Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bee School

Long awaited, here is the info on Bee School.

First off, I really wish I had waited until next year to go to Bee School. But, my slot came up and I had to hop on it and get off that wait list. Why? Because it's not something we can justify doing this year... this year I have too many projects to take on another.

But, I'm still glad I went. I learned a LOT.

The day began with us learning about the geography and bees of the area we live in. The South Willamette Valley (yea, gave away the precise Oregon location there) is key for bees. We have blackberry flowers in early summer and clover which makes GREAT honey. Occassionally, there is poison oak honey which is extremely valued and prized. I find this a bit odd, since I've never run into poison oak here. Oh well.

We next learned about bee hives. You start out with one box. The bottom box is generally the brood box, which is where the queen bee reproduces. They boxes come it two sizes-- deep and Western. People are switching over to Westerns since they're only 7" or so deep and MUCH lighter. Deeps are 12" or so deep and can weigh 90+lbs when full. Each box can hold 10 frames. The frames are coated on either side with beeswax, which the bees build up into combs. The combs will hold honey and eggs.

You add another brood box when 7 of the 10 frames are full. The bees work their way upwards. When it comes time for the honey flow, you add a super (another box of the same size and with 10 frames). You can put a queen extractor between the brood box(es) and the super, keeping the queen from laying eggs in the honey-only boxes.

So, you have to add boxes to the brood boxes, as needed, and add boxes to the honey boxes, as needed. This is why hives are of varying heights.

There was a lot of time spent on feeding bees and overwintering. Bees need about 1 full box of honey to last through the winter. If they run out, then you have to supply. In the wild, no humans help supply because the bees are set; no one harvests their honey. But since you will have taken honey, you need to monitor your bees. If they get low on honey, then you can supply food. This food can be hard candy (like candy cane) or raw sugar. You can also give a sugar syrup you make, but it depends upon the time of year (you don't want it freezing), and the ratio of sugar-water depends on what you want the bees to do. Closer to flower season-- you want it to be more of a nectar, like they'd get in flowers. But in the winter, if not freezing, you want it to be more sugary, more like honey. You don't want the wrong food and to set the bees into thinking it's spring, I guess.

Then on to pests. There's a top of the box so pests don't get in. There's a board you can put in the front so only certain bees get in. Bees will often try to raid another hive's honey supply, so you have to sometimes limit access to the hive so the guard bees can have less ground to cover. You keep the hive up on pillars so that no water gets in. You can put a screen board on the bottom so if you need to check for pests, you just put a board on the bottom and then pull it out 1-2 days later to check for droppings/pests that have fallen down. Mites are a problem with bees, so you have special treatments for mites, including a gob of grease that the bees bite at and clear mites out of their system, as well as mites that live on the outside of bees (you sprinkle powdered sugar on the bees, they clean themselves, and by doing so, they clean themselves of mites).

There is the worry of a swarm (where the bees leave the hive for better digs), so there was info on that. And there was info on how to handle bees, calm them, move them, etc.

There wasn't much information on how to harvest honey. I wish there had been because I'm curious about that. I get the drift; the spinning of the honey out so you can reuse the built-up combs. But there was so much more, I thought, that could have been taught. I guess they wanted the focus to be on the bees and their habitat, rather than honey, which may distract people from bee care.

I really want to have bees. But it is PRICEY. You have to pay around $80 for your bees, and then the materials. Gloves (because bees have this bee glue stuff that is really sticky, and well, you're dealing with BEES), hat and veil, boxes (at least 2), stand with wire, bee extractor, queen extractor, lid, 20 frames... The total investment will come to around $250. That's before any medicine treatments or sugar feed, or anything. And you can't really sell anything after using it (well, box-wise) because most bee-keepers are really hesitant to buy used since that could spread disease.

I think it would be a really neat project in 1-2 years. We could somewhat justify the price based upon the pollination that we'd get for our plants, as well as honey we could use for gifts. Buuuuuut...... it's still a bit cost-prohibitive. It's also ANOTHER PROJECT, which I don't know if I will be up for by next year.

The group seemed really neat, but I just don't know if I can do it. We'll see.


  1. How interesting. I have never heard of Bee School. I has a neighbor in AZ that used to keep bees and bring us amazing honey!

  2. Ohmygosh, I think I'd wet my pants if I got swarmed by bees. Holy scary!