Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bee Log #86

A beekeeper in Akron, Ohio wrote and asked about our business model and said that he was interested in doing something similar in his city. I realized as I wrote my reply that my husband and I had learned a lot about city beekeeping in the few years that we have been involved. My reply to that beekeeper is below.

Dear ******,
I am glad to hear that you are interested in city beekeeping. We have 35 hives in about 10 locations including 2 nearby farms. We have found that the amount of driving involved really cuts into our profits. It is difficult to break even. I would suggest that you concentrate on one area of your city for beehives. It also helps if you can keep 4 to 10 hives in any one location. Check with city ordinances for the number of hives that can be kept in any single location.

Security is a prime concern on vacant lots. You will need some kind of protection from vandalism like a big cyclone fence or video surveillance. Swarms are a neighborhood event and can be very scary for those who do not know what is happening. Neighborhood education can really help with that.

Be really careful about selecting a queen breeder. Aggressiveness in bees is a genetic issue and the queen source can make a big difference. Don't get bees from Texas. Use a trusted source. You want gentle bees in the city. Re-queen any hives that show highly aggressive tendencies.

Before you get lots of hives, consider how you will market your honey. When we got 4 hives, we suddenly had far more honey than we knew what to do with. At that point, we started selling honey once a week at a local farmers' market. You could do that or you could sell from your front yard if the city allows it or you could market to local organic type groceries. We like the direct contact with customers and the profits we can get from direct sales. All our honey sells rapidly and we usually sell out before Christmas.

We use a 6 frame radial extractor from Maxant (based in Massachusetts) with a motor drive. This small extractor keeps up ok for now. We use a hot knife to uncap the frames. We bottle by hand from food grade plastic buckets with a honey gate. If you do not have an extractor, check with your local beekeeping club. They may have one you can rent.

We have kept bees for about 6 years. We started when our daughter studied bees for a college course and she thought we might like the hobby. We started selling honey 5 years ago. Our business really started taking off last summer when we found people coming to our small farmers' market just for our honey. We do not make a whole lot of money at this because the expenses are too great but we have a whole lot of fun and meet some great people.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bee Log #85

We just had the wettest farmers' market yet. We were wet, wet, wet. The wind was blowing the rain into our tent making dry space a rare and wonderful thing. 6 layers of shirts and coats and boots and long johns kept me warm, but such a challenge! Our dear customers were out anyway stocking up on honey for the winter. To those of you who bought honey today, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Markets are fun but the rain makes everything harder.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bee Log #84

Working the Bees

It is time to start working the bees again. We go from maintenance mode to honey production mode. Right now, the bees are producing lots of offspring. They have been able to gather some honey. One hive gained 14 pounds in the last 2 weeks. The bees need this honey for raising brood so we cannot collect any honey to extract yet.

Today's task is to visit as many beehives as we can to check for eggs and brood and to move frames around to try to prevent swarming. It has been warmer than usual so the swarm season might start early. When we can purchase queens, we will split some of our hives to increase our number of hives.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bee Log #83

I have been making homemade lip balm, lotion bars and mustache wax from the beeswax that I recover after extracting honey.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bee Log #82

Varroa Mite Test Kit
We heard Randy Oliver speak at the Puget Sound Beekeepers meeting. He urged us to test for varroa mites so that we know our numbers. We put together a test kit from some simple items from our home: Two jars, isopropyl alcohol, a screened top for one of the jars (I used a jar top for growing sprouts), a jar ring, a 1/3 cup (200ml) measure and coffee filters.
We tested the bees for mites by finding a frame with brood (the nurse bees have the most varroa mites), making sure the queen wasn't on that frame and then sweeping bees into the measuring cup. These bees are then dumped into a jar with about 3/4 inch (2 cm) of alcohol in the bottom. The bees die almost immediately as do the associated mites. The bees are swirled around in the alcohol for about 1-2 minutes. The screened top is screwed onto the jar with bees. The coffee filter is fixed onto the other jar with a canning jar ring and the liquid from the killed bees is poured into the filter. The screen lets the mites and alcohol fall through into the filter. The filter allows you to save the isopropyl alcohol so that it can be reused. 1/3 cup of bees is about 200 bees so you divide the number of mites by 2 to determine your count of mites per hundred bees. Randy Oliver says that he does not want to see more than 2 mites per hundred bees.
Powdered sugar could be used in place of the alcohol and the bees would not be killed. In this method you shake the bees with the powdered sugar in a closed jar and then put a screened top on the jar and shake the powered sugar onto a white paper plate. The mites come out with the powered sugar. A fine spray of water dissolves the sugar and allows you to count the mites.
Getting the measuring cup full of bees and then to getting the bees into the alcohol was the hardest thing about the test. The bees don't want to get into the cup and then they do not want to stay in the cup. We did not always get a full 200 bees for a test run. We kept the bees in the cup by brushing as many bees into the cup as we could and then putting the brush over the cup and dumping very firmly and quickly into the alcohol. We estimated the number of bees by how full we got the cup.

Varroa Mites in a Coffee Filter
This is what you do NOT want to see when you test for mites in a hive. We found that we had let the varroa mite population build up to a high level in many of our hives. We need to institute a rigorous program for mite control next season for healthier happier bees through the whole season. For right now, we did treat our hives with formic acid after we tested for mites. This is considered a natural treatment as bees already have formic acid as part of their environment and part of the honey. It is also quite effective in killing mites.

A Wax Moth
I saw this wax moth by some wax that I had taken out of the solar wax melter. There is just a bit of honey still in the wax.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bee Log # 81

Beeswax: One Ounce Bar

The beeswax comes out of the molds beautifully. I made my first beauty product from the wax, mustache wax! A musician from the Phinney Farmers' Market was complaining that he has trouble buying mustache wax that he likes. I made some for him as a prototype.

Buckwheat Honey and Blackberry Honey

The two jars of honey above were harvested from the same 7 hives about one month apart. The lighter honey is blackberry honey and the darker honey is buckwheat with maybe some Japanese knotweed. We know the bees were in buckwheat because the farmer at the farm where we have our hives had planted buckwheat as a cover crop. We guess Japanese knotweed because it is blooming during August. The dark honey has a rich, fruity, plum like taste. The lighter honey has a clover and melon flavor.

Cooling Beeswax in One Ounce Molds

I invested in some beeswax molds so that I could market the beautiful beeswax that I am accumulating. When we harvest honey, we cut the wax cappings off of the frames in order to extract the honey. The wax cappings go into a solar wax melter (see earlier blog post: Bee Log 44: July 6, 2010 ). The wax is filtered through cheese cloth and collected in metal pans. I remelt the wax in a rice cooker purchased at Goodwill and pour the wax into the molds.

We will be at the Phinney Farmers' Market today, Friday, September 28 and October 5. We will be at the Queen Anne Farmers' Market on Thursday, October 11. Come taste our honey.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bee Log #80

Those bees! What I thought was going to be almost pure buckwheat honey is really mostly blackberry and clover honey with the lightest hint of buckwheat. You can see from the last post that we should be getting buckwheat honey in the next two weeks. The buckwheat is there and the bees are there so the buckwheat honey can't be too far behind.

Blackberry, clover, buckwheat honey

The honey is pretty- a light amber as you can see from the photo.

We have shared a market stall at the Shoreline Farmers' Market on Saturdays during August with Luke Van Vuren of Van Vuren Farm. The buckwheat is planted at the Van Vuren Farm for our bees. It will be plowed under before it forms seeds to increase soil fertility.

Luke Van Vuren of Van Vuren Farm