Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on

Bees Make Food Production Possible

Many people think of bees simply as a summertime nuisance. But these small and hard-working insects actually make it possible for many of our favorite foods to reach your table. From apples to almonds to the pumpkin in our pumpkin pies, we have bees to thank.  Depending on an individual’s diet, between one and two thirds of the crops humans use for food production depend on pollination by insects such as bees in some way.  Also, the vast majority of wild plant species also require pollination to survive.

This valuable service that Mother Nature has provided at no cost for thousands of years, however, is increasingly failing. As an example, after 3000 years of sustainable agriculture, farmers in the Chinese province Sichuan have to pollinate apple flowers themselves by using pollination sticks because of the lack of honey bees to pollinate their crops.  These pollination sticks are commonly brushes made of chicken feathers and cigarette filters. This is one small example of a pollination problem occurring world-wide.

Closer to home, the California almond crop is critically at risk each year due to the lack of pollinators that are necessary to pollinate the thousands of blossoms that are on each tree.  To explain how large the problem is, the 2013 almond crop is approximately 800,000 acres, according to Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology.  The recommended number of hives or colonies to pollinate the almond crop is two per acre, which means that 1.6 million colonies are needed this year alone.  California only has about 500,000 colonies, so over a million need to be brought in from other parts of the United States.

Because of heavy honey bee colony losses sustained across the nation over the last few years, beekeepers that provide pollination services are not going to have enough colonies to pollinate the almond crop to full capacity this year.   And the almond crop is only one that is at risk. Many fruit and vegetable crops are at risk because of the lack of bees and other pollinator insects.

Bees are the most efficient pollinator.  It is true that birds, bats, beetles, various types of ants and flies, as well as butterflies can be classified as pollinators. The problem with these pollinators is that they are not designed for the job and do not do it as efficiently as the honey bee.  Bees are especially efficient at pollination because their goal in life is to collect pollen and nectar exclusively, as these become their food.  To accomplish this, bees visit many flowers of the same species during a single trip and have hairy bodies that easily pick up pollen grains.

How Much do Honey Bees Provide to Food Production?

In the United States, Honey Bees are required to ensure pollination and help guarantee the production of more than $15 billion crops each year.  If you enjoy eating Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Squash, Almonds, Apples, Cherries, Various citrus fruits, and various berry crops such as strawberries and blueberries, you have been enjoying the labor of honeybees.  Without bees to pollinate these crops, the blooms would not mature into fruit.  Bees provide crops such alfalfa, carrots, canola, and various clovers the ability to ensure that seeds are created to grow the next generation of plants.  Remember without the seeds it would be impossible to plant alfalfa or clover to feed to cattle, or grow carrots, peppers, cabbages, and various other vegetables in the garden.

Internationally, global food production worth over 200 billion dollars each year relies on the pollination services of honey bees and to a lesser extent other insects.  This means that as the honey bee and other pollinator’s populations decline, there will be a direct impact on the stability of food production and consumer prices.  It will also mean serious consequences for human health and the food supply. This means that an awful lot rests on the small honey bee.

Here is a partial list of crop plants pollinated by bees.  These are some plants used for food or food production:  Okra, Kiwifruit, Onion, Cashew, Celery, Strawberry, Starfruit, Beet, Mustard, Rapeseed (canola oil), Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Turnip, Chili/Red/Bell/Green pepper, Papaya, Safflower, Caraway, Chestnut, Watermelon, Tangerine, Coconut, Coffee, Coriander, Cantaloupe, Cucumber, Squash, Pumpkin, Gourd, Marrow, Zucchini, Lemon, Lime, Carrot, Strawberry, Soybean, Cotton, Sunflower, Flax, Apple, Mango, Alfalfa, Passion fruit, Avocado, Lima bean, Kidney bean, Haricot bean, Adzuki bean, Mung bean, String bean, Green bean, Allspice, Apricot, Sweet Cherry, Sour cherry, Plum, Greengage, Mirabelle, Sloe, Almond, Peach, Nectarine, Guava, Pomegranate, Pear, Black currant, Red currant, Boysenberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Elderberry, Sesame, Eggplant, Various clover varieties, Blueberry, Cranberry, Vanilla, Vetch, peas, Tomato, Grapes

If it were not for honey bees, food production would be very difficult and many of our favorite foods would not exist.  Remember to support your local beekeeper. They help to keep our food supply safe.