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A day at the Bee Maven Nursery


The new hives that I installed earlier this year have been hard at work creating a new wax comb to live in.  The workers between the ages of about 5-15 days old will excrete wax from their abdomen, which they will form into the hexagon shape of the comb.

Honeybees have somehow figured out that this shape is both structurally sound, and takes the least amount of wax out of any other shape to create.  The bees use the cells they create in the wax to store honey, pollen, and young eggs and pupa, as they mature into adult bees.

As a beekeeper, you can learn a lot about your hive by taking a quick look at a few frames.  By looking at a frame and seeing how the bees are using the various cells, it call tell you whether they are focusing on making new food, increasing the size of the hive, or if there is a problem.

If you’re lucky, the queen will present herself to you on a frame you have removed.  This is not something a beekeeper should expect each time they go into a hive.  The Queens are wiley and elusive, so it can be very difficult to find her when you want to.  When you finally do get to see her, it’s quite a treat!

She is often found freely moving about a frame of freshly laid eggs, and sticking her head into cells to examine it for cleanliness.  If she deems the cell to be clean and polished, she will stick her abdomen in, and lay an egg.

When she lays, she decides whether she wants to lay a fertilized or an unfertilized egg.  The fertilized eggs will create new female worker bees, and the unfertilized eggs will create new male drones.  Typically the queen lays the drone cells on the bottom of a frame, in larger cells that resemble bullets, rather than the cells that are more flush with the comb, which baby worker bees live in.

The queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs in a day, and about 1,000,000 in her lifetime!  That’s a lot of bees from just one mother, so it’s important to have strong queens that can live 4 or more years, and lots of good food to feed all those new mouths!

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The Varroa Destructor

Mite next to bee

The Varroa Mite is currently one of the biggest contributors to hive death over the winters.  The mites weaken the hive by attaching to individual bees, and sucking hemolymph out of them.  Similar to the way a tick can transfer West Nile Virus to a human, the mite infects the bees with various diseases and viruses.

The impact of a weakened hive is that they do not survive the harsh winter season.  Typically, a “skeleton crew” of bees are left to keep the queen warm, and fed over the cold winter months.  If these attendants become sick and die, nobody is left to care for the queen, and she dies too.

The mite problem is so bad, that every hive in North America is expected to die from Varroa Mites within 3 years.  This means that if a beekeeper is not proactive and vigilant with their fight against Varroa, they will inevitably lose the hive.

One technique to fight against them to use chemicals that specifically target a bug, on another bug’s back.  There is some crazy chemistry involved, and once a frame is treated, it is a permanent process, and the honey from that frame should never be consumed.

A less harsh method is to use “soft chemicals” such as Thymol or Formic Acid.  These softer chemicals leave little, to no residue on the comb and honey, making them usable for consumption.

A third technique, which we use a Bee Maven, is to use natural methods of treatment.  This idea is based on the knowledge that the mites reproduce in the male, or drone cells of the comb.  If you purposely create a break in the cycle of drone cells, then it can severely decrease the number of mites in the hive.

Regardless of the technique used in mite treatment, the most important step you can take as a beekeeper is to observe and document what’s going on in the hive.  Knowing the right timing and frequency of treatment is critical to the survival of a hive.

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2014 Social Purpose Corporation Annual Report

commaSPC

The state requirements for Social Purpose Corporations is to file a yearly report to discuss the actions taken by the corporation towards the social purpose that the company was founded upon.

In the case of Bee Maven, we were founded with the social purpose to help the honeybees by finding homes for them within the community.  This idea benefits the bees, the customer, and the community as a whole.  The bees get a safe place to forage from, the customer gets honey from the hive, and the community gets pollination for all fruits and flowers in a 3-mile radius of the hive.

For 2014, Bee Maven was just starting up.  Most of the time was spent researching about beekeeping, and finding the best business model to support this new type of service.  In addition, Bee Maven made a large purchase for beehive equipment in preparation for the creation of a new apiary in Gig Harbor, during spring of 2015.

Other activities included participation in local non-profit beekeeper association meetings (PSBA), mite research, overwintering research and bee data analysis, using cutting-edge analytic software, Qlik.

For 2015 Bee Maven intends on building an apiary in Gig Harbor that will be used to create the hives to be adopted into the community in 2016.  Although a slower process than ordering bee packages from California, this will ensure that the hives in the community are stronger, and able to last through the wet winters of this part of the country.

Although the 2014 report is a short one this year, we have a lot planned for 2015 and I am very excited to see what’s in store!

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The Queen is dead! Long live the Queen!

Queen Cage

Honey bees live and die for their queen, but what happens when the queen is dead?

They carry on.  They continue to work, build, and forage for the hive even though the outlook is bleak.  If they have eggs that are young enough, the workers can fill a cell with a special type of honey called “royal jelly”.  This royal jelly can transform a normal worker bee egg into a queen.

In my situation, the hive is brand new, and there are no eggs available to make a new queen.  Thankfully, Mike Radford from Northwest Bee Supply was in the area and was able to meetup with me to give me a new queen.

I met Mike just down the street, and he pulled a queen out of his breast pocket and handed it over. Mike always keeps a queen in his pocket, just in case a situation like this happens.  A good guy to know as a beekeeper!

The queen comes in a queen cage (seen above) that must be put into the hive for at least 4 days before releasing her.  This is so the hive has time to accept her as their new queen.

A technique I use in this video is to crush the dead queen on the new queen’s cage.  This is to simulate a fight to the death with the old queen and the dead queen’s pheromones are left on top of on the new queens pheromones.

The idea is that the workers assume this new queen showed up and killed the old queen, so they should now follow this new, more powerful, queen.

I’ll return in 4 days to pop the cork out of her cage and release her.  By that time, the pheromones she releases will have had time to propagate throughout the hive, and she will be the new queen.  Long live Queen Sunny II!

 

 

 

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What is Bee Maven?

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Bee Maven is a new type of service that will bring the joys and excitement of beekeeping to your home.  You will have your own honey beehive placed on your property and cared for by an experienced beekeeper.

In exchange for providing a healthy home for the hive to prosper, the hive will provide to you a source of local honey and wax products.  Keep it for yourself, or or share your personalized honey with your close friends.

By having a beehive on your property, you are helping  the entire community by allowing all plants in a 3-mile radius to be pollinated by one of the most efficient pollinators on the planet.   Supercharge backyard gardens and fruit trees each year with abundant blooms and bountiful harvests with a year-round a pollinator source.

The service guarantees the hive, so if yours dies, we can replace it at no additional cost.  Normally a dead-out can cost upwards of $130 to replace each spring. 

In order to make this guarantee work, Bee Maven hives must be maintained and documented by a trained Bee Maven Beekeeper.  Each hive inspection is thoroughly documented using cutting-edge beekeeping technologies, and is used to create a Bee Health Plan that will keep your hive healthy and prosperous each year.

The service cost is still being finalized, but there will be an initial deposit for the equipment and bees, followed by a recurring monthly payment for the maintenance.  Upon launch of the service, I will be looking for customers in the Southern Puget Sound area that are willing to adopt the first hives in 2016.