November 23

Raising Chickens and Bees!

A number of folks have gotten interested in bees and chickens and wonder if they can have both together,  I found this very informative article from Whole Fed Farmstead for your information.

Raising Chickens & Honey Bees Together

The Do's and Don'ts of Raising Chickens and Honey Bees Together! Whole-Fed Homestead
Do chickens and honey bees get along? Can you raise them close together?
The short answer is, well… yes.

I remember last spring when we received our first-ever batch of baby chicks and a couple boxes of bees all in less than a month’s time. I wondered and hoped that I wouldn’t find a band of rogue chickens sitting in front of the hives, picking off honey bees as they flew in.

Much to my delight, that hasn’t been the case.

If you are thinking about keeping chickens and honey bees together- and wondering if the chickens will bother honey bees, or vice versa- will the honey bees bother the chickens, the answer is mostly: no, but like almost everything in life, with a few exceptions.

Our chicken coop is a little over 100 feet from the bee hives. The chickens free range all day long, but during the very cold winter and very hot summer they tend to stay pretty close to their coop. Also, they are spoiled. When its nice (as in, not below freezing) we let them out at about 6am. In the spring and summer I make them fend for themselves until about noon, or until the temperature reaches 75 F, whichever comes first. They get a small amount of feed, take their afternoon siesta, and become active again around 3pm until bedtime.

I only mention this because depending on how hungry your chickens are, and what their day looks like might have an impact on their eagerness to eat bees.

Having some of the better free ranging breeds, like Icelandics or having a more aggressive hive might make a difference. Our free-range-extraordinaire-Easter-Eggers haven’t been a problem for the bees at all. Nor was the one aggressive hive we’ve had a problem for the chickens.

Chickens Around the Hives
There are a few chickens that like to meander around the hives regularly, and I don’t mind a bit. I have observed them a lot and have never seen one pick off a live bee. In fact, they don’t even pay much attention to the front of the hive because they are too busy looking for other goodies on the ground. I am happy that they help to keep the area clean, as they will eat ants, beetles and other bugs that we don’t want around the hives.

And actually, our chickens won’t even eat live or dead bees when I’ve offered them. They do however, go crazy for bee larva… and also the wax. So be careful if feeding larva to the chickens, that they don’t run off with a big piece of honeycomb! Although beeswax is generally digestible, it seems like a good way to get an impacted crop.

Our hives are off the ground a foot or two, so even if a chicken were right in front of the hive, they wouldn’t really be blocking the entrance. I think this is a good idea if you have bees and chickens co-existing. If your hives are right on the ground and a chicken is too close, they might get buzzed by a bunch of busy bees. And it is certainly more tempting to eat incoming bees on the landing board if they are right in front of you. If your hives are not raised and you are getting chickens, just keep an eye on them at first. If it turns out that bee-eating is a problem, you may have to raise the hives or put a fence around them to prevent it. Or just feed the chickens more.

Once I saw Otto the rooster jump on top of one of the hives and let out a cock-a-doodle-doo. Seems like a good, tall place to let everyone know who’s the boss. The bees didn’t care. He jumped down and went about his business. It doesn’t seem like bees perceive chickens as a threat in any way.

I am completely comfortable walking right next to the hives without worry that they will sting me. Unless you’re really up in their business, most honey bee colonies just don’t have the time to bother with anyone or anything not obviously threatening them. A small chicken or two walking by isn’t a big deal to the bees.

An exception to this might be if you are working the hives. Whenever I am outside, the chickens like to follow me around (probably because I always have sunflower seeds in my pocket for them!), including when we are inspecting the hives. Sometimes they come and hang out by us while we are working, and sometimes they don’t. I can tell that they don’t like when the bees are buzzing in a tizzy, because they tend to keep a little more distance. It might be a good idea to have a plan of action in place if you are working in your hives and the chickens are getting too close.

The bottom line: honey bees aren’t a favorite snack of chickens, and unless you have really hungry chickens or really aggressive bees, they actually make a great pair. 

Bees Around the Coop
This is what I feel the bigger concern is, and it really isn’t one as long as you take proper precautions.

One day last summer I went out to do a mid-day chicken check and found that the bees had discovered the duck pool… and it was claiming them one by one. I hate accidentally killing even one bee, so to find a couple dozen of them drowning in the pool was aggravating. Come on you guys! Of course, I quickly starting fishing out the live ones and putting them in the sun to dry.

I immediately emptied the pool and and moved it to a new location. Then I gave the bees their own safe water source closer to the hives to ensure that they wouldn’t feel the need to seek out the death-pool again.

Bees really do seem stupid when it comes to water. Even a chicken waterer with much less surface area than a whole kiddie pool could pose a problem if there are no rocks or sticks for overboard bees to use to crawl back out. This is especially true if you live in a really dry climate and natural water sources are hard to find.

You could make your chicken yard completely bee-safe by using chicken nipple waterers. Yes, nipples for chickens. Of course, you still always want to provide a water source for your bees, because you don’t know what kind of situations they could be getting themselves into at a neighbor’s house.

If you find that bees are exploring your chicken’s feed, it may be due to certain herbs that some brands add. This isn’t a big deal, other than the bees are more likely to be eaten if they are hanging around in the food bowl. I mean, they’re pretty much asking for it at that point. If your feed contains Anise Hyssop and your bees are drawn to it, consider switching to a different brand (unless the chickens aren’t eating the bees anyways- then I guess there is nothing to worry about).

The bottom line: ensuring your bees have a safe and always-full water source close by makes them a lot less likely to seek out the chicken’s water. And to further prevent problems, make sure they have water as soon as you add them to your property, because once they find a water source (like the neighbor’s pool) they will keep going back. And you aren’t going to ask the neighbor to drain and move his pool. 

There’s really nothing better than walking outside on a warm spring day and hearing the buzz of bees working the apple blossoms and dandelions, and watching the chickens mill about the yard, enjoying the green grass and fresh air. Honey bees and chickens are very complimentary to each other and are both great additions to a homestead.

November 23

How to Store Raw Honey

Long Term Honey Storage Challenges

Once you have gone to the effort of buying good quality honey, you want to store it in the best way.  This is especially relevant to those of you who want to keep your honey in a liquid (pour-able) state.  This is where we have to talk about honey storage temperatures.

In order to understand why honey storage temps matter, we must first have a better understanding of raw honey. Real honey is made by bees.  It is the perfect food for long term storage in a bee hive.

Then, we humans come along and sometimes try to improve it.  In addition to enjoying the good aspects of honey, we want to be able to mass produce it and store it on a shelf in a pristine state.  Consumers desire that perfect jar of golden honey.

How to store raw honey - not in the refrigerator.

Most people enjoy honey in a liquid state.

The practices used to create a beautiful product for the grocery shelf are not necessarily kind to our wonderful honey.  While honey will be safe to eat for a long time, it can darken in color and become more solid.  That’s doesn’t look pretty on the grocery shelf so honey packers use intense filtration.

Large commercial honey packers often push honey through a filter under pressure.  This is done to provide a beautiful product that will look good on the shelf for a long time.

This creates a problem because ultra filtration removes some of the micro-nutrients and pollen in honey.  Thereby, lessening the nutritional value of the product.

But, you don’t have to be a slave to modern processing.  Local beekeepers across the US produce “table honey” each year. Yes, it will cost a bit more – or should. With proper harvest and storage techniques, we can enjoy all the natural goodness of honey and not waste any.

What is Raw Honey?

Raw food products are in their original form as created in nature.  Nothing is added or harmed in the components of the produc

Honey can only be called “raw” if it has not been processed or super filtered and never heated. The honey should not be exposed to any heat (hotter than it would be inside the hive on a hot Summer day).

Using an extractor to remove honey from the comb is okay – it just slings the honey out.  Allowing honey to drip through a sieve or strainer is okay as no pressure is applied.  Learn more about using an extractor – here.

Raw honey is unique. The color and flavor will vary from year to year. Why?  Because each season the different flowers may or may not produce that same amount of nectar as in previous year.  Nectar production is closely tied to weather conditions.

In my bee yard, it is not unusual to have one bucket of honey that is very light in color and another very dark.  Read this post to learn more aboutraw honey.

Professional 2 Frame Manual Honey ExtractorProfessional 2 Frame Manual Honey ExtractorProfessional 2 Frame Manual Honey ExtractorThis is a manual Honey Extractor. Used properly, this type of equipment does no damage to the beekeeper’s honey harvest.  I have an electric version which does 6 medium frames and three deep frames at one time.

Liquid honey is slung out of the honeycombs and collected in the bo

The Best Way to Store Fresh Honey

Properly stored honey never spoils because bacteria doesn’t grow well in acidic honey. The best way to store raw honey is in a tightly sealed jar kept at warm room temperature.

Because honey can absorb moisture and odors – please don’t re-use an old pickle jar. Unless of course, if you are wanting to add a bit of pickle aroma to your raw honey, that’s your call.

1-Gallon Glass Jar Wide Mouth

For my own use using large-mouth glass jars, is one of my favorite methods of storing honey for long term use. The glass is easy to see through, and does not give the honey any strange tastes. If the honey thickens over time, the large opening makes it easy to scoop out.

These large containers will hold a lot of honey but are not too heavy to lift.  Smaller amounts can easily be transferred to  a serving container.

Bright light doesn’t harm your honey but it can cause honey to darken. (It’s dark in the hive – right ?)

How do you store raw honey in the dark? The easiest method is to place your jar of honey in a room temperature cabinet. An ideal temperature range of 70° F – 80° F is best.

( I break the rule and store a small jar of honey right on my stove top. – I am a rule breaker that way. ) Any “tight sealing” honey pot or container is okay.

Does Raw Honey Need to Be Refrigerated?

No, no, no.  Pure honey will not spoil.  It does not require cold temperatures or a vacuum sealed jar.

Please never put your honey in the refrigerator.  It will not make it last longer or keep it fresher.  Putting honey in the refrigerator can promote some changes that you do not want.

Raw Honey Crystallizes – It’s Natural!

Learn how to store raw honey to prevent crystallization if you do not want gritty honey.

Crystallized honey is not bad. It has just changed form. Some people prefer it this way. If you are not one of them, store your honey at a warmer temperature to discourage crystallization.

This is a common cry among consumers who do not understand the nature of raw honey. The turn often used is “my honey turned to sugar” meaning that the honey has thickened.  This is a natural process!

Honey is a super-saturated sugar.  When honey goes to this solid state, we call it crystallization.  The rate of crystallization depends on the nectar sources of the honey, storage temperature and other variables. But it does not mean that your honey is spoiled!

People ask  how to store raw honey to prevent crystallization. The answer is that sometimes you can not completely stop crystallization.

Raw honey contains pollen, tiny bits of wax etc that encourages the change to a solid. Because cool temperatures quicken the process, the refrigerator is the last place your honey jar should be kept. Honey that is stored in the refrigerator will crystallize faster.

But if you put your jar of honey in the frig, that’s okay it is still good.  Just maybe a bit gritty!  Crystallized honey is okay and safe to eat.  But most people want their honey to stay in the liquid non gritty form. If you want to change your gritty honey back to liquid – read a post on crystallized honey here.

How to Store Honey Even After Opening the Jar

The value of pure honey makes it important to learn how to store raw honey properly. And finding small farmers markets to purchase directly from the farmer increases your chances of getting real honey. Expect to pay more from smaller producers.

But no mater where you get your honey there is one thing to remember.  You do not have to store honey in the refrigerator after opening the jar.  Pure honey will last a long time.

Find a dark warm place to store your honey jar and it will be ready to add to your favorite dishes.

November 7

What is a Slatted Rack?

The slatted rack has become my all-time favorite piece of bee furniture, and I wouldn’t try to keep bees in a Langstroth-style hive without one now that I understand its value to our hives.  I plan insert one whenever I put in a new hive and leave it there year-round. If you’re not familiar with them, a slatted rack (sometimes called a brood rack) fits just beneath the lowest hive body and above the Varroa screen or bottom board. It has the same outside dimensions as the brood box and is about 2 inches deep.

Slatted racks provide dead air space below the brood chamber. This layer of air helps to keep the bees cooler in summer and warmer in winter. In the summer when populations are high, bees congregate in this area which reduces congestion in the hive, spreads out the heat load, and facilitates ventilation by fanning. This increase of space and lessening of heat seems to decrease swarming as well.

In the winter, when the entrances are reduced, the air space within the slatted rack acts as an insulating layer between the brood chamber and the cold area below the hive. It also removes the brood nest further from the drafty entrance.

The queen will lay further down

Because a slatted rack moves the bottom of the brood chamber further from the entrance, the queen tends to lay eggs all the way to the bottom of the frames, thus extending the brood pattern.

Here are some caveats about using slatted racks:

  • If you use a screened bottom board, the slats need to run from front to back— the same direction as the frames. The idea here is that the mites will fall between the slats and then through the screen. If you have the type of rack that runs crosswise, fewer mites are going to fall through so your Varroascreen will be less effective. Similarly, the number of slats should match the number of frames. If you use only nine brood frames in a ten-frame box, your slatted rack should have nine slats. Some manufacturers have designed racks that can be modified for this configuration. There are also slatted racks made specifically for 8-frame equipment.
  • At one end of the slats (running perpendicular to them) is a flat board about four inches wide. This goes at the front of the hive and is said to reduce air turbulence at the entrance.
  • But the most important thing to remember about slatted racks is this: they have two sides, a deep side and a shallow side. The shallow side goes up. Repeat. The shallow side goes up. If you put it in upside down, the bees will draw comb into the empty space. The next time you try to reverse brood boxes, you’ll first have to cut away the comb and brood hanging off the bottom. You can’t even set the box down without doing serious damage. This is not fun, especially when the box weighs 90 pounds and the temperature is 90 degrees. (Hmm . . . Do you hear experience speaking here?)

However, once you get your slatted racks successfully installed, you’ll be a convert. Whatever the reason, hives with racks seem to do better than hives without.

November 7

How to Prepare Your hives for Winter: a checklist

How you prepare your hives for winter depends on where you live, so some of the suggestions below may not apply to you. Nevertheless, the list may give you some ideas. Although the calendar still shows November, those long, dark, cold days of winter are just around the corner. It’s time to get busy.

  • Remove empty supers. Make the space inside the hive commensurate with the size of the colony. If necessary, reduce the hive volume with follower boards, especially in a top-bar hive. A proper interior size is less drafty and less likely to harbor intruders.
  • Check for a laying queen. You should see at least some brood in your hive. If you don’t, order a queen as soon as possible.
  • Check for colony size and combine small ones. Come spring it is better to have one live colony than two dead ones.
  • Check for honey stores. If your hives are too light, you will need to add some frames of honey.  You may also feed….but once the cold gets here it will be too late .
  • Assure that the honey frames are in the right place, that is, they should be on both sides of the cluster and above it in a Langstroth hive. Move frames around if necessary. In a top-bar hive, put the cluster at one end of the hive and put the honey frames next to the cluster on the other side. This way, the colony can move laterally in one direction to find food.
  • Reduce hive entrances if you haven’t already. It’s time for mice and other small creatures to find a snug and warm overwintering place—one filled with honey is especially attractive.
  • Remove weedy vegetation from the base of the hive. Vegetation is a convenient hiding place for creatures who may want to move into the hive and it can be used like an entrance ramp or stepladder.
  • Put a slatted rack** in your hive if you don’t already have one. The slatted rack adds space between the bottom of the cluster and the drafty hive opening. **This is something new I have learned about and am adding to my hives…see my next post for more information
  • Put a wintergreen grease patty in each hive. Grease patties won’t control a large mite infestation, but they can slow the increase of mites during the winter months.
  • If you live in a wet area, make sure your lids will keep out the rain. Make any needed repairs now.
  • Provide ventilation for your hives: air must be able to come in through the bottom and out through the top. I like to use a screened bottom board all winter long.
  • If high winds are a problem, secure your lids with heavy stones or tie-downs.
  • If high winds are a problem, consider providing a windbreak.
  • If winter flooding is a problem, move the hives to higher ground now while the weather is still dry.



November 7

Catching Up Before Fall Leaves Us Behind

Received the following text from Sean a few weeks ago…and I was reminded today that I still had not responded.  Since Sean’s observations really concern us all, I decided to post and answer here.  You are welcome to add to my comments and perhaps you have questions to raise as well.

From Sean

“Hey Scott. My hive at the apiary is okay one at my house if full. I have three boxes pretty full of honey. Do I add another or leave it alone. Also do I go ahead and put the small opening and seal it up?  Apiary hive is pretty weak compared to the one at the house. Both have signs of queen but one at the house is way more productive. Hope you are doing well” –Sean

First let me say I am doing very well, but for a retired person…I am not very retired.  I am deeply involved in my church and community and have been doing a huge amount of work as a substitute teacher as well.  That being said…my beekeeping time has been greatly reduced, most especially for our Blog…so its time to crank it back up.

  1. Addressing the three boxes of honey…we definitely want to pull off two of these.  Reducing the size of our hives for winter is essential.  I have reduced all of my hives to the brood box and one super.  The super is full of honey for the bees to utilize over the winter.
  2. It is certainly time to reduce our openings.  Many of us will do this as early as August if there is any potential for “robbing”.
  3. Checking to make sure we have queens is another thing we just always be on top of.  Our Winter Bees are being made and the population should be greatly reduced.
  4. Production is always a curious thing.  This is why having hives at multiple locations is a good thing.  I cannot account for your lack of production at the Apiary?  I know that when I put the new community feeder out it helped my hives.  If your stores are still lacking, you should continue to feed as long as it is warm.
     Scott (Mr. G)