We care for approximately 800 hives of bees, all located around Eugene, Oregon. The hives are separated into small groups of 20 - 36 hives that live together in one 'bee yard'. The bees are separated like this because, just like any other animal, they need enough food to feed their local population. Eight hundred hives of bees all placed in one spot would have a hard time finding enough nectar and pollen to feed themselves during foraging season. We don't own all the yards that host our bees. In fact, most of the yards belong to friends or neighbors who want to host some bees to pollinate their garden or orchard. If you live within 30 minutes of Eugene, Oregon, outside of city limits and would like to host some Queen's Bounty bees, please let us know via our Contact Form.
Our bees work on an annual cycle. In early spring as the days get warmer and longer the bees start to stir inside the hive. The queen begins laying more eggs, while workers make forays out of the hive to collect water and to scout for signs of nectar (for carbohydrates, or energy) and pollen (for protein). As the queen's new eggs hatch, the very first bees to hatch become the caretakers for their younger siblings. These young bees are called 'nurse bees'. Later, in the middle of their life, many of them will become 'guard bees', guarding the entrance to the hive from intruders. And then at full maturity, they'll become field bees, roaming outward from the hive to collect pollen and nectar. After several weeks of constant laying, the population will have grown to the point at which it has a full 'field force' of mature bees that can bring in lots of nectar and pollen. When many bee friendly plants are blooming at once and there's lots of nectar available for the bees to collect, we say we're in the middle of a 'nectar flow'. In our area, the heaviest nectar flow is during the blackberry bloom, usually occurring throughout much of June. During this time, the beekeeper will continue adding new boxes of frames to the top of the stack of boxes that make up a hive. This will give the bees more space to fill with honey.
After the main nectar flow is over, we start collecting the honey. This period is called extraction. The beekeeper removes the top boxes from the hive, the ones full of honey, leaving behind the bottom couple of boxes in which the bees will live out the fall and winter, as well as a box or more of honey for the bees to eat during the cold season. The boxes full of honey are brought back to the 'honey house' which holds the extraction tools. First, the beekeeper slices the white wax caps off the frames full of honey. Then the uncapped frames are placed in an extractor that will spin the frames to spin the honey out of the cells that have been holding it. The honey goes into a holding tank or barrel that will house it until it's ready to be packaged into jars.
The bees head into fall earlier than we do. As soon as the summer nectar flows subside, the queen slows her laying of eggs so that there will be fewer bees to feed over the winter. Summer bees typically live only 40 days so most of the summer field force will die off before the winter. The bees that are going to weather the winter stock up on protein, which is found in pollen. This creates a food reservoir in their bodies, which is why we call them 'fat bees', but more importantly it increases their longevity to several months so they live through the winter. Poorly fed bees can't do this, which is one reason they may not survive the winter. The winter bees get busy making a red, glue-y substance called propolis that they use to seal the cracks in their hive to protect against winter chill. And, brutally, they grab the male bees, 'drones', and throw them out of the hive. This is done to conserve food for the winter worker bees since drones don't work. Their sole purpose is mating and there are no queens out and about looking for mates in the winter.
During the winter, the bees huddle in a cluster in the center of their hive on their primary food storage. They eat what they've stored and wait out the cold, damp weather. Usually they will not emerge unless it's over 45 F and dry outside. If we do get one of those days in the winter, you'll often see lots of bee activity as the bees leave the hive to gather water and... to poop. That's right - they've been holding it for weeks to avoid soiling their hive. Once it's reliably warm again, the bees start the spring cycle all over!