Reading in prep for 2014

25 hivesFall is upon us! Though the bees are slowing down, I’m already plotting and scheming for Spring 2014. We have equipment that needs painting, frames that need foundation, and still awaiting a half dozen or so more colonies that we’re obtaining soon. This will put our apiary at or above 30 colonies for this Winter.

If we don’t have too many Winter losses and start more colonies in the Spring, we will be managing over 4 times as many hives as we did this past Fall. That’s a big difference! I want to be ready to make the most of next season. I want 2014 to be bigger and better, in hopes that we will actually have enough honey to meet our demand and have some to sell throughout the year.

Part of my preparation for Spring 2014 is that I’m currently reading a book called Beekeeping With Twenty-five Hives: From Passion to Profits, by Grant F.C. Gillard. The book is the 2nd title I own from this author, and was a gift from a friend. It is, in my opinion, one of the most helpful books on beekeeping in my small library thus far.

What I like about it is that’s not written as a bland how-to manual. In it Grant shares with you his experience growing his apiary. You read of his highs and lows and ups and downs. He shared mistakes he’s made and points out things you need to consider when growing from a hobbyist to a side-line beekeeper. It’s rather “pastoral,” which makes sense because the writer’s vocation is pastoral ministry.

At 472 pages, there’s quite a bit of information to digest. I’m nearing the half way point now. By now, it’s almost as if Mr. Gillard is a 2nd mentor to me. I’m very happy that he’s taken the time to write this and I heartily commend it to all beekeepers who desire to grow their apiaries to the size of 25 colonies or more.

Rhett’s Beginning Beekeeping Tips #2

We’re continuing on in our series of tips for beginning beekeepers. In the first article, my tip for would-be beekeepers was to study like crazy before ever spending a dime on equipment or bees. I believe this is the first, most important tip for anyone interested in keeping bees.

Yet, after all I emphasized in the first article about studying bees, I must now let you in on a dirty little secret: Bees don’t read the books to know how they’re supposed to act! Sooner or later, your bees are going to do something totally unexpected, even if you’ve done everything the book says. When that happens, you’re going to need some help and advice. So that leads us to the next tip:

Tip #2: FIND A MENTOR!

You can memorize all the books I previously listed and watch every video on Youtube, but you need someone with experience to help guide you through and be there to answer questions during those times the bees (or hive pests) are doing something you can’t remember reading about in the books. Even with all the reading and Youtube watching I did before getting my bees, I’ve still asked countless questions of my mentor, Bobby Colson of B & G Honey Farm.

If you can, I suggest finding someone local with many years, even decades, of experience keeping bees. For as the Bible says,

Bobby Colson, teaching a bee class.

Bobby Colson, teaching a class.

“Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” Job 12:12.

You’ll be amazed at all the helpful advice you will receive from an experienced mentor. If you run into a problem, chances are he may have dealt with it countless times before. He’ll teach you little tricks and techniques he’s picked up over the years.

If you can find one who also sells equipment and bees, then so much the better. When you stop by to purchase equipment or supplies, you can talk shop for a bit and learn even more. He benefits from your patronage, you benefit from his experience. It’s a win-win.

One of the things that’s really difficult to learn from books is botanical information on what plants are growing and when the nectar is flowing for your specific geographical area. This is one big reason to find a local mentor. He can help you in this area more than anyone else. Admittedly, this area of beekeeping is probably where I’m the most ignorant.

As far as where to find a mentor, I’d say the best place to start would be at a local bee club or association if there is one in your area. There you can meet beekeepers, listen to discussions, and ask questions. If you don’t have a local club or cannot locate one, look for signs advertising local honey and then try to track down the source. Beekeepers are often willing to help newcomers, but if not, keep looking.

Be friendly and do your homework so you’re prospective mentor can tell you’ve really been trying to learn all you can. Maybe see if they would like some help in the bee yard sometime. You could learn lots just by watching them work.

That’s it for the 2nd installment in this series. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment.

Rhett Kelley

Rhett’s Beginning Beekeeping Tips #1

In my interactions with people, I meet many who are intrigued by honeybees and say that they’d like to start a colony.

Getting into beekeeping was something I wanted to do for at least 15 years before I started. Back when I first became interested, I didn’t have a computer. Youtube, Blogger, WordPress, and Facebook didn’t exist, so even if I did have a computer, learning what I needed to do just to get started and networking with people in the bee business was much more difficult than it is today.

I’ve decided to write a series of articles for our customers and friends who may be interested in starting hives of their own. I want to share some incite and some observations that may be helpful. Some things will be simply my opinion, which you may or may not find useful. Whatever you do, please pay careful attention to this first tip because I think it is most essential:

Tip #1: STUDY. STUDY. STUDY!

I cannot emphasis this enough! I read at least 3 books on beekeeping before I ever placed my first order for a package of bees. Additionally, I watched hours of beekeeping videos on Youtube. I encourage you to do the same. If you’re going to keep bees, you need to have some basic knowledge of bee biology and bee behavior burned into your brain.

If you don’t invest time here, your experience keeping bees will be short lived and not very enjoyable. Learn the information so well that the first time you open your hive of installed bees, you can automatically spot worker bees, drones, and the queen. Know what brood, pollen, and honey looks like stored in honeycomb. Learn to tell the difference between worker brood, drone brood, and queen cells. Be familiar with all the common bee pests and ailments, and various treatment options as well. Learn what triggers the swarming impulse and symptoms of queen failure. That’s just a start. There’s much, much more.

It’s just like they used to say on the G.I. Joe cartoon: “Knowing is half the battle.”

You wouldn’t believe the stories I hear about eager, would-be beekeepers who skip this first, most important step and then end up in a mess when they get their bees and have no clue what to do, or what the bees are doing. I’ve even heard of people ordering queens from queen dealers, expecting that the lone queen is enough to start a new colony all by herself. That tells me somebody didn’t pick up the first book on beekeeping! Beekeeping isn’t a cheap hobby to get into, so learn all you can so you’re investment isn’t in vain.

As far as beginning resources go, I always point people to the book Beekeeping For Dummies. It was the first book I ever read on the subject and I have recommended it to others more times than I can count. It’s chock full of good information and I think ever new beek should have a copy.

A must have for new Beeks!

A must have for new Beeks!

From there, I would suggest the following titles. This is not an exhaustive list, but just some books I’ve found helpful. Some are beginner level, some more advanced:

I always say that if you ask 5 beekeepers a question, you’ll end up with at least 6 opinions. This is true when it comes to all the resources above. You’ll find general agreement on some topics and some strong differences of opinions too. I like to take all the viewpoints into consideration and do what works best for me.

One other resource I want to mention is the Brushy Mountain Bee Farm Youtube Channel. I have benefited greatly from their webinars and I think anyone interested in beekeeping would do well to spend some time watching their videos. These are free and very informative.

That’s it for my first tip. I hope this is useful. I am writing this on July 1st, 2013. Package bees won’t be available again until Spring 2014, so if you’re interested in keeping bees, I encourage you to spend the rest of the Summer, Fall, and Winter learning all you can.

If you have any questions, comments, or would like to suggest other resources, please feel free to leave a comment.

The Raw Truth about our Honey

24 oz honeyI’m happy to announce that on June 17th,  we harvested and extracted 300 lbs. of honey from a handful of our mature, productive hives! Though only a small amount of honey when compared to large commercial operations, we count this harvest as a great blessing when compared to last year.

At this time, we’re getting ready to make labels and to start bottling. We will start having honey for shipping after we receive our flat rate and regional rate boxes from USPS.

Before we start selling or shipping, I want to let everyone know some important facts about our honey and why it’s different -and much better for you- than the honey sold in most grocery stores:

  1. Our honey is RAW. It’s neither heated, nor pasteurized. Thus, our honey retains all of its pro-biotic properties, natural vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.
  2. Our honey is strained, but not filtered. We have to strain the honey to get out bits of wax, propolis, and the occasional bee who made her into our 9 frame radial extractor, but we don’t do anything that will remove the beneficial pollen that is in the honey. Honey bought at the grocery store normally has all the pollen filtered out so it is crystal clear and won’t crystallize over time.  It’s also done at times to hide the fact it’s illegally sourced honey of Chinese origin smuggled in via other countries.
  3. Because our honey is raw and unfiltered, it will not be as clear as commercially produced honey sold in most grocery stores.
  4. We only use pesticide-free treatments for hive pests and we do not medicate the bees with antibiotics or other chemical medications. When we do supplement the bees in the off-season, it’s with a feeding stimulant made with essential oils in order to boost their overall health.
  5. We do not feed our bees any sugar or corn syrup during the nectar flow as some beekeepers do. Any hives that are weak and require supplemental feedings during the nectar flow are not harvested during the season. We want the honey we harvest to be 100% floral in nature and collected by our bees from natural sources.
  6. Our honey is properly called “wildflower honey,” but the nectar our bees use to make it come from a variety of flowering trees: including tupelo, poplar, and wild persimmons. They also gather nectar from wild grapes, blackberries, and everything else that flowers around the Ohoopee River and Jack’s Creek here in eastern Emanuel County, GA.

We hope this give you a better idea of what you are getting when you choose to buy our raw honey. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask using the contact form below.

For more on the benefits of RAW HONEY, click here to read and article about it at Natural News.

For more on what’s missing from regular grocery store honey, read about it on Food Safety News.

Honey forecast looking good so far!

Over the weekend I popped the tops off of a few hives to see how much honey we have. One of our best hives has 3 full, capped 9 frame medium supers of honey with 2 more supers above the bottom brood box that has a mix of honey and brood. (We’re not running queen excluders this year, so brood is up higher this year.).

Best I can tell, we’re looking at around 8-10 full medium supers of honey between all of our mature colonies. This is about 3 times the amount of honey we Imagepulled off the hives all last year.

The nectar flow is still going here. One way you can tell is that the bees in the weaker hives I’m feeding are hardly taking any sugar syrup now. Bees prefer real nectar over the stuff I feed them. When real nectar is scarce during the Summer dearth, they’ll drink up the sugar syrup like crazy and even go after things like old Coke cans or anything with a sweet residue on it.

The wild persimmons are starting to bloom. I always look forward to this because the bees love it and I love to hear the soft buzz of the bees working the persimmon trees at my grandfathers house when I stop over for a visit.

So far, things are really looking up.

 

We’re Still Swarming

I don’t know how much honey we’ll make this season, but I know we’re making new colonies left and right. Seems like my hives are issuing swarms everyday. I don’t know about other beekeepers, but other than rotating the hive bodies, I don’t really do too much to try and prevent swarming. I’ve read that swarming reduces the honey harvest, but I just don’t have time to be going through every hive removing swarm cells all the time.

We’re now up to 13 ten-frame hives and 1 five frame nuc. After we harvest honey, I plan to make some Summer splits as Kim Flottum recommends in his book Better Beekeeping. I figure we could have well over 20 hives for 2014 if the splits make it through Winter.

On a separate note, the Ogeechee Area Beekeeper’s Association will be meeting again on May 30 at the Botanical Gardens at Georgia Southern University. Our guest speaker will be Clay “Bear” Kelley who serves at the Vice President of the Georgia Beekeeper’s Association.

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