One of our sponsors has been so excited about having bees at their house that he has purchased his own jacket so he can get in close, watch and sometimes help when we do inspections at their house. He's even asked to come on other inspection visits in order to learn more about bees. We love this enthusiasm. Enjoy these pictures of him and Mike doing inspections at our Willow Springs location. If you think he looks familiar, you probably spotted him in the last blog post about our visit in Inverness. He joined us there as well!
We have all kinds of sponsors. Some who are content to let us do our thing, others that want to be right in there with us.
We typically keep a spare bee-keeping jacket in the car with us when we go do hive inspections / site visits. So if you are ever feeling brave enough to get in there with us, or even to just get a closer look, you are more than welcome to suit up and dig in!
Recently, the teenage son of one of our sponsors and another sponsor of ours wanted to get into the hives with us. Here are some pictures of the hive inspection at our Inverness location!
Last week, we got a frantic text from one of our sponsors. "Oh Crap! There is a swarm!"
We hightailed it out to his house which took half an hour. He had watched a swarm land in his neighbor's tree. He did the legwork ahead of time, letting the neighbor know there was a swarm there and that he knew a bee-keeper who would be happy to catch the swarm and get them out of his yard for him.
Anyways, we get there and bring all our equipment out. There is a brief discussion as to how best to approach getting the swarm out of the top of the tree. Suddenly, there is a huge buzz and the swarm lifts off and starts heading across the street.
There is much swearing as all three of us try and follow the swarm. But instead of landing somewhere or the entire swarm heading in a purposeful direction, the bees seem very confused. Most of them head back to the tree where they had just been sitting.
We decide that we lost it and head back to collect our gear when I noticed there was a suspicious pile of bees at the base of the tree. My husband goes closer and there is the queen! There is a mad scramble as he runs to where we had all our equipment and up-ends his bucket of gear trying to find his queen-catcher or a queen cage.
There is success as he finds a queen cage. He runs back to the lump on the ground, picks up the queen, puts her in a cage, and then inserts the queen cage into a pre-arranged super. He then sets the box down near another clump of bees.
Instantly, they bees that were there all turn, face the box with the queen in it, stick their bottoms up into the air and start fanning. The clump of bees that we pulled the queen out of starts marching across the ground the 6 feet to the hive and they start fanning too.
For the next hour and a half, the rest of the swarm gradually leaves the tree and lands where we found the queen on the ground originally. They then march over to the box.
Hello everyone! We are so excited to announce some changes to our services and our website.
FIRST! We have new levels of sponsorship! We've heard from several people who are unable to host hives, but they still want to help sponsor them. We also have some current sponsors who found that getting 2 gallons of honey a year was too much for them! We've developed some new options that we think will meet more people's needs.
QUEEN BEE: A Queen Bee sponsor is willing to host between 2 and 5 hives at their property. Queen Bee sponsors will get 2 gallons of honey from their own hives at the end of each season. This costs option $450 annually.
WORKER BEE: A Worker Bee sponsor is willing to host between 2 and 5 hives at their property, but they really don't want much honey. Worker Bees will get 1 pound of honey, plus discounts on any other honey orders. This option costs $250 annually.
NURSE BEE: A Nurse Bee sponsor may be unable to host hives at their property, but they would still like to help cover the costs of a hive. Nurse bees will get 6 pounds of honey, a discount on any other honey order, and a certificate with a picture of "their" hive. This option costs $135 annually.
GUARD BEE: A Guard Bee sponsor will help cover the cost of a hive. Guard bees will get $1 pound of honey, a discount on any other honey order, and a certificate with a picture of "their" hive. This costs $45 annually.
SECOND! We now are able to take payments online and we are able to sell our honey online!!! (Sorry non-Illinois peoples, we still can't sell our honey across state lines. If you order honey, your orders will be cancelled).
Check out our Goods and Services page to see all our options. We will be getting photos of our products up soon! Check back often!
If you're in Illinois and are interested in purchasing honey from us, please click on the following link and place your order. We are unable legally to sell our honey online - we don't have the licenses for it. We will take your order and then contact you to arrange for payment and delivery.
Happy 4th of July to all our friends and family! We are celebrating Independence day with a sweet, sweet, activity! We're extracting honey!
Mike went out on some hive inspections yesterday to find that the bees have been super busy! Here in the Chicago area, we've had a lot of rain, which means the flowers and plants are growing like gangbusters. The girls have been so busy that many of the hives were literally bursting at the seams! (Joanne's note: Unfortunately, I was home sick yesterday with a migraine and didn't get any pictures of the hives so you'll just have to take Mike's word on it!)
Mike brought home 10 boxes full of honey ready to be extracted, and he still hadn't been able to get to all of our apiary locations yet!
We've heard it said that people get into beekeeping because of the honey. They then get out of beekeeping because of the honey! Extracting honey is hot, sticky, physical work! Each frame can weigh between 5 and 7 pounds. Each box has 8 frames in it. That's about 40 pounds per box. Once the cappings are cut off, the frames go into an extracting tank, where we use centripetal force to spin the honey out of the combs.
We're still a "new" beekeeping company, so we haven't been able to invest in a motor yet, so our honey extractor is run on man-power. We take turns cranking the handle for upwards of 10 minutes per batch in order to get all of the sunshiney goodness out of each frame.
At the bottom of the extractor, we have 5 gallon buckets to catch the honey. It's completely unfiltered, so the honey comes out full of bits of wax, and other beehive debris. We will be filtering and bottling this batch of honey later next week.
We aren't done with the harvest yet. We'll be going out to the rest of our locations again in the next few weeks to pull more boxes of honey, and extract more. We are hoping for a bumper crop. If you haven't done so, click on I Want Honey and get yourself on our waiting list. You'll be the first to receive notification when we have honey ready for sale.
Here's a final gratuitous picture of a bumble-bee who has also been busy collecting pollen and nectar!
We are so pleased thus far with our hives this year. With the exception of one or two hives, all are humming along! We've been able to add additional supers to the top of each of them. The queens are producing well and honey is being stored up. The bees are really working hard.
We are very pleased with the progress of our hives in Inverness. We are finding a lot of happy, active bees and they are starting to put up stores of honey!
Our sponsors are always welcome to watch us work with the bees and our Inverness family takes us up on this as often as they can. This time, we found some comb that the bees were building "upside down." We removed it because we would prefer they build the comb from the top of the frame downwards. If they don't, the angle of the comb can be off and things just don't work as "right" as they should.
Location #2: More Sponsor Involvement!
We love when our sponsors come out and watch us work on the hives. We love when they have questions and when they become just as excited as we are about honey bees. In the case of our next visit this day, our Sponsors had continued to research more about honey bees and beekeeping and they were becoming more and more passionate about their bees. Just as we don't want our hives to die over winter, they don't either and so they continued to research additional things that could be done. They found some beekeeping equipment that they wanted to put into place in their location as an experiment to see if it would help the hives survived.
One of the things they found and want to put into place are these "Ultimate Hive Stands." They purchased a pair and requested that we place the hives onto these stands instead of our typical cinder-block stands. Mike helped our Sponsor to put assemble the stands and then we installed the hives on top of them.
As we continue to work with these hives, we'll keep you updated as to whether these Ultimate Hive Stands made any difference in hive health, honey production, or winter survival. We certainly are excited by the opportunity to experiment this way and we're glad that our sponsors have become more passionate about honey bees!
One of the hives at this location, despite it being a new package of bees, had a queen that disappeared. We've tried adding brood from the other comb to allow the bees to raise their own queen, but so far, there hasn't been much luck. As you can see from the pictures above, signs aren't good. We've put in an order for a new queen for this hive. We expect her to arrive via the mail or UPS soon.
We love when our sponsors get involved with us and when they ask us questions! Sponsors can be as involved as they want, we don't mind!
While losing that many bees was very disappointing, we did have one hive that survived the winter. It has been going gangbusters and we've already managed to harvest a little bit of honey from it!
Over the winter, we lost 14 of our 15 hives.
That meant, back in late April, we drove to Iowa in order to pick up 12 packages of bees, and then we ordered 2 more packages from Kelly Bees that were shipped to us.
THAT was a car-trip to remember!
On May 25th, we were able to go and visit all our locations in order to check up on the new hives. To our joy, all the hives appear to be settling in and we were able to add additional supers to each of them.
Willow Springs Location:
Harvesting a tiny amount of honey!
We couldn't help ourselves. Inverness is where our sole winter survivor hive is located and it had one full frame that was ready (barely!) to harvest. Our Sponsors were just as excited as we were and allowed us the use of their kitchen and a sieve in order to harvest the first batch. We got about 1 quart of honey out of this frame and split it between ourselves and our sponsors.
NOTE - We typically do not harvest honey in this way. It completely destroys the comb and it takes longer over all to harvest in this manner. But for the first honey of the year... we'll make an exception!
Even though there is snow on the ground and the temperatures have been awful, we are getting geared up for the next beekeeping and honey season! We are currently accepting applications to sponsor hives between now and the end of March. If you, or someone you know, is interested in sponsoring beehives at your property or business, go to our contact form and submit your request.
What do you get when you sponsor hives? What benefits are there?
1) You help to provide pollination for all of the fruits, vegetables, flowers, trees and plants in a 5 mile radius of your location. This will not only improve your garden, but help your entire neighborhood's ecosystem improve.
2) Bees are in danger, with bees providing the pollination necessary for 1 in 3 bites of food we eat, you are helping to maintain the health of our food sources.
3) Watching the activity in and out of your personal beehives had a meditative quality (I think) and the quiet hum of activity adds to the richness of your backyard.
4.) HONEY! You will get 2 gallons of honey out of the hives on your property for you to use how ever you want! Most people find that 2 gallons of honey is more than enough to carry them through the year, but if you find you need more honey, you will get a discounted rate to purchase additional honey from us! (At this point, we cannot guarantee that any additional honey will come from your hives, but be sure that the honey will be from the hives that we take care of)
Extracting honey is hard, hot, sweaty work! Especially when extracting honey in a garage in August! Thankfully, we had some excellent help. The Fowles family came over to help Mike pull some supers from hives in Willow Springs and then they helped with the rest of the process.
First there's the capping tank! Using a knife, we cut off the wax caps that the bees put on each cell.
Then we put each of the frames into our extractor and spin, spin, spin! It is hard work, but so much fun watching the honey come flying out of the frames. The extracted honey then pours out of the bottom of the tank into buckets. Everyone had sticky fingers in both the literal and figurative sense! We couldn't help but sneak tastes of honey as we worked.
Why do all this work in a closed garage? It keeps the bees away! If we left the door open, the bees in our hives would quickly sniff out the honey and would then come try and steal it to add to their own hives.
Thank you Fowles family for helping us extract honey!
For those of you wondering when you will get an email saying the honey is available for purchase, we are in the process of bottling up the honey this week. Once we add labels and make sure that our Sponsors get their honey first, then we'll send out an announcement. Make sure you sign up on our "I Want Honey!" page to get notified as soon as we are ready!
Just Bee Cause
Mike is the bee-keeper, Joanne is the photographer / record keeper, and Dale is our trusty mascot!