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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

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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.

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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’!

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

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One of our girls on golden rod

As beekeepers, we’re supposed to know what is happening in our hives. But really now…do we? Today is Labor Day. Any idea what your mite infestation level is now that the bees are making the bees that will take us through winter? If you have actually done a sugar or alcohol roll and truly know the number, CONGRATULATIONS! You are probably ahead of half of the beekeepers out there and, provided that number is less that 1-2%, your bees already have a decent chance of surviving winter.

A recent trip Rick and I took to the 2016 Eastern Apicultural Society meeting showed me I had become one of the beekeepers that did not know. I started beekeeping the right way, monitoring my mite load, breaking brood cycles, trying sugar dusting (I think all it does is tick them off), using a screen bottom board, small cell foundation, etc. My bees seemed to easily make it through winter the first few years and I

Collecting pollen on a Mexican sunflower

Collecting pollen on a Mexican sunflower

thought I was really enjoying the no treat life. Unfortunately, I became too involved at work, greatly reducing my apiary time  just as my number of hives was peaking in the mid 20s. I only had time to do an occasional 24 hour mite drop test, didn’t worry about breaking the brood cycle and suddenly I was loosing bees. In retrospect, my bees may have been doing OK and figuring out a way to live with mites (maybe?) but they certainly could not figure out how to live with all of the diseases mites bring into the hive. I went from being a beekeeper to a bee buyer. I hate being a bee buyer and I am determined to do what I can to give the bees under my care the best chance I possibly can.

 

 

Managing by Monitoring

I took the “Varroa Track” at the EAS meeting. Almost every one of the short courses I attended was about how to best deal with mites. Yes, that means treat. What I wanted to learn is what is the softest way to do so and still have the affect my bees need to survive.

We all know V.destructor is the primary vector for spreading diseases to your bees. Diseases that weaken bees so they are not healthy enough to overwinter. Control the mites, you directly impact the spread of disease inside the hive. It’s hard to manage a problem if you do not know you have one though. Not seeing mites on your bees during an inspection is no surprise. 80% of the mites in your hive are hidden in the capped brood cells, not waving at you while riding the back of your bees like a bronco buster. While still valuable information, counting mites on a mite drop board isn’t really accurate, either. While still valuable info, what it shows you is how the hive is trending. It does not give you an accurate infestation level. The best way for a backyard beekeeper to check their mite infestation level is via a sugar or ether roll. To learn more about how to do this, look at the last post and follow the link.

Nucs before feedingI came home from the meeting once again jazzed about monitoring and determined to develop empirical data to guide me in my hive preparations for winter. After doing a sugar roll on 4 of my large hives, I found all but one of the Palmer hives had mite infestation levels between 1 and 3%. Not bad but it’s the time of year where based on declining bee populations, mite levels soar. The 5th hive is the Georgia package that had just made a new queen after the package queen died (SURPRISE…not!) I did not test it as it just had a month long brood break.

MAQS on top of brood chamber

After having learned about all of the possible ways to treat hives while at the meeting, I decided to use Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS) to knock down the infestation rate. MAQS, a formic acid based fumigant, is considered an organic treatment safe to use with honey supers in place. That being said, I removed mine and placed 2 strips in each of the 3 remaining hives needing treatment as soon as the weather cooperated. If you decide to try this, read the instructions carefully as MAQS is known to cause  serious queen and brood issues if used when external temps are over 90ºF. With our hot summer, I had to wait a week until there was a 5 day window when the ambient temperature would remain below 85º. I would like to tell you I did the right thing and followed up with more sugar rolls to see if the levels decreased but I did not due to other priorities. I am happy to say that all of my queens made it through perfectly, I saw zero affect on the brood and my sticky board mite drop counts have shown zero mites (a decrease from the 3-4 prior). Next is a follow up treatment using OAV when the hives are broodless late November/early December. That should put my mite threshold going into winter at less than 1%. The bees currently making the winter bees are now the healthiest I can make them, increasing the probability of healthy disease free bees this winter.

 

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Remainder of a “winter patty” and bee diarrhea in a dead nuc

Oh? But what about Nosema?

Yeah…That (and using homosote moisture boards that did not work) is what killed my bees in 2014. I really do not want to use Fumigilan-B. I consider it a “hard” treatment and my “no treat” side still hates prophylactic treatments. Instead, I have opted to try Hive Alive by Advance Science. This is a syrup additive similar to Honey-B-Healthy etc and supposedly provides beneficial nutrients to the bee gut, reducing the likelihood of Nosema. It is available through Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. All of my hives are currently being treated with it, including my 4 nucs. Could all be marketing but I’ve read several reports of beekeepers who love it and have had the results I hope to achieve. We’ll see this winter and spring . I will be sure to let you know what I find.

 

Current Results (as in keeping my fingers crossed)

HMF HoneyFor the first time in probably 4 or 5 years we actually have had a honey harvest. Without being greedy, we will pull a total of 130-140 lbs of honey from 3 hives this year! That is easily a record for us. We harvested about 100 lbs of that and have frozen the remainder as a safety net for feeding it back to them this winter. Besides every hive getting a gallon of syrup to deliver the Hive Alive treatment, I am also feeding the nucs 2:1 syrup to get them built up to winter weight. I am adding Honey-B-Healthy and Vitamin-B-Healthy to the syrup, plus 0.5 tsp/gal of organic apple cider vinegar to adjust the pH. Once we get a bit closer, I’ll look at the population in each nuc and decide if I can keep them as 4 nucs or if I need to do a paper combine. I hope to know in 2-3 weeks…

 

New Toy – BroodMinder

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BroodMinder Citizen Science Package: Hive scale and humidity and temperature sensors

Lastly, one cannot go to EAS and see all of the vendors without bringing home something new to try. This year, I bought a BroodMinder Citizen Science Package. This is a hive scale with an ambient temperature sensor plus 2 internal hive sensors; one for humidity and temperature, the other temperature only. Naturally, there is an app for all of this. If you want to be on the bleeding edge of hive monitoring, you can get this package for about $240, a GREAT price for a hive scale by itself!

We have found this to be more of a beta test level device than a finished product. The data is very interesting tho’ and I do believe once they work through some of the kinks,this is going to be a great device and will provide valuable

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Note the BroodMinder W (scale and temp device) under the hive

information throughout the year. I will report on this during the winter. Meanwhile it is at times frustrating and other times interesting what info it provides. The data can tell us when there is brood, when a hive goes queenless, when the flow starts/ends, if we have winter ventilation issues and more without having to wait for an inspection. Most importantly, the folks at BroodMinder are serious beekeeping geeks who truly want to help honey bees, as well as beekeepers, while providing valuable data to the apicultural research community. Tho’ they may not always think so from my postings on their forum, I am a believer that they will pull this off and I am glad I made this investment in hive monitoring technology! Stay tuned for more info…

 

 

Meanwhile, I hope your grill is ready for the last burgers of summer and your bees are happy and buzzin’. Macaroni salad, home grown corn, tomatoes and greens with burgers on the grill! Man, I am going to miss summer… Happy Labor Day!

 

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Summer update.

This summer has been as busy as it has been dry. July 1st was a major day for me as I sold my company and officially became “semi-retired”. It did not take long for me to wonder how I ever found time to work with a lot of the newly found time going into our bees.

New Yard, New Friends – Hillside Springs Farm

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Rick’s hive on left, package hive on right at Hillside Springs Farm. Strapped as I am only there every other week.

Last December/January I ordered a package, 3 nucs and gratefully accepted an offer from Rick of a hive to restart my apiary. I really wanted 3 colonies but ordered more as winter can play havoc with the availability of nucs come spring. Instead, we had the mildest winter in years and all 5 colonies needed homes by the end of May. In previous years, our home apiary of 4-6 hives struggled to make enough honey to overwinter without a lot of fall feeding (and NO honey harvest). My plan was to have 3 colonies here so I tried to find an out yard for the remaining 2 colonies. Luckily, Gayla learned about Hillside Springs Farm, a local CSA owned by Frank Hunter and Kim Peavey since 2002. From their website;

“Hillside Springs Farm is a small horse-powered CSA farm in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, growing 3 acres and over 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers, using only sustainable, organic, and biodynamic farming methods.  Hillside Springs Farm is unique in the area for its extended 24-week harvest season, all-inclusive pricing, freshly pressed apple cider, and draft horse work.”

Frank and Kim are incredibly dedicated, the farm is bountiful, the veggies look outstanding and what a honeybee paradise! Thankfully, they allowed me to place the established package hive and Rick’s hive with them (both on drawn small cell comb). I am happy to say we just harvested our apiary’s first honey in 3 years from this yard! Rick’s hive gave us the honey and is now 6 mediums high with a booming population. That is after I harvested 15 frames of honey from the hive and placed a couple frames of eggs , a frame of nectar and another of pollen into a nuc that I took back home and and let them raise a queen that it now laying a beautiful pattern. Thanks, Rick! This is my best hive.

Before moving the package hive to the farm, I fed it 4 gallons of 1;1 syrup with Honey-B-Healthy and Vitamin-B-Healthy. It built up well and was a deep and 4 mediums when the queen died (have I mentioned how much I hate package bees?). There were about 20 emergency cells in the hive and I decided to let them raise their own queen. That saved me $30 and more importantly, broke the brood cycle from late June to late July, reducing the mite load (no queen=no brood=no place for mites to breed). After returning from the EAS meeting, I purchased 3 queens from Troy Hall and planned on making nucs from the package hive. Unfortunately, the hive lost a lot of strength while raising a new queen and I was only able to take 10 frames from the hive ( 1 of eggs, 1 larvae, 1 pollen 2 nectar rest empty but drawn comb) to make a 2 story nuc.  I then took yet  another 5 frames from Rick’s hive to start a 2nd nuc and brought both home so the bees would not return to the original hives. I added a 2nd story to Rick’s nuc and after 1 day of the nucs being queenless, introduced a Hall queen (in cages) to each hive. Three days later, the queens were released and are now building up for winter in our home apiary.

The Apiary at Honey Meadow Farm

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Panorama of orchard, gardens and apiary

The 2 nucs I purchased from Mike Palmer and the Russian nuc from Dan Conlon were hived at our home apiary. One of the Palmer nucs was hived on small cell and one on large cell. The large cell hive is out performing the small cell but I wonder if it is because it is in the shade during the hottest part of the day while the small cell hive is in the orchard and in direct afternoon sun. So much for my “big” study  of n=2 hives ;-). The Russian hive is also large cell and resides in the orchard. Speaking of the Russians…

The Russians – A great idea but…

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Palmer SC-1 on left, Russians near center in orchard and Palmer LC-1 and nucs on right

As expected, they were slow to build up once hived in a 10 frame deep (btw, all of my hives are 10 frame). I fed them immediately and they took about 2-3 gal of 1;1 before deciding not to bother. At this point there are 3 mediums on top of the deep with about 2 of supers filled of capped honey and the rest nectar. The queen has only laid in the deep. She is unmarked and I have not seen her since the day I put her in the hive. Various stages of brood, eggs and pollen are always present and there is a good population of bees given the size of the hive.

Now the but…These are the nastiest bees I have ever had! One had best be wearing protection if opening the hive. With smoke or without, these bees do NOT like me in their space! I normally wear a veil, t-shirt and long pants when doing my inspections. This hive has me with a bee jacket, veil and double nitrile gloves! I do look at this as my fault. Everyone else I know with Russians tells me how gentle they are. I believe I have a nasty queen and I should have replaced her 6 weeks ago but was too busy to make it down to Warm Colors. My bad as Dan is now out of Russian queens, so she is the matriarch until next spring. I have seen zero swarming behavior within the hive and there is always space for her to lay within the deep so she seems to be managing the hive well. Just leave her alone, thank you! Next chance I get to replace her, she’s gone.

The Palmer Nucs

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LC-1 and 3 of our 4 nucs

Mike’s bees are from Carniolan stock and his nucs are truly overwintered. They build up quickly and you have to be sure to stay on top of them so they do not swarm in early summer. I kept both of them here as I hived one on large cell (LC-1) and one on small cell (SC-1) and I wanted to see if there was a difference. Since the nucs came as large cell deeps, I had to use the large cell frames they came on in SC-1 hive but the rest of the foundation and comb is small cell. Oddly, even with feeding, it took them forever to draw out new foundation in either hive. So long, that I finally added a 2nd deep with drawn large cell comb to LC-1 because they were not drawing out any of the foundation in the mediums and I was afraid they would swarm. After taking about 3-4 gal of 1;1, both finally started to draw out their foundation and are doing well.

In comparison, LC-1 is doing better than SC-1. LC-1 is now 2 deeps and 3 mediums tall. I have harvested 9 frames of honey and I removed 2 frames of eggs, one of nectar and one of pollen to make a nuc for the 3rd Hall queen. I also removed 7 additional frames of “honey” and placed them in the bee freezer so I have reserve frames if one of the colonies gets light next winter. These were the early syrup frames and I wanted them out of the hive anyway. This hive gets early morning sun and is protected from the hot afternoon sun which may be why it is doing so well.

In comparison, SC-1 is in the orchard, is in shade during the early morning and in direct sun from about 10AM  until after 7PM. It has been hot and dry this summer so I wonder if that is having an effect. It is doing well and currently is 6 mediums tall. The queen is mainly laying in the bottom 3 with a bit of brood in 4. Most of supers 4-6 are now capped honey and nectar.

Both hives can occasionally be a bit fiesty but are usually gentle and easy to work. At this point, unless we have a good fall flow, I will not harvest any additional honey and will move what they have made around to balance out the hives and nucs for winter. We now have harvested about 60 pounds which is enough for us, some gifts and a few for sale.

Monitoring Mite Load

So you may have noticed there is very little about hive monitoring, mite load and treatments. Trust me, I am! In fact, I have moved to Mite Away Quick Strips (MAQS), an organically approved formic acid treatment. I will discuss this next week when the treatment is completed.

It is now mid-August and the mite load in your colonies is probably rapidly growing as your bee population starts to decrease a bit as the hives start raising your winter bees. If you have not been monitoring your mite load, DO IT NOW! Waiting until September or later in New England is too late. It’s not just the mites that matter but the fact they are a vector to passing other diseases that will infect your bees now as they get ready for winter. Knocking down your load to 1% or less now will make for much healthier bees in winter. Use a sugar or alcohol roll to get an accurate idea of your mite load. Screen bottom boards with sticky boards are not totally accurate and should be used mainly to determine overall trends.

Well, it’s finally pouring here right now. Naturally, my extractor is sitting unprotected outside the barn since the bees were enjoying cleaning up the residual honey after I harvested some frames yesterday. I guess I should have looked at that fancy weather station in the orchard last night…

I hope your bees are buzzin’ and you are enjoying fresh honey!

 

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One of Mike’s booming overwintered nucs!

Tuesday, May 10th at 4:30AM found me heading up 91N to Mike Palmer’s apiary to pick up 4 Carniolan nucs–2 for Andy and 2 for me. Saturday, May 14th at 2:00PM found me heading down 91S to Dan Conlon’s to pick up 2 Russian nucs, again 1 for Andy and 1 for me. That now brings my apiary to 4 colonies. We sort of look like the United Nations of apiaries with 1 Italian (package), 2 Carniolan and 1 Russian hives. Don’t tell “The Donald” or he may deport them or build a wall around my 10 acres. Actually, that may not be all that bad if it looks nice! One more hive is coming from my friend, Rick. He claims they are American bees and will not be deported.

That will be it for the season unless I start a couple of nucs in late June. That all depends on how the hives build up. The real problem is we live in the woods and I will soon have 5 colonies in an area that probably can only sustain 3. My original plan was to offer 2 hives to an organic farmer friend but another local beek beat me to it. Hopefully, I can place the Italians and the “Americans” in a garden down by the Connecticut River which should prove to be a prime spot and keep the rest here. If not, I still have the organic pasture in Sullivan, NH but bees have not done well there in the past.

The Past

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Hiving a 3lb package of bees

Those who have read this blog for the past 9 seasons know I have tried rather unsuccessfully to raise bees with as little intervention as possible. Early seasons were superb but the last few have been what I consider disastrous to my bees as they have not survived. Most surprising to me was the 2014 season where I entered the 2014-15 winter with  a very low mite count after treating with OAV, did a great job wrapping the hives and added ventilation with moisture boards based on a Master Beekeeper’s online plan only to watch my hives succumb to Nosema (I still think it had to do with adding “winter” patties from a major bee supplier causing the bees to need to relieve themselves but unable to due to bitter cold). At any rate, this has all made me wonder about just how possible it is to raise bees in my locale with minimal intervention.

To save newer readers from going back into the archives, please allow me to review what I have done in the past. First, I have been exclusively small cell in order to help reduce the mite population in medium hive bodies. I do believe small cell does help regardless of every published study saying it does not. None-the-less, in recent years I still had the logarithmic build up of mites in the fall that would overwhelm several of my colonies while others survived. I also did splits to break the brood cycle, did not treat for Nosema and fed as little  syrup as possible due to the change in pH it causes in the bee gut. All of this was in the “best practices” of the no treat camp and I felt I could develop bees that were genetically less susceptible to the diseases others treated for by breeding my survivors. The reality is, first you have to have survivors since, as you may have noticed, dead bees don’t reproduce. Still, I had success following this plan several years ago. It simply has not worked for my bees the last 3 or 4 years and it is time for me to reconsider what I am doing or stop.

The Future:

Step One – Feeding

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Russian hive with top feeder

Another glaring sign is neither my Westmoreland or Sullivan bees have produced a honey crop in about 4 years. In fact, they have barely made enough winter stores for themselves. This makes me wonder if I am not helping them build up fast enough in the Spring to take advantage of the early flow and splitting them too often for the Fall flow. This year, I immediately put 1:1 syrup on all of the colonies, this time using Honey-B-Healthy as a feeding stimulant and adding some additional amino acids via Amino-B-Booster. Since the nucs all are on deep frames, I decided to add a deep hive body to each colony. This means the bees need to draw out some fresh foundation as I have always used mediums to keep things simple. Feeding 1:1 helps provide the resources the bees need to do so and hopefully the additional amino acids will help nutritionally. I plan on feeding each of the colonies until they quit taking it.

Step Two – Small vs Large Cell

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Bees on small cell comb with 1 day old eggs

Without delving into the argument about which size is best (look at previous posts), the primary reason I used small cell was for mite reduction. For me, I took a big step in Fall, 2014 when I first used OAV to knock down the mite load in late summer and then again heading into Winter. That makes me wonder if there is still a need for me to use small cell since I am now using OAV for the same reason. Are larger bees better at overwintering or creating honey stores compared to my smaller bees? While I have my thoughts, I really do not know, so I hived one of the Carniolan nucs mixing fresh small cell foundation with the existing large cell frames the bees came on and placing a medium of  drawn out small cell frames on top.  The other Carniolan nuc was hived on all large cell frames in the deep with a medium of fresh large cell foundation above. Both will remain in the Westmoreland apiary and I’ll watch to see if there is any difference. Yes, I know this is too small of a sample size to make any definitive statement but it’s what I’ve got and I’m interested in seeing if they perform differently. Interestingly, the large cell hive has, as of May 20th,  refused to draw out any of the fresh foundation above the deep and is cramming everything into the bottom deep. If this continues, I will take the remaining large cell deep frames I have accumulated and create a 2nd deep hive body, put it above the lower deep and checkerboard the frames to prevent swarming. I’ll still leave the fresh foundation medium as the top super.

Note: All of the previously drawn out frames of comb, regardless of size, have spent a minimum of 2 weeks in my bee freezer before being used in a new hive. This is to help kill anything that may have been living on the frames in the previous hive. Not 100% fool proof but it certainly helps.

Step 3 – Treating for Varroa

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Organic blueberry blossoms

First and foremost, Gayla and I are very committed to managing our property organically. While not certified, I think it has been about 14 years since we used any inorganic pesticides or petroleum-based fertilizers anywhere on our Westmoreland homestead and Sullivan is about to be certified organic. Our gardens have been organic for the 25 years we have lived here. The blueberry, strawberry and raspberry beds plus the orchard we have established are now entering their 3rd season and all follow suit. This blog however, is about holistic beekeeping,not organic beekeeping and though I am not about to completely change my ways, I am acknowledging the fact that, in the past, I have not been considering the whole organism and now wonder about the value of some of the softer treatments. This is why I like OAV vaporization. The treatment has proven successful in Europe for decades. Oxalic acid exists in honey and in many of the foods we eat. It has been shown to have no affect on the queen, bees or larvae while being devastating to Varroa. The treatment is over within minutes and does not require me to leave strips in a hive for days. I have noticed several dead bees post treatment but I am wondering if they were actually on the material as it vaporized. Do I wish I did not have to use it? ABSOLUTELY! I also wish to win the lottery…

The Russian hive (placed in a large cell deep with drawn comb and a medium with fresh large cell foundation on top) should not require treatment. The queen is certified pure Russian, not a hybrid. They are resistant to Varroa, tracheal mites and American Foul Brood. Note, resistant not immune! I will certainly follow them using drop boards tho’ Dan says he has not had to treat for several years. I hope I can say the same.

Step 4 – Treating for Nosema

I am not a fan of prophylactic use of antibiotics. I do not take them this way and I do not feel right giving them to my bees. I have put a lot of thought into how to reduce my chances of N. apis or N. cerenae with nutrition playing a major role. After loosing so many colonies to Nosema during the 2014-15 winter, I’m leaning towards treating this Fall, though looking for something besides Fumigilan-B. I plan on attending the EAS annual meeting in July and hope to find an answer there. Please send comments if you have any ideas or let me know what you do. It’s very sad to open what was a booming hive going into winter and finding dead bees, frames of honey and a brown mess over everything.

Step 5- The Orchard and Pollinator Habitats

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Blueberry plants and some of the garden

 

My thought is the best way to defeat Nosema is by providing a variety of good forage throughout the season. That should also help with finally getting some honey! This is what first made me decide to plant the orchard and all of the various fruits. Now starting their 3rd season are 7 apple trees, 3 peach, 2 plum a pear and a pie cherry. The floor of the orchard is primarily dutch clover which also permeates our lawn. We also have 50+ cultivated blueberry plants, countless wild blueberries, 100 linear feet of raspberries and a strawberry bed. Our 78’x50′ veggie garden goes in this week. Dandelions abound…

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The orchard floor is a variety of pollinator plants–including white dutch clover–hopefully providing good forage throughout the season.

Providing pollen and nectar in the Spring is great but bees eat throughout the season so we are now planting varieties that will continue supporting all of the pollinators. So far we have added borage, an area of sweet clover, another of buckwheat, bee balm, numerous butterfly bushes, echinacea, sweet cicely, buttonbush, American cranberry (Bailey’s viburnam), a variety of wildflower seed, winter flame dogwood plus our normal perennials of lavender and numerous annuals.

 

Hopefully, this commitment will show the results that I expect and the bees in my care deserve.

OOPS! Gayla just handed me warm chocolate chip cookies! This ol’ boy does have his priorities. C’ya!

I hope your bees are buzzin’!

 

 

 

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bees and barn

Waiting to check in …

Last Saturday morning found my friend Andy and I each picking up a new package of Italian bees from Dan Conlon at Warm Colors Apiary. As I have stated in earlier posts, I really hate buying packages but I know I can trust Dan. My problem with packages is we are bringing in bees that have already been across the US and back doing almonds, the bees have no relationship to the queen and it’s a great way to bring critters that bother southern bees and drop them right into your apiary. I greatly prefer northern-raised nucs from trustworthy, local beekeepers. The nucs have either overwintered with the queen  or, as in the case of “spring nucs”, a northern-raised queen was added to a nuc in late April or early May and has proven herself by laying several frames of healthy brood before the colony is sold. In either instance, the queens are already accepted and the colony has proven itself to be viable prior to arriving in your apiary.

 

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Apiary facing organic orchard, veggie garden and 50+ blueberries eventually needing pollination

So… if I do not like packages, why did I buy one? Pollination. I need bees now as we already have blueberries starting to blossom, as is one of our plum trees. The apples and peaches will be next and the 4 nucs that I have coming will not be ready for at least another 2-3 weeks. Since I order my bees in December and January–before we know if it will be a good or bad winter for bees–betting on nucs is a bit of a gamble. While there certainly are no guarantees in beekeeping, one can readily anticipate a package ordered late fall or early winter will actually arrive come spring. When that package is coming via Dan, it’s as solid as it can possibly be.

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So I said good-bye to Andy and Dan and headed home to hive the Italian ladies into a hive consisting of a hive stand, a screen bottom board, a slat board to raise the bottom brood chamber away from the bottom entrance (still cold here at night with a couple of nights dropping into the 20’s) two 10-frame mediums of drawn small cell, a hive top feeder and an outer cover. Yes, I installed the package directly onto drawn small cell comb and did not worry about regressing the bees from large cell to small. I have never done so and have not had a problem.

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Didn’t your mother tell you never shake 3 lbs of bees into a box?

As with every package I have ever installed, the bees were incredibly gentle and I never lit the smoker. You may wish to have yours lit and available but I didn’t take the time. You can also have a spray bottle of syrup handy if you so desire. Again, nah…I removed one frame from the lower medium to create space to hang the queen cage and removed all of the frames from the upper, leaving the upper hive body in place. After shaking the bees into the hive,

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Make sure cage screen faces open area so bees can feed the queen until she is free

I hung the queen cage in the space created in the middle of the lower hive body when I removed the one frame and replaced all 10 frames in the upper medium. After adding a gallon of 1:1 syrup (1 pint water to 1 pound of sugar), I closed them up, put a wooden entrance reducer on the bottom entrance (opened to about 3 “) turned on the bear fence and walked away. Naturally, you DO have a baited bear fence, right? Shortly later the girls were doing orientation flights in front of their new abode.

Day 4:

Due to weather, on day 4 I finally went out to check  on the queen and found her in the upper medium laying eggs. The bees had stored about 1/2 of the syrup and were bringing in pollen to feed the larvae.

Day 7:

Yesterday, the bees had finally stored all of the original gallon of syrup. Cold nights meant cold syrup that had to warm up during the 50-60º days and delayed them a bit.

I decided I want all or at least most of my hives to have a deep bottom brood chamber. I’m thinking it may help in winter so I placed a deep of fresh small cell foundation on top of the 2 mediums and added a gallon of syrup with some Honey-B-Healthy to help stimulate feeding. Packages can build comb quickly so I am hoping they draw out the deep foundation and I can put the deep on the bottom of the stack prior to the nectar flow.

Notes:

I cannot tell you how wonderful it is for us to have bees again! We really missed them and love hearing them fly by when working in the yard, see them hitting the dandelions and just sitting out by the hive watching the entrance. I plan on monitoring the feeder but otherwise leaving them along for the next 10-14 days and let them build up. We should be getting an email about that time saying the nucs are ready and then the apiary will REALLY be buzzing!

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Package is in 2nd green hive. Bear fence is solar powered and baited with bacon.

BTW, in the pictures you will see I have 3 additional hives already in place. I did this so the package bees are immediately  familiar with the eventual apiary configuration which will hopefully reduce drifting later on. Also, at night, I reduce the entrance down to about 3/4″ and open it to about 3″ during the day to prevent too much congestion at the entrance.

 

I hope your colonies are quickly building up and that spring has finally arrived to stay! If you were lucky enough to have overwintered any nucs, get them hived  and be ready to add supers for their growth spurt!

The next post will be about the apiary plan for 2017.

Keep your bees buzzin’!

 

 

 

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Spring, 2016

Hello, again. I apologize for the year “sabbatical”. It was not planned but what resulted when I slipped on the last piece of ice on our driveway a year ago yesterday. The result was surgery in July which ended my beekeeping season and typing for quite a while. It also resulted in loosing my last 2 hives to Bald Faced Hornets and leaving me without bees for the first time in 8 years. Thanks to a GREAT orthopedic surgeon at Mass General, I am back and ready to go!

Through the graces of my friendships with Mike Palmer, Dan Conlon, and best beekeeping buddies, Rick, Keith and Jen, this spring I will again have bees! I absolutely cannot tell you how I have missed them and will start with 6 colonies. I am changing some of the practices I have followed for the past 8 seasons and will again be writing about what I am doing and the results I experience. You are welcome to join me if you wish and I again apologize for the silence.

More to come soon!

I hope your bees came buzzin’ through winter ready for an early spring!

 

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