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So You Want to be a Drone Bee…

You start out as an unfertilized egg laid in a drone cell. A drone cell is slightly bigger and on the edge and/or corner of the frame.  You are an exact clone of the queen’s genes – only you are male, not female.   After 3 days, you hatch into a larva and are fed Royal Jelly for the next three days.  Then your diet is switched to a less nutritious food called bee bread for the next 6 ½ days.  When the time comes you are ready to build your cocoon and pupate into a bee.  The cell is capped with a domed cap to allow more room for your growth.  You remain in this state for 14 ½ days bringing your total time in the cell to 24 days – the longest of any other member of the hive.

You emerge the most different of anyone in the hive.  You have the same coloring but you are stockier with very large eyes.  Eyes so large they almost touch at the top of your head.  You have a stout, blunt abdomen with no stinger.  Your tongue (proboscis) is shorter than your worker sisters.  You cannot produce wax, protect the hive, forage for food outside of the hive, or clean the hive.  Your sisters, the Worker Bees, have to tend to your needs.  You cannot feed yourself at first.  You have to depend on the worker bees feeding you.  Your cell is cleaned out by worker bees.  You learn where the food is and start to feed yourself, but you still beg for the really good food from your sisters.

You are really expensive for the hive to sustain.   Since you cannot contribute anything to the colony, what are you good for?  One word – Mating.  This is the only thing that Drones are bred for.  You are an exact copy genetically of the queen since you started as an unfertilized egg.  You are here to pass on the genes of the queen.  You are also a status symbol of how “wealthy” the hive is.  They are doing so well that they can afford to house and feed anyone that cannot contribute back to the hive.

You start your days orienting yourself outside of the hive.  You fly in short bursts further and further away from the hive to gather your surroundings.  You are getting ready to find a Drone Congregation Area (DCA) to mate with a queen.   You have to find your way back in case you do not mate.  You go out looking for the DCA.  Drones release their own pheromones.  This helps to find the area.  Every day you go out to these areas.  If you do not mate you come back to the hive and beg for more food.    

You are so excited to mate; you and all the other drones will take off chasing after anything the “flies” through your area – other insects, even rocks thrown at you.  Finally a queen comes by her pheromones alerting you to her presence.  You and everyone else in the area pick up on this signal.  You all chase her down.  Luckily, she will mate with several other Drones – so you have a shot. 

You watch as another Drone mates with the queen first.  He instantly becomes paralyzed.   He gets bent around to the underside of the queen still attached to her.  His appendage gets ripped off and the queen flies away with it as he falls to the ground dead.  Maybe it’s a good thing you have yet to mate, but you are not bright enough to figure that out.

Since a lot of time and energy go into keeping drones, during a dearth (or a lack of forage) the oldest Drone larva is pulled from the cell and killed.  If this dearth continues the more Drones that are killed.  They need to sacrifice the ones that do not add to the production of the hive until the dearth is over.  But this year is a good year and you are able to live a long time trying to find a mate.

But alas there were no queens to mate with.  The days are getting colder and shorter.  The food sources are dwindling down.  Finally one day the sisters that you beg for food from, the ones that have taken care of you all summer long, push you out of the hive.  You are ejected with all your other brothers.  You are now starving and cold where you succumb to your new living conditions.

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So You Decided to Keep Bees – The Keys to Successful Beekeeping

Part II – Buying the Essentials

You found out you can keep bees in your backyard, you joined a club, took some classes, and found a mentor.  You have some experience under your belt and you still want to keep bees.  Congratulations. The next few points are for those that are ready to buy some bees!

  • Decide what type of Beekeeper you will be?

This is the nitty gritty details.  How many hives will you have?  Do you want to grow it into a business or remain a hobbyist?  How are you going to harvest your honey? What storage method are you going to have? Where will you keep the honey?  What jars are you going to use?  Are you going to sell your honey, or give it all away as gifts?  Where are you going to have your hives – all in your backyard, neighbors/family yards or on land farther away?  Be like Santa – make a list and check it twice.  Check it twice more.  If you did your due diligence you will have a general knowledge of what you want to do.  

(For simplicity sake, I’ll talk about keeping bees in your own backyard.  I’ll l write about keeping bees in other peoples yards at a later time.  That is an adventure in and of itself!)

  • Location, Location, Location –
    • Where in the backyard are you going to keep your hives? 
    • What is the landscape?  Sun, wind, trees, housing, food. 
    • Remember the prettiest place many not be the most convenient. 
    • Where are you going to keep your equipment in the off season?
  • Have a budget – If you want to make a small fortune in beekeeping – start with a large one.

Beekeeping can get real expensive really fast.  Don’t forget supplementary items – bottles for honey, labels, sugar, pollen.  It is cheaper to assemble and paint your own equipment, but you also have to have the time, talent, and room to do so.

  • Don’t forget to also budget time – it takes time to build equipment, make syrup, check bees, and harvest honey.

  • You have to plan early

Winter is our off season.  This is the time to plan for the new year.  Since you waited a year to get your bees you can enjoy some savings.  Think of all the equipment and tools you will need.  Make a list.  Most beekeeping companies will have their biggest sales around Thanksgiving.  Your mentor will tell you good places to buy packages from.  Reserve your packages early – think January.

Keep in mind most beekeeping stores aren’t open during the weekend.  Spring is a very busy time for any beekeeping store so plan early. 

Stay tuned for Part 3….

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So You Decided to Keep Bees – The Keys to Successful Beekeeping

Part I – Before You Buy Any Equipment

Beekeeping should not be a compulsive endeavor.  Take the time to research and plan this new endevor.  If you have the patience, I would tell you to wait a year before actually buying bees.  The following posts will help outline a procedure that I have learned in my years of beekeeping that will lead to the most success. 

Beekeeping should be a fun endeavor, not something that is frustrating and a drag.  Remember beekeeping is farming and nothing ever goes the way it should.  Bees, like most animals, do not read the same books that we do.  The more tools in your tool kit the better off you will be when trouble arises.  Do not get bogged down in certain procedures of beekeeping.

  • First thing to do – Look at your Local and State Laws

Like I said, this is farming and honey bees are considered livestock.  Look at your livestock laws. Call the Code Enforcement Office. Keep in mind that some municipalities do not allow honey bees.  Some municipalities only allow a certain number of hives. Some municipalities and/or states require registration and/or fees.  Some may require certain provisions before getting a bee hive – fencing, hives X feet away from buildings/property lines/streets/sidewalks, etc.  Do your research before purchasing anything.  Make sure you are within the confines of the law.

For Illinois – http://beekeepingregulations.com/

  • Read Books, Magazines, Watch YouTube Videos

But keep in mind – Everyone with a camera thinks they are an expert.

Another thing to keep in mind is location.  Are they in a very rural area with no one else around them?  Or are they in an urban setting with several different beekeepers in the area?  Are they in the US?  Are they in the north or south?  Desert, rainy, humid, dry?  Even in Illinois what you do up north is different then what people do in the south in terms of getting ready for Winter.

How long have they been keeping bees? How white is their hives and equipment?   Your equipment and hives do not stay clean for very long.   

How many hives do they take care of?  Are they caring for 2 hives or 100?  Are they migratory pollinators? 

Do they cover mites and diseases? 

You are not going to learn everything that there is to know beekeeping.  The most important thing is to get some basic knowledge.  Hands-on learning is the most valuable knowledge that you will get.

  • Join a Club (Or as one of our landlords called it – A Support Group.)

You ask 10 beekeepers a question and you will get 15 different answers.  That is true for any farming adventure – row cropping, gardening, beef, chickens, etc.  This will help you accumulate more tools for your tool box. 

The club can also help you with Local and State Laws.  They also invite speakers or have an open discussion on beekeeping issues.  Some will host classes or have work days so you can get more practice beekeeping.  You can also find people to partner up with – can split shipping costs or buy a couple bottles off of them, borrow equipment, have help during harvest season, keep an eye on things when you are out of town.

They will help with the best methods for your area – Winter prep, Spring, etc.  Good honey flow days.

 Another big reason to join a group is to find a guy that sells packages.  I highly recommend not buying packages through the mail.   No one at the post office are not beekeepers and will not have the respect for your bees as other beekeepers will.

Find out what equipment is absolutely necessary and what is just for fun.   You can also rent equipment (like an extractor) or have a space in a yard with the club.

Take a Class

The longer the class goes throughout the year the better.  You will have an idea of what needs to be done at different times of the year.  Find one with hands on experience.  The more practice you have the better you will be.  There are plenty of beginner beekeeping classes out there.  Do not be afraid to spend some money to get a good hands-on education.

  • Find a Mentor and Work with Them for a Year

This is a good trial to make sure you really want to do this.  You will have more of a one-on-one learning experience.  You may work at odd times or for a whole day.  Especially if you are lucky to find one with lots of hives and yards.  Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  They will give you techniques and lots of practice.  Learn what tools and techniques work best for you.  If you can, work with them the whole year – from package installation to honey harvest to winter preparations.  A mentor is someone you can bounce ideas off of throughout your beekeeping experience.

Stay tuned for Part Two……

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Life in the Bee Yard – February 2019

The Bee Yard

We checked candy boards.  Some were completely empty.  Most were about half finished.  It all depends on the size of the hive, how much honey they had stored, and how cold the weather was.  We did not make a lot of extra boards this year.  Time just ran out on us.  We are hoping that Spring will get here earlier then later and we can start feeding sugar syrup.  We had starting to feed pollen.  The longer days kick start the queen into making more bees.  They start early to make sure the new bees are mature enough to fly and gather honey or pollen when the weather turns warm. 

A couple of hives were already building comb on the candy boards.  It is a little early but a sign of new bees.  A bee’s wax production matures around 14 days.  In those hives the queen started production very early and there are a lot of new bees to make wax. 

We have lost 9 more hives so far this year.  We will need to order 15 packages to keep with the same number of hives as last year.  The prices are out and everyone is selling packages.  We will keep an eye on things and update our order if needed before arrival.

We were pooped on a lot when we were checking bees.  These bee jackets were clean before we started.  Yuck!


Keeping Score

At the height of the beekeeping season in 2018, we had 59 hives total.  We lost 9 hives before winter, mostly due to queen issues.  Now after we checked, we found we lost 6 more hives.

We switched out 11 boards, and boosted some hives with chunks of candy board that fell off another board.  We had just enough boards for this round.  We may have to make some more, or make soft fondant sugar if it’s still too cold to feed liquid syrup.

February Chores

The bee packages usually come at the end of March.  We have to make sure the hives with dead outs are cleaned up.  Double check that our equipment is clean and in good working condition.  Make sure everything is set up and ready to go.

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Life in the Bee Yard – January 2019


Happy New Year!
Happy Birthday to Beekeeper Marty!

The Bee Yard

There is not much going on with the bees right now.  They are all nestled away in their hives, wrapped up, and eating their honey or candy board.   Good thing for us.  We have had cold weather, snow, icy rain, warm weather (Yes, 50° is considered warm now) – Just your typical Chicago January.



January Chores

Since there is no need to run out to the bee yards, I have been working on products to sell at the upcoming craft shows this year – bottling honey, soap, lotion, candy, honey straws.  We have 3 shows in March alone! 

Kane County Flea Market, Kane County Fair Grounds, St. Charles, IL – March 2 & 3
Carl Sandburg High School, Orland Park, IL – March 9 & 10
College of DuPage Craft Show, PE Building, Glen Ellyn, IL – March 23 & 24

For our other events – Check out our Calendar of Events – https://www.twobeekeepers.com/events/

Also on the agenda is to make the woodenware we need for the upcoming year.  Marty has put together about 300 new frames for the brood boxes.  We have old frames, poorly drawn out frames, and frames packed with bad or old pollen that need to be removed from the hive.

This is the month to order packages.  We have an idea of how many packages we want to order, but we are in a holding pattern.  The package price has not been released yet.  The price goes up every year.  We receive our packages from California after almond season and the season was horrible this year.  The bees had a hard time and their numbers did not build up as well as other years.  They are not sure how many packages they are able to create.  Beekeeping is getting harder every year.

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Disaster Hits the Almond Orchards This Year

Honeybee_Almond_BloomAlmond pollination in California requires the use many colonies or hives of bees.  This year, more than 1.6 million bee colonies were used to pollinate the California Almond crop. Nearly all of these colonies were brought in from other states by an army of 1,300 commercial beekeepers.

This staggering number of honeybee colonies accounts for approximately ninety percent of all of the honeybees in the United States.   After pollinating almonds, these bees are often used to pollinate other crops, such as apples, cranberries, cherries and watermelons. Any losses seen during or right after almond pollinating season cascades into the pollination of other crops and into the packaged bee industry, which is what allows new beekeepers to start colonies and existing beekeepers to replace winter losses.

At an impromptu meeting on March 24 in Los Banos, California between beekeepers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 75 beekeepers stated that three-quarters of their hives showed very significant damage.  More beekeepers weighed in later.  It was found that after waiting a few more weeks approximately 60% of all colonies that pollinated almonds showed damage. That is nearly a million honeybee colonies.

The reason why the pesticide losses do not happen right away is because of bee biology and the way bees work to produce their young in the hive.  Bees gather pollen an nectar and store it for later use.  This includes the raising on new bees.  Since bees only live about 28 days, new bees are being raised all the time in a healthy colony.  When nectar and pollen is contaminated it will continue to kill bees even after the bee that brought it to the hive is long gone.  This is why such a high percentage of colonies say dying brood, or young bees still in the cells, on such a large scale.  Many of the pesticides in use are labeled as “safe for use on adult bees.”  This means that these pesticides were only tested on bees that were flying around but the testing never included any investigation into brood rearing or other long term exposure issues.

Beekeepers in California are blaming their losses on pesticides used on the Almond trees.  Almond growers have no restrictions on when and how they can apply pesticides to their trees and that is a large part of the problem, but an even bigger part are that the residue from these pesticides kill bees and kill bee brood, no matter when it is applied.

The EPA and the USDA have claimed for years that pesticides are not hurting honeybees and other pollinators.  This event shows absolute proof on a large scale that pesticides used on Almond trees are dangerous to honeybees.  These are the same chemicals that are used on the vast majority of food crops in the United States. Almond growers typically apply one or a mix of pesticides – which can include clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. This year tank mixing from two new products, tolfenpyrad and cyantraniliprole were used.

The EPA and tBlooming almond trees being sprayed.he USDA has failed to keep pesticides from killing pollinators.  Instead pesticide related bee deaths have increased exponentially.  Because of this and the fact that the beekeeping industry is deemed as insignificant, beekeepers are not protected by any laws or given payment for damages caused by pesticide exposure. This is despite the fact that pollination services provided by honeybees are responsible for 30 billion dollars worth of food annually.

Not only has the EPA and USDA done nothing to protect pollinators, but they have done nothing to assure consumers that any of the above mentioned pesticides are truly safe to be used on food crops.  All beef and dairy cows are exposed to them on a daily basis through the corn silage they eat.  Nearly all commercially raised vegetables are sprayed with them.  Even the plants you purchase at home and garden centers in the spring have been treated with them.  After the sprayers have left the fields and treated seeds have sprouted and been harvested as a food, everybody forgets about the pesticides that may be present.  Nobody knows exactly how much of these systemic pesticides make it into the food chain as corn products, soybeans products, dairy products, beef, and fruits and vegetables. To date, no official testing has been done on this yet.

If the losses in the beekeeping industry do not stop, the beekeeping industry cannot continue to survive.  New regulations, stiff penalties and fines for those responsible for colony death, and the banning of insecticides, fungicides and insect growth inhibitors are the only way to save the industry before it dies with the bees.

To read more about this issue, please read the press release from the Pollinator Stewardship Council or visit this topics thread on their website.