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, November 18, 2011

Beehive Porch

We finished building our hay bail walls so each hive has a horseshoe wall with the front facing the winter sun. I saw a pretty watercolor of a three hives with little porches and realized I never made a small landing board for the upper entrance as so often recommended to help them back in after winter cleansing flights. My husband got to work and this is what we came up with considering that if we did just nail a little board under the upper entrance the snow would build up. They are stapled by each corner of the top flashing to the shallow used to feed the bees and hold the insulation over winter. The flashing covers the hand-hold. Care needs to be taken that rain-water does not catch in the exposed handle and drip down behind the porch. He thought of everything but little rocking chairs....enjoy:

Monday, October 31, 2011

About Wrapping A Beehive

(Edit 2017: I do not wrap my hives all the way around any longer, just three sides so the bees can find their way home. I have not lost a hive to winter or spring thaw in many years.)

First snow yesterday. 20's today.

This little 8 frame hive of Canadian Buckfast Bees (mix) is not a good example of wrapping for one reason: Old time Canadian beekeeper told me to only wrap the sides and back as the sun warming up the hive on an odd sunny day in winter or early spring can fool the bees into thinking it is time to go forage or that the cold outside is doable. They leave the hive to void and freeze.

I did not wrap my hive last winter. It was a big colony with lots of stores and so I just chanced using hay bails on sides and back only with the front of the hive facing the sun. The bees withstood -20 F at was a very hard winter and long and these were Italians. I kept the moisture out with pine needles in a super and a homasote board cut to fit for an inner cover on top of that.

This little hive you see in the picture swarmed in July and had little or no stores and they are in a very wooded yard, so I'm erring on the side of caution. Another concern I have is that the first time I wrapped a hive the bees came back from voiding flights and got lost under the wrap. I had it too high up to the upper exit and too low close to the lower entrance.

This time, I strategically placed it to just simply cover a vulnerability in the space between the hive deep and super. I cut it narrower and so if the sun hits it and warms it will warm the place between the brood chamber and the honey stores. I hope that by the time a bee climbs up to the inner cover to go out or down to the lower entrance she'll figure out that it is too cold to go out. I also stapled it down all the way around to avoid bees getting lost underneath.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When Smoke Gets In My Eyes...

Temps Daytime: 50's F Nights: 40's F

There is much wistfulness, even romance, to the speech of a beekeeper about his bees...and that voice seems to come along with you to the bee yard in all the wonderfully worn out hand-me-down apiary equipment that encouraging mentors pass on that day they realize their new apprentice truly glimpses into a future of wildflowers, apple orchids, and furry little floating companions humming with them all through the growing season.

My neighbor had not built one frame when I met her though she was in her fourth season; another had never bought one super or bottom board. Their hive tools were worn, smokers black and bent, and bees happily thriving in fully drawn out dark comb.

So did a veteran beekeeper pass the torch, or should I say, the smoker, to me. It was with some hesitation that I finally bought a new smoker....and this new stainless steel model is a real revelation! SMOKE, SMOKE, SMOKE...!

I got a little lost along my way, forgetting his original instructions on using the smoke to "just let them know you are coming". All the reading and workshops, even the Natural Beekeeper, really smoke the heck out of their hives! I can see that in the south with the African bee influence; but my routine became scattered and I failed to see any good coming of smoking my bees.

Re-setting my thinking after reading the latest article on smoking in a fall issue of Bee Culture magazine - and also watching Ben and Chris with my bees - I found myself going back to the original advice of my first mentor. The screened bottom board is very helpful. A few puffs in the back of the hive; a few gentle puffs around the entrance; once or twice lightly under the hood; then set it in the bee yard...just to let them know you are coming...and wait a minute or two. COOL smoke...very important!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hive Inspection - State of New Hampshire

So they came, they took apart and they just left. Unseasonably the 70's for the weekend.

Two beehive inspectors came from the State of New Hampshire Department of Agriculture. Ben has been keeping hives since 1950 and Chris learned from Ben. Pretty cool opportunity. In preparation, I had taken apart the hives Saturday morning and did a powdered sugar treatment on all. I was encouraged in the powder sugar method of varroa mite control by the wonderfully photographed blog of Chris Beeson's "Show Me The Honey Blog" - wait, really? "BEEson"?

I made up fresh syrup and gave them each a quart size zip-lock bag full....but that wasn't enough.

It seems there is hope. Ben said all my bees look very healthy, not as fat as he'd like to see them. He said, and it was obvious that there are no brood in my previous season's over-wintered Italian hive. This means that these are the bees that will see the hive through the winter, the upside being there are no brood to feed on for the mites - and on a sad note, it is possible the pollen shortage resulted in them cannibalizing the brood for needed protein. Ben said the Queen stoped laying after the fall equinox, about September 21. Italian queen looked fat and good.

They did a soft sell on Formic acid treatment for mites (Really want to stay chem free) but after seeing the hives they were more concerned about the awful state of their pollen and honey feed feed feed, as Wendy had said. What honey they had was stored on the warmest, "lee side" of the hive. I can't believe I've been so tenacious, yet ineffective in monitoring their productivity and the impact the mites have had all season.

As Wendy also said, the drain on their ability to adequately gather and store by the mites has left them in sad shape going into winter. There are a lot of them, however, and I'll step up the powder sugar treatment to every few days and keep pollen on and the syrup flowing until they run out of warm days to store and or process it.

Eight frame hives: Not in the Northeast! Yikes! We'll see how they fair.

Canadian Buckfast 8 frame hive had many empty queen cups, but if this is a recent event with no drones around, she may not be fertile or laying in the spring either and with no brood, the hive will be queen-less come spring - if it makes it through the winter it is destined to die.

I'm prepared for the fact that I may lose all three hives, but this will be a lesson I won't forget. I'll get to a bee school course this winter and do better next year.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mite Counts - Hold On To Your Honey...

Dancing Bee Garden Bee Tea
See August 2010 Issue of Bee Culture Magazine & their September 2011 for some good advice.
Makes One Gallon - As of 2013 I stopped using this for a few reasons the main one being my honey tasted like lemongrass oil. Check out the Beesource forum, search for Honey B Healthy to get some insights about using anything in your hives with smells and textures foreign to the natural environment.
16 cups white pure cane sugar - insure no pesticides in growing process if possible
6 cups hot tap water - add to sugar - do not cook sugar
Brew 2 cups of Chamomile &/or Thyme tea - I used organic - 1 teaspoon of each seeped in boiled water for 15 minutes. When cool, add to the 2 to 1 sugar mixture above.
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt with minerals - I used Morton's Natural Sea Salt
Optional: Essential Oils - I added 4 teaspoons of Pro Health from Mann Lake.
Make sure this all dissolves well. I shook and poured mine back and forth between two gallon containers. Poured into quart freezer Ziploc bags with needle holes poked in to let air out and allow bees to drain without drowning.
I also laid some protein bee patties from Mann Lake. (I don't' really like doing business with them online as their shopping cart leaves something to be desired, but they do carry some good things and in the end give good service.) it is:

3 Day Averages:

Lavender Backyard 8 Frame Hive (Nuc that swarmed) = 47

Gold 10 Frame Over-wintered Hive on hayfield = 197!!!

Fuchsia 8 Frame Hive on hayfield = 136!!!

Spent the weekend reading up on Varroa mites and all the possible treatments. Will try the powdered sugar method this week. Meanwhile, I made up some of Ross Conrad's Bee Tea.

Rain, Rain, Rain...and more rain!

Well at least my bees are all cozy inside, sipping their herbal bee tea and snacking on protein patties.

Hive inspection is scheduled for this Thursday, but the temps are going to be the lowest yet for the the 40's. We've been lucky so far that the temps for our fall weather here in Carroll County have had lows of 50 degrees F only thus far. I guess it is time to get the mouse guards on.


TEMPS CLIMBED TO THE 80'S !!!! What's that about? OK, I'll go with it. Hive inspection changed to Tuesday. Indian summer...whoo hoo!!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Spinning Honey In An Old Barn

Our neighbor, a dairy farmer & beekeeper, offered to let me use his hand-crank honey extractor for my beehive's six frames of beautifully capped comb. My first true harvest. I pulled up to this amazing old barn and climbed the narrow stairs to the loft where the machine was attached to the floor.

There is nothing like the feel of an old barn at harvest time...full of the smell of fresh hay and drying root vegetables from a farmer's hard earned gardening efforts.

It brought back memories of my Papou Gus and his little farm with my grandma Sophia outside of Frederick, Colorado. Vivid images of my brother Jimmy and I running through the fields and wildflowers after dragonfly and grasshopper; pulling eggs out from under Papou's chickens and hiding them in hopes of another "weasel in my coop" story round the dinner table.

Now that I have ducks I realize those stories were very real concerns....but Gus would smile at us this gentle way and put up with our antics on those rare summer visits.

This sunny day in our New Hampshire farm and forest community, so many years later, I yielded about ten pounds of honey. All the frames were capped full. A handful of bees from the farmer's hive found us up there in the loft and buzzed in excitement. They clamored then to get out of the barn windows to let their find be known to their sisters.

I put the extracted frames back on my Italian hive first thing the next morning and placed the nuc box I used to transport them in to the backyard for the bees to clean up.


I've been saving my old comb filled with honey from my very first hive, not sure how to get it out. Finally, I found the space and got the equipment for crush & strain extraction, thanks to Linda's Bees advice here at blogspot. She put up some great photos and explanation on how to get honey out of the comb without an extractor. So nice to find another beekeeper on the web. Two pounds honey total from those old frames.

As far as this recent barn-harvest goes, I pulled six frames from my 2010 over-wintered hive. I made a decision to take honey even though the supers were light as I needed the experience. They yielded about 12 pounds. I can feed it back to them if needed, but it was great to go through the whole process finally after three seasons. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Going Back In - September Inspection con't.

Yesterday I went in to get the old funky frame out and to replace the inner cover with a clean one as the one that has been on all season was just sick with moisture and other unidentifiable icky stuff. Well, here's another reason for re-thinking using a queen excluder that I took off four days ago. The bees immediately moved into the upstairs and that old funky frame was as clean as a whistle! Also, the inner cover! I switched them out anyway. I had in some notes that the queen had laid in the bottom of the frames in the hive deep before I placed the queen excluder under it during my spring hive reversal. I think it just got all funky with the uncapped brood being left unattended.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hive Beetles? No, no...Varroa Mite? Braula Coeca?

I've never seen one before. Thank goodness for a macro lens. Here is a normal looking healthy group on a honey frame but close up you can see at least this one has a beetle on it! This was taken when I took the frames back to the house and suddenly there were dozens of bees around me...this one is possibly from the back yard hive as I do not see any on the close up photos of the Italian hive. Comments from when I first posted this...thank you...are helpful, Also, my favorite old beekeeper, John Vivian and his book "Keeping Bees" commented that the female Varroa is red, the male pale...but that a harmless fly called a Braula Coeca can be mistaken for Varroa. Yes, I read over the weekend about essential oils and I've ordered some. Will post about it when I mix the feed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September Inspection

We were distracted by Hurricane Irene in the form of a tropical storm that flooded our yard and basement. It came within a foot of my backyard lavender hive. Is that a good enough excuse for not checking my hive's honey stores and storage patterns going into Fall? Cold...cold...not ready! We have had 30's at night! 50's and 60's already during the day. Right is one of my girls on our sedum plant. Not much else in bloom.

THIS MORNING IN THE YARD CAPTURED THIS MOMENT - HUMMING BIRD AND HONEY BEES TAKING TURNS Our humminbird feeder has these delightful rubber flowers that are like nipples on the end so that they keep the insects out and let the bird's beak in.

When the forecast said 70's on Wednesday I took the day to get that queen excluder off the Ferncroft Italians. Never again will I use such a device. It did not help the bees or me.

I only got to the tall Italian hive that had over-wintered. The top shallow was completely drawn comb. The next medium deep was put on in the spring with some honey...but I was able to harvest both some spring and fall honey from it. We get goldenrod and aster here in the dark and very tasty honey.

There was one frame on the end in the hive deep on top of the excluder that looks diseased in someway. I'll have someone look at it. This frame I had moved to the end last year to migrate it out of the hive. Apparently not soon enough. Not sure what this indicates:


SIDE TWO OF SICK FRAME: You can see the foundation was ignored.

INNER COVER WITH MOISTURE, MOLD, AND INSECT OF SOME SORT I suspect that leaving a gap of air between the homasote board and the innercover created moisture from our humid season to form on the hive-side of the inner cover.

I did not check on the two medium deeps on the bottom where the queen has spent the season. I do not know if they have pollen but there was no pollen that I could see in anything above the queen excluder. In looking at the macro photos I took of the excluder it seems full of dead drones. All these bees are dead.

I have video of the event and I had a blissful moment when the bees were all swirling around was a moment that let's you know you are a beekeeper. Of course, I should have done many things differently like let them settle down back into the hive before putting the cover back on. I still want to go back out and replace that frame and the inner cover. I did swap out the hive deep for a new one in order to lift it off the excluder. These Italians are not big on propolis build up so removing the boxes, frames and excluder was easy. The tragic thing is that I forget that most of these bees have not been out and gotten oriented to the hive. Many were trying to squeeze into the back of the Canadian Fuchsia hive as well as squeeze in to the joining lines on their own hive. There were acts of kindness that some beekeepers may have thought was fighting; but when you watch for awhile as I had the privilege of doing - after a break on the neighbor's porch with gentle breezes and sweet company - I realized they were just helping each other clean off the sticky left-overs from the upset of their world this sunny September day.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bees and Salt

We set our kayak boots on the porch, full of ocean water, and the bees were all over them. I've read all I can find and there is no real definitive answer as to whether they are supposed to have salt in their diet or no.

During this event, we removed the shoes to the back deck to let them do their thing and the puddles left behind lent us some entertainment. Just when you think you can't be surprised again... Several bees fell on their backs in the water and my husband helped them up with a finger. Then, later, I watched as two bees lined up side by side next to a "drowning" bee in a rescue assist action, waiting for their sister to climb up over them and on to the side of the post. Amazing!

Here's a couple of nice Jewell Weed pictures I took this morning. The bumble bees are more active in our yard than the honey bees. Not sure why, but they were sure outnumbered when those shoes were full of salt water. My husband had an idea that perhaps the salt having absorbed moisture makes it convenient for them to get moisture or carry moisture back to the hive.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What's in bloom...

Jewel Weed - August 7th "In Bloom"

Goldenrod - August 7th - Soon to bloom

Evening Primrose continues to bloom in the hayfield.

Lots of Black-eyed Susans

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Inspection August 2 - 2011

The fields were hayed by a farmer-beekeeper after the blooms.

Meadowrue is done blooming - Goldenrod is coming in but not quite ready to bloom.
Bumble Bees are prolific this year! Evening Primrose.

This field was full of Milkweed but it was all plowed under and in its place came prolific blooms of Evening Primrose!
Backyard Lavender hive:

(8 frame Canadians that swarmed)

They did not need anything...this is the hive that swarmed and they have a nice empty box on top, little or no drawn comb in it. One small and one medium super on top. There was a spider with web between the lid and the homasote board with one unfortunate victim. I killed the spider and cleared out the web. I normally just chase these guys off, but I learned in Hawaii that those big cane spiders would be so determined to return to the scene of the crime that I could not risk having it come back. The ants that invaded this hive's undercover I just let disperse and they did not return; but I believe it gave birth to the swarming instinct that caused this bee colony to do so.

Much of my equipment, since we do not have adequate shelter for storage, had webs that needed to be brushed out.

Ferncroft Gold Hive:

(10 frame overwintered)

My Italians....the over wintered hive in their second season....doing great, but it seems we are in a nectar dearth. The girls seem to have taken care of the drones trapped above the queen excluder. They took advantage when I had the super exposed to start dumping dead drones over the side. Must have been twice their weight but they were opportunistic and determined.

I want to get that excluder off, but hoped to do it when I harvested Spring honey....but can't do that now. The goldenrod will be in soon...then I'll do it...I've just had lots of distractions from my beekeeping duties so missed an opportunity there, I fear. The top super had hardly any drawn comb.

Ferncroft fuchsia hive:

(8 frame Canadians)

Full to the brim so added a medium super. A few earwigs to chase off.

I lit the smoker but again did not see any real reason for having it during any of the inspections. I practiced using the brush on the bees to move them off the edges when I put the hive back together.

Haying Fields: Farmers are busy making hay while the sun shines. The back fields have also been mowed so the only large areas of flowers are the amazing Evening Primrose that have come in to take over what used to be milkweed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Crossing Little Bridges...

You know how you've read all the books and seen way too many videos of every possible combination of beekeeping technique? Then you find yourself hesitating to go out to the hive for fear you will not get it right?

So I revisit these issues and my husband said it is the same for him in his business. Some little thing nagging away...some little piece of the puzzle missing before you can feel confident to move on.

He spoke with an adviser just a rehash of things he already knew and he worried he'd wasted the guy's time; but mentioned that while they were talking he was crossing little bridges in his mind about these issues and now he could move on with some of them.

I realized in my beekeeping...the idea of a queen excluder and smaller supers. The smaller supers can actually act as a queen excluder. She won't lay in a small space and that is why they built comb up through the in the long comb through the center. I think scraping the comb off the top of the frames is a good maintenance technique for this reason. Hopefully it will train the queen to keep laying into the fullness of the Hive Deep.

My queen is now in two Medium Supers with a Hive Deep on top. I hope she will move up once I get the excluder off. I'll try and harvest a few frames to put back in later next Spring 2012... and then just set a small super on top of the hive deep once she moves in.

WOW...Look at this!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Wednesday June 22nd

I went to the Ferncroft ten frame Italians to see if the queen was where she was supposed to be. Success...she is! However, she may need more room. I smoked up and opened the hive down to the Hive deep and the drones were all over me. It was very intimidating even though they can not sting. They were quite anxious about being shut out of the honey supers. Maybe they had been blissfully trapped. I see why a queen excluder should be put on early, before drones hatch. Seems they would just eat all the honey, which I fear they were doing. Other than that, the bees were as gentle as usual. I took a few pictures of them on the wildflowers.

Lavender Hive: It seems pollen is coming in. This may mean I have a queen, but since Wednesday it has been raining so much. Many of these bees are drowning. They come and go when the Italians stay in with their feet up.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Swarming on a Sunny Afternoon

Very eventful weekend....the wildflowers are in bloom...beautiful! And...the Lavender hive swarmed!

Saturday they began acting agitated at 1 p.m.
I replaced the bag o' syrup with a full one.

Sunday they swarmed at 11 a.m. up into the trees momentarily, then off about 1800 feet as the bee flies, over our woods to the neighbors chimney.

It's ok...a little strange that they would swarm only six weeks after installation...but there are plenty of bees left behind to raise honey stores for the winter. It was not the beautiful experience of my first swarm. These bees seemed agitated all weekend long. Nice of them to swarm while I was home! If I had not seen it I would not have known. I believe they are presently queen-less and the new queen has not yet hatched. So I wait and see. I went into the hive to observe if there was a problem and perhaps robbing going on.

Fellow beekeeper advised to see if the weight of the supers was normal honey-weight or oddly light...means robbing. If queen cells are present, they swarmed. What I did notice was that the queen had not been laying....normal for swarming preparation. I hope I did not damage any unhatched queen cells..but I only thought I saw one.

I walked around enjoying the beautiful day with binoculars and my camera hoping to find where they had gone to. All along they were in our neighbors fireplace! They had called to tell me ..not the bees, the neighbors...while I was snapping pictures all around their yard. Two hours later, I got the message and we rallied the troops...local beekeepers figure out what to do. The thought was they would not choose to stay and sure enough, even while we spoke, they left! I missed it though. I don't know where they went!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 14 - Water, Water Everywhere But None To Drink

We found four dead bees from the backyard Lavender hive drowned in the Duck's food bowl. I've been closing up the floor board in our deck to hide the faucet from them as they like to find a water source and then stand guard all day at it.

It is in the low 50's - cold and wet. Several drowned bees on the landing board to the hive.

No activity this morning so I peaked in and found that the pollen patty had turned to mold and all the syrup was gone. No bees on top, but the hive was humming with activity. Maybe just too cold to go out and no nectar flow as the dandelions and lilacs are done. I put in a fresh bag of 1/2 water 1/2 sugar syrup and a small sliver of pollen patty on a fresh inner cover. The hive was dripping wet with moisture so I made sure to put back the homasote board that I took off when the ants invaded.

Tomorrow promises to be 70's state wide and sunny. I'll take a look at all the hives.
Had to wait until this morning, June 16th, to take a look on Ferncroft at the "sister" 8 frame hive. They also went through all their syrup and the patty was beginning to mold. They had no interest in it. I scraped it off the inner cover and put in a fresh bag o' syrup.