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.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Happy Holidays 2013

So far we've gotten down below zero, but new deep snow has fallen since this picture. Looks like it will warm up considerably.

a little better. HAPPY NEW YEAR 2014. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Things You Can Do With Old Ten Frame Hive Components

Yes, this is me. Never used one of these before but sawing off one end of the super was much easier than trying to pry the nails out.

Every winter I struggle with what to use for a wind break. I almost broke down and ordered one of those British hives that are double wall constructed. With the new apiary taking shape, deciding to go with all 8 frame cyprus wood hives, I realized my 10 frame boxes would be rendered why not use them as a wind block? This appears so far to be a stroke of genius. Let me know if you have some insights I've missed about doing this.

As you can see, the eight frame super in the photo to the upper right fits perfectly within my old ten frame super with just enough air gap to spare to keep the box from sweating. Sweating is a real no, no, for the bees in winter. Can cause moisture to rain down causing hypothermia. The air gap allows for the wicking away of moisture. Not positive how this works, but it has been advised in everything I've read about insulating your hives. The front is left alone so the direct sunlight can give the bees a wake up call or a quick warm up without too much heat when voiding opportunities in the winter avail themselves.

The results are a nicely stacked wind shield. I'm so happy they sit so perfectly on the base. These are just loosely stacked.

While doing this I noticed the sun shining on one side of the hive especially. I realized, like our cold drafty old office at work, sometimes it is colder inside than out. I decided then to paint the stack a dark color using my handy dandy Super Paint coupon from Sherwin Williams. Why dark? This green has an LRV of 9 and so will absorb the heat rather than reflect it. If the bees are used to sun on that side, they stored their winter supplies there. If my insulation effort causes that side to be cooler for any reason, hopefully, attracting the sun, can assist in maintaining the dynamics inside the hive that the bees prepared for. I can use this paint in 35 degree weather. A warm up is predicted so I got out there this morning and went for it.

For more about how to choose paint for a beehive, see my blog post under the Red Path Apiary-AthenasBees.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Apiary


A retired couple down the road from us, beekeepers from back in the day, offered to let me use some of their land to stage a new apiary. I hope to start from scratch and try and raise local bees. I'll begin with eight hives in Spring 2014. I'm using 8 frame, cypress hive components from Ross Apiaries in Georgia. The goal in our community is to raise local, winter hearty bees. The trend is to start with the Italian's, "brood laying fools" as Michael Bush phrases it. I currently have had experience with two colonies of these Georgian bees making it through pretty long cold winters up here.

I was going to space them apart more, but one of our state inspectors said it really doesn't matter that much. To keep them from drifting I'm grouping them in twos, spacing them enough apart to work them, and will paint them appropriately so that the bees can see a difference. Eight hives planned for spring. My Rossman shipment just arrived. I thought I'd get them set up, sealed up, ready for the bees as early as I can get them Spring 2014. The hives will have screened bottom boards, slatted racks and cypress bodies for moisture resistant support.

Now that I know a little more about what I'm doing as a beekeeper I hope to have hives survive these smaller units and be able to split them in Spring 2015. I'll be using the medium supers only as brood boxes with one medium on top for growth. That is about as big as they get up here. Then a small super for honey collection. I did not take honey off any of my hives this season. The two that died in April provided me with about 30 lbs so I'll have what I need for my winter cooking. Hopefully, my overwintered hive from 2012 and my hearty colony from this spring will make it. They are both going into winter strong.

Another Re-cap of 2013
One note: All three hives that went into winter survived through early April. The two that died in April I believe had badly mated queens. The third I left alone. I did not feed them. I made a conscious choice about this to see if on their own they could make life up here work for them, and they have. This also despite the bear attack. Out of the two colonies I installed from packages, one is hearty, one completely disappeared two weeks into September. There was healthy worker brood two weeks before, then the hive body was a ghost town. No sign of anything in any of the cells and no dead bees.

Re-cap Of 2013 Season

Just in case you are interested, here’s an update on my bees on Ferncroft Road.

In spring I attended a few beekeeping programs including a conference with a scientist from Penn State. The Scientist said that CCD is a buzz word for the public but that what we are really dealing with is World Wide Pollinator Collapse. It has been going on for decades and the bees, who have been supplementing the need for pollination in spite of this collapse, are now showing the same symptoms.

Pretty much what the scientist explained at the meeting backed up the conclusions drawn at the Organic conference I attended summer 2012 in Massachusettes, basically this:
  • Tiny microbes that allow honey bees to process nectar and other natural resources into  the things that sustain them as a species, propolis, wax, bee bread for feeding the young, royal jelly for feeding the queens, honey, pollen, are under attack from a combination of over 132 identified chemicals now common throughout the hives of the garden landscapes of our urban areas as well as our commercial farming lands.
  • These same chemicals render Drones sterile, which means when queens mate, their  life span, determined by the colony based on how long she lays, is currently down from six years, to often less than six months.
  • Out of three hives I brought successfully through the winter into February, two of them died this spring with at least 30 lbs. of honey and pollen stored between them, a dry, healthy looking nest, and no indication of varroa destructor mites present.
  • Based on the look of the frames, the queens may have failed to lay at the spring equinox as they should have and there were no larvae for the colony to shape up into queens under our over-wintering conditions, hence the whole hive died. That’s all I can figure out. Neighbor beekeeper lost both her colonies as well with similar conditions in the hives. Our spring colony purchases were three weeks late this year as the largest supplier of bees has had record losses this spring. Also a shortage of bees is being attributed to the increased numbers of novice, hobby beekeepers.
·         Sometimes it seems there is Little hope for the honey bee; but there are some folks in Maine being somewhat successful and I hope to follow their lead and start learning from them how to raise our own local bees.

The Good News is that all of this hubbub about the bees is bringing about change for the better in our environment…and one of my hives came through the winter with flying colors!

This is my fifth year and I appreciate everyone’s interest and support. I intend to learn to do it right and am not giving up yet. Please avoid using fungicides and herbicides in your gardens and avoid chemical fertilizers, GMO products, and buy your honey from a local beekeeper.

Some other events:
Our nephew came to visit so we invested in a child's beekeeping outfit. This was worth every penny:

 So glad I bought a hanger. Of course, if the sun was shining he wouldn't be using this magnifier:

 I had my first Black Bear incident. She must have been small. She came in through one of the winter grounding wires then must have been shocked once on the inside as she ran without doing any damage.  The bees just kept on, business as usual. They were gentle as I re-situated the hive bodies. My neighbor beekeeper wasn't so lucky. A bear chewed through her hive, but the queen survived.
A neighbor called to say the bees were singing outside the chapel to local musicians,
Saundra and Nixon Bicknell, tuning up to accompany the service. I got them on YouTube:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

15 F and climbing - Are They Still There?

It has been rediculously cold and windy.....remarkable stark and cold; and then there is the cold...and dry, dry, suck-all-the-moisture-out-of-you dry cold.

I heard that my friend, who has kept bees in the past, went by my hives to take a listen with her stethoscope...she's a nurse. I finally decided with the warm up predicted for tomarrow I better take the opportunity to do a better clean up job of the bottom boards on Ferncroft Road.

I removed the mouseguards and this time got the intrance reducer wedged out of the stream side hive. I also had a proper tool, a thin long stick, to reach in, all the way back, and pull out the bees in their final resting place on the screened bottom board. This was advised in something I read a long time ago, maybe Bonney's book "Hive Maintenance" in an effort to help with circulation and clear the way for bees hoping to take a cleansing flight, weather permitting.

to my joy, both hives were all a buzz. The HIVES ARE ALIVE!!!!!!!!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cold Snap

-8F and -2 day and night for several days now! We do not believe we have seen such low temps during the day in our twelve years here.

All the bees, three hives, were bustling in 43F weather Sunday before last....Will they make it?

The wind! Wicked wind! I feel like we are living on the Alaskan frozen tundra!

PORTLAND, MAINE - Jan 25, 2013 Class at The Honey Exchange:
"Bee Friendly Landscapes using Permaculture Principles and Design" with David Homa - He is a homesteader and Landscape Architect, and is building a teaching apiary on his land. They are in the same zone as us, 4b, and shady too with trees. They grow thyme all around and under and through their apiary as part of a multi-part effort to discourage mites without treating. He provided a list of good bee plants and said they start seedlings inside and just keep planting all season long to keep the blooms coming. Most all the plants he mentioned grow wild in our yard but a few are of interest like the thyme. He is not too concerned about invasive species, although he encourages responsible management of any of the plants you bring in to maintain a good balance. Comfrey is a favorite ground cover I am not familiar with but we have always tried to keep our garden as native as possible. A long drive to Portland and there is an intermediate class being held by a good beekeeper I've heard about but it would mean a 3 hour or more round trip at night five weeks in a row in Spring.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

43 degrees

On Sunday we had a January thaw and all hives were flying! 43 degrees F! So happy to see the girls!

All busy at the top and bottom entrances. Normal spotting around the hive in the snow and a few girls I'm sure did not make it back.

Need to take a peak at the sugar in the insulated top when all calms down and do a better clean out of the bottom board. Most of the little snow we had is all melted.

Only one good day of some cross country skiing and then a great deal of debris popping up in the trails through the woods around the hives. I so wanted to get into an Intermediate workshop in Maine but missed the deadline. Still on the fence about trying a WBC hive or a Warre. I'd hoped to have some experience with both as well as one of the the horizontal top bar hives; but if I spend money I guess it should be to fill the hives I have with nucs or packages. My first choice is already sold out... in January!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Farmers & Beekeepers

Of Interest To Farmers & Beekeepers – Shared here is what I came away with from many different New England beekeeping events of 2012.

Farmers and Beekeepers share a long history of Nature's insistence that they cooperate toward a healthy abundant harvest; but unlike Farmers, who are well acquainted with the need for natural selection in producing a reliable, quality crop, beekeepers have been learning a new way called, well... "beekeeping".  

Beekeeping itself, of course, is not new. My own ancestors, as long ago as 3,000 years B.C. on the island of Crete, kept bees; but increasing their stock or replacing lost hives by sending off to America's state of Georgia for new bees every spring was not an option. So how did this island bound civilization as well as others do it and what has changed since then?  

We do know a few key facts: Anciently, bees were smaller than the common honeybee of U.S. Apiaries, yet longer living, higher yielding producers of that valuable golden anti-bacterial healing syrup: Honey. This seemingly magical result from nectar that is processed inside the bee's digestive system we now know is owed to the health of the microbes entertained there. New studies also reveal that the increased size of today's U.S. honeybees - willed through a misguided belief that bigger is better and achieved through a century long practice of comb size manipulation - has left our modern pollinator more vulnerable to parasites that count on larger breeding spaces in that comb.  

Honey bees also became managed for long distance commercial pollination projects, especially in the U.S.A. We recognized the need for honeybees in an effort to feed a growing, new nation sprawling from sea to shining sea. You might suppose this would result in the insect's pollinating ability winning out genetically over its talent for quality honey production and normally you may be right. It is true that 80% of the "honey" on grocery store shelves is a standardized honey blend heated, for the purpose of maintaining a good look on the store shelves, and imported primarily from South America and Asia; but the fight of our modern honeybee against invading diseases and parasites has also been managed - with chemical treatments - treatments that kill or alter those valuable nectar processing microbes.  

The success of the species is no longer a war being waged by survival stock ready to brave our complex modern ecology. Beekeeping instead has become a way to perpetuate an inferior version of this important insect. Buying new bees every spring is not just a Northern beekeeper's lot due to winters both harsh and mild; it has become the modern way to keep hives alive across the country, north, south, east, and west for decades in the U.S. 

A recent conference in Massachusetts revealed a new - old way of beekeeping. Veteran beekeepers from around the country shared their stories of struggle with modern methods and apiary loses over their 30 to 40 years of commercial beekeeping experience. These individuals taught that the common sense approach any modern school yard child might guess is the answer: allow honeybee colonies to evolve through the process of natural selection.  

The problem is that it could be too late. Our earth is so saturated with chemicals, both agricultural and industrial, that this may be impossible for our girls to achieve at this point in their history. There are many reasons. Among those that the average beekeeper can wrap their minds around are these three:  

First: Honeybee genetics have broken down from generations of exposure to artificial hive maintenance products. In the natural world bees draw their own comb. Today sheets of purchased wax product made from recycled hive wax, containing all the chemicals used in those hives from which the wax is acquired, is the norm. Bee Schools across the country traditionally advocate use of this "foundation" as essential to starting a new hive. 

These chemical residues are influencing the many essential microbes in the hive, and more dramatically the fertility of drones. Sterile drones in they and the queen's once-in-a-life-time mating ritual results in Queens with a limited life span. When the queen runs out of sperm she is replaced by her colony. Queens just a decade ago commonly lived for five or six years; today, by contrast, they are reportedly replaced as often as six times a year. 

Second: Poor species selection practices by the beekeeping community have resulted in a bee with no common sense. Much like domestic fowl - our dumb ducks for example - bees are, well, bee-brained. Author Michael Bush calls them "brood laying fools".  

What is a smart bee? Well, actually, like any survival species there are traits required to make survival possible. In a northern climate a Queen would lay, as well as her colony behave, with discrimination - depending on the nectar flows, temperatures, and seasonal changes. Yes, there are species that do this. Are they the favorite honeybee in the U.S. or even in Tamworth and Sandwich? No. That brood-laying-fool, commonly known as the Italian Honeybee, is popular because their seemingly endless supply has doomed them to being handled as expendable.  

Third: New insects introduced through modern trade practices promote desperate attempts by farmers to save the current crops, trumping long term natural selection methods of cultivation. Is this an issue for our community? Yes!  

In addition to invading species, Genetically Modified (GMO) wind pollinated and mono crops are consuming the U.S. farming community landscape. "GMO" seeds are not those selected for their genetic superiority; these are seeds manufactured with pesticides built in to their DNA. Bees are insects. They also don't care if the corn doesn't need them. Pollen is pollen. As reported in the September 2012 issue of Bee Culture magazine, in addition to producing contaminated pollen, "GMO" seeds are coated with a powder to keep them from sticking while dispensed into the ground by modern planting machinery used by farmers large and small.  You've seen those picturesque scenes of large mid-west field tractors with powder billowing from behind in their tracks? Crops genetically modified to include pesticides in every part of the plant, depend on the wind for pollination, which made them a logical choice; but that wind blows those insecticide molecules throughout the landscape, creating a sad modern phenomenon that wipes out whole communities of honey bees, not to mention coating the nearby crops that depend on them.  

These consequences were certainly anticipated as acceptable by the powers that be. Coming up with ways to use wind pollinated crops like corn to feed the world by its inclusion in virtually every processed food we and our animals eat seems destined to become an important, albeit pathetic, survival feeding methodology for the perpetuation of our species; but can we indeed get all we need from our food sources without the bees?  

If there is hope it can begin with farmers and beekeepers. Are we in this for the honey, the pollination, or the opportunity to experience the joys of watching over our beloved insect community? Whatever the reason we can start making better choices about how we keep our bees and choose our crops. We can open discussions with our neighbor farmers who often do not understand the complex world inside the hive the way we are just beginning to. We can also keep talking to our friends and make them aware of the value of chemical free hive products and how their own local choices can influence and support the efforts of their neighborhood farmers and beekeepers. 

Recommended Books: The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush, 2011, Volumes I, II, and III are now at the Cook Library. See also The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Beekeeping by Massachusetts beekeepers Dean Stiglitz & Laurie Herboldsheimer.