Meet LCBA’s 2015 Youth in Beekeeping Scholarship student: Jana Girt of Onalaska High School. Jana is a Future Farmer of America, planning to make beekeeping one of her Supervised Agricultural Experience projects.
In her application, Jana wrote, “Bees provide a symbiotic relationship between plants and themselves . . . this is a fascinating exchange of mutual benefit that I would absolutely love to learn more about.”
Along with FFA, Jana's part of Onalaska HS’s Knowledge Bowl & Science Club, plays soccer, runs track, does cheerleading, & is a class officer.
Many thanks to Beeline of Rochester for their generous winning bid on equipment for our 2015 program - and to our members who donated items for drawings to raise funds!
What follows is a month - by - month chronicle of Jana's work with her bees. . . .
Stage One - Preparing Hive Boxes Equipment
Jana & her mom, Janelle Girt, assembled her hive boxes & frames on April 4. When Jana and Janelle took LCBA's Apprentice Beekeeping course in March, they decided to go with medium hive boxes, easier for a petite person to lift than the larger deep hive boxes. See photos at right & below that show the process of putting hive boxes together.
Below, Janelle, Jana's mother, joins Jana assembling frames in a jig:
Below, Jana using staple gun to stabilize glued dovetail joints in medium super boxes. Jana has such a good eye that Peter is thinking he might have to hire her as shop help. . . . .
Stage Two: Hiving Jana's Bees
Tues Apr 7: Today, the Italian package bees arrived in Centralia; Susanne picked them up & drove them to Onalaska to the Girt's farm, where Peter & Susanne helped Jana & Janelle hive them during a sun break. Jana & Janelle had picked a lovely spot under a large spreading tree - the bees have some rain shelter, shade for hot days, & plenty of forage in the neighborhood. The hiving went smoothly - for details on how this process works, visit our "Hiving Package Bees" page.
Above, Jana & Janelle with their newly hived package bees on April 7: the top, pink box is an empty deep that houses a bucket feeder of sugar syrup. Jana's new girls are gentle Italians who were already clustering on the queen cage - ready to welcome their new matriarch.
Thurs. Apr 9: We checked to see if Jana's queen had been released, and she had been. See photo at right - the queen is transported in a special queen cage. She is then inserted into a package box of 3 pounds of bees not related to her - that's about 10,000 bees – & her pheromones begin to "claim" those bees during transport. Still, to protect her, it is important to keep her isolated till that claiming process is finished. When we hived the queen, we took out the cork plug at the bottom of the cage & replaced it with a marshmallow, which the workers ate through by the time we checked on her release on Thursday.
Stage Three: Inspecting Bees to Assess Colony Health
Sat Apr 18: Jana and Janelle attended LCBA's Hive Inspection workshop in Adna. LCBA's workshops help our members, especially our new beekeepers, watch mentors demonstrate hive managment techniques, then practice them themselves with guidance so that they can inspect their own bees at home with greater confidence and effectiveness. See photos below & to the right.
Below, Jana, Janelle, & Susanne suit up at hive inspection workshop in Adna:
Sun Apr 19: Jana's First Inspection of Her Bees:
This was exciting! Jana, Janelle & Susanne suited up to check how these bees were settling into their new home, 12 days after they were hived. As we hoped, they were building up beautifully. Sharp-eyed Jana spotted her queen on frame 3, & there was plenty of capped brood - the queen is laying great pattern. Jana has a natural calm demeanor that encourages gentle behavior in her bees - there were no upset bees & no stings.
As the bees had built comb on the central 7 frames, we put on the 2nd hive box - this is important since if bees feel congested, they may swarm, and Jana would lose half her colony. To facilitate their comb-building this early in the season, we are feeding them sugar syrup (a 1:1 sugar:water mix) blended with Honey-B-Healthy, a lemon essential oil infused supplement.
Above, Janelle watches as Jana examines the brood pattern on a frame; below, Janelle coaches as Jana closes up the bucket feeder:
Sun May 10: Second full-scale Hive Inspection
In the interim between Susanne's 4/19 & 5/10 mentor visits, Jana and Janelle had looked in on the colony without pulling frames, looking down to check on buildup of comb, and fed the the bees.
Today, Jana's bees were looking great: the colony was burgeoning with workers bringing home brightly colored pollen & stowing away nectar. The brood pattern was excellent - most cells filled with larvae or capped brood, with nice honey arches over the top of each frame, and plenty of food stored on the outside frames. The bees' demeanor was calm and gentle, exactly what we hope for. They were building up so well that we put on the third medium hive box (3 mediums are the equivalent of 2 deeps). When the bees fill 7 frames of this box, we will put on Jana's first honey super & queen excluder!
Below, Jana's bees "chaining" - part of their wax-building process:
One wrinkle was that the bees had bridged comb between frames 5 & 6 in the bottom box, effectively gluing these two frames together: to make the frames manageable, we had to cut through the comb to correct this. to correct. Susanne did this to show Jana how. We fed the girls one last time with sugar syrup.
Next, we put a slider board, sprayed with olive oil, underneath the screened bottom board - this is to check Jana's colony for the dreaded Varroa mites. Like the bees, the mites come to the end of their lifespan in a matter of weeks, so over a 48 hour period, one can assess from mite drop how serious a colony's infestation level is and decide on treatment options. Fortunately, when we checked the slider board the following week, there were no visible mites on the slider board - great news! So far, this is a healthy bee colony.
Below, Jana & Janelle after inspecting their bees:
Stage Four: Colony Build-up & Honey Harvesting
As the summer unfolded, Jana's bees continued to build up nicely. In the first week of July, they added medium box 4, the honey super, with a queen excluder. The bees had filled box 3 entirely with honey, so we moved 5 of those honey frames up to the super and put empty frames in the 5 middle positions of box 3 to give the queen room to lay. There was still good forage available in their area of Onalaska.
The Girt family added a new member around this time: Bandit the puppy! One day, Bandit came up to the house with his face pretty swollen up: he had gotten curious about the bees . . . who schooled him pretty emphatically. But Bandit is a smart little fella. At the next hive inspection, he was charging around the yard . . . but making a big detour around the hive!
We went over the assorted methods of removing the honey supers without harming the bees, and Jana opted to try the bee escape board: I loaned her ours, and the removal of the honey frames went very smoothly several days later.
The Girts spun a super of honey at LCBA's honey extraction workshop/party on August 1st. Like Joevanie Montalvo last year, Jana had honey in her first year of beekeeping! Jana entered her honey in LCBA's 2 honey contests - the official Fair contest and the "People's Choice" tasting. She won a red ribbon - see photo at right. Also, Jana and Janelle volunteered in LCBA's booth on Children's Day, sharing what they had learned this year with interested visitors to our exhibit.
Above, Jana with her red-ribbon first year honey at the Southwest Washington Fair; below, Jana volunteering in LCBA's booth on Children's Day:
Stage Five: Fall Management & Preparation for Over-Wintering
In September, Jana and Janelle attended our Fall Management Workshop in Adna, where they worked with veteran beekeeper & LCBA mentor Gottfried Fritz. It's important for new beekeepers to get a chance to hear about & observe diverse methods for working with bees, since there is no one tried & true "right way" to do it. We hadn't been using a smoker on Jana's bees - their demeanor remained gentle even after the forage dried up in the midsummer, perhaps because there were no other managed bee colonies that we knew of in their area - we saw no competitors or robbing. But at this workshop, Jana and Janelle got to see how to use smoke to manage bees, a good skill for all beekeepers to learn.
Jana & Janelle's bees have now been put to bed for the winter in 3 medium supers, with plenty of food stores. With any luck, they should over-winter well, and the next chapter of Jana and Janelle's beekeeping will begin. It's been great fun working with them Jana, Janelle, & their bees this year!
---LCBA Mentor, Susanne Weil
Above, Jana Girt, LCBA's 2015 Youth Scholarship student, here pasting wood glue into medium super parts as she assembled her hive boxes; below, Jana in safety goggles fitting dovetails together before applying the mallet & staple gun:
Below, mentor Peter Glover guides Jana in assessing whether hive box is square prior to stapling:
Below, Jana & Janelle with 5 completed medium super boxes. They primed & painted them next day in the sage green color that Jana chose.
Above, the queen bee inside her transport cage. Notice a worker has already flocked to her, attracted to her pheromones. Below, see what a package of bees looks like (photo from LCBA's 2014 package bee pickup):
Below, LCBA's hive inspection workshop in Adna:
Below, Jana inspects her own bees for the first time. She's holding up a nicely drawn frame of comb:
Below, closeup of the beautiful comb Jana's bees have built: note that they are already capping honey:
Above, Jana found her queen on frame 3; below, a closeup shot of the queen, scuttling away at the lower left corner of the photo:
Below, Janelle looks on as Jana inspects her bees on Mother's Day:
Jana is quickly learning what to look for & getting increasingly confident inspecting her bees: below, she is examining the bees' comb build up on frame 3 of box 2, which led us to add box 3 to prevent congestion:
Below, Jana pulling frames for inspection:
Below, Jana has a nice, gentle touch with the hive tool:
Above, Jana & Bandit with the colony - note the queen excluder & honey super. Below, checking honey frames in the super:
Above, Jana checks a lovely, thickly-drawn honey frame; below, Jana and Janelle with the frames they decided to spin. They saved some frames for the girls for winter food stores.
Below, Janas bees clustering around the hive entrance on super removal day - these bees were very gentle even then, despite the warm weather.
Above, Jana inspects a frame under guidance of LCBA mentor Gottfried Fritz; below, Jana works to free a frame that host Dan Maughan's bees had glued in with loads of propolis: