Thursday, March 26, 2015

Minnesota Nice Bee Breeders

We Are Special

For beekeepers here in Minnesota, we have our own special challenges.  Most of our challenges come with over-wintering hives in extremely cold temperatures, but many of us also have to contend with big black bear challenges. The bear challenge can be met with a high voltage electric fence, so that may be the easier of the two. The climate challenge is made more difficult by the ironic fact that most of the bee breeders are in southern or coastal locales.  

Here They Come To Save The Day!  

Guess what?  Now we have local bee breeders in our own back yard!  Joe Meyer and Yuuki Metreaud from Four Seasons Apiaries are breeding bees with selected traits for our unique environment.  Joe and Yuuki generously trekked to our town to educate the Honey Bee Club of Stillwater  on their operation and techniques. Here is a summary of this most interesting meeting.

They Ain't From These Here Parts.

Our beloved honeybee is not native to the US.  Subspecies of the apis mellifera have been transported and propagated around the world. Natural selection has been at work, and beekeepers have been artificially selecting for specific traits for centuries.  The traits that beekeepers desire have changed over the years. Back in the day before our fancy bee-boxes, beekeepers used to select for colonies that swarmed.  After the advent of boxes, beekeepers selected for less propolization so they could remove a frame without the use of a jack-hammer.  

Rearing local bees is what Joe Meyer and Yuuki Metreaud do at Four Seasons Apiaries.  They understand that beekeeping is regional.

Selecting for winter hardiness and hygienic behavior is just part of the work.  Joe and Yuuki endeavor to use as few treatments as possible.  When and only when the mite concentration becomes intolerable (threshold is 3-5%) do they use treatment, and then they use only 'soft' treatments, such as thymol or formic acid.  Part of the laborious hygenic selection process is the testing for nosema by squishing and counting spores. 

Raising Minnesota Nice Queens

We have our standards here.  Joe and Yuuki have no tolerance for aggressive bees or bossy queens.  The queen you buy from Four Seasons Apiaries is the daughter of queen that has gone through a Minnesota winter....hardy with impeccable manners.  

By placing queen cell cups in a well-fed, chemically free swarm box, the cups will be packed with royal jelly for the sturdiest queen possible.  A well provisioned 2-frame mating nuc in the mating yard serves as the "Queen's Castle". This is conveniently located near the carefully selected drone yards....the rest is all about the birds and bees.

Timing is Everything

Four Seasons Apiaries has queens available June - August, weather permitting.  Perhaps you are thinking, ....well I split my hive in May, and I need a queen earlier than June.  FEAR NOT, there are solutions.  You can:
  • Use a queen cell from Four Seasons Apiaries.  Purchase queen cell cups by contacting this address:
  • Simply walk away.  Ok, not that simple, but pretty simple.  Split a strong colony, and let the queenless split make its own queen.  
    • You can use a nuc for this.  Make sure you have a frame of eggs and two frames of brood, capped and uncapped, and a couple frames of pollen and honey.  Remember brood in the center.  Have loads of nurse bees covering the frames.  Give them some sugar water, and leave it alone for 4 weeks.  When you check back, you should see eggs.
    • It is important to have 2 weeks of 70 degree days before doing a walk-away-split.  This is to ensure drones are present.
  • You can move capped swarm cells to a mating nuc.
    • And allow some colonies to make drones.  *Caution* on this!  Varroa mites prefer drone cells.  
  • Re-Queen bad stock by buying a local queen from  

Overwintering Nucleus Colonies

There was a discussion regarding overwintering in nucs.  Joe and Yuuki are in consultation with our own Honey Bee Club of Stillwater member Adrian Quiney to define the best methods for overwintering nucs.  The power trio of Joe, Yuuki, and Adrian, feel that overwintering in nucs is the key to sustainable beekeeping in northern climates.  As a BONUS to you, Adrian will be speaking on this very topic on April 14 at the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association meeting.  Here is info:

Matt Brooks will discuss landscape design as it relates to pollinator habitat.  

As always, we thank our members and to those reading this blog.  

Marcie Forsberg
photo credits to Laurie Schneider

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.  or

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