Growing a Bee Garden

This year will be our 4th year to trying to keep bees. We had great success with our first hive, but after we pulled some honey the second year, those bees swarmed and moved to another location somewhere. We were never able to find them.

The next purchase of bees arrived the day before a surprise snow storm resulting in the bees dying from the cold. When new bees are received there are not enough of them to keep the hive warm. Heat comes from a high number of bees huddling together. The timing of the storm could not have been worse.

The most recent purchase of bees seemed to go well. They seemed happy and healthy with a quickly increased population and a lot of good honey comb. We supplemented their honey with sugar water over the winter along with bee keeper pollen patties that you can buy retail.

Just as spring was breaking we found the bees had died. We have no idea what happened. For all we know it was cold weather again, or it’s possible a neighbor in the vicinity could have sprayed a chemical? We are heart broken!

I can’t preach enough about the use of chemicals in yards. Insecticides and fertilizers can kill bees. Even ones touted as organic. Some of the mild organic mite and lice control powders that are used on chickens are deadly to honey bees. If you can do without, please do not use anything to control pests. Mother Nature usually fixes itself in the long run.

I’ll step off my soap box now.

We are getting new bees in June and are preparing. This time they will be at home INSIDE the garden in the corner. Since we have lost our fear of handling bees, we are not afraid to have them there. If anything it will be better for pollination. We will also be putting wind block around the corner the hives will be sitting in to hopefully make the space more hospitable.

Today we will be spreading seed recommended for pollinators, hopefully resulting in a nice bed of native and wild flowers. It will also be good for butterflies and hummingbird.

Wish us luck!

Empty Hives

It was a weekly feeding of the bees during winter.  The first year is always the hardest while they are building their honey combs from scratch. The fondant we fed seemed to be working and the hives seemed fine……until today.

We knew there was an issue when there was still food left from our last visit. We didn’t want to fully open the hives to investigate because of the cold temperature outside. There were dead bees on the outside ledge but not a lot. We waited until a warm day to pull open the hives.

Unfortunately our worst fears were founded. The bees were gone and the hives were being raided by another swarm of honey bees who took all the food and honey to where ever they came from.

Unlike previous years where we lost a single hive due to cold or swarming, we lost ALL 3 hives all at once, in a single week.

We were baffled! What had happened?!  All 3 at once is a very suspicious situation. Did a neighbor spray a pesticide or herbicide? Did it really get cold enough over the winter to kill off all the honey bees? The bees purchased locally are usually born and bred in warmer states. Our dry, windy and variable climate is not very hospitable. Temperatures occasionally swing up to 60 degrees in a single day! From freezing to 80 degrees within 24 hours.  40 mile an hour winds, hail and snow storms in May are fairly common.

So what’s next? Since all the bees purchased in our state aren’t truly local, we set up swarm traps with scents that lure honey bees in hopes that local bees who have hardened up to our climate will move in.  

A lot of money has been invested in our bees and hives over the last 4 years and we have only been able to draw honey twice.  We will try to catch a swarm and wait until next spring to determine if we will potentially buy any again.

Please consider this when you are getting ready to use any chemicals.  Honey bees are dying at an alarming rate in our state and they are needed to pollinate and grow our vegetables! What may seem like a light weight harmless spray to kill weeds, spiders or other insects may eradicate colonies of bees within a day! Please help us save our bees.

Honey Comb In New Hives

We are excited to say that the new experimental hives that we set up for the new bees are working well! These hives are 2 boxes high and wide open. There are fewer frames custom made by us with no wax base. They started from scratch!

This window was a custom add on we created so we could keep an eye on the bees progress. We will never really be able to open the hive based on this new format so the window will be handy to monitor the health of the hive without disturbing them.

Considering we only received the bees a month ago and they have been through a 6 inch snow storm and 3 hailstorms they are doing incredibly well! We are anticipating more honey this year than we have ever collected based on both the new and old hives. We have a total of 4 thriving hives at the moment.

We also had the highest amount of moisture this spring than we’ve ever had. The state has been in a drought and we finally caught up to where we should be. This means a lot of vegetation growth. The pollen count is extremely high and the bees are reaping the reward. Even though the apple, plum and pear blossoms mostly froze during the late spring snow storm, there is still plenty of blossoms on the property.

We are looking forward to pulling honey from the Flow Hives.

See the current hive activity:

New Bees and Custom Bee Hives

If you have been following the farm you know we seem to lose 50% of the bees we purchase to cold weather or swarming.Swarming occurs when the bees either lose their queen or the queen decides she doesn’t like her hive. They all follow her on a hunt for a better home. The swarming also seems to be related to the crazy weather. The weather here in unkind. The temperature commonly can start at 80 degrees in the morning and drop all the way down to freezing in the same day. Then there is the wind that seems to range between 10 and 30 mph routinely. Bees really need almost no wind and prefer 53 degrees before they leave the hive to collect their pollen and water. In reality they end up stuck in the hive many days.

Last year we purchased 4 hives and ended up with 2 surviving, continuing our 1/2 hive success rate. We also found that the bees were building comb in strange places and every time we needed to get in to help the bees with food, etc, we were having to break and remove comb. If you were the bees you would probably be frustrated too! We are getting 2 new packages of bees this year and want to try something new to hopefully keep them happy.

Rather than setting up the standard 2 hive boxes each with 8 pre waxed frames, we custom built only 7 longer foundationless frames that extend all the way down through both of the 2 hive boxes. The bees now have a larger space with fewer frames that are completely blank so they can choose to build their comb any way they want. The idea is to give them something that is more natural and let them build their home the way they want. We won’t be able to get into their hive as much but building custom windows on the outside of the hive will allow us to peak in and determine if the bees are still healthy. Since we extract the honey with a Flow Hive rather than tearing out their comb there should be no reason for us to need to enter the hive anyway. If you are not familiar with the Flow Hive look it up on our earlier posts or do a search online.

Ironically when the bees arrived for pick up we once again had 3 days of rain/snow mix we had to deal with. While we were worried they may die from exposure they really didn’t want to leave the hive once we got them in. They started to work on comb building immediately. This in itself is an improvement from previous starts. We are crossing our fingers.

See the new custom hives:

Winter Feeding the Bees

We are starting to get used to the challenges of keeping bees in the volatile weather of the high plains. We purchased 4 new bee packages in the spring and two of them either swarmed or combined with another hive. We still call it a win. The two existing hives were doing so well we were able to get 7 jars of honey their first year! It was much lighter in color and taste but it was nice to see how productive they were.

Since this is the bees first winter we wanted to give them a little extra help. We found a recipe online for a fondant you can make for bees for over wintering them. Fondant is preferred over sugar water as it keeps the moisture level down inside the hive. Moisture mixed with cold weather equals frostbite. Fondant is made out of sugar, water and a little apple cider vinegar for probiotics. You cook it just as you would cook candy, pouring it onto trays of parchment paper once it reaches the correct temperature. Once hardened you lay the slabs on top of the frames inside the beehive.

You can watch us deliver the fondant on the farm’s YouTube Channel:

Flowering Fruit Trees and the Bees

Timing is everything. Within a week after we set up the new beehives the bees were given the treat of an abundance of large apple blossoms on 3 apple trees and a double load of pear blossoms too! the fragrance is amazing!

We finally managed to avoid the late spring snow storm that happens often here. The fruit trees that lost all their blossoms to a storm last year built up enough energy for an incredible bounty this year!

What a great way to start off the new bees! Hopefully this impressive display makes them feel there is no reason to  swarm and find another home like a couple of our previous hives. We really need the bees for pollination.

Enjoy seeing the bees pollinate apple blossoms on the farm YouTube Channel:

The New Bees Are Here!

If you have been following us we have had some bad luck in keeping bees alive in our unpredictable climate. We started the first year with two hives. One died off and one thrived. The second year we purchased two more hives but a couple days later we had a late snow storm that took out one of the hives and the second one eventually died not being strong enough to overcome the damage from the storm. The thriving hive gave us lots of fantastic honey but then swarmed and left after an early snow storm. We put out swarm bait in clean new swarm traps but they never came back. So no bees left! The harsh environment makes keeping bees a challenge, but we aren’t going to give up.

This year we are stacking the odds in our favor by increasing the number of hives to four. Since we are buying so many bees this time we decided to forego the Nukes we’ve purchased in the past. Nukes are considered more established than just a box of bees because they have frames the bees already set up, but they are much more expensive. Not only did boxes save us money but since we haven’t had good luck with the bees we received in Nukes it couldn’t hurt to try something different.

Bees are only delivered once a year to retailers so we are told what day we are going to pick them up. Delivery day is interesting because everyone picks up their bees at the same time and everyone has a different level of experience. Some people arrive in protective gear and some just grab their bee boxes with bare hands. In the end, nobody got stung. Keep in mind that the boxes are a wire cloth so it’s not unusual for bees to get out. The good thing is they like to stay with their hive mates so they will hang close to the box. You always have a few bees flying freely in your car when you take them home. Some people wear their entire bee suit all the way home!

Now it may seem a little rough but the way to get bees out of a box and into their new hive is to pop the top off and shake them out! When you watch the video it looks a little mean but it’s really the way it’s done. And we are a little nicer by tapping the boxes on it’s edge or corner to keep from crushing bees. We try to save every last bee.

The queen is actually in it’s own tiny box that you uncork and replace with a marshmallow, letting the queen chew her way out. You want to give the queen and bees a little time to get to know each other before she gets out. The queen was just introduced when they boxed them up for sale. If they don’t accept the queen they could kill her. Just another risk you have when buying a box rather than a Nuke.

This year we decided to pick a different area to set up the hives it’s surrounded by trees and not as deep in the valley where the winds can get brutal. The installs went well and we are crossing our fingers!  Let’s see how they do this year.

When I take videos of the bees I have to take off at least one glove. The bees are everywhere during the install and this time one landed in my hand and did not look very happy. I won’t spoil the surprise but it did scare me a little!

Watch the bee install on the farm’s YouTube Channel:




Final Hive Swarms

Not too long after we collected the honey from the hive we had a small cold snap. A big drop in temperature and a little snow. We didn’t think much of it but when the snow melted and it warmed up we saw bees starting to swarm and fight over the hummingbird feeder. They were knocking each other off the feeder trying to get to the sugar water. It then dawned on us that the bees were stressed out thinking winter had arrived and they may be short some honey to sustain themselves over the winter even though they had plenty of stores left.

A couple days later the whole colony swarmed and left the hive. The queen apparently felt they were not prepared for winter so they left to find a better place. This left us with no more bees. It was too late to get any more this year. This means no honey for another 2 years. Very disappointing. It seems like bees are just so hard to keep in the high plains dessert. All we can do is wait until next year to buy more hives and catch some swarms to start all over again.

You can watch the fight on the farm’s YouTube Channel:


First Honey Drawn from Bee Hives 2017

It’s finally here! The day of our first honey draw!

Unlike other bee keepers we purchased Flow Hives for our bees. They are a new technology from Australia. The hive allows the honey to be drawn from the hive without opening the boxes and pulling out the honey comb. The honey super, which is the top box you see here, has plastic honey comb that collapses on a turn of a key allowing the honey to flow through the spouts and into 2 quart jars, untouched by human hands.

This hive has a large colony of bees we’ve had for a year and a half. They have 2 boxes of honey. One is the honey super and the other is the box below which they will use in the winter for their own food. Plus they should be able to fill another box before winter hits.

It didn’t take long to get the flow spouts flowing. We filled 67 jars and sold them all in a couple weeks. You can see the honey is very dark in color. We were surprised at the strong flavor. Sort of floral from the wildflowers and a little piney. We aren’t sure how else to describe it. It was so strong we were a little worried if the product was sellable. After sitting for a few hours the most pungent flavors subsided and the flavor was amazing. We received so much positive feedback, even from people who had done honey before.

Honey looks to be one of our best sellers at this point and we plan to buy a number of new hives next year since this is the only hive that survived our climate. We hope to be even more successful next year.

You can watch the honey draw on the farm YouTube Channel:




Hive Freeze

Unfortunately we ended up with a late freeze this spring a week after we installed the nucs .The storm killed just about all the bees in weaker new hive. The other new hive, although in better shape, took a big hit. We did an inspection on our existing hive that had survived a winter already and it stood up to the late freeze with no issue. We combined the remains of the two weak hives and hoped for the best.

After the empty hive was cleaned out we decided the existing hive was so strong that we would split the hive. We took a few frames from the strong hive and moved them into the empty hive. One frame included queen cells so they could hatch their own queen. It seems to have been successful but only time will tell. The bigger concern is if the newly combined second hive we bought this year will survive. Only time will tell.

Watch as we inspect our first hive in the spring to see how they did over the winter. It’s on our YouTube Channel: