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, May 30, 2014

What's In Bloom

We worked several days getting the garden in,  carefully watching the weather for any frost possibility.

Dandilions are in full bloom and some other wonderful things like violets, wild strawberry, cherry trees are glorious this year, and some rather dreary apple blossoming. May not be a good apple year.

The bees seem happy in their new abode. It is still cold. 50 degrees at 9 am when I took these pictures this morning.

We moved my friends hive to her house and it was easier than using those frick'n ratchet straps I bought, but made it so all we had to do was lift the hive into her car. A few stragglers wanted in and patiently waited while we undid the entrance block for them. I think we got them all and no one came home to an empty hive spot. Just in case I put an empty hive there. This hive all the colonies seem interested in for some reason so I can't tell if this morning what I was seeing were stray bees.

Beautiful morning.

Apple trees ending their bloom. The bees found it just fine.

I also played with my solar melter for the first time and worked famously. Like an oven. Cleaned the wax right off my old frames.

The Garden last day of May 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nucleus Colony Workshop

Phil Gaven, Master Beekeeper, gave a class on making up nucleus colonies on Saturday at The Honey Exchange in Portland, Maine.

I love Maine. Everything was in bloom, it seemed. It was sunny and warm and we felt over dressed coming from up north, 2 hours drive. We walked around the quaint old neighborhood looking at the houses and stopped for coffee, but as soon as the class turned to go outside it was too chilly for the bees to fly.

Phil took us out to the apiary yard and we split a hive anyway, leaving the main colony to raise another queen. Little tidbits of info from other beekeepers make going to every possible meeting so valuable. I've had so many workshops and classes over the years, and maybe I just forgot this, but he mentioned bees won't draw comb when the queen is not present.

So instead of going home to split my hives I thought in these cold rainy days coming up this week I'd just let my bees while away the hours indoors drawing comb. I made all new deep frames for the new splits and painted the foundation with watered-down last season's honey to peak their curiosity. They should have a pretty good time. Hope it beats honey-bee ghost stories as told around the brood area during a New Hampshire spring thunder storm. It will be nice to have some new drawn comb to give the splits I'll make soon.

All nucleus colonies from Palmer seem so busy and happy in their new surroundings. Dandelions are now in full bloom, apple trees may be on the way out, but they hardly came into bloom while the cherry trees are bursting. The three farmers on Ferncroft road are busy in the fields, planting and prepping, as have we been out on Red Path. Memorial Day seems a good sign that frosty nights are past so we'll finish up our planting this week.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Puttin' On The Nucs - May 14, 2014

The first dandelions... just a few... were finally coming into bloom the day of installation.

Those long round-trip drives to pick up nucleus colonies are especially worth it when the bees are from several generations of Northern raised, disease resistant bees. 

The hope is that we will all raise our own bees as responsible beekeepers, so after years of learning how to get the real deal and failures with packages, I think I finally got it right this season.

Nucs should be introduced to their new home by removing the hive and placing the nuc box right on the stand. They imprint so well that they will orient right to that spot that very new day. We left for Vermont at 4 pm, arriving at Mike Palmer's bee yard around 8:30 and the bees were still flying. He tucked them in by darkness around 9pm while we had a nice visit with this veteran beekeeper of 40+ years, then we drove them back to New Hampshire, arriving around 1:30 am. You think NH and VT are close? Well... ya just can't get there from here... not without a lot of twists and turns. 8 hours round trip!

When I found myself waking up before the alarm at 4:55 to get them out to the bee yards, I knew after six years, I was finally on my way to being a real beekeeper.

5:30 all three nucs were sitting on the base of their newly prepared homes. The beautiful melodic song of a wood thrush heralded their arrival. Wait... aren't they flying insect eaters? Hmmm... 

Stand by me...

The bees were really ready to burst from that box! When I went back that afternoon to transfer them into the hives they immediately spread out over the 8 frame hive deep and medium super filled with drawn comb frames.

Pollen foragers were coming in loaded already!

She's thinking: "I go out shopping, come back, and the contractor has already been and gone; but where's the door?"

I had a few confused young bees not used to the light.

STAND BY ME... Nurse bees and young bees are "photosensitive" This forager made haste to stick with this young bee who was disoriented in the move.

Da Bus

I never had to deal with a cardboard nuc box before so my first attempt threatened to roll a lot of bees while taking the frames out. I lost some on the ground, although I had a white sheet with me in case that should happen. Some pieces of beeswax comb came in handy. The photosensitive bees clung on to a piece as I "drove" it by them on the ground. "Here comes the bus! Hop on!" 

"Here comes the bus! Hop on!"
and they did. I had few if any casualties during the three transfers.

Leveling it all out...

There is a better way! Must come back and fix the stones!
Hives MUST BE LEVEL. If they are not, the bees will build comb that is despite the beautiful frames you supplied them with. They just build one next to it that is STRAIGHT. Picky devils. For some reason most leveling went smoothly but on one hive I had such a hard time. Even after the install I had to put wedges in to make it straight. i will go back and find a way to get it right once the shock of their big move is over.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bees And Decision Making

The super-organism of the honey bee colony has the single purpose of survival, however success relies on individual bees making their own daily decisions about the many tasks at hand. They decide whether or not to linger in the hive to observe a new bee dance, how much attention to pay to it, whether or not to abandon a good source of food for a great one told about by their sister. If the dance indicates it is three times as good, she may continue on her own path, but five times as good is a deal maker. They decide whether to change jobs from water bearer to pollen collector. I watched two bees inch their way side by side to rescue a sister flipped over in a pool of salt water from our kayak boots. Later, a bee flipped over in the hive and immediately another bee picked her up and flung her unceremoniously outside! Decisions, decisions!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Painting A Beehive

What not to paint / What paint works best.
All photos by Athena's Bees - feel free to share

Some years ago I came across a wonderful article I can no longer find about how to paint a hive. The paint recommended there was a winner. My hives from six years ago still look freshly painted to me. Dries fast, and can use at low temps. I've been very pleased. Since then I've found out a few things helpful to beekeepers about painting their hives. I'll try and be thorough here with examples and links.

How To Paint:
That's basically it.
The hive parts that touch each other must be paint-free. Paint only the outside surfaces for weather protecting the wood. 

The bees will propolis the insides. 

The landing board may be completely painted as it does not touch the bees nor need to be removed during an inspection.

What to use:  Exterior Paint, Latex. The photos above are with a weatherproofing stain, VOC less than 100. Drying time ideally well over a few weeks before installing bees but just be reasonable if in a rush.
In our northern climate I make sure I can use it in cold weather. VOC less than 50 - (Fumes & Smells) links go to Wikipedia & Minnesota Dept of Health sites, respectively. Another article is at the Natural Resource Defense Council website.
~ This VOC is right on the can of paint ~ and stands for Volatile organic compounds that result in chemical molecules released into the air that may be harmful to humans and animals. Most articles you find are about indoor paints and less than 50 is considered acceptable by our local paint dealer. VOC of ZERO does exist. I recommend checking out Sherwin-Williams. At any rate, my Sherwin-Williams Super Paint does not smell to me and I SMELL EVERYTHING! (Much to my husband's dismay.) 
~ UV - Check the color numbers! LRV ~  means Light Reflective Value and is right on the color sample card, or should be.
Why do you need to care? Over-heating, cooling, and what bees can see:
Bees see only ultra-violet colors. Colors look different and bees are attracted to our Purple, Violet, then Blue in that order. Red doesn't work for them. White looks bluish-green to them.  
A row of look alike hives can result in drifting of bees from their hive to another. Painting them different colors can help. Heat and Cold: Painting hives black with an LRV of Zero, can cause an over-heated hive. The LRV for dark green, for instance, is 9 so I chose it for my winter wind block along the sides and back of the hive. (See this at AthenasBees). The lower the number the hotter the color. Pastels may be more like LRV 74.    
we see 
bees see
add in UV
uv purple

uv purple

uv violet
uv blue

blue green


What does this mean? Colors look different and they are attracted to our Purple, Violet, then Blue in that order. Red doesn't work for them. White looks bluish-green to them.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I just finished studying Dewey M. Caron's "Honey Bee Biology" chapter 7 about honey bee communication. This YouTube video covers almost everything discussed and is done well. The amazing thing, not mentioned, is that different races of bees convey distance differently. My Carniolan bees do not use the sickle dance at all. Other races use the round dance to indicate close by sources, within about 40 meters but all the info I can find on this varies dramatically. The sickle dance is one used for intermediate distances but sort of morphs from round into waggle dance as the distance gets farther away. Here is the video:

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Beekeeper's Lament

Important Links:
Video: Ted Talks: Marla Spivak: Why bees are disappearing
Center for Food Safety: Pesticides to Avoid by Brand Name 

Free Brochures by The Xerces Society: 
Bumble Bee Conservation. Download PDF
Farming for Pollinators. Download PDF
Farming for Pest Management. Download PDF 

Neonicotinoids in Your Garden.Download PDF
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I am attending a class at the University of Southern Maine for beekeepers this winter 2014 as I hope to qualify as a Master Beekeeper in July at the Eastern Apicultural Society's annual meeting in Kentucky.

This is a certification with no national standards but secured by both a verbal and written test that I think should only be given to beekeepers who have done it all; however, not all of us, even after six years, have had the opportunity to do it all, despite our knowledge and love of beekeeping.

It does help to have some credentials that reflect a worthy effort in order to act as an advocate for the bees in our own communities with the environmental dilemma currently facing our furry little miracle insect friends.

Tipped over by a small bear, the bees continued
coming and going for two days
as if nothing had happened.
I've been quite depressed over the contamination issues honeybees are suffering from. I've lost hives. I wonder who in my own farming community might be using coated seeds, chemical fertilizers and the like. Information like this seems to be held close to the vest and what conversations I've tried to start seem to provoke a defensiveness in the farmer or gardener. This so surprised me.

I got into beekeeping for the honey and the joy, escaping the working day stresses of life, in 2008, just when things began to fall apart in apiaries across the U.S. Poor timing.

I've never seen a robust honey harvest. I've never had a colony large and strong enough to think I could successfully split it. I have not heard of anyone around me splitting colonies in the spring 'like they used to' said one veteran beekeeping friend.

So my instructor at USM is determined to teach the beekeepers of Maine how to get the most out of their hives and how to raise them local and healthy. I am so energized when I leave this class to drive the two hours back home I can't sleep for excitement once I get there, and I can't wait until spring.

If we can keep honeybees alive for even another decade, I will be truly amazed at humankind's ability to fix such things. It seems too late. Our growing-soil quality around the world is so contaminated by the things that kill bees. Agricultural chemicals are so widespread and protected in their use. We are now being told these neonicotinoid chemicals do not deteriorate with time, so far as we know, now 15 years into their use. Too late.

One of my girls on our sedum.
We humans are odd creatures - fully astounded by our planet, yet intent on trying to out do it's natural offerings toward our health and happiness on every single level. However, we care enough to question the results. It is in the news in print, on the air, and all over YouTube. I over-hear a conversation about bees almost everywhere I go while out running errands. Can we fix this? I don't know.

I take comfort in being a beekeeper. I am a witness to these amazing, self-sustaining creatures. They have been going about their existence since before recorded history, and will continue as long as there is the slightest chance of survival, despite us and all we do to wreck havoc on their world.

Wikipedia has an excellent, detailed explaination and report of all things related to:

Favorite Quote by Cat, ( a Colorado beekeeper gone native in my grandmother's home country of Turkey:

“The thing I love most about bees is that, above all else, they are a creature of stories; small stories, about food, pollen and nectar, big stories, about threats to the hive, mating, and moving. They communicate in all sorts of ways, with dancing, pheromones, antenna touches, and smells. Likewise, sharing our own stories builds our communities and gives our lives purpose. They help us forge connections with the ones we love, build us into who we are, and direct us towards what we know we can become.”