Continued Adventures of a Growing Apiary

This year has been a crazy year of growth and opportunity. While we push through building a profitable business in bees, Justin quit his full time job and is now a full-time beekeeper. It’s such a exciting and scary thing to take that leap of faith. While he continues to work crazy long hours, it’s great to see him doing it in the industry he enjoys so much.

All of the growth this year has really made me take a moment and reflect on how we’ve continued to build our business primarily by keeping an open mind and meeting the needs of our clientele and area. Our “pollination” bee business goals have taken on a pretty wide range of services and products from honey production to cosmetics all the way to agricultural valuation help and bee removals.

I remember listening to a talk from Clint Walker at last year’s Annual Convention about keeping your mind open and listening to the market as you grow your business and nothing could be closer to the truth for us. His example was his “pecan pie in a jar” which I stand by as one of the more brilliant offerings – something I admitted to him I would likely use to partner with a friendly pecan farm near me. This conversation was exactly the type of conversation I’ve been so thankful for over the past few years. As we meet new beekeepers and new community partners, we brainstorm together and continue to learn from each other. We’ve partnered with local coffee shops, chocolatiers, orchards and farms, restaurants, and so many more partners that have been supportive of our local honey and community outreach.

Some lessons we have learned this year for those of you on a similar journey:

  • Technology is our friend for keeping track of business expenses, mileage, and our calendar. We use apps and programs like QuickBooks, MileIQ, Google Suite, and Social Media to share our adventures with our friends and followers.
  • Storing honey in barrels is becoming more sensible than our trusty 5 gallon buckets and that’s pretty exciting.
  • Making strong local connections is a must – our fans have helped us continue to grow through their support of our products and their ability to recruit new fans!
  • Storing labels where you can easily see when you’re about to run out is a good idea… running out right before your next market or large order is a bad idea.
  • Invest back into your business – equipment that makes your job easier will pay back ten fold.
  • Keep learning and keep an open mind – business opportunities and new partnerships are literally everywhere!
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I’m looking forward to this years TBA Annual Convention knowing that if I take home even one gem of knowledge, new information, or connection I will have an even better year next year. Hope to see you all there!

How To Store Empty Supers

There are several ways to store your empty honey supers over winter. Why can’t you just leave them in your garage or shop for the winter? Well, wax moths are prolific at finding wax frames that are not in use. Within the hive, the bees keep the wax moths at bay, but unattended, a wax moth can destroy a frame of wax without much effort.

In Southern climates, winter is generally measured in weeks. If a hive is strong, you could, in theory, place the super(s) back on the hive. However, even a strong hive that can fend off beetles during these months of a dwindling bee population can be put in a tough position – so you may want to minimize the hive interior and store the supers in a freezer or large plastic bags where beetles can’t get to them.

So, what are your options as a beekeeper?

  1. Store in a freezer
  2. Use wax crystals (Para-Moth preventative moth crystals)
  3. Stack them like a checker board with plenty of light and space between each super and – hope for the best!

There are a few other options, but these are the ones we’ve tried that worked reasonably well.

What we actually do is:

  1. Harvest the excess honey
  2. Extract the honey
  3. Put the empty frames out for cleaning (can be put onto the hives themselves or left out in an empty pasture for the day)
  4. Store the supers one of the ways listed above

What’s your favorite way to store honey supers when they’re not in use?

Master Beekeeping Program

If you are a beekeeper who is interested in continuing to learn and perhaps even push yourself outside of your comfort zone in beekeeping. I would highly recommend going through the Texas Master Beekeeping Program.

For us, it was a way to hold ourselves accountable to continuing to learn more about honey bees in an academic fashion. We feel that understanding bees in this capacity has led us to think outside the box in our apiary, pay more attention to pests and diseases, and to reflect on what is happening on our colonies even more closely.

We are finishing up our year as Advanced Level candidates and will be testing for the Master level this fall.

You can find more information here, even if you just want to take advantage of the tremendous resources – this is a great way to continue to grow as a beekeeper.

Texas Master Beekeeping Program Requirements

Good luck!

Tips for Moving Bees

We were recently asked for a few tips on relocating bees in their hives to a new locations. You may need to move them to a new yard, relocate them to a different property, load bees up for pollination, or removing them from a property.

Here are some “best practices” for moving bees:

  • Try to load and move the bees at night
  • Avoid bright lights (you can use red lights but flashlights will attract bees)
  • Secure the hive, especially if it’s multiple boxes (you can use ratchet straps if needed)
  • You can also use hardware cloth across the entrance to keep the bees from escaping but allow air flow
  • On warm /  hot days – keep moving. The airflow keeps the bees from overheating since they are trapped inside.
  • Move the bees quickly – don’t make unnecessary stops and get them where they’re going ASAP

When we move bees for pollination, we do not secure each entrance, but if they’re traveling further distances, we use a bee net to keep the bees on the truck. For long trips, bees require water breaks and you have to make sure to stop in shady areas.

Super Superorganisms

Honey bees are fascinating superorganisms. What does that mean exactly?!

In 1911, William Morton Wheeler, an American entomologist first described honey bees as “superoranisms” because the parts (worker bees, drones, and queen bees, etc.) work together and require each other for survival. This idea extends beyond the bees themselves and into the honeycomb and throughout the hive. The entire hive acts as an organism – needing each part to survive.

When eggs are laid – female worker bees and the queen bee are equal. It is what they are fed that determines if they are going to grow into a worker or a queen. This is decided based on what is needed.As worker bees grow up, they grow into different jobs – starting with caring for the young bees and cleaning the hive and then graduating to guarding the hive and foraging for food. Each of these changes comes with behavioral changes and physiological changes as well. (So fascinating – I could write a whole article about that.) What this means is that as these worker bees move through their roles, their body changes to make them more adept at fulfilling those roles.

The queen bee lays all the eggs for the colony. She can choose to lay a female or male egg but this is often decided for her by the cells that are provided to her – she is led around the hive and told where to lay by her worker bee caregivers. The larger cells are for drones, the smaller ones for worker bees. She does this job well – laying 1500-2000 eggs during the warmer months.

The drones are made perfectly for their job. They have large eyes to spot the queen in flight, large wings to catch up to her in the air. Their sole job is to mate with a queen from another hive to further the genetics of their hive. During the Spring and Summer, you can find drones in some abundance (up to 20% of the hive), however, come Winter – they’ll be kicked out to slim the colony down for survival. They do not perform an integral part in maintaining or working around the hive, so they have nothing to contribute outside of mating season. The queen will lay more drone eggs as the days get longer and the air gets warmer in the Spring.

The hive acts as the central system for the colony – it holds the food, it holds the brood, and it allows a safe place for the colony to return at night. The pollen stored in the cells provides protein, the nectar provides carbohydrates, and the brood area allows the queen to continue to lay the next generation of bees. The hive also hosts propolis collected from trees that acts as an antimicrobial, antibiotic for the hive.

Honey bees work together for survival. The hive survives because everybody does their part. This teamwork is an amazing thing.