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Month In the Hive – January

 

Now that the holidays are behind us, it’s time to turn our minds back on bees, which we’ve all probably forgotten about during the holiday hustle and bustle.

Since snow and bitter cold temperatures have moved in, our concern is whether our bees have enough food. Fortunately, bees are super conservative with their winter stores, so a well-stocked hive going into winter should have ample resources to make it through spring. The hives of greatest concern are the ones that a bit light, despite our fall feeding, going into winter. If you ask an old-school beekeeper, they will tell you that you just need to lift the back of the hive and if it takes more than two fingers then the bees are good. The idea is that you can tell just by lifting it. We might argue that this only works if you have experience judging the weight by lifting hives. Also, everyone has different strengths. So, we might be able to lift a hive with plenty of stores with two fingers and someone else might not be able to lift a starving hive with two fingers.

Is there a better way to judge the stores in the hive? To judge the stores without lifting, pop the outer cover and see if you can see bees at the top of the hive through the hole in your inner cover. Pick a day that is around the mid-30 degrees with little wind and precipitation. If you see your bees have moved up to cover new resources, then they are burning through resources and might need some supplemental feed. If your bees are boiling through the hole in the inner cover, then they are probably pretty close, if not out of food. This only works if you are wintering double deep hives because a single deep hive will not have enough space for the bees to be below the stores. If you can’t see any activity or you are wintering single deep hives, pop the inner cover and shine a light down the frames. You will be able to see the resources and where your bees are in the hive. Sometimes the cluster will move to the side of the hive that gets sun on short winter days and are not visible through the inner cover.

We all know there will be an uproar from beekeepers about opening hives in winter. Although we want to minimize interruptions to our hives in winter, the bees are not adversely affected by brief openings – and may starve without intervention. Bees warm their cluster to roughly 60 degrees unless they have brood then they maintain the temperature around 90 degrees. Notice the cluster temperature is maintained, the rest of the hive is only slightly warmer than outside temperatures. We should not be pulling frames, but as long as our interruptions are brief the bees will barely notice our intrusions.

Now that we have determined we need to provide some supplemental feed, how do we get in in the hive in a way the bees can use it? Liquid feed is out of the question, it will freeze and any bees that fall into it will never make it out. If a super with honey is available, adding the entire super box to the hive is a good option. Some like to make up fondant and place it over the cluster. Others like to use the Mountain Camp Method of feeding. The Mountain Camp Method is by far the easiest way to feed your bee in winter. This method can be done several ways, but can be achieved by simply pouring dry sugar on the inner cover, adding a spacer (empty supper box), then outer cover. This creates a space for the feed and the bees can come up as needed. Some remove the inner cover, place a piece of newspaper with small holes over the cluster, pour the dry sugar on top, add a spacer, and then return the covers.

However you choose to provide for your bees, these quick checks can be the difference for your bees. All hives should be checked every few weeks. One would be surprised at how quickly bees consume resources. A heavy hive today can burn through a super of resources in a few weeks if the conditions are right. On warmer days, bees consume more resources when flying. Keep this in mind as faults springs come and go. Many colonies that have made it through winter struggle in spring waiting for the trees and flowers to bloom.

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Looking for a last-minute holiday gift? Why bees and beekeeping classes make great gifts for the holidays or any occasion

 

Great Lakes Bee Company Owner Genji Leclair and General Manager Stefan Braun talked with FOX 17 Morning Mix and WOOD TV8 about how bees can make the perfect last-minute holiday gift.

“Bees are fascinating,” Leclair told FOX 17. “They’re important and have such a contribution to farming, agriculture, our food supply and they’re fun to take care of.”

Braun, who admits to being fascinated by any “creepy crawlies,” told FOX 17: “Bees carry a special place for me. I’ve been around them since I was a little kid. Once I became an adult, I dove in head first and learned everything there is to know about bees and want to continue learning about them.”

Leclair shared that if you’re thinking about giving the gift of bees for any occasion, there are some things to take into consideration, Leclair and Braun said.

“To take care of a domesticated animal – that is the honey bee – that’s something that can’t be taken lightly,” said Braun. “It is a chore and it is a job – and I love doing it.”

“When giving bees as a gift you want to make sure the person you’re giving it to – it’s like giving a puppy or any kind of animal – that they’re up for the challenge and the long-term commitment,” said Leclair. “A lot people think bees, because they’re wild insects, you can put them in their hive and they’ll be okay. But that’s not the case. In choosing a gift like this for someone, you want to make sure that this is something that they’re up for and would be committed to.

“You also want to make sure that they’re not allergic to bees,” Leclair added. “Bees do sting and some people are allergic, so you want to take that into consideration as well. Other than that, there’s some ongoing costs. Just like taking a dog to the vet and getting those vaccines, there’s care for the hive as well because there are different things that can happen in the hive – you might have to replace your queen, you have to treat the hive for certain things. Other than that, it’s fascinating and it’s so fun and amazing to be in the bee world.”

Great Lakes Bee Co. also wants to help beekeepers – new and experienced – with their bees. They’re offering beekeeping classes on March 9 and March 23. Classes are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and are $50. Online registration is open.

“It’s a beginner bee class that will tell people how to prepare their location for the bees, how to maintain their bees, what kind of elements to look for in their bees and, of course, the most important part, how to harvest their honey; and how to make it a relationship between the beekeeper and the hive,” said Braun.

“A lot of times when people want to start beekeeping, they don’t know exactly what they need to have to start beekeeping, so we thought it would be a good option to allow people to purchase their bees, their hives and all the accessories they’ll need to go with it,” Braun told WOOD TV8. “It’s really handy for newbie beekeepers to know what they need to start out.”

“When I moved to Michigan and started to get into bees, I had no idea where to start,” Leclair said during her interview with WOOD TV8. “I just knew I loved honey and wanted to do something great for the environment. A lot of people just don’t know a lot about the importance of bees, what they do for the environment, how they impact the local ecology around their areas, the agriculture and their own garden. Beekeeping is one way you can really support your local farmer or even your own local grower, and also get some honey.

“Having access to information and someone who can mentor and demonstrate what it’s like to interact with the bees, how to set up a bee hive, how to protect yourself when you’re working with bees and some of the ins and outs of beekeeping is a great way to start your adventure in beekeeping, and have a little confidence in going into getting your bees started,” she added.

What’s Leclair’s favorite part about bees: Honey

“We have local, raw, unfiltered, unprocessed honey – it’s so healthy for you and it tastes so good,” she said. “Anytime you can get local, raw unprocessed honey do it from your local beekeepers. In addition to that, the hive has a lot of great byproducts like beeswax, and honeycomb and infused honey.”

Honey bees, honey and bee products and swag are available on the Great Lakes Bee Co. website. Beekeeping equipment will be available for purchase on the website in January 2024.

Watch both segments here:

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Month in the Hive – October

We hope our local beekeepers have successfully scooped up their bees’ last few drops of honey as last month was Honey Month. Enjoy September’s harvest as it’ll be awhile before we get any more of that gooey goodness. Cooler weather has arrived in Michigan, which means winter is on the horizon. For beekeepers, winterizing your hives is key to helping your bees survive West Michigan’s cold winter temperatures.

In October, you may have noticed the queen slowed down on her egg laying. As a hive moves through fall into winter the workers have been limiting the queen’s ability to lay eggs by backfilling the brood with winter stores. The hive’s drone population should have diminished by this time of year. A hive with drones in late-October may be an indication of a bigger problem. As the temperatures have cooled and resources have become scarce, you may see a handful of bees venture out of the hive looking for food on the occasionally warm autumn day.

Winterizing hives can take many forms. At a minimum, a winterized hive will have the feeder removed and the entrance reduced. A tip when using your entrance reducer, turn it so the smallest opening up for the bees to use. As bees die through the winter, having the entrance turned up gives an extra 1⁄4 inch of space for dead bees before the entrance is blocked. Other regular additions include adding on a mouse guard, a feeding shim, and a quilt box.

Also, some choose to cover or wrap their hives with foam board or black tar paper. Although winter does get cold, West Michigan winters generally do not get cold enough for long enough to require us to wrap our hives. Although not necessary, insulating the hive will reduce the bees’ work keeping the hive warm, but do not artificially heat the hive. Bees handle cold fairly well, but moisture causes bees difficulty. Wood chips or burlap in a quilt box will help wick condensation out of the hive.

Part of winterization is ensuring your bees have enough food. If your hive does not have 60 to 100 pounds of stored honey, October will be your last chance to feed liquid feed. All liquid feed should be pulled before the weather starts to freeze at night. If your bees still need feed, use fondant or sugar bricks. Do not feed pollen or pollen substitute for the remainder of fall. The reduction in pollen flow signals the bees to finish rearing winter bees as they prepare for
winter.

Varroa treatments should be done after pulling honey in early fall. But, if the mite loads in your hive are still elevated, you will want to treat them as soon as possible. Make sure to remove chemical varroa mite treatments according to label directions and that all treatments are removed before winterizing your hives.

Finally, consider when you will take your losses. Weak hives will struggle and likely parish over the winter. To keep those resources from being squandered, think about combining weak hives to those that could use a boost.

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Month in the Hive – September

 

September is one of our favorite months to celebrate! Why? It’s National Honey Month!

Our West Michigan bees have been busy little workers making honey in their hives the past four months. As bees begin to wind down their harvest in September to prepare for the upcoming winter, beekeepers can collect any remaining honey from their final honey flows.

As we celebrate our buzzing bees, here are a few facts about honey and National Honey Month:

  • The National Honey Board declared September as National Honey Month in 1989 to promote the beekeeping industry in the United States and, honey, of course.
  • Honey is known as one of “Mother Nature’s sweeteners” because of its natural properties and health benefits, including boosting energy, healing ailments and moisturizing your skin, not to mention its delicious taste.
  • Honey has been around for millions of years with beekeeping apiculture dating back to at least 700 BC with the Ancient Egyptians.
  • A single worker honeybee produces approximately 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. That means around 22,700 bees are needed to fill a single jar of honey, according to the National Honey Board.
  • The flavor and color of honey varies depending on the types of flowers the bees visit. Honey color ranges from nearly colorless to dark brown, and its flavor varies from mild to bold. Generally, light-colored honey is milder in taste and dark-colored honey tends to have a more robust flavor.

How to get the most out of your end-of-season honey collection:

  • Harvest your honey when the hive is full of capped honey – or when a cell is completely covered in white wax and honey is not visible. In Michigan, this can happen anytime in September through the first frost – usually in early October.
  • Begin your honey harvest by clearing the honeybees off of the frames, then scraping the wax capping from the top of the honeycomb. Once the wax has been removed, you are ready to extract the honey.
  • Use a a honey extractor, if you have one, to get the honey out of the comb and into a jar. This helps to preserve the comb so the bees can still use it and fill it back up with honey.
  • If you don’t have a honey extractor, common household items, such as a wooden spoon or potato masher, can be used to crush and drain the comb in a clean bucket. Then strain it through a colander or smaller kitchen strainer.

Enjoy your honey harvest one spoonful at a time! Happy Honey Month!

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Month in the Hive – August

 

We hope you’ve been enjoying the delicious honey your bees have been making throughout these past summer months! That nectar flow will continue as we still have a few more weeks of warm weather ahead! Collect as much as you can before the nectar flow begins to slow down a bit once we reach September.

As the golden rod starts blooming over the next few weeks it will give your honey a darker color and a more intense flavor. If you enjoy the light colors and flavors of spring you will want to harvest honey sooner rather than later.

During your hive inspections, if you’ve encountered a varroa mite infestation, you’ll want to get it under control as soon as possible to save your colony. Varroa mites are one of the biggest threats to honey bee pollination as they feed on bee larvae and pupae, resulting in deformation of bees’ wings and bodies when they develop and emerge as adults. They can also feed on adult bees. When varroa feeds, bee colonies deteriorate, resulting in a reduction of pollination necessary for Michigan’s fruit and vegetable production.

If untreated or treated ineffectively, bee colonies can fail, causing economic losses to beekeepers, potentially impacting farms and food production. Effective varroa control will help reduce colony loss and avoid potential spread of infectious disease among honey bee colonies.

In 2022, The Honey Bee Health Coalition released its 8th edition of the “Tools for Varroa Management Guide.” With the input from an expert team of beekeepers, entomologists, extension agents, apiary inspectors, and federal regulators, the guide explains practical, effective methods for beekeepers to control varroa infestations, including chemical and non-chemical controls. This is a free resource and can be downloaded here.

Varroa mites are in every hive. It is important to perform a mite wash to determine the number of mites in your hives. Varroa mites are vectors for over 20 known viruses that will affect your bees. It is important to treat for Varroa mite this time of year because the bees raised now will be raising your winter bees.

Other than being on the lookout for mites, enjoy the homestretch of honey collection as bees will soon shift their focus on pollen collection for the upcoming winter and early spring.

As the bees gear up for winter it is important to maintain low mite loads. Bees will also need ample pollen for raising strong winter bees. They will also need pollen stored for when winter breaks next spring. As you are checking your hives ensure they are storing pollen and making bee bread. if your hive does not have a frame or two of stored pollen consider providing a pollen substitute.

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Month in the Hive – June

It’s bee season! Right now, Michigan bees are foraging on all the blossoming flowers and trees, including sumac, milkweed, basswood and clover, creating a robust nectar flow throughout the month of June.

While bees are out foraging, you might see them swarming as well. We’ve had a few calls about how to handle a swarm. No need to be alarmed – just a little patience and the swarm will usually disband, sometimes within about 15 minutes or an hour.

So why do bees swarm anyway?

A swarm occurs when the reigning queen and about half the bees rush out of the hive entrance together, clustering on a tree limb or another similar object. Bees will continue swarming as they look for a new home. Once the bees have found a new location, the cluster breaks up and the bees fly to their new hive.

The bees that did not leave the hive continue their work in the colony, collecting nectar and pollen and building honey combs. Within the colony, a new queen emerges and looks for rival queens. A “fight-to-the-death” combat ensues until there is only one surviving queen. Once the new queen has mated, she begins to lay eggs and the cycle begins again.

A bee’s natural instinct is to swarm when we have good weather. Since we haven’t had much rain lately in West Michigan, we’re seeing a lot of swarms. Just bee-patient and they’ll naturally move along.

Happy Bee Season!

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Michigan Radio: ‘Bee-ing More Observant’ at Great Lakes Bee Co. Bee Pickup Event

Michigan Radio reporter Dustin Dwyer joined the Great Lakes Bee Co. for the second day of bee pickups this year to learn more about these buzzing pollinators and how they are helping the environment.

“When you get a nuc – a 9-frame nuc – you’re getting a regular hive box that you can use in your yard and they’re filled with bees,” Great Lakes Bee Company Owner Genji Leclair told Dwyer during the annual event. “There’s probably some honey in there, a queen, and baby bees being born – they’re so cute.”

The country’s agriculture depends on bees as farmers need them to pollinate crops, such as blueberries, apples, peaches, cherries, and almonds. Sarah Szymczyk and her family were among the many backyard beekeepers who attended GLBC’s annual spring bee pickup, bringing home thousands of bees inside their nuc.

“Our goal in life is to be sustainable living – being able to grow our own food and live in a space that we don’t depend on any other market and bees is the way to that,” she told Michigan Radio. “You have to have food and bees give you food.”

Listen to Michigan Radio’s full podcast about GLBC’s annual bee pickup: “Bee-ing More Observant.”

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Buzzing Bees: 2023 Bee Pick Up events a success

 

Bees from Great Lakes Bee Co. recently returned home to Michigan after pollinating almond crops in California and rebuilding of hives in Georgia. Hundreds of backyard and professional beekeepers from the Great Lakes region gathered to pick up their bees to add to their colonies during our annual Bee Pick-Up events on May 6 and 13 at Kropscott Farm in Fremont.


Now that GLBC bees have returned to Michigan, they forage on basswood, alfalfa, star thistle, and West Michigan flowers to create 150,000 pounds Michigan Honey. In addition to producing honey under the Hasselman brand, the bees are also hired to help pollinate various crops including: almonds (January); apricots, sweet cherries, peaches and plums (April); tart cherries, pears, blueberries and apples (May).


Over the course of GLBC’s two pick up days, beekeepers picked up a total of 1,128 bee nucs and packages. It was a wonderful turnout and we had so much fun talking with everyone who attended our pickups! We want to also thank you for bearing with us on our second day of pickups as we had a break down with one of our trucks, which caused a long delay. We truly appreciate your patience and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.


A special shout out to our volunteer team and all of you, our patient beekeepers, who helped throughout the day.


Enjoy your bees! We hope you have a great bee season!

In the Media:

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Hit the Road Jack … Go Pollinate Those Almonds!

In January and February, a majority of our honey bees buzz into cargo trucks to make the cross-country voyage to California for the state’s yearly almond pollination. The almond industry is big business in California, producing over 80% of the world’s almonds.

More than 2 million hives from Michigan and other states are trucked into California to pollinate the state’s growing almond trees because the “Golden State” alone doesn’t have sufficient bee population for pollination.

Once the bees land in California, they’re dispersed to more than 7,600 farms where they’ll pollinate the almond trees from February to March.

During that time each year, almond tree buds burst into light pink and white blooms in preparation for pollination. As the trees blossom, honey bees forage for pollen and nectar in the orchard. When the bees move from tree to tree, they pollinate almond blossoms along the way. Each fertilized flower will grow into an almond.

When almond pollinating season ends in California, our bees often travel to Georgia, where they’ll pollinate crops there and make honey before returning to their West Michigan home in May.

We trust our bees are enjoying the warm sunshine in California and look forward to their return home this spring!

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Month in the Hive – December

 

Michigan bee hives will be “chilling out” this winter as they wait for the upcoming spring season. For beekeepers, there’s not much to do for your bees over the next couple months. No need to peek on your bee colony – opening the hive risks the escape of warm air. It’s time to just let the bees be.

While bees don’t actually hibernate during the winter months, they do cluster tightly together to stay warm in the hive. Beekeepers may see their bee colony die during Michigan’s cold winter. This is okay. If this happens to you, don’t be embarrassed. It is inevitable that some bee colonies just can’t survive the cold weather. If you’ve already winterized your hives, there isn’t anything else you can do to help them until the weather starts to thaw out in late winter. Until then, enjoy the holidays and the coziness that winter brings. If you want to get a head start preparing for the upcoming apiary season, here are a few ideas:

  • Join a local bee club, attend club meetings and learn from others about being an apiarian or share your knowledge with others.
  • Spruce up your equipment: Is your equipment in need of repairs? Now is a good time to take inventory of your bee equipment and make any necessary repairs or replace old or broken equipment. If you need new equipment, we recommend Dadant for all your beekeeping supplies.
  • Read up about bees and the apiary culture: On a snowy day or night, curl up with a blanket and a cup of tea (mixed with our delicious Hasselman’s Honey, of course) and immerse yourself in the world of bees.

A few of our favorites:

For Newbies

For Practical Beekeeping

For the Bee Enthusiast

For Continued Learning

For History Buffs