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Updated: Jan 2, 2022

I wanted provide a little insight into what should be happening for the beekeeper while the bees "Shiver" :).

We are now past the solstice by a month, and the bees know it. Even though it is still cold outside, the bees see the lengthening days and are preparing for Spring. This can be a dangerous time for them as the remaining cluster of bees consists of old bees and the resources are dwindling. Pollen and honey stores, critical to raising new bees, are being used up without new resources coming in. The hive is still using resources for keeping the colony warm, and now with brood rearing ramping up, they have to maintain a larger area of ~95 degrees. Hives commonly have 3-4 frames of brood by this time, and each frame can hold as many as 6,400 baby bees. That's a lot of honey and pollen....or baby food.

Weigh your hives: At least once per week, if your apiaries are nearby, you should be walking by your hives, and picking up a side to "weigh" them. Make notes on the top if you wish, notating "heavy", moderately heavy"...."light", or whatever system works for you. If you notice a hive that is considerably lighter than others, or see a rapid decline in the weight over a few weeks, you may need to intervene. This time of year, you can't feed liquid syrup in the hive as it introduces more deadly moisture into the hive. The only real solutions are to put in spare frames of honey that you held back, candy boards, or fondant. The bees can use the respiration moisture for liquefying the solid sugar. If you put in frames of honey, ensure it is warm, and that it is placed right next to the cluster (not in the middle of the cluster, and not one frame over).

Cluster size and location: On a day that is at least mid 40's, you can simple lift the lid, and look down through the hive. If you see daylight from the entrance, look closer, as there are a lot of frames that aren't covered. A cluster the size of a fist is probably doomed this time of year, and you need to save your combs. A cluster that is right against the lid has likely ran through their honey as European bees work upward through the honey.

Check for dead colonies: By simply walking by the hives, you can often tell a lot about the condition of the colony. Look at the entrances for dark debris which can often indicate a dead out. Intervene quickly in this case to prevent moths and beetles from ruining drawn comb. Drawn comb is priceless in the Spring.

Order and assemble supplies: I'm the world's worst for waiting until I need another super or two to assemble them. I don't know how often I assemble a box and frames and put it right on a colony. Don't do this. Estimate how many colonies you want to run for the year, and assemble, paint, and otherwise make ready, all the equipment you need now. It's a terrible feeling to see a swarm hanging 5 feet off the ground, and not having a box to put them in. In addition, foundation often becomes in short supply in the Spring. Don't wait until everyone is out before trying to order.

Order queens and/or nucs. If you are getting started or trying to make big increases, or and combination of other things, you may need to pre-order queens and/or nucs. By February, nucs and queens are often back ordered all the way to Summer. A word of caution on queens don't have to get that first queen that can possibly be shipped to your area. If you are trying to ship queens in from the South in early March, they can get chilled in transit. In addition, conditions for raising queens improve as the weather warms, and bees want to swarm. These queens are better. Don't be too anxious to get them, and end up with an inferior or damaged queen. Also, buy locally if possible. This is a completely separate topic that I won't dive into, but hopefully for now, you'll take my word for it.

Red Maples are starting to bloom and provide some much needed resources on decent days, but still remain diligent.

Another good thing to work on is your knowledge. This is a great time to read a good book on beekeeping, as you are getting excited about the coming year. I'm reading "Increase Essentials", by Lawrence John Conner right now.

Lastly, get some sleep, and enjoy your family....long days await in the near future.

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Updated: Jan 2, 2022

Well, kind of, but not really. First and foremost, Honey by definition can only be created by the honeybee, and only from a floral nectar source. There are other types of so called “honey”, but true honey is as stated.

Bees may gather nectar from a variety of plants. Here in the Piedmont of NC, some of the common ones in the spring are: Tulip Poplar Tree, Sweet Clover, Crimson Clover, Vetch, Blackberry, various Fruit Trees, Persimmon Tree, and etc. Flowers produce nectar in order to attract pollinators, such as the honeybee, to transport pollen from flower to flower for fertilization; a little reward shall we. Nectar sources vary widely in sugar content and chemical make-up. Some sources like a Pear Tree may have as little as 10% sugar content, while Sweet Clover may contain 40% sugar. The chemical make-up also varies to include Sucrose, Glucose, Maltose, Fructose, and a host of others. Honey bees are attracted to Sucrose more so than Fructose.

Honeybees actually have two stomachs, separated by a valve (proventriculus). When honeybees are foraging for nectar, they close this valve and take in nectar to the “Honey Stomach”, to be later regurgitated, and no digestion occurs. The honeybee will typically carry about 40 mg of nectar back to the colony on each trip.

Once the nectar is brought back to the hive, the real magic begins. The bees regurgitate the nectar from their Honey Stomach, sometimes directly into a cell, but more often to a “House Bee” (A younger bee whose duties are confined to the colony). This is when the physical and chemical change begins. The active evaporation phase is first, where the bee blows tiny bubbles of nectar on their mouth parts to increase the surface area and dry the nectar. They continue to dry, and then re-ingest the nectar, all while mixing it with an enzyme called Sucrase. This enzyme causes the various complex sugars to be broken down into two simple sugars, Glucose and Fructose. The bees also add another enzyme called Glucose Oxidase to the mix. This enzyme breaks some of the glucose down into Gluconic Acid (preservative), and Hydrogen Peroxide (anti-bacterial). The drying process continues within the honeycomb as well until it reaches a moisture content of about 18%.

(Sidebar)Just to put it into perspective, if the honeybee brought home 40 mg of nectar with 20% sugar content, there will be less than 10 mg of honey when the process is over. 1 Pound of honey will take a half-million trips to the bloom!

(Back to business) Once the honey is “ripe”, the bees will cap the honeycomb cells with a wax capping to protect it from the environment. Honey retains the original floral minerals, vitamins, acids, pigments, enzymes, and aroma from the original floral source. This makes up about 3% of the finished product.

Honey by nature will eventually crystallize, or granulate. The honey has not gone bad…but due to the unstable glucose molecules, it turns to sugar over time. Floral sources which have a higher concentration of glucose will of course crystallize quicker. Inputs such as cold storage will also speed granulation. Heating during the processing of honey can slow the process, but can also negatively impact the beneficial components of honey if done improperly.

Honey can also ferment if the moisture content is above 18.6%. If left in the open air, honey will attract moisture, and eventually ferment.

One other tidbit…Glucose and fructose are monosaccharides. They require no processing for our bodies to use for energy. If you need a quick pick-me-up, eat some honey!

I think it’s pretty amazing stuff…how about you?

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