Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Starting Bees in Nucs

First just let me say how fortunate we are to have Jim Kloek and Nature's Nectar in our back yard here in Stillwater.  All your beekeeping needs are filled here, package bees, queens, any beekeeping equipment you will ever need from hive tools to rental honey extractors.  The best part about Nature's Nectar, however are Jim and Wendy.  ANY beekeeping question is thoughtfully answered.  There are no dumb questions here.  Believe me, I know, I've asked them.  

At our last meeting, Jim from Nature's Nectar treated us to an explanation of why it's a good idea to have some nucs lying around.  Not only are they handy for getting a package going quickly, but good for queen production, hive splits, and swarm catching.


a nuc box
...THE HECK is a nuc?  A nuc is short for nucleus colony, which is a small colony of bees and a queen.  So think, roughly, half the size of a Langstroth deep.  Generally, a nuc has 5 standard deep frames.  You can make them from scratch, you can fashion them from an existing deep, or you can do what I am going to do, and buy one from Jim at Nature's Nectar.
  • Plans for making a nuc box here: nuc box plans
  • Making two nucs from a regular deep:  Cut a groove in the inside middle of your deep and put in a divider board.  You will need to make the divider board high enough so the bees can't get over into the nearby "Nuc Duplex", necessitating some sort of spacer to accommodate for that space.  And rub the groove with paraffin, so it doesn't become totally stuck forever with propolis.
making nucs with a divider
Why have a few nucs laying around?  I frankly can't believe I've gone as long as I have without a few nucs!  One for starting a 2 lb package, one for producing a queen, one for hive division, and a cardboard one for catching swarms.
  • Starting a package with a nuc
    • This is a good way to quickly build up your colony.  The old adage is that bees want to be in proportion of the cavity they are in. Starting smaller for a relatively small number of bees makes them feel good, when their population increases, then you can add more room.  
  • Using a nuc is a good way to produce a queen.
    • Got some swarm cells?  Take a frame that has swarm cells and brood and stick it in the center of a nuc.  Add some sugar water with an internal feeder or a make-shift mason jar and voila! Soon you will have a queen.  Timing is everything here.  Do this the first week of June, when temps are around 70 degrees (you need drones who require lots of pollen) so your queen can mate.  
Remember: June is the golden month for queen production.  
  • Use a nuc for that swarm you just caught.  
    • Carry around a plastic pail and a cardboard nuc box in your car, and you are prepared to collect some free-bees.  Put your swarm in the plastic bucket and then slide them out into your nuc box to carry home.  

  • They are totally cute and easy to handle. 
    • Like a mini doll house bee hive!  Way easier to lift and carry, Jim sells them complete with their own teeny screened bottom board, inner cover, and telescoping cover.  
Tips for Nucs
Because of their small size, ventilation is crucial.  Make a large ventilation hole and use an entrance wheel.  
Use a nuc to keep your bees cozy and warm if it's cold out and you're moving your bees further north.  
  • MORE General Tips gleaned from Jim's discussion:
    • Cold weather hiving
      • Don't spray with sugar water!  Keep your queen warm, dump bees out and if they start flying everywhere, LIGHTLY LIGHTLY spray them once they are in hive.  Direct release the queen so she can get cozy and warm right away.
    • Pollen patties the first week of March or so.
    • You can use Hopguard for mite control when the temp is as low as 30 degrees. 
    • Remove honey supers around Aug 1 to ensure your bees have enough winter stores.  You cannot always count on a heavy goldenrod flow.
    • Do not treat nosema ceranae with Fumagillin!  Here is the advice from the U of MN Bee Lab:
      • Nosema ceranae has virtually displaced the old species Nosema apis throughout the U.S.  We are still learning about Nosema ceranae, but as of this writing, we DO NOT RECOMMEND THE USE OF FUMAGILLIN TO TREAT THIS DISEASE.
        • nuff said
    • FINALLY....Jim may have some bee packages left.  They go quickly.  Here is the NATURE'S NECTAR BEE ORDER FORM
**My apologies to all you nuc-heads for my elementary explanations!

See you next month!


Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Wide Variety of Conversational Topics (just kidding)

An excellent evening was had at the Liftbridge Brewery and taproom last night.  No conversations of the Renaissance Art Movement or Portugal in the 4th Century were had.  Talk of bees and beer filled the Liftbridge taproom for our FIRST ANNUAL BEES AND BEER celebration.

Thank you to the Liftbridge Brewery for concocting a dee-lish honey beer just for us, made with honey from our own Betsy's bees!  Thank you Betsy Glennon!

We gratefully thank......

Thank you to Warner Nature Center for sponsoring our drawing.  Thank you to Dan Ferrise for the generous donation of the Starter-Kit beehive from Miller Manufacturing Company, available at Fleet Farm, a $250 value.
Our Happy Winner, Kevin A.

Kevin is the perfect winner!  A new beekeeper, he has signed up for beekeeping class, and should be ready for his new bees with his starter kit.  Hopefully, a sweet and lifelong hobby for Kevin.

And finally, a HUGE THANK YOU to all our bee club members and supporters for helping us with such a fun evening.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

We have a Winner!

An enthusiastic Kevin A. claimed his prize to much applause. More details to come. Nice way to start off your new hobby!

Monday, February 16, 2015

January 2015 meeting recap

2015 is underway! Though our colonies are seemingly in their winter hibernation, a Beekeeper's season has begun. "The Beekeeper's Year" graphic poster for Northern Areas, introduces January and February as the season for study and workshop time. What a perfect occasion for the excellent presentation by Dave Brummel of Aves Studio in River Falls, WI, who with son-in-law Matt, conducted a hands-on demonstration of a remarkable hive repair product he invented called Fixit.

Dave's main business is alchemy, although many of you may also have had the opportunity to visit his studio to discover his link between 19th century statue restoration, taxidermy, and beekeeping. Dave has developed a non-toxic product in Fixit that has multiple uses. It can be used for field repairs in the apiary and used as a filler, a glue, an adhesive; it can be sanded and painted to match the rest of the boxes if desired The product is a type of sculpting composite that can be formed and which will support itself.

We had plenty of demonstration space and several crumbly hive bodies to work with at the meeting. The hive bodies truly appeared beyond redemption, containing woodpecker holes and dry rot. In the case of severe through-and-through defects, Dave first pulled off rough edges and inserted some stabilizing brads to lend extra support as scaffolding for the composite. Wearing gloves, the dry mix is combined with water and then kneaded for about 2 minutes, rolling and twisting the mixture for best results. Once mixed, it is best used over the next 2-3 hours, and will be hard, cured, and waterproof within 24 hours (30 minutes: sticky and most adhesive; 1-2 hours: easy to work with; 2-3 hours: setting up, for able detail; 24 hours: cured). Dave recommends working with small amounts first. As the material is kneaded, it will release heat (exothermic reaction) as the clays involved "recognize each other" - who says Valentine's Day is just for humans? If the material gets a little firm and you are not in the field, a quick 15-30 seconds in the microwave can rejuvenate it and make it a little more workable again.

Fixit is used by craftspeople across the spectrum of the arts and sciences - from medical prosthetics to  taxidermy to aerospace applications, from Disney studios to the Smithsonian Museums - and even Robert De Niro's restaurant in New York. (We won't find it used with 3-D printers, as they use liquid metals or resins, and not solid epoxies). And now, coming soon to an apiary near you!

Dave also discussed his method of "bottom supering," where he adds his empty supers to the bottom of his stack of supers (as opposed to setting the empties on top of his full supers). He recommends adding two at a time over the main hive body. By using this technique, ensuring a constant supply of fresh water, and avoiding pesticides he has increased his honey production by "at least one third." One of his colonies last season had 10 supers on it; one colony produced 240 pounds of honey, one 280 pounds, another 194 pounds. Hmmmm.....

Dave generously provided all attendees with a sample kit of Fixit. By the meeting's end we could see the amazing restoration accomplished with his product and the cost-savings going forward of being able to repair equipment we may otherwise have considered as a loss. Read more about the product and/or contact Dave at Aves Studio LLC, PO Box 344, River Falls, WI 54022. www.avesstudio.com  or aves@avesstudio.com

Thanks, Dave and Matt, for helping us get "The Beekeeper's Year" off to a great start!


Monday, January 12, 2015

December 2014 Meeting Re-cap: Ian Lane

At our last meeting 12/15/14, we were fortunate to have University of Minnesota Dept. of Entomology Bee Lab graduate student Ian Lane expand on what we know about friends of Apis mellifera in his presentation “Wild Bees: Their Life, Troubles, and Relationships.” 
Long ago, bees were hunters (sound familiar?), with protein the core of their diet. With the evolution of flowers, bees became gatherers of pollen and nectar, which is why the diversification of flowers is so important. 
Worldwide there are twenty thousand species of bees, represented by 9 families – 6 of which are found in Minnesota. Within these 6 families are at least 320 different species!  And 98-99% of them are solitary bees. meaning they do not live in social congregations like honey bees do. 30% of them are tunnel nesting bees (Mason, leaf cutter, yellow faced, carpenter East Coast bees, and others). The other 70% of solitary bees are ground nesting bees (sweat bees, miner bees, plaster bees, digger bees, etc,). The remaining 1-2% live in social communities as social cavity nesters (honey bee democracies).  Mind boggling? 

Animal transportation is the dominant form of pollen movement (as compared to wind, and other mechanisms), and accounts for 78% of it in temperate climates, and 94% of pollen movement in tropical climes. When we remember that 35% of the global food supply relies on pollination, this critical mode of transport is underscored.  Enter wild bees: their densely haired bodies are designed for this task. Their branched hairs increase surface area and are statically charged to attract oppositely charged pollen, which sticks to the hairs and is carried off by nature’s gatherer.
Bees get their nutrition from nectar and pollen and have distinguishing palates – all nectar and pollen is not created equally from a bee’s perspective. Bee diversity helps fill many niches across the spectrum of pollination, as different bees are adapted to harvesting from different sized and configured plants given different tongue lengths, or by preferring differing times of the season or day, flying under different  weather conditions, etc. Alfalfa is suited to leaf cutters and sweat bees, with honey bees needing to chew into the flower from the sides so as to avoid getting drops of nectar on their heads; bumble bees can unhinge their flight mechanism and vibrate sounding the note “C” when working tomatoes and blueberries, etc). Potential crop yields of almonds and sunflowers demonstrate that species will change their behaviors around each other; studies of strawberry and blueberry pollination reveal altered foraging strategies that change with the weather. The bottom line: synergistic activity to maximize pollination.
Rusty Patch Bumblebee
Photo courtesy of Sarina Jepsen
 The Xerces Society

And now “The Troubles.” A recent Illinois study has shown >50% decline in wild bee populations compared to 1916, with only 54 of 109 species being re-discovered.  Joel Gardner, one of Ian’s colleagues in the Dept. of Entomology, has demonstrated 3 new species, but 11 species NOT re-discovered since 1937 in his recent research at Lake Itasca in MN. A glaring example is the 87% decline in Bombus affinis, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee. 

Here's a great fact sheet on Bumble bees

Here's Joel Gardner's Wild Bee Summary

What are the causes of these declines? Mainly urbanization and agricultural practices. There is strong evidence that natural habitats support greater diversity (kind and quality of plants) and abundance (more food for bees).As noted previously, bees prefer different pollens as well as different nectars. Some bees are generalists (polylectic); some requiring specific types (oligolectic); and some that can utilize only one type (monolectic – like oil bees [Macropis steironematis], who specialize on fringed loosestrife of the primrose family). There are 53 species of olig- and monolectic specialist bees – so the importance of diversity is critical to them!

Nectar is also quite different, and not all bees can drink of the same cup due to anatomic variations such as tongue length: bumble bees have all lengths of tongues, digger bees have the longest, honey bees are mid-range at 6mm. Due to differences in corolla length on flowers, and the viscosity of the nectar, bees are limited as to which nectar they can harvest.  Honey bees search for water, but many wild bees do not – which is why viscosity matters - again, reinforcing the need for diversity and variety of plants.

That being said, the duration of the phenological season is key – the shorter the season, the more poorly bees will fare.  Our main goal should be to avoid “phenological gap” by providing season-long blooms. This helpful chart comes courtesy of Dan Palmer.

Flowering Season

                               Week:  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4
Silver Maple X  X  X  

Aspen     X  X 

Forsythia         X X 

Pussy Willow         X

Apricot            X

Boxelder            X    X

Elm            X     X X

Pear            X

Crab Apple
 X X


Nanking Cherry

Wild Plum

    X  X

Black Willow


    X  X


Prickly Ash

Sugar Maple
    X  X


Weeping Willow

Ginnala Maple

Red-Osier Dogwood


Honey Locust



    X  X

White Dutch Clover


Yellow Sweetclover

    X  X  X



Alsike Clover


Black Locust





            X  X 

Birdsfoot Trefoil

            X  X  X   X  X
Red Clover


White Sweetclover

            X  X  X  X  X  X



     X  X


         X  X  X


Spotted Knapweed

             X  X  X

 X  X
Purple Loosestrife

 X  X
Beggars Ticks/Stick tights

     X    X      X

 X  X

          X  X

Data courtesy Dan Palmer

Bees also demonstrate “floral constancy,” where, in the case of a highly abundant and nutritious plant, they will intensely focus on it to conserve on foraging time. This may indicate that monoculture “patches” can also be good for some generalists (polylectics). Ian’s own research on clover in Minneapolis has shown that both honey bees and bumble bee visitation responses top out at about 70 flowering heads per 50 square meters. Other excellent plants are hyssop (abundant nectar production, 44% sugar) and monarda (40% sugar in nectar, great for bumble bees secondary to the long corolla but not so much for honey bees – resulting in decreases competition, which cuts energy costs to make each visit).

Nesting sites are also linked to diversity.  These include requirements for mud, leaf pulp, gravel, plant resin, and other building materials. Solitary bees and bumble bees need their nests to be close to flowers, in a range from 1/5  to 1/2 mile. We can help by providing nesting resources like sand, not over-mulching, and reconsidering our “American lawns” with an eye to Dutch white clover, dandelions, wild thyme, and to our seeding practices.

Pesticides, diseases, climate change (affecting the timing of flowering) – all of these also impact our wild bee populations. We can be mindful of species relationships, floral niches, improved nutrition, and use dense plantings to do our parts in helping our wild winged ones live long and prosper.
Bee on borage photo courtesy of Marcie Forsberg

The University of Minnesota Bee Lab has a pollinator outreach garden. A list of plants in the garden comes from the Eloise Butler Garden (www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org ). See also Eric Mader’s “Conserving Pollinators: A Primer for Gardeners” at www.extension.org. Elaine Evans, Ian Burns, and Marla Spivak have a publication “Befriending Bumble Bees” which is a wonderful resource http://befriendingbumblebees.com/
Thanks, Ian, for a provocative, informative discussion!

bg with production assistance from elw :-)