Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bees and Beekeepers at Selah, Bamberger Ranch

History of bee keeping at BRP. 

Several staff members working at the Bamberger Ranch were bee-keepers in the 80's and 90's. Buddy Francis became very allergic to bee stings and had to quit working around bees. Randy Lenz continued for many years.  Each year a number of small jars of honey were labeled with the Selah logo and given to guests by David as presents. 

When Randy and Buddy were both gone, the hives became inactive.  Colleen Gardner (then Colleen Lyons) came on board in 1999, and she decided to learn the art of beekeeping, and thus a new chapter in Selah bee keeping began. Colleen read about bees, their natural history, and the history of bee-keeping. She went to bee-keepers meetings to learn about bee hives, the proper gear for a person to wear when working with bees, and how to build hives, frames and install beeswax foundation. She found two wonderful people, Chuck and Sandy Wohl, who were willing to come to the ranch to help Colleen get first-hand experience with putting new bees in a hive, and handling a bee colony when checking their hive. Finally she learned how to take frames laden with honey and extract the honey so that we could again have "gift" jars of honey. 

In 2003 Steven Fulton, a biologist, joined the teaching staff and Colleen taught him beekeeping. This year in January Justin Duke, who graduated from Texas State in geography was hired to work with the teaching staff, and is now learning about beekeeping too. Justin's fiance Stephanie Tidwell frequently volunteers at the ranch and wants to learn about it too.

Colleen Lyons in 2001 in her bee gear is ready to work on a hive safely. It is important that the protective gear for beekeeping be a light color and cover the body so that skin is not exposed to possible stings.

Colleen learns from Sandy and Chuck about using a smoker to calm the bees before looking at the frames. Bees respond to smoke instinctively by eating honey so they will have food reserves (in case the forest fire burns their hive which is suggested by the smell of smoke), and being full of honey makes them sluggish. 

Some frames are just for honey storage and they are separated from the brood frames by a Queen excluder, which keeps her in the a part of the hive where the bee keeper wants her to lay eggs and raise brood. She is larger than the worker bees which can pass through the excluder, but she is too large. The frame above has both brood in the center and honey cells around the edge, which is the "textbook" brood pattern.

The Queen bee comes with a colored dot on her thorax (near front in middle) from the people who provide packaged bees - a different color for each year. The worker bees are all females that won't be able to lay eggs, but they are vital to the health of the whole hive. They have different jobs starting with keeping the hive clean, raising the brood, and finally collecting nectar for making honey. 
Honey frames have the wax caps removed by running a hot knife over the top of the cells. Then honey can be removed with a special centrifuge.

Colleen and Sandy use the centrifuge to separate honey from frames.

Some wax is in the honey and must be strained out.

Colleen fills jars with the clear and delicious honey.

Sandy and Colleen show off a labeled jar of honey, the end product of a lot of hard work.

Colleen uses the natural history of bees to demonstrate adaptations that both bees and flowers have to accommodate each other. The bees receive nectar and flowers get pollinated, and they are dependent on each other. 

Spring is time to "hive the honey bees".

Package bees should be ordered after the date of the last hard freeze for your region.  The best time of day to hive the bees is in late afternoon. Sugar water can be offered to bees until there are sufficient wildflowers for the bees to forage for themselves.  The new hive can be placed where the sun warms them in the morning so they can get an early start to drink nectar and gather pollen. 

Near the bottom of the picture a brood chamber sits on a cement base hive stand. Behind it is a super which will be filled with honey.

From the top down a hive consists of: 
(1) Hive Cover - with a galvanized covering that hangs over the edge of the top super and protects the hive from bad weather and extreme heat.
 (2) Shallow Super - supers are open at the top and at the bottom so bees can move around freely, with frames fitted with Beeswax Foundation for honey storage. Several can be stacked to increase storage capacity. 
(3)Queen Excluder -is placed between the storage area and where the young are raised. It  keeps the queen in the brood chambers where she lays her eggs (because she is too large to pass though the excluder), and prevents her from laying eggs in the honey storage area. 
(4) Brood Chambers - are the bees living quarters where the queen lays eggs and the brood is raised. Honey is also stored in this area for the bees' food.
(5) Bottom Board - forms the floor of the hive.
(6) Hive Stand- supports the hive off the ground to keep it dry and to insulate the hive.

Stephanie holds the bee "package" which includes a mass of bees inside the screen and a can that is hanging inside (you can't see it in this picture) with a queen bee in a little screened box. The queen produces  a chemical called the "queen substance" that makes her hive smell different from any other hive, and all of her worker bees will recognize their hive and their queen. 

You can see the queen bee inside her box and she has a white dot on her thorax so she is easy for people to see. The worker bees are very interested in her. There is a plug of candy in the end of the queen's box and by the time her workers eat the candy away, they will recognize her as "their queen". She will leave the box and start laying eggs in wax chambers formed by the workers for the hive's brood to be raised in. 

The queen's box is hung in the brood chamber so she'll know where to start laying eggs when she is out.

The rest of the bees are dumped into the super on top.  Justin is holding the brush so they won't fall into the sugar water which is there for them to drink until they figure out where the flowers are.

Justin gently brushes across the top to help them into the spaces between frames. When they are all in the hive the top is placed on it. You can see the inside of the top with galvanized metal on the outside just behind the hive.

Some of the workers stay on the brush and Justin holds it up so I can get a good picture of them.

The hive was set up last Thursday afternoon. When I went to see them today they were moving in and out through the entrance. It appears that they will be a successful hive. However, Colleen and Justin will be checking to make sure that the queen is healthy and laying eggs, and that the workers are taking care of the brood. They will also check to see if honey is being stored. If the weather is very dry, they may put out sugar water to keep them from getting hungry.

I found interesting information on a site about the American Bee Journal that had information about hives and answers to frequently asked questions.

Pictures in the History section were taken by Chuck and Sandy Wohl, Colleen Gardner, and me. Pictures of the hive being set up were taken by me on Thursday, April 24. Last picture was taken April 28.

I hope you found this interesting. If you have questions that you'd like me to answer, send a comment and I'll answer it with an addition to this post.

1 comment:

Kallie said...

I've heard about bees "disappearing" all over the country - so much that a number of important crops are threatened. I also understand that experts having trouble figuring out why. Is there any problem with that in Texas or near Selah?