The Distance a Bee Travels

It is truly amazing how far a bee will travel to find pollen, nectar, water and propolis. They will travel 3 to 5 miles in search of sustenance for their hive. When you have a bee hive you can’t think of what is blooming in your yard….rather you need to think what is in bloom in your part of the countryside. I live in Seabeck WA and as you can see my bees travel quite a bit of our zip code.

A 3 mile travel distance creates a 6 mile in diameter circle around your hives. A 3 mile radius covers 18,110 acres of ground. A farmer would be proud to be able to cover that many acres and as you know the honey bee is the fraction of the size of a human.

Honey bees in the snow

Beehive, beekeeping, seabeck, bees, honeybees, overwintering bees

Bee hives like snow

It is December in Seabeck Washington. While our winters are very moderate compared to much of the country we do get snow from time to time. We just had two days of snow and our neck of the woods had over 10 inches. The days now are upper 30s and might get into the mid 40s this next week, the nights are in the lower 30s….in any case the snow will not last long.

A friend asked me today about the bees. What do they do when it snows? Do they hibernate?

This is the 6 million dollar discussion. How do you get the bees through the winter. This is the crux of what so many beekeepers struggle with each year. It is not unusual to have a 30 to 50% loss each year.

The bees do not hibernate. I consider hibernation like a sleep state. Bees remain active throughout the winter. They generate heat with the same muscles they use to fly. They flex or pump their mucsels in such a way that they maintain a core temperature of about 89 to 97 degrees F.

During warm weather bees come and go from the hive. Collecting and returning with pollen, nectar  water or sap. They also leave for cleansing flights as they do not defecate in their hive.

At about 64 degrees F the bees begin to cluster, that is collect closely together to preserve heat. There are two basic parts of the cluster; the core which uses its muscles to create the heat and the outer layer that acts as insulation for the core. As temperatures drop the cluster tightens. The bees rotate from the inner part of the cluster to the outer, taking turns generating the heat. The energy they use is fueled by the honey they eat or the sugar the beekeeper has given them if they do not have sufficient honey stored.

The queen slows down egg laying and stops all together for a short time all to preserve energy and make it through the winter. Some think that the winter solstice is what keys the queen to begin to slowly build up the brood again.

Beekeepers in areas with harsher winters may actually wrap their hives to better insulate them, making it easier on the bees. The typical advice when it snows is to leave the snow on the top of the hives, it acts as an insulator.

My goal now is to just check them on warmer days and ensure they have plenty of sugar….and hope I don’t suffer the 30 to 50% loss that others have.

Thank you Lee for this great question.


Resource for information in this post came from here:

Winter – The season for the beekeeper to get strong

Here we are, late fall staring down the barrel of winter. The rains are driving and the winds are blowing. Our hives are all tucked in, tied down and sugared up. Other than doing a quick visual inspection on the next warmish sunny day and maybe replenish the sugar, we have done all we can do to get the bees through this winter.

We spent the early spring setting up the hives and feeding our bees, the late spring and summer building up our hives. We spent our weekends counting sticky boards, adding supers, estimating brood, cutting out drone comb and watching for signs of a swarm. We’ve tried to systemize our inspections, take copious notes and all the while staying observant. On the lookout for robbing, pests, varmints and disease. All our efforts for the bees. A singular focus to help them stay healthy and grow strong.

Now it is our season. The time for us to feed our brains with new information for the next bee season. Time to read the books we heard about but haven’t had time to open. Time for chores, record review and plans for the new season. Time to renew our subscriptions to American Bee Journal or Bee Culture magazines. This is a great opportunity to fix any of your boxes that are in need of repair and build your list of tools and equipment you will need for next year.

I know the internet is working overtime to eliminate everything printed…but there is nothing better than snuggling up on a cold winter day, a hot fire, drink of choice and a nice stack of bee magazines, product catalogs and bee books.

Here is to a nice long winter….the season of the beekeeper.

Quick Guide to Bee Equipment providers:

Beekeeping in Seabeck

Food for the beekeepers brain

Bee Thinking

Better Bee

Brushy Mountain Bee Farm


Glory Bee

Mann Lake

Pigeon Mountain

Ruhl Bee Supply

Western Bee Supply

Honeybees with mad cow disease?

No, these honeybees do not have mad cow disease….they are doing what is known as a waggle dance.

Bees use the waggle dance to communicate the location of food or lodging to her colony mates. As they circle you will see them waggle in a specific direction. The top of the circle, or 12 o’clock, is the location of the sun. So if they are waggling to the left of 12 o’clock the direction they are communicating is to the left of the sun. If they are waggling say at 2 o’clock then she is telling her nest mates that there is food at about a 45 degree angle to the right of the current position of the sun.  The length and veracity of the dance communicate the quality of the food source as well as the distance to the food.

Waggle dances are also used to communicate the new location of a nesting site when a colony swarms. If you took the time, and had the inclination to snuggle up to a swarm you would be able to watch as several bees fly back to the swarm and begin doing different waggle dances as they try to win over their sisters as to which location is best suited for the swarm. They have already made a recon flight, found what seems to be a good location based on factors like, entrance size and size of the cavity, made their way back to the swarm and begun telegraphing this information to the others in the swarm through the dance. You would also be able to watch other bees take note of the dance and fly out to look at the proposed location for themselves. As time goes by more and more of the bees become convinced that one of the locations is better than the rest, at which point the swarm moves as a whole, protecting the queen as they move to their new digs.

Honeybee Democracy by Dr. Thomas D. Seeley makes for a great read on this whole fascinating topic.

Spring Bee Packages Arrived, Installation of bees into a new hive


FINALLY… seemed a long wait for the bees to arrive. I started reading, studying and researching everything about bees since October or so and now I’m finally a “beekeeper”. I can tell you first hand, despite all the research and discussion, nothing prepares you for the first time you unleash 10,000 bees into an open hive. Even with the bee suite on I kept thinking…..what if they turn on me????

Well, of course they didn’t. They are every bit as gentle as you treat them. I did get stung twice but both were my fault. One girl stung me because she got trapped under the wrist band of my watch (lesson..don’t wear that again) and the second bit me because I was not looking at what I was grabbing. I turned to pick up the top of the hive, grabbed it without looking and got stung for my carlessness.

This video is the installation of the first package into a new Warre hive. These are Italians. I also purchased a package of Carniolans which I installed the next day. I’ll post that video in the next week or so.

They have both settled nicely into their new homes and are drinking lots of sugar water as it is still pretty rainy.

Please feel free to comment below and link back if you have a website about bees that you have found interesting.

Bees need a balanced diet too.

CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder seems to be a title that man has put on a multifaceted problem. Of course this fits nicely with our overall need to seek “the one thing”. The one pill that will make us thin, the one idea that will make us rich, the one secret to living a fulfilled life, the one exercise that will melt away love handles.

The more reading I do and the more people I talk with leads me to believe that CCD is not one ailment but rather a series of deficiencies that lead up to the demise of what was thought to be a healthy bee colony.

Though I’m not a scientist, nor do I have a laboratory in my basement…that would be cool though, I can sift through lots of data that others have collected and make sense of it. See the logic (at least my logic) and draw some conclusions.

Painted Backyard Beehive

Backyard Beehive

While reading this last issue of American Bee Journal I came across an article that made sense to me. The article by Peter Loring Borst speaks to a bees diet and covers a lot of great information about pollen and its food value. But one part jumped out at me specifically.

Two groups of bees were analyzed. One that was on a monofloral  diet (one crop of plants, one primary source of pollen like huge fields of soy, or large groves of almonds) and bees who were eating a polyfloral diet (variety of plants around the hive, no one predominant pollen source).  Both diets produced what the bees needed to be healthy and active in this life cycle….however bees that were on the monofloyral or restricted diet produced a smaller amount of an enzyme called glucose oxidase (GOX).

Glucose oxidase is an enzyme that converts sucrose into an antiseptic that we are all familiar with called hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide is used by the bees in honey and larval food production to help reduce the growth of bacteria and pathogens.  So, while the bees on a monofloral diet that are currently flying might be healthy, the next generation of bees may well have a weakened immune system due to being fed food with higher levels of bacteria.

The bees on the polyfloral, or balanced diet, on the other hand, produced greater levels of GOX, which would provide for food with lower levels of bacteria or pathogens thus producing new offspring with normal immune systems.

While there are many other factors out there that lead to the loss of a colony; weather, pesticides, pests, starvation and the beekeeper, providing a balanced source of pollen and nectar for your bees will give them the strength to deal with all the other threats against them.

Those of us that are into back yard beehives may well have the best chance of providing for a balanced diet for our bees. Just look around your neighborhood and I’m sure you will see lots of variety.

Painting your new bee hives

Painting our hives

We spent the weekend getting our two warre hives ready. Bees will be here in 3 weeks or so. I’ve seen quite a bit written about painting your bee hives so to save you the time here is what I’ve reduced it down to:

Color: color does not really matter though keep in mind that light colors reflect the heat away from the hives and dark colors attract the heat. For me, where I live the darker the better as beeks in our area seem most concerned with keeping their bees alive throughout the winter. If you only have a couple of hives you can afford to get decretive. In our case my wife is painting one and I’m doing the other. She is planning a colorful design while mine will look like a log house, green roof and golden brown sides. If you had 20 hives to paint I’d recommend a spray gun or roller to cover as much territory as quickly as possible….maybe that is one of the benefits of being a backyard beekeeper, small scale.

Type of paint: Latex, water based exterior paint. Low VOC would probably be the best but if you used regular VOC paint and let them sit for a few weeks I’m sure there would be no problem. Stay away from oil based paints. In our beekeepers class they really pushed for you to use leftover paints that you or a neighbor might have left over from your last project.

What to paint: Just paint the outside. Do not paint anything the bees will be living on. Your goal is to protect the wood from the elements while realizing that over a few years your hives will age. All of the bars, frames, inside walls, ceiling and floor should be untreated wood.

My warres are 16” x 16” so I’m putting down a 16 x 16 inch square paver that I’ll level with sand underneath and then on top of the paver I’m placing two 16 x 8 in cinder blocks side by side with the holes on the side. This way if it is getting stormy I’ll be able to run a nylon strap around the stack and through the cinder blocks to add stability.

I’ll post pictures of the paint job as well as how I have them placed in the yard next week.

Time never goes so slow as when you are waiting for your first package of bees…..

Getting started in beekeeping, the season is upon us.

From a new beekeepers prospective spring is fast approaching and I can’t get my bees fast enough. I know that those who have bees are still trying to get them through the balance of this winter. Feb, March and April can be like miles 23, 24 & 25 of a 26 mile marathon….almost there but it can all crash with the slightest oversite.

Beekeeping classes start in a couple of weeks through Westsound Beekeepers Association.

Here is what I’ve done so far to prepare for my new hobby:

1) Read The Beekeepers Handbook by Diana Sammataro & Alphonse Avitablile

2) Read Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley

3) Joined my local beekeeping organization, West Sound Beekeepers Association (WSBA)

3) Subscribed to and read cover to cover American Bee Journal magazine

4) Subscribed to and read cover to cover Bee Culture magazine

5) Belong to and follow yahoo groups; Organicbeekeeping, warrebeekeeping and westsoundbees

6) Read endless resources online….not just US but a lot of good stuff out of Canada and the UK

7) Purchased 2 warre beehives, 3 boxes deep plus one extra box

8)Christmas was good to me for tools; bee smoker, beehive tool, beekeeping suit, bee friendly flower seeds.

9) Placed my order for two bee packages, one Italian and one Carniolan, should arrive first two weeks of April.

Whats left:

Paint hives

Place hives in yard

Attend Classes

Be prepared to feed new bees

Install Packages when they arrive

So, all in all I’m the new guy who thinks I’m ready to start keeping bees, I’ve gone through my check list, checked it twice….class starts in two weeks and I don’t know what I don’t know…….all part of the adventure.

Starter Kit that you might find helpful


How do bees fly?

This is a discussion thread I found on

How do bees fly?

I’ve heard that bees’ wings are proportionally way too small to be able to fly. Studying the aviation field and looking at pictures of bees, it seems plausible that their wings are too small to support them in flight. Yet they fly. Do bees’ wings meet the lift/drag ratio needed for flight, and if not, how do they fly?
Graeme Shimmin, Bsc. Applied Physics and Electronics….
Short answer: Bees use different phenomena to fly than a plane does – translational, rotational, acceleration-reaction, and wing-wake interaction forces produced by the flapping of their wings.

Longer answer:

Most insects are thought to fly by creating a leading-edge vortex that
remains attached to the wing throughout a relatively slow, long stroke, bees do not follow this model.

The secret of bees ability to fly is a combination of short, choppy wing strokes, a rapid rotation of the wing as it reverses direction, and a very fast wing-beat frequency (230 beats per second).

This is the result:

The top red/blue lines show the wings going up and down, the middle lines show the angle of attack of the wings (basically vertical on the way up, and horizontal on the way down) This movement creates lift (the black line) greater than drag (green line) almost all the way through the stroke.

And as lift > drag, the bee flies (yay!)

The mechanisms by which the bee is generating lift are thought to be translational, rotational, acceleration-reaction, and wing-wake interaction forces. However, because of the way the forces scale with velocity, and acceleration, the contribution of the non-translational forces is greater for
shorter amplitude strokes .

This is very different to other insects where the lift is predominately translational at mid-stroke. This gives us the reason other insects seem to be ‘theoretically’ able to fly whilst the bee can’t. The other insects lift mechanism is better approximated by the aerodynamics of an unmoving wing.

The scientist who investigated (Michael Dickinson, an insect flight expert at Caltech) stated:

It is the more exotic forces created as the wing changes direction that
dominate, Additional vortices are produced by the rotation of the wing. It’s like a propeller, where the blade is rotating too. Also, the wing flaps back into its own wake, which leads to higher forces than flapping in still air. Lastly, there is another peculiar force known as “added-mass force” which peaks at the ends of each stroke and is related to acceleration as the wings’ direction changes.

Answer summarised from the paper available here:…

Thinking about going with Warre hives

The amount of information available about; bees, hive systems, honey, pest and disease control is amazing. Thanks to technology, discussions can be had with beeks all over the world. I’ve read several books, started reading an array of magazines, reviewed many blogs and bee websites and read posts on a couple of forums. The fun thing about a new hobby like this is you learn about stuff that you did not even know existed…, did you know there is a huge black market in honey? Honey laundering…, but that is another complete topic.

The two forums that I’ve joined are both in Yahoo Groups; warrebeekeeping and westsoundbees

The warrebeekeeping group is comprised of beekeepers from all over the world. It is a great learning advantage just to read the various posts. Many of the topics are over my head but a lot of it deals with everyday hive management.

Based the the reading that I’ve done and my basic philosophy of letting nature take its own course has me leaning toward starting out with two Warre hives. I’ve looked at two websites seriously; and Both seem to have quality built warre hives. I was leaning toward beethinking as they are located in Portland until I came across a local who is building warre hives. I hope to visit with him in the next week or so and I’ll post the particulars.

My reasons for a Warre:

1) Seems to be more natural for the bees, better resembles the inside of a tree

2) Requires less handeling by the beekeeper

3) Lower start up cost

4) Seems that there is a lower incidence of mites

5) Less complicated (simpler can be better)