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, March 27, 2017

My Beehive Set Up

My bees thrive well in an eight frame hive set up here in Northern New Hampshire. I tweaked the ten frame hives I'd invested in so heavily until finally, several years ago, gave in to this narrower concept. 

My bees wanted to go up, following the heat of the cluster in winter. Honey left on the outskirts of a super that would tempt them to break cluster to reach, was ignored once cold weather set in. Sometimes colonies starved.

The diseases I was seeing in my failed ten frame colonies screamed of moisture and poor ventilation; so I utilized the "varroa" screened bottom board to help with airflow. William Bonny's old book on "Hive Management" agreed with a local farmer's advice to keep a pine needle filled super on top during winter to catch moisture. That book also introduced me to homasote board. 

All these changes begun to work well, but I feared the brood box would be exposed to abrupt airflow sitting there on that screened bottom, especially going into - and coming out of - winter. 

The discovery of a swarm control component called the "slatted rack" was the next stop in my beekeeping journey. I found it perfect for buffering the brood box from the outside air. It also gave the chilly spring foragers a place to hang out in increment weather instead of crowding up into the nursery. 

The bees loved it and so do I. Setting all this on top of two leveled chimney stones cut off any direct cold air flow. It also seemed high enough off the ground to discourage skunks from scratching at the door. So did the new solar powered fencing.

After about three years of failure with southern packages and nucs queened from California stock, I began to choose northern honey bees, raised farther north than I was. I'd drive as far as I had to go. This was to try and insure overwintering survival with our uniquely short nectar flows in my mountain intervale - only five and a half months - late April to the end of September. 

In that many years the trees had also grown a few feet higher in my apiary, putting every colony in full shade. Also by that time every wasp in area knew where my hives lived. Two colonies were killed. A move had to be made. 

About then a neighbor in failing health invited me to place hives in view of his window. He lived long enough to take pleasure for a few seasons watching my bees enjoy full sun on several acres of wild forage with a northern wind break of wonderful nectar and pollen producing trees. So far most of my colonies have been able to continue in this ideal location.

These savvy acclimatized honey bees now filling my narrow hives, along with the changes made to my apiary set up, began to bring joy instead of angst to my beekeeping. I have had a few summer losses due to normal events, including beekeeper-too-busy-itis during swarm season, however, no losses winter through mid-summer like I was experiencing before. I do see mites, but not high counts others are dealing with. Most importantly, I see no diseases, and previous to these changes I think I saw them all except AFB.

I've hung in there as a beekeeper by focusing on the specific issues facing my colonies instead of trusting a lot of disparaging advice to blame every beekeeping malady on varroa mites; solve every problem with treatments. I've also looked to successful northern bee school teachers and scientist, like New England's own Tom Seeley, for insights.

Mostly I've trusted my gut. Not out of stubbornness, necessarily. On some level, though not a scientist, my ongoing studies in honey bee biology seem to say that, given a good home, these bees should be able to thrive where they live, dependent primarily on the wonderful gifts millions of years of evolution has bestowed on them.

I believe this focus has encouraged my continued research, participation in educational opportunities, and brought me satisfaction with small successes that keep me in a very difficult and expensive quest. 

I've been uncertain much of the time with my choices. I've bought miticides or antibiotics - then never had the nerve to go through with treatments. In the end, trusting my gut, paying attention to my bees, and enjoying the occasional validation of science, has so far won the day. 

I didn't know I was this person... this "scientist"; I just wanted to be a beekeeper. 

Fortunately, honey bees are a rather brilliant, persistent little species. They are determined to pull us in, teach us their needs and hopefully, in exchange for a little honey and beauty and food, survive to use a few million more years of the amazing gifts of evolution they are so marvelous at utilizing even in a dramatically changed world.
I have these eight frame hive set ups for sale as close to cost as I can afford at my shop in Center Ossipee, NH. They are crafted locally, are all New England pine, and mostly from sustainably harvested wood. They are complete in accommodating the need for frames and boxes in a full season for one colony: 1 deep, 2 mediums. They include a cedar landing board, a notched pine inner cover, a slatted rack, and a shim for feeding options. You can see them in detail. Take a look at but I don't sell online. Just call and I can pull one together for you. I really appreciate being able to serve local beekeepers and teach classes throughout the season on honey bees and my beekeeping methods.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Winter Comes To Wonalancet

Another season has passed on my little apiary in the woods of Wonalancet.

Seven hives are now all tucked in for winter. My two Palmer hives, still robust, are heading into their third winter with me, four total winters.

The TroyHall hive, very strong, now faces a second winter with me, three total winters.

The Canadians have had a few struggles but four out of seven now head into a third winter with me. These bees came from a retired beekeeper who had not bought a queen since 1962. From the original seven I brought home as full hives, three boxes deep, back in late fall 2014, through a terrible ice storm, four survive. One failed after swarming in 2015; a second failed from a devastating wasp attack in late fall, 2015. The third was a failed queen after swarming this summer, 2016.

I blame the open pasture location for attracting the many bee-loving bird species to my queens on way back from mating flights; I also blame my own inattentiveness on the two swarm losses. I did save one of the four remaining colonies with a comb of young from a sister hive.

We've had our adventures for season 2016. Predators: skunks, raccoons, wasps, phoebes, wax moths... but no disease... such a resilient troop of northern bees. So just one summer loss and one near-loss after a swarm incident in 2016. Fingers crossed for this one small colony with its home-grown queen from a sister hive going into winter, but all 7 Wonalancet colonies look pretty robust. I took only 40 lbs of honey - a few frames here and there from the hives that looked like they wouldn't notice. An important note is that I did not feed this fall. Some feed was offered in the spring with minimal interest.
Ossipee Teaching Apiary: Three of these four hives were selected based on colonies provided to beekeepers through my shop in Center Ossipee. An over-wintered nuc from the seacoast is the only one showing signs of disease - chalk brood & deformed wing virus a sign of varroa. I waffled on treating since I have never treated. The next hive over are Russians. No mites there. In my observation this little sick colony has some very good survival traits as all the sick bees we saw were doing their best to get away from the hive, away from the apiary. They were not trying to forage. All the beelines went to the west, they were headed east. Our state inspector once told me bees will leave when sick. At least that is a trait to look for when selectively breeding. To my amazement the seacoast hive rebounded & managed to pack away two medium supers of honey weighing about 60lbs. The cluster is small, but well positioned in cluster. I opened it thinking they were gone, and what a pleasant surprise. They may be gone in the spring, but are worth the risk. If they survive, I will certainly split them and value those genetics.

The fourth hive, third in from the lineup, are my beloved Shed Bee Gals. Looking good... very good. They've survived two tip-overs from some playful raccoons and a very violent wasp war. This is just since moving to Ossipee. In early spring they dealt with a serious robbing event from the TroyHall hive out on Ferncroft, a mouse, & a hungry bunch of nesting phoebe young. Very tempted, but an important note is that I did not feed this fall.

It is very easy to loose track of what happened when, so I've done my best to reconstruct my apiary adventures since getting smart with northern bees. The diagram above is based on a Corel Draw file with more field notes.