Beekeeping Posts

What Color Should You Paint a Beehive?

As a beekeeper, you’ve probably noticed that bee boxes tend to be painted in different colors.  Many beekeepers, especially commercial beekeepers, tend to paint their boxes a standard white color.  This is the most familiar look for a beehive and is perfectly acceptable.  However, some beekeepers – particularly backyard hobbyists – prefer to let their artistic side run wild! Either choice is fine; but as always in beekeeping, there are a few basic guidelines to consider.

Should you even paint your beehive? The answer is yes.  There are several reasons why bee boxes should be painted—for both, the benefit of the bee colony and for the beekeeper.

Paint helps your boxes last longer. After a season or two exposed to the elements, you can expect your bee boxes to experience some wear and tear. Environmental forces like sun, rain and temperature changes can warp, crack, rot, or otherwise deteriorate the wood. A good layer of paint will help protect the wood by minimizing damage from weather, keeping your bee boxes looking great for longer.

Painting your bee box can also help with temperature regulation. Light paints, such as white, can help reflect sunlight and keep the hive cooler in hot temperatures. Dark paints can help absorb the sun’s warmth and keep the hive warmer in the winter. Depending on the climate you live in, you may wish to choose either light or dark paint for your bee box.

Sometimes beekeepers choose to be discreet about their beekeeping endeavor – not all neighbors are a fan of bees after all.  Painting the beehive the color of the surrounding buildings or environment can help camouflage it from unwanted attention from neighbors, vandals, or other prying eyes.

There are a lot of options for painting a beehive when it comes to color. You may wish to stick with plain white, or you may prefer to get artistic and paint fun designs on your bee box — anything goes! If you prefer the beauty of the natural wood grain, you can also use a clear coat to protect your bee box without changing its color.

While the choice of color is solely up to each beekeeper, we do have a couple important recommendations. For instance, sticking to light pastel colors or white will help keep your hive cool during warmer months.

Also, painting different colors may be helpful if you are raising your own queens, and are painting two-way or four-way queen rearing boxes for queen mating. Using different colors, one for each side of the box will assist with the mating process.

Whichever color you choose for your bee box, make sure the paint you choose is safe for the health of your bees. It’s best to use a non-toxic, water-based paint that is low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs ) – which are toxic chemicals that can release as the paint dries. Since the box will be outdoors, be sure to choose an exterior-grade paint that is meant for outdoor use. Always allow enough time for the paint to fully cure before introducing any bee colonies to the box. This will prevent your colony from encountering any VOCs or sticky wet paint. Finally, and importantly, only paint the exterior of your bee box. Never paint areas where the bees will walk or live, which includes the inside and entryways to the box.

Is it Better to Keep Bees at Home or in an Outside Apiary?

As an aspiring beekeeper, you can choose to keep your honeybees at your home, on your property in places such as your backyard or rooftop (depending on your local laws). You can also choose to keep your bees on a hosts’ property at an outside apiary.

Which is right for you? Home apiaries are not only very convenient, but the proximity allows you to closely monitor the bees and protect them against pests such as ants. It also allows you to regularly enjoy the bees and work with them on your own schedule — whenever you’re free or whenever the feeling strikes.

While it can be great to have the bees on your property, some aspects of at-home apiaries are less enjoyable. There may be issues with local zoning laws that prevent you from beekeeping how you’d like, depending on your location. Neighbors and house guests may worry about having the bees around, and you’ll need to be vigilant if any children or pets visit your home so that no one gets stung.

Outside apiaries are an alternative to at-home beekeeping. Setting up your apiary in the countryside can provide you with a beautiful destination, along with a built-in an excuse to get out of the house and enjoy nature.  Outside apiaries can be located away from people, so there is less reason to worry about upsetting neighbors or anyone being stung by the bees.

Since you must travel to an outside apiary, however, you must plan more and have an organized way of transporting your supplies. An offsite location may require you to have a truck, especially for loading supers of honey. Moving honey from an outside apiary can often be a heavy, messy task that requires more work and investment than when you are at home. Outside apiaries can also require tenants to provide an appropriate amount of honey to the owners about once per year, in exchange for use of their land.

If you are considering keeping your bees at an outside apiary, here are some questions you should consider to help you decide:

  • Is the apiary accessible by car?
  • How long is the drive to and from the apiary?
  • Do you have the time to make the drive regularly?
  • What are the wind and weather conditions at the apiary location?
  • Will bees be safe from predators or possible vandals at the apiary?
  • Is the apiary located in an area with sufficient flowering plants?

What Happens When a Honeybee Stings?

One of the anxieties for almost all new beekeepers is being stung, and while it’s a valid concern, it’s one that experienced beekeepers hardly think about. When it comes down to it, getting stung is inevitable. If you participate in beekeeping, you will eventually experience a bee sting – probably more than once. The sooner that you embrace and accept this inevitability, the more comfortable you will become.

So what exactly happens when a honeybee stings?

A honeybee stinger is hollow and barbed in shape, meaning once the stinger goes in, it doesn’t come out – it’s stuck and embedded into the skin. The real damage happens when the honeybee attempts to remove its stinger. When the bee pulls away, it leaves its stinger behind, along with its venom sack, and other internal structures – ripping them violently from the bee’s body and ultimately killing the honeybee.

There’s a method to this madness believe it or not – and it’s not so great for the person, or animal, on the receiving end. The muscles attached to the bees’ venom-filled sac continue to work the stinger in deeper, increasing the amount of venom being released with each passing minute. If you’ve been stung, you’ll want to remove the stinger as quickly as possible, but be sure to scrape the stinger away – don’t pull it out.  Pulling the stinger out requires you to squeeze the venom-filled sac, which ends up pumping even more venom into your body.

A sting will cause immediate pain at the site that will last for several minutes while becoming red and flush. The site may begin to swell, however, the rate and severity of swelling will vary case by case. Luckily, there are many ways to help minimize the effects of a sting. To help reduce pain and itching, apply ice to the area. You can also take an antihistamine like Benadryl to help with itching and suppress the overall reaction.

Each person reacts differently to being stung, and while most people have little to no reaction at all, occasionally the effects can be serious.  There are two kinds of reactions to bee stings – normal and anaphylactic.  Normal reactions, while often painful and uncomfortable, are of far less concern than the other type of reaction – anaphylactic. The majority of people, fortunately, experience normal reactions to bee stings.

Unfortunately, a small group of individuals may experience anaphylactic reactions to bee stings.  Anaphylactic reactions are systemic reactions, meaning that areas of the body far removed from the actual sting respond adversely.  For example, a person experiencing an anaphylactic response to a sting will sometimes experience difficulty breathing and speaking due to swelling of the tongue or throat, itchy, red hives, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting, or even loss of consciousness. An anaphylactic reaction is an extremely dangerous situation that can potentially lead to death.  People experiencing an anaphylactic reaction need to seek immediate medical attention.

Pesticides In Beeswax

Here at Wildflower Meadows, we have occasionally had some of the beeswax in our colonies tested for pesticide residues.  Most of the time, our results come back relatively clean.  This is not surprising, since many of our apiaries are located in organic avocado groves.  Plus, we ourselves stay clear of chemical miticides, such as amitraz and fluvalinate.

That said, it is surprising how often traces of pesticides – and even miticides – do show up in our wax samples.  We’ve seen trace counts of fungicides and exotic pesticides that we have never even heard of and had to look up online to learn out what they were!  Where in the world did these come from and how did they get into our hives?

The problem with bees is that they travel everywhere and pick up everything that is attractive to them.  The pesticides, of course, come from wherever our bees go, and these toxins enter into the hive with the bees.  Our bees, while technically under the control of Wildflower Meadows, are actually very independent-minded workers; they go wherever and do whatever they want during the day.

What’s worse, is that honeybees are tiny little Mother Nature machines for concentrating their food.  Their honey is concentrated nectar, their bee bread is concentrated pollen, and their royal jelly is concentrated bee bread.  Their metabolism concentrates nearly everything.  As a result, the pesticides get concentrated too.  So even if honeybees pick up only trace amounts of pesticides when foraging, the effects become concentrated over time as they synthesize their food.  This food, of course, gets stored inside of the beeswax combs.

And, unfortunately, the problem with beeswax is that it too tends to concentrate its contents, and itself acts like a filter for impurities.  Therefore, it is far too easy for contaminates to enter the beeswax, but very difficult for these same contaminates to escape.  Over time, these impurities naturally build up and concentrate in the wax.  Another issue with beeswax is that the bees are constantly moving it around and recycling it inside the hive.  Being the busy bees that they are, honeybees are constantly repairing old honeycomb and building new comb.  Thus, the honeycomb and any of the toxic residues within it are easily spread once inside the hive.

When beekeepers use miticides, the residues of these miticides, along with their carrier chemicals, tend to get trapped in the wax.  These residues build up over time and can often lead to problems in queen viability, drone health, and worker longevity.  Even though we ourselves, here at Wildflower Meadows (and you, the reader), may not use amitraz and fluvalinate, which are the most common varroa miticides, you may be surprised to find that your beeswax will sometimes show traces of these miticides (or in the case of amitraz, it’s metabolites).  This is because these chemical residues are hardly ever cleaned out of beeswax.  If you purchase hives from other beekeepers, the wax almost certainly will carry these residues.  Even if you purchase brand new plastic foundation, the foundation is usually coated with beeswax.  This beeswax itself is typically recycled and reprocessed wax from other beekeeping outfits.  Unfortunately, these chemicals never seem to go away.

There’s really no escaping it.  The best that we as beekeepers can do is to be conscientious in our own endeavors, to occasionally replace our old honeycomb frames, and to get the word out about how dangerous pesticides can be to our bees and their wellbeing.

Why Does Honey Crystalize?

As both beekeepers and honey lovers, we’ve all run into jars of honey that have turned from liquid gold into a solid or semi-solid chunk of crystal.  Whether this happens in a person’s pantry or on a store’s shelf, honey consumers sometimes believe that something must have gone wrong with the honey to turn it into this strange state.

Actually, the tendency for honey to crystalize is a perfectly normal feature of high-quality honey.  In fact, if honey does not crystalize, it can often be seen as a red flag that perhaps the honey has been cut with corn syrup, or that the honey has been overheated to excessive temperatures, or in some other way mistreated in its processing.

Honey primarily consists of two types of sugar – fructose and glucose – and water.  The two sugars comprise about 70% of the honey, and the water slightly less than 20%, with the remaining 10% consisting of various other kinds of sugars, minerals and enzymes.  We like to think of honey as a bee product, but it is actually more of a plant product, as the plant is largely responsible for the chemical composition of the honey.

The issue with honey crystallization lies with the ratio of fructose to glucose within the various plant nectars.  If the nectar contains a higher ratio of fructose to glucose, then the honey is less likely to crystalize.  On the other hand, if the nectar contains a higher ratio of glucose, it is more likely to crystalize rapidly.

It is the glucose that is unstable when dissolved in water.  Glucose is just not that soluble in water, and therefore needs more water to stay dissolved and liquid than the little amount of water that honey contains.

Some of the more common types of honey that contain high glucose levels, and therefore crystalize more rapidly are:

  • Alfalfa
  • Clover
  • Mesquite
  • Star Thistle
  • Sunflower

On the other hand, some types of honey that contain low glucose levels, and crystalize more slowly, are:

There are other factors too that cause honey to crystalize.  Higher temperatures tend to keep the sugars dissolved (just like higher temperatures on a stove top more easily dissolve sugar and water mixtures).  Cooler temperatures accelerate crystallization; however very cold temperatures (at least below 50°F) will slow crystallization due to thickening the honey and making it more viscous.

Also, the less filtered the honey is, the more likely it is to crystalize.  This is because the impurities in the honey, such as pollen and tiny pieces of wax give the crystals a foothold to grab on to.

Once the crystallization gets started, it’s like a runaway train.  It keeps going with each crystal giving another a foothold to attach to.  The whole process can be reversed, however, simply by reheating the honey.  Once the temperature of the honey become hot enough (usually 105°F is enough) the sugars dissolve again and the honey reverts back to its original liquid state.

Telling the Bees

“The Widow,” by Charles Napier, 1895.  Is she “telling the bees?”

 

We have learned plenty about Queen Elizabeth II and her long and illustrious life since her recent passing, perhaps more than we care to know. For instance, who knew that The Queen kept bees? Believe it or not, the royal palace maintains five colonies and employs their own “royal beekeeper.”

Apparently, these royal colonies not only had queen bees of their own, but a human queen as well!

One of the many royal traditions that occurred in the wake of The Queen’s death, was the practice of “telling the bees.” In this time-honored tradition, someone who is close to the deceased approaches the beehives to notify the bees that their beekeeper has passed away.  Surprisingly, this practice has been documented in many old-world customs. Telling the bees about their beekeepers’ deaths has been a traditional practice for centuries, especially in European countries.

Which begs the question – do bees know their beekeeper well enough to care about their passing?  Bees – and insects in general – are used to death and seem to be indifferent when their cohorts die, which happens all the time. When an individual honeybee in a hive dies, the bees don’t seem to mourn in any way. They move on instantaneously and seem to go about their business as if nothing has happened. One must wonder whether their behavior would be any different if their beekeeper dies.

While the rational and scientific answer appears to be that bees don’t care about their beekeeper, the notion also remains that bees maintain an acute sense of their surroundings. They also seem to be aware of the overall energy of what takes place around them. For example, bees tend to get agitated during inclement weather, or when there is a lot of activity or disturbances near them.

It’s well-known that experienced beekeepers are stung less than those who are inexperienced.  This is because experienced beekeepers know how to move smoothly and calmly around bees. Inexperienced beekeepers tend to move erratically and nervously around bees, which causes bees to get stressed and sting. This is an indication that the bees have some perception of the unique qualities of different beekeepers that work with them.

Is the idea that far-fetched? Surely racehorses know when a new jockey is in the reigns.  We know that nearly all pets become attached to their owners and would become aware of their absence.  Here at Wildflower Meadows, it seems to us that the bees have developed a certain comfort level with the beekeepers that work with them regularly. Perhaps they can recognize the mannerisms and overall energy of the beekeeper that has genuinely cared for them throughout the years.

In many ways pets are family – and for some, bees are their pet of choice. If they are a part of the family, then they deserve to know about changes that are taking place within the family. Perhaps it is only a matter of simple respect for the bees, to at least attempt to let them know that a significant and permanent change is in the wind. They will be getting a new beekeeper, with a new face, smell, and a new way of doing things.  Perhaps they should know that.

Queen Introduction – Balling the Queen Bee

Beekeepers have struggled with how best to introduce a new queen into a beehive for ages – whether they’re wanting to requeen an existing colony of honeybees or place a new queen into a newly created colony. When a colony of honeybees is presented with a new queen, the bees’ first instinct is to act aggressively towards her. Since her pheromones do not match the hive, the bees see the new queen as an intruder and will instinctively come after her.

If a newly introduced queen is not protected during the introduction period, it is almost guaranteed that the colony will kill her. The worker bees will approach her aggressively –quickly grabbing onto her and not letting go. First, one bee starts this behavior, then another, and another – before long, honeybees will surround the queen, grabbing on and not letting go.  This is known as balling.

When a newly introduced queen is being balled, she is in trouble. The worker bees will grab at her body parts, and very possibly, sting her to death. This is why queen honeybees are almost always introduced to a new colony while inside some sort of cage. The cage protects the queen from an almost certain onslaught and gives her a safe place to hide.

Even with a cage, the bees will still attempt to ball the queen. However, with a cage in the way, the most that the bees can do is grab onto the cage and attack it, sparing the queen inside. Over time, the worker bees gradually cease balling the cage – one by one giving up and allowing the queen a little reprieve, while she is still safely protected inside of the cage.

While this is all happening, the colony’s worker bees are eating through the candy release tube in the cage. Well before the bees have worked their way through the candy, the balling bees have given up and have gone back to their usual work within the hive.

Even once the queen has been released from her cage, she still is somewhat at risk for renewed balling, until she actually starts laying eggs. This is why most experienced beekeepers, including us at Wildflower Meadows, always advise leaving a colony alone for a full week after the introduction of a new queen. Only when she is laying eggs can a newly introduced queen be truly considered as accepted by the colony, and relatively free from the risk of being balled.

Protecting Beehives From Extreme Heat

Bees are surprisingly adaptable to most weather events.  They know how to stay dry during rainstorms, stay cool during summer heat, and even survive the most brutal of winters, such as those in Russia and Canada.  However, when the weather becomes dangerously extreme, bees – like all living creatures – can be challenged to survive.

Recently, Wildflower Meadows’ experienced a powerful heatwave that affected most of our apiaries.  The temperatures in many of our apiaries surpassed 105 degrees.  Yet our bees survived.  How were they able to do this?

The answer is simple: shade and nearby water.  Our beekeepers were concerned about the safety of the colonies heading into the weekend, because bees can’t really survive extended periods of extreme heat without the benefits of shade and close water.  The bees need shade during times of extreme heat, because the sun beating down on the lid of a hive can heat the upper portion of a beehive to dangerous and possibly lethal levels – in some cases even above the melting point of beeswax!  We all know that bees also need a reliable water source; but more importantly during extreme heat, they need their water source to be nearby.  When the temperatures reach near 110 degrees, bees generally stop flying.  Only a few brave foragers will dare to head out for water in that kind of heat, and they won’t be able to fly far.  If the water supply is too far away from the hive, the bees will not be able to access the water that they so desperately need in order to survive.

Fortunately, our bees were able to survive the heat because we took precautions to protect them before heading into the weekend.  As the majority of our apiaries are out in the open and have no shade, we provided makeshift shade to each and every colony by placing a second lid over the first.  This setup not only provided shade, but also produced relatively cooler airspace over the colony, significantly reducing the risk of overheating.  And, it worked!

If you are trying to shade your bees and don’t have extra lids, any piece of plywood will do.  Some of our commercial beekeeper friends whose bees are on pallets often place empty pallets over their bees to provide the same effect.

The second precaution is for you to be sure – absolutely sure – that your bees have access to plenty of fresh water, as close to the apiary as possible.  You also need to keep your eye on the water level, because when the temperatures rise, the bees will consume a lot of water.  The colonies in our queen rearing yard went through nearly 70 gallons of water in just two days!  That is a lot of water for bees, but it saved their lives.

And finally, if you are fortunate enough to have running water and a hose nearby, the bees always appreciate a cool shower or two.  The benefits are twofold, because the water not only cools the hive, but then the bees can later drink up the drips without having to fly far.

The Health Benefits of Honey

Honey is notorious for being a delicious addition to recipes, it’s also well-known for being a versatile ingredient with many uses. In addition to being a natural sweetener, honey contains antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties – making it one of the most popular ingredients used in health and beauty. In fact, alternative uses for honey have been recorded throughout history by many cultures, as far back as 2000 BC!

The medicinal and nutritional value of honey can differ between varieties, as the nectars origin plant helps determine many of the honey’s unique properties. It’s also believed that raw honey contains more of these properties when compared to regular pasteurized honey, often found in grocery stores. Raw honey is often cloudier with a thicker consistency and contains beneficial ingredients such as bee pollen, bee propolis, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants.  Unfortunately, the high heat used in pasteurization can destroy some of these properties, however, it does produce a clearer, more aesthetically pleasing product, which some prefer.

Numerous scientific studies support the beneficial properties of honey, confirming over 200 substances, from vitamins C, B1, B2, and B6 to potassium, calcium, and, of course, sugar. This wide range of components is what makes honey so versatile in its benefits and uses. For instance, natural sugars glucose and fructose account for 95-99% of honey’s contents. Glucose and fructose don’t just taste delicious, they contain enzymes and other components which make honey great for wound dressing and a safer sweetener for people with type I or II diabetes.

Although many of us eat honey simply for its delicious taste, there are many other reasons to consume it. Whether you add it to your hot or cold beverage or your favorite meal, the benefits are endless. Not only is it famous for alleviating cough and cold symptoms, but it’s also been shown that honey helps reduce acid reflux, aka heartburn, treat ulcers, helps relieve allergies and hay fever, and reduces nausea – some people even use it as a natural pre-workout energy boost!

The uses for honey are far from limited. It can also be applied topically on the skin to treat a variety of ailments, such as psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, dandruff, and acne. This natural moisturizer is a perfect ingredient for lotions, lip balm, shampoos, soaps, and aftershaves – you can even add it to your bath to help soothe dry skin! The healing properties of honey can also be applied to burns or scrapes of the skin to help fight infection and reduce healing time – essentially honey is nature’s all-purpose healing salve.

It’s no surprise that raw honey has been used widely throughout history, from Ancient Greece and Egypt to traditional Chinese Medicine. Whether it is consumed or applied topically, the health benefits are considerable and hard to ignore. Whether you’re in search of all-natural skincare and moisturizer, need to relieve cold symptoms, treat a burn, or just want a little something sweet on your toast, honey is a staple ingredient to keep in any home pantry!

Do Honeybees Fly at Night?

Honeybees can, and do, fly at night provided there is light.  If one shines a bright light upon a colony, the bees, both young and old, will wake up and fly out to investigate the disturbance.  Bees, like all insects, instinctively fly into bright lights at night.  However, in a normal, typical dark night, honeybees struggle to navigate and instinctively desire to instead “hang out” at the hive.

Most of us know that honeybees return to the hive at nightfall.  The usual nighttime bee activities include keeping the hive warm, cleaning up debris, processing the day’s nectar, pollen, and/or syrup collection, and of course, sleeping.  Yes, honeybees do sleep at night!  The foragers, tired out from their long day seeking nectar and pollen, tend to sleep for longer spells, whereas the younger bees sleep for shorter periods.  This enables the youngest bees to be active for portions of the night, when they take care of the necessary housekeeping activities that keep the hive healthy and productive.  On the other hand, the foraging bees need to work all day, so they take much of the nighttime to sleep.

Sometimes a foraging bee will get caught up in all of its exciting daytime work and lose track of time.  The poor bee may look up and face the harsh reality that it is now too late to make it home before nightfall.  When there is not enough light to safely fly, the bee will have to land someplace comfortable and try to endure the night alone.  In the summer months, this is usually not a problem.  In late autumn, however, a situation like this can be fatal.

Believe it or not, certain species of bees, primarily in tropical areas, do the majority of their flying at night!  These special kinds of bees have evolved to take advantage of species of flowers that bloom only at night.  They are night pollinators.  For us beekeepers, however, it is a good thing that our honeybees don’t like to fly at night.  Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible to find a good time to move the bees or to find any downtime for us humans!