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.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Updated: My Hive Setup

Learning to be the perfect beekeeper can be a life long pursuit ending in: "Oh well, I tried my best." I still experiment with overwintering methods of management after keeping bees 16 years in the Sandwich Mountain Range of New Hampshire U.S.A.; but for the most part this little history of my learning curve stands true. Important to note: my efforts to raise bees free of treatment for varroa means choosing smaller colonies producing less honey but continues to result in more survival success than most folks over the long haul. (Research this route carefully and stay current with reliable sources of instruction.)

From Blogger March 2017 with a few edits for clarity: 

My bees thrive well in an eight frame hive set up here in Northern New Hampshire. I tweaked the ten frame hives I'd invested in so heavily until finally, several years ago, gave in to this narrower concept. 

My bees wanted to go up, following the heat of the cluster in winter. Honey left on the outskirts of a super that would tempt them to break cluster to reach, was ignored once cold weather set in. Sometimes colonies starved.

The diseases I was seeing in my failed ten frame colonies screamed of moisture and poor ventilation; so I utilized the "varroa" screened bottom board to help with airflow. William Bonny's old book on "Hive Management" agreed with a local farmer's advice to keep a pine needle filled super on top during winter to catch moisture. That book also introduced me to homasote board. 

Even that I tweaked: the board became soaked with bee-respiration - solved by adding some sticks or a stone under the telescoping cover to allow airflow to wick it off. The pine needles are now held up by 1/2 inch hardware cloth to keep debris from falling in, but the bees can still come up and "get a drink."

All these changes begun to work well, but I feared the brood box would be exposed to abrupt airflow sitting there on that screened bottom, especially going into - and coming out of - winter. 

The discovery of a swarm control component called the "slatted rack" was the next stop in my beekeeping journey. I found it perfect for buffering the brood box from the outside air. It also gave the chilly spring foragers a place to hang out in increment weather instead of crowding up into the nursery. 

The bees loved it and so do I. Setting all this on top of two leveled chimney stones cut off any direct cold air flow. It also seemed high enough off the ground to discourage skunks from scratching at the door. 

Eventually my mouse guard also deterred skunks when changed to hardware cloth cut so prongs would expose their paws to pricks. So did the new solar powered fencing with lower wires.

After about three years of failure with southern packages and nucs queened from southern climates, I began to choose northern honey bees, raised farther north than I was. I'd drive as far as I had to go. This was to try and insure overwintering survival with our uniquely short nectar flows in my mountain intervale - only five and a half months - late April to the end of September. 

In that many years the trees had also grown a few feet higher in my apiary, putting every colony in full shade. Also by that time every wasp in area knew where my hives lived. Two colonies were killed. A move had to be made. 

About then a neighbor in failing health invited me to place hives in view of his window. He lived long enough to take pleasure for a few seasons watching my bees enjoy full sun on several acres of wild forage with a northern wind break of wonderful nectar and pollen producing trees. Then the landscaped changed from fallow fields to a haying operation. Another move was required to insure good forage for my bees.

These savvy acclimatized honey bees now filling my narrow hives, along with the changes made to my apiary set up, began to bring joy instead of angst to my beekeeping. I have had a few summer losses due to normal events, including beekeeper-too-busy-itis during swarm season, however, no losses winter through mid-summer like I was experiencing before. I do see mites, but not high counts others are dealing with. Most importantly, I see no diseases, and previous to these changes I think I saw them all except AFB.

I've hung in there as a beekeeper by focusing on the specific issues facing my colonies instead of trusting a lot of disparaging advice to blame every beekeeping malady on varroa mites; solve every problem with treatments. I've also looked to successful northern bee school teachers and scientist, like New England's own Professor Thomas D. Seeley for insights and Vermont's Kirk Webster among others. To improve my understanding of honey bee biology as of 2023 and stay current with modern management practices I've completed both the University of Montana and the Cornell University Master Beekeepers course of study.

Mostly I've trusted my gut. Not out of stubbornness, necessarily. On some level, though not a scientist, my ongoing studies in honey bee biology seem to say that, given a good home with good natural nutrition, bees acclimated to their climate & familiar with the area forage should be able to thrive where they live, dependent primarily on the wonderful gifts millions of years of evolution have bestowed on them.

I believe this focus has encouraged my continued research, participation in educational opportunities, and brought me satisfaction with small successes that keep me in a very difficult and expensive quest. 

I've been uncertain much of the time with my choices. I've bought miticides or antibiotics - then never had the nerve to go through with treatments. In the end, trusting my gut, paying attention to my bees, and enjoying the occasional validation of science, has so far won the day. 

I didn't know I was this person... this "bee-scientist"; I just wanted to be a beekeeper. 

Fortunately, honey bees are a rather brilliant, persistent little species. They are determined to pull us in, teach us their needs and hopefully, in exchange for a little honey, beauty, fascination, and food, survive to use a few million more years of the amazing gifts of evolution they are so marvelous at utilizing even in a dramatically changing world.

-Please always consider the dates on my posts. Some outdated information can get overlooked but I try my best to take those posts down and don't mind hearing from you about anything puzzling.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Learning How to Keep Bees - Links

Learning this craft is about finding your own successful, sustainable, management plan specifically tailored to your own apiary. It can become a lifelong pursuit for a beekeeper. Here are some links to programs, often taught with the help of volunteers, to help you on your way:

YouTube - for supplementing local instruction: 

We may share similar latitudes with popular YouTube broadcasters but pay attention to growth hardiness zones & climate. Beekeeping is very climate specific when it comes to raising bees in a cold climate. New Hampshire's hardiness zones range from 3 in the north to 6 in the south, depending on where you plan to have bees. West coast states in contrast are primarily zones 6 to 10. Beekeeping practices and studies done in warm, dry zones may not apply to our bees here in New Hampshire. Look for articles on .edu websites and videos uploaded by Universities that share our cold climate concerns and similar forage (natural food sources for bees) as they have the most up-to-date and relevant information for New Hampshire's long winters and continuous but brief nectar and pollen season. Examples are Guelph University in Ontario, Canada and Cornell's Dyce Bee Lab in Ithaca, New York.

New Hampshire Getting Started courses:

New Hampshire state clubs offer a standard 5 - 6 week course intended to give beginners the confidence to get bees and start learning on the job, sometimes providing mentors during the 1st season. The hope is that you will participate in supporting the club and eventually volunteer as mentors and educators. New Hampshire Beekeepers' Association has links to clubs-click here.

Adult Education & University Courses: These are semester courses that take a realistic period of time to help new or experienced beekeepers find out ways to start or continue with a better chance for success. They provide the "big picture" of beekeeping with an in-depth look at honey bee history, behaviors, biology, and an exploration of management practices. Carroll County Adult Ed offers such a course - click here (This is my fifth year teaching this class and includes mentoring). See below for University links to Cornell and the University of Montana online beginner courses.

Crash Courses: Some clubs and individuals hold weekend "crash" courses. These are most useful for reviewing what you have experienced in your first season of beekeeping. They are also helpful to a beginner who has a family member or friend acting as a mentor or if they have taken courses before or plan to attend a continued education course at adult ed or at the university level. If someone has never had bees it can feel overwhelming but is a good introduction to beekeeping culture. You will meet real beekeepers and find out if keeping bees is for you. CABA or Capital Area Beekeepers Association is holding such a course in person in 2023. Find out more here.

Master Beekeeping Programs
Just a few I am familiar with:

Cornell University now certifies directly as part of their two year well orchestrated educational program for beekeepers. This is a great course for someone with just a few years of beekeeping who wants to learn current science and improve their management skills. Certifying is not required to pass the course. A one time fee for the online program is required with possible travel expense to Cornell for Certification.

EAS - Eastern Apiculture Society certifies seasoned, experienced beekeepers who have a goal to serve in the beekeeping community as EAS Master Beekeepers. This is not an educational program. A university level advanced beekeeping course is required before application. It can get expensive with application fees, travel and accommodations to the conferences where certification is in person, but EAS is the oldest certification program in the USA.

The University of Montana with a long history of cold climate honey bee research, certifies at three levels, culminating in a Master Beekeeper Certification following a challenging two to three year program taught by experts in many fields. Seasoned beekeepers and educators do best in the final stage of this course. Certification is part of passing each program and is entirely online. Tuition is required for each level of study achieved.

I hope this has been helpful.