May 29

Digital Moisture Testing for Honey at Half the Price?

scio2Currently a beekeeper has two choices for testing the moisture content other than guessing.   Use a traditional manual refractometer and estimate the exact percentage or use a more accurate, fast digital refractometer at a cost of $300-$450.   This may change soon with the introduction of a small handheld spectral analyzer.   It’s based on near-IR spectroscopy and measures the unique fingerprint of the light reflected by individual molecules.   It can be used to analyze numerous things including moisture levels.

Until now this technology cost thousands of dollars and might take up a fair amount of desk space.   But thanks to this kick starter project, the SCIO device can record a scan in a few seconds and send it to your smart phone.   It’s too soon to tell how many applications may arrive from this, but based on the existing examples of sugar content of a watermelon, recognizing materials, measuring hydration of the human body, etc.  this might give rise to a whole new set of testing equipment such as blood sugar levels (without needles) and measuring the moisture in honey!   Not bad for a $150 device.

Personally I’m curious if this could also be used to detect brood diseases, health of bees and other applications.


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Apr 26


It was a very pleasant day, a bit windy but sunny and in the mid 60’s.  Plenty warm enough to do some quick hive inspections and another round of grafting.  This is the latest in the season it’s been in 10 years before I’ve seen adult drones in the hives.   Not a great number yet, but there is plenty of capped drone brood.

I’ve learned over the years that you have to listen to what the bees are telling you.  If you watch closely they’ll let you know when the time is right to begin grafting or to make splits.  This year their drone production has been behind in spite of feeding pollen patties early.  Somehow they knew the weather would still be too cool for mating flights.  The 10 day forecast doesn’t look much better,  the highs are still in the mid 50’s and 60’s save for one day that promises to be very wet.  So there would be no opportunity for queens to make mating flight in the near future anyways.

The challenge late this coming week will be populating mating nucs.  I’m hoping the forecast gets revised upwards or we won’t be able to make the splits for mating nucs… low 50’s is really too cool to open hives for long.

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Apr 19

Queen Production Delayed – April Snow brings May Flowers?

Winter has been very long and hard for most beekeepers in Ohio and many of the northern states.    I’m commonly hearing losses in the range of 40 to 90% and beekeepers with many losses occurring in the past 5 weeks.   At Honey Run Apiaries we have not been immune to the arctic winter and record levels of snow and record long periods of sub zero weather.   But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and we’re excited about the breeding stock that survived with winter and are strong and growing now.

However, the cold did linger into April with one of the latest maple blooms I can remember and we even had an inch of snow this week.   Silver maples were blooming from about April 1st through the 10th,  2 to 3 weeks behind normal.  Unfortunately this means that drone production in colonies is also 2-3 weeks behind schedule because hives will not raise large quantities of drones unless pollen is plentiful.    I’m optimistic we’ll find drone cells in the hives this weekend which means we may be able to start grafting this coming week.

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Apr 03

New Online Store

Our old online store has had a good run, but the software is showing its age and we have a lot more product in stock than what was viewable online.   So we’ve taken some time this winter to migrate over to a new online store that will give us more options in the future.   We’ve also started adding more products to our store and will continue to do so over the coming months!

Check it out at .   We haven’t closed the old store just yet just to make sure any kinks are worked out, but the new one is open for business.

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Jun 10

Open Mated NWC Queens Available

Every year throws a different set of challenges in beekeeping.  This year it was the terribly cold March and April that delayed the start of the season.   Even this week we had one customer delay his order because they had snow on the ground this week in Wisconsin. 

The good news is we are now caught up on open mated queen orders and are back on schedule and still have a few openings for queens later this month as well as the rest of the season.   Nucs are on track to be completed this week and we’ll be starting inseminated queens this week as well (only about a week late).

The bad news (for a queen producer) is that the honey flow is now on in earnest.  Hives are booming and need supered, mating nucs are being plugged with brood and/or honey.  For the beekeeper producing honey, this is a great thing.  But for me, the extra work removing supers to find brood to graft, time to remove full frames from mating nucs, is a minor annoyance.   But this is one problem we can turn to our advantage if we have the time.   Frames of brood from overpopulated mating nucs are used to make summer splits using queen cells, that will become the nucs for overwintering.

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May 30

Wintering Hives, another reason to use deep boxes.

While researching overwintering to get other opinions in preparation for my upcoming talk at the Ohio State Beekeepers Association Summer Conference I discovered Michael Bush’s page on overwintering.  I’ve written before on the advantages of switching to all medium but never considered overwintering as a reason to switch to medium brood boxes.

I have not had the opportunity to run medium and deep hives side by side for a few winters to compare their overwintering success, and since I’ve switched to all medium hives I refuse to put any deeps into operation.   So I must take Michael Bush’s observation that medium hives tend to overwinter better than deep hives.   The logic makes sense however.   Bees in deep hives have less freedom to move around in the cluster as the cluster is broken up by the frames more effectively than with medium frames.  This, I suppose, is why deep frames often have ‘communication holes’, typically located near the bottom corners of the frame (Unfortunately this location makes them of very little value to a cluster that would typically be located more towards the center of the frame.  It would make more sense to me to put these ‘communication holes’ in the center of the frame.)

So I can’t say for certain that medium hive bodies overwinter better, but I generally do have fewer losses than the average for my area.   Of course I do many other things in preparation for overwintering (usually) that likely have larger effects.

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May 29

I need a queen NOW!

I’m not sure what exactly is happening in the world of queen production, but it seems to me that there is some big shortage of queens.   We get calls daily demanding we produce an extra queen for them now (out of thin air apparently).    We typically get a few a week this time of year, but it’s been nearly a 10 fold increase this year.  Some of them have been outright rude demanding that we do something about their problem and/or lack of planning.

Queens unfortunately don’t store on the shelf well, and they are a time and resource consuming product that also is affected by the weather.  And not just the weather today, the weather weeks ahead of the shipping date.   We also will always fill the orders of those who pre-ordered as they are our customer and we have an obligation to them and will do our best to keep it.   So that means we often won’t have extra queens just sitting around, and when we do, they get snatched up quickly   (Not to mention I need to requeen 140 hives myself sometime this year or there will be few bees next year)

So I’m sorry we don’t have extra queens for everyone who happens to call.  I appreciate your need and fully understand what it means for a hive to remain queenless.   But please don’t yell at my secretary.  She (and I) can’t raise enough queens for everyone and don’t have a crystal ball.

So what can the beekeeper do when they really need a queen now?   Not a lot besides spend time calling around.  Most producers this time of year won’t have any extra queens, but you might get lucky.   Also try resellers, beekeeping supply companies that buy queens in bulk and resell them.   Or contact a local producer and purchase a queen cell or virgin queen.   It will be longer before they begin laying, but it’s better than no queen at all.   In fact, this is what I end up doing because I don’t have queens for myself this time of year.

And for next year… there is a lot you can do but it doesn’t happen overnight…   more on that in a later post.


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Apr 15

Drones – Time to graft.

drone2 drone1Inspections last week found very little in the way of capped drone cells.  This Sunday was a completely different story.

As you can see by the lower picture, the hives have consumed the majority of the pollen patties placed earlier and now  have a large quantity of drone brood.    I did check a few and none are close to emerging which is no surprise, but the fact that they are capped cells means that they will be mature enough for queens grafted now.

This particular hive had a frame marked with the green top bar to indicate that it had a frame specifically to encourage the bees to raise drones.   Since I run all medium frames and drone frames aren’t available in medium, I started attaching a half sheet of Pierco to the frame, letting the bees draw out the other half.  In most cases this results in a half frame of drone brood.   You can make out the dividing line between worker and drone brood near the top of the first picture.

I checked several hives in my two mating yards and while I only saw a single adult drone, most hives had similar amounts of capped drone cells.

So this Monday we finally began grafting our first batch of larvae.   It’s about a week and a half behind schedule.

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Apr 09

Queens Delayed This Year

2013-04-07_11-38-29_938 (Custom)In a typical year silver maples would have bloomed several weeks ago and we would be seeing hives increasing in size significantly and a fair amount of drone brood.

This has not been a typical year so far.  And unlike last year that was several weeks ahead, this year is the opposite.  The silver maples just started blooming at the very end of March and the last of them finished blooming today. 

This past weekend we were able to inspect most of the hives for the first time of the season.  The good news is that the majority of hives survived the winter and losses were less than what I expected.  (Great news really given the reports of larger losses from some other beekeepers around the country).   The bad news is, given the cool March and late blooms, hives are easily 3 weeks behind in development.   Typically I’d expect to see a good amount of capped drone brood in most hives by the second week of April.  We found only a couple of  the 80 hives checked this past weekend that had drone brood .  We put more pollen patties in the hives to hopefully encourage drone rearing soon.

So why does this matter?  One of the big factor for good queens is having an ample supply of mature drones.   Grafting now to raise queens would be a futile effort and waste of time because there won’t be enough drones when the queens are mature enough to mate.   For early queens we don’t look for drones themselves, but for a good amount of capped drone cells when we graft.  These drones will be old enough to mate when the queens grafted are ready.


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Apr 04

Forgotten Swarm

SAM_0438 SAM_0435 SAM_0434As a beekeeper you normally try your best to make sure the hives are well prepared for winter.   You make sure the bees are healthy, hives have good populations, equipment is in good shape and that there is plenty of honey stored for the winter.

In spite of our best efforts, hives will still die over the winter for various reasons.   Sometimes though, a hive will survive in spite of the beekeeper.

Imagine my surprise when I did a quick check of the hives early this March when I noticed 2 hives among the weeds.   Not the brown and blue hive in the foreground of the first picture…. the 2 hives in the background, the second can barely be seen behind the first.

These two poor hives were swarms that landed on small trees or bushes sometime last summer.  They were hived in a single medium and then were promptly forgotten as the weeds grew up around them hiding them from view.  (This could be an argument for better record keeping).  

Surprisingly these two hives (again, in a single medium, with no winter preparation) where quite alive and well.  I have added a supper of honey to each on one of the few days in March warm enough for bees to fly.  As of a few days ago they still looked good and will likely survive in spite of my forgetfulness.  It’s a reminder that bees are still wild creatures and quite capable of living without our help, at least some of the time.

(The second two pictures are the two hives forgotten among the weeds)

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