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2016 Hive Sales Begin!

Footage of the first colonies for sale in February 2016. More videos of colonies for sale to come in February.

Instead of a doom/gloom video of a dead colony, please watch a new video of healthy, happy Honeys in late January.

These treatment-free colonies are waking up from Christmas and dramatically expanding the broodnest.  I posted the video to give people a look into what they can purchase from Hercules Bees in February.  Delivery of colonies is available, but supply is limited and increasingly spoken for.  Send Scott a message if you are interested in purchasing overwintered, treatment-free colonies.

Also, I plan to pull some winter honey in  February and should have it bottled by the end of the month.

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December 2015-January 2016

In December I've been busy with the paperwork to move the Hercules Bees office out to Manteca.  I'm located there now even though I still keep bees in Contra Costa County.  I'm excited to talk more about the  upcoming Febrary sale of overwintered colonies, but first, Let me share a brief video of what Beekeeping in December is like:

 

Fortunately I've got many more colonies that are ALIVE and well.  I will begin posting video inspections  of the dozen or  colonies that are for sale.  Three colonies are already reserved, so please contact Scott to be on the list, deposit ($100).   Colonies are sold from both Manteca and Contra Costa locations.  Price dependent on timing/individual colony/box configuration, price range $585-800. 

 

In future news, I'm speaking for the program at the Mount Diablo Beekeepers Association (MDBA) in June 2016!  My topic is going to be On Natural/Biologic Beekeeping and Survivor Stock.  More to come soon, see you at the MDBA meeting tonight!

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Announcement of June Class and Spring Recap

Bee Class Information

The next Top Bar Beehive Beginner class offered by Hercules Bees will take place on June 27, starting at 10:00 at 236 Carson Street, Hercules CA 94547.  Class time lasts for approximately 3 hours, plus time for breaks and travel.  Class is to end at approximately 1:45.  Cost is $35/person.

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The above picture shows the classroom set-up of my workshop/office/garage.  Here class attendees will be introduces to top bar beehive equipment and general methods during a 60-70 minute presentation on bee biology/ecology in California.  Visual learning aids of posters and large photos not shown in this picture.  Class attendees are encouraged to bring a USB stick for a data-dump of bee journals and information.

After the lecture session, class will travel to a nearby apiary for two hours of guided instruction with the beehives.  We will conduct hive inspections, compare colonies, and also perform an alcohol-wash test to sample varroa mite infestation to instruct new beekeepers.

I am very happy to offer these classes to fellow beekeepers.  The June class date will be the third time that I will run the program, and I am building on each experience to provide the best class possible.  Class size is limited to 12 people and a full deposit is required to secure your place in the class.  Interested parties can contact me using scott.herculesbees@gmail.com.

Spring Activity Catch-Up

I know now that I will never be able to maintain a regularly updated blog during the spring rush.  In short, the following is what happened:

  • I finished a long-term substitute teaching assignment at the end of February.  March then became a month of building equipment to fill orders and prepare for my spring increase.
  • During the months of March and April my colony numbers swelled to climb past 30 as I made splits and caught swarms of bees.  I continued to sell more equipment.
  • I was a guest lecturer at the April meeting for the Alameda County Bee Club about Top Bar Beekeeping.
  • I held two class events for new beekeepers about top bar beekeeping in May.  I consider these classes to be successful.
  • I do continue to offer colonies and hive equipment for sale

However, it was during these months that I realized that full-time bee work of the kind that I was doing will not pay enough to comfortably cover my living expenses.  And, with my lover living far away in Tracy,  I spent too much time on the road, driving between two residences and 5 bee yards.  I have decided to earn my teaching credential in order to teach Science courses for Middle and High School levels, and to move out to Manteca CA in mid-June.  Hercules Bees will continue, but as a side business, and not as my main occupation.   Hercules Bees will shift gears and be intended for Top Bar Education and Supply.

Thanks for reading the blog!

 

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February 2015

Welcome to the Hercules Bees Blog!

The numbers below are the takeaway points

  1. Hercules Bees has a honey crop again for sale.  Message Scott using the form below to arrange pickup.
  2. Given the rate of colony growth, the first nucleus colonies and queens will be available in the third or fourth weeks of April.
  3. I'm making more videos, if there is something that you wish to see me cover, please tell me!

Footage of traffic at the landing board, and bee behaviors at the end.

 

I leaped back into beekeeping in earnest beginning on February 8 and I am pleased to report on the progress of my bees and company so far in 2015.  Warm weather and recent rains in the Bay Area have given the bees impetus and opportunity to begin their broodnest expansion, and colonies are quickly growing in size.  The drone population is increasing daily, and I believe that around the end of February/beginning of March we'll see many swarms.  I am prepared as I can be for the moment.  I've got six boxes out there acting as bait hives to entice swarms to take residence.

My colonies which show good spring build up are definitely crowded in the 2' boxes that I make.  These bugs are storing honey on the eucalyptus flow, and I was pleased at how heavy the boxes are from incoming nectar.  It took a bit of finesse and patience to cut away the side wall attachments made for the heavy combs by the bees during these inspections, but the information gained from seeing the quality and size of the broodnests at this time of year was well worth the effort.  Based on what I know now, I plan to do my first round of splits in the beginning of march, and that I'll start queen grafting around March 10.  The first mated and laying queens/nucleus colonies from 2015 will be ready for sale in the 3rd and 4th weeks of April.  At this time I will also start selling nucleus colonies with queens from 2015.  A five top bar strength nuc with 2015 queen is going to sell for $150.

I've been making minor changes to the website, beginning with my videos page section.  I finally got some video editing software and have stitched together clips to make a better video experience.  My most recent video can be found below it is a 15 minute tutorial on how to process harvested honey comb.

 

If you watched that video then you'll note that I again have honey for sale.  I am keeping the same sale price as last year.  As this is honey produced without sugar-feeding and chemical treatments, sale price is $10 for a half pound and $18 for a full pound.

I always think that I will have more to say, and then I realize that short and sweet blog posts are fine, provided that they have good content.  Please view these pictures instead of thousands of words and know that I am preparing as quick as I can for the upcoming season (I'm going to go buy more lumber tomorrow).  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bee Season Begins 2015!

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Bee Season Begins 2015!

Welcome back to the Hercules Bees Blog!

After the brief winter chill (2014 was the warmest year on record worldwide), Hercules Bees welcomes the start of the new year.  The November and December rains in 2014 have certainly greened-up California, providing for winter nectar and pollen flows.  During the solstice time, I took trips to each of my beeyards specifically to thump each and every box.   Wake up Ladies, the Sun is coming back!  We need more rain in order to have summer honey, but as far is it goes now, the bees will be alright during the spring.

Hercules Bees Overwintering Results:

I started winter 2014 with 24 colonies.  As of February 1, 14 of those colonies are alive and the majority of those alive are thriving and growing quickly.  These numbers are roughly what I expected, because colony strength among my 24 hives varied greatly.  As a result I feel more knowledgeable because what I expected to live, did live, and what I expected to die, did die.  I did lose 2 colonies specifically to Argentine ant invasion.  I regret this, for it was a needless loss.

Colony populations in my beehives are increasing rapidly right now.  The rounds of brood laid in January are hatching out, and the colonies gain momentum.  I will be able to recover my losses with spring splits alone, and with bait traps for swarm season, I expect to hit my intended goal of 60 colonies in 2015.

Where I was between August and Now:

I took a long break from writing blog posts and maintaining a web presence partly because of the seasonal slowdown of California beekeeping.  Additionally,  I am now more involved in the Mount Diablo Beekeeping Association (Contra Costa County), acting on the Board of the Directors as the Newsletter Editor (volunteer position).  We have some great programs lined up for 2015, so if you are in the area, please do come to one of our meetings.  More info can be found at www.diablobees.org 

In order to remain financially solvent in the offseason while this business grows, I have been working in a long-term substitute math teaching position at Millenium High School in Tracy California.  This job, which started just before Thanksgiving, lasts until February 6.  It has been Monday-Friday teaching math and grading papers.  It was a lifeline that allows me to start Hercules Bees in 2015 with the most resources.  Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way.

As soon as the teaching job ends I have full-time bee work to do.  I need to build so many beehives!  I have plans for a lot of increase AND hive sales have picked up.  So I plan to keep the saw buzzing at least until the start of March.

Other plans for 2015:

  1. 2015 will see an increased honey crop.  I'll have more colonies, especially honey producers.  And it has rained more this year (this will increase the honey flow of the land) More information to come about when honey will be harvested.
  2. Queen breeding and nucleus colony production is on schedule for April-May.  I'm trying new things and branching out this year.  
  3. If I build up enough colonies, perhaps I can get some pollination contracts.  It's too early to tell yet.

Thanks for reading the post!  Expect more to come (with multimedia) during the busy month of February.

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August 2014

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August 2014

The above image is of a mural in downtown Santa Cruz, CA.  It was painted in 2007.

Greetings Everybody!

August 2014 has been a month of transition for Hercules Bees.  The pace of the yearly California beekeeping cycle really slows down about now because the bees shift their energies from growth to preparation for wintering and survival.  In normal years, August is one of the last months of sustainable honey harvests from beehives, but in light of the current drought, I have not harvested any honey since mid-July.  Starvation is a major challenge to bee colonies in the CA fall, and rather than labor to feed my bee colonies sugar syrup, I am just leaving them with more honey than I otherwise would.

 I am so happy and pleased to announce the success of the 2014 market season!  Hercules Bees sold most all of its honey at the (now shuttered) Hercules Farmer's Market and reports that there will be no more honey available until production resumes again in springtime.  I am very, very thankful for the support of each of my customers and patrons during my first market season.  As Hercules Bees can only grow in subsequent years, I will be producing more and more honey in future seasons. 

Presentation at the market stall is getting better all the time.  This picture is of my last market event on August 9.

Presentation at the market stall is getting better all the time.  This picture is of my last market event on August 9.

    Q.  Hey Hercules Bees, if you are not harvesting/processing/selling honey right now then what are you doing?

   A.  Hercules Bees is already preparing for the activities of 2015.  I have a big list of equipment to build during the winter.  Beyond my general increase in colony numbers, Hercules Bees will focus attention on honeybee breeding and queen rearing in 2015.  I'll be building pollen traps, miniature hives for mating queens, hives for sale to the public (more information about this to be covered in an upcoming blog post), and definitely over a thousand top bars.  In 2015 I will need to improve my beekeeping skills to the next level and I don't think that I will be able to prepare enough.


Weird picture of beewbs, isn't it?  What is happening is that when bees build their comb from my foundation strips, they first build two separate structures and then join them together when finished.  Many of my colonies have these half-finished combs in the front of their hive, leftovers from the fast growth of the spring season.  It is part of my fall management strategy to move these combs to the back of the hive and shift everything else forward by one space.  This brings  the bee-cluster/brood nest closer to the front of the hive.  Having the cluster near the entrance improves the bees' ability to better regulate airflow during the harsher conditions of the rainy season.

Although honeybees are generally friendly and not an safety issue, late summer and fall can be a time of increased tensions inside the honeybee hive.  At this time of the year, summer foraging options are vanishing, the average age of the honeybee inside the nest ages (the population of worker bees that will overwinter grows, and older bees are more developed for colony defense), parasite loads are increasing, and finding enough water becomes a challenge for the bees.  All of these factors increase stress on the bees and can influence the "aggressiveness" of a colony.  Beekeepers can mitigate these issues by providing water for their colonies, ensuring that the honeybees have enough food reserves, and keeping colony inspections/disturbances to a minimum.  

 

Thanks for keeping up with my blog.  As always, feel free to leave your comments or contact me using the form at the bottom of each page on the website. 

-Scott

 

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Is this Honey "Organic"?

In today's modern landscape, I doubt that there is any truly "Organic" honey being produced.

Here's why:  

  1. Honeybees forage up to 5 miles away from their hive (though most foraging commonly happens within 2 miles).
  2. Honeybees that cohabit areas with humans forage on our gardens, farms, and open spaces.  Humans spray all of these places with copious amounts of pesticides and herbicides.  We chemically treat seeds with pesticides to minimize insect herbivores, but consequently these toxins are exuded in nectar and pollen.  We treat seeds on our farm crops, we treat seeds on the plants sold at gardening stores.  Bees get all into this and bring it back to the hive.
  3. Bees do not notice property lines drawn by humans.  Bees kept on organic farms and gardens certainly forage on non-organic food sources.  So should we call the honey 75% organic?  43% organic?  how would we even test it?

Take away message:  If "Organic" is on the product label of a jar of honey then the producer is mislabeling their product.  There is no "organic" honey available on the market.

BUT THERE IS ETHICALLY-PRODUCED HONEY AVAILABLE

This honey is "organically produced" rather than itself being organic, and that is a big distinction.

There are many chemicals available for beekeepers to purchase that are designed to control disease and parasites.  Some of these chemicals are harsh, toxic pesticides.  Others are organic acids or derived from botanical sources.  

Honeybee colonies which are not treated with any chemicals, or treated only with organic acids (products that don't leave contaminants in honey or wax, e.g. Mite Away Quick Strips) produce honey that can be labeled as "organically produced".  Most honeys available at grocery stores, meanwhile, come from large producers (sometimes overseas producers) who invariably use a lot of chemicals to keep their bees alive.

Take away message:  Ask your local beekeeper how they produce honey to be sure that you aren't eating diluted pesticides!

 

 

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End of July Update

This blog, I assure you, is still alive.  It is also, undeniably, prone to long periods of inactivity.  Thank you for continuing to read it.

Since writing the last posts, I have spent much time in harvesting, processing, bottling, and selling the spring and summer honey crops.  I am proud to announce that Hercules Bees participates in the Hercules Farmer's Market every other week on Saturdays from 3pm-7pm.  My next market date is for August 9th.  Please come on by to say hello and to ask that one burning question that you have about honeybees.  If you wish to purchase honey outside of the market, then we can also arrange private meet up times.  Just use the contact form on the website and we will arrange something.  Honey jars (8oz) each sell for $10.

I am enjoying the experience of having a market stall.  It is pleasurable to meet new customers, exceptionally pleasurable to have repeat customers,  and engaging to speak with all people about the honeybees/human society issue.  Also its really nice to pick up delicious fruits and veggies.

One of my first market days!  Come on by for a honey sample and some bee chat!

One of my first market days!  Come on by for a honey sample and some bee chat!


As good as markets and everything business-related is, I am most happy to share information about the health and conditions of my bees.  At the end of the growth and swarming season I currently manage just over 20 bee colonies.  In the face of severe drought in California, business growth pains concerning logistics, timing, and cashflow, and the need to produce a honey crop in 2014 I am proud achieving of that number.  In the beekeeping cycle of coastal California, this total number will begin to decline until it rises again in March-April 2015.  I may lose hives due to disease and winter loss during this time, but usually before that happens I combine weak colonies with strong colonies to keep the bees strong as can be.

This group of beehives is able to keep their health up because they have access to excellent forage.

This group of beehives is able to keep their health up because they have access to excellent forage.

In the last few days of July I began monitoring the varroa mite populations inside my hives in earnest.  Most of my colonies show a 5-10% infestation of varroa mites.  This causes me concern because the numbers now are twice as high as they were at this time last year.  I think that the higher mite infestations are a result of the compound of factors of the CA drought throughout the season and the older average age of my bee colonies.  In general, though, my bees have provisioned stocks of honey and pollen and I am not terribly concerned with starvation.  At this point, my bee-management mentality is to wait, test, and see.

I am an advocate for monitoring varroa mite populations over time because informed beekeepers can make the best decisions for their stock.  Even though I now keep bees without chemical treatments, it is still very helpful for me to know this number.  As beekeepers we should all be monitoring and learning more about our craft.  For those beekeepers who do treat their colonies with chemicals, I exhort you to follow the process of test (to form a baseline), treat, and then test again (to judge efficacy).  Ok, I am off of the soap box now.

 A general rule of thumb for CA honeybees is that the colony strength of a beehive on August 15 is comparable with the expected population come February 15 (when the bees emerge from winter in earnest).  So already I am planning for what I'll be able to achieve next year--honey crops, bee sales, and queen bee production!  

I had a funny realization recently about why my ankles are so itchy.  Beestings, I believe.  Honeybees teach the importance of working with them, not against them, when they act defensively.  Twice this year, a colony has stapled my socks to my ankles (and I mean really a lot of stings), because the ankles were the only chink in the armor of the bee suit that I wear for rougher hive manipulations.  90% of my work around the bees is done without suit or veil because the protective gear gets in my way, and so I do get stung time to time--mostly on my hands and forearms.   Usually these stings don't swell and are of little notice after a day has passed.  However, I have found that when I get more than 5+ stings in a day my ankles break out in itchy bumps,  a sympathetic localized reaction to the past trauma of a lot of bee venom around that area.  So i get stung on the hands, but my ankles are itchy.  Weird world.

It is generally best to avoid situations like this one.

It is generally best to avoid situations like this one.

I don't know yet what I'll cover in the next blog post.  I'll be sure to include updates of Hercules Bees activity, thought.  Thanks for reading!

-Scott

 

 

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How I like to eat honey and First Swarm of 2014!

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How I like to eat honey and First Swarm of 2014!

Honey is a delicious food and I haven't yet decided how I like best to eat it.  But I've come up with some good ways.  I'm always searching for more.  Please comment with your favorite honey recipe!

1.  A large spoonful of liquid honey.  Let it warm in the mouth and then tilt your head so that it can coat your throat.  The residual taste of sweetness will last in your mouth for up to an hour or until you ear something else.  I find that this is the best thing ever for sore throats or for before or after physical exercise.

2. Oven Baked Kale Crisps:  Preheat your oven to 350.  Get a bunch of kale, any kind, and rip up the leaves to bite sized pieces.  Discard the stems. Coat leaves lightly with olive oil. Add salt and pepper.  Toss kale Roast in oven for 8-10 minutes, stirring once.  Take out pan and add some balsamic vinegar, toss, and finish in oven for 2 mins more.   Drizzle honey on kale on the pan, toss, and serve immediately.

3.  Chewing on honeycomb and wax cappings.  Since I have to extract honey a lot via crush and strain their is always some honey that will remain in the wax comb no matter what.  When this comb has never been used for a brood cycle, it is a pleasure to chew.  I then spit the wax ball into a dish and later melt it down.  I believe that chewing on the wax provides some micronutrients to our bodies  This is a prime pleasure in being a beekeeper.

4.  On toast.  With butter or peanut butter if one feels fancy.

5.  For that last little bit of crystallized honey in the jar, pur in milk or milk tea and microwave the liquid and glass container.  When hot, stir.  Cinnamon may be added. for taste.

 

Also, on March 9 I caught my first beeswarms of 2014!  Woo hoo!  Swarm season is here everyone!  Please help me to capture all of the beeswarms I can by keeping your eyes and your ears open.  There are two new videos posted in the videos page about this swarm.  I estimate that it was about a volleyball in size. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Website 2 weeks old

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I am learning more and more about how to set-up this website.  I am pleased to report a number or additional photos  

I am so happy that rain is on its way to California.

The bees have kept me busy during the winter flows that we are seeing.  Currently the bees are feasting on manzanita and willow tree blooms, and also many plums and cherries are beginning to open up. Because of the drought and delayed plant growth, it is still a little early for winter wildflowers, but after the coming rain we should see some results in our open areas.

I also believe that the swarm season will begin after this rain passes.  Drones have been building up in strong colonies now for some time and I am noticing queen cups being built in the bigger of my hives.  I can't wait to bag as many as I can but I WILL NEED EVERYONE'S EYES to help me keep a lookout.  Once I start recovering swarms, I will be able to sell bees with my Top Bar hive models.  If you are interested in purchasing a Hercules Bees Hive, contact me so that I can put your name on the list.  First come, first served.

In other beekeeping news, the almond bloom is in full swing right now and one of man's greatest monoculture achievements cycles through another year.  Blue Diamond released this photo on their website, and from the aerial perspective, things look rather pretty,

http://www.bluediamond.com/applications/in-the-field/images/Central1LRG294.jpg

and some people wonder why California has a water problem...

After the rain, and during it, many farmers will spray fungicides and other things in between the tree rows to "control" things.  FYI they'll be controlling things in an area that is currently hosting over half of our nation's beehives.    I'll stop myself here before I get too deep into politik, because I know that there is always a cost to doing business.

If you would like to see something in particular on this site, please leave a comment.  All comments are welcome.

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January Post

Happy New Year Everyone!

First, some pictures that I promised:


Here I am in mid-December assembling the first top-bar hives because I couldn't wait to put something together.  Special thanks to my friend Adam for helping me to screw these first hives together.  Pictured are three 4' long hives to be used for honey production and also two 2' hives that I will use for pollination and transitional housing as bee colonies grow.

Those first boxes have been painted and are ready to go out into the field when the bee swarm season begins.  Considering this dry weather in California, swarming could be very early this year.
The front of the hives have six holes and the rear of the hives have one hole for hive ventilation and in case I ever need to divide the hive into two separate cavities.  A complete hive will also use a steel roofing panel and tie down rope (not pictured) to protect the bees from sun and rain.

Some mornings, I annoy all of my neighbors with the constant shriek of a table saw.  I try to space these noise-making marathons out in order to preserve suburban tranquility.  Pictured here are the beginnings of the many-thousand top-bars that I will cut for my hives in my lifetime.

This picture of the top bars in early January shows the grooves that I must cut into each top bar to hold a guiding strip of foundation so that the bees build straight comb.  That was also a noisy morning.


At the workbench (next time I gotta do this part outside) I am using melted beeswax to secure the foundation strips to my top bars.  I've got a pot of melted wax in a double boiler, a little homemade dipper, and a rack to work on 15 top bars at a time

This is one finished top bar.  The 4' long hive models require 29 of these bars.

This picture is dated on January 15.  It shows the very good brood pattern of one of my beehives.  Most all of my hives are growing as fast as they can now.  They are bringing in lots of nectar and pollen from blooming eucalyptus, acacia, and now plum trees.  This drought scares me.  I do not think that this nectar flow will last long, but for now, the bees are making the most of it

Here is one of my queen bees at a apiary location in Martinez.  I took her out to put a little spot of paint on her thorax.  She's a keeper.


Here are some of the 18 remaining 2' boxes that I've been working on.  Last night I finished adding the handgrips and landing boards to all 18 and at my next opportunity I will paint them.  I will set a number out into the countryside to serve as bait hives for swarms to take residence in.  I've been on a building spree!

On January 25 I celebrated completion of finishing the cutting all of the wooden pieces for these hives.  Now comes the hive-assembly marathon.  It is really gratifying to put the boxes together after spending 4.5 months cutting wood pieces.

In other news, I have found out with certainty that I will not be able to place an apiary in any open space or other land managed by the Refugio Heights Homeowners Association, either now or in the future.  This decision comes handed down in a complete and well thought-out letter from the attorney of the HOA.  This letter even states that no sort of easement for beekeeping activity as expressed by a will of Homeowners may be considered of in the future on HOA open-space land.  I thank the directing board of the Refugio Heights Homeowners Association for expressing interest in my project proposal and going as so far as to ask their attorney what the authoritative stance is on such possibilities.   I was sad and disappointed when I had heard this news but feel grateful that I know that such a door is closed with certainty.  I may now better direct my attention towards finding additional beekeeping yards.

I will need to find additional beeyards as my business operation (my herd of bees) grows in size.  Myself and the Gardeners are still trying to negotiate with the City of Hercules about stationing my bees in the Hercules Community Garden.  Since September 2013 I have been speaking with City Workers about this project, and soon I hope that we will have a breakthrough.  I remain optimistic that I will be able to manage beehives in the Community Garden in the future, but this process of trying to work through the layers of a debt-crippled municipal government body is taking much more time than I thought it would.  That being said, I am still committed to finding a way to pursue the goal of my Kickstarter Campaign

Because I seek a Home-Operation permit for my business for purposes of beehive making and office management, I am not permitted by the City of Hercules to keep my livestock at my home.  Though I do understand and agree with this provision within the statutes of the municipal code, it is a challenge as I must now find additional places for my bees to occupy while retaining a non-overlapping coverage of my forage areas.

All in all, though, I have enough places for my bees now, and I remain optimistic that I will be able to accommodate their growing numbers.

And now what about the bees?  Well, they are out there, still living.  I checked on my colonies after the entire West Coast had the prolonged cold snap in early to mid December and I am pleased to report  zero colony losses thus far.  Gosh, California, you are a mild land.  Now just a mere week after the cold snap, I am walking around in sunny days with a daytime high in the low to mid 60s.  If I go out walking in the afternoon, it is possible to start sweating.  On days warmer thatn 55 F the bees get out and fly when sun gets on the hive.  They fly in order to cleanse their bowels (a cold weather no-no) and they look eagerly for forage on the Eucalyptus species that have responded to the first rains of this season.  Though some of my colonies have reacted to the transition of winter by going into a broodless state, the majority of them maintain some amount of broodrearing.  Extended and sizeable broodrearing during dearth/cold periods are a characteristic trait of the Italian subspecies (A. m. ligustica).  Italian bee genetics are widespread among the honeybee populations of the United States because of the interests of our high-production oriented agribusiness that demand and pay for a huge commericial pollination effort.  Indeed, selection pressures on commerical bees have been so strong that some Italian bees, especially those in warmer climates, never do completely stop raising brood and new bees.

Except for the continuously rainy, cloudy reaches of north Northern CA or the mountainous regions, beekeepers in CA are indeed able to open boxes and  manage their colonies during the winter months.  The beekeeper must remember to consider the needs of his stock, however, and not open hives on days colder than 55 F or at times without direct sun on the hive.  Consideration of cold weather is less of a problem in the sunny, southern stretches of California.  There, beekeepers instead have a unique problem in managing colonies that raise brood (and thus raise populations of the varroa mite) year-round.

I continue on managing my bees during these cold months.  When a colony goes broodless, I  take a mite-population sampling and determine whether mite levels warrant treatment with an oxalic acid dribble.  If mite popluation levels do not warrant treatment and the colony has enough food reserves, I leave the bees alone in order to let Mother Nature select  the survivors for me.  Breeding beestock that is able to coexist with the parasitic varroa-mite is an ongoing goal of mine.

I apologize about the incredibly long gap between this and my last blog post.  I will be more frequent about it this year.

Thanks for reading!

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The Inevitable Catch-Up Post

September 25, 2013

When I was first arrived back to California in January 2013 I debated between honeybee farming and a "conventional job" for my vocation.  Needing answers, I questioned other beekeepers about their yearly work cycle, especially those living in California.

"Oh God, it is busy," they said, "during the spring and summer rushes, you won't have time to eat! Plants during a good Californian spring will gush out nectar and swarm catching will keep you on your toes.  Then in summer the bees put on honey.  It is manic, but things slow down around August."

Now, after a season of beehive equipment building, lots and lots of information gathering, and many, many hours in the bee-yard I feel certain that Apiculture is my vocational calling.  Knowing this, I am currently in the process of establishing Hercules Bees as a legitimate business.  Needing resources (site locations and money) to continue to grow my operation to meet the needs of my bees, I ran a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in August which, thankfully, was successful.

Check out this Kickstarter link to see much of my recent activity
If you check out updates section and scroll down, you will find a technical video of an common apiary task during summer and fall: taking a mite infestation count to assess the the amount of disease inside of a bee colony.

Myself and the Council of the Hercules Community Garden are currently engaging with the City of Hercules to satisfy the legal obstacles of establishing urban beekeeping at the garden site.

Meanwhile, I have begun my top-bar beehive construction with the funds provided by the Kickstarter Campaign.

This picture from earlier in September shows the first end pieces that I have cut for a beehive style that I will be mass producing this winter.  Construction of these hives is well underway  It is my goal to increase to the around 50 number of bee colonies in 2014.  I will house these colonies in 1',2', and 4' beehives as they grow in size.

So Scott, how are your bees this year?

My beestock has done well this year.  My bees have contended with a record-length dry season in 2013, building their nests and raising their generations with adequate nutrition to fight off disease and keep parasitic mite levels under control.  I am happy with the wealth of genetic variation that I have among my stock. My bees come from swarms and splits that have open mated in San Rafael, Oakland, San Francisco, Richmond, Hercules, Concord, and Walnut Creek localities, along with three colonies from commercial breeders.  I see bees showing traits from Italian, Carniolan, Russian, and mellifera (feral) subspecies among my hives.  Some individual colonies exemplify really great vigor while keeping up acceptable hygienic standards.  I am confident that most will survive the late-fall and winter stresses of coastal California and emerge strong in 2014.

Great, but, have they made honey?  Well, yes, but not yet enough for me to harvest.  I have transferred any surplus that strong hives have made  among my weaker or slower hives to equalize them.  Apis mellifera, the honeybee devotes much energy to building their nest, and it takes a lot of honey for them to produce enough beeswax to build their comb (8+ pounds of honey metabolized for every pound of wax made).  Thus, for managed hives, a general rule is that honey harvests during the second year of a hive's existence increases significantly.  If weather blesses us in winter and spring, I will be able to pull the first honey from my hives in late Spring, 2014.

That's it for now on the updates.  Stay tuned -- the next post will cover the developments of stationing Hercules Bees Beehives within the Hercules Community Garden and include a lot more pictures!

PS.  A few months ago, Time Magazine ran a very thoughtful cover story upon the current state of our favorite insect.  Check here if you haven't read the article and catch up upon how honeybees play a vital role in solving production crises for the industrialized food systems in America and Europe.







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Some Shout-outs and some videos.

One of the feelings that I hope to arouse among people who read this blog is an ever-growing curiosity about all things bee! Why not, right? So let's all geek out a bit.

Of course there are bee keeper meetings where you meet the people who walk the walk.Talking with them about bees is a great resource.   So is reading about their experiences and there is a wealth of online information available at our fingertips! 

Oops, first let me delivery substance to the claim about videos. Here is a recent one from the Chesterton apiary.



Fun, right!  Aww they were so cute.  I don't really know what I meant when I said "their abdomens haven't come out yet" because, obviously they have.  I meant to talk about their color and texture.

If you are a  person interested in beekeeping beyond the wikipedia-research level, a great place to start is www.beesource.com .  Beesource is an expansive and active forum that contains many points of view from beekeepers of all sizes and involvement.  in this forum people ask questions about everything, so if you have a question, it has likely been asked and considered before here.

Another no-brainer is YouTube.  I really like videos posted by the Fat Bee Man somewhere in the southern US.  There are many videos, of many different qualities.  One good one will often lead to more, and seeing people using the equipment that is mentioned in the forums will help put pieces together.

There too are sites run by beekeepers for beekeepers and also by bee businesses for consumers.
One very important for-beekeepers resource is www.scientificbeekeeping.com, written by Randy Oliver.  He does great work with interpreting bee physiology studies and real world situations.  I especially found his recent article about the 2013 bee die-off to be rational and illuminating.  I also enjoy www.tbhsbywam.com for another no-less practical approach to keeping bees.
There is good literature out there. Regarding California's coast we are lucky to have the experience of Jeremy Rose in book form.
We have good websites by local businesses from people like Robert Mac Kimmie at www.citybees.com and the people who run www.marellahoneybs.com.

Here is a picture of one of my queens. Woohoo!

I'd write more if i could, but I don't yet have the experience.  I think that I'll find the next topic for a blogpost sometime when I am elbows-deep in a beehive.  

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May 2013


The operation is gaining momentum!  April and May have been such busy months for bee-work that I haven't had a chance to write May's post until halfway through.

Let's talk about the action in the San Rafael Beehaus: I've been working with Volker Ackermann and Robert MacKimmie, two very knowledgable beekeepers, for a few months to breed the best queen bees for our Bay Area ecosystem.  This is a project that we will continue for a few years at least, but some of the efforts are already coming to fruition.  In Ackermann's place in San Rafael, we have a bee yard that held about 40 colonies at it's peak population.  Most of these colonies were made by splitting a big hive into many smaller ones, and then introducing queen cells from colonies whose genetics we want to propagate.  Now these colonies are quickly growing larger (bees are busy creatures in the spring and summer) and we are beginning to move bees out of the yard.  The next phase of our project will be grafting larvae to make queen cells from the bees that we want, rather than being reactive to the queen cells that bees produce themselves.

I am learning so much too quickly from all the exposure to bee biology and it has been great.  

Last week I took a 4 pound bundle of bees and a good queen and put them together to start a new colony at a friend's house in Hercules.  After the foreign queen had been with the bees long enough for her pheromones to gain control of the workers, I released her from the cage that had previously kept her safe so that she could begin laying eggs.  Watch this video.  I just love how the antennae of all of the workers go wild when they crowd around the queen!



More colonies will soon come from Ackermann's Beehaus so that I can fill out my Hercules and Walnut Creek apiaries.  They are just growing.

But late April and Early May have not been all just fun.  I paid for a lesson about the importance of Argentine ant control at the cost of one colony.  At a top bar hive underneath a willow tree I had noticed that a few ants were exploring and foraging in the nest of my honeybees.  I knew that this could be a problem so I decided to apply the Tanglefoot glue on the legs of the hive stand to stop the ants from gaining access.  For a few days, it worked.

Then calamity.  I woke up early one morning to find that all of my bees were flying around wildly for such an early time in the morning.  The buzzing sound that they were all making was quite extraordinary.  When I looked at the hive, it was plain to see thousands of black ants crawling up the sides and into the nest.  Removing the hive cover, I found that the ants were already into the comb, eating the larvae, pollen, and nectar stores of my bees.  There were a few dead bees on the bottom, casualties of the attack before the retreat.  The majority of bees, meanwhile, had started to gather in my willow tree, very high up on a place that I could not reach or climb.  I could not find a way to trap them.  Within the day, they disappeared back into the Hercules hills.

I took the comb and put it in my freezer to kill the ants.  I then transferred the comb to my other top bar hive,  so the material will be used.  But I was out a colony and very sad.

That day I later went out to Walnut Creek and checked on a hive that I had pulled out of a chimney.  I was surprised to find that 1. the bees were still there. 2. The had raised their own queen. and 3. the queen was laying eggs!  It was a nice consolation, but I was still sad to lose that first hive to ants.

Speaking with my California gurus, they enlightened me on a natural method of ant control.  It is a combination of using diatomaceous earth and tanglefoot glue in a hive stand to provide a double barrier against the ants.  I promptly went out to get the required materials.  A bit of insurance is a good thing to prevent calamity.

I apologize for the lack of pictures.  I've been very busy building equipment when not tending the bee hives.  Wait I found a picture:  Check out this frame jig I built!  It lets me build ten frames at once, assembly line style: 

Yes, I realize that it is just a box, but it is a really cool box.
Today is foggy, but it is warming up now.  It is time for my to go out to the yard and take another bee census.  Thanks for reading!




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It's like fishing.

April goes live 2013


I had a wonderful Thursday which started with eating breakfast.  While chewing at the table I noticed activity buzzing around one my my hives in the yard under the willow tree.  During the course of the day I confirmed that a swarm had indeed taken residence in the top bar hive (a 4' box which I had reduced to 1' 6" to catch swarms) beneath my willow tree.  At about 5 pm I could no longer resist temptation and so I peeked inside on the bees.  It was delightful to find the bees crawling all over the bait combs and gathering in clumps to draw out fresh wax comb.  Since many bees were out foraging, it wasn't too soon before I found the queen and confirmed that she was laying down eggs.

After closing up the hive I checked my cell phone to find a waiting voicemail (Verizon is patchy in Hercules) reporting a beeswarm chilling up in the hedge of a home right by Richmond High.  Awesome, right?  I called them back and confirmed that I was to come out and gather them.  Lauren Moore decided to go along to observe and it wasn't long before I had her wearing this beesuit
and standing next to me with a catcherbox upon her head while I was up a ladder snipping branches and lowering down cluumps of bees.  Down on the ground I shook bees off of the greenery and quickly covered up the insects with a roof of top bars.



They had all gone inside by dusk and so after stuffing the entrance with cardboard we headed back home to Hercules.  Stepping out of the car i took the bees up to an empty 4' top bar hive and began to shake them into their final home. No sooner did I dump them into the box then stray bees were flying and landing on my face and shoulders in the failing evening light.  Very courteously, Lauren passed me a soft-haired brush that I then used to seep them off of my head, shoulders, and other parts of the hive, and into the hive cavity. It was an ordeal but I did get through it without any stings.

Two beehives in one day!

Golly.

So, it is swarm season, bees are out there and flying.  Remember to give me a tip-off if you see or have a beeswarm. (510-421-3671).

On another front, beebreeding with Volker Ackermann and Robert MacKimmie in San Rafael is chugging ahead.  We have built ten mating-boxes for miniature sized beehives (each box holding two queens) and begun to propagate a few of Volker's healthy bee families.  On recently inspecting the boxes, most of the queens out of this first round had hatched and were still inside of the box before they had gained strength to go outside on mating flights. One queen we found had already returned and was laying down fresh eggs.  She was a pretty individual of Carniolan stock, with good size and energy.

As soon as these bees are ready to leave the breeding yard (another two weeks ish) I will write and share about my experiences raising bees in Langstroth hives.

Thanks you all for reading up to this point.  Give me any feedback that you want to, I'd love to hear it.

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Hey there Interested People,

Developments  continue to occur in the apiary-to-be.  Namely that I have pictures of three finished top bar hives

and swarm catcher box baiting!


As everyone in the Bay knows right now, it's dry.  We miss rain.  It's actually hot.  What this means is that the bees are really awake by now.  They've been out gathering the early nectar flow of things like manzanita and eucalyptus trees and are rapidly building up their populations.  Those queens that are really on the ball are laying like monsters and preparing the hive to swarm.

I imagine that the first swarms of 2013 to begin flying in the next 12ish days and continue through the spring.
That means CALL me if you see a beeswarm!  Please.

I want to be known as the 'bee guy' in Hercules and beyond.  I am very happy to retrieve swarms from people's properties FOR FREE and any/mostly all locations (possible exceptions if swarm is 30ft up in a tree).  So, if you all see a basketball-sized clump of bees who are just chilling in a random location, you gotta call me.

This is a time-sensitive operation.

So people, let me know!  I am reachable at 510.421.3671 or by email at scjorgensen.email@gmail.com

In other news, a buddy of mine had a solar waxmelter kit but hadn't had the time to assemble it.  I had a bunch of wax but didn't yet have a easy way to melt it all down.  So I did that one thing in order to accomplish the second thing and we're both happy.  I gotta get me one of these things, they're great.  I expect to be through all of the wax within a week, sun permitting.


It smells so nice around all of that melting wax.  More to come, thanks for reading!

-Scott

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The Thirteenth Labor of Hercules

Hello Everyone, Welcome to the Hercules Bees blog!

I am very excited to begin blogging about my experiences with beekeeping in San Francisco Bay Area, and more excited to start beekeeping here in 2013 and onward.

I arrived back in the United States on January 8th, 2013, after completing a successful service as an Environment Volunteer with the United States Peace Corps in The Gambia, West Africa.  While I do miss The Gambia and its people tremendously, I am very excited to apply lessons learned overseas to my life situation  back in California.  Among my various work projects and activities in The Gambia, I spent two seasons observing the African honeybee, learning bee biology, and gaining experience beekeeping with a top-bar style hive (this kind is not the hive present most everywhere in the USA).  I was taught the basics of beekeeping from friends and instructors at the BeeCause NGO and other Peace Corps Volunteers.  Extensive thanks go out to Balla Ndour, Jenny and Mick, David Harolson, Xander Kent, Remy Long, Mike Walberg, Brian Bartley, and Marisa Benzle for participating in hours of instruction and discussion.

With a very dry middle of winter for the San Francisco Bay Area, the bees have woken up into a early spring and I am racing to gather resources to start my project.  With the generous support from my family and members of the Marin County Beekeepers Association, I have been able to hit the ground running for establishing this permaculture activity.  In my six weeks of time here I have built three beehives, three catcher boxes for bee swarms, settled on my hive design, achieved modest community outreach, and negotiated a few colonies to arrive in Hercules when the bees are at the peak of their population buildup for spring.  I will also have a second apiary near the border between the cities of Walnut Creek and Alamo.

It is my goal in 2013 to produce at least eight strong colonies that will have a good chance to survive winter.
I feel that this goal entails enough work for now, so I will now withhold myself from longer projections into the future.

This blog is intended for fun and sharing about the sweetness of honeybees.  Let me know if you enjoy reading!

Cheers,
Scott

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