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Month in the Hive – July

 

Summer is prime bee season! Michigan bees have been foraging on all the blossoming flowers and trees, including sumac, milkweed, basswood and clover, in order to create a robust nectar flow.

Now that we’re in July, West Michigan bees are busy making honey in their hives. For beekeepers, there isn’t a need to be constantly digging around in the hive unless you’re managing swarm prevention. Be patient if you see a swarm as they usually disband, often within about 15 minutes or an hour.

During July’s hot and humid days, you may notice bees resting outside of the hive. This is completely normal as this is their way of keeping cool.

Throughout the month of July, continue weekly hive inspections, looking for the queen, and checking on the overall health of the hive.

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We MOVED! Come see us at our new location on Warner Avenue in Fremont

 

Have you heard the news … WE’VE MOVED!! We’re now located in the Old Rink Plaza, 5973 S. Warner Ave., just down the road from Fremont High School! We are currently only open for in-person shopping by appointment at this time until we get fully settled.

As always, we are open online 24/7 at www.GreatLakesBeeCo.com (Any orders placed online, can be picked up without having to make an appointment).

To schedule an appointment, email: info@greatlakesbeeco.com

Here’s a sneak peek inside our new space!

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Great Lakes Bee Company featured in The Metropolitan

 

Writer and gardner Jamiel Dado joined us for our second beekeeping class in March. In his article, “Beeing There,” for The Metropolitan, Jamiel wrote about his journey to Kropscott Farm Environmental Center and observations and discussions from our bee class.

In his article, Jamiel writes:

“Stefan (Braun) turned out to be a very affable teacher and made the time fly. He made it quite clear from the beginning that keeping bees would result in getting stung quite often. He said that he gets stung on average 50 times a year. He explained that although he wears the protective headgear, he doesn’t usually wear the gloves. I could imagine that they would be bulky and thus difficult to handle things. At this point, a retired doctor in the group informed the class that bee sting therapy was still widely used in the treatment of arthritis. So, I guess it’s a positive thing? It became clear during the presentation that many things the beekeeper does to the bees ends up making them angry, explaining the large amount of stinging involved. His main advice regarding the stinging was to get the stinger out as soon as possible.

One of the controversial aspects about beekeeping (and there are several) that I have come across is the notion that when you harvest honey from the hive, you essentially starve the bees during the winter. I was happy to learn during the course of the day that this is not the method of the responsible beekeeper. Each hive of bees needs between 60-100 pounds of honey to get through the winter. This is accomplished in the space of two supers filled with honeycombed nucs. Once these are filled, additional supers and nucs are placed on top and those are soon filled as well. Stefan asserts that bees are naturally overachievers and will produce much more honey than they need to get through the winter. On average, using this method will supply you with 50-100 pounds of excess honey to harvest per hive!

That’s a lot of honey!

Way to go bees!

One of the best pieces of advice that Stefan stressed on more than one occasion was to find a local bee club to find a mentor and resources. Most bee clubs will have important equipment needed to harvest honey and will usually share or rent it out to members.

If the idea of having a surplus of honey and a new hobby interests you, then I would recommend learning a thing or two from Stefan and the Great Lakes Bee Company. In addition to the classes, they sell bees to get you all set up. In fact, you can purchase nine frame “nucs” that will give you a head start on your honey production.”

Thank you, Jamiel, for joining us at our beekeeping class and writing a fun story about beekeeping!

Read Jamiel’s full article in The Metropolitan, here.

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2024 Spring Bee Pickup on Saturday, May 4: What you need to know

 

Dear Beekeepers,

2024 Bee Pick-Up Day is Saturday, May 4!

Time: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Pick Up Address:
Great Lakes Bee Company
5973 S. Warner Avenue
Fremont, MI  49412

Check or Cash helps keep costs down. If you prefer to use a card, a 3% card fee will be added at time of payment. Payments will be due at pick up.

Packaged bees and 5 frame nucs:

  • These are contained and easy to transport. They will need air and circulation, but no additional box or covering is needed.

9 Frame Nucs:

  • You will need a bottom board, outer cover and set of ratchet straps for each nuc.  We have bottoms, covers and straps available at pick up if needed.  9 Frame nucs travel well in the back of a truck, van, roomy trunk.  Be sure it has plenty of ventilation so bees won’t overheat.

We have a wide variety of woodenware and bee equipment available for purchase at pick up.

Keep your eye out for more updates on our social channels as we get closer!

Any questions: text (231) 335-0929 or email info@greatlakesbeeco.com

We can’t wait to see you on Saturday, May 4!

– Great Lakes Bee Company 

 

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Month in the Hive – March

 

Spring has officially sprung in West Michigan! As the snow disappears and temperatures become a bit warmer, it’s time to get out and check on your hives more regularly.

In early spring, it’s common for colonies to die of starvation. However, if you’ve fed your bees with plenty of sugar syrup in the fall, they should be okay. Bees need more food during this time of year for brood rearing, but can’t forage just yet. That’s why it’s important to check their food stores when the weather is mild. We recommend hives have at least three or four combs full of honey to get them through the next couple of months until nectar and pollen are available and accessible outside. If there isn’t any sealed honey in the top frames, you may need to begin some emergency feeding. You can use dry sugar, fondant, or a candy board, or replace empty combs with combs of capped honey.

Keep in mind when feeding, we recommend keeping the frames intact, and just peeking under the cover. The bees’ proximity to their food source is key. If the cluster is far to one side of the food, you can carefully move it closer, keeping it together while you do so, or move frames of honey closer.

With the days growing longer, the queen steadily increases her rate of egg laying as well. More brood means more food consumed. The drones begin to appear, and bees will continue to consume honey stores. Feeding protein patties is an optional practice to ensure that bees have access to protein for brood rearing. Generally, bees will slowly begin to forage for pollen when the weather is dry and warm. Pollen provides much-needed protein for larval development. But when they can’t forage due to cold and wet weather, protein patties serve as a great source of protein and cover for periods when the colony continues to raise brood. Beekeepers can choose to feed protein patties throughout the spring or choose to monitor weather conditions and the pollen intake into the hive to ensure their bees are getting the necessary protein they need.

Next up: Preparing and planning for the upcoming season!

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Month in the Hive – February

 

Are you getting into bees and confused by all of the hubbub about queens or “breeds” of bees? Well, it is easy to say it doesn’t matter and bees are bees. But that doesn’t really answer the question. One thing we need to remember is that when someone is selling Italian bees, Carniolan Bees, or Russian bees, they are selling bees based on traits and characteristics more than genetics. These traits have been selected for years in breeding programs to accentuate characteristics found in the namesake populations. Much like cultivar groups of brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, kale, and kohlrabi are the same species of cruciferous, but express different traits due to selective breeding.

When someone is selling Italian queens or bees, they are selling bees that tend to develop large clusters. With the large clusters, Italians tend to produce ample honey crops. Also, they are fairly gentle bees that show little aggression toward the beekeepers’ missteps. The large clusters can be a blessing or a hindrance going into winter. Bees huddle together to keep warm in the winter, so more the merrier, right? Well, with all of those mouths to feed they need more resources in the cold winters and spring that follows. A well-stocked Italian hive will survive winter and spring, but if the pollen and nectar fail to materialize, Italians will burn through resources to be ready for an eventual flow. This can lead to starvation in a delayed spring if the beekeeper does not keep an eye on them. As far as physical traits, Italian bees tend to be blond in color with brown to black stripes. Italian queens tend to be blond to light orange/amber with occasional brown to black markings.

Carniolan queens and bees, on the other hand, winter in smaller clusters. This is great for conserving resources, but can lead to excessive die off in exceptionally cold winters. They do develop strong clusters in the spring, but unlike Italians they will pull back brood rearing if resources become scarce. Carniolan bees are one of the gentlest bee varieties you’ll find. The bees tend to be orange/amber to black with black stripes, while the queens range from a dark orange or brown to black.

The last common variety of honey bee is the Russian. Russians are an interesting mix. They winter with good sized clusters and produce good honey crops. They have been shown to carry lighter mite loads and have lower tolerance for mite presents. So, what is the downside to Russian bees? Well, they are a bit more aggressive than Italians or Carniolans, and tend to swarm more. Some will say that more aggressive bees will produce more honey, but in our experience aggression does not correlate to honey production. The tendency to swarm helps with mites by introducing brood breaks. The coloring of Russian bees would fall about in the middle of Italians and Carniolans, while the Russian queens tend to be blond to orange/amber in color and often have brown to black stripes.

Finally, you may have heard of bee brands like Beeweaver, Saskatraz, and Ankle Biters. These brands have meticulously bred bees to focus on traits the breeder finds attractive. Each and every brand will tell you in detail what they focus on, but in general they focus on mite resistance, gentleness, and honey production. You may come across Varroa Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) and VSH stock is the fruit of breeding programs that select breeding stock based on the tests that evaluate hygienic behavior. Hygienic behavior for bees is seen in uncapping, recapping, and removal behavior of brood that is not “normal” or healthy. This behavior translates to fewer mites in the hive and a less hospitable environment for mites to reproduce.

Where does this leave you for selecting the type of bees? Personally, we recommend new beekeepers start off with Carniolans or Italians. This is because of their gentleness and they are a bit more forgiving of “newbees” mistakes. After several years, once the newbee has become a proficient beekeeper, then one might bring in stock with traits they want to introduce into their apiary.

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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 – 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!