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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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Introducing Two Beekeepers

Welcome to the Two Beekeepers Apiary

The Two Beekeepers is an Apiary started and run by Lori Otey and Martin Szudarski. The goal of Two Beekeepers is to raise bees in the most natural way possible, produce honey and other related products such as candles and soaps, and eventually pass on knowledge to others.  Lori and Martin have deeply rooted interests in agriculture production, even though they live in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Illinois.  Martin grew up in a rural community and Lori has always been interested in growing plants and keeping animals.

Beekeeping will allow Martin and Lori to get involved in an agriculture related activity.  The first goal of the Apiary is to produce natural raw honey. A second goal is to provide healthy local pollinators in DuPage County.  The third goal of the apiary is to eventually begin working with the wax, which is a valuable bi-product of beekeeping.  Not only can the wax that is produced by bees be used in new hives, it can also be made into candles and even soaps. These items will be sold on the Two Beekeepers website in the future.

Lori and Martin have been working hard toward getting the apiary set up.  A few locations have been found that can be used to keep hives at.  The next stage for the Two Beekeepers Apiary is to get all the supplies that they need to keep bees at these locations.  Keep checking back to learn how you can help build our apiary, purchase some local honey, or honeybee related products.  Or just stop by to view photos and read some blogs.

Thank you for your interest and support

Lori and Marty

The Two Beekeepers