Monday, April 17, 2017

Building a bee yard

Yesterday -- a rare sunny day -- I mixed up some sugar syrup and went out to check the bees.

I thought I had put up a blog post earlier about our new bee yard, but I guess I hadn't; so here's a bit of catching up.

A few weeks ago, we knew we had to get the hive out of our barn, where we had tucked it for the winter.

Last summer we had the hive in the garden on the other side of the pond. The only problem with that location is we couldn't keep an hourly watch on the bees; so when yellow jackets started viciously attacking, it was some time before we noticed the war. The wasps devastated one hive and severely injured the other. In desperation, we moved the one remaining hive in the middle of the night to a new location next to our log pile in the driveway, in clear view of the house. The location worked so well (we walk past the hive all the time) we decided to make the location permanent.

However we needed to protect it from the cows, since once in awhile we let animals loose in the driveway. So a couple weeks ago, Don set some poles in a corner of the pasture...

...and we set up some cattle panels (some people call them hog panels) to make an enclosure.

Then, so the cattle wouldn't be tempted to push the panels from the bottom in an attempt to get at grass (which, as you know, is always greener on the other side), we moved two heavy railroad ties...

...and used them to brace the panels at the bottom so they can't be pushed.

Don also hung up and baited about ten yellow-jacket traps in a wide circle around the bee yard in an effort to catch any early queens.

Moving day was chilly enough that the bees were not yet out and about, so we closed the lid, plugged the wasp guard opening with a cotton ball...

...and strapped the hive to its base. Then we used the tractor to move the hive to the new bee yard.

The yard is spacious enough to accommodate the new incomes nucs which should arrive sometime within the next few weeks.

Anyway, as the weather reluctantly warms up, the bees can sometimes be seen outside their hive.

But because of the wet chilly spring we're having, we went to make sure the girls have enough to eat. So yesterday I mixed up a batch of sugar syrup and went out to fill the feeders.

The first thing I discovered is the syrup was entirely unneeded. There was lots of activity at the feeders, but both feeders were still mostly full, meaning the bees are finding enough to eat on their own (or using their own honey stores). A good sign.

There was also lots of housecleaning going on. One lady (upper left) was struggling to drag the carcass of a dead sister outside the hive.

Lots of activity everywhere I looked, though these photos were taken in the relatively sparse upper frames.

But most of the activity was taking place lower down, nearer the queen. I was tempted to disassemble the hive and look for the queen, but decided such an invasion wasn't necessary. Clearly she's doing her job.

What pleased me immeasurably is the sight of many bees with full pollen baskets.

Yellow pollen:

...white pollen:

...and pink pollen:

Then the question arose, where is the pollen coming from? Pickins' are still pretty slim this time of year, which is why we felt the bees still needed feeding.

But wildflowers are blooming, slowly. Here's white trillium:

Here are buttercups and avalanche lilies:

So I guess the bees are finding enough to forage. But wow, just wait until the orchard blooms, and the raspberries, and the strawberries, and the blueberries, and the lacy phacelia ... those will be some happy bees!


  1. Do you have bear protection for your enclosure? Here in Colorado, we have to use solar powered cattle fence chargers and batteries to keep the bears out. The state Department of Wildlife here will give a set up to beekeepers so long as their enclosures match their design. Idaho may have something similar. Might be worth looking at.

    Subotai Bahadur

  2. Here in North Carolina my raspberries are swarming with bumble bees. My field of wildflowers is too plus I've seen butterflies and Nessus sphinx and Snowberry Clearwings.

  3. The early pollen comes mainly from trees blossoms and you should of been feeding your girls a month ago!! I believe it's time you find a new mentor for your bee's sake!! It's frustrating watching you and Don struggle.

    1. This has nothing to do with bees, but I always do wonder why so many people who offer something besides a compliment cannot seem to put their name to their comment. That's one of MY frustrations. Why did this comment need to be anonymous? Own your verbiage, for goodness' sake.

    2. AGREE!! This person would probably have been frustrated with Edison and his many set backs! SuccotashRose

    3. Hi Anon 4:29
      Just thought I ought to reply. It may be that you've not read Patrice's blog as thoroughly as you should. We began feeding our bees back in late fall. Right up until freezing we used sugar water and even before that I installed a sugar-board (that was used fairly well by the bees all the way through winter). In addition, we removed none of the bee's honey production because the hive had been so stressed by the completely unpredictable wasp attack. We resumed feeding with sugar water two months ago. I'm sorry you've been frustrated by our endeavors. Surprisingly, you seem to be more frustrated than we are. We knew that bee keeping would be a learning experience, and we've learned a lot so far. And since we've discovered that no two "experts" on bee keeping ever seem to agree, it's been our (growing) experience that successful beekeeping is very much locally determined. But our hive made it through one of the roughest winters in the last twenty years here in N. Idaho, so we think we're doing pretty good. But thank you for your concern. Rest assured that everything is all right here at the ranch.
      Don Lewis

    4. I belong to a bee club in Southern Illinois. There are members who work at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Illinois and are involved in research studies involving bees. They have a saying: If you're in a room with four beekeepers, you'll get five opinions on how to raise bees. So, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, just because they're not doing things like you would, it doesn't mean they're doing it the wrong way. We each have a different approach to beekeeping, and it will be adjusted as conditions change.

    5. Know your history, Edison was a savage... Master Bee Keeper since 1974, aka Anonymous. Good Luck$$$

    6. Personally I love to hear of other's difficulties as many time they are mine as well, then we both learn from them. If we were all perfect at everything how much fun would that be:)

  4. I love having bees too. They're so much fun to watch, and the honey I get is better than anything from the store. I like the idea of using cattle panels. Don't they come in handy for many things?

  5. I love the pink pollen! Great pictures! I think the phacelia has blue pollen. I hope you can get a picture when the girls bring some in.