The hallways of my daughter’s elementary school are so covered in kid-made posters and so crowded with actual kids and parents after school, that I usually notice very little on my way to her classroom to pick her up. But something caught my eye this week. I spied the words Colony Collapse Disorder on a marker-drawn poster! What?! I then discovered several more posters about how to save our bees throughout the halls. It turns out that a 3rd grade class had done a project on the ways we can all help save our bees.
In an ideal situation bee hives will survive the winter, staying dry and warm and feeding on plenty of honey or sugar solution. However, this is often not the case these days and beekeepers need to replace lost hives in the spring. Around 90% of managed bees in the U.S. are used in California to pollinate the insanely huge amounts of almond orchards. After this is done, some are packaged up in boxes and sold throughout the country. If you buy honey bees, they are called package bees and come in a box with mesh sides, a can of food (sugar or corn syrup water) and a queen. There are usually about 20,000 – 30, 000 bees per box, which is about 3 pounds of bees. The queen is separated in a small box. This gives the bees time to get used to her and hopefully to accept her as their queen.
I just observed the process of installing packages into hives and learned quite a bit. First the queen is taken out (still in her little cage) and set aside. It is clear whether she has been accepted or not, by the behavior of the bees that are on her cage. If they are calm and not acting aggressively towards the cage, all should be good. Continue reading You Can Buy Honey Bees: Package Bees→
My mason bees arrived a day early! They came in the mail, as if they were not living creatures. In a regular cardboard box, along with the cardboard nesting tubes I had ordered. The actual bees were in a teeny tiny cardboard box about the size of a thick slice of butter. The instructions from Crown Bees said to cool them in the refrigerator right away.
The information explained what to do if a few of the males had already come out of their cocoons. It said, “This shows that they are healthy, strong and lookin’ for a little lovin’.” That little lovin’ will mean death for the males, so hopefully they get at least a few days to enjoy life out of the cocoon.
My daughter and I took a peak into the tiny box, and two little guys were indeed already out. You can purchase something called a Humidibee for this purpose, but I had not. So we jabbed some holes in an old hummus container, popped the required sugar-soaked cotton ball in (for nourishment), covered it all with a brown paper bag, and there they went into the fridge, right between the strawberries and leftover soup. Apparently they can live up to five weeks out of the cocoon if they’re kept cold so they don’t move around. This seems crazy to me, but my experience level with all of this is, shall we say, at the beginning stages.
I found this great free downloadable poster about the difference between solitary bees and honey bees. It’s much clearer than anything I could write on the subject, so here it is! You can get your own for free right here.
Mason bees are great pollinators and relatively easy to care for. They very rarely sting and do not produce honey. They are solitary bees, which means they do not live in hives or have worker bees. Every female is fertile and they create nests to lay their eggs. This is what the bee house is used for.
I assumed getting ready for mason bees would be nothing more than a quick online read and maybe repositioning the bee house I bought almost a year ago. I was wrong. I got a small surprise while reading up on the Crown Bees website, where my bees are coming from. Nothing too dramatic, but I do want to do all I can to ensure the success of these little pollinators.
My bees will be arriving this week and I was planning to use the mason bee house I bought last year that has been hanging empty in the yard with no sign of bees anywhere near it ever since. What I leaned is that this bamboo house will not work (see below for why)! I quickly ordered some nesting tubes and will hunt around for something protective to put them in that will serve as the makeshift bee house. Continue reading Getting Ready for Mason Bees→
Gwyneth Paltrow got some attention recently when she told the NY Times she had bee venom therapy:“I’ve been stung by bees. It’s a thousands of years old treatment called apitherapy. People use it to get rid of inflammation and scarring.”
And Gwyneth is correct, people all over the world have been using bee products for thousands of years in a wide variety of medicinal applications. That spoonful of raw honey for a sore throat is one way many of us use it. And there are MANY other forms of apitherapy. For some of the healing uses of manuka honey go here.
ABOUT: Botanical Interests is a seed company with a huge selection, including many organic and heirloom varieties. Their seeds are non-GMO and high quality. Each seed package has detailed growing information, so everything you’ll need is right there. Their website is easy to use and you can search by seeds that attract bees or butterflies or by many other search options.
PROS: HUGE selection, non-GMO, beautiful and informative packaging, great prices, search terms include ‘attracting bees’, free shipping if you meet the purchase requirements.
CONS: Huge selection can be overwhelming to shop if you don’t know what you’re looking for, only two products that specifically mention bees, not all are certified organic, need to enter payment info if a first time shopper.
Bee Happy Seed Collection
This collection of 6 different seed packets is created to appeal to our native bees. It includes annuals and perennials in a variety of colors and sizes. A curated mix like this is a great and easy way to start if you don’t have specific flowers in mind, but want to attract pollinators to your garden.
Once you’ve decided to go ahead with your first beehive, the search is on for the equipment and supplies you’ll need. If you’re still on the fence about keeping bees check out this post on questions to ask yourself before starting.
The very first thing you need is, of course, a bee hive. If you’ve done a search for ‘bee hives sale’ or ‘cheap bee hives’, you know there are lots of options and it can be overwhelming. There are three basic types of hives: Langstroth, Top Bar and Warre. The most common one is the Langstroth, with stackable boxes fitted with frames see here. The top bar has (can you guess?), bars on top that bees build their comb from. These are becoming more common and there are lots of options on the market. The warre hive is less common, but is also a great choice for beginners. Most hive sellers have great information on their websites about the differences. This is an especially clear comparison chart of the three kinds from Bee Thinking in Portland, OR.
Take some time to read up on all of them to make the best decision for you. There is really not a right or wrong, from my point of view. Although beekeepers all have their own preferences. You will too.
It’s recommended to start with more than one hive, if you can. But, as you know, it starts getting a bit spendy pretty quickly. Most price estimates for the minimum investment are around $500 for ONE hive including bees and extras. This post is for you if you are short on cash or simply want to keep costs to a minimum to get started.
How to Save Money on Setting up Your Bee Hives: Sale or Full Price or Used?
Here are some ideas for ways you may be able to save money when setting up your first beehives.
Consider finding some items used. Check beekeeping forums, Craigslist and local beekeeping associations for listings from beekeepers looking to clear out. Please note, it is very important if you are considering a used hive that you find out if the colony had any diseases or if any chemicals were used. This can affect your new hive and is the biggest concern with a used hive. However, great deals can be found as well. My local Craigslist had a used top bar hive listed for $100 this week. Beekeeping clothing can also be found used, along with other washable tools.
Start with one hive only. This is actually not recommended by most advice I read, but it might be the only way you can get started if you don’t have the cash for more. One disadvantage here is that you’ll have nothing to compare it to, if something goes wrong. But it’s a start!
If you are a wood worker, consider building your own top bar hive. These are the simplest kind to build and don’t require the extra parts that the Langstroth hives do. Plans can be purchased for cheap, however the cost of lumber may be a concern.
Consider a starter kit that has everything you need (except bees) for one price. You may save a little money by getting it unassembled. The least expensive hives are mass produced Langstroth style hives. But as your hive grows you will need to add additional boxes and frames.
Think about waiting to purchase any honey extracting equipment until the second year. Sometimes it is recommended to wait a year, letting the hive get well established before harvesting any honey. Look for alternative methods that require little gear.
I hope that these tips are helpful to you as you look around for the best deals and sales for beehives. I’d love to hear how your project is coming. Let me know how it’s going in the comments below.