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 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!!