Happy New Year!

Wow! Between family holiday fun, birthdays, school projects and parties, recitals, substitute teaching, and a very successful BEE SWEET holiday sale, we’ve been busy as bees, resulting in No-blog November and Deserted-blog December. Please forgive! My New Year’s resolution is to be a better blogger in 2016!

Bee Sweet products

Bee Sweet products

Bee Sweet Bee Farm sends out a huge thank you to everyone who supported our first online Tiny Business Tuesday Christmas sales event. Hopefully everyone enjoyed your products, and you felt the love we put into each item! Our younger staff members each chose a charity to support with some of the profits. The Cleveland County Partnership for Children, Foothills Farmers Market-Farmers’ Foodshare Program, and the Thomas Jefferson Talon Challenge benefiting the Jimmy V Foundation all received donations this year. Thank you for helping us give back!

The weather here is just plain WONKY! We’ve been wearing shorts and t-shirts through the last days of December, which is a nice treat for cold-natured me, but it’s pretty confusing for the bees. The gradual lengthening of days and warmer temperatures trigger bees to raise brood (baby bees) for the spring. Parents, you remember what it’s like to bring a newborn home from the hospital. You spend all your time either preparing to feed, feeding, or recovering from feeding that baby. Just like human infants, baby bees need to be fed almost all the time, and constant feeding uses lots of their honey stores.

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Nurse bees tend to bee larvae

Warm temperatures also make the worker bees want to forage for food, but there are very few plants in bloom right now. About the only thing we have available in our yard are dandelions. (See neighbors, there’s a reason we cultivate those instead of the lush green grass y’all have in your yards!) The bees expend a huge amount of energy looking for food, find very few nectar sources, come home hungry, and eat stored honey. It would be similar to you driving your car around from place to place to look for work. You burn lots of gasoline while driving, but you don’t get paid anything if you don’t find a job.

All this early winter use of honey prompted us to use the extra warm days as an opportunity to feed a little bonus sugar syrup to the girls, just as a little insurance that they have plenty of food to get them through the cold days that are most likely still to come this winter. Normally we wouldn’t be able to feed them syrup this time of year because of freezing night temperatures, and in typical years they wouldn’t need to be fed because they would have plenty of honey stores to last through the winter. So far, this winter is anything but typical!

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Adding syrup to top feeder

There are several choices of feeders for beehives. We use a top feeder that simply stacks on top of the existing hive. Sugar syrup is poured into the feeder, equipped with a floating framework for the bees to stand on and slurp up the syrup. Bees don’t swim, so they must have a place to stand and drink. They ferry the syrup to empty beeswax cells in the hive below and store it for later use. Other feeder designs attach to the entry way of the hive, but these can attract robber bees and pests. Since we sometimes have issues with the feral bees in our area, top feeders work well for us.

Wow! What a year! Bee Sweet Bee Farm would like to say thank you for an amazing 2015. None of us can be sure where life’s adventures will take us next, but we are thankful for our bees and the fun and relaxation they bring to our lives. We are grateful for all our supporters. Your beautiful words of encouragement mean so much, and those who check in on our babees on a regular basis bring a smile to our hearts and faces.

Please celebrate safely as we bring 2015 to a close. Remember, 2016 is a blank slate, full of opportunities to BEE SWEET! Happy New Year!

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Like A Hive of Angry Bees

A couple of weeks ago, we had a fun time introducing our kids to the sport of wrasslin’ through a few comical You Tube videos. (Not to be confused with wrestling, which is a real sport with rules and such.) Having lived all my life in the South, I’m not sure if this is a southern thing or just what, but when I was younger, wrasslin’ had quite a following. The boys at my elementary school could recount every move that their favorite star had made on tv the night before. They probably tried out their own moves on the playground, but I was far too busy talking high fashion, like Swatch watches and twister beads, with my friends to notice. My husband’s grandfather was such an avid viewer that he wouldn’t allow anyone to talk in his house when wrasslin’ was on the air. Me personally, I’ve just never been a fan. Somehow watching sweaty, grown men in costumes beat up on one another never held much fascination for me.

Really fighting of any sort didn’t draw me in, until there were bees involved. That’s when I became a spectator!

IMG_2911The Bee Sweet girls are normally so calm that they can be worked with little or no protective equipment. My husband and kids usually wear their jackets and veils, in case a bee gets upset, but I just stand in the middle of these girls in my regular clothes to watch and take photos, and I have yet to be stung. (The bees are probably watching me type through the window, and I’m sure tomorrow will bee the day they teach me a lesson.) Now I’m not advocating that you go hang out at any old beehive, up close and personal, cause our girls are probably just weird…everybody else in our family is, it stands to reason that our bees are too.

Sunday was a different story altogether!

Background info: My husband is trying to entice a small nucleus colony (basically a small hive of bees that we’ve babied all summer) to build more honeycomb in their hive. Bees have a small wax gland (who am I kidding, everything on a bee is little) that they use to make IMG_3459beeswax, one tiny flake at a time. Ten to eighteen day old bees have the job of making wax for the hive. (Talk about child labor! And my kids think loading the dishwasher is torture.) After they get older, they move on to other jobs. It takes a lot of energy to make beeswax, so to help speed production we’ve been feeding these girls a supplement of sugar syrup. In turn, they make extra honeycomb to store more nectar during the fall nectar flow. They could do some of this on their own, but feeding sugar syrup helps them build comb easier and faster. Much like me after I’ve had my second cup of coffee every morning…I can just make more things happen when I’ve had a little extra caffeine. The photo shows honeycomb cells, some empty, some filled with nectar, and some already full of capped honey. Honeycomb in other parts of the hive is used for eggs, larvae and baby bees.

Not only do bees have to worry about bears, skunks, raccoons, ants and pesky beekeepers coming along to take their precious honey stores, but also neighboring hives of bees. Honeybees have a keen sense of smell, so they know what’s happening in the ‘hood, just like we know when the neighbors are throwing steaks on the grill. If a hive is not strong enough to protect itself, the neighbors will come over, steal their honey or nectar, and transport it home for their own use. Each hive has guard bees that stand in the entrance and watch carefully for intruders of all sorts.

bitingBee Wrasslin’: Evidently, the neighbor bees caught wind that the small colony had been fed a tasty ration of sugar syrup and they sent bees over to collect their share. The guard bees alerted the workers, and these girls came out fast and furious to protect their precious honey, making professional wrasslers look calm in comparison. Whoever coined the phrase “like a hive of angry bees” wasn’t kidding! I had the experience of watching these girls in action. From a distance, there were tons of bees flying erratically all around the hive. By looking closer, I could see the outside of the hive was dotted with bees locked in battle.

Gang upThe first thing a bee tries to do to protect the hive is to bite the foreigner. A bee can bite many times, but as we learned last week, she can sting only once, so biting is much preferred! Several of the skirmishes showed multiple bees ganging up on one intruder. Eventually, if necessary, each bee is willing to IMG_3584sting an intruder and die to protect the hive. I watched, fascinated at how our sweet girls turned into fighting machines. The ground in front of the hive was littered with little bees that didn’t survive the skirmish. Hard to say which side the dead bees were from. (It was our loss either way, since those bully bees are ours too.) Would good prevail over evil? Could the larger hive be stopped? No need to worry! These little ladies had things back under control in just a little bit, and hopefully their neighbors will think twice about venturing next door to steal again. I was amazed at the vicious, head to head combat that our sweet babees were capable of. They could put a professional wrassler to shame! Maybe I’ll think twice before I head out uncovered again!

Until next time, Bee Sweet, and don’t mess with a beehive or they might unleash a Smackdown on you!