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, November 29, 2014

November Chills

I haven't been idle but too busy to keep up with recording the winter prep on the hives. I believe they are as ready as can be. I wrapped them this year in roofing felt. Just stapled it on.

I added the nifty little porches to give the bees a lift back if they should go out in the cold and already I see two thawing bees on the porch in the sun... however it was only 9F this morning. I've heard of them coming back to life after a cold day out.

I went down to the Honey Exchange in Portland and very much enjoyed a class on Mead Making by James Lindenschmidt of Bardic Brews. Mine should be ready in 4 to 6 months.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

After The Big Move

This is just a video documenting some information that may prove helpful in the Spring and for those interested in what is going on out at Red Path Apiary. The drones are going through the annual eviction rituals. They are sadly unequipped to help with colony duties and they eat way too much.

In one clip several girls are cooperating to discourage a drone, one for each leg. Tragic, but it is another demonstration of honey bee team work.

I still have my original hives to go through in prep for winter and insulating efforts on the hives must be accomplished before the deep cold sets in.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Moving Day

Predicted daytime temps in the 70s and 80s did not disappoint. I got everything ready for the big move: Six colonies in old ten frame hives into six new 8 frame hives. My color scheme was all over the place despite my efforts to go all Martha Stewart on them. Still, the neighborhood is looking up.

I was able to deter some robbing by keeping the hives covered with a light weight white plastic over the boxes and came up with an efficient routine:

Old hive: most were deeps with the bottom box empty. Heavy honey stores were in the uppermost boxes. No brood in four and just a frame each of capped brood in two. I took them off in reverse order, but thought it best to load the middle deeps into the lower deep on the new hive. I substituted the empty combs in the bottom deeps on the old hives in the transfer with the excess honey combs from the middle on the old hive. Top remained the top. Excesses of all frames were allowed to be robbed away from the hive by placing them in two nuc boxes. When I placed the new bases with the first deep on the hive stones, I shook a little lemon grass scent inside.

Their beekeeper up north let them draw out the honey supers, nine frames in a ten frame box. These were really thick combs and so I ended up putting seven in my eight frame boxes. The first hive I did I was a little overwhelmed with the weight of the hive components and did not think clearly about jamming them together. They seem OK, though. All hives appear to be quite robust.

It was a shame to see all their hard work on some of these hives go for naught; but it was all for the good of the apiary... better than feeding them sugar. I did put 2:1 sugar syrup in a boardman feeder on top of the inner covers when I buttoned them up just in case the competition at the nuc's comb was too much for some of the hives. All looked very strong, however.

Some observations:
  • A bumblebee and honey bee locked in mortal combat. 
  • Wasps attempting to enter. 
  • A gathering of drones in a lower deep hiding or trying to keep warm. 
  • All the hives were distracted from me by the robbing and fall drone eviction, and no smoke whatsoever was needed. 
  • Did get stung once on the leg. 
  • Some carpenter ant damage and one hive had an ant colony living in a sealed off outer frame. 
  • One hive had an old mouse nest in the bottom.
  • Faithful bees with bums in the air calling everyone into new home.

I decided not to insulate yet, but did add homosote board under the lids. Had to use some painter's tape to cover thin openings between misfit boxes - seeing a lot of that these days with the cypress hives I buy from Rossman - but should have used some of the propolis as it was warm enough to be mailable. (someone from Georgia told me they heard that cypress is in short supply and younger trees are being used that have not cured properly. I used to order them from Brushy Mountain but on one occasion a delay had me talking to them and I came to discover that they get their hives from Rossman. Not sure where to get my hives next year but won't risk Rossman's again if the cypress is not an advantage after all.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autumn Worries

I have spent the last few weeks trying to acquire some hives from a former commercial beekeeper up near the Canada border. Although I'm thrilled I finally have them, the lateness of the season and the incredibly poor shape of the hives requires some careful decision making.

I attempted to move the largest, hole riddled one into a new eight frame Langstroth hive. The robbing was insane as the fields had been prematurely mowed and the cold weather was setting in with air temps barely rising above 57F and then just for an hour or two. The hive must have weighed half by the time I got it put back together again; however, they are all safe and sound or so I hope.

After reading through pages and pages at Beesource forums I believe I will stick with what I've learned to do in the past and keep my winter set up. I thought I might go ahead and feed for fall... but worry about stimulative feeding as described by Michael Bush. I've seen this happen where the bees are fooled into thinking a nectar flow is on and that bolt into forage mode robs the hive of all the adults needed to keep the hive warm. Also, the danger they will pack the comb full and their winter movement options be restricted.

Here I used burlap to house the needles

Except since I have so many hives and because one of my hives was killed by wasps last fall I insist on a small entrance at the bottom. Instead of hardware cloth, a nail in front of the small opening, to keep the mice out - who are already making plans collecting the dried mowed grass and stashing it under the hives! - Thanks again, mowers...sigh -

So now I wait for a warm day. The weather changes almost by the hour. Weatherunderground has a very helpful graph that shows probable wind speeds and they appear accurate, as well as humidity etc. The sun is rising later in the morning and setting earlier every day. Woe is me...woe are the bees. I still have six old hole filled hives to deal with.

There goes the neighborhood...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Labor Day Duties & Haying Dates

7 pm Sleeping Rusty Back Bumble Bee
Fall inspection guidelines  - Mow wild fields after November 1st

Bumble bees do not over-winter with their queen, but their foraging options going into winter insure she does. More on our disappearing native rusty back bumble bee. If link doesn’t work go to the website.

The LAST nectar flow is on NOW (August) through mid-late September. If possible avoid haying your fields until after November 1st or stagger the mowing of your fields, especially the wild growth of goldenrod-aster blooms (honey bee winter survival essential-your local beekeeper will thank you).

Red clover is a bumble bee favorite. HAY LATE IN THE AFTERNOON, before 6pm – Bumble bees sleep on the stems and in the flowers, honey bees don’t get out of the way and are out early to mid-day.

In the spring, dandelions are essential to both and sometimes the only nectar and pollen available to insure pollinators build up their numbers for our very short season’s nectar flows.
Sticky Bees bringing in propolis.

Beekeeper Labor-Day thru Columbus Day Duties

Some winter-prep guidelines for beekeepers in our New England area.
The nectar flow is ON NOW (August) until mid-late September.
If no mite treatments will be used, harvest your last honey no later than Labor Day. Manage your hives so that a full brood box worth of honey will be on top of the brood box going into Thanksgiving weekend.

Manipulate your extracted, drawn comb to maximize their nectar dehydrating and honey consolidation efforts over the next few weeks. By October 1st, nectar flow is over for us up in Northern New England. Bees are settling in for the winter moving honey around the hive where needed.

For instance, if the lower boxes are set up by the bees for nectar hydrating into honey, imagine where that honey will be stored for the ideal set up going into winter and provide them with side & upper hive drawn comb space. I like to put a medium of wet frames, fresh from extracting, on the top of the hive in hope they will pack it.
There is a school of thought that goldenrod and aster honey are too heavy for the bees to digest while confined over winter. A practice of removing the dark honey is done out of concern it will promote diseases encouraged by confinement; but I have seen a healthy hive re-position lighter summer honey where the colony anticipates the cluster will be towards the end of cold weather. My observations have me trusting healthy honey bees that have evolved over millions of years to know how to properly manage their resources. Promoting strong, smart breeds of bees is my goal so the dark stuff stays on. However, the savvy beekeeper may choose to intervene in accordance with whatever their apiary goals may be and feed syrup to round out the hive winter stores.
Reconfiguring hives – Some detail:
·         With all the above in mind, if you need to re-configure your hive (reverse boxes so queen and brood are on the bottom, etc,) do it Labor Day weekend or sooner so the colony knows what sort of space it has to work with for over-wintering. Most colonies should go down to the bottom of the hive on their own. When temps hit the 50s bees will cluster making an assessment of their situation easier; but breaking up the hive after the cold has set in will dramatically increase chance of failure.

·         After the fall flow, reduce the entrance to the smallest space on the entrance reducer to make the hive easier to guard. Robbing and wasps attacks will begin late September, early October when wasps populations peak. Predatory wasps can fly at 45 F, while honey bees are immobile at just above 50 F. Stapling a 3/8” hardware cloth mouse guard over the entrance reducer can help. 3/8” can be hard to find. In that case go no larger than 1/2”.

  • This re-configuration may include combining two weak hives, or frames from a healthy small hive with a strong one. Two weak hives = one big weak hive. Less than six frames being used by the colony for brood MAY mean a weak hive. If you have a large Italian or Carniolin healthy population, say on ten frames, and another small healthy colony on just four to five, take two brood frames from the big hive without its adult bees and add them to the small. If you have two small colonies, each on three frames they can over-winter in a nuc box, four-five frames of bees under four-five frames of honey. If needed, research articles on “over-wintering nucleus colonies” written by New England authors.

·         Ideal set up Columbus Day through Thanksgiving: Two deeps, 8 or 10 FULL frames each: ONE box on the bottom for brood – nest in middle of the bottom deep, honey and pollen on sides - ONE box on top of the cluster for honey stores packed full. My goal is to have two deeps and a medium super of honey on top just in case.

  • Our bees up here need 90 lbs plus honey to get through our winters. Freeze or properly store some medium and shallow honey frames for spring feeding to make up the difference just in case. Warm them up before inserting to replace empties in the spring with some discernment regarding the cluster’s preferred path on whatever side of the hive you may find them in the spring. If crystallization occurs, the bees own cluster heat will help soften it up for consumption.

  • If there is not enough honey on the hive near the end of the fall nectar flow, Labor Day thru Columbus Day, start feeding a 2:1 sugar mix while bees have warm enough days to evaporate and store feed for winter or if possible feed honey from that harvested earlier. Do not feed pollen patties as it will stimulate brood rearing at a time when the population should be slowing down.

    An exception to giving them pollen at this time of year may be while mixing it into syrup as a nutritional supplement in a case where the beekeeper has harvested most of the honey. Ask about using pollen in your feed of other beekeepers that follow similar practices to yours to reach similar goals. In other words, if you are a backyard beekeeper with two hives in northern Maine, take some care implementing the advice of a commercial beekeeper with a hundred hives who takes his bees south for the winter.
In regards to mites and treatments as part of this Fall Management advice:
  • Do a mite check after removing honey supers in late summer, possibly as early as late August. There are several methods for taking a mite count. The least intrusive is whereby you scoop up about 30 or so bees into a jar of powdered sugar. Just bees. No moisture. Roll it around and let them go. Count the mites left behind in the jar. Find better instructions for mite counting on the web.
    3 mites to 30 bees in a sugar roll may mean treatment is necessary. According to the 2015 EAS conference lectures the success rate for over-wintering with that percentage of mites is only 50%. If you treat in late summer your colonies have a chance to repopulate with a fresh generation of bees and few or no mites going into winter.
I've yet to treat my bees as my goal has been to start with healthy bees and use good management practices, maintaining low to no mites in my counts. I also live far from other apiaries. Breaking the brood cycle with splits is one practice to achieve success with low mite counts. I have had varied over-wintering success due to other issues, sometimes losing all hives, primarily to wasps and moisture problems, which seem to have been corrected by moving my apiary to a sunnier location and providing good ventilation; but treating in the late summer for mites is the recommended best practice and every beginner should understand the mite issue and how to deal with it. If I ever do treat my bees I'll record it on my blog.
  • Mites - Beekeepers in New Hampshire need a permit to treat their hives.
    Quote from NH Dept of Ag: "If a beekeeper is applying pesticides, including miticides, insecticides, fungicides, and antibiotics, in or around the hive to control pests, parasites, or diseases, the beekeeper is required to obtain an annual private applicator permit.pdf file For questions, please contact the Division of Pesticide Control." Current best practice advice: DO NOT USE: Chem treatments like Apistan or Fluvalinate, Checkmite or coumaphos, or natural treatments like powder sugar dusting. These treatments have proven to result in drone sterilization and over-all poor colony performance. Powdered sugar collects moisture and harms open brood when dusted over frames of bees. Powdered sugar containing corn-starch cakes-up when in contact with moisture. If using it in a jar take care not to scoop up nectar or honey with the bees. I’ve lost a big healthy hive to complications resulting from powdered sugar dusting on frames.

  • Mites – DO LOOK FOR: "Soft treatments" like ApiLife Var, an essential oil used on top of the brood nest after honey is removed; however most require warm days and are tricky and most only work on very strong, large colonies. Previously I listed here popular "soft" treatments but at the 2015 EAS Convention it was noted formic acid is still the best option for success but the delivery methods are very problematic and will kill brood as part of its effectiveness.

    A loss of brood is a given in effective treatments and the main reason for treating in time for the colony to repopulate before winter. Do some research on Oxalic Acid, newly approved in the U.S. but the delivery method also has not been perfected. Hopguard has not yet been approved for New Hampshire at this writing but is useful only to knock down mite counts outside of the brood chamber and can work well if brood rearing is over.
    Current best practice advice: If one hive needs it in the apiary, they all do, as mite loads knocked out of one hive will find the other hives.
This is not a comprehensive article but thanks for reading. Good luck with your bees. 

Addendum to Mites - August 2015 – The above advice is from my training among the teachers and members of the Maine and NH Beekeepers Associations and scientists that spoke at the 2015 EAS convention in Guelph, Ontario. I do believe in breeding for resistance. I'm not a big follower of all his techniques, but a beekeeper-author very successful with over-wintering bees, Michael Bush, explains very well the hazards of treating bees for disease and mites in The Practical Beekeeper by Michael Bush.

It was refreshing to hear at EAS 2015 from the scientists themselves, that the latest studies in hive management are revealing the detrimental role that coated seeds, neonicotinoids, and other modern agricultural methods are playing in bringing about the many challenges facing our colonies today. Solutions are on the way, mostly due to the effort to breed strong, disease resistant bees, but in the meantime we need to know how to promote good farming and gardening practices in our communities and hive management practices among all the many new beekeepers on the scene.

Friday, May 30, 2014

What's In Bloom

We worked several days getting the garden in,  carefully watching the weather for any frost possibility.

Dandilions are in full bloom and some other wonderful things like violets, wild strawberry, cherry trees are glorious this year, and some rather dreary apple blossoming. May not be a good apple year.

The bees seem happy in their new abode. It is still cold. 50 degrees at 9 am when I took these pictures this morning.

We moved my friends hive to her house and it was easier than using those frick'n ratchet straps I bought, but made it so all we had to do was lift the hive into her car. A few stragglers wanted in and patiently waited while we undid the entrance block for them. I think we got them all and no one came home to an empty hive spot. Just in case I put an empty hive there. This hive all the colonies seem interested in for some reason so I can't tell if this morning what I was seeing were stray bees.

Beautiful morning.

Apple trees ending their bloom. The bees found it just fine.

I also played with my solar melter for the first time and worked famously. Like an oven. Cleaned the wax right off my old frames.

The Garden last day of May 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nucleus Colony Workshop

Phil Gaven, Master Beekeeper, gave a class on making up nucleus colonies on Saturday at The Honey Exchange in Portland, Maine.

I love Maine. Everything was in bloom, it seemed. It was sunny and warm and we felt over dressed coming from up north, 2 hours drive. We walked around the quaint old neighborhood looking at the houses and stopped for coffee, but as soon as the class turned to go outside it was too chilly for the bees to fly.

Phil took us out to the apiary yard and we split a hive anyway, leaving the main colony to raise another queen. Little tidbits of info from other beekeepers make going to every possible meeting so valuable. I've had so many workshops and classes over the years, and maybe I just forgot this, but he mentioned bees won't draw comb when the queen is not present.

So instead of going home to split my hives I thought in these cold rainy days coming up this week I'd just let my bees while away the hours indoors drawing comb. I made all new deep frames for the new splits and painted the foundation with watered-down last season's honey to peak their curiosity. They should have a pretty good time. Hope it beats honey-bee ghost stories as told around the brood area during a New Hampshire spring thunder storm. It will be nice to have some new drawn comb to give the splits I'll make soon.

All nucleus colonies from Palmer seem so busy and happy in their new surroundings. Dandelions are now in full bloom, apple trees may be on the way out, but they hardly came into bloom while the cherry trees are bursting. The three farmers on Ferncroft road are busy in the fields, planting and prepping, as have we been out on Red Path. Memorial Day seems a good sign that frosty nights are past so we'll finish up our planting this week.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Puttin' On The Nucs - May 14, 2014

The first dandelions... just a few... were finally coming into bloom the day of installation.

Those long round-trip drives to pick up nucleus colonies are especially worth it when the bees are from several generations of Northern raised, disease resistant bees. 

The hope is that we will all raise our own bees as responsible beekeepers, so after years of learning how to get the real deal and failures with packages, I think I finally got it right this season.

Nucs should be introduced to their new home by removing the hive and placing the nuc box right on the stand. They imprint so well that they will orient right to that spot that very new day. We left for Vermont at 4 pm, arriving at Mike Palmer's bee yard around 8:30 and the bees were still flying. He tucked them in by darkness around 9pm while we had a nice visit with this veteran beekeeper of 40+ years, then we drove them back to New Hampshire, arriving around 1:30 am. You think NH and VT are close? Well... ya just can't get there from here... not without a lot of twists and turns. 8 hours round trip!

When I found myself waking up before the alarm at 4:55 to get them out to the bee yards, I knew after six years, I was finally on my way to being a real beekeeper.

5:30 all three nucs were sitting on the base of their newly prepared homes. The beautiful melodic song of a wood thrush heralded their arrival. Wait... aren't they flying insect eaters? Hmmm... 

Stand by me...

The bees were really ready to burst from that box! When I went back that afternoon to transfer them into the hives they immediately spread out over the 8 frame hive deep and medium super filled with drawn comb frames.

Pollen foragers were coming in loaded already!

She's thinking: "I go out shopping, come back, and the contractor has already been and gone; but where's the door?"

I had a few confused young bees not used to the light.

STAND BY ME... Nurse bees and young bees are "photosensitive" This forager made haste to stick with this young bee who was disoriented in the move.

Da Bus

I never had to deal with a cardboard nuc box before so my first attempt threatened to roll a lot of bees while taking the frames out. I lost some on the ground, although I had a white sheet with me in case that should happen. Some pieces of beeswax comb came in handy. The photosensitive bees clung on to a piece as I "drove" it by them on the ground. "Here comes the bus! Hop on!" 

"Here comes the bus! Hop on!"
and they did. I had few if any casualties during the three transfers.

Leveling it all out...

There is a better way! Must come back and fix the stones!
Hives MUST BE LEVEL. If they are not, the bees will build comb that is despite the beautiful frames you supplied them with. They just build one next to it that is STRAIGHT. Picky devils. For some reason most leveling went smoothly but on one hive I had such a hard time. Even after the install I had to put wedges in to make it straight. i will go back and find a way to get it right once the shock of their big move is over.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bees And Decision Making

The super-organism of the honey bee colony has the single purpose of survival, however success relies on individual bees making their own daily decisions about the many tasks at hand. They decide whether or not to linger in the hive to observe a new bee dance, how much attention to pay to it, whether or not to abandon a good source of food for a great one told about by their sister. If the dance indicates it is three times as good, she may continue on her own path, but five times as good is a deal maker. They decide whether to change jobs from water bearer to pollen collector. I watched two bees inch their way side by side to rescue a sister flipped over in a pool of salt water from our kayak boots. Later, a bee flipped over in the hive and immediately another bee picked her up and flung her unceremoniously outside! Decisions, decisions!

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Longest Winter


Here is my new apiary site (photo taken in the fall) and yesterday we went out with our neighbor Mary, who is a somewhat retired professional gardener, and we surveyed the prep work we did in fall 2013. We planted those things that could go right in the ground as soon as the soil could be worked - beets - carrots - spinach - parsley - arugula - but nothing except the maples are beginning to bloom here and it's already April 28, 2014. My rhubarb has yet to peek up out of the leaf mulch from last fall.


So, we all lost our hives this winter 2013 - 2014. Even Harold and Larry, the old timers, lost all of their hives. Maura and I, even Bob up the way. My bees never had a break from November on, and the days are still in the 40s but the snow has finally melted.

Thank goodness I ordered nucleus colonies from Mike Palmer's disease resistant northern hearty stock. Everyone had some setbacks this winter.

I'll seek to explain what I think happened to my dead hives.

This is my Ferncroft Road Hive of bees that overwintered 2012-2013. There were absolutely no signs of mice, but many honey bee abdomens on the floor of the hive.

I have to speculate, since there was no brood and lots of pollen and at least two frames of honey, that these bees were invaded by Yellow Jackets when they were too cold to do much about it.

Found this while looking them up from the University of Illinois Extension

"...Once it freezes, blooming ceases. The result is a very large, very hungry population of wasps that are short-tempered and sting with little provocation. These wasps do not die until there is a 5- to 7-day period when the high temperature is below 45 degree F. They search out every nook and cranny for food..."

Still seems weird. There are bee butts hanging out of comb which could indicate starvation or died in a nest, being the bees that keep the heat circuit of the nest by climbing in empty cells on each side of a frame, but the bees were not found in a nest, had pollen and honey, and were in a deteriorated state, bottom board littered with dismembered bees, indicating they died in fall 2013.

Backyard Hive: This breaks my heart to see it again, up close, but my backyard hive seems to have died of starvation; however, all the capped brood was infected with the Sacbrood Virus. A healthy hive can overcome sacbrood, but why was the queen laying these bees sick? It was just so cold. No stores were left in this hive and all the bees were in their nest formation, covering the sick brood. The bees all looked young, so perhaps the brood rearing was successful up to a point. It is still too cold to fly during the day this April 28, 2014.

I will relocate my Ferncroft Apiary to a new sunny site as well as give my backyard a break. I hope to get two hives set up at the wild apple orchard across from where it presently resides. The trees have grown up too high and I think the shade has been a problem. If yellow jackets are the issue here they must be nesting close to the original location.


A good omen, I hope, was a Bumble Bee Queen greeting me this morning having slipped into a crack in my bedroom storm window. We put her outside in our open shed in the sun - not the side with the nesting Eastern Phoebe!

Painting A Beehive

What not to paint / What paint works best.
All photos by Athena's Bees - feel free to share

Some years ago I came across a wonderful article I can no longer find about how to paint a hive. The paint recommended there was a winner. My hives from six years ago still look freshly painted to me. Dries fast, and can use at low temps. I've been very pleased. Since then I've found out a few things helpful to beekeepers about painting their hives. I'll try and be thorough here with examples and links.

How To Paint:
That's basically it.
The hive parts that touch each other must be paint-free. Paint only the outside surfaces for weather protecting the wood. 

The bees will propolis the insides. 

The landing board may be completely painted as it does not touch the bees nor need to be removed during an inspection.

What to use:  Exterior Paint, Latex. The photos above are with a weatherproofing stain, VOC less than 100. Drying time ideally well over a few weeks before installing bees but just be reasonable if in a rush.
In our northern climate I make sure I can use it in cold weather. VOC less than 50 - (Fumes & Smells) links go to Wikipedia & Minnesota Dept of Health sites, respectively. Another article is at the Natural Resource Defense Council website.
~ This VOC is right on the can of paint ~ and stands for Volatile organic compounds that result in chemical molecules released into the air that may be harmful to humans and animals. Most articles you find are about indoor paints and less than 50 is considered acceptable by our local paint dealer. VOC of ZERO does exist. I recommend checking out Sherwin-Williams. At any rate, my Sherwin-Williams Super Paint does not smell to me and I SMELL EVERYTHING! (Much to my husband's dismay.) 
~ UV - Check the color numbers! LRV ~  means Light Reflective Value and is right on the color sample card, or should be.
Why do you need to care? Over-heating, cooling, and what bees can see:
Bees see only ultra-violet colors. Colors look different and bees are attracted to our Purple, Violet, then Blue in that order. Red doesn't work for them. White looks bluish-green to them.  
A row of look alike hives can result in drifting of bees from their hive to another. Painting them different colors can help. Heat and Cold: Painting hives black with an LRV of Zero, can cause an over-heated hive. The LRV for dark green, for instance, is 9 so I chose it for my winter wind block along the sides and back of the hive. (See this at AthenasBees). The lower the number the hotter the color. Pastels may be more like LRV 74.    
we see 
bees see
add in UV
uv purple

uv purple

uv violet
uv blue

blue green


What does this mean? Colors look different and they are attracted to our Purple, Violet, then Blue in that order. Red doesn't work for them. White looks bluish-green to them.