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.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Winter Comes To Wonalancet



Another season has passed on my little apiary in the woods of Wonalancet.

Seven hives are now all tucked in for winter. My two Palmer hives, still robust, are heading into their third winter with me, four total winters.

The TroyHall hive, very strong, now faces a second winter with me, three total winters.

The Canadians have had a few struggles but four out of seven now head into a third winter with me. These bees came from a retired beekeeper who had not bought a queen since 1962. From the original seven I brought home as full hives, three boxes deep, back in late fall 2014, through a terrible ice storm, four survive. One failed after swarming in 2015; a second failed from a devastating wasp attack in late fall, 2015. The third was a failed queen after swarming this summer, 2016.

I blame the open pasture location for attracting the many bee-loving bird species to my queens on way back from mating flights; I also blame my own inattentiveness on the two swarm losses. I did save one of the four remaining colonies with a comb of young from a sister hive.

We've had our adventures for season 2016. Predators: skunks, raccoons, wasps, phoebes, wax moths... but no disease... such a resilient troop of northern bees. So just one summer loss and one near-loss after a swarm incident in 2016. Fingers crossed for this one small colony with its home-grown queen from a sister hive going into winter, but all 7 Wonalancet colonies look pretty robust. I took only 40 lbs of honey - a few frames here and there from the hives that looked like they wouldn't notice. An important note is that I did not feed this fall. Some feed was offered in the spring with minimal interest.
Ossipee Teaching Apiary: Three of these four hives were selected based on colonies provided to beekeepers through my shop in Center Ossipee. An over-wintered nuc from the seacoast is the only one showing signs of disease - chalk brood & deformed wing virus a sign of varroa. I waffled on treating since I have never treated. The next hive over are Russians. No mites there. In my observation this little sick colony has some very good survival traits as all the sick bees we saw were doing their best to get away from the hive, away from the apiary. They were not trying to forage. All the beelines went to the west, they were headed east. Our state inspector once told me bees will leave when sick. At least that is a trait to look for when selectively breeding. To my amazement the seacoast hive rebounded & managed to pack away two medium supers of honey weighing about 60lbs. The cluster is small, but well positioned in cluster. I opened it thinking they were gone, and what a pleasant surprise. They may be gone in the spring, but are worth the risk. If they survive, I will certainly split them and value those genetics.

The fourth hive, third in from the lineup, are my beloved Shed Bee Gals. Looking good... very good. They've survived two tip-overs from some playful raccoons and a very violent wasp war. This is just since moving to Ossipee. In early spring they dealt with a serious robbing event from the TroyHall hive out on Ferncroft, a mouse, & a hungry bunch of nesting phoebe young. Very tempted, but an important note is that I did not feed this fall.

It is very easy to loose track of what happened when, so I've done my best to reconstruct my apiary adventures since getting smart with northern bees. The diagram above is based on a Corel Draw file with more field notes.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Worries at Summer's End

Wasps, Raccoons, & Robbing

My over-wintered swarm from last season, "The Shed Bee Gals" now relocated to my teaching apiary at work, have survived yet another abusive incident.

Large, black bald face wasps attacked. I saw remainders of two wasp corps on the inner cover during inspection, then this, photo right...

...headless hundreds of my girls!  Wasp want what is in the thorax, especially. One lone fat baldfaced wasp crawled among them, recklessly turning each over looking for a last bite. Quite the horror show. This photo, right, also shows my kick-wasp-butt girls trying to propolize a breach in the entrance. I had forgotten about replacing this piece of wood with a more adequate entrance reducer.

Photo left: Wasp butts, adequately kicked... Not sure what the girls did with the rest of them... Despite losses, they are strong going into fall.

I will also have to change the hive base to a chimney stone so that during winter cold breezes do not blow directly into the hive.




ROBBING - This time of year also poses a problem with robbing, so all entrance reducers are going on. An innocent inspection is all it takes to set everyone off.

In an apiary with multiple hives - I have four here at work - it is recommended to take the covers off all the hives so that the bees will be distracted as the strongest will always rob from the weakest, even if the weakest is a good sized hive.

My Minnesota Hygienic bees, right, are actually a little too much on the small side. This summer a raccoon toppled them over, but they rallied. Then here, photo right, they fall victim to a barrage of intruders after I revealed their honey stores during an effort to replace some undrawn foundation with extracted frames still dripping with honey.

I could not get the entrance reducer changed over fast enough. I fear what good honey they had going for them was significantly depleted before I realized what was happening. Robbing screens are made for such events. You can also bring a wet towel out with you and throw it over the hive. The bees whose home it is will know how to get in and out.

Minnesota Hygienic Hive toppled by raccoon
In this case, closing the bottom entrance altogether and pushing the cover forward to reveal the upper entrance notch in the inner cover would have been the right move. I awkwardly blocked the entrance with a nuc lid that was handy.

Learning to think on your feet as a beekeeper is one of the most valuable talents you can master. It was during the robbing incident that I discovered the dead bees in front of their neighbor, Shed Bee Gals, hive. Normally I make surveying the hive entrances a prelude to any inspection, but it was late in the day and I was tired. Good reminder for keeping good habits.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Extracting Newly Drawn Comb

Just a few insights...
Pretty, pretty...

If you have ever done a cut out from a recent swarm you've experienced how very soft and fragile that beautiful, white-white beeswax they started building can be. The same holds true for wax drawn by the young bees on new foundation.

Everyone is talking honey harvest this summer, even the 1st season beekeepers. Normally we advise not to pull honey the 1st season. Up here in our northern climate the blooms stop in early October, then nothing happens until late May, but this year in late July we still have the fall nectar flow to look forward to and the hives are bursting. 

Remember that adding "space" means adding drawn comb. One excellent way to do this or at least to encourage bees up into a new super of foundation is to spin out some honey and add those frames back into the new super. I'll usually space new foundation every other one around the spun out honey combs.


Top: 1st season comb...
If you only have newly drawn comb this poses some challenges. The wax is so very soft that even wired foundation can blow out in a hand extractor. The honey is just too heavy to be moved around, 1st from hive to work area, then uncapping procedure, and finally lifted and placed into the extractor. 

By the time the spinning begins the comb can easily fall apart.

 


So choose second season frames if you can. They almost never fall apart. For the new wax I have found rubber-banding them works very well.

If you need help extracting honey and are local to Center Ossipee, follow this link or come by the shop to talk about it.
 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Shed Bee Gals - Update

In April my little band of survivors from my shed swarm of last summer in Wonalancet were moved to a new location on the Rt 16 side of a very wild part of the Ossipee Mountain range. They've built up fast and have two deep boxes almost full of partly capped honey. No brood, so did they swarm after all? Very mild mood. Several broken queen cells... hmmm. A break in the brood cycle would explain the honey stores. Earlier last month I spotted almost a whole frame of drones. I worried this indicated a problem and that perhaps I had a swarm after all and a drone layer took over; however, today everything looks very normal and very productive.

I went ahead an pulled just three shallow frames of honey just to take a taste of what they've been up to. All weighed in at a little over eight pounds. Not bad, Crazy Comb Girl!


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Drone Trapping in the Spring

Now that I have a shop I'm enjoying hearing so many stories from beekeepers, mostly new and wannabee beekeepers, and helping them get started has been very energizing for my own apiary practices; so if your are wondering why my writing seems to have taken on a little authoritative voice, that's why... not that I am not still learning about bees every single day.

Here is my current message to those interested: 

I strongly believe if you really want to be a good beekeeper and think you have to use some sort of treatment on your bees, knowing exactly what you are treating is best practice. It is also important if you are claiming that not treating your bees is working - and after three winter's survival on some of my hives I must take my own advice here - you should be able to prove with good record keeping that you know what you are boasting about.

Just checking, newbies: Please don't dust your frames of brood with powdered sugar for varroa control. I keep hearing about this despite the many years it has been reported to be a bad idea. See: Jennifer Berry revealing powdered Sugar as a poor choice. - basically, it clumps into the brood area and invites other moisture driven diseases to run rampant.

First year beekeepers can assume they have varroa as it is hard to get someone who has gone to a lot of trouble raising disease resistant bees to sell a nuc to a newbie, and newbies have enough to wrap their minds around... but the rest of us shouldn't assume anything. Again, I will take my own advice this season and monitor regularly my hives with a sugar roll count. I have at least one colony from the same sources that I've sold through the shop and will monitor them at the shop. I'm using drone comb on those starting early this spring.


Important quote about using drone brood frames (the green plastic ones) for your integrated pest management plan, or IPM. This is a long article at Scientific Beekeeping - (which has many valuable insights besides):

"Once your drone frames are full and capped don’t automatically freeze or cut the brood out. Instead, use a cappings scratcher to remove and count the number of mites in several different areas on the comb. Early in the year it’s not uncommon to find only a few mites, occasionally you won’t find any.

Possibly the rearing colony simply has a low mite count coming out of winter, or perhaps there’s a resistance factor involved. Either way, return the frame to the colony and allow that round of drones to emerge. Drones from low mite count colonies are a good thing. Use them at every opportunity. 


If you are really serious about controlling Varroa without the use of chemicals, genetic selection is the only route available. You have to start that selection process somewhere. Preserving or propagating drones from low mite count colonies is as good a place as any."

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Crazy Comb Girl & The Shed Bee Gals

Not a famous honey bee rock group, but the fans crowding to steal the show might disagree. I should have been suspicious when our returning nesting Eastern Phoebe awakened us that morning outside the bedroom window calling “Phree Bees! Phree Bees!”

My poor little June swarms! They made it through the winter in our exposed three sided shed only to be accosted by the birds and marauding bees! We wired the shed from the duck yard to protect from bears and set them up to over winter there. The beekeeper never imagined her hives a mile away in one direction, half mile or so in the other, would find the heroic swarms all snuggled in with daytime temps in the 40s and lower 50s, so she left the top entrance open!

That’s me, the one always saying to anticipate rather than respond to crisis. But, wait, that’s not all! A mouse moved into Crazy Comb’s upstairs loft!

They didn’t’ stand a chance. I had to get them out of there.
Owl to scare away the Phoebe

These are the two queens who swarmed together into my shed last June just as I was pulling into my driveway after a long day at work. With my hives so far from the house it was such a joy to have them come home where I could easily view them from the kitchen.

Last summer one had built crazy comb under the screened bottom board of a hive in storage and one had found its way in above the screen so I concluded they were one colony. When I put them ‘right’ in the hive components, they tore off pieces of homasote and began to construct some sort of paper mache wall between them. Now here they were recombined, defending themselves against the cold, cruel world of April in Wonalancet.

I wasn’t sure they could use the bottom entrance so I left the top notch open. Dropping the lid down helped solve that along with a sheet of hardware cloth positioned like a ‘robber screen’ to cloak the bottom from strangers.
Here you can see the fans clamoring to squeeze into a very small breach between the boxes. This is robbing at its worst. I drove over to the other hives to see how everyone was doing and it was as calm as could be. Coming and going, sauntering in and out, all six full sized hives alive and well and not eating much of what sugar and pollen patty I slipped in days before.

My small Palmer nuc was also calmly coming and going having come through its 1st winter. The Hall full size hive out on Ferncroft also busy, its second winter and… okay… maybe too busy, but these guys were loaded with food so I can’t imagine them feeling a need to rob. Hmmmm…

I stapled a patch of screen over everyone’s upper entrances just in case. Early the next morning a few fans remained and I failed to get them closed up for a move as fighting broke out, but the next day temps were back down in the forties again. Everyone had gone home so I cinched up the shed bees and drove them to work at the shop in Center Ossipee 14 miles away.

As soon as it is warm enough to inspect I’ll see if they are candidates for the observation hive.

After so many failures over the early years of my beekeeping I’m so thrilled the colonies appear to have “made it” again, but still my fingers are crossed as we muddle through April’s unpredictable temperatures.

Safe at last...
Just to document for my own sake, the two Palmer hives I got in spring 2014 are my best producers, but I have not yet taken a full honey harvest, just frames from each hive; Fall 2014 I obtained seven hives from a retired beekeeper in New York on the Canada border – all those made it through to June 2015, three absconded in the same couple of days that the two queens showed up at the house so I comfort myself that they “simply relocated”.

I was going through a lot of medical stuff in 2015 so did neglect my hives and barely got them ready for winter last year. Maybe in the bees’ estimation I had too many hives out on Red Path? Well, the four remaining full size Canada teams are coming out of their second winter here, but had over-wintered 2013-2014. Troy’s nuc I installed spring 2015 and it is coming forth spring 2016 very strong. I hope to pay closer attention to everyone this year. I am well and fit for the task. I’ll make some splits, play with some queen rearing techniques, and should have a good honey harvest.

Despite the push to treat, treat, treat our bees, I will monitor, monitor, monitor but I have yet to use anything on these colonies and hope to follow Troy Hall’s example with his apiary, continuing to control my very isolated environment with its disappearing wildflowers, extreme cold, long winters, too many wasp species, and moisture challenges - without the use of chemicals. If I ever do break down and use them it will be a sad report as it means the bees are losing the challenge in this beautiful pristine environment we have been so privileged to enjoy.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Adventures with Honey: American Bamboo (Japanese Knotweed)

I have always loved this "brown sugar" of the honey varieties here in New England. Dark, rich, but mildly sweet knotweed honey. Very high in the anti-oxidant Resveratrol. Some research suggest it helps the bees combat nosema disease as a fall nectar source. Of course, it is invasive, and there are very aggressive campaigns to eradicate it.

Nonetheless, last Saturday some beekeepers came up to the kitchen and we spun about 33 lbs out of just nine medium frames, but my personal supply came from Crystals Bees down in Massachusetts. The bees love it and it is amazing to eat, cook with and known to produce a wonderful mead. I'll find that out tomorrow, or at least in 3 to six weeks, after our class in mead making at the shop in Center Ossipee. James Lindenschmidt of Bardicbrews.net will be teaching The Lore & Craft of Mead from 2 to 4 on Sunday, April 10. In the mean time, let's make cookies!


Ginger Knotweed Honey Cookies

Sift together:

  • 2 1/4 c flour
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
Cream:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup knowweed honey (or buckwheat or molasses)
  • 1/2 cup organic sugar crystals
  • 1 duck egg... or chicken
  • Optional: add raisins soaked in rum... yum!
Plop dough into a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a rope for chilling. 1/2 hr in the freezer will do. Cut into slices, roll in organic sugar crystals - white or brown - and bake on a greased cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 12 minutes.

Quoting wikipedia: "Japanese knotweed flowers are valued by some beekeepers as an important source of nectar for honeybees, at a time of year when little else is flowering. Japanese knotweed yields a monofloral honey, usually called bamboo honey by northeastern U.S. beekeepers, like a mild-flavored version of buckwheat honey"

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why Do Beekeepers Feed Their Bees?

Why Do Beekeepers Feed Their Bees? ~ by Athena Contus, WHBee.com
Contrary to what most people think, bees do not subsist on a diet of nectar and pollen. Rather, these are two nutritious pantry ingredients necessary for the bee’s use in preparing recipes vital to colony survival: honey & bee-bread. Another essential food is the royal jelly stimulated into production from the bees’ bodies when honey and pollen are consumed. Plant resins and water also play vital roles in honey bee nutritional health.
 
Bees need a place to store their food and the new beekeeper is often faced with the dilemma of an absence of drawn comb for them to do so. Feeding a nectar substitute - one cup sugar to one cup water - on installation of a package of bees, stimulates the drawing of comb on new frames. 
 
Even with the presence of drawn comb, feeding is the best practice approach to installing a package or a nucleus colony. It helps alleviate some of the stresses the colony endures in any transfer; however, if installed during a nectar flow, it is quite amazing how fast the little colony cooks are rushing back to the hive with their bounty. 
 
Our nectar season is less than six months in most places here in Northern New England. If a beekeeper harvests any honey from their hives they should do so with consideration for the long winter to come; but all winters are different. Oddly, a mild winter can be the most problematic. Bees, being more active in such conditions could eat through all their stores before spring. 
 
Although beekeepers do not have the edge an evolutionary Honey Bee-cooking school provides their girls, recipes appear online for supplemental pollen feeding as well as strategies to help out should the beekeeper & colony miscalculate the bees’ natural food stores going into and coming out of winter. 
 
Survival of the Fittest?
There is a survival of the fittest school of thought that counsels beekeepers not to feed their bees. This only makes any sense at all if  #1 - the beekeeper has not taken a harvest and if  #2 - the bees still fail to prepare for times of dearth when left in a naturally abundant environment for their particular geographical area. This location would also be free from manmade or other unnatural environmental challenges. 
 
In other words, survival of the fittest means the beekeeper is breeding healthy bees that have evolved with skills that allow them to survive our long winters and diseases unique to such challenges; but the breeder also appreciates that modern environmental changes impacting their colonies will take some evolutionary time for bees to adapt to, if they can at all. 
 
Organic Certification, where present, usually dictates bees not be fed substitutes but only receive back the honey harvested from their hive. Some organic beekeepers store frames of honey pulled from the hives when prepping them for winter, as a precaution.
 
For the practical beekeeper who would rather not pay the sometimes hefty fees for new quality bees in the spring, feeding may be vital. Commercial companies have put together their own bee-feed formulas for sale as patties or powdered pollen to supplement as well as substitute protein. They also provide liquid feeds and fondants to take the place of the colony’s carbohydrate source in honey. Field studies with these feeds may be found at Randy Oliver’s Scientific Beekeeping website.

Short Term Simulation leads to Stimulation IMPORTANT: No supplemental feeding routine is meant to be a long term solution. It will help for those desperate few weeks between early spring and the 1st nectar flow by extending a colony’s chances - or serve to provide them with some extra stores in the late fall.

Long term feeding may result in stress and subsequent colony population losses. Honey bees need their real and natural food ingredients of nectar and pollen. They also need to gather it in through natural foraging behaviors. 

Simulation leads to Stimulation ~ Feeding bees simulates a condition in nature stimulating the colony into production. For instance, if the colony perceives a nectar flow is on and lots of pollen is out there to be gathered more nurse bees will mature faster into foragers.  So feeding can stimulate maturation in young bees and tasks performed by worker bees throughout the colony become impacted. Conditions in the colony’s natural environment may not be ready to sustain an increased number of foragers. It can leave the nursery abandoned in extreme cases, as well as create a colony-wide life threatening imbalance in its workforce roles.

In anticipation of such conditions the beekeeper strives to maintain a measured flow of the right kind of seasonal food supplementation to the colony during the winding down of activity going into late winter. In the early spring period of March through April feeding should be appropriate to spring conditions and measured out until the nectar flow is on. This is a balancing act that varies from year to year, apiary to apiary, beekeeper to beekeeper.   

March is indeed the beginning of the greatest worries for the beekeeper. Colonies seemingly alive and well in March often die before the end of April. Paying close attention to the colony and having strategies in place, especially being prepared to act instead of react, is vital to successfully raising bees in a Northern climate.  

Medicated Syrup

Another reason for feeding bees is for the purpose of dosing them with medication. An antibiotic for a common confinement related disease like “nosema” is often treated by mixing nectar supplements with an antibiotic called Fumagilan-B. This practice has some cautions attached due to an increase in drug resistant strains of the disease.




What & How I Feed My Colonies I’ll include here some links to some favorite online resources as well as explain what I use myself and have available for the small apiary in my shop in Center Ossipee, NH. I started beekeeping in Northern New England like most: with southern bred nucleus colonies and/or packages. They are much more labor intensive when it comes to feeding issues for any beekeeper, novice or experienced. 

Today my apiary is made up of some excellent northern bred bees with winter and varroa mite survival genes; still, I have a feeding routine worthy of any weak colony. I take a minimum of honey in the summer by selecting frames, rather than whole supers, from colonies flush with honey. I also always anticipate feeding in the spring. 

My bees rarely take the extra food, but after previous years of heartbreak, it puts my mind to rest. I also enjoy being practiced at emergency feeding strategies as well as peeking in to see how the girls are doing after our months apart.
 
In spring I’ve tried making my own dry pollen for an open feeding station but have since begun to rely on the pollen powders called Bee Pro and Ultra Bee. I also use the pollen patty called Ultra Bee. These products seem well received by the bees and have been field tested by others in my geographical area with positive results. That is very important. Always look to your local successful beekeepers for tips and insights.

I carry in the WHBee shop smaller 1+ pound portions of Ultra Bee & Bee Pro for use by the beekeeper with one to a few hives. Bee Pro is basically non-GMO soy and yeast meant for use in a recipe, usually with white sugar and non-HF Corn syrup (100 percent glucose). This syrup can also be found in the WHBee shop in small 1 quart units. 
 
Caution: Regarding High Fructose Corn Syrup (part of its glucose converted to fructose enzymatically). Avoid it. The USDA has established that when HFCS is heated, it forms hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), a chemical that can kill honey bees. A hot day in the sun or baking inside a feeder in the top of a hive, is enough to do that.
Unlike Bee Pro supplement mix, Ultra Bee is a complete protein nutritional substitute in either powder or patty form. I’m very happy to have found these resources well documented as affordable, successful, and safe for use as a temporary feeding option for my bees should they need it.
 
Feeding Stations – Fall & Spring
I have begun to enjoy using feeding stations in my apiary these past two years. This is taught by successful beekeepers in my climate and usually is accomplished with a rain-proof plastic bucket set up. There are many examples online. The down side is having to take the feeders in at night as a precaution due to our local black bear population. To make this easier I use something small and manageable: a chicken waterer for liquid and a hanging feeder for the pollen. Even though I have an electrified fence I don’t’ want to draw attention to the hives. 
 
My hanging powdered pollen feeder has been working out very well, adding as much natural foraging behavior to the honey bee feeding experience as possible. The bees fly into the opening and their wing beating causes the pollen to fly up onto their furry little bodies, allowing grooming to take place. It’s also lots of fun to watch. These hanging feeders, also made with the small apiary in mind, are available in the shop.
 
Drops in night time fall and spring temperatures could lead to freezing of supplemental bee food. I replace chilly syrup in the morning with fresh, and usually the sun warms it up well. I try to be mindful of the shade temperatures that time of year and place open feeding stations to take advantage of the sun. Remember to use feeders that are BPA free. Most are these days. I carry my favorite water-syrup feeder for small bee yards in the shop.

Nectar Substitute
SPRING ~ As most beekeepers I make a one part sugar to one part water syrup for package or nucleus colony installation. Sometimes I put this mix on a mature colony when days are above freezing in the spring and I know the flow is just around the corner. I usually use a small boardman feeder in the spring, set on top of the inner cover and protected by an empty super under the telescoping cover. I have also used ziplock baggies with needle holes. This works very well, but in recent years I’ve found it easier to get in and out of the top of the hive with the boardman feeder and a tall standard style jelly jar. I just go down the line, hive to hive, with a pitcher in the morning and replace the jars with fresh syrup. 

Feeding too thin of a syrup too early can all too easily simulate that the nectar flow is on and lead to adverse consequences, so timing is very important. 
FALL ~ In the cold days of fall after the nectar flow is done for the year, I put out a thicker batch of syrup, fresh daily, at a feeding station. This is two parts sugar to one part water in the hope they will have time to evaporate the moisture off before clustering at 50F degrees in preparation for winter. Some beekeepers gradually thicken the syrup and even add a slight amount of pollen. 

Full on pollen supplement feeding in the fall is not recommended as it can stimulate brood production at a time of year when the colony should be shrinking in numbers in order to maximize its limited resources over the long New England winter to come.
 
In freezing weather I have used a variety of sugar recipes in the tops of my hives. This year it was a Capital Area Beekeeper's Club fondant; other years it has been a top feeding wet sugar mix learned from Karen Thurlow of New Moon Apiary in Maine. She makes up a batch of sugar with enough water to make it crumbly and inserts in into her winter top super set up. I like slipping in a piece of fondant when needed or this sugar mix as a precaution. Toward the end of this rather dry, mild winter of 2015-16 three of my colonies ate the fondant or sugar up, seven others did not touch it. 

Note: Except for Karen's loose sugar method, I am not a fan of what are called 'candy boards'. I have had them melt down and drown my bees or create moisture issues with my hives. This is not the usual experience. Most beekeepers love them. 
 
Pollen Substitute
In warmer bee-flying weather or the early sunny days in spring, I use Ultra Bee powder in both fall and spring in open feeding stations. In spring when clustering is still happening with below 50F degree days and nights, I also maintain at least a small section of an Ultra Bee pollen patty supplement in each hive. 
 
Feed Until the Flow
I never let too many days go by without checking on the bees once I have started to feed. A beekeeper strives to be aware of all the environmental and seasonal challenges facing the apiary but it takes time. At the very least it is important to be prepared with a feeding strategy and method of how to measure it out in accordance with the winding down of winter. Choose one to start with and see how it works for you and your bees, then tweak it as needed. 
 
I’ve followed many beekeeping blogs across the U.S. and around the world, but when it comes to implementing a practice in my apiary I look for those keeping bees successfully in my community. This was the best advice I have ever taken in my beekeeping. Everything I do out there has the voice of another beekeeper attached to it who has faced similar challenges with their colonies. 
 
Beekeepers are never truly alone in their efforts to master the art of beekeeping. Striving to meet the challenges of raising honey bees in northern New England by adding feeding techniques that work for their fellow northern beekeepers is essential. It will eventually lend to a full enjoyment of the privilege it is to work in partnership with these amazing super organisms.

For a valuable resource of feeding recipes and strategies see this Maine State Beekeeper's Association page. I welcome any feedback, especially if you see any way this article can be improved.

New Workshops in Center Ossipee

3 Classes coming up in Center Ossipee at WHBee Co, 1805 Route 16:
  1. April 9th ~ "Beekeeping: The Least You Should Know" $10 per person
  2. April 10th ~ Sunday, 2 to 4pm ~ Honey Wine Workshop $50 per person
  3. April 16th ~ Saturday, 10 am to 2 pm ~ The Second Season Beekeeper $20 per person.
DETAILS:
Saturday April 9th: 
Want to start beekeeping? Sign up now for
"The Least You Should Know To Start Beekeeping" 2 hours - five spots

1pm to 3pm ~ in the 3rd floor classroom at WHBee Co. because not everyone thinks they need a class and there really are some things you need to know. $10. Call the shop, 603 733 7736 or stop by. Five spots so please sign up or leave a message.
Class Outline:
  • Time, Money Investment Considerations
  • Hive choices for New England
  • Honey Bee Breeds, Sources
  • Honey Bee Health Considerations
  • Education, Support Resources
  • The Beekeeper's Seasonal Duties
  • Northern Climate Challenges
  • Products of the Hive 
Sunday, April 10th 2 to 4pm
The Lore and Craft of Mead or Honey Wine - Mead Workshop with James of BardicBrews.net
We have a few openings for James' Honey Wine making workshop. $50 for instruction with your own equipment or purchase for $45 a 1 gallon mead making kit. Includes 3 lbs honey, your choice of Blueberry, New England Red Bamboo (yum) or Wildflower. This is a fun class and a great deal. Hold your seat now. 603-733-7736

April 16th ~ Saturday, 10 am to 2 pm
The Second Season Beekeeper $20 per person.
Workshop with 8th Season Beekeeper, Athena Contus. Reviewing your 1st year and facing your second with lessons learned. Six spots. Hold your seat now. 603-733-7736

Hope your bees are doing okay. Athena's Bees is also on FaceBook

Friday, February 19, 2016

Workshops In Center Ossipee

Want to start beekeeping? Sign up now for

"The Least You Should Know To Start Beekeeping" 2 hours

2nd Class Added: 1pm to 3pm on Saturday, March 12th ~ also 10 am to 12 noon in the 3rd floor classroom at WHBee Co. because not everyone thinks they need a class and there really are some things you need to know. $10. Call the shop, 603 733 7736 or stop by. Five spots so please sign up or leave a message.
Class Outline:
  • Time & Money Investment Considerations
  • Hive choices for New England
  • Honey Bee Breeds & Sources
  • Honey Bee Health Considerations
  • Education & Support Resources
  • The Beekeeper's Seasonal Duties
  • Northern Climate Challenges
  • Products of the Hive 

Hope your bees are doing okay. Athena's Bees is also on FaceBook

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mead Making Workshop ~ Feb 27th 2-4pm

Mead Making Workshop ~ Feb 27th 2-4pm in Center Ossipee. Come join us for "From Alcohol to Alchemy: The Lore & Craft of Mead" with James of Bardic Brews. $50 + $45 in materials. Includes honey & equipment to take home a 1 gallon bottle of mead. Only 8 spots. James makes this a very fun class. We need at least six participants. Call me at 603-733-7736. Meets in the 3rd floor classroom: Wonalancet Honey Bee Co, 1805 Route 16, Center Ossipee.

Friday, February 12, 2016

What is a Beehive & Where Do Its Bees Come From?

Story & photos by Athena's Bees

The Bees
Honey bees are purchased from commercial beekeeping companies, other beekeepers, or caught in the wild. Honey bees can also be multiplied by "splitting" an existing hive. Honey Bees are not native to North America so "wild" is a relative term, but they have been growing with the U.S.A. from it's beginnings as a colony itself in the 1600s.
Photo above: My first experience with packages.
5 were purchased, three absconded, one died by fall.
The fourth made it through winter like a champ
and flourished into a second fall
but were killed by yellow jackets as winter set in.

Getting Bees From Commercial Sources: Commercial beekeeping companies sell "packages" of bees sourced from commercial beekeepers employed to travel with their bees around the country for the purpose of pollinating large orchards and farms.

At the end of the pollination season the colonies are shook together and systematically funneled into screened boxes. A queen, bred and mated by a Queen Bee supplier, is affixed to the screened box with the hope the confused honey bees will embrace her as their mother and form a bond as a colony in a common goal to survive. Statistically, with all the modern challenges honey bees are facing today, this is successful about 50% of the time or less. Packages are a cheap, efficient way to acquire bees but the price just in the past six years has gone from around $80 up to about $135.

A beekeeper obtaining bees by the package through the mail or by personal pick up, is willing to accept the risk of failure and will be taking extra steps to insure the bees are treated for diseases and mites acquired from their travels. BUT the risk is not limited to the purchaser. Neighboring beekeepers could be impacted by unhealthy bees brought in from the commercial bee industry. One recently discovered issue is the prevalence of infertile drone populations. A beekeeper working hard to breed northern, disease resistant bees would lose a colony queened by any mating with these drones. A queen is only as good as the drones she mates with. PLEASE DO BUY BEES RESPONSIBLY.

Always try to insure: 
1. Honey bees in the screened packages are showing some solidarity by clinging to each other and the queen before you leave the pick up place with them. 
2. You know where the queen is from. This will determine the resulting type of bees you will keep.
3. Bees are released into the prepared hive over drawn comb with a supply of feed or that you are prepared to feed the bees a sugar-syrup mix in the hope the bees will be stimulated into drawing out their own comb on new foundation. The Queen needs cells to lay in. The bees need cells to store pollen & nectar in.
4. Normally, no products will be harvested from the package bee colony the first year.

Getting Bees From Other Beekeepers: Obtaining honey bees from other beekeepers that raise bees in the same climate as the buyer is the preferred method for obtaining bees with the greatest chance for success. These honey bees are "split" off from a strong hive through the removal of two frames of brood and two frames of honey and pollen. A queen is either raised by the bees themselves from among the brood of the split or supplied by a Queen Breeder. Honey bees sold in this manner are referred to as "Nucs" or Nucleus colonies. Nucleus colonies run about $180 to over $200 each.

Always ask two vital questions:
1. Did the nucleus colony over-winter or was it made up in the spring?
2. Where is the queen from?
Did she over-winter with the colony or is she new? If you live in the north, make sure the queen is from a northern breeder. Often, nucleus colonies are just a package of bees put into a box with drawn comb by the seller in order to make the higher price in exchange for this service; but always ask.

Getting Honey Bees In The Wild: A colony that has escaped into the "wild" - housing itself in a tree or other natural cavity is called "feral". A feral colony should be left alone as they are now being considered the last hope of the honey bee species. Extraction of bees from an established feral location has a high percentage of queen loss. The bees are only as valuable as their queen.
Swarms: A "swarm" of bees that escape a beekeeper or that house themselves in a building etc, can be retrieved and put into a hive. Some beekeeping clubs and state beekeeping organizations have a "swarm hotline" in the hope that anyone witnessing a swarm of bees will call for its removal. These are "free bees" to the skilled beekeeper and there is much written on methods for "catching" a swarm. The colony may be easily housed into a suitable hive and most swarms prove to be very productive.

The Hive:
A beehive is the domicile where a beekeeper keeps their bees. A beehive may also refer to a hollow in the tree where a wild honey bee colony has established a home.
A honey bee colony, on the other hand, is a super-organism made up of a queen and her children. It helps when discussing all things "bee" to use the proper terms and not confuse "hive" or house with "colony" or the family that lives in the house.

Beekeepers want the colony to survive and produce hive products like honey, bee pollen and wax. The hive must be well planned with the climate and environmental challenges the bees will be facing kept in mind for this effort to be successful. There are a variety of styles of beehives unique to different countries that work especially well for their varied climates.
The traditional Skep hive used anciently is no longer appropriate as harvesting products from it require the demise of the colony. (See a great YouTube of an old skep operation here)

In the warm climate of Africa, for instance, the basic Log Hive is giving way to the more modern manageable Top Bar Hive. In cold and damp environments like England the WBC double walled hive is popular.

The standard in the U.S.A. is referred to as a Langstroth Hive. The design is a modern invention that allows a beekeeper to manage a colony of bees with the least amount of disruption to their survival routines. It consists of a brood box and expansion boxes called "supers". All the boxes contain removable frames where the bees accommodate the management of their colony by using the frames to build their comb, raise their young, and store their pollen & honey. The construction of a Langstroth Hive takes into consideration something called "bee space" or a margin of space between combs and between combs and the hive walls that bees maintain naturally in order to maximize colony efficiency. Materials used in the construction of a hive also must be non-toxic to insure success.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Royal Nursery

Ah... a sunny day in winter...
Wonder what the bees are up to?
Here in the Northeast we get used to 20F & 30F degree daytime temps in winter and when it warms up to 50 we think it's an opportunity to inspect the hives; but remember: most breeds of bees are too chilled to fly until temps reach 57F! Some will venture out on a void flight at 47F, but if there is brood to keep warm, you often won't see them flying even on a warm up day.

A few vital bits of knowledge to have in late winter-early spring:
  • Her Majesty usually resumes laying in February.
  • "Check on your hives"? When checking on your hives in winter-early spring, no matter how mild it is here in the Northeast, you NEVER break down the hive as you would in a normal inspection.
  • You NEVER unwrap the hive before days are consistently warm or above 50F in the spring. If you didn't wrap this season, don't break apart the propolis the bees have painstakingly put into place to seal off drafts and cold. The cold renders the propolis too hard to go back together.
  • Despite climate change, Spring still begins on March 20th. In the Northeast, that often happens sometime in May.
  • You DO NOT need to know if your bees are dead or alive. What possible good could you accomplish breaking up the hive to take a look, especially if they are alive?
  • You DO need to know whether or not your emergency feeding set up is working AND KEEP TABS ON IT.
  • Don't despair if you wish you had read this before you opened your hive. Every bee is willing to give its life for the perpetuation of its species. They really are. They have accommodated humans for thousands of years, teaching the beekeeper during a time in earth's history when other species of insects are becoming extinct at alarming rates. Thanks to their partnership with the beekeeper they have insured their survival and have become distributed throughout the globe as a reward for their sacrifices. You'll get it down. They have faith in you.   (see Nation Geographic Article on Insect Species)
Hopefully your bees aren't dead, just minding the nursery.... you don't need to know yet, just error on the side of them making it and make sure food is on top in case they need it. 

It's tough waiting out the winter. Last year my bees were confined for almost six & a half months and only had about five and a half months of foraging to prepare for that... but, there they were in the spring! Most springs I have found at least one colony dead and in no case did it ever help to know that before it was consistently warm enough during the day to unwrap the hive. Relax, read your books and bee journals. You are engaged in a worthy hobby. Confidence and skill will come, most assuredly, with failure more often than with success. Don't give up.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Dead Outs

Just a note here, as I'm getting several messages from local beekeepers during our current warm up... that their bees are dead.

Always error on the side of a miracle.

Every once in awhile some respected mentor of beekeepers will confess to something terribly stupid they once did. They usually don't confess until years later.... but eventually they realize we all screw up and it helps if you know someone more experienced than yourself has made mistakes in beekeeping. So here's my confession:

Beautiful, northern bees... I mean these bees were spectacular looking, grey, buckfast mix, northern hearty, disease resistant bees. I opened the hive on a warm day in March and to my horror, they were dead... but no, they weren't. They were just being smart...conserving energy... however, by investigating what I thought was a dead-out I ... well... I... actually killed them. Of course this happened years ago. I'm much smarter now... or at least I hope I am.

So... learn from the mistakes of others more experienced than yourself. It was the breeder of these bees that clued me in and I've never forgiven myself... my mind goes back to that day every time I open a hive in spring. Error on the side of a miracle. Leave your hives intact. Provide backup food stores... and if you haven't by now established a good emergency feeding option for your hives, improvise.