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Sometimes we talk about releasing a queen into a new hive. What we really mean is enabling the bees to release a queen that is in a queen cage. Here are the steps:

First, we put the queen cage (with a queen) inside a hive that needs a queen. For two days we seal the cage so that the bees cannot release her. We want the bees to gradually get used to her scent so that by the time she’s released they will accept her as their queen. If they do not accept her they will kill her upon her release.  After being sealed two days in her cage, we remove the queen from the hive.  It is usually covered with bees, but it’s hard to tell at this point if they are trying to feed her or trying to kill her. You can see that one end of the cage is filled with a white candy. We brush off some of the bees clinging to the cage to make sure the queen is still good to go.

Next we unseal the cage by removing the cork (or sometimes a piece of duct tape) that is at the candy end of the cage.

Removing the cork will allow the bees to eat through the candy and release the queen.  If the bees are not acting aggressively toward the queen, I will hasten the process by poking a small hole with a wire through the center of the candy, being careful not to nick the queen.

Then, I put the queen cage back into the hive, between two frames of brood. That is where the young “nurse bees” are usually hanging out (to care for the baby bees that emerge from the brood), and they will be friendlier to the emerging queen than the older field bees. I don’t have to worry about getting stung. By handling the queen cage my hand becomes covered with the queen’s scent making it practically invulnerable to bee stings. I usually give the bees some feed (sugar syrup) because they are more prone to accept the queen if they sense that there is a honey flow in progress.

Then I wait 5-7 days. It’s a long wait, but opening the hive too soon could doom the queen. I am thrilled when this is what I find at the end of my wait – a big, healthy queen already laying eggs and moving about the frames like she already owns the place. This is one our five Koehnen that we installed recently. Four of the five were accepted by their respective hive, and the fifth is still in the waiting period at the Coyote bee yard so we will check on her early next week. Cant wait!

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New Hive

With our spare queen we divided a hive from The Farm and placed it at our relatively new Coyote Yard. The queen is still safely inside her cage and I will release her tomorrow (Thursday). Several days will pass before she is released, hopefully enough time for the bees to accept her as one of their own. With temperatures over 100 this week, I thought a spot with a little more shade was in order. By the time I left the yard, the bees from this small hive were already busy with their first flights to orient themselves to their new surroundings. I will bring in several more hives when I divide in July, bringing the total number of hives at the Coyote Yard to at least 10. This has been a good yard, and will be even better when it gets some rain.

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I lost the queen from this hive back in April when I was trying to put her in an observation hive. She simply flew away and never came back. The hive languished for weeks and the bees were unable to make a new queen. When I checked on it last week I expected to find a small cluster of bees huddled against an onslaught of hive beetles and wax moths. Instead I found a healthy, growing hive with a great new queen. She is in the upper right corner of the photo. The white brood in the center of the frame, and several other frames of brood, speak to her fertility. I’m usually wary of locally produced queens because of the aggressiveness of their offspring, but these bees were as calm and gentle as could be. I am really at a loss to explain how the bees made a new queen after being queen-less and brood-less for so long.  After losing some hives this year, it felt great to see one saved. It reminded me of one of my first lessons in beekeeping: the bees can usually fix their problems better than I can.

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Evicted

A key step in harvesting honey is evicting the bees from the honey supers because you don’t want to carry them back to the honey house. If you do, they will never find their way home, and they will sting you. When I had a few hives I could simply brush the bees off of each frame using a special brush. Now I use a chemical that produces an odor that the bees strongly dislike. It doesn’t hurt them or make them angry, but it does force them outside the hive, leaving the honey supers free and clear for me to rob. This is how the hives look when the bees are outside rather than inside. I’m guessing that’s around 60,000 bees, about average for this time of year. They will gradually move back in as the odor dissipates.

We are about done with round one of the honey harvest. What we lack in quantity (because of the drought) we have made up for in quality. This year the bees produced a light, very sweet mesquite honey. It is lighter in color than any honey that we produced last year. We couldn’t be happier. If our recent rains perk up the wildflowers and the bee brush, the bees might produce some wildflower honey later this month. Might…

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Honey, Honey

I like the lime-green color of the mesquite leaves when they are new. I like the tan mesquite blossoms even more and there promises to be a ton of them this year. The bees are already working the early blossoms and just starting to make mesquite honey. Couldn’t help but taste it as I worked the hives this afternoon. Nothing quite like warm honey scooped right out of the hive!

The bees are still trying to build up and I am combining some weak hives. We’ve just had the driest March on record (0.01 inches of rain) and that has hindered the bees. They need to be as strong as possible to take advantage of the mesquite blooms that are just around the corner. I’m heading to the Gonzales bee yards tomorrow – hope to find some strong hives that are ready for honey supers.

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Making Honey

Pizza Yard - Spring 2011

Y’all drop by and see us at the Seguin Trade Days on the square in Seguin tomorrow from 9 to 4. Our booth will be near the new gazebo in Central Park. We’d love to see you if you can make it!

Meanwhile, back at the Ranch, the yaupon holly is blooming in Gonzales County and the bees at our beautiful Pizza Yard are starting to make some honey. The bees have struggled to build up this year, probably because it has been so dry, but they are starting to come around. I expect the main honey flow to come from the Mesquite trees, which usually produce very well in dry years. We checked a few of the mesquite trees today and sure enough they are loaded with blossoms that will start to open up in two or three weeks. We are working hard to get the bees in every yard strong enough to produce a good crop of mesquite honey this year. Here is a look at the still maturing mesquite blossoms. Appropriately enough, they will turn a golden honey color when they finally open.

Mesquite blooms 2011

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Bees on prickly pear cactus

I took this picture in 2006 when I was still working in San Antonio at the library. We had just started planning for a blogging class for our customers and my team and I went on a photography jaunt down to the Alamo downtown. It was a really nice day I recall for a trolley ride. We always had a lot of fun together and I still miss my team/dear friends a great deal. This evening I was trying to find a certain picture to post but couldn’t. BUT…in the process, I did get to look at some photographs I’ve not enjoyed in a while. This is one of them. At the time I snapped this, Mark didn’t even have a hive anymore because he’d gotten busy with work. And I wasn’t allergic to bees yet. Nor was I aware how five years later, we’d be knee deep in honey. I also shot this with a tiny little Kodak point-and-shoot and I couldn’t have been happier with the way it all turned out – the picture, the bee business, the friends I’ll keep for life and the beekeeper who finally got to do what his heart had been wanting to return to for so long.

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We recently joined the Seguin Chamber of Commerce and our first show of the year will be their Business Showcase this Tuesday and Wednesday. The event is from 6 to 9 on Tuesday evening and features free refreshments. Wednesday hours are 3 to 8 PM.  Best of all, we have some free tickets that we are giving away: 4 tickets for Tuesday and 8 for Wednesday. Here’s how to win – email us (mark@gretchenbeeranch.com) with the name of one of the companies that we bought queens from this past year. The first 6 people with a correct answer will receive a pair of free tickets. We’re excited to kick off our year of trade shows with this event. We will also return to the Guadalupe County Fair, the Gonzales Come and Take It Festival and various Trade Days around the area this year. We look forward to seeing you!

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When I came to the Capote yard this afternoon I found this hive knocked off its stand and turned upside down. You can see the screened bottom board still leaning against the stand. My theory is that a cow tried to pass between the hives and was just a little too wide. The bees in this yard are the gentlest that I have but trust me these girls were not happy. The fire ants had not invaded, so I don’t think the hive had been like this for more than a few hours. I righted the hive and let them settle down for a few minutes. Later I checked inside and found the brood still intact, and more importantly found the queen doing her thing like it was a normal day. Did I mention I like those Zia queens?

When I finished feeding the hives I strapped them to their stands. Next step is to build a fence around them if this solution doesn’t work.

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Who You Gonna Call?

I don’t usually have time to do bee removals but the good folks that live in this home in Seguin seemed to really need help, plus I was desperate to find a replacement queen for one of my hives that recently became queenless.  Above is the hive entrance that the bees had created at the back of the house. When I removed the siding this is what I found:

Fortunately the bees were very gentle (i.e. no stings), and I was able to collect them and their brood and about five pounds of honey and put them in a regular bee box. I knew it would be a long shot to locate the queen, so I was thrilled when I spotted her among the thousands of bees that I had put in the box. I then took the bees to Elm Creek, where I united them and their queen with the queenless hive. I should know in a week if the queen is accepted by the old hive, but I am optimistic since this method of queen introduction is usually successful.

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