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ho·lis·tic
/hōˈlistik/
adjective
  1. Philosophy
    characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
    • Medicine
      characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.
In the Beginning
   Every successful beekeeper eventually decides what management protocol is right for their apiary. It is never ending. What we first believe as newbies naturally evolves over years as we gain experience. When I started this blog as a 1st year beekeeper in 2008, I added the byline, “Raising bees holistically in New Hampshire”. At the time, I believed “holistically” meant “treatment-free”. My goal was to develop better honey bee genetics by developing queens raised without the intervention of harsh chemicals – or for that matter, ANY chemicals.
   As an organic gardener for 20+ years, this was a philosophical choice,  tho’ also a response to the beginning beekeeper class I was taking that followed a popular book that basically was all about prophylactic use of hard chemical treatments regardless if the bees showed any symptoms of disease. Back then, it was what was taught as the standard.  To me tho’, it seemed  I was being taught the equivalent of using chemo when the patient might only have a cold. My thought was there had to be a better way, so I quit attending the class and sought out other like-minded beekeepers who were reporting success raising bees without chemical intervention. I drank the kool-aid and soon became convinced using small-cell foundation, dusting with powdered sugar, and never placing any chemical into my hives was the answer. It was almost cult-like and I taught several classes and attended several conferences on how to raise bees sans chemical treatment.
   At first, I had good results overwintering hives and believed it was my management techniques that were making it happen. After a couple of years tho’, my losses started to mount. 50-75% winter losses became the norm and finally, during one winter, I lost 25 of 26 hives. I was devastated and called in the NH State Apiary Inspector. The verdict was one word…mites. In retrospect, I think my early successes were really the results of buying packages and nucs that had already been treated prior to delivery with Amitraz, fluvalinate and/or coumpahos that had so depleted the mite population, the bees were able to survive the 1st year without any additional treatment required. It wasn’t until the 2nd or 3rd year that the viruses transmitted to the bees via v. Destructor caused my colonies to die. I realized I actually had very little to do with the success of the colonies but certainly had everything to do with their demise. I was not a beekeeper but a bee-haver, buying new bees every year to replace losses. To this day, I know beekeepers that have great success being treatment-free. They are willing to accept losses in the hope long term change will happen. I was – and still am – a small backyard beekeeper and I simply could not tolerate the losses.
Evaluation and Change
   Unfortunately, this also proved to me that using hard chemicals can work. Still, their use went against my desire to tread softly on the planet and holistically raise bees. I refused to believe one had to use hard chemicals to beat mite infestations, nosema, etc., in order to create a sustainable apiary. So I stopped buying packages and only purchased northern-raised, overwintered nucs and queens. I started monitoring for mites more often, performing splits, yearly re-queening, and becoming more interested about moisture control during winter. Finally, I read about a mite reduction technique having great success in Europe called oxalic acid vaporization (OAV). So 2 years prior to OAV being approved in the US, I started using it on a couple of my hives. By adding brood breaks at the end of May to reduce the spring mite load, better timing my splits and nucs, routinely monitoring for mites, treating with OAV in August and November and wrapping all hives and nucs with tar paper, my loss rate dropped to 15%. Eureka! This was a major improvement!
   My queens now survived multiple years yet I still felt there were more ways to improve overwinter survival. Many beekeepers were using a device called a quilt box to control winter moisture build up so I decided that would be my 2017 (maybe 2016) improvement. After looking at a number of designs, I modified one that allows me to go into a hive on a 0ºƒ day, take a look and add food, if needed, in less than 15 seconds. Better fed than dead…I think I lost 1 nuc in 2017 and that I believe was due to a -20º spell that kept the cluster stationary and they starved several inches away from honey.
So THAT worked…Now fine tune
   Spring, 2018 brought the latest change to my management plan. As soon as the temps were over 50º for several days, I did a single OAV treatment to every hive, allowing every colony to start the year off with a mite load of what I believe was under 1%. Monitoring showed this kept the mite load so low during the summer that I did not treat again until early August just because I wanted to again get back to under 1%.  This addition to the plan resulted in no losses in 2018. Let me state here that when I treat hives with OAV during the summer, I remove all of the honey supers. Though OAV is considered an organic treatment, my honey customers expect me to provide them the purest, most natural honey possible. The ONLY time I leave supers on is in November when doing the final treatment before winter. Any honey remaining in the spring is removed and added back the following fall ( I have a “bee freezer” in the barn and keep the frames frozen during the summer).
My Current Technique:
   So history is nice but what is my current plan? Well, it may not jive with yours but here is what I find works for me. Since it’s almost spring, I’ll start here.
   March: I check my hives every 2-3 weeks depending upon weather and my Broodminder temperature sensors (see previous posts). I wait until mid -March before placing pollen patties on the hives. Why so late? As a backyard beekeeper (albeit, several backyards) , not a commercial beek,  I do not want to over stimulate my queens in February and create a lot of brood that the bees will have to cover during temperature swings. Additionally, I do not want to create a potential  swarm in April by having the hives build up too soon. Even though the hive will raise another queen, she will not be properly inseminated during flights in late April or early May as the drone population is too low. By starting in mid-March, those problems are avoided. If the temps warm up later in the month I will do a single OAV treatment to every hive.
   April: Still a tough month depending upon weather. I continue to feed if necessary and will possibly remove the tar paper near the end of the month if temps permit.
   Early May: Tear down the hives, remove all quit boxes and any tar paper wraps, clean out the dead bees, replace the Broodminder batteries, reassemble the hives balance out the honey frames and closely watch the nucs so they do not overpopulate and swarm. I feed only if  necessary.
   Late May: Prep nucs for sale or move them to full hives. Monitor for mites to make sure mite load is extremely low. I will do a brood break on several hives so they raise their own queens and become honey producers during the June through mid-July flow (since there is little brood during the break, the nurse bees become field bees which helps increase honey production). I move the displaced queens to nucs and use them for resources (frames of brood) until July when I let them start to build up for winter. Meanwhile, the hives having the brood break now have fresh queens raised by the bees.
   June-July: Get used to the word monitor…Now we are in the sweet part of summer and the bees are pretty much left on their own to enjoy being bees. Depending upon the flow, I usually harvest honey for selling at the CSA. I will make my splits at this point if I want to increase the apiary size and move the new hives to a different yard. As I overwinter each of my nucs as 4 mediums, I make all of the nucs I plan to take through winter by the end of June. Did I mention monitor? This is when I also rely on my Broodminder sensors to monitor hive weights, watch the temp sensors to make sure the queens are viable and sit by the hives enjoying the dance of summer.
   Early August: Now is the time the bees begin raising the bees, that will raise the bees, that will eventually overwinter. I want these to be absolutely healthy and will monitor and probably treat with OAV over a 2-week period. The health of the apiary at this minute decides its long term sustainability.
   Late August: Since I want all colonies to be at least 4 mediums tall come winter (I prefer full colonies to be 5 high) I will start feeding any colonies that appear to be underweight. This usually means nucs, as I have stolen frames of honey from other hives to feed them through the summer but now everyone needs as much honey as they can put away. Monitoring continues…
   September: Mouse guards go on. Monitoring and feeding continues, being careful not to back fill the brood chamber as the fall flow will also start. Now is the prime time for mites to overrun the hive as the number of bees begins to decrease but the mites keep rocking along. If you have not treated yet, DO IT! I check on the condition of the quilt boxes, making sure I have enough and that they are ready for winter. I also will try to equalize hives to make sure each has a similar amount of pollen, food, brood etc. as they get ready to end their year.
   October: I like to quit feeding by the end of the 1st or 2nd week in the month. This gives the bees time to cap any nectar which helps lower moisture in the hive. Hopefully, every hive has at least 3 mediums of honey, the bees are in the bottom 2 hive boxes and my mite load is under 2%. Quilt boxes go on mid-month and the hives are usually wrapped by the end of the month or early Nov. I should mention, I now keep my fences on and baited all year long after having an incident last October. I do a final apiary clean up, including trimming any grass very low, within the fencing. I also replace all Broodminder batteries at this time so they do not fail during the winter.
   November: Now comes my final single OAV treatment. This leaves the bees clean for the winter. I neglected to mention, I use screened bottom boards with both bottom and top entrances all year long. At this point I leave the sticky boards in place, reduce the bottom entrance and leave the top entrance built into the quilt box open. This allows some air to still enter the bottom of the hive and exit through the quilt box, keeping my humidity level in check all winter.
   December – February: Watching my Broodminder sensors, going out and listening to the hives (use a $12 stethoscope from CVS if need be) and occasionally raising the quilt box for a quick peek at the top frames to see if the bees have come up and need to be fed is about it for the winter. My change this year for going into 2020 will be to add sugar blocks when I close up the bees in November. Bern Snow mentioned he does that. It makes sense to me so I will try it.
Summary
   So there you have it. Every beekeeper has their way of doing things that hopefully works for their bees. This happens to be mine. As I stated in 2008 when starting this blog, right or wrong, I will tell you what I do and the results I achieve. On March 12, 2019, following the method of holistically managing the whole hive outlined above, I currently have 7 of 7 hives and 10 of 10 nucs alive and buzzin’. That does not mean that is how it will be in May but I’m thankful for the result so far. Honey bees die even when you think you are doing everything correctly. The very best of beekeepers loose bees. The key is figuring out what little thing you may have missed and trying to fix it. I believe every time you open a hive, the bees are trying to teach you something. Our job is to figure out the lesson.
   I hope your bees are warm, full and building for spring! Have a great 2019 and did I mention not to forget to monitor?

This morning dawned sunny with the potential of a warm-ish day (47º as I write this).  While it was early and the temps were still in the mid 20s, I decided to take a quick peek and see if any of the nucs had bees on the top frames yet.

I can hear some of you now, “You opened your hives when it was in the 20s?”. Yup. I wanted to see where the bees were before it was warm enough for them to break cluster and use the top entrances. Based on the design of my quilt boxes, I can open a hive, look at the top frames and close it in less than 5 seconds. All I want to know is are there bees on top or not. I don’t linger. It’s in and out. Happily, of the 3 nucs I checked, only one had bees visible on the top frames. After taking data samples on the 2 full hives nearest the house, I decided to do the same and quickly peaked into the full hives. True to what the sensors told me, there were a few bees visible in one hive and none in the other. Using a cheap stethoscope, I found the largest hum coming from the center of each full hive stack.

The only issue was the top frames of the 1 nuc were completely covered with bees. Thinking ahead, I purposely did not process all of the honey last fall and stored 4 full honey supers in the”bee freezer” in the barn. I waited until it was a bit warmer, put 5 honey frames in a nuc box, pulled the quilt box off the hive – exposing the bees on the top frames – placed it on top of the new honey super I was adding and quickly placed both back on the nuc, thereby adding 5 frames of honey and keeping them fed. Total exposure time for the bees was less than 10 seconds.

But what would I have done if they didn’t produce excess honey last fall? My quilt boxes have a 1″ shim, an open space specifically designed for sugar blocks, patties, etc. built into each one. That makes it very easy to quickly tip the quilt box forward, place several sugar blocks on the top bars and lower the quilt box back into place. Again, this would take maybe 15 seconds as I would have to use the 4″ x5″ sugar block to gently “plow” some bees out of the way in order to place them on the top of the frames. When I use sugar blocks I usually place 2 in each hive. I like these as I find them easier to make than a candy board with less clean up in the spring.

Lauri’s Recipe

I found a great recipe for these on BeeSource.com that was created and posted by Lauri Miller, a very respected beekeeper located in Roy, Washington who often shares her results there with members. I greatly appreciate her allowing me to discuss it here. Click on the following link to be taken directly to her original post (with 23 pages of comments!).

http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?290641-My-recipe-method-for-sugar-blocks&highlight=Laurie+sugar+blocks

Lots of folks liked her recipe so I modified quantities slightly for my needs as her recipe makes 25 lbs. Mine makes 8. I also made a couple of ingredient changes based on what I have on hand and the fact I do not wish to feed pollen to the hives this early (which I believe she may also mention…). Please know this is entirely her work that I have only slightly modified. So you can look at Lauri’s to see her excellent pictures and technique or use my variation of her recipe below. MANY thanks to her for posting how to do this! Following her instructions with my slight amendments, I successfully fed my hives last winter without any issues. Thanks, Lauri! You rock! If you are on FaceBook, her page is:

https://www.facebook.com/Miller-Comp…6954971040510/

My Variation

8# cane sugar
10.5 oz Braggs Organic Apple Cider
2/3- 3/4 T citric acid (Found in your canning dept)
3/4 tsp Honey-B-Healthy                                                                                                                    1/2 tsp Vitamins-B-Healthy

– Mix sugar and citric acid together in a five gallon bucket.

– Mix Braggs and the HBH and VBH together in a separate container and mix into sugar with a large drill and paint paddle mixer.

– Mixture will feel very soft, but not wet or sticky.

– Using 1 full size and 1 smaller cookie sheet, I place the mixture on the cookie sheets and  roll it out so it is about 5/8″ thick. Use any size pan you want, but be sure your bricks are no taller than your shim under your inner cover!

– Cut the blocks out now as you will not be able to do so once it hardens. I make mine  about 4″x 5″rectangles so they will fit into nucs.

– Place sheets in a 130º oven for about 3 hours or until hard.

When finished, I let mine sit for a couple of days in our garage to dissipate the strong vinegar odor. Our house definitely smells like vinegar while these are in the oven drying. It’s not bad, it just does…When they are aired out, I place the blocks in a covered container so they are ready for use and protected from mice, etc.

As mentioned, when needed, I feed 2 at a time to start and go from there. I do tend to wait until the bees are at the top as I do not want to entice them to bypass honey to get to these. Not completely sure they will, but knowing how bees like to remove anything foreign from their hives, I prefer to wait until they need it for food.

Works for me. I hope it works for you, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Based on yesterday’s post, I had a request to show a graph of the 2017 honey flows in my home apiary. To make sense of this graph, if you have not read the previous post, please take a minute to do so as it explains how the graph is created.

Honey Flows

This graph below depicts hive weight for my main hive in our home apiary from May 30 – Oct 12. The queen is a hive-raised daughter of an overwintered Mike Palmer queen I removed from the hive in late May to break the brood cycle and put the hive into honey production mode. Removing the queen (I created a nuc with her)  not only breaks the brood cycle and reduces mite load, it creates more foragers as not as many nurse bees are required. 

My BroodMinder sensors are set to grab data once per hour. The sudden dips are simply showing that a reading was taken while I happened to have supers removed during an inspection. You can see that in my home apiary, based only upon weight gain, the 1st flow was from June 8 – July 12. The fall flow lasted from Aug 20 – Sep 26. On my computer, I can drag a pointer along the black line and see the actual weight scroll along with my cursor. Any time period can be selected for review. I chose these dates simply to show both flows. Hopefully,  this helps show how the data is interpreted.

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 10.08.28 AM.png

The Value of Solid Data

CSA winter

2 hives and 2 nucs at my out yard. Note buried bottom entrances…

I recently noticed an uptick of posts on our local club’s FaceBook page from beekeepers wanting to perform quick hive inspections and feedings during our recent warmup. Folks are obviously concerned about their bees after 2+ weeks of below zero temps and suddenly, here are a couple of 40-50º days with a chance to look inside. I totally get it. We all are concerned about our bees during the winter. After having looked, many are now concerned because their bees are at the top near the upper entrance and they think they have to quickly feed because the bees are going to starve. Personally,  I believe that is not the case as there are logical reasons the bees are on top;

  1. The bottom entrance is blocked by dead bees that have fallen to the bottom board.
  2. The bottom entrance has recently been blocked by snow.
  3. The warm temps cause the bees to break cluster and take advantage of the warmer temps to do cleansing flights.

If you properly prepare your hives going into winter, there should easily still be honey available. It IS only mid-January… I do not start being concerned about food stores until sometime during Feb/early March and only then because the bees may have “chimneyed” – gone straight from the bottom to the top and not bothered with honey frames 1-3 or 8-10. In that instance, you absolutely may need to feed them supplemental sugar blocks, a candy board, fondant, or whatever you fancy as they have bypassed 20-30 pounds of honey on their way to the top. Yes, right now some of the bees are at the top during the warm spell but they will go back down and rejoin the main cluster as it gets colder. I prefer not want to entice my bees to the top by providing them with a supplement they do not yet need.

Hive Management Based on Data

Fortunately, I have another tool that provides me solid data throughout the year to know when the flow begins and ends, the health of my queen plus the location of my bees and the amount of remaining stores in winter.  I incorporated BroodMinder into my apiaries, a wireless telemetry system that provides me with total hive weight, plus both internal hive temperature and humidity readings vs. ambient readings straight to my cell phone or iPad. Rather than do a commercial for them, click their name above and read about the system on their website…

BroodMinder th

BroodMinder TH sensor in place during summer

My friend, Rick, and I first saw them at the 2016 EAS meeting in New Jersey. Being rather geeky about our bees (well, I am…) we each purchased a system for about $200 (show price) that included a hive scale with ambient temperature reading that is placed under the hive, and 2 internal temp and humidity sensors placed inside the hive itself. Unfortunately, at the time it was not as ready for use as we thought and Rick sold me his scale, tho’ I believe he still uses the temperature and humidity sensors. So now I have 2 complete BroodMinder systems –1 in each bee yard, plus 2 more internal temp/humidity sensors that I have placed on top of the uppermost super, just under the quilt boxes, (or inner cover in warmer months) in 2 other hives. All I have to do to download the data is visit the hive and run the app from my iPhone or iPad. Android systems also will do the trick. While originally not very impressed, I now find the weight, temperature and humidity data very helpful and do not have to disturb my bees as often.

BroodMinder automatically generates excellent graphs of the data for you to read, determine trends, hive changes, etc. As an example, allow me to show the readings I took earlier this week of the past 30 days, how I interpreted them and what action I didn’t take…

Total Hive Weight

HMF1 weight
This graph gives me the total weight of the hive, including snow cover which I do brush off occasionally. In the winter, I use this only as a general guide as to how much honey remains in the hive. In this instance, based on hive configuration, I believe there is approx 60 lbs of honey remaining.

In the spring and fall, the increase of the hive weight shows me when the flow starts and ends, telling me when to build my nucs, pull supers for harvest etc.

Internal Temperature vs. Ambient

HMF1 temp
The graph I care about the most in winter is the temperature graph. This tells me roughly where the bees are located within the hive stack and if they are alive. This particular sensor, unlike in my other hives is located between the 3rd and 4th medium, not at the very top of the stack. The green line is the internal temperature, the grey is the external temp sensor located on the scale device and the purple is data from my weather station located in my orchard approx 100′ away from the hive. In this case the 2 external temp readings vary as the BroodMinder external sensor under the hive is buried in snow. The internal temp reading tells me the bees are at the top of the 2nd super from the bottom or just entering the 3rd super but are slowly moving upward as the temp is slightly increasing. When it reaches the high 80s-low 90s, I know the cluster is at the sensor. Today, I can tell without opening the hive that the bees are alive and currently in the approx middle of the stack.

In summer, this can also tell me about the health or even the presence of my queen. A sensor placed right above the brood chamber will provide a stable, flat line graph at about 93ºF when the queen is healthy and laying. Should she stop or die, the graph becomes very choppy and will be a lower temp (as actually shown above).

Internal Humidity

HMF1 Humidity
Wet bees in winter means dead bees in spring. This graph depicts the internal vs external humidity readings. For this hive, here is where I wish I had added a 2nd sensor, instead of putting it in another hive, and placed it at the very top of the stack vs between supers 3 and 4 as it would tell me the humidity at the coldest part of the hive, giving me the best data for how my quilt box is doing with ventilation. BroodMinder automatically shows me the ideal range as depicted. If the sensor was 1 super higher, I believe it would show the quilt box is working just fine.

Actions or in this case, Inaction
Since, due to cost, I do not have sensors and scales for every hive and nuc, I tend to extrapolate the findings across that particular apiary. While certainly not foolproof, it does give me a general idea of how the full hives are doing – especially since 2 of the other hives also have internal temp and humidity sensors in them. Based on this current data, I did not open my hives to see if they need stores. I obviously can listen to every other hive in the apiary to know that they are currently alive. Next year I will expand the internal sensors to include my nucs.

All of the data from BroodMinder is uploaded (if you choose) to a website, beecounted.org, that is available to beekeepers and – more importantly –  researchers, providing a treasure trove of individual hive data from across the US, Canada and even a few in Europe. I enjoy having my hives part of that data set. I can look at other hives in New England and compare them to mine to see how mine are doing regionally vs in just my 2 yards. The nice part is I am still learning how to use the data while BroodMinder is continuing to find ways to make it easier to gather and understand. I feel by combining this data set with Hive Tracks, I have all of the necessary information to best manage my hives at my fingertips (I hope…). While not being for everybody, if you are a serious beekeeper, these are a pretty cool set of tools!

BTW, I bought all of the BroodMinder sensors (and the Hive Tracks subscription) that I mention in this blog. Neither group has asked me to write this nor has either company provided me with any incentive to do so. I wrote this only because I believe it will help me become a better beekeeper and that I promised 11 seasons ago to share with you what I do to reach that goal.

Happy New Year! Order your nucs while you can still get them, repair your older supers, build your new frames and read a bee book by the fire. I hope your bees are still buzzin’.

Russian bees were brought to this country due to their proven ability to overwinter and tolerate V.destructor.  Many of us tried them and now have them in our apiaries. That does not mean buying a Certified Russian queen, nuc or colony and expecting that tolerance to continue into future generations is accurate. As soon as a certified Russian queen becomes ill, ages, dies or is for whatever reason replaced by one of her daughters, local genetics start to erode that tolerance.

Last year I bought a certified Russian nuc. Something was not right about her highness and they were the nastiest bees I have ever experienced. I know the problem was my exact queen as 2 of my friends bought nucs at the same time and their colonies were – and still are – gentle and easy to work. My queen, however,  must have had the nastiest pheromone known to bees and it was not uncommon for me to have hundreds if not over a thousand bees on me shortly after opening the hive for inspection. Yes, I should have returned her but she was unmarked and very adept at hiding.   I tolerated her until the day I luckily saw her scampering for cover, caught her and happily crushed her with my hive tool! Now queenless, I allowed the bees to raise her daughter who they ended up replacing this summer by raising, a now 2nd generation, Russian queen.  The hive  remained pleasant, tho’ not a huge honey producer.

Meanwhile, the mite counts in my apiaries, monitored via 24 hour mite drop on sticky boards, have been low all year and I did not have to treat until August when, due to low kill rates,  I only did 2 rounds of OAV . Now jump to yesterday when I decided the weather was perfect for doing the final OAV treatment of the year. It was sunny but only mid-forties, keeping most of the bees in the hive. As brood production has basically halted, treating now allows the bees to go into winter with a minimal mite load. Below are the results after 20 hours of treating the 4 hives in my home apiary. The nucs were treated today and are not included, nor is our out yard which still requires winter prep.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

OAV 20 hr data

 

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Given that there are probably a minimum of 15-20,000 bees in each of the Carniolan hives, I believe they all had a low mite load prior to treatment. The Russians have 12-15,000 bees so their pretreatment load appears considerably higher. Naturally, the counts will increase over the next few days and I hope to report what the counts are after 3-7 days, as well. What I found surprising is the apparent significantly higher mite count seen in the Russian hive (≥ 4%) – especially when compared to Hive 1 (≥0.4%) which has not had any kind of chemical treatment since the final OAV dose Nov, 2016. Did the Russians have a higher mite load prior to treatment, are they simply more hygienic or is there a different reason?

Please note: Each of the hives experienced a brood break sometime during the 2017 season to raise a new queen.

Granted, this is a VERY small number of hives but, to me,  the take away is it makes great sense to monitor and treat EVERY hive, regardless of the race of bees, to keep them as healthy as possible during the cold months coming. Just because it’s a Russian hive does not mean you do not have to treat it. Further, the tolerance of my Russian bees has been diluted after 2 generations of daughters. Should this queen survive winter, I will place her in a nuc next year and replace her with a Certified Russian Queen.

Other Winter Preparations

Last weekend, in preparation for yesterday’s OAV treatments, I inspected each of the colonies in our home apiary (4 hives, 4 nucs) and equalized the amount of honey stores throughout the apiary. Pretty easy to do as it really meant pulling frames from most of the hives so that every colony goes into winter as the equivalent of 2 deeps and a medium. All except the Russians, who are very frugal with their stores and are now configured as a deep with 2 mediums. I do need to still pull 2, now empty, mediums off of one of the nucs and replace it with 2 mediums of honey from my stash of 30 honey frames. All of the colonies now have quilt boxes on them for moisture and ventilation and are ready to be wrapped with roofing (tar) paper.

This week, if weather permits, I’ll visit the 2 hives and 2 nucs at our out yard at Hillside Springs Farm (Cheshire County’s “Farm of the Year”) and put them to bed. Then it’s clean the smokers and hive tools, repair some hive bodies and head to the wood shop to make Christmas presents. It’s been a great season – actually our best ever. The bees produced over 200 lbs of honey, we were honored to make 96 wedding favors for Chris’ and Heather’s wedding, we gave away and sold some nucs and hives while still increasing our apiary by 2 hives and 3 more nucs, raised new queens in all of the hives and harvested our first ever peaches and apples. A nice year indeed for our little Honey Meadow Farm!

I hope you had a great season, that you listened to and learned from your bees, that they are contentedly buzzin’ and now ready to be tucked in for winter. I still want to post about my experience with Broodminder and how the data it provides helps me with apiary management. Between Broodminder and Hive Tracks, I now have all the info I need for my bees at my fingertips. More soon…

72 Hour Update

Here are the mote drop counts after 72 hours…

OAV 72 hr data

 

Not much of a blog if the guy only writes once a season, eh? Sorry, busy summer with our family, the orchard and the apiary. All good so I guess this better be a good post!

Overwintering Success

IMG_0844

One hive and 3 nucs  all with quilt boxes and wrapped in foam board

Last year I went into winter with 4 hives and 3 nucs. I wrapped 2 of the hives with tar paper and put 2″ thick foam board around each of the rest to see if there was a difference. There wasn’t except the foam board was more expensive, plus a huge pain in the backside to size and strap into place.

IMG_1696

Frame of quilt box

More importantly, I placed quilt boxes on every colony. The boxes allowed a 1″ space for sugar blocks and/or patties, then a piece of screen to support a layer of burlap and 3″ of pine shavings. I drilled several 1″ ventilation holes to allow moisture to escape from the shavings and then placed 2″ of foam board to insulate the very top. The quilt boxes went directly on top of the supers without using an inner cover and were topped with the outer cover.  These worked great and the colonies had no moisture issues all winter. I also treated every colony with OAV in late November after they were broodless.

Results: I lost 1 nuc that was actually a late combination of 2 weak nucs just before winter.  Once again, take your losses in the fall…I could have used those bees to boost other colonies and trashed the weak queen rather than done all of the work to get them through, only to loose them late winter.

The 2017Season

-Breaking the Brood Cycle, Raising Queens, Making Nucs and Harvesting Honey

So this does not become a 50 page post, I’m going to only hit the management highlights that have brought me now to prepping for winter.

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Emergency and swarm cells go straight to the queen castle.

My main concern this spring was that my queens in the 4 full overwintered hives were now 2 years old and I did not want them going through a 3rd winter. I also wanted to go into the 2017 winter with 6 full hives and 6 nucs, so I was going to need queens. I also was not very happy using MAQS last year so I decided late May /early June would be a great time to pull queens, break the brood cycle, let the bees raise fresh queens and take some of the extra cells and raise queens for nucs. Without gong into great detail, it all worked. By pulling queens out of the hive and stopping brood production, a number of useful things happen.

1. The bees start emergency cells which results in a new queen in the hive and allows me to place the additional cells in a queen castle to raise additional queens for nucs.

2. The mite breeding cycle is interrupted since the hive goes broodless for about 10 days once all of the existing brood hatches,  the queen hardens, mates and finally starts to lay. This has kept my mite counts very low all summer. I did treat 3 hives with 2 doses of OAV but stopped as the mite kill was minimal and further treatment appears unnecessary.

3. With less brood in the hive, nurse bees take on other jobs and the percentage of field bees rises, resulting in increased honey production. In fact, between the 4 overwintered hives, this summer I have harvested 200 lbs of honey and could pull about another 100 lbs if I did not want to use it for surplus overwintering stores.

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Hillside Springs Farm is a bee paradise!

As we now approach the end of the season, I currently have 6 full hives, 5 with new queens. Only 5 as I never found the overwintered queen in one of the hives all season long, regardless of how hard I looked! Meanwhile the hive is booming, produced about 75 lbs of honey, provided bees for several of the nucs and will provide the honey stores for 2 other nucs  heading into winter. I also now have 6 nucs that should be ready to overwinter. It was 7 but this morning I decided to split a nuc that went queenless. There were numerous emergency cells in the hive but as they had yet to hatch, I decided to destroy the cells and split the 3 supers between 2 other nucs to boost their resources. Assuming a queen did hatch, mate and return, there is not enough time left for her to raise the population of bees needed to take the nuc through winter. I decided to take the loss of one nuc while making 2 others much stronger.

Honey Meadow Farm

Just a quick note on how the veggies and fruit did this year. Heavy rains prevented us from getting the garden in until early June and have definitely hampered the veggie garden this year. None-the-less, we’re really enjoying tomato and cuke sandwiches everyday for lunch, salads for dinner and looking forward to our corn. Gayla has lots of broccoli already frozen and canning will start soon. A lot of her effort went into growing the flowers for our son’s and new daughter’s wedding this month on our organic pasture in Sullivan. It was SPECTACULAR!

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The blueberries  and raspberries had an off year this year but the strawberries were fantastic and our orchard produced salable quantities of fruit for the 1st time! We had hundreds of peaches, plums are almost ready and apples aren’t too far behind! Continuing to follow Micheal Phillips holistic approach has kept us entirely organic and made for great foraging for more pollinators than you can imagine!

Winter Prep

With temps possibly dipping into the 40s within the next week, I just placed mouse guards on all of the colonies. I’m still doing 24-hour mite drop checks on the hives just in case there is a spike. If necessary, I’ll treat with OAV but really do not plan on treating any of the colonies until late November/early December. Each of the full hives will go into winter as 5 mediums. The nucs will be either 3 or 4 mediums. I’m almost out of comb so that will be the only reason a couple may be only 3 high. All of the colonies will be wrapped with tar paper and have a quilt box in place. I’ll feed the nucs, as needed,  2:1 syrup with Honey -B-Healthy and Vitamin-B-Healthy added. I use organic apple cider vinegar to change the pH of the syrup to approximately 4.5 to better match the pH of the bee gut. Hopefully, this helps with nosema, not sure…I plan to have all of my feeders off by the 3rd week in September so the girls can have it all capped before it gets too cold.

I’ll also monitor the 2 apiaries this winter using hive scales plus temperature and humidity sensors to help tell me what is going on inside the hives. I’ll get into this in my next post to let my geek side shine!

Naturally, you are all doing mite checks and making sure the bees that are about to raise the bees that will take you through winter are as healthy as they can be! Gotta keep ’em buzzin’!

 

 

 

 

 

Important Update on OAV

On October 12, 2014, I posted my preliminary results using OAV. As I mentioned in the post, at that time OAV was NOT approved by the EPA for treating v.Destructor and I was using it off label based on results of multiple years of use by European beekeepers. As we all know,  a year later the EPA did approve Oxalic Acid as a treatment within hives to reduce the populate of Varroa.

What I want to mention today is, based on current thought at the time, I wrote you could use OAV with supers on but suggested you should take them off if you plan on using the honey for consumption. Please know that now OAV is an approved treatment, the EPA label for OAV directly states “Do not use with honey supers in place to prevent contamination of marketable honey”.  Personally, I continue to use OAV only when the honey supers on the hive are being used to SOLELY FEED THE BEES overwinter. I never use any of the chemical treatments, including MAQS, whose labeling currently says it is fine to do so, if any of the honey will be for human consumption. Like most beekeepers believe, to me, honey is a pure product created by foraging honey bees and should not contain any beekeeper additives. Any time I put anything into a hive, my supers come off. This means I also separate the supers filled with syrup if I have to feed in spring or fall. Those are the supers that I place on the hives going into winter or freeze to use later in the winter if a colony requires more resources. When I place supers on during a flow, it is with an excluder in place and obviously no feeders. I am editing the Oct 12, 2014 post to reflect the current law.

Winter’s Comin’!

In Zone 5 or below, you should definitely have your mouse guards in place and be ready to pull any feeders so the bees have time to cap the nectar and not inadvertently create a moisture issue this winter. I’ll soon write about the quilt boxes I’ve built and how I will follow some of the advise of others and insulate this winter.

I hope you are enjoying the beautiful fall days and your bees are content with all of the stores they have produced for our long winter!