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Preview: What Should I Be Doing With My Bees This Month?

What Should I Be Doing With My Bees This Month?

This blog is for beekeepers in Northern climates. I will be describing what I am doing with my bees on a monthly schedule. Copying any text or photos is forbidden except with written authorization of the author.

Updated: 2018-02-21T08:23:54.406-06:00


Univ of MN added a second bee class


The University of Minnesota has added a second year 1 bee class.
It is on March 31st. Here is the link:

Open Longer Hours


We are now open:
Friday noon to 6 pm
Saturday 9 am to 3 pm

Wednesday colony check?


Looks like 40's on Wednesday. Good time to check colonies.
 When it is above 25 degrees and not windy, it is not a problem to open a colony for a quick check.
What to look for: whenever you open a colony in the winter, having a plan on what to look for before the top is pulled off.
  •  Alive or dead. This is obvious, but sometimes the bees are down deep in a hive and may be alive. No bees on top? Look deep in the boxes.
  • Colony strength, Right now we would like to see at least four frames of bees in the hive. Most colonies should have bees in the top box. The cluster should be spread out over four frames. A Carniolan queen hive may have threes frames of bees, this is fine. Carniolans winter a smaller cluster and build up very quickly. Sometimes a hive can cover the top of the frames in the hive and looks fine for population. In reality, that is all the bees there is in the hive. To get a good idea that there is a good population, leave the inner cover and moisture board on, break the top box loose. Lift up one side of the box and teeter it back. Look underneath the top box. If you have bees covering four frames to the bottom of the top box, that is a good population.
  • Food stores. For me the best way to judge food stores is to slip off the winter cover, I leave the inner cover and moisture board on. Break the top box loose with the hive tool and lift the top box off the lower box. This will easily tell the weight of the colony. If the hive box feels heavy you should be good. If it feels light, feeding is on the horizon. If the hive feels empty of food and very light, starvation can be near. Winter patties can get a colony to limp along for the short term before we can feed syrup in a couple weeks.
  • Order new bees. If you colony has two frames or less of bees consider them dead. Weak colonies struggle along and can't get their population to move forward. They will not build up to a productive colony without addition of bees from another colony. 
  • Great bee strategy. If you have a couple hives and have one hive alive or are expanding to a second colony. Some beekeepers plan on doing a divide to expand their colonies. Sometimes colonies do not come through the winter strong, and at divide time the colony cannot be divided. Now the other hive sits empty. Here is the strategy. Purchase a 2 lb package for the empty hive. Install the bees in the empty hive. If the overwintered hive can be divided, the divide can be added to the package. This will assure that all the hives will be filled with bees. The package hive will get very strong. No queen will need to be purchased for the divide. The stronger colony will produce more honey than a package or divide could make. The extra honey the colony makes should offset the cost of the package. Do the math. Package around $128.00 including tax. You don't need to purchase a queen for the divide, cost of a queen $35.00. Now we are at $93.00. If you got an extra super of honey because of the stronger colony, which is about 40 lbs of honey worth at least $2.50 lb that's $100.00.  Package bees paid for. I have had several beekeepers use this strategy and they have commented to me on how well it worked.

Hive Location


I was driving up near Finlayson this morning. I noticed a temperature contrast that was worth noting. Driving on I-35 the temperature was about 1 below in Forest Lake.
 As I continued driving north the temperature was cooling off. By the time I got to the Finlayson exit, the temperature was 6 below. As I traveled west on Hwy 18 the road took a few dips. The temperature in the bottom of the dips was 14 below. As I came out of the dips the temperature rebounded to between 6 below and 9 below.
This is a good lesson when locating hives. Avoid low spots. Cold air runs like water. If a hive is in a lower spot and is surrounded by trees and brush. The vegetation will hold the cold air. If the brush was cut in a fashion that forms paths. The cold air can possibly leave and not settle in on frosty mornings.

What is happening in the hive right now.


The winter is moving forward, now it is early February and beekeeping spring is about 30 days away. Beekeeping spring is when we can feed pollen patties and syrup (if needed) to our overwintered colonies.
 Right now the bee cluster should be up in the top brood box. The exception to this if your hive was very heavy with honey. The bees may still be in the lower box. But, for most of us the bees should be up. In most cases the queen has just started to lay a few eggs or will be starting very soon. The bees will be uncapping and consuming honey. When they start opening capped cells of honey, there should be pollen under some of the capped honey (if you did reversals on your colony last early June). The pollen will help stimulate brood rearing. If you don't think you have pollen under the cells in your hive, just solid honey, you may want to throw a pollen patty on, around Feb. 20th or so. If you did a reversal or two last spring, I would not put pollen patties on until early March.
 Don't put pollen on too early, pollen patties can get the colony moving forward too fast. Putting pollen on too soon leads to increased consumption of honey and in some cases, results in huge hive populations in late April. This can lead to early swarming before queens are available for divides. Think about timing and what you did last year before putting pollen patties on. Once pollen patties go on, you need to keep them on through spring.  
 As we get into the start of brood rearing, this is the time when bees can starve if the weather gets cold.  This week is going to be cold, if the queen has started to lay, I wouldn't worry about starvation because of small amount of new brood in the hive this week. But anytime after the February 10th is around the time when most hives have brood in the hive. There won't be frames of brood, but one side of a frame will be getting eggs laid on it. Being it takes 21 days for brood to hatch, as time goes on, more sides of frames will start having brood on them as the queen starts increasing her egg laying.
 Starvation can occur in February when there is brood present and we have weather that is near zero or below for three or more consecutive nights. The cold weather makes the cluster of bees contract to a tighter cluster. The tighter cluster is needed to maintain a 96 degree temperature over the brood. If the bees have consumed honey off the frame(s) of brood, the bees have to go to the honey that maybe a frame or two away from the brood. The brood can't move, so the bees have to move to the honey. When it is cold for several days in a row. The cluster  moves off the honey, to maintain the proper brood rearing temperatures. Moving off the honey for several days can result in starvation, even though honey is one frame away. This is the time of year when winter patties, candy boards or even granulated sugar on wax paper laying on the top bars of the top box can possibly prevent starvation. If the weather in February, is around the normal highs and lows, most colonies will be fine.
 By the end of February, most hives will have a couple frames of brood in the hive. Maybe more if their population is large and they can cover and feed that large amount of brood.
 Our hives are changing, soon it will be time to dust off that bee suit.

Saskatraz Queens


  I talked to my bee supplier today Ray Olivarez. He was talking Saskatraz queens.
He says he has Saskatraz queens in about half of his operation of 16,000 colonies. He has been really pleased with how the queens have worked.
Saskatraz queens when they were being developed, part of the criteria was being sustainable. Sustainable meaning they are better dealing with mites, honey production and winter survival. What Ray has found that his bees have been much healthier. Being that the bees are in the Almond groves of California, fungicides are widely used to protect the blossoms of the Almond tree. Honeybees have been getting injured by the fungicides. Ray has noticed that the Saskatraz have been able to handle the fungicides much better. Ray also feels, in his opinion, that the Saskatraz queens seem to be better dealing with Deformed wing virus.
 Olivarez Honey Bees is the exclusive producer of Saskatraz Queens in the U.S.
Ray gets breeder queens from The Sakatraz producer in Saskatchewan, Canada. So the only companies selling true Saskatraz queens are Olivarez Honey Bees and his trusted sources
 Ray says the orders for Saskatraz queens have been through the roof, over 70% of his orders for packages and queens are for Saskatraz.
 Some queen producers are trying to raise Saskatraz off production queens. The resulting quality do not have all the vigor and vitality of a true Saskatraz Breeder Queen from Saskatchewan. Any beekeeper purchasing these queens, are not getting true Saskatraz queens and are getting a queen that does not have the attributes of the real deal.
 Nature's Nectar LLC is pleased to be the only seller of true Saskatraz queens in the state of Minnesota. We have noticed the Saskatraz are outselling Carniolans and Italians. This is the hottest selling queen around the country right now. We are getting more beekeepers who used to by their bees elsewhere buying from Nature's Nectar LLC, they see the value of purchasing Saskatraz queens. They realize, spending a little more, for a better queen, is worth it.

Sign of Spring


After the big dump of snow and the bone chilling cold of a short time ago. Beekeepers are looking forward to be able to dig in their hives. While beekeepers need to be patient for the short term. Spring is coming.
 I was out shoveling today. The bright sunny day after all that snow. It was quite beautiful with all the snow still hanging on the tree branches and the fresh new undisturbed snow. The glare of the sun off the snow, being hard on the eyes. But the sunny winter day brought out the chickadees mating call. Fee-Bee Fee-Bee.
 Finally a sign of spring. Also right now Great Horned Owls will be nesting now. Sometimes early in the morning before it gets light, I can hear the Owls hooting.
 Take some time in these next few warm sunny days, stop and smell the roses. Listen for the chickadees. If you live in a rural wooded area, walk outside before it gets light and listen for the owls.
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The heavy snow


If you experienced a big snow dump at your place like I did. About 9 inches at 6 pm with more coming.
 If the hives get buried with snow, it is usually not a problem. The snow will add some insulation to the hives. It doesn't look like big cold after this storm as would be normal after a January snow storm. Warm weather will be following the snow. With the black covers and warm sunny days expected, the snow will melt quickly from around the hives.

Two More Bee Classes


This class is a year in beekeeping.
Taught by Mike Mackiewicz. Mike is an experienced beekeeper. He has kept bees for many years. His class covers a wide variety of subjects that every beekeeper can use.
More info: A year in the life of bees. 
 A year in the life of bees click this link for more info.
Class schedule for the entire 2018 season:                                              
  • February 25:  Introduction to Organic Bee-Keeping
  • March 25:  Building Hives Boxes and  Frames/Equipment Overview
  • April 22:  Setting up Hives and Installing  Bees/ Splitting Second-Year Hives
  • May 20:  Hive Day/Planning Flower Power for Pollinators
  • June 24:  Hive Day/ Assessing Honey in the Hives
  • July 22:  Hive Day/Mite Controls
  • Aug 26:  Extracting Honey
  • Sept.23:  Making Mead, Autumn mite assessment
  • Oct. 28:  Beeswax, Winterizing the Hives, WEI Swarm Party Celebrating Honey
The next class is:
Beekeeping Basics
Tamarack Nature Center
Sunday, January 28, 2018; 1:00-4:00 p.m.
$25 per person
For adults and older teens (16 and older)
Pre-registration is required:
This is a beekeeping class for the curious! Come find out why there’s so much buzz about bees everywhere and determine if beekeeping might be in your future. This is not a comprehensive class for new beekeepers, but it will definitely get you headed in the right direction. We’ll discuss basic bee biology and ecology, beekeeping tools and equipment, the costs associated with beekeeping, and bee resources available in the Twin Cities. Plus, honey tasting will be part of our sweet afternoon snack!

Honeybee Netflix documentary


Netflix has a good documentary series called Rotton.
The first episode is about honeybees. They talk about struggles of a beekeeper, adulterated honey and how it happened and the theft of several thousand beehives over four years.

More Bee Classes


The Art of Beekeeping (In Northern Climates)

January 27, 8:00 am - 6:00 pm $40.00
North Branch Area High School, 38175 Grand Avenue
North Branch, MN 55056 United States
+ Google Map

Is Beekeeping for You?

February 7, 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Harding High School, 1540 E. Sixth Street
St. Paul, MN 55106
+ Google Map

January Thaw


 This video I made a few years ago. The pics were from Jerry Linsers hive. He demonstrates one way to look at a hive on a cold morning. On a cold Jan 29th day. The bees were still peeking out the top hole of the top box.

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It will be warm for the next couple of days. This is good timing after our long cold spell. With the warmer weather the bees can move their cluster easily and hopefully re-position slightly on a fresh frame of honey. This will prep them for the next cold blast later this week.
 There should be no brood in a colony right now.
 Bees will be going on cleansing flights over the next few days. It is a good time to see if your hive(s) are alive. There will be bees dying in the snow. This is normal.
 If you don't see bees on cleansing flights, it doesn't  mean that the hive is dead. If a colony was very heavy with honey especially a three deep hive. The bees could still be down deep in the box and can't break cluster to get out. You can rap on the side of the hive and listen for a buzz. If you get physical with the hive, a beesuit may be in order. An interloper could fly out and give you some payback for the disturbance.
 Not seeing cleansing flights today is not a huge problem at the moment. As time goes on, the cluster will shift into the top box and cleansing flights will be more frequent with the warmer February weather.

2018 Package Bee Prices


Here is our 2018 package bee pricing.
Only thing different than last year is we will be offering Saskatraz Queens with our 2 lb and 3 lb packages. There is a $2.00 Royalty fee on all Saskatraz packages. This Royalty fee is paid to the developer of the Saskatraz line of queens.
 Also, the large quantity pricing has gone down.
2018 Package Bees Pricing

Queen types. Click on the queen type and scroll down for description.
Queen types from OHB

Local Bee Classes


University of MN Year 1 Beekeeping in Northern ClimatesInstructors Dr Marla Spivak and Mr Gary Reuter  Feb 24th. Click link for infoUniversity of MN Beekeeping in Northern ClimatesThe Art of Beekeeping in Northern Climates at Century CollegeCourse #1TEC-0082 $149.0  Feb 8–Mar 5 session JoAnn Sabin InstructorTh 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm page 32An Introduction to Beekeeping  [...]

2017 - Year in Review


The 2018 Bee Baby is coming. A new year is upon us.Goodbye 2017Let's look back and see the year in review.2017: January - The year started with some cold temperatures early. The temperatures warmed up nicely late in the month. Not much stress on the colonies. February - The weather was above normal temperatures. There was not much cold weather that can cause widespread starvation. Overwintered colonies were able to start brood rearing with ease. March - Temperature roller coaster. This did cause some late season starvation. There was a good amount of brood going in the hive. A few beekeepers were caught off guard to a cold blast that came from the 10th through the 15th. April - Package bees came. The first delivery was perfect weather. The second delivery was hot and humid on the first day. We had the pallets of bees outside in the shade to keep them cool. Late in the day, the weather turned and the bees were comfortable inside. Warmer than normal first two weeks of the month, cooled off last third of the month. The early warm weather was bring spring on quickly. Overwintered colonies were strong and needing to split soon. May - Bees have been building up nicely. Splits were being made through out the month. Queens were in demand through the month. Some cooler weather put the breaks on the fruit bloom. What earlier looked like an early bloom coming on, became a more average mid May event. A little cooler late in the month held back the Black Locust flow. Black Locust trees normally bloom in late May. The cooler weather kept swarming to a minimum. June: Started with 10 days of very warm weather. Swarming hit big. Brought on by the hot weather. Many beekeepers who did not split their hives saw their bees fly away. Swarm cells were showing up in strong colonies. The Black Locust flow came on stronger than normal. The early hot weather made this a big event. Many beekeepers in southern MN and WI got huge Black Locust crops. Beekeepers that overwintered colonies but did not do spring mite treatments were experiencing hive collapse. Colonies in general were building very well. Package bees were building and expanding into more brood boxes. The mid-June nectar flow was a no show. No nectar flow means more swarm cells. Beekeepers were fighting the swarming impulse. July - The main nectar flow hit around July 4th. About two weeks later than normal. The delay of the nectar flow gave beekeepers with package bees and nucs a little more time for colony build up. Most beekeepers had larger than normal nectar flow with first time beekeepers getting honey in their supers. The Basswood flow was a big help to a big honey crop. There was no Basswood in 2016. Whenever the Basswood flows, the honey crops are usually on the heavier side. August - Cooler than normal weather in August put the brakes on the nectar flow. There was not much increase in colony weight during this month. The nectar flow became more spotty. Some beekeepers still got honey but for most of us, it was over with.  Mite treatments were happening from mid August on. The cooler August made it perfect for Formic Acid treatments. Beekeepers were starting to extract their honey crop. The MN State Fair had large participation by beekeepers showing off their honey crops. Beekeeper volunteers kept the honey booth full of knowledgeable docents. Sept -  Honey extracting and mite treatment were the monthly chores going on. Some warmer than normal temperatures made Formic Acid treatments a little more challenging. Trying to get days under 85 degrees for three days in a row became a timing issue for Formic A[...]

Installing 2 lb Package Bees in 5 Frame Nuc Box's


We made this video after the first delivery of package bees last April. I finally got around to posting it. It is a good demonstration on how to install bees on a cold morning with no syrup spray.
 Using a five frame nuc box to start a 2 lb package of bees works great. There is enough room for the bees to fit in the box. The package will not be getting any bigger in population for about four weeks. The bees can keep the five frame nuc box warm, easier than a 10 frame box. The lady in the video, Megan, who helped me install the bees, had just shown up at my shop for some bee supplies for her three lb. package that was coming in a week. She left with her supplies and some good experience about putting package bees in a hive.
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Merry Christmas


Wendy and I would like to wish all our beekeeper friends a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
 Best wishes to you and your family for a bright and prosperous New Year .

Cold weather moving in


Cold weather is on our doorstep. It looks like about a fourteen day event. The first week of January look very tough.
The weather up to this point has been a cake walk for the bees. The warm late fall has been easy on the bees and on their food supply.
 Since the first of November, the average hive has consumed around 12 lbs of honey. The average hive consumption in winter is around 12 lbs a month. So the bees have not hit their food supply very hard.
 This cold weather will test colonies. The stresses on a colony in extreme conditions that have been weakened by mites. May result in a less than desirable outcome.
Colonies that a beekeeper managed properly, had low mite counts and ample food stores, is in much better condition to survive the winters of the Upper Midwest.
 I just received this twitter weather update from MPR.
 Coldest weather in 22 years coming according to MPR.
Other weather models are not saying this.
MPR weather twitter feed

Crank Up Bird Feeder


I put up a crank up bird feeder. I have always had trouble with squirrels and an occasional bear on or destroying our bird feeders.  This feeder keeps all of the varmints from being on the feeders.
 The crank up feeder was easy to install. The post is all aluminum and made for outside conditions.
 The birds love it. Four feeders, offering up a variety of feed. More feeders makes for more birds feeding.
 If you are a serious bird feeder this feeder may work for you.
I purchased this locally from
Crabtree's Garden Gate - Marine on St Croix, MN 55047

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Winter Covers are in


our new shipment of winter covers have arrived.

Winter has arrived


After enjoying the warm late fall weather, reality hit this morning. Ice and snow. It looks like the snow may be here for the duration.
 I was able to vaporize and cover all my hives before this weather hit. If you did not get around to covering your hives, now is the time to do it.
 If winter patties have been on for longer than two weeks, it may be a good idea to go out and take a peek to see if the patties are still there.
 The warmer than normal temperatures had the bees spread throughout the hive. In some cases the bees have been eating the sugar patties. So, check it out, replace as necessary. Now with the colder weather, the bees should stay clustered below the winter patties. If the hive has enough food the bees should be in the box below the top box.
 The warm weather has been an easy time for the bees. Honey consumption over the last month has been very low. Normally bees eat about 12 lbs of honey per month in the winter months. Over the last month, the honey consumption has probably been around 7 lbs (depending on cluster size).
 Now beekeepers can take a break. The season is over, the hives are covered and treated for mites. All the bees are ready for the rigors of winter.

Creamed Honey


Made up 30 cases of creamed honey, cinnamon and clover honey. I give the creamed honey to my friends and relatives. This is about 200 lbs of honey. It will take about 10 days to set. So it should be ready to give away by Dec. 10th.
9 oz hex jars. The cinnamon jar is dark, clover is the light colored jar

Open Hours Changing and Random FYI


Starting Dec 1st we will be changing to our winter hours. We will be open Saturdays only, 10 - 2pm.
 Any other time is by appointment. We do not have a problem setting up a time that better fits your schedule, if Saturday doesn't work.
 Beekeepers right now are finishing covering their hives for winter.
The unexpected warm weather is still giving beekeepers a little extra time to treat with oxalic acid. Plus the warm weather is making the bees consume less honey. This may help beekeepers who have light colonies going into winter.
 Did you know that Nature's Nectar LLC sells 5 gallon pails of bulk honey. If you need some honey for holiday gifts, give us a call to reserve a pail. Also we sell bulk strained beeswax. We have a special beekeeper price of $7.50 lb. We do have an assortment of candle molds and wick.