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.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Beehive Porch

We finished building our hay bail walls so each hive has a horseshoe wall with the front facing the winter sun. I saw a pretty watercolor of a three hives with little porches and realized I never made a small landing board for the upper entrance as so often recommended to help them back in after winter cleansing flights. My husband got to work and this is what we came up with considering that if we did just nail a little board under the upper entrance the snow would build up. They are stapled by each corner of the top flashing to the shallow used to feed the bees and hold the insulation over winter. The flashing covers the hand-hold. Care needs to be taken that rain-water does not catch in the exposed handle and drip down behind the porch. He thought of everything but little rocking chairs....enjoy:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

November 3 - Winter Prep Continued

Day started in the 30's but by 3 pm it was 54 F

I'd collected pine needles from the surrounding forests and set them to dry over our heater blower to use as insulation and moisture wicking in supers above the colonies. Last year the pine needles I used made for an inefficient feeding portal sticking to the pollen patties. I tried making a screen to keep the needles up but worried a bee would find her way in and not get out.

So I bought some natural untreated burlap and made pockets for the needles by stapling it to the homasote board I also use to absorb moisture off the hive during winter and that was so successful last winter.

As you can see, I'm taking the inner cover down to the tops of the frames and putting the feeding super on top of that. I'm filling that with winter food stores and topping it off with the homasote board insulated with a pine needle pillow for wicking moisture out of the hive:

I made sugar candy for low moisture winter feeding following a wonderful recipe shared by a fellow blogger in San Francisco, but I used essential oils in Pro Health instead of vinegar.
So out to the hives!
Here is what I found -Backyard Lavendar 8 frame that swarmed:
They do not seem to like the bee tea at all. This is not the first time I've found a lack of interest. Perhaps they have a lot of honey hiding down in there.
Here is the Fusha hive on Ferncroft. They have not finished the quart size zip lock of bee tea but are still interested. Some mold has grown on the pollen patty strips I put on the frame tops:
Here is the Gold Hive Italians that over-wintered last year with such success. This time the pine needles will not fall into the hive or stick to the pollen patty strips. They sucked their gallon of bee tea dry!
Busy bees!

I've got my fingers crossed as I don't think my bees had much in the way of stores. I slaved over the stove making the candy and just filled up the inner cover with whatever they may need, but I really wish I had surplus honey to offer. Maybe in time I'll learn how to anticipate their needs. I'd like to find a good way to offer them water as whenever there is a mild day I always find some bees drowned or stranded near a puddle.

Monday, October 31, 2011

About Wrapping A Beehive

(Edit 2017: I do not wrap my hives all the way around any longer, just three sides so the bees can find their way home. I have not lost a hive to winter or spring thaw in many years.)

First snow yesterday. 20's today.

This little 8 frame hive of Canadian Buckfast Bees (mix) is not a good example of wrapping for one reason: Old time Canadian beekeeper told me to only wrap the sides and back as the sun warming up the hive on an odd sunny day in winter or early spring can fool the bees into thinking it is time to go forage or that the cold outside is doable. They leave the hive to void and freeze.

I did not wrap my hive last winter. It was a big colony with lots of stores and so I just chanced using hay bails on sides and back only with the front of the hive facing the sun. The bees withstood -20 F at was a very hard winter and long and these were Italians. I kept the moisture out with pine needles in a super and a homasote board cut to fit for an inner cover on top of that.

This little hive you see in the picture swarmed in July and had little or no stores and they are in a very wooded yard, so I'm erring on the side of caution. Another concern I have is that the first time I wrapped a hive the bees came back from voiding flights and got lost under the wrap. I had it too high up to the upper exit and too low close to the lower entrance.

This time, I strategically placed it to just simply cover a vulnerability in the space between the hive deep and super. I cut it narrower and so if the sun hits it and warms it will warm the place between the brood chamber and the honey stores. I hope that by the time a bee climbs up to the inner cover to go out or down to the lower entrance she'll figure out that it is too cold to go out. I also stapled it down all the way around to avoid bees getting lost underneath.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Beginning The Winter Prep

Days now in the 40's F and the nights below freezing. Needless to say, all plants are past for the season. Took off all reducers and put on my hardware cloth mouse guards for maximum airflow. Worked last winter. Fingers crossed. Still to do:

1. Pack pine needles in all top empty supers to draw moisture away from bees. Worked last year. Fingers crossed. Don't forget this time to make a screen basket to hold the pine needles so feeding is not a chore in the spring and if fall allows it. This also will allow bees to come and go more easily instead of climbing through the needles. Last year we used a birch bark tunnel and they made do.

2. Make porches with roofs for all three hives for easy winter voiding flights.

3. Get homasote board back on Gold Hive.

Lavender 8 frame Hive is the small colony that swarmed. Still feeding as we don't know what the weather will do but did decide to wrap.
Gold Hive - overwintered 2010 Italians - still feeding but put on guard and hay bails on "cold" side.
Fuchsia 8 frame Hive still feeding but put on guard and hay bails on "cold" side.

Snow predicted...first of the season.

Feeding As Cold Sets In

50's daytime 30's night temps F


Here are some photos of my feeding efforts. I bought the Mann Lake Pro Health patties and cut them up into strips to lay on top of the frames. Because I want to spare my bees the energy of cleanup, I've taken off the paper. I also have not seen the patties disappear very fast so want to maintain good circulation in the hive. That is why I do not just lay the whole patty down. I gave each hive four strips; then a few days later three strips. They have been slow at the syrup but it has been disappearing. I don't' know how much longer I can feed syrup but you never know these days what the weather will do.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Smoke Gets In My Eyes...

Temps Daytime: 50's F Nights: 40's F

There is much wistfulness, even romance, to the speech of a beekeeper about his bees...and that voice seems to come along with you to the bee yard in all the wonderfully worn out hand-me-down apiary equipment that encouraging mentors pass on that day they realize their new apprentice truly glimpses into a future of wildflowers, apple orchids, and furry little floating companions humming with them all through the growing season.

My neighbor had not built one frame when I met her though she was in her fourth season; another had never bought one super or bottom board. Their hive tools were worn, smokers black and bent, and bees happily thriving in fully drawn out dark comb.

So did a veteran beekeeper pass the torch, or should I say, the smoker, to me. It was with some hesitation that I finally bought a new smoker....and this new stainless steel model is a real revelation! SMOKE, SMOKE, SMOKE...!

I got a little lost along my way, forgetting his original instructions on using the smoke to "just let them know you are coming". All the reading and workshops, even the Natural Beekeeper, really smoke the heck out of their hives! I can see that in the south with the African bee influence; but my routine became scattered and I failed to see any good coming of smoking my bees.

Re-setting my thinking after reading the latest article on smoking in a fall issue of Bee Culture magazine - and also watching Ben and Chris with my bees - I found myself going back to the original advice of my first mentor. The screened bottom board is very helpful. A few puffs in the back of the hive; a few gentle puffs around the entrance; once or twice lightly under the hood; then set it in the bee yard...just to let them know you are coming...and wait a minute or two. COOL smoke...very important!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hive Inspection - State of New Hampshire

So they came, they took apart and they just left. Unseasonably the 70's for the weekend.

Two beehive inspectors came from the State of New Hampshire Department of Agriculture. Ben has been keeping hives since 1950 and Chris learned from Ben. Pretty cool opportunity. In preparation, I had taken apart the hives Saturday morning and did a powdered sugar treatment on all. I was encouraged in the powder sugar method of varroa mite control by the wonderfully photographed blog of Chris Beeson's "Show Me The Honey Blog" - wait, really? "BEEson"?

I made up fresh syrup and gave them each a quart size zip-lock bag full....but that wasn't enough.

It seems there is hope. Ben said all my bees look very healthy, not as fat as he'd like to see them. He said, and it was obvious that there are no brood in my previous season's over-wintered Italian hive. This means that these are the bees that will see the hive through the winter, the upside being there are no brood to feed on for the mites - and on a sad note, it is possible the pollen shortage resulted in them cannibalizing the brood for needed protein. Ben said the Queen stoped laying after the fall equinox, about September 21. Italian queen looked fat and good.

They did a soft sell on Formic acid treatment for mites (Really want to stay chem free) but after seeing the hives they were more concerned about the awful state of their pollen and honey feed feed feed, as Wendy had said. What honey they had was stored on the warmest, "lee side" of the hive. I can't believe I've been so tenacious, yet ineffective in monitoring their productivity and the impact the mites have had all season.

As Wendy also said, the drain on their ability to adequately gather and store by the mites has left them in sad shape going into winter. There are a lot of them, however, and I'll step up the powder sugar treatment to every few days and keep pollen on and the syrup flowing until they run out of warm days to store and or process it.

Eight frame hives: Not in the Northeast! Yikes! We'll see how they fair.

Canadian Buckfast 8 frame hive had many empty queen cups, but if this is a recent event with no drones around, she may not be fertile or laying in the spring either and with no brood, the hive will be queen-less come spring - if it makes it through the winter it is destined to die.

I'm prepared for the fact that I may lose all three hives, but this will be a lesson I won't forget. I'll get to a bee school course this winter and do better next year.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mite Counts - Hold On To Your Honey...

Dancing Bee Garden Bee Tea
See August 2010 Issue of Bee Culture Magazine & their September 2011 for some good advice.
Makes One Gallon - As of 2013 I stopped using this for a few reasons the main one being my honey tasted like lemongrass oil. Check out the Beesource forum, search for Honey B Healthy to get some insights about using anything in your hives with smells and textures foreign to the natural environment.
16 cups white pure cane sugar - insure no pesticides in growing process if possible
6 cups hot tap water - add to sugar - do not cook sugar
Brew 2 cups of Chamomile &/or Thyme tea - I used organic - 1 teaspoon of each seeped in boiled water for 15 minutes. When cool, add to the 2 to 1 sugar mixture above.
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt with minerals - I used Morton's Natural Sea Salt
Optional: Essential Oils - I added 4 teaspoons of Pro Health from Mann Lake.
Make sure this all dissolves well. I shook and poured mine back and forth between two gallon containers. Poured into quart freezer Ziploc bags with needle holes poked in to let air out and allow bees to drain without drowning.
I also laid some protein bee patties from Mann Lake. (I don't' really like doing business with them online as their shopping cart leaves something to be desired, but they do carry some good things and in the end give good service.) it is:

3 Day Averages:

Lavender Backyard 8 Frame Hive (Nuc that swarmed) = 47

Gold 10 Frame Over-wintered Hive on hayfield = 197!!!

Fuchsia 8 Frame Hive on hayfield = 136!!!

Spent the weekend reading up on Varroa mites and all the possible treatments. Will try the powdered sugar method this week. Meanwhile, I made up some of Ross Conrad's Bee Tea.

Rain, Rain, Rain...and more rain!

Well at least my bees are all cozy inside, sipping their herbal bee tea and snacking on protein patties.

Hive inspection is scheduled for this Thursday, but the temps are going to be the lowest yet for the the 40's. We've been lucky so far that the temps for our fall weather here in Carroll County have had lows of 50 degrees F only thus far. I guess it is time to get the mouse guards on.


TEMPS CLIMBED TO THE 80'S !!!! What's that about? OK, I'll go with it. Hive inspection changed to Tuesday. Indian summer...whoo hoo!!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Visit With Wendy Booth

I found myself on the phone with Wendy Booth from the NH Beekeeper's Association yesterday and much like my conversation last spring with Ben Chadwick, she talked my ear off with amazing recall of all important things "Bee". What a treat to have the ear of an experienced Apiarist such as these two humble hard working beekeepers. She suggested a hive inspection with Ben and a state entomologist and gave me contact info for my area. The call to them is in.

Crossing Little Bridges - Part II

Well....I crossed many during our conversation. Although I had read most of what she shared a big light shone on the concept of bees having enough room. This is the first time I understood that more room does not mean more supers with clean, new frames of foundation; it means drawn comb room! She said my ant invasion was not the reason for the backyard swarm - not enough drawn comb was. Wendy said feeding the bees is what gives them the extra energy to do just that and that I'm not feeding my bees enough. She said the propolis should just "squirt out of them". I worked with my other neighbor bee-keeper on her hive last weekend and they were building comb like gang busters. I thought maybe because they have longer day-light hours than mine. Wendy said to get protein patties on NOW and syrup NOW or their need for protein will have them cannibalizing the brood!!!! Yikes! She said that queen excluder should have only been left on for about three weeks...if at all!!!

After the comments from followers here about the varroa mite photo I read their references and took my bottom board trays, smearing them with Vaseline and slid them in yesterday morning for a mite count. Wendy said that is OK for the three-day average, but it will tell me nothing if I haven't been doing it regularly. She said it is good for monitoring increases and drops but for a one time "show-me-the-mite-count" event, this is probably the wrong time of year for much of a reading. (photo right: Brushy Mountain Screened Bottom Board)

It is possible the powder sugar sprinkle treatment will help going into winter but she stressed the hive inspection so I can have more hands on advice about my hive and its location etc. as she only knows what I've told her over the phone.

So I'm off to get pure-cane sugar and mix up some feed. My essential oils came, the Mann Lake brand called Pro Health as recommended by Ross Conrad of Dancing Bee Garden in his "Herbal Tea" feeding recipe. (I did not like doing business with Mann Lake online, but it came almost the next day and the high shipping at checkout appears to have been corrected).

Spinning Honey In An Old Barn

Our neighbor, a dairy farmer & beekeeper, offered to let me use his hand-crank honey extractor for my beehive's six frames of beautifully capped comb. My first true harvest. I pulled up to this amazing old barn and climbed the narrow stairs to the loft where the machine was attached to the floor.

There is nothing like the feel of an old barn at harvest time...full of the smell of fresh hay and drying root vegetables from a farmer's hard earned gardening efforts.

It brought back memories of my Papou Gus and his little farm with my grandma Sophia outside of Frederick, Colorado. Vivid images of my brother Jimmy and I running through the fields and wildflowers after dragonfly and grasshopper; pulling eggs out from under Papou's chickens and hiding them in hopes of another "weasel in my coop" story round the dinner table.

Now that I have ducks I realize those stories were very real concerns....but Gus would smile at us this gentle way and put up with our antics on those rare summer visits.

This sunny day in our New Hampshire farm and forest community, so many years later, I yielded about ten pounds of honey. All the frames were capped full. A handful of bees from the farmer's hive found us up there in the loft and buzzed in excitement. They clamored then to get out of the barn windows to let their find be known to their sisters.

I put the extracted frames back on my Italian hive first thing the next morning and placed the nuc box I used to transport them in to the backyard for the bees to clean up.


I've been saving my old comb filled with honey from my very first hive, not sure how to get it out. Finally, I found the space and got the equipment for crush & strain extraction, thanks to Linda's Bees advice here at blogspot. She put up some great photos and explanation on how to get honey out of the comb without an extractor. So nice to find another beekeeper on the web. Two pounds honey total from those old frames.

As far as this recent barn-harvest goes, I pulled six frames from my 2010 over-wintered hive. I made a decision to take honey even though the supers were light as I needed the experience. They yielded about 12 pounds. I can feed it back to them if needed, but it was great to go through the whole process finally after three seasons. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Going Back In - September Inspection con't.

Yesterday I went in to get the old funky frame out and to replace the inner cover with a clean one as the one that has been on all season was just sick with moisture and other unidentifiable icky stuff. Well, here's another reason for re-thinking using a queen excluder that I took off four days ago. The bees immediately moved into the upstairs and that old funky frame was as clean as a whistle! Also, the inner cover! I switched them out anyway. I had in some notes that the queen had laid in the bottom of the frames in the hive deep before I placed the queen excluder under it during my spring hive reversal. I think it just got all funky with the uncapped brood being left unattended.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hive Beetles? No, no...Varroa Mite? Braula Coeca?

I've never seen one before. Thank goodness for a macro lens. Here is a normal looking healthy group on a honey frame but close up you can see at least this one has a beetle on it! This was taken when I took the frames back to the house and suddenly there were dozens of bees around me...this one is possibly from the back yard hive as I do not see any on the close up photos of the Italian hive. Comments from when I first posted this...thank you...are helpful, Also, my favorite old beekeeper, John Vivian and his book "Keeping Bees" commented that the female Varroa is red, the male pale...but that a harmless fly called a Braula Coeca can be mistaken for Varroa. Yes, I read over the weekend about essential oils and I've ordered some. Will post about it when I mix the feed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September Inspection

We were distracted by Hurricane Irene in the form of a tropical storm that flooded our yard and basement. It came within a foot of my backyard lavender hive. Is that a good enough excuse for not checking my hive's honey stores and storage patterns going into Fall? Cold...cold...not ready! We have had 30's at night! 50's and 60's already during the day. Right is one of my girls on our sedum plant. Not much else in bloom.

THIS MORNING IN THE YARD CAPTURED THIS MOMENT - HUMMING BIRD AND HONEY BEES TAKING TURNS Our humminbird feeder has these delightful rubber flowers that are like nipples on the end so that they keep the insects out and let the bird's beak in.

When the forecast said 70's on Wednesday I took the day to get that queen excluder off the Ferncroft Italians. Never again will I use such a device. It did not help the bees or me.

I only got to the tall Italian hive that had over-wintered. The top shallow was completely drawn comb. The next medium deep was put on in the spring with some honey...but I was able to harvest both some spring and fall honey from it. We get goldenrod and aster here in the dark and very tasty honey.

There was one frame on the end in the hive deep on top of the excluder that looks diseased in someway. I'll have someone look at it. This frame I had moved to the end last year to migrate it out of the hive. Apparently not soon enough. Not sure what this indicates:


SIDE TWO OF SICK FRAME: You can see the foundation was ignored.

INNER COVER WITH MOISTURE, MOLD, AND INSECT OF SOME SORT I suspect that leaving a gap of air between the homasote board and the innercover created moisture from our humid season to form on the hive-side of the inner cover.

I did not check on the two medium deeps on the bottom where the queen has spent the season. I do not know if they have pollen but there was no pollen that I could see in anything above the queen excluder. In looking at the macro photos I took of the excluder it seems full of dead drones. All these bees are dead.

I have video of the event and I had a blissful moment when the bees were all swirling around was a moment that let's you know you are a beekeeper. Of course, I should have done many things differently like let them settle down back into the hive before putting the cover back on. I still want to go back out and replace that frame and the inner cover. I did swap out the hive deep for a new one in order to lift it off the excluder. These Italians are not big on propolis build up so removing the boxes, frames and excluder was easy. The tragic thing is that I forget that most of these bees have not been out and gotten oriented to the hive. Many were trying to squeeze into the back of the Canadian Fuchsia hive as well as squeeze in to the joining lines on their own hive. There were acts of kindness that some beekeepers may have thought was fighting; but when you watch for awhile as I had the privilege of doing - after a break on the neighbor's porch with gentle breezes and sweet company - I realized they were just helping each other clean off the sticky left-overs from the upset of their world this sunny September day.