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.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

To Hay & Farm & Fight Nature

We had a neighborhood meeting last night with the folks farming or owning the open places in Wonalancet. I live in what is designated as "Ferncroft" which is a mile or so long road that reaches into this beautiful mountain Inter-vale. It was a wonderful thing to hear farmers talking among each other and to us about the small farm movement that has taken hold so well here. We buy most all our grocery from our neighbors, including the finest grass fed beef, pork, chicken and lamb. We get farm fresh cream and milk from one that uses the hay along Ferncroft to get his cows through the winter, grass fed.. no grain feeding for those cows.
One of my girls after milkweed nectar.

When I look at this photo I see a miracle of nature. Milkweed came up where nothing else would grow after these fields were treated with strong herbicides back in the 60s or 70s, then the Monarchs came and a wide variety of wild herbs and flowers. The now endangered rusty patch bumble bee is a common sight. Bobolinks nest in the tall grasses. What a response from nature! 

But, alas, all the farmers see are weeds and they want them OUT! Milkweed can kill grazing stock and farmer Helen has lost sheep to it. The owner of these fields has long rang plans to turn it into grass and to mow even more often. One farmer said that, yes, there is carnage during the haying season. Nesting birds don't get out of the way... but, he commented, a lot more carnage occurs bringing groceries into the supermarkets than will ever happen out there. 

One said anything man does will be a fight against nature. One said none of these birds or butterflies are native here. To say such things, I've pondered, is to say man is not a part of nature. Like the beaver who floods and clears the woods makes way for other species to thrive, so do we when we seek to change the landscape. Nature moves in wherever it can.

Decades from now someone else will work this land or leave it to resilient Nature. I took a long walk out there this morning to shake some of this off and try and savor this beautiful field I live on while I can.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Hive Reversal Considerations

Apple tree in the apiary
should blossom in a day or two
It was great to hear Wendy Booth again after several years and her cool, funny, common sense lecture on beekeeping at the May Winnepasaki Beekeepers meeting in Tuftonboro last week.

There are always these little tidbits of wisdom that remind me of things I thought I had already got down along the way in my own beekeeping adventures. 
Apple blossom time is on the horizon and then the dandelion flow. Days are climbing, finally, into the 70s with evening in the 40s - 50s but no "peepers" yet so I've been hesitant to go out and do anything too compromising to my hives. Peepers, our little local frogs, overwinter in a sort of stasis and come to life when the evening temps are dependable but the snow thaw this year has been so gradual that I believe the water is still too cold for them.

Several hive were stacked so tall I had to do something. Several were only using the upper entrances so I had to see what was going on and my plan was to go out and do hive reversals, assuming all the clusters were in the upper boxes.

Wendy emphasized to the many beginners there not to go out to perform any task on their hives unless they knew why there were doing it and could ascertain whether the hive they meant to perform it on met all the criteria for the operation. I found myself relieved! Didn't I already know that? I pictured myself out in the apiary doing a marathon of hive reversals on all the hives, but they didn't all need it, of course.

My big concern was the well drawn out honey supers from the old plywood hives I moved last fall. In my exhaustion I felt I must have crammed in 8 long-drawn comb frames into a box that only seven should have filled. I was concerned about having clogged up the flow of the hive, and indeed, I did. Many of the honey frames in the hive supers were clumped together only now being accessed by the bees. To the bee's credit they managed through the winter in spite of this error. Note to self and another reminder from Wendy: If the hive deep has eight frames and the super above seven, is the cluster able to easily navigate up through the hive to access their stores for winter?

Two hives in particular concerned me so I concentrated on those. They still had, on May 10, at least 30 lbs of honey BELOW the cluster! So that being the case, I pulled out the two bottom deeps and the frames with honey, consolidated them into one deep, then placed that deep on top of the cluster. Ta da! hive reversal! One with a good reason for doing so.

Inspecting my Palmer hive now seeing it's second spring after a second long winter, this hive is still a tower but the colony was fully utilizing the entire hive. I did not see one frame bottom with any queen cells, checking the tipped box bottom only. Pollen coming in below, cluster between two supers up top. I decided they'd be fine until a good nectar flow is on, then I'll split them. Palmer 2 the same situation. The other hives are happily using the bottom entrances and bringing pollen in. I decided since they are all in just three boxes each, and I was gaining on three hours in the apiary I'd wait on those hives as well til the nectar flow is on.

A note about smoking bees & cleaning your tools 

I replaced the original
net with no-see-um
& black fly proof net.
I'm never sorry about being over prepared going out to the apiary. I pondered whether or not to use smoke anymore. I was deciding to have a season without smoke. I hate it, the bees hate it, and it never seems to be much of a help, but I brought it out to the yard anyway and for one very valuable bee saving moment it was well worth it. I'd broken apart some drone comb strategically placed by the bees between supers. When i went to put back the super a small mountain of bees were covering the broken open larvae and would have been crushed, of course. I just let a little smoke blow over the top and like magic they went down so i could scrape off the comb quite easily and put things back together. I have read that too much scraping like that can upset a colony into absconding so I've refrained unless truly necessary as in this case.
Tool cleaning can go a long way in keeping your bees from needing to be smoked. Smoke's most valuable trick is to mask the smell of alarm pheromones. If you think about it scents or pheromones from the previous hive are all over your tools, and your bee suite, inspection after inspection. I rub my tools down with Winter Green rubbing alcohol. The bees seem to like the smell. Phil Gavin of the Honey Exchange in Portland says he rubs his hands in it when he goes in bare-handed to his hives. Cleaning your tools is especially important if you clean out a dead hive least you take into another hive any virus or bacteria that may played a role in their demise. Nice to be a beekeeper again. Six months of winter is almost as hard on maintaining my skill as it is on the bees... well, ok, not quite that hard...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bringing Pollen In!

We took a drive to the NH Coast Sunday and realized how very far behind the season we are. Perhaps two weeks behind everyone else. Our mountain intervale is as much as a zone behind farms a mile away, so imagine my surprise to see the bees bringing pollen in last Saturday.

All nine hives seem to have good queens. I did see one drone, as shown in this video, coming out of my little blue Palmer hive. The biggest hive will need some attention. I'll strive to get them reversed before dandelions come into bloom.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nice To Be Back Beekeeping

From November 29 to March 29 - 4 months of a still very cold and long winter. Went out to the hives this morning. I've seen them flying and hoped at least half would be there to greet me... but ALL NINE ARE ALIVE!

These are two Palmer hives and seven of the ones I bought from a retiring beekeeper on Canada's border with New York.

I had placed some sugar candy in the top, but it was barely touched if touched at all.

As an offering I placed a small tray of their honey today under the hardware cloth basket I made for the pine needle insulation. all the homasote boards were dry except for the big Palmer hive on the end.. soaked! This hive to the left is out on the hay fields that were mowed to the quick last spring at the start of the nectar flow. They may not have made it but no bees on the floor and they are another Palmer hive. He's said his bees don't budge in winter mode so my fingers are crossed.

I'll upload some video later on. Great day at the hives!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What Is A Beekeeper?

True confessions: I was so nervous and intimated by all the talent at EAS in Kentucky, all my studying flew right out of my head. I practically memorized Dewy Carron's Honey Bee Biology and he was the test administrator! I squeaked by on the written exam, so passed but despite the fact I'd taught adult ed classes for years, I completely froze on the oral presentation.

Enter Toastmasters! Here is my second talk. I'll give it tonight. I can recite it in my sleep... but we'll see.

What is a Beekeeper?
The romance and mystique surrounding the role of a beekeeper are very similar to that of a lion tamer. Unlike domesticated beasts, honey bees are wild animals that have worked side by side with man at their own pace and pleasure for centuries on every continent. 

Before realizing their value as pollinators, men robbed honey bee bounty by carving their comb out of the hollows of trees. Fortunately, humans swiftly discovered innovative ways to build maneuverable houses for honey bees called “hives” allowing men to take instead only a surplus of honey and wax. These were the first beekeepers. 

Beekeepers have existed since the earliest recorded history of the human race. Today, they are individuals who have learned to manage the natural life cycle of honey bee colonies in order to promote pollination of crops, harvesting of honey, procurement of wax and propolis, as well as breed more bees from any surplus of the honey bee super-organism or colony.

While mankind swarmed over the earth with nature intrusive technologies Honey bee colonies swiftly discovered beekeepers to be a great boon to their survival as a species. The study of the self-sustaining honey bee continues to provide many lessons for man and success for the bee.

There are three types of beekeepers: A hobbyist - managing a couple of hives for personal enjoyment; A Side-liner – selling products from several hives while maintaining a second income; and Commercial Beekeepers - who manage thousands of hives full time for profit.

All three are Farmers in the sense that bees are often classified as livestock – A beekeeper’s bee farm or bee yard is called an Apiary. If hive registration is required by law they fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, but the farming of bees is called “Apiculture” and a beekeeper an “Apiculturist” or “Apiarist”.

Whether they want to keep hives for fun, sell a little honey at the farmer’s market, or work full time commercially, every beekeeper soon learns there are a variety of skills required in order to become successful. A beekeeper strives to be an expert carpenter, an astute environmentalist, a skilled educator and communicator, and most importantly, a focused biologist.

As carpenters beekeepers build and repair the hives they hope a honey bee colony chooses to embrace as home. They know what wood to use and the woods to steer clear of, what colors and patterns to paint on the hive and which to avoid. As carpenters beekeepers must gain the skill to build the right size and kind of space for the climate in which they house their bees. This requires a keen sensitivity to the surrounding environment.

As Environmentalists beekeepers must be familiar with factors that will impact their bees within a three mile foraging radius.  Beekeepers act on these challenges with foreknowledge, not react in surprise. They seek to prepare for problems such as rain during apple blossom season, plan hive locations to maximize the sunshine or avoid excessive moisture. They anticipate the mowing of fields their bees depend on during the peak nectar flows. Having to put counter measures in place means most beekeepers become skilled educators. 

As educators Beekeepers share their knowledge with the community. This helps to promote good gardening and farming practices building an awareness of those that may be harmful not just to honey bees but other essential pollinators. Beekeepers are often approached by members of their community with questions and concerns. Reading the latest Apiary Journals and books as well as attending local beekeeping club meetings and classes keeps them fit for the task. This knowledge contributes to the beekeeper developing the most important skill of all for success.

As biologists beekeepers know how well the honey bee colony is responding to its man-made hive environment. They must know how to tell if a queen bee has stopped laying because she is infertile or smartly conserving energy. They need to appreciate when bees that fall from the hive during inspection are crawling in the grass because they are sick or just young and blinded by the sun. As biologist beekeepers can discern if a bee moving erratically on the front of the hive is suffering pesticide poisoning or just performing a dance directing other bees to where the good nectar is.

The Beekeepers of our world and our community, hobbyist, side-liner and commercial apiarist alike, fast acquire many varied skills to be successful. In the quest to perpetuate the survival of our own species, Beekeepers are valuable players in implementing lessons learned from the adaptive, self-sustaining honey bee. We find beekeepers a fascinating occupation with good reason. As man has spread throughout the globe thanks goes to the Beekeepers who have learned to harness a super-organism of beneficial wild insects that have adapted to these practices in service as pollinators with an excess of hive products to share.