is used in the Rosemary/Peppermint lip balm that I make in my spare time! FYI – I don’t make it very often!

TTFN

Bishop

Blueberry Bonanza

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I keep a handful of my beehives at Blakelock’s Berries, they have young, early season blueberries and three varieties of luscious blackberries. My wife and I both love blueberries and was able to satisfy some of our cravings from the early picking at Blakelock’s.

The go to place for blueberries on the north side of Houston has been out at Moorehead’s off FM 1314. The berries are abundant but the parking, traffic and lines at the checkout station are much more than my crowd anxiety can put up with.

Today I made a discovery, a Blueberry Bonanza! Pioneer Berries at 2512 Pioneer Lane north of Highway 105 and just west of Cleveland, TX. It seems like a looooong mile north of 105 but trust me, you won’t miss it on the right side of the road.

The blueberry plants are younger than Moorehead’s but much more mature than Blakelock’s. If you like to pick when the weather is cooler, hit up Blakelock’s – their berries are ready to pick in mid April and are done by the end of May. If you want to stock the freezer you have early and late choices.

How did I stumble across this place? Well, even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then! I went the the bee supply store near Conroe and was headed to Splendora to check on my beehives. I chose Highway 105 as it was the most direct route. Cruise control was set at 60 mph, yes it really was, and I went right past the sign pointing north off of 105. Safe U-turn and I was on my way to Pioneer Berries.

Plenty of parking for the weekend crowd. They don’t get overrun like Moorehead’s.

Look close many ripe berries and many, many more to come.

Oops, the berries are not in focus but they are still very tasty, blurry image and all!

This typical. I picked for less than 15 minutes as I had the bees calling me.


3 Point 9 pounds of berries laid out to dry, sort through, remove stems and soft berries. Oh yes, a little to snack on before bagging and freezing.

The left bucket is some nice light honey from 77339, about 18 pounds has already been bottled. The right bucket is from 9 frames I extracted after berry picking today. It will be about 25 pounds after I clean up and drain the extractor and uncapping tank. The jars on the right are a nice dark red-amber honey – a little over 15 pounds. Part of this dark honey will be converted to Cinnamon Creamed honey by the end of next week.

The bees are really packing in the honey right now. I am looking forward to a very good spring/early summer harvest.

I will be off to Blakelock’s in the morning to round up some berry farm honey for what he expects to be a big day on June 2nd. I will be sell honey from zip codes 77345 & 77339 – Kingwood/Porter, 77328 – Splendora and 77302/77306 – Grangerland. I will also be selling my homemade jams, strawberry, blueberry and blackberry. Come on out for a good time picking Blackberries at Blakelock’s and if you want safe and sane blueberry picking, head on over to Pioneer Berries.

TTFN

Bishop

Oh Honey!

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One of my hives is booming. A few weeks ago it was honey bound so I cleaned things up, added super and pulled a very full box plus a few more frames – about 56 pounds of a dark amber and very rich honey. Now , several weeks later I pulled a very full box of a nice robust and lighter colored honey.

Honestly, not a lot of difference in flavor! It would be difficult to to do a blind taste test and accurately guess. The other super on this hive is essentially full, but not capped, so I’ll return the spun frames so they can clean them up, divide space to the hive so it ldoesn’t become honey bound, again. The nectar flow is definitely on!

Can you see the difference? Same hive, same location and only a few weeks difference!

Now a short story. I have a swarm trap in the yard, the honey bottles are sitting on it for the photo. I may be getting lucky today!

They are clustering up on the swarm box. Once the short story sorts out I may share how I may have accidentally been the cause! More later.

TTFN

Bishop

Topbar Hive and More Bee Stuff

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Thursday, April 19th, I made a quick run to feed the new bees in my bee yards- Apiaries. Feels a bit odd to say Apiaries, but I guess with 17 hives spread out in a couple of areas I really do have several Apiaries!

I installed a 3 pound package of bees into one of the topbar hives on April 8th. I purchased three topbar hives, 2 full sized and one about 2/3 size, with a nice square of cut honeycomb. They were already located at the berry farm and just needed a little clean up. Pretty good deal I do believe.

In order to speed up the growth of the colony inside the box I added some already drawn comb attached to some extra bars. One, was a piece that broke out of a frame from a Langstroth box. It was dark and obviously had been used to raise brood.

The wax hangs on bent pieces of wire screen.

I had a couple of pieces of virgin white comb that my bees in another location had built in the wrong place last week. I cut it off and attached it to a bar for the girls.

Adding already drawn comb also encourages the bees to draw their comb on the other bars in the manner that the beekeeper desires! I did find one bar with some cross combing, but it was minor.

Bars back in place and ready for the top cover.

The apiary a month ago. There now, two more Langstroth boxes, for a total of 4 active hives at the berry farm apiary. Two of the topbar boxes are waiting for me to round up a swarm or two.

I wandered through the blueberry patch on my way out to the highway. I snacked on a few but it will be at least a week before the berries are ready to “commercially” pick. The early ones are very tasty!

I may begin an early harvest of honey from a couple of very strong boxes in the next couple of weeks. Yum!

TTFN

Bishop

Bees, Berries and Backyards

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Yesterday, Saturday the 7th of April, I drove over to Navasota to pick up 4 packages of bees from R Weaver Apiaries. Saturday was an unseasonably cool and misty day. Surprisingly it was 72 when I left the house in Kingwood and a brisk and damp 52 after the 75 mile drive through the oncoming cold front. I made a decision to wait and hive up the bees on Sunday.

Well, Sunday was a very brisk 44 and prospects for the high at 3:00 was only 55 or so. I waited until 1:30 in the afternoon and drove up to the berry farm. The process went very smooth.

I put the first package into one of the topbar hives. I decided to not shake out the bees and just allow them to migrate on their own.

The package box is leaning against the side with the queen attached to one of the bars. This is a bare hive box and the bees will set about drawing comb for the queen.

Here is her majesty in her cage. The bottom end of the cage has a candy plug. I poked a hole through it with a finishing nail. The girls should have it consumed and releasing the queen in about 3 days.

The second package went into a 10 frame Langstroth hive. Super smooth installation.

The package lying on its side, a can of sugar water is shipped with the package. Once they empty it in a couple of days then I’ll add a feeder. I’m lucky in that I have a full box of drawn comb and that will accelerate the growth of the colony.

The blueberries are plumping up out at Blakelock’s Berries. With our cool weather it may still be 10-14 days before they are ready to pick.

The clumps of berries look so good. If they ripen together it will be easy pickings. The adjacent blackberry patch is loaded with blossoms!

The berry farm was now complete and I headed off to hive a package in a big Kingwood backyard. This yard also holds a very strong Langstroth and a good topbar hive. The big Langstroth is booming, I had to add another super Friday and it was probably a week or more over due! Again, the process went smoothly.

Now over to Mike’s smaller backyard to fill his 8 frame Langstroth. My friend Mike, watched from a short distance away and I was a little distracted. Mike is a talker! I almost forgot to pull the cork and put a hole in the candy plug. Where was my Goo Friend John to keep me focused? Florida, hope you are having fun! FYI John – I was 4 for 4 but….it was close!

Now, Thursday, I pick up 6 NUC’s and will spend Thursday afternoon getting them situated. This could be a very sweet year!

TTFN

Bishop

Rain…..Yes it has Been Raining!

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Almost 5 inches of rain over the past two weeks. I think the garden is well soaked!

I have three bee hives located nearby in a friends yard…..much more than a yard – it is essentially 3 lots, one with a house and guest house, one recently cleared for a Barndominium project.

Barndominium is a neologistic portmanteau of barn and condominium with multiple meanings.” That should clear it up!

An the third is wooded on the front portion facing the street and cleared on the back portion holding some raised beds, bee hives and chickens.

It is not my backyard but the owner has encouraged me, in my spare time to plant, play and invest my time in his yard. I have two of the three beds buried in several inches of leaf mulch, one bed is going to be a chore….wild dewberries have infested it…I have plenty of leaves to deeply mulch it but…….work, work, work……is certainly needed.

Sugar snap peas and two types of green beans are popping up in one bed…..more on this project later.

Now, my backyard. The unusual freezing weather we had damaged my Meyer Lemon and probably killed the twig of a lime tree I had. The bananas are burned to the ground but will  survive much to my wife’s chagrin….”Aren’t you done with that experiment?”, she asked yesterday.

In my head I thought….. “I think I am but…..it will be a lot of work digging out all of the corms/bulbs/rhizomes and gunk….Maybe just one plant each of the two varieties and then call it quits!” I was wise enough to stay silent and just nod my head.

So what else you might ask…..My wild native plum trees are blooming. They are still residing in large planters awaiting a move …… one of these days to a piece of ground! I like seeing them bloom…..I transplanted them from a ranch up north near Franklin Texas. Long story but briefly, the HOA made me relocated a hive in my yard and I had to act fast. A client’s wife was related to a woman who owned the ranch, Johnnie. Johnnie had always wanted bees and well, and we were connected. We developed a warm relationship before she passed away from lung cancer. We were kindred spirits, she made lots of jams and jellies, loved her bees and her quiet life. Her wild plum jelly was wonderful. The year before she passed I made some from her plums and asked for some plants. I was given permission but did not bring them home until early spring of 2017, after her death. The blooms are such a great reminder of her gentle spirit. I miss you Johnnie.

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The Blossoms are so tiny and delicate.IMG_4497 An up close look at the blossoms. Fingers crossed that we avoid another freeze and the tree can set more fruit. The area where this tree was dug out of is covered with trees well over 10 feet tall. They are prolific and can become invasive unless managed.

Everything you want to know about these wild plums is located in this link. It even has a recipe for sourdough utilizing the yeast on the skin of the plums. http://www.foragingtexas.com/2009/07/plum-wild.htm

Behind my fence and mostly out of sight are some other goodies. My strawberry plants, especially the mature ones, made it through the freezing weather pretty well. I added another 30+ plants at the beginning of February and all are doing well.

 

Strawberry jam/preserves on the “hoof”. I have had ripe strawberries before Valentines day, but obviously, not this year. My Birthday is March 12…..maybe by then.

IMG_4479One of several Swiss Chard plants that survived the freeze. All of my early sugar snap peas died during the freeze…..so much for my early experiment to get a jump on spring….oh well, seeds are cheap. IMG_4482A look down the active bed. Strawberries, barely visible sugar snaps coming up, right front more Swiss Chard(Red variety), up under the arches are beets, the surviving beets were covered and the new beets at the far end are sprouting.  Up against the fence are my new blueberries and some potted pineapples as well as a few banana plants kept in the garage during the freeze. The sad dwarf Meyer Lemon against the far fence is mostly green twigs! Yes, the garden could use some clean up and organization…organization and neatness are not my strong points!

Lets talk bees for a bit. One of my topbar hives is looking very weak….not sure that I have a queen. That said, it was loaded with slabs of honey, looking very much like the one my daughter-in-law Cheryl is pictured holding last Fall. I pulled 8 bars looking very much like this from the hive next to her. I left them with several more slabs and fingers crossed. Once the weather improves I do have a very strong small top bar hive that I can transfer into this weak one, freeing the small one up to receive a split from a very strong topbar hive.

File Jul 28, 12 35 35 PM

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A lovely slab from the topbar hives last summer, 2017. This one I cut into squares and and crushed the odd shaped pieces.

After crushing and squeezing the honey out of the comb I put the wax out in the garden for the bees to clean up the traces of yummy honey.

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This was the start before word got out in the neighborhood. 10 minutes later it was a swirling mess as the bees did their thing!

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The barren banana bed……I have two tepees set up for green beans, pole variety, I hate bending over to pick the bush varieties! Lots of work needed to dig out those beds…. and organize the mess! Yes Dear!

Ah, the sun is out right at he moment, time to put my rubber boots on and wade out into the garden.

TTFN

Bishop

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