BEEKEEPING IN THE NORTHEAST - An account of my beekeeping, not a treatise of expertise, but for friends & family who wish to keep bees vicariously through me, and for the occasional apiarist passer-by.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Spring 2018 A Look Back

Edited June 12, 2018, Links added June 13 ~ Recognizing Healthy Honey Bees: Acclimatized means more than just 'winter hardy'. Honey bees evolved with the plants they depended on for nectar, pollen, and resins. Looking to plant hardiness zones for compatible queens and colonies has proven successful in my apiary. Healthy honey bees means a greater chance at managing mite loads without treatment. A beekeeper can not expect to be treatment free if they are acquiring bees from a migratory stressed, heavily managed, or industrial agriculture background.
Gone but not forgotten, lush Ferncroft... now just a red clover monocrop.
An entire ecosystem destroyed through an agricultural easement
- ground nesting birds, amphibians, native pollinators, monarch butterflies...
and my bees once thrived here.

Here are what I think make up the traits of a healthy honey bee colony based on observations in my apiary over four and five seasons - 2013 to 2017 - with nine colonies I acquired after they had survived previous winters with beekeepers farther north than I. These colonies demonstrated continued success at overwintering and honey production with no chem or other treatments for mites in what was then a lush remote environment in the subarctic plant hardiness zone of Wonalancet:

*PROPOLIS: Liberal application of propolis on walls, frames and in vulnerable hive body connection points. Bees know what resins to find and where to find them.
*POPULATION: Conservative population consistent with limited forage in a short foraging season
*QUEEN: Overwintering Queens begin laying in March
South vs North capping styles
Overwintering colonies consume 10 lbs of honey a month. Survive on wild forage without supplemental feeding. Bees know what to find and where to find it.
*FORAGING: Efficient collection of early to late season nectar and pollens in colder temperatures. Bees know what to find and where to find it.
*GUARDING: All vulnerable hive entrances well guarded
*RESILIENT: Diseases are not lethal to the colony
*CAPPINGS: Northern honey bees learn from their sister-caregivers how to cap honey by leaving a space under the cap to accommodate freezing temps. This helps prevent crystallization over winter. This is not genetic behavior but learned behavior. Southern bees lay the cap on a full cell. Biologist have studied this phenomenon for many decades in Europe by requeening southern bees with northern queens. This seems to explain why so many packages from southern climates, despite being requeened with northern queens in New Hampshire, starve clustered over crystallized honey.

Hearing so much at meetings about how hard it is to keep bees in our northern climate I have found the study of honey bee biology to bring the joy back into my inspections and investment of time and care.

There are valid studies done by real scientist that may not match up with what we see in our hives, or think we see in our hives - but when they do there is a victory for a beekeeper learning their craft.

Do always keep in mind the "citizen science" factor when reading beekeeping blogs. Look into research affiliated with universities and if possible or important to you, try and find out where the funding for the research or the video came from. There are some surprising agendas out there inconsistent with raising healthy honey bees or raising them humanely.

Here are some links and other references to information I shared at a talk with CABA - Capital Area Beekeeper's Association, last Friday night. I was prepared, and a little scared, to speak to a large, experienced crowd, but found a great many of the audience to be in their 1st season of keeping bees and it was a very rewarding experience.
Menu for my bees in
our subarctic
plant hardiness zone
  • Hive Management by William Bonney, Massachusetts Beekeeper
  • "Bees" I. Kalifman 1953
  • Honey Bee Democracy by Tom Seeley
  • Honey Bee Biology & Beekeeping by Dewey Carron
  • Bee Culture Magazine
  • American Bee Journal

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fall Feeding Revisited

Wonalancet Mowed - A regular occurrence
This is adapted from my March 2016 article "Why Beekeepers Feed Their Bees". Photo: "Wonalancet Mowed"

Check on your hives for honey stores in this warmer than normal weather. Now is when to feed. This article is specific to NOW in New Hampshire:

FALL ~ Sigh... It is September 19, 2017 and Wonalancet is mowed. A few pockets of goldenrod and aster in the woods here and there, but the flow is over. Seven months to go to the dandelion flow.

If it were cold the bees would be conservative in eating through what they have stored to this point, but those hurricanes in the Atlantic are bringing summer weather to New England.  The girls are active and out scouting.

Open feeding is dicey but sometimes necessary...
take care with such a plan
In the cold days of fall after the nectar flow is done for the year I have not normally fed my hives of the last few years because they have been very good about putting up their own stores for winter. My harvest in August is frame by frame, from those that can spare it. Never whole supers. I use a lot of honey so thank goodness it does not go to waste. With 3 to 5 lbs per frame an August harvest in my apiary's subarctic plant hardiness zone gets us... and the bees, through the winter.

A rain gutter with capped ends makes
a great water holder or feeder
As a rule, a beekeeper feeds in the fall to insure an abundance of honey and pollen stored over the colony as they move in cluster up through the hive, November through April... sometimes into May. I may put out a thicker batch of syrup, fresh daily, at a feeding station. This is two parts sugar to one part water in the hope they will have time to evaporate the moisture off before clustering at daytime temps of 50-57F degrees in preparation for winter. Some beekeepers gradually thicken the syrup and even add a slight amount of pollen.

Don't forget the stones!
Girls can drown...
Just thinking about my girls eating sugar is hard, but at least they do put their enzymes into it as if it were nectar and does become a kind of honey. Still, I decided to add a little pollen supplement powder. I'm not used to doing this so went with the 8 cups sugar to 4 cups water and a 1/8th cup of dry powder. 

Yes, I am open feeding in my Red Path apiary! I don't recommend this. With lots of hives it is less intrusive. I put out just enough for a day and fill it in the morning. Normally, you would open feed far from the apiary but I don't have that option. On my weak hive in Center Ossipee I am using a bucket feeder above the inner cover and I have a little chicken waterer for the other girls that I take in when I go home from work.

Full on pollen supplement feeding in the fall is not recommended as it can stimulate brood production at a time of year when the colony should be shrinking in numbers in order to maximize its limited resources over the long New England winter to come.

In freezing weather - once the quilt box is on - I have used a variety of sugar recipes in the tops of my hives over the years. One year it was Capital Area Beekeeper's Club fondant; other years it has been a top feeding wet sugar mix, see: Karen Thurlow of New Moon Apiary in Maine. She makes up a batch of sugar with enough water to make it crumbly and inserts in into her winter top super set up. 

8 cups sugar to 4 cups water 2:1
1/8 cup of dry pollen supplement.
go light on the pollen. There are
supplements & substitutes. Original article has details.
I like slipping in this sugar mix as a precaution.  Beekeepers need to be careful and very astute when feeding any time of the year, especially syrup. The girls love to hoard, so if they max out the space in the hive with supplemental liquid feed it may not be properly evaporated before winter sets in. I have made the mistake of rearranging these uncapped frames of syrup to the top super only to have the high moisture content freeze in the cell and then, like tiny ice cubes, melt and drench my bees. This could be deadly.

Note: Except for Karen's loose sugar method, I am not a fan of what are called 'candy boards'. I have had them melt down and drown my bees or create moisture issues with my hives. This is not the usual experience. Most beekeepers love them. 

For the complete article see "Why Beekeepers Feed Their Bees" and for a valuable resource of feeding recipes and strategies see this Maine State Beekeeper's Association page. I welcome any feedback, especially if you see any way this article can be improved.