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!
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)
Recently we've fielded a few questions about keeping bees in urban areas, specifically in Chicago. We currently care for two hives located in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. (For those of you in the Suburbs, or non-Chicagoans, this is the neighborhood near U.S. Cellular field, home of the Chicago White Sox.) In fact, Chicago ordinances allow for up to 5 hives. Period. Doesn't matter what kind of property or zoning. (17-17-0270.7)
Our Sponsor's property is a standard late 1890's two-flat with a postage-stamp sized back yard. The buildings on either side of her are apartment buildings of the same ilk. An avid gardener, our sponsor wanted to have honey bees, but also had some other requests. In a move that we normally do not recommend, she asked to have the hives up against the apartment building, just a few feet from the back door. As she retains the use of the yard, and no one else has access, and she can still get in and out of the door without interference from the bees, we placed the hives per her instructions. She additionally wanted the hives located where they are so she could watch the comings and goings from her windows.
Just a foot to the left of the above picture are the deck areas for the building next door. None of the neighbors have complained about the bees and in fact, Mike often has audiences watching him inspect the bees.
The second hive we inspected as a little more "exciting" as we discovered that Mike had made an error the last time he'd inspected. He had accidentally forgotten to properly space the frames in one of the boxes, so the bees got creative with how they filled the space. We had some very interesting burr comb that Mike had to clean up. Burr comb doesn't hurt the bees, and as long as it is caught quickly, it can be cleaned up with minimal damage to the hives, brood, or honey stores. This is one of the reasons why we do our inspections every two to three weeks; so that we can catch this and other issues before they become serious.
Aside from the burr comb, one other cool things about these hives is due to our longstanding relationship with this particular sponsor. We can use these hives more as a "laboratory" for techniques or ideas. One of the hives has foundation-less frames. This combines the portability and inter-changeability of the Langstroth design with allowing the bees to build the size comb that they need. This is also why if you look closely, you can see funky gaps, waves and bulges in the comb.
Going back to the original point about beekeeping in Chicago, we have found through the years of having hives both in Bridgeport and in the suburbs that the hives in the city tended to be stronger, healthier, and better producing than our suburban hives. We suspect that this is due to the fact that fewer city residents may be fogging their yards before parties to "get rid of the bugs" and fewer city residents may be using herbicides and pesticides to get that "weed-free / grub-free / pest free" yard. We highly recommend keeping hives in the city and would be more than happy to meet with anyone interested in sponsoring hives within Chicago city limits. Use our contact form if you're interested in finding out other information.
A brief note from Joanne:
I am not a bee keeper. I am merely the bee-keepers wife, photographer, paper-pusher and blogger. I do not put on a veil, I do not get into the hive. I still have a very strong "run away!" instinct when a honey-bee gets a little too curious and comes to check me out.
What you are seeing in this picture is the inner top cover of a hive with bits of honey-filled burr comb stuck to it. This burr comb is one of the main reasons that Mike can get me to go on hive-inspections with him. He will scrape off one of those bits of honey-filled burr comb for me and I get to revel in the first taste of honey of the season. That first mouthful of honey tastes like flowers, trees, grass, and the summer sun.
Going on these inspections with him has helped to lessen my fear of the honey bees. Maybe some day you'll see a picture of me in a suit and elbow deep in a hive. But not today. For now, you all get to see the pictures of our inspections and neat things that we find, and I get to have bits of burr comb. -Joanne
Two Kinds of Hives
The "Kenyan Style" Top-bar Hive
When Mike first started beekeeping as a hobby, he spent about 2 years reading every book he could find on the subject, watching every youtube video he could find, and reading every bee-keeping blog. During the course of his research, he found references to a Top-bar style hive, or Kenyan hive. He decided that he was going to start his beekeeping using this Kenyan style hive.
One of the reasons for this was because he didn't want the honey per se. He wanted the pollination services and he had read information about top bar hives that persuaded him that this form of hive would be better for the bees over all. So he went and built a top bar hive. We did not have a lot success with that first top-bar hive, whether that was due to his in-experience with bee-keeping, the weather, or the fact that top-bar hives might be more demanding. But we still have 1 or 2 (depending on the year) active "Kenyan" style hives in our home bee-yard. Mike likes the challenge.
Top-bar beehives are "slower." The bees build all their comb on their own. All that is provided for them is a bar with a bead of wax down the spine of it. Inspecting the hives takes a little more time as you can't flip the individual bars of combs around like you can the frames from a Langstroth hive - the only support the combs have is that top bar. Harvesting honey means that you have to destroy the comb. You cut the comb off the top bar, and then you have to crush it and let the honey drain out. Sometimes the draining process can take more than 24 hours.
On the positive side, top-bar hives mean that we can harvest really small batches of honey at a time. We can also then taste how the honey changes through the seasons. The design is fairly in-expensive to make and quick to build. The bees also build the comb they need, the aren't constricted by the cells imprinted on the foundation that is provided in Langstroth frames.
Negatively speaking, top-bar hives are too custom and variable for commercial bee-keeping or for bee-keeping on a larger scale as we're doing in the Chicago area with our sponsors. Equipment, frames, and general maintenance are a lot more difficult with top-bar hives as everything has to be custom made. Langstroth hives are a lot easier to get parts for, and they're standardized. Finally, there is much more opportunity for cross-combing. Cross combing is where the bees decide they are NOT going to follow the plans you gave them and so they build their comb any which way. Cleaning up cross-combing is difficult and messy and annoys the bees.
Mike still likes his Kenyan style hives because they're "fun and different." He says "I can get more distinct honeys out of a Kenyan style hive than I can out of a Langstroth. I also have an observation port on my Kenyan style hives so I can look in and watch the bees without disturbing them."
Joanne still thinks they look like coffins.
Here are pictures from this week's inspection of one of the Kenyan style hives in our home bee-yard. Mike always starts from the "back" of the hive or the part furthest from the entrance. You'll notice as the pictures go that the comb starts out almost white but as he gets closer to the entrance of the hive, the comb gets darker and darker. The white comb is brand new and has barely been used, the darkest comb has been used for 2 or 3 years in a row for brood and has seen much use.
The Langstroth Hive
After having his Kenyan Style hives for a year or two, Mike decided he had to try the Langstroth hive. There are many companies out there selling kits where you can get your Deeps, Supers, bottom boards, top boards, etc. You can also order the parts and build your own, which is what Mike did (and still does). He will buy the foundation and frames from companies because those are much more fiddly to build, but he makes his own boxes, covers, and bottom boards.
The Langstroth hive is the hive most people think about when they think about bee-keeping. They look a bit like filing cabinets from a distance: rectangular and boxy. They're excellent for honey-producing, are easy to inspect and handle. Special equipment is needed in order to harvest the honey though. You need an extractor in order to get the honey out - and extractors can be quite expensive. But after you're done, you can return the frames to the bees for them to finish cleaning out the honey and they will have less they need to "rebuild" after honey harvest.
We use Langstroth hives for our sponsors properties as well as for our own for many reasons including their inter-changeability, ease of building and harvesting, and... well... they're just easier over all.
Here are some pictures from this week's Hive Inspections. We did go out multiple days to multiple sites.
Today we were able to get to Inverness and do hive inspections on the three hives located there. The Hive Sponsor was out there with us, asking all sorts of great questions about what was going on in the hives and what Mike was doing. Talking with her and showing her all the amazing things going on in the hives made our day even more fun. Here are some of the cool things we were able to share with her.
This frame is an excellent example of a pulled out frame that bees are just starting to work on. It started out as a foundation-less frame meaning we didn't put a base in for the bees to build on. All the comb in there was made by the bees which is why it is wavy and irregular looking. The white / waxy looking part is capped honey, the puffy parts are drone cells (male bees) and the other covered part are brood cells (female worker bees).
This hive also had a lot of burr comb, or comb that the bees had made in places that we didn't want there to be comb. We found burr comb on the lid, and attached to the inner walls of the hives. The dark spots in this comb are actually pollen stores, and on top the covered cells are full of honey.
Mike showing our Hive Sponsor one of the frames. Notice the top of the frame, how it is white and waxy. That is capped honey. The bees are starting to make their honey stores.
We found the queen bee in one of the hives! She is the one whose abdomen is much larger than the others. We don't always see the queen every time we inspect the hive. With thousands of bees in a hive, she is sometimes very hard to spot. So we typically look for other signs that the queen is present and healthy, for example, day-old eggs, and good brood pattern.
We also got to see a bee being "born." As soon as she was completely out of the cell, she was ready to start working as a house bee, doing work inside of the hive. As she ages, she may get promoted to a forager bee or guard bee. There were actually three or four bees on this frame who were in the process of being "born."
We were able to snatch an hour this afternoon to do a hive inspection at a sponsor's property in Willow Springs. The weather was perfect for bee-keeping; warm, sunny and with a light breeze. Typically, Mike does most of his inspections alone, but today, I (Joanne) was able to go with and I brought my camera!
When Mike got into the hives, we saw some wonderful things. The first hive we went into was going gang-busters! They had 3 boxes on their hive, excellent brood pattern, and were even starting to store honey! It was a good thing we went when we did because they were just about to run out of room. We added a 4th box to the hive. If all continues to go well, we should be able to harvest honey from that hive.
The second hive we looked at wasn't as far along as the first hive, but it too was doing very well. The queen had excellent brood pattern, there was plenty of larvae and they were just starting to add some honey stores. This hive had been behind the other one for a while, so it only has 3 boxes on the hive so far.
There is a 3rd hive at the site; for the time being it is empty. We have a nucleus hive on order that we will be putting in once it arrives.
Reminder! If you're in the Chicago area and you want us to notify you when we have local honey available for purchase, please click HERE and fill out the form!
Just Bee Cause
Mike is the bee-keeper, Joanne is the photographer / record keeper, and Dale is our trusty mascot!