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.



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.


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.


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,


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.


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!


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’!




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!


Oxalic Acid Vaporization

If you have not read the previous post, please do so. This is part 2…

Before I continue writing, Oxalic Acid Vaporization (OAV) is not an approved miticide technique in the US and is considered off label usage. It has been used for years in Europe and in many countries is considered the primary treatment for Varroa destructor. There are numerous beekeepers in the US using this technique and the equipment for performing OAV is readily available from a number of sources. But it is not yet approved! I am not in any way suggesting you use this technique in your apiary. I am describing how I use this in my apiary. Additionally, OA is hazardous to your eyes and lungs. Proper protection is required when using the vaporization method.

What is it?
Oxalic Acid (OA) is an organic acid. Do not get confused by the word “organic”, all it means is there is carbon in the formula. This is not a certified organic treatment, though it is considered a “soft” treatment. Everything I have read–and so far experienced–claims it does not affect queens, brood, or bees. It is 70x more toxic to mites than bees and can be used as long as the temperature is over 40ºF. Tho’ oxalic acid is naturally found in honey, you should not treat with the supers on if you are selling honey. Remove the supers during the treatment and replace them later or put a physical barrier between the brood boxes and honey supers so the OAV does not reach the honey. Why add anything to the hive with the supers in place? BTW, OA is naturally found in spinach, Swiss chard, beets (root part), beet greens (leaf part), collards, okra, parsley, leeks, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, almonds, tofu, soy products etc…

The Varrox® unit has battery cable clips at the end of a 6 foot cable.

The Varrox® unit has battery cable clips at the end of a 6 foot cable.

Choosing OAV
Please read Randy Oliver’s 2-part article about OA dribble and vaporization on his website, Scientific Beekeeping. Randy goes into such excellent detail it would be foolish for me to repeat it here and I would be plagiarizing his work if I did. Let me simply say after reading his articles, checking the scientific references and (gasp!) reading numerous conversations on Beesource forums, I decided the claimed results warranted trying the vaporization technique.

The Components

I purchased the Varrox® 12-volt oxalic vaporizer Randy recommended on his website. The cost was $165, including shipping. I also purchased a tractor battery at Home Depot for $49, a full face shield respirator at Amazon for $110 and what I believe to be the cartridges for the respirator for another $34. Add the $6 I spent on OA (purchased on EBay) and the total comes to $364. Pricey? Compared to the toll on queens and brood most of the other treatments cause, I do not believe so. Plus, how much is a viable hive worth today? All of the components are a 1 time purchase except for the respirator cartridges and the OA and will last for many years.

During OAV treatment

In progress. Battery, iPad with stopwatch, vaporizer in hive. Note : 3 pieces of foam keeps bottom entrance sealed. Middle piece is removed then replaced to insert/remove Varrox® unit


The key is to seal the hive so when the OA is heated, the vapors remain in the hive. All I did was close the upper entrance by pulling the outer cover tight across the front, place sticky boards under the screen bottom boards and stuff pieces of foam in the bottom entrance. The Varrox unit comes with spoons for measuring out 1 gram of OA. I use 1gr OA per brood chamber (2gr for my larger hives # 1 and 2 and 1gr for hives #3 and 4 ) and pouring it into the cup of the Varrox unit, I place the cup with OA  in the front of the hive through the bottom entrance, seal the entrance with foam, hook up the leads to the battery and wait 3 minutes. The Varrox unit vaporizes the OA which then fills the interior of the hive. A very small amount of vapor does come out of the hive. This is why I wear the face shield with respirator and use gloves. At 3 minutes I remove the leads from the battery and wait a couple of minutes for the Varrox to cool. I remove the foam around the unit (I use 3 pieces of foam so most of the bottom entrance stays sealed while I do this) pull the Varrox unit out of the hive, replace the foam and let the hive remain sealed for a total of 10 minutes after removing the leads from the battery. While I’m waiting, I dip the hot portion of the Varrox in water to immediately cool it and start the same procedure with the next hive. When the 13 minutes is up, I remove the foam, re-open the top entrance and walk away. The first time I did this treatment I only did one hive at a time before moving on. During the 2nd treatment, I used 2 timers so I could continue on while the last hive finished it’s treatment. As I recall, to do the 4 hives took me approximately 45 minutes.

Preliminary Results

There are over 1,000 dead mites on this board. I know. I counted them!

There are over 1,000 dead mites on this board. I know. I counted them!

Hive 1:
Pre-treat inspection: 24 hour mite drop of 10 – 12 on sticky board

1st treatment: 6 Days post-treat with OAV: 1,100+ dead mites on sticky board
2nd treatment: 6 days post-treat with OAV: 1,253 dead mites on sticky board

Hive inspection 6 days after 2nd treatment: Saw the queen who is still laying. Eggs, larvae and brood look good, bees are plentiful, look and act healthy with a few dead bees in hive.

Hive 2:
Pre-treat: 24 hour mite drop of 10 – 12 on stickyboard                    Treated with powdered sugar dusting 2x 1 week apart: mite drop count remaining at 10 – 12/24 hr

6 Days post-treat with OAV: 500+ dead mites on sticky board
2nd treatment: 6 days post-treat with OAV: 728 dead mites on sticky board

Hive inspection 6 days after 2nd treatment: Queen is still laying but was not seen. Eggs, larvae and brood look good, bees are plentiful and look/act healthy, no dead bees in hive.

Hives 3 & 4
Hives were queenless long enough to break brood cycle in August, re-queened late August. Thinking that would nip the mite population I did not do 24 hr mite drop test prior to OAV (my bad…)

Hive 3:
1st treatment: 6 Days post-treat with OAV: about 350 dead mites on sticky board.
2nd treatment: 6 days post-treat with OAV: 296 dead mites on sticky board

Hive inspection 6 days after 2nd treatment: Queen found and is not laying, brood has almost completely hatched, bees plentiful and look/act healthy. I believe she has stopped for winter.

Hive 4:
1st treatment: 6 days post-treat with OAV: About 250 dead mites.
2nd treatment: 6 days post-treat with OAV: 255 dead mites

Queen found and is not laying. Brood almost completely hatched. Bees look/act healthy. Again, I believe she has stopped for winter.


So after 2 treatments I have counted over 4,500 dead mites on sticky boards. I will treat hive 1 and 2 tomorrow but will not treat hive 3 and 4 until I do a final treatment in November when all the hives should be broodless. The reported efficacy of this treatment on broodless hives is approximately 95% mite kill.

Looking in the hives, I would never know these bees were treated. Tho’ they were a bit perturbed when I opened them for inspection, it was cold (55ºF) and at times a bit windy. The eggs, larvae and brood looked normal as did the queen and the rest of the bees. Overall, I’m quite pleased with my choice to use OAV and look forward to seeing how they overwinter.

As to next year, I will absolutely do everything possible to not treat these bees in the fall. I will continue to do my splits, queen capture, mite counts etc. I look at OAV as a backup in case mite counts exponentially rise in late fall. Otherwise, I intend to continue my normal treatment free standard of care. I believe by using OAV this year, I have remained true to my goal of holistic beekeeping. I looked at the entire hive, saw a major mite explosion and treated the hive in the least invasive method possible. Time will tell how successful I am.

I hope your bees are buzzing and that the fall flow has brought you full hives. Go pick some apples and enjoy the rest of autumn!

Treatment Free No More…

As autumn approaches, it becomes even more important to do your mite checks. This is what I did NOT do last year and I vowed that will not happen this year. Bees start to decrease in numbers but the mites keep right on going and if left unchecked, will overrun the hive (see my results from last winter). I’ve been spot checking hives all season long, always with very good results. Sugar rolls came back with zero mites. Sticky boards showed zero to 1 mite per 24 hours. I was feeling pretty positive! Then came late August and early September…

How the Summer Went

When I last  wrote, the bees were building nicely.  At one point I was up to 5 hives and 1 nuc after starting with the equivalent of 3 nucs and 1 hive.  I raised 2 daughters from my Sullivan queen, Rick Church made a nuc for me using a Carniolan queen from Dan Conlan and I had a Palmer survivor and a survivor grand daughter of a Jennifer Berry queen. Mite counts were excellent and all of the queens were laying tho’ the Berry and Palmer survivors were slow building. The Conlan queen and the Sullivan queens (originally from Mike Palmer stock) were going gangbusters! With the bees doing well it was time to concentrate on the orchard and berry gardens. A check in early August showed the bees doing fine except the slow builders still hadn’t come up to speed so I combined them, keeping the Berry grand daughter.

End of Summer Surprise

End of August I did an extensive inspection of the hives and found the Sullivan Survivor queen was gone and there was not an egg or capped brood cell to be seen! Even though the hive was 5 mediums high with a ton of bees, my best queen was gone and had been for at least 16 days. Further inspections showed me I should requeen the the combined hive and that I had mite counts rapidly increasing in the 2 other hives (10 – 12 mite drop/24 hours on sticky boards).

Luckily, I was able to buy 2 queens from Charlie Andros. Whenever I requeen a “queenless” hive I always do one final check before installing the new queen. Sure enough, the top frame had a few eggs and a queen walking around! They had made a replacement queen who was out mating when I inspected the hive. Four days later, she’s back and laying. Made me glad I checked or I would have added a queen to a queen-right colony. Not good…I moved the Berry queen into a nuc just in case the new queen was not accepted and requeened her hive. I took the 2nd queen and made a nuc from some of the booming hives and took it out to Sullivan. Checking on that nuc 3 weeks later was another surprise. It looks like it has European Foul Brood. As it is an isolated hive with no other apiaries within 2 miles, I left it alone and need to get back to see what is happening.

Trying to Reduce the Mite Levels

So now I had all of the colonies queen-right but I still had to knock down the mites in the other 2 hives. It was too late to capture the queens and isolate them to break the brood cycle as they were raising bees that were going to work the fall flow and raise the winter bees. I decided to try dusting with powdered sugar. You guessed it…no effect. After 2 dustings a week apart I still had mite drops of 10-12/24 hours. Now what?

Hard to Improve Genetics When all of Your Bees are Dead

After being treatment free for the first 6 years, I have been wondering what I will do if faced with this dilemma since last February. I’ve spoken to other beeks. I’ve read numerous papers and forums. I refuse to use the hard treatments and have been looking for whatever “soft” treatment may be harmless to bees and honey yet knock out mites–in other words, the Holy Grail. While my choice is not ready to be included in a Monty Python movie, for me, the winner is Oxalic Acid Vaporizaton (OAV). As I am out of time tonight, I will continue this later this week, including preliminary results. While I am no longer able to say I am a treatment free beekeeper, the preliminary results have me happy with my choice and will hopefully leave me with bees that I can continue to manage next spring. It’s hard to improve the genetics of your apiary when all of your bees are dead and I truly believe mine would have been without this intervention.

I hope your hives a dripping with honey and filled with contented bees! In New Hampshire, your mouse guards should be on, your feeders ready to come off and your mites in control. Be back shortly…



Slowly building back

The Farm

Southeast cornerThe bees have not been the only hard workers at our home this summer.   We now have our 15 tree orchard, 49 blueberry bushes, 100 raspberries and 50 strawberries all planted, mulched, fenced and growing nicely. Gayla’s veggie garden is looking fantastic and I’ve even got a 2nd coat of stain on about half of the remaining areas of the barn. The clover in the orchard is finally coming on, too. On the downside, only 7 of the 25 asparagus plants seem viable and one of the apple trees didn’t make it. backyardAll-in-all, we’ll take it and are very happy to now enter the IPM, fertilizing and continual weeding portion of summer!

Getting to this stage has had a definite affect on my blogging and it’s way past time to catch up on how our bees are progressing. Sorry for the delay but removing the clay and rocks from every hole I dug and replacing it with compost so the plants will grow took a toll on this ol’ boy! On to the bees…garden & barn








The Bees

In May we had 3 colonies, the “Sullivan Survivior” and 2 colonies that made it through winter in Westmoreland. As I write this, we now have 6. The 2 Westmoreland colonies had such a  small number of bees in each hive I downsized them to nucs. One has since been placed back into 10-frame equipment, however both are building up slowly. It looks like one is a Palmer daughter queen and one is  Jennifer Berry daughter queen. The Palmer queen remains in a nuc and appears quite healthy. The Berry daughter was placed back in a full hive as I wondered if she would build up faster. Today’s inspection show that both queens are laying across 6 frames and the populations are slowly growing. Both have ample quantities of nectar and pollen.

P1010856The “Sullivan Survivor” hive was going gangbusters in May. I decided to raise a couple of her daughters so I removed the queen from the hive and placed her in a nuc, leaving the hive to raise its own queen. I also took a nice frame of eggs covered with nurse bees and put it in a queen castle with a frame of honey and another of pollen. Thirty days later both had raised a laying queen. That was 2 weeks ago. The daughter in the hive has taken the cue from her mother and is laying in 2 supers and has created a full super of brood! Removing the original queen from this hive during the flow gave the bees plenty of time to collect nectar and pollen and I added the 5th super today to keep them happy. By removing the queen, I also broke the brood cycle and greatly reduced the mite load in the hive.

P1010852The daughter from the queen castle was placed in a nuc and has laid 3 frames of brood. There is still a bit of room in the nuc for her but they have done well collecting nectar and pollen stores. I will probably add a frame of capped brood to the nuc next week to boost its population. I want to take this into winter as a nuc–not a full hive–and believe it will be ready by time late August is here.

The original queen built up the nuc I placed her in quickly so I hived her several weeks ago. Today’s inspection showed she is laying in all 3 chambers with more than a full super of brood and plus amounts of nectar and pollen.

The 6th colony started as a spring nuc (large cell, deep) created by my friend, Rick Church. Rick and I recently taught a 2-session class for advanced beekeepers. The first class was at Rick’s on June 7th and I brought the nuc home that day. I hived the nuc on June 14th. On June 21st, we looked at the hive during my class. The large cell queen was laying across 6 deep frames and had already laid 3 frames of small cell! I added the 3rd super after the class left. Today, that super was 100% filled with nectar and she has laid across 6 frames in the 2nd super. I added another super and checkerboarded the frames to keep the brood nest open. I currently have a frame from this hive in the queen castle and saw they have a capped queen cell incubating. In 3 weeks I hope to have another laying queen which I will probably use to requeen the Berry daughter hive.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way the apiary is going. Our bees have been incredibly gentle this year. I have not had to smoke them even once and I have often done inspections in shorts without using  a veil. This is rather foolhardy and now I force myself to wear a veil and long pants when I open a hive. All it takes is one bee having a bad day…We did mite checks using  drop boards and a sugar roll during the class and found only 1 mite. Of course, that is what we found last year, too. This year, I will continue to do the checks every other week to make sure I do not allow the mites to take over.

I hope you had a great 4th and that your apiary is filled with the contented hum  of happy bees and the sweet smell of warm wax and honey. Happy summer!






ImageWith my apologies to The Who, I am borrowing their song Won’t Get Fooled Again as the mantra for my 2014 beekeeping endeavors. The song’s been a long time favorite of mine since I saw them in Rochester, NY on a hot, steamy August night in 1971. Little did Peter Townsend know that a portion of his lyrics “Meet the new boss,”would someday refer to the sole surviving queen of my Sullivan apiary. She is a large, dark colored Carniolan–a daughter of one of my Mike Palmer queens (I guess I could have used Santana’s Black Magic Woman, eh?). Okay…I’ll quit with the geriatric rock analogies but those were GREAT concerts and tell me you didn’t click on the link to see the videos…



Starting 2014 a lot smaller

2014 Westmoreland ApiaryNow that spring has finally arrived, with Rick’s help, we brought the sole surviving hive from Sullivan back to save the 2 surviving Westmoreland colonies. While the Westmoreland queens appear viable and are laying eggs, the number of bees in the hives has continually decreased as the bees age out. Last week the colonies did not have enough bees to care for the brood the queens were producing. Feeling rather desperate, I downsized the Westmoreland hives to nucs and gave each 1 frame of capped brood with nurse bees from the Sullivan hive to boost the population. A week later, it actually appears to be working as both appear healthier and more vibrant. Meanwhile, the main hive  is building up nicely with “the new boss” laying across numerous frames in all 3 hive bodies. I will pull frames of eggs and nurse bees from the hive and place them in a queen castle to let them raise their own queens once the flow is over. Several folks have asked for queens from this hive since the queen survived what 18 others did not. She has to be one mean queen and I’m hoping her genetics will serve as the basis to relaunch the apiary. I really need to match up with someone with a good drone yard…

Won’t get fooled again or am I just The Fool on the Hill (it’s rhetorical, do not answer…)

I’ve promoted no treat, small cell beekeeping since I started in 2008. Until last year, the apiaries increased every year, the losses I experienced were covered by overwintering nucs and/or purchasing a couple every spring. My colonies (and my honey) were not tainted by anything the bees did not bring in themselves. I was a pretty satisfied beekeeper. My apiary plan was exactly on track. The bees were doing their job perfectly.

What did not go perfectly last summer was my expectation that I would be able to spend more time in the apiary. Instead, I found myself traveling more for work, as well as having to concentrate on building the barn, solar system and site work. The apiary in Sullivan grew to 19 colonies due to moving hives from Westmoreland to accommodate the construction. Sullivan should not have had more than 10. My apiary time decreased as the summer progressed, hives swarmed and when I should have been monitoring mite load, I was lazy and relied on small cell to do its thing and take care of any mite issue that might ensue. A very bad decision that, combined with a very long, cold winter, caused the death of 18 of my hives.

In March, Ben Chadwick and Chris Rallis visited the apiary and said I should consider treating the hives if I want them to survive (see March, 27 post). I have listened to many suggestions, read lots of forums and articles and thought about this more hours than I can count. It all comes down to this. I raised healthy, treatment free bees for 5 straight years. The 6th year everything crashed. The main difference was the number of hives I had and the reduced amount of time I spent caring for them. My whole plan for our “farm” – the orchard, our veggie gardens, the blueberries, raspberries, strawberries etc is all based on organic practices. I am not going to start treating my bees when I believe it was a lack of proper management issue that set them up for last year’s failure. Some of you will find fault with my thinking. Go for it. I may end up having to join you.

The 2014 plan is to better manage the size of my apiary by using proper swarm management, splitting hives and overwintering nucs for sale each spring. I need to take advantage of all IPM (Integrated Pest Management) techniques to manage my bees and to do an excellent job monitoring mite load. Using small cell is not the silver bullet. I believe, in my apiary, it is a potential benefit but it takes more time to run a treatment free apiary than one where a beekeeper treats. Chemical treatment provides a very effective eraser twice a year that works very effectively against mites. Trouble is, it also extracts a toll on queens and/or brood and remains in the wax which may have an additional affect on other beneficial hive flora. We are establishing our organic “hobby farm” to provide us with healthy, untainted veggies and fruit. These are the same plants and trees that will be pollinated by our bees. I just have to see if proper management on my end makes it all work together. I truly believe it will and I completely understand I am betting the bees lives on it.

I hope your are bees buzzin’, that you have left a patch of dandelions for them to forage and that your gardens will be fruitful. As always, thanks for reading and caring about the bees. A special thank you to everyone who has offered me bees or sent a note. Your thoughtfulness is incredibly kind and greatly appreciated!


Rick Church and I will teach a 2-session advanced class for 2nd-3rd year beekeepers on June 7 and 21. For more info or to register, please contact me.



Sorry for the lack of work on the blog. A lot has been happening in our lives. In the meantime, our new website, www.HoneyMeadowFarm.com, is now online (the apiary is currently the only live section). Check it out and I will post again before the end of the weekend. We have reconfigured the hives, have a new apiary plan as a response to our winter losses, planted the first 8 trees in the orchard and will soon teach an advanced beekeeping class with my friend, Rick Church. Lots to talk about and I will put fingers to keyboard very soon.

Meanwhile, I hope your bees are buzzin’ and that you have left your dandelions as a safe food source for your bees! Be back soon!

Using organic lawn fertilizer provides safe forage for your bees.

Using organic lawn fertilizer provides safe forage for your bees.

I spent the best $10 I believe I will ever invest in beekeeping today when the state apiary inspector, Ben Chadwick, and Chris Rallis, State Survey Coordinator, Division of Plant Industry came out to my Sullivan apiary to do a post mortem inspection of my hives. If you voluntarily register your hives with the State of New Hampshire, you are able to request Ben to do an inspection of your hives whether viable or not. It proved to be one of the most informative 2 hours I have ever spent as a beekeeper. Total cost? $10 as I have more than 10 hives. $5 if you have less than 10.

I have enjoyed known Chris Rallis for several years and find him to be to be an excellent resource and beekeeper. Ben is an affable, incredibly knowledgeable beekeeper with 500+ hives. He tells it like it is, gives what I believe will prove to be excellent advice and has a great way of making things easy to understand. He patiently dismantled 5 or 6 of the hives, pointing out exactly what he was seeing, explaining what occurred and why, plus how it could have been prevented. I hope I am a better beekeeper tonight than I was this morning based on his observations, suggestions and patience.


I left more than half of my dead outs untouched so Ben would be the first to open them. The first hive showed a heavy mite load. Dead mites–lots of them– were all along the top bars of the frames in the top super. As he went through the remaining 3 supers mites, were always visible. He commented that the hive had looked like it had been very healthy with lots of bees but the mite load overtook them. Chris found some brood on one of the frames and pulled several bees out of the cells, comparing what one healthy bee about to hatch looked like to several bees that had their wings chewed off and were 1/2 normal size due to mites in the cells. As this was the nastiest hive in the apiary, I could easily understand that this particular hive had a high mite load as It was very unpleasant to work. Now I know why…

Ben then moved over to one of the nucs.  I have always overwintered my nucs in single, individual wooden nuc boxes stacked on a SBB with inner and telescoping covers. Upon removing the covers, Ben’s first comment was I need to do a better job scraping the edges of the frames so they can be placed closer together. There was burr wax and propolis on the sides of the frames that added an extra 3/16″ space between each frame, reducing the space between the outside frames and the hive body. This created too large of an interior space for the cluster to keep warm. As the nucs are 1/2 the size of a normal hive body, the extremely cold temps we’ve had were too low for the cluster to overcome. Ben’s comment was if I wanted to continue to use these hive bodies, I should make migratory covers so I could stack the hives closer together side-by-side and rather than wrap each hive individually, wrap 2 nucs together so they could share warmth. He also suggested placing screen or burlap on the top supers and adding another nuc box filled with straw on top to help with ventilation and heat retention.

Mites in various quantities continued to show up in the rest of the hive dead outs. Just as Mike Palmer told me over the phone, Ben and Chris mentioned the mites reduce the health of the bees and reduce their ability to overwinter. I knew this but after 6 previous years of fairly successful survivor results, I now understand I have to do a significantly better job breaking the mite cycle and reducing the fall mite load. Ben thought one hive probably absconded due to excessive mites and showed me the rough chewed cell edges indicative of robbing. What had been a properly filled 5 super hive was completely robbed out.

The T Word

Both Ben and Chris said I need to treat or continue to loose my bees. Ben suggested soft treatments using thymol, as he knew I do not want to treat the hives. Based on the results I have had over the years, he suggested I might want to try treating some hives and not others to compare the differences. He even mentioned the possibility of treating every other year and checking the results. He was also quick to say that even treating does not guarantee winter survival.

Now What?

I certainly have seen the results not treating can provide, both the good and now the horrendous. There can also be serious reactions by the bees due to the use of treatments such as Apivar Life, Apiguard etc. Loss of queens, agitated, fighting bees, robbing, etc have all been reported by beeks using Apivar Life. HopGuard is not approved in NH. Now I have to decide whether to move forward with soft treatments or to incredibly amp up  my efforts to break the brood cycle, use powdered sugar or other no treat techniques.

You’ll have to check in later to see what I decide because tonight I am really torn as to what to do. I have fought treating for years but I also did not aggressively try to holistically manage the mite load. I let decent survivor results lull me into becoming lazy. I certainly cannot continue to survive as a beekeeper with more losses similar to this winter’s. It’s not the monetary loss, it is the emotional devastation I feel as a beekeeper that has taken it’s toll on me, just as I know it would on you. By not monitoring my mite load in the fall, I failed my part of the compact with my bees. I let them down and set my bees up for a winter very few of them will survive.

My heartfelt thanks to Chris and Ben for coming to see me today and opening my eyes. New Hampshire beekeepers are very lucky to have you gentlemen willing and available to help us! I hope to get back out to the apiary to get photos of many of the above things I did wrong and will post them here when I can.

Meanwhile, I hope your bees are buzzin’. This weekend is going to be warmer. Try to take at least a quick look and maybe get a patty on them. As the survivor hive in Sullivan is going well, I put a patty on the top super today. Ben suggested breaking it into 4 pieces and surrounding the cluster with it. As I had bees coming through the center hole in the inner cover, he suggested doing the same thing on top of the inner cover, too. If they want it they’ll eat it. If not, no harm done.

On to spring…


Got wax?

Unfortunately, I just heard of another local beekeeper with several apiaries that has had similar losses as mine. This is a well established, decades long beekeeper who has been a bee inspector in Vermont and New Hampshire. In one of his yards he lost 15 of 17 with one weak hive (sound familiar?), another lost 9 of 16 with 3 weak and the last did OK with only 3 dead of 14. This is the 3rd  NH beekeeper with 20+ hives I’ve heard of this winter with serious losses. Some treat even treat. What a horrendous winter with a potential nor’easter coming Tuesday into Wednesday. To top it off, according to Kim Flottum, the bees working almonds in California last month were damaged and there is a meeting/phone conference with the EPA tomorrow morning to discuss “Risk Assessment of Bee Damage after Almond Bloom: a Meeting with EPA representatives and beekeepers”. Makes one want to take up chess…

If you have sufficient losses this winter that leave you more hive bodies/supers than you have bees, what will you do with the wax? Drawn comb is gold to a beekeeper. Every pound of wax your bees made took 7 pounds of their honey to do it! If you just let it sit wax moths will destroy it. Melting fresh comb into wax for candles, cremes etc seems like a complete waste of material to me. When you rebuild your apiary you will really wish you had all of the comb. So what do you do?

This is the scenario I am definitely facing this year. I will have at least 75 mediums of drawn comb that I will not need and probably 8-10 supers of honey (all from hives where bees starved). I can obviously extract the honey but not knowing what not knowing what really caused my losses (supposedly Thursday will be the state inspection) I think I will store it in my bee freezer and see what I need for the apiary come late summer. I can always put it back on the hives if they are light and beats feeding them syrup. It will also be useful for creating nucs or splits this summer, if I am so lucky!

The problem is the frames of empty comb. There is some older comb I can cull from the hives but I do not treat and my bees forage in a pretty environmentally clean area. I do not feel it necessary to pull frames every 3 years because I am not subjecting my bees and wax to chemicals used to treat Nosema or mites. Yes, the bees can pick up contaminants while foraging but I am willing to wager regional hives have more chemicals added to them by beekeepers than brought in by foraging bees.

Today we went into the honey house where we store the 17 supers of surplus drawn and fresh foundation that we did not need for winter and placed them into construction size plastic bags. After cinching the top of the bag with twist ties, the foundation is safe from wax moth infestation. I stacked the bags in a couple of cabinets and in the barn. I’ll place moth balls around them to hopefully keep the mice at bay, too. When I need a new super next summer, all I have to do is take one out of a bag and it will be ready to go. My bees will concentrate on filling the frames with brood and honey rather than having to draw wax.

I removed one of the dead outs from the Westmoreland apiary and put 2 supers of honey and 2 hive bodies in the freezer. I’ll leave them there until I am able to start pulling some of the hives out of Sullivan. I can only store about 8 supers in the freezer at one time. Once I bring everything home, I’ll rotate the contents of complete hives through the freezer  every 72 hours to make sure anything nasty is killed. Obviously, if I had AFB (American Foul Brood, which I DO NOT!) freezing would be useless as it would not kill the spores. Once the supers come out of the freezer, I will bag and seal them. I’m thinking about putting all of the bags in the root cellar where they will stay cool but want to think about this a bit more.

If you have wax you need to protect, do it soon. Hard to believe but spring is actually almost here and warmer temps will bring the moths and mold that can render useless the legacy your dead bees left you.

As always, I hope your bees are buzzin’, happy and keeping your queen nice and warm. This extended winter means you have to make sure your girls have food! If you open them, think about adding a pollen patty to help with brood production. Keep your fingers crossed this storm goes out to sea! Freaking winter…

Still Waiting

After looking at the hives in Sullivan 2 1/2 weeks ago, I decided I needed the State Inspector to come and visit this apiary. As I have registered my apiaries with the State, I can request to have the inspector come inspect my apiaries to help me determine what the caused the losses. Chris Rollis is one of the state entomologists, a nice guy and a fellow beekeeper who has actually been to the Westmoreland apiary when we held the queen rearing class with Mike Palmer. Chris is arranging time for Ben Chadwick to come visit and help me figure this out.

After speaking with Chris, it seems there are others suffering similar losses on the other side of the state, as well. That is not good news as I was hoping it was something I did (and may well still be). He mentioned at our recent MBA meeting that he is hearing of numerous instances of bees “chimneying” up to the top super and then dying since it is too cold for them to break cluster and move horizontally to find more honey. I have never automatically added emergency stores on top of my frames. Seems this is the year I should have…More when I finally get together with Ben.

Some exciting news

I’m really tired of writing about dead bees so here are a few of the good things happening around Honey Meadow Farm.

• I have joined the Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD) as an Associate Supervisor. This happened rather suddenly and I am thrilled to be associated with such an incredible group of people–all dedicated to the conservation of natural resources in Cheshire County. This group is a hidden gem, working on or facilitating a number of ecological projects right here in our area. Whether it is assisting farmers or foresters, improving soil health, erosion control and water quality, working with other organizations (NRCS, Xerces, etc) to create native pollinator habitat or helping landowners and gardeners arrange to purchase high quality native plants, these are very busy people who volunteer their time to help keep our region green and clean! As I say, they are a hidden gem, however, I promise you will be hearing more about them soon! Check out the website under the links section to the right of the blog.

• We have ordered 8 apple trees from Fedco via the CCCD Annual Plant Sale. We’ve also ordered 49 high bush blueberry, 100 raspberry 100 strawberry and 25 asparagus plants from Nourse Farms. If you happen to like to dig holes, let me know and we will show you a few places to do so the first week in May! We are very excited to finally be able to start moving forward with the local organic fruit salad we hope to grow!

• I met Jeff Littleton, an ecologist with Moosewood Ecological, LLC. Hmmm…interestingly, I met him through a class sponsored by CCCD. I think I’m starting to see a pattern here…Gayla and I are excited to have Jeff come visit with us next week so we can show him what we are trying to achieve at our home in Westmoreland. We hope he will provide us with ideas for native plantings, better maintenance of the woodlands and some suggestions on how to maximize the benefits of a wet area on the woodland border. This is all part of the plan I wrote about several posts ago about how we are developing Honey Meadow Farm to be a logical blending of natural resources to better the habitat for our bees and us.

• Finally…we have started to revise the Morning Dew Apiary website and we will move it to www.HoneyMeadowFarm.com within the next month. The bee site will be the first piece completed so look for it around the end of April.

• Check out the blog at www.nhgardensolutions.wordpress.com. It seems to be about wild and native plants and fungi in the Monadnock area. I stumbled across it today while researching native milkweed to include as part of a native pollinator habitat I hope to create. Great photography and nice writing. I’ve added a link to this site to make it easy for you to find it.

How nice it just was to write about something I am enjoying! Thanks for caring about my bees. I hope your bees are warm, healthy and buzzin’. Time to think about pollen patties to get that brood going for dandelions. Come on spring!