Friday, February 26, 2010

How to Catch A Swarm-N-A-Bucket!

When you see a swarm of bees like this, over 12 feet in a tree, what to do? I've lost several very large swarms of Honey Bees, only because they where so high up in a tree (15 to 22 feet), that I had no chance of getting them back. It's heart breaking to just stand there and look at them, knowing you aren't going to be able to catch them back. They might stay there for a day or two, but that's about it. Therefore, I came up with a serious plan for being able to catch them back. If you'll pay close attention to how we go about this, I'm certain you'll benefit from these tips.

Get your gear together, and setup. The pole and bucket that you see, is PRICELESS! The pole came from Atwoods, cost is about $15. It's a paint pole, that extends. The bucket on the end of the pole was bought from Brushy Mountain bee supply company, here's the link for the bucket,

cost is $35. Yes, you can figure out how to make your own if you'd like. I needed one, and quick, so I just bought my bucket.

You might need a helping hand in order to get this job done. Bees that have swarmed, are heavy with honey. Once the main swarm of bees hits the bottom of the bucket, you can't just TIP the pole over and dump it into the hive....the aluminum pole will just snap. After the bees hit the bottom of the bucket, one person holds the pole upright, while the other person screws the black handle lose, and let the pole slide down into itslef, and THEN you can dump them into a hive.

Get the bucket positioned under the swarm and give a solid push. Make certain that the swarm itself is even inside the bucket, before you thump them off the limb. You'll feel the weight hit the bottom of the bucket, and then it's up to you and your helper to get the pole upright, and keep it that way. Once the swarm hits the bottom of the bucket, pull the chord hard and close the lid on top of the bucket. Before I put the bucket up in the tree, I spritz inside with some sugar water.

Once the pole is under control, losen the handle and let the bucket come down to a managable level. Then you can walk over and dump them into a hive body. Be sure to take out several frames in order for the bees to have plenty of room to make it into the box.

You may even have to go back up with the bucket in order to get another shot at the remainder of the bees. You may do this several times, at least. The point here is; once the initial swarm has been in the bucket, that BEE SMELL from the Queen becomes your "bee lure". Use it to your advantage. The bees will come down into the bucket in order to find the Queen. You should have gotten the Queen in the first grab.

You might even leave the pole and bucket up against the tree for a few minutes, in order to the bees to settle in the bucket. You might even put in a few old, black brood frames if you have some extra. Bees love these black frames!

Have your helper take off the hive lid, and dump in more bees. This is repeated about 4 times, or more.

Notice on the hive above, the porch entrance is blocked with a towel. I have placed sugar water on them. I left the hole in the box OPEN. Once the bees get oriented inside this box, they'll start coming out for a look.

You can go back up for more bees.

Dump them in the box. Each time, you must COLLAPSE the pole.

Leave the pole against the tree for a few minutes. Bees that are flying around, will settle down, and find their way into the bucket to have a look around. You can close the lid again, and bring them down. They're a bit confused and lost. Help them find their new home!

Letting them settle into their new home.

Let the bucket lure in more bees.

Be patient. Let the smell in the bucket do it's magic. The bees will look for their Queen BY SMELL. They'll smell her in the bucket and go down to investigate.

Collapse the pole, bring down more bees.

Dump into hive body. Put the lid back on top of the hive body, but upside down...which makes it easier to remove and put back on. We want this lid to stay on while we work the bucket. I want the bees to come back out of the hole, and begin to fan. They'll "pooch and fan", telling their sisters to "Come home! Come home! The food is here, and the Queen is here! Come home!" This is what you're looking for, so watch the bees closely.

Once most all of the bees are in the box, put the lid back on properly.

Give the hole a squirt of sugar water. Let them get oriented to the front of this box.

When you bring your bucket back down, with more bees in it, just set the bucket facing the front of the hive, or tap the bucket off upside down in front of the hive. They'll quickly figure out where their new home is located.

All of these bees got up and made their way into their new home. After about an hour, these bees where all settled down in their new home. We left the hive in this wagon over night, giving the Scout bees a chance to make it back into their new home also. Later that night, well after sundown, I came out and plugged the hole with Cotton. Early the next morning, I gently moved this wagon to where I wanted to place them on my property. Sadly, within a week, we had a bad cold snap, and temps got well below freezing and we lost all of these bees. I was heart broken, after having done all that work. We fed them properly, but to no avail. They don't always grab food that is close by. On the flip side, this was our first big catch with our Pole & Bucket system. We learned a lot, and felt much more confident about our abilities to catch HIGH SWARMS. If there are swarms that are over 22 feet up in a tree, we'll just let them go. By doing so, I populate the surrounding area with "wild bees", in hopes of a KICK BACK swarm in the next few years.

Get you a pole at Atwoods and a make you up a bucket or buy one from Brushy Mountain. You're sure to need one, if you're going to keep bees!! Otherwise, you'll be standing there just like I did for 2 years, wondering what to do.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Why use Solar Powered Ventilators?

What am I looking at here? These are Solar Powered Ventilators, that I put on all of my Honey Production hives. There are many good reasons for doing this, which I'll cover a little later. Just get the basic idea here. The hive on the right, has the Queen Excluder turned sideways, because I was having an issue with the bees NOT WANTING to go up and through the excluder to work on the top boxes. Sometimes, they'll baulk at going up and through the excluder. If so, you can turn the queen excluder sideways for a week or so, until the girls get the idea. The Queen will likely stay below the excluder, on her brood. After the worker bees get the idea, you can turn the excluder back to it's normal position. An important tip, if your bees won't go up and work high. Anyway...back to the Solar Powered Ventilators (SPV's). You can go to and learn more about this product. I can personally attest to the value and benefit, in helping produce more honey, keeping the bees healthier, and generally getting more production out of my bees, versus NOT having a SPV on a hive.

The total cost to me, including UPS shipping to my door, was $133 each. A bit concerned about the cost, I tried only 1 the first year. After about 2 months, I could easily see a huge difference in the condition of the bees. I then bought 4 more. Since then, we currently run 12 SPV's and will be buying more. They'll pay for themselves the first year, no doubt about it. The rest is pure profit. (and I don't get paid by the company for advertisement either! darn!) Certainly worth the purchase!!

As you go through and look at these pictures, notice how many boxes of Honey I have on these hives. Here are some of the reasons I use the SPV's. Bees bring in lots of "moisture". Get the moisture OUT, and the bees do MUCH, MUCH better. They're healthier, produce more honey and have less issues with Varroa Mites. The mites thrive on the moisture.

Another reason, the honey cures faster. The bees won't stay inside the hive and fan, fan, fan. I get more bees out in the field, working harder for me. I get "more work" done, with more bees. I'll help them "fan", ...while they go out and do more work in the field for me.

Notice that this little hive is set close next to the trees. Not really the best spot for such a set up. The bees do SO MUCH BETTER in full sunlight. Sun up, to sun down...put them in full sun. And yet, this group of girls gave up 4 full boxes of great honey. When the shade hits solar panel, it begins to shut down, and the bees begin to stop working. Shade tends to PROMPT the bees to shut down for the day. If the hive is in full sun, even past sun down, the bees keep working well past sun down. I get much more honey, from the bees working LONGER into the evening.

Notice we have cattle panels around our hives. I took these panels down, and just let the cows eat the grass down. The bees tend to keep the cows from working the hives over. One bee flying into the ear of a cow, will soon send the cow packing. ha! It became too frustrating dealing with the weeds....and I didn't want to weed eat around the hives. These colonies are in full sun, and well past sun down. They produced some great honey for us.

Notice the Moth Trap bottles hanging on the fence? They work! Use them! Learn how to mix up your own Moth Trap mix. Just remember to top off the bottle with water so that the sun doesn't evaporate all the liquid out of the bottle. If you don't, you'll have a sweet slurry in the bottom of the bottle, and the bees DO LOVE this sweet slurry! They'll all pile into the bottle, and die! It's happened to me! Makes a grown man cry! Keep the bottle half full, top it off with clean water when it gets low.

There are 5 boxes on this STRONG colony. The SPV's get the bees really moving. In the future, I won't let them get this high. Reason being, the Small Hive Beetle will want to "go high" and stay high. The beetle will want to get away from the Wintergreen disc that I've placed down low on top of the brood box. Keep the boxes knocked back to 2 or 3. Harvest some of the honey.

Again, the colony is set up next to this line of trees. I've since moved the hives away from this tree line. The fan, inside this SPV box, will run, well past sun down. Inside this box, on top of the hive, is a small "computer fan", with a 70 degree thermal couple. When the colony heats up down low, the fan is tripped on when the temps get over 70 degrees AT THE TOP of the colony. The solar panel at the top, runs the fan. The fan is strong enough to suck up FRESH AIR from the bottom of the colony, THROUGH the screened bottom board. All of our colonies have screened bottom boards on them.

Fresh air coming up from the bottom of the colony, is a HUGE key in keeping your bees healthy and the Queen loves the fresh air! She really takes off and lays great! She loves the fresh air! And besides, 2 shallow boxes of honey, nets me 5 gallons. Count how many shallow boxes I have on the hive to the left, in the picture above. About 12 gallons of honey sitting there!

Again, these colonies are set up too close to the trees, in a corner, and have been since moved.

About once per week, I'll get some paper towels and use Windex to wipe off dirt, pollen and bird poop from the face of these solar panels. Keeping them clean, helps them run more efficiently.

Initially, I was a bit nervous about Oklahoma Hail hitting these front panels and busting them up. After a few nasty thunderstorms, my concerns where put to rest. They're tough. They've stood up to some serious storms, with no issues. The hard plastic pedestals that these panels are mounted on, have never been busted by strong winds. I've never had any break off, nor have I had hail break the panel face.

Here is a short list of basic benefits to running SPV's on your colonies;

1) It helps remove more harmful moisture, quicker.

2) More bees leave the colony to forage, with less bees staying inside to fan.

3) With less moisture, there is much less of a Varroa issue. Mites thrive on moisture.

4) The bees never pile out on the front porch and hang, on hot summer days.

5) The fresh air encourages the Queen to lay much better brood patterns!!!

6) The honey cures out quicker and capping seems to be quicker.

7) In full sun, the colony will work well past sun down, gaining you more production.

8) I certainly get more honey from each colony that has the SPV on top!!!! 4 boxes min.

9) The bees pay for the SPV the first year, the coming years are pure profit.

10) Since the bees are healthier, they're easier to care for, less medications.

11) No need for a long power cord, these units are self sufficient.

12) Hail & high winds haven't done any damage at all. They're tough.

If there is a draw-back, it's "the ants". The ants like to go up and lay eggs near the fan, and wiring inside. There seems to be a mild electrical pulse that attracts the ants. This is quickly taken care of by rubbing fresh, wild mint, inside the box and brushing out the ants. No big deal, when you consider all the benefits listed above. The bees aren't harmed in anyway, from this fan sitting on top of their hive. There is a thin plastic screen that is attached to each side of the fan, which will keep the bees away from the moving blades of the fan.

I've also made 1" spacers, with hardware cloth (screen) stapled to the spacer, to keep the bees off the bottom of the slotted fan & box. They seem to like to Propalize a part of this screen. If they think it's too much air on them, they like to "cut back" on the air flow. ha! But this only shows up during early Sept, as they want to close up all cracks and holes in preparation for winter. I DO NOT leave these SPV's on past Oct 1. By that time, they've been pulled off and are in the honey hut for storage. Every other year, I have to remove the fans for a good cleaning. The blades of the fan collect up pollen, dust and gunk and need to be cleaned up with some paper towels and Windex. If there is any propilis in the slots of the fan screen, you can soak these plastic screens in a bit of rubbing alcohol and will soften the propilis for removal.

All in all, the SPV's are well worth the investment and certainly worth keeping your bees healthier. They've allowed me to create a very large amount of honey, per colony. Certainly more than a hive without the SPV. I'm very pleased with my "new toys". ha! A good investment for the bees. And a great investment when it comes time to harvest 5 boxes of honey, or more.....PER HIVE!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to make easy Queen Candy~!

At some point in your Beekeeping adventure, you'll need to learn how to make Queen candy, for the Queen cage. Here's a simple recipe that you can use. I'd suggest you get a 3-ring binder and start collecting "bee recipes", you'll be glad you did later down the road.

Here's the basic recipe; 3 tsp's powdered sugar, 3 tsp's pulverized table sugar, & 1 tsp honey.

The reason we take the time to pulverize the sugar, is "texture". You can put 1 cup of table sugar in a blender and pulverize the granules. It won't take much blending to create the texture we want. The sugar in the blender will get packed at the bottom as it turns powdery. Shake it lose, blend, shake lose, blend. Turn off blender. Feel the texture of the sugar. It should be half way between powdered sugar and normal table sugar. If you just use straight table sugar to make your Queen candy, it's too much texture. By taking the time to pulverize some table sugar, we now have enough textured sugar to make an excellent Queen candy. When mixed with powdered sugar, this gives us just the right consistency and texture that we're looking for in our candy. It's worth doing.

The plate shown below, has the 3 tsp's of powdered sugar and 3 tsp's pulverized sugar. Notice how the powdered sugar holds the form of the tsp., the pulverized sugar does not. This is what you're looking for.

Mix these sugars together with a fork, mix them well. Make a crater in the middle of this pile of sugar.
In this crater, pour the 1 tsp of honey.

Use your finger to get all the honey off the tsp. And lick finger completely clean! ha!
This mix is now ready to work. Although it looks as if this is not enough honey, for what you are to mix, DO NOT add more honey than 1 tsp. This is enough honey to get the consistency that we need to make good Queen candy.
Use the side of your fork to work the sugar OVER and ON TO the honey. Don't smash it just yet, otherwise you'll have a mess on your fork. Just use the side of your fork to CUT the sugar into the honey.
With your fork, pull the sugar from the side of the plate and work it into the honey.
Now the candy is taking shape. Keep scraping and working sugar into candy. You can even flip this candy over several times.
Now use your fork to apply some pressure to the candy in order to suck up more sugar. Press firmly and flip this candy, using your fork to manipulate the candy. It will seem as if you didn't put in enough's fine....just keep working in the lose sugars.
Now it should be firm enough for you to pick up with your fingers and begin to work, or knead, the candy with your fingers.
Fold the candy into itself, pressing with your fingers and working the lose sugar into the candy.
Press firmly, and keep folding and working the lose sugar. Don't give up just yet, and DO NOT add any more honey.
The candy has now changed colors and should look just like what you see in the picture above. But there is still more lose sugar to suck up on the plate.
Take a moment, and use a damp wash cloth to wash off your sticky fingers. Dry your fingers. This helps you handle the ball of candy without it sticking to your fingers any longer. Strange, but it works.
Now fold and press, fold and press.....and fold and press. Your objective now, is to get all the lose sugar OFF the plate and into the ball of candy.
You can see the tips of my fingers, how firmly you have to press. It may seem tiring to your hands, but this is the very best way to get some good Queen candy made up. The reason being, is so you can FEEL what your doing. We're using our fingers to feel what the candy is like, it's texture.
Take this lump of candy and roll it in your hands to form a ball.
Pretty uh? Looks nice! Let this ball of candy set in the middle of the plate for a little bit. If your hands are sticky, use the wash cloth, wipe them again and dry your hands. We want this ball of candy to be able to hold it's shape for the most part. We don't want the ball to go too limp. We want it to hold it's form. This tells us that we have some good Queen candy, and it won't soften too much in the cage and run all over the Queen inside.
Roll this ball of candy in your hands, into a ROLL.
Pinch off 5 equal size pieces of candy. This recipe will make 5 candy plugs, for the standard size wooden Queen cages.
The candy is done, set it to the side. Get your wooden queen cage and find the end that has the SLITS on the side of the wood. Usually, there is a small sliver of wood that needs to be CLEARED from this slit. Use your fork, and CLEAR OUT this slit. The slit in the side of the wood is there for a reason. In case the queen cage is placed in the hive in such a way as to close off the screened side of the cage, the Queen still has a way to breath. Sometimes, beekeepers place this cage in between frames the wrong way. The screen should be left UNCOVERED and facing the center of the brood nest. This is an important step. Make sure that these 2 slits are clear of any blockage!
After you've cleared the slits in the side of the cage, find the OPPOSITE end. This is the hole where the candy will be placed. If you look closely, these three holes are NOT all the same size. The hole that takes the candy, is a bit smaller than the other two holes. Set this small ball of candy in the SMALLER of the 3 holes. If you set the candy in the other end of the cage, you'll then cover the 2 slits....which you just cleared. The Queen needs to BREATH.
Using your fingers, work this candy into this hole. Pressing it hard enough to push some of the candy out the small hole on the end of the cage. With your fingers, work it smooth and even with the top of the cage and end hole.
Check to see that the candy has now protruded out this small hole, but DO NOT let the candy push out beyond the edge of this hole. Using the tip of your finger, push some of this candy BACK that the candy has not protruded from this small hole. The reason being; when this small amount of candy comes in contact with something, it makes a bit of a mess, sticking to whatever it touches.
If you feel that the ball of candy was a bit too big for the hole, and you can't get it all worked into the hole evenly, use your fingers and pinch off a small amount. Set this small amount of candy on the plate to be used with the other cages.
Work this candy smooth on the inside. Form it on the inside evenly. Just remember, the more candy you put in the hole, means that this is just that much more candy that the bees have to eat through in order to release the Queen. If this "candy hole" is evenly filled with candy, this is enough candy for the bees to eat through in a few days or more. No need to add more candy than what this hole will take.
Take a moment and look at your work! Nice! Time to place the screen on top.
Using a hand held staple gun, place 6 staples on the screen. This is the tricky part. There isn't much room for stapling this screen on the cage. I start with the candy end of the cage. All I need to do is catch the corners of the screen in order to keep the screen down. The issue is, I can't let a staple protrude down through the small holes on the end of the cage, where the Queen comes out, or goes in. If so, this could damage, or injure a Queen only to be superseded later on.
Do the best you can to place the staple on the side, just enough to catch part of the screen.
If the staple doesn't go down all the way, use the back side of your fork to PUSH the staple down. It will pop down, with a bit of force.
This is what it should look like from above. Notice the placement of the staples.
Look at the end, check the holes to make certain that the staples have not protruded down through these small holes on both ends. If so, remove the staple and do it again. You don't want to injure a Queen when she comes out, or goes in.
Check the candy end also. If there is a staple which has come down through this candy hole, take the time to remove the staple and do it again.

You're done! You've made a nice candy cage for a Queen and a few attendants. I'll do 5 cages at a time, over the weeks I'll make up more cages. I'll store my cages in an old plastic ice cream tub, 1 gallon size, and place a damp wash cloth over the top of the cages, placing the tub in the frig too keep moist. Later, when I'm ready to use them, I'll take them from the frig the day before and let the cages warm to room temperature.

Oh! If there are any small pieces of Queen candy left over....just give them to your kids! They'll love ya for it !! ha! Have fun and enjoy your new found skill.

See ya, Ken

ps. credit goes to Carl & Euvonne Harrison who gave me tips on how to make this candy! Thanks!