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, 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.

Red Path Apiary - My 2014 Plan For Raising Northern Disease Resistant Bees

Untitled Document WINTER JAN 2014 ~ University of Souther Maine Agricultural Extension
I finally got in to a university level course at USM on Intermediate Beekeeping but I've already had several courses of beginning, intermediate and advanced. Most of those were taught by Wendy Booth and every course has taught me something new. I'm amazed there is always more to learn, but I do feel I am comprehending the whole picture of the beekeeper's world for the sake of the coming season.

The USM class was taught by Erin Forbes and Jack Hildreth. I am so delighted at Erin's knowledge, energy and confidence. It was a four hour round trip drive in our cold snowy weather, but I only missed one class due to that. I learned so much and hope to have the opportunity to study with some of these folks in prep for the Kentucky MB tests.

It's November 2013 and usually by this time in Carroll County, NH we have some snow fall. The days have been cold, but a warm up allowed me to get busy building my 8 eight frame hives for the new Red Path Apiary. I spent Friday, inside, rain, rain, rain, building the hives. Forgot how hard it is to put the hive bases together.

Screen Bottom Board - only paint
non-contact surfaces
I spent the next day in 40F degree sunny weather, climbing to 57F, painting them with my all time favorite, never-lets-me-down, fast drying, cold applying (35F!!), non-smelly, acrylic Super Paint from Sherwin Williams. So lucky we still have one of those in town!

Lost my print out of an article from the web very generously illustrating how to paint a hive. If I find it I will post it here. Basically, keep the parts of the hive that touch each other bare wood as the paint wants to stick to itself even when dry.

The land was offered for this use by a retired couple who did have hives many years before. I feel very privileged to have as a partner in the land preparations a skilled veteran in landscaping. She and I will share the garden attached to back of the apiary.

Aesthetics are always a consideration in our beautiful rural area so there was concern expressed about the electric fencing; but my experience now, five years into trying to manage fencing in our black bear friendly neighborhood, has led me to use a strong, non-permanent metal U-Post arrangement with a solar charger.The land owners said they didn't care if I put a circus tent up, they wanted bees!

Planting Thyme

The posts are in. The wire will be strung in the spring. For the base of the new hives I decided to stick with the chimney stones from a local masonry supply. I'll fill the centers with granite gravel which has worked very well. I attended a class in perma-culture last year that encouraged beekeepers to plant thyme in their apiary, so we did. The organic chemical thymol is derived from this herb, but I have heard it is still toxic from a state entomologist. Thyme, the herb, may work as a deterrent for mites. My partner suggested we gather wood chips from the town brush dump to lay paths and keep the grass down around the fencing. This is working out to look advantageous. I'm so tired of managing the grass growth up around my other hives.

(Now that I've seen this from Fortnum & Mason in London...hmmmmm)

COLOR? I'll stick with my yellow chiffon but isn't that a pretty green? The paint has held up so well on my oldest hives from 2008. It was recommended in an old article that I cannot find at the moment but will insert when i do. I'm redoing a study of accent color. I know I chose the base color for a good reason. I believe this particular yellow shows up in the green ultraviolet spectrum for the bees. As I am grouping hives in two and decided not to stand them apart as I have in the past, I will paint the hives with different accent colors. Here is a nice video I found on the subject.

Do a google search for "ultraviolet spectrum, honey bees" to find the latest research. Here is also an article I've found well done: West Mountain Apiary - Bees & Color

Here is a video of interest:

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I just finished studying Dewey M. Caron's "Honey Bee Biology" chapter 7 about honey bee communication. This YouTube video covers almost everything discussed and is done well. The amazing thing, not mentioned, is that different races of bees convey distance differently. My Carniolan bees do not use the sickle dance at all. Other races use the round dance to indicate close by sources, within about 40 meters but all the info I can find on this varies dramatically. The sickle dance is one used for intermediate distances but sort of morphs from round into waggle dance as the distance gets farther away. Here is the video: