On a warm night

Last night I decided to go out and take some flash photos of some of our small beehives. Believe it or not, there is plenty of room inside the hive for expansion. I think the bees on the outside are the “field force” and just passing around nectar to concentrate the sugars and invert the sugar. First light in the morning, they take off for foraging and the bees outside the hive are minimal. Right now is the middle of summer heat and dearth here and many bees are gathering water to help cool the hives using evaporative cooling. We got about 3 gallons of good honey from a cutout in Bryan, Texas, this past Saturday and are processing that honey and comb now. When the weather cools off in another month or so, flowers will start blooming again and there should be another nectar flow. That will help them get enough stores to make it through the winter.

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Making Beeswax Foundation

Gerrit and I made beeswax foundation today. Our foundation mill was made by Myron Kropf, an Amish fellow who lives in Arkansas. He specializes in producing and selling nucleus colonies of small cell honey bees.

To make foundation, we melt beeswax in a turkey roaster, then dip a board that has been soaked in water in the melted wax until it gets a wax coating. We peel that off and stack them between sheets of newspaper. We save them until we get enough to make it worthwhile to run them through the 4.9 small cell foundation mill.

The cylinders are wrapped in plastic sheets from plastic bags and this time we used soapy water to help them not stick. We rinsed the foundation sheets in clean water after running them through the mill. It’s quite a bit of work and we never look forward to doing this task, but it helps us be self-sufficient so we don’t have to buy as much commercial foundation. We also use our own recycled wax from our own beehives, so the wax is less likely to be contaminated with pesticides since we do not use any pesticides or other chemicals in our hives.

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Grafting to Make Queen Bees

Earlier today we went out to our bee yard in Wellborn and made up our “Starter Colony” to start another batch of queen cells. We shook bees off from about 6 or so frames into the starter hive and then brought it back home. Before shaking the bees in, we prepared the hive with a frame of pollen, a frame of honey, the frame with the queen cups between them and a drawn comb to the outside of the first three for the bees to cluster on–five frames in all. We put the frame with the queen cells on it before grafting to give the bees a chance to start polishing them and working on them and therefore when we graft they might be more likely to make queen cells out of them.

This evening we went back and found a frame with eggs and newly hatched larvae on it from which to graft young larvae into the queen cups with their royal jelly. We picked the frame from a bee hive that has healthy, gentle bees that I really like. Gerrit did all the grafting using his “Chinese grafting tool,” a headlamp, and another homemade tool to take down the cell wall to make it easier to lift out the larvae using the grafting too.

The starter hive has extra space in the bottom and screens for ventilation as well as a plastic dish with moist sponges for water since there is no way for the bees to leave or come into the hive after it is closed up.

We’ll leave the frame with the grafts in there for a day or a day and a half, then transfer it to the “Finisher Colony” which is a queenright colony with the queen below an excluder and the queen cells up above between two frames of open brood. They will finish feeding the larvae and seal the cells.

The first grafting we tried a month ago went pretty well. I hope this one goes well too.

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Another Busy Day

I thought that today would be an ordinary day like any other as I began to paint bee equipment.

Then I got a phone call from Gerrit. He had gone to our out apiary to check on the bee hives there and take some notes. He found a hive that was just in the process of beginning to swarm and had many swarm queen cells with virgin queens emerging from the cells right as he was watching them. He phoned me and asked me to bring out some equipment so we could make up nucleus hives from all these new queens, and save as many of them as possible. I did so, and we broke the swarming hive down into two frame mating nucleus hives (since they were virgin queens), as well as borrowing some frames of brood from other hives and putting queen cells into them. In all, we made up 18 new nucleus hives from the queens that had already emerged along with the queen cells from which the queens had not yet emerged. If all these are successful, as well as the hives we already made up previously from the queens we grafted, then we now have 57 bee colonies. They are not yet production bee hives, but most are small and mid sized nucleus hives that are just building up.

It therefore turned out to be a rather busy, hectic day. I returned home and picked up more equipment and went out a second time and we worked until dark to try and use all the queen bees and queen cells that we found. We brought the new nucleus boxes home and found places to put them in our yard. As Gerrit and I work together, we discuss what we see and what each of us think is the best thing to do in each case. We learn from each other. Some times we make decisions and try new things that we have not done before, but do it based on past experience and also from what we have learned through reading and watching and listening to what others have done in similar circumstances. It is interesting and challenging.

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Odds and Ends

I painted the telescoping covers today that Gerrit made. The virgin queens in our homemade incubator emerged today, so that means all the queens in the mating nucs should have also emerged by now, probably yesterday. In another week or so they should take their mating flights and a week or two after that they should start laying eggs. We quickly made some queen cages and queen candy and put the queens in them with some attendant worker bees.

The bees in the mating nucs have pretty much settled down now and are foraging in the neighborhood. Yaupon is blooming as well as holly and many wildflowers so the Spring nectar flow is on.

Our “experiments”/plans are progressing well and we are happy about how things are going. I call them “experiments” because this is the first time we have done these things ourselves. We have studied and read and watched videos on how to raise queens, but this is the first time we have done it successfully ourselves. It is an interesting learning experience as well as giving us a great sense of accomplishment.

If we can count these mating nucs as new hives, now we have 39 hives, up from 23 a week ago. They may not all be successful, but it is possible that they all could be.

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Mating Nucs

On Friday Gerrit and I made up two-frame mating nucleus hives. We went through our hives, especially the meanest ones, and removed frames of brood and frames of food (where we had them) and were able to make up 16 two-frame nucleus hives. We made some 2 frame nucs by putting 3 dividers into a deep box so it has 4 divisions, each accommodating two full frames. After leaving them queenless for 24 hours, yesterday we put a ripe queen cell into each of the 16 nucs. Today the bees are settling down and orienting and starting to forage.

I took a walk and saw that the yaupon is blooming now and bees are visiting it. I also saw bees on the blooming Burford holly bushes and the blooming wisteria vines in the neighborhood. I enjoy seeing what the bees are foraging on.

We moved all of the larger hives out of our back yard into our out apiary and put them on pallets. We started moving them Friday night (8 of them) and then moved another 8 out there yesterday, so now we have nothing but mating nucs in our back yard. It was getting so that we could not walk into the back yard without being chased by guard bees, so we knew we needed to move them. Our Chinese neighbor also wanted to make sure he would be able to use his riding lawnmower to mow his lawn without getting stung, so we assured him he would be able to do that this coming week. He could have done it yesterday afternoon if he wanted to. We should now be able to walk out into our own back yard without protection now or fear of getting stung. Things are settling down. Stragglers that did not get moved out to the out apiary are gradually joining the nucleus hives and giving them a boost to their populations.

We had 20 queen cells and used 16 in the mating nucs. We put the other 4 into a homemade incubator to keep them warm and see how long it takes for them to hatch. These are all new things for us to do, but it is a great thing to have all that work done that needed to be done in a timely fashion. Gerrit and I each got several stings in the past couple of days but we are fine.

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New name for the blog

(Dallas, TX) Given that my youngest brother Gerrit has partnered with my father in their beekeeping enterprise over the past year, it’s high-time to update the name of the website. From “Westover and Son, Apiaries” to “Westover and Sons, Apiaries.”

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Newest Developments

(College Station, TX) Our latest endeavor is to try raising some queens for the first time. So far it looks pretty good. The picture is of my youngest son, Gerrit, holding the queen rearing frame that he built. He also did the grafting of young larvae into the queen cups. We made the queen cups ourselves from dipping a dowel into hot wax several times.
The queen cells that were accepted by the bees have been fed and drawn out, and all except for one were already capped. They only remain in the open larval stage for 5 days. The nurse bees fill the cell up with royal jelly so the larva will have plenty to eat and finish its development inside the cell after it is capped. It then pupates and emerges. It takes all of about 15 days for total development. They are in the egg stage for 3 days, and on day 4 when they are about a day old, the larvae are grafted into the queen cells with the royal jelly that accompanies them at the time. We then put them into a queenless starter hive that had nothing but nurse bees shaken into it with empty comb for the bees to cluster on. After one day, they are then moved to a finisher hive that is queenright with the queen below a queen excluder to finish them off.
Today is day 11, so we need to either cage or remove them by day 15, 4 more days. We can then put them into small queenless nucleus hives so they can fly out and mate and we can start some new bee hives with the new queens.

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First Honey Harvest This Year

My youngest son, Gerrit, and I went to Sugarland (part of greater Houston, Texas) on Saturday and did a bee removal from the wall of a garage. It was quite extensive. We cut out brood comb and honey and pollen and mounted them in empty frames with rubber bands. We used a bee vacuum to capture the bees and put them in buckets with screened lids.

According to the owners, the hive had been there since 2008, so it was very large. We got close to 4 gallons of honey from the wall. After returning home, we used my homemade honey extractor to press the

honey from the comb through a screen into a clean food grade plastic bucket. The honey is very high quality and tastes great. The honey press is made with a car jack. A mesh bag is hung between two plates which are pressed together using the jack, and a large glass casserole dish is placed underneath to catch the honey as it drips down. It is then poured through the screen to filter out wax and extraneous material. The screen has graduated mesh and the honey drips through.

I installed a honey gate at the bottom of the bucket so as the honey sits and clarifies it can be bottled from the bottom using the honey gate to dispense it into bottles. If needed, later the honey can be fed back to the bees to help them.

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This son may be hitting the “pause” button

(Richardson, TX) Several things have conspired together to lead me to my current state of mind: to stop keeping bees. Due to my bees drinkings habits (like humans that way, you know?) I can’t keep hives at my house. That’s made things much less convenient for me. Then I had the disastrous hive failures that had never occurred before (I blame the West Nile virus-inspired aerial mosquito spraying). And finally, I’m more motivated to see my father and younger brother succeed in their bee enterprise in College Station, TX. That’s why I’ve given them all my captured swarms. So I am contemplating giving them my very last hive that is sitting at my friend Paul’s house in East Dallas. It’s a strong hive (5 medium supers tall). We pulled 2 medium supers last weekend, extracted 17 medium frames of light amber honey. It could be the last honey I extract from my own bees for some time.

I can report that my father and brother now have ~24 hives. They will harvest very little honey this year. The intention is to strengthen these hives in preparation for expanding to an even greater number of hives next year. The goal is to reach sideliner status with dreams of commercial status. Using natural organic beekeeping methods. No chemicals/pesticides. No plastic frames. No artificial feeds. The path from where they are at to where they want to be is daunting. Costs and logistics. And the risk of catastrophic losses looming every year. But the gamble is that the natural way of keeping bees will lead to less losses.

I can’t imagine that I will stay out of beekeeping forever. I mean, my wife would kill me for buying that Maxant motor-powered extractor if I never used it again. I do plan on expanding my efforts to bait swarms next year to help my family beekeeping operation.

Here’s a video I took today showing neighborhood bees “robbing” my wet supers in my bait hive. Plus a cameo from a (not so) friendly chameleon.

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