Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bees' beers a-brewin'!

Big news from Brewmaster Nic Grau at Maple Island Brewery, 225 Main St N, in Stillwater, MN. He has brewed a firkin (10 gallons) of Kolsch (a white German beer) with crushed rose hips and a pound of wildflower honey from Betsy, as well as a full 250 gallon batch of ESB - now known as "ESB-hive" with 60 pounds of honey from Jim and Wendy at Nature's Nectar. The firkin is about half gone as of 5/20/15 with great customer reviews. The ESB-hive is conditioning in the fermenter and will be available soon. Check the Maple Island website for its release date. No growlers of the Kolsch because it's a small batch, but consider sipping some honey infused local beers from Nic at Maple Island while you enjoy springtime along the St. Croix!
Cheers, from Betsy!

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.