Beekeeping Wednesday : Swarming

by Jacob Cole

If you didn’t know, spring is one of the honey bee’s busiest times of the year. Speaking of spring, many of you know that it is time for the bees to start swarming. Swarming is a natural function of the honey bee, and is the subject of my article today.  Swarming has many benefits for the bees, but also can benefit the beekeeper, and I will cover that in my article. Bees swarm for a couple of reasons and I hope to inform you as to why.

Honey bees swarm mainly for reproductive reasons. In case you didn’t know honey bees are classified as a super-organism, which Google defines  “the term superorganism is used most often to describe a social unit of eusocial animals, where division of labour is highly specialized and where individuals are not able to survive by themselves for extended periods..”  Ants and termites are another example of super organisms. Similar to a cell, super organisms reproduce by splitting in two. In a beehive, this looks like the old queen leaving with half of the workers, looking for another cavity to nest in. Some bees have a strong split nature making them more likely to swarm in spring.  This year, my family put an empty hive body in our apiary, just in case a swarm might nest there.  This is a good way to catch your own swarm or another one in the area.

There are a few signs that can indicate that your hives might be preparing to swarm. One of the easiest ways to prevent swarming is to make sure that the hive has plenty of room for the queen to lay eggs and raise brood. Generally bees will swarm when they run out of room in their home. This is especially important right now in the honey flow; when the bees can fill up their supers almost as fast as we put them on. One early sign of swarming can be queen cells. The hive will split just before the young queens’ hatch, with many of the workers following the old queen to a new home.  Some things you can do to keep the bees there, is to put a queen excluder underneath all of your boxes. This will keep your queen in your hive. You could also just kill the queen cell.  Another method would be to split your hives, especially if there are queen cells on the frames.  You should talk to an experienced beekeeper before you split, if you have never done it.

Swarms can be great for a beekeeper, especially if they are from someone else’s hives. One of my favorite things to do as a beekeeper is to catch swarms and hives with my dad. We have removed hives in roofs, wall, trees, and water meter boxes and we have also grabbed swarms from fences, tree branches, and bushes. Swarms are very easy to handle, but an established hive can be a little trickier. I have learned a ton from catching bees, and one of these lessons is that it is better to supplement your hives with swarms that were free as opposed to buying hives.

I would also like to point out that bees are most docile when they are swarming. My father has caught a swarm, our first year of beekeeping, with a broom and a box, so it is very easy. Also there is nothing bad about buying bees, but anything free is great. I hope that you are able to glean a little information from this article. Just remember that queen cells, can indicate that your hive is preparing to swarm, and it would be best to split them yourself.

African Blue Basil


If I had to pick one plant that is my favorite this year it would be this one.  The picture above is after I cut about 1/3 of it off (it was covering nearby plants).  This plant is amazing!!

African blue basil is one of a few types of basil that are perennial. It is a sterile hybrid of two breeds of basil, unable to produce seeds of its own, and is propagated by cuttings.

Scientific name: Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum ‘Dark Opal’

Rank: Hybrid

The bees love it.  And not just honey bees.  There are so many bees (bumble bees, honey bees, carpenter bees, etc) that I cannot even count them when I walk by.  This plant is just gorgeous, huge and even smells good.

This basil will not come back from seed, so I plan to clip several pieces before winter and root it inside for my spring garden next year.  This plant roots like crazy!!  It takes abut 5 days in a cup of water and it will throw some serious roots out!!

IMG_4202In fact, there are so many bees on this plant it buzzes.  This particular section is right by my herb garden which is on the way into my house.  I walk by it every day, sometimes several times a day and it always makes me smile!!

No matter what this small bushy herb is always in bloom with tons of flowers, so once the bees start coming they will be back every day to get pollen and nectar from the new blooms of the day!

I guarantee that this plant will always have a place in my yard, in fact, next year I will have some in my herb garden but even more in the butterfly garden in the front – because I know it is so loved by the pollinators as well as me!!  Hope you find some to add to your garden, or if you are near me come by & snip a piece to root for yourself!!


Beekeeping Wednesday : Beeswax

by Peter Cole

Do you know what the honey bee’s most precious resource is? It is Beeswax!

If you have studied or seen the anatomy of a Honey bee you should have noticed that bees have six glands on the bottom of their abdomen. These glands secrete a substance called bees wax. Bees need to eat 7 to 9 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax which can store 22 pounds of honey in 35,000 wax cells. In optimal conditions it takes three days for 10,000 bees to make one pound of wax.

Honey bees have many uses for beeswax. The most common ways bees use wax is for storage; bees need a place to store honey and pollen, they store it in beeswax. They also use wax for reproduction, the queen lays her eggs in cells of wax and the bees go through their larvae and pupae stage in that cell. Bees have a certain width of space between almost everything known as bee space, this amount of space allows only a couple bees to fit in that area. If there is a space smaller than bee space the bees fill it with propolis, while if the space is bigger than bee space the bees will fill it beeswax till it is the right size.

Wax is not only valued by the bees, it is also valued by humans, but we can’t make it, so we take it from the bees. There are many different ways for beekeepers to harvest beeswax. The most common is while extracting honey, the bees make honey by dehydrating nectar. To prevent rehydration once it is dry enough, the bees will cap it with wax. To extract from a Langstroth hive we cut the capping off the cells, scrape them open, or melt the very top. Most people dispose of the wax but some people save the wax for other things. Extracting from a top-bar hive is different since the frames won’t withstand an extractor the wax has to be crushed and since crushed wax can’t be put back into a hive a lot of people will recycle the wax.

Humans have many uses for beeswax, one of the many uses for wax is selling it as honey in the comb. Special frames are designed to allow the beekeeper to remove a round of honeycomb with the honey once it is capped, this method leaves the honey in the comb, which many high end restaurants or grocery stores will sell to customers.

Another use for beeswax is candles. Beeswax is flammable which makes it one of the preferred candle ingredients. When beeswax burns it releases negative ions. Most dirt, dust, and pollen carry a positive charge which is how they float. The negative ions released from burning beeswax negate the positive charge of air contaminants, and the neutralized ions go back into the burning candle or fall to the ground.

Beeswax is also used to coat cheese, blocking the air to prevent spoilage. Beeswax is used in many cosmetics, lip balm, salves, and hand creams. Beeswax is also an important ingredient in hair pomades, and mustache wax.

Beeswax is super important to bees, but not only bees. We have harvested and found many uses for beeswax. The most important resource for bees is their wax because it is so hard to make it, and because they have have so many uses for it. I hope this article helped you, I learned a lot while writing this article about beeswax.

Beekeeping Wednesday : Products from the Hive

by Peter Cole

Since the Honey flow is in full swing, these last few weeks & months,  I decided to dive into the details of Honey.  How the bees make Honey, different ways beekeepers get Honey, and some medical benefits of Honey, are all things we as beekeepers should know a little bit more about. Many beekeepers know a lot about these topics, while some beginning beekeepers might know nothing at all.

Most people know that Honey Bees make Honey using Nectar, but they don’t know the specifics of how they do this. Honey Bees have many different jobs, one of them is as a foraging bee. A forager bee’s main job is to collect pollen and nectar, some of which the bee eats immediately to sustain itself, but the majority is taken back to the hive for storage. While the bees are foraging, they store the nectar that they collect in a special organ called the honey stomach, which is used for storing Honey, and Nectar.

When the forager bee gets to the hive she hands her load of nectar to a receiving bee who puts it in her Honey Stomach.  While it is in the Bee’s Honey Stomach the Nectar mixes with different enzymes, and after about twenty minutes of mixing with enzymes, it becomes a transformation process into honey and is then ready for storage and dehydration. When the bees put the Honey in the cells it is about 20% water. The next step is when the bees will come to the uncapped cells, and fan their wings. The fanning allows air to circulate through the hive, and dehydrates the honey.  Once the Honey is about 18% water the bees cap it with beeswax for long-term storage. The Beeswax cap prevents the Honey from rehydrating, or fermenting.

Langstroth hives, and Top-bar hives are the two primary styles of beekeeping. Each style has its own way of extracting the Honey. The Langstroth style of beekeeping is the most common way.  The bees build their wax in frames of wood and then store honey in the wax. The frames of wood make it easier for the beekeeper to extract, by cutting off the capping and putting the frame in an Extractor. The Extractor spins the frames and uses centrifugal force to draw the Honey out. Once the Honey is out, the beekeeper can then put the empty frames back in the hive they came from.  This process preserves the majority of the wax on the frames, which is the most valuable resource in the hive.

The Top-bar style of beekeeping is more natural, the beekeeper allows the bees to make their own comb, without the frame, just a top bar they use to build on. This makes extracting harder for the beekeepers. Since there is no frame to strengthen the comb an Extractor can’t be used. Instead, beekeepers cut the comb from the bar, and put the wax in a bucket with holes on the bottom. Then the beekeepers have to crush the comb to pop the capping, and let the honey drain out of the bucket into a bucket underneath. This method is not only hard and long, but it ruins the comb making it unable to go back into the hive, and makes the bees restart.

The use of honey as a treatment for wounds, burns, and other infections, has been recorded in historical Egyptian documents dating to before 2000 BC. A book published in 2002 determined that honey’s anti-microbial effectiveness comes from four properties found in different honey varietals, but these properties are not found in every varietal of honey to the same degree, here are the three most common.  The first thing is honey has hydrophilic properties which draw water into it. When honey is in contact with other tissues, the honey draws the water out of the cells and kills them. Next, honey has a very acidic pH. The average pH level across all varietals of honey is lower then 4.0.  The low pH inhibits the growth of many bacteria.  Third, under certain conditions honey can generate Hydrogen Peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide has been used as a disinfectant for decades, but since it is unstable in the presence of light and air, it is hard to store and utilize, also in large concentrations is toxic to humans. Honey solves this allowing for an easy way to apply hydrogen peroxide in non-toxic amounts. One enzyme that the bees allow to mix with honey is glucose oxidase. This enzyme breaks down the glucose in the honey into hydrogen peroxide, and gluconic acid. However, this enzyme only becomes active in a pH level of 5.5 and a sodium content of 2,300 ppm. The sodium content of pure honey is only about 20 to 40 ppm. When honey is applied to a wound, burn, or infected area the honey draws out the moisture killing the infected cells. As the liquid from the cells dilutes the honey it raises the pH and sodium content activating the glucose oxidase, which breaks down the glucose into small amounts of hydrogen peroxide which are delivered right to the infected area. Not all honey has the ability to make hydrogen peroxide, some honeys have an enzyme called Catalase. This enzyme nullifies the effect of glucose oxidase.

Honey is an interesting liquid. not only is it an amazing tasting sweeter, but it also has many healing benefits as well. I learned a lot while researching this article, and I hope you did as well. I wish you much luck during your extracting honey in your own hives!!

Beekeeping Wednesday : Top Bar Hive

by Jacob Cole

Top bar hives are a subject that has interested me for a while. Many beekeepers I know have tried it, but I still didn’t know much about this method of beekeeping, plus since I am going to Africa, where they do have mainly top bar hives, I decided to learn about it. So I did a little research, and decided to write an article about it.

Beekeeping is a very popular hobby, as I’m sure we all can agree on. But it is also fairly expensive, generally costing $400 to get started with the Langstroth method. Top bar hives are generally inexpensive, and easy to build. This provides all of the benefits of beekeeping like pollination and honey, at a very economical price. it is also all natural, as you let the bees build their own comb. This is a big plus for people concerned with the possibility of chemicals in the plastic or wax foundation that is generally used in Langstroth Hives.

Generally a Top Bar Hive consists of a simple wooden box, usually three feet long, with wooden slats (bars) over the top. These bars are where the bees will build their wax. some models have a roof, but there are others that use the slats as a roof. one of the biggest draws of this method is the openness of design. The box can be as ornamental and fancy, or plain as you want, though my favorite was one where there was a door along the side, turning it into an observation hive.

Keeping a top bar hive is a way for beekeepers to keep the bees as naturally as possible.  One way that this helps is with the frames. Bees naturally build comb in deep, catenary curves (the shape made by a chain or rope suspended by its ends). But the use of preformed foundation inside rectangular frames causes the bees to build frames out in what seems to them an un-natural form.  Bees prefer to modify the size of the cells for their needs, and this is difficult in Langstroth hives since the foundation usually has preformed cell shape. Honey bees often expand faster in a top bar hive than in a Langstroth hive.

But as with everything, there are also disadvantages to keeping top bar hives. One of the biggest disadvantages of having top bar hives is the lack of reusable, versatile equipment. With Langstroth hives, the hives expandable and the equipment is reusable. This means that it is easier to prevent swarming, and the frames last more that one season usually. In a top bar hive the wax must be crushed to extract the honey. This not only is more work since it requires extra crushing, filtering and stirring, but it wastes resources.

While I am intrigued by this style of beekeeping, I don’t think I will convert to top bar hives any time soon. It is a totally different style of beekeeping than what I am accustomed to, and while it has several advantages, the disadvantages are very strong in my opinion. I will be interested in seeing these hives in Africa, and maybe working a few as well. I hope you have learned  something about this interesting aspect of beekeeping.