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 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 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
  • 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"