Introduction:

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.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Treatment-Free Mite Record Keeping

Just some great links to help remind everyone to keep track of their mite numbers.
What - How - When - Why - Watch!

What - You are looking for how many mites per 100 bees. A quote from Article: "Test For Varroa" that is of interest to us northern rural farm & forest beekeepers: “Thresholds are regional since they largely depend on how long the brood rearing season is and thresholds are dependent on the type of beekeeper. The colonies of an isolated hobbyist in the north could maybe withstand a 10-12% infestation, but colonies of a migratory beekeeper in Texas may need to use the 3% infestation threshold.” Katie Lee – Bee Informed Partnership

How - I use the "sugar-shake" method to TEST. Caution: don't confuse the sugar shake method TEST with treating bees for varroa using powdered sugar in the hive. This is no longer a respected way to effectively or safely knock mite counts down in your colonies. Use powdered sugar to TEST not treat. There are too many variables using it to treat and too many risks you may actually kill your colony. I have killed two colonies as a result of treating with powdered sugar, even sugar I powdered myself that did not have corn starch in it. Search for an article about this treatment method well researched by respected scientist Jennifer Berry.

Now as for TESTING with sugar - Phil Gavin of Portland's Honey Exchange is a northern URBAN beekeeper looking to treat at lower mite counts that the rural beekeeper; but he does a great job of showing how to test for varroa with the sugar shake method in this YouTube video: Sugar Shake Test For Varroa Mite

When - Late summer, early fall is when the phoretic (mites outside capped cells, on the bees) mite count is highest. Brood rearing in the north slows down and mite populations begin to reach their peak.

Why - So you have confidence in your management practices, are not guessing about the health of your bees, and don't sound irresponsible when you talk to others about your treatment free survival colonies. Not all will survive. You may still find yourself guessing about why but records can reveal all sorts of insights about your colonies that can often seem unimportant when your bees are thriving.

Example: This is the most inspiring example of successful treatment free management and the best done report of UK beekeeper Ron Hoskins working with a scientist to discover why his bees survive their mite loads:

WATCH THIS YouTube: "Honey Bees Able To Immunize Themselves Against Varroa"

Wishing all your bees a great fall nectar & pollen flow!


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

August Management For New Colonies


This article is restricted to my own late summer management practices for 1st season northern New England colonies. A link to a more general article by Larry Connor of Bee Culture can be found below.

I may use a lot of words here to say what is a fairly simple concept: 

·         BASICALLY: 
  • THE BEES WILL USUALLY MANAGE THEIR LATE SUMMER RESOURCES IN THE HIVE CORRECTLY: PUT THE RIPENED HONEY IN THE FRAMES ABOVE THE BROOD NEST. ALL RIPENED HONEY NEEDS TO BE ABOVE CLUSTER IN LATE FALL (NOVEMBER). IF THEY DON’T DO IT –BIG IF – THE BEEKEEPER CAN HELP.
I emphasize “ripened honey” because nectar that is not ripened can freeze and melt back onto the bees if above the brood nest. (Yes... I’ve caused problems doing that.)
  • A STEADY DECLINE IN POPULATION IS NORMAL TO BEGIN THIS TIME OF YEAR.
  • AN ABSENCE OF DRONE BROOD IS NORMAL THIS TIME OF YEAR IN NORTHERN COLONIES.
  • THIS IS WHEN MITE COUNTS ARE DONE - FOR TREATMENT-FREE-BEES RECORD KEEPING, ESPECIALLY

My established northern colonies usually ripen nectar in the brood box (bottom box) and then relocate the honey above the brood nest. The brood nest is wherever the queen is laying and where the bees intend to cluster for winter. Usually this is in the bottom of the hive so they can move up during the winter and eat along the way, following the heat rising from the cluster. They do this because bees are brilliant. In ten frame hives this poses a challenge with a small cluster that cannot risk separation to reach honey stored on the sides.

Normally you don’t mess with a 1st season colony in August. You do keep an eye on how well they are filling up the frames with pollen and honey. Usually healthy bees with a normal northern continuous nectar and pollen flow do it exactly right and the beekeeper does not have to do anything about reorganizing the frames in late summer, especially if no honey is harvested.

What might be helpful to the bees - ALWAYS TRY & HELP, NOT HINDER, WHAT THEY ARE UP TO:
  • About this time of year northern bees start managing their resources with winter in mind as the fall flow is just beginning. If you have a box full of empty frames and they are ignoring them you can pull up some full frames of HONEY (not brood) into the ignored box in an every-other-one fashion. That will encourage them to work on filling out the ignored frames.
  • Likewise if you see frames ignored on the sides or one side of the boxes, you can relocate them into an area of the hive that is busy with that kind of activity. 10 frame hives almost always need the beekeeper's attention in this way. Don’t try and do this in clustering temperatures (57F). Yes... I've done it. They are clustering, keeping each other warm, which means all regulating of hive box & frame conditions has come to a halt until spring.
  • Your goal is to have them settled in for the winter sometime in late October or mid November, in the bottom brood box with about two supers of RIPENED honey on top.
  • Not all colonies can fill up two supers but they really should be able to if no honey is taken off. I've had nucleus colonies over-winter in one box, but the most successful for my bees has been at least two medium supers. Some beekeepers feed their bees at this point to make sure they have plenty going into winter, but there is nothing more nutritious than the real thing.
  • If the queen is laying in the upper part of the hive now, in August, and there is capped honey beneath her: Wait until September to see where she is with this plan.
  • If it looks like the colony is settling in for winter in the top of the hive, there could be a significant draft from the cold they are avoiding or a breach of some kind between the boxes. Try and assess and fix this situation. We've had some pretty cold nights in the low 50s this week - so have they.
  • If you feel you need to re-position the brood area, be careful not to move frames with brood apart from each other. Keep them together, side by side, in the same order, if moved at all.
  • The queen’s laying will slow to a stop sometime in early winter depending on how fast winter sets in. This is normal. She’ll start laying again in March, but there will be a decline in population beginning about now (August).

An Excerpt: "Help the bees rearrange their brood and honey
In nature, such as a colony in a bee tree, bees will fill the upper combs with honey during the Summer and shift the brood rearing to the lower part of the nest. Managed bee colonies should attempt to duplicate this instinct. If the bees have moved up to the top of the (hive) … beekeepers are advised to move the brood nest to the lower hive body, and place brood frames filled with honey above the brood area. This will allow the bees to move upwards in the Winter. Heat rises and the bees will follow the heat as they Winter and eventually start to rear brood in the Winter. Once the bees are in cluster, they cannot move from the top box and crawl down to the stored honey and move it up unless there is a warm spell; and that can be very dangerous for the bees if the weather turns cold quickly and the bees are left stranded on the honey comb some distance from the brood cluster."