Saturday, September 26, 2009

Old Time Theater - featuring - "Her Majesty, The Queen Bee!"

Let's take a trip back to 1933 and watch an old 35mm film on beekeeping. Its called, "Her Majesty - The Queen Bee!" I have tried to research who made this film and for what reason (I assume it was an educational film) but like many old movies of that time period, it seems no record exists. But it is a pretty cool film is I do say so myself. Its pretty short, almost six minutes, so sit back and relax and let's go to the orange groves with some hard working honey bees!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

To medicate or not to medicate: that is the question.

It has been a gloomy week here in the Piedmont-Triad. It has rained, rained...and then rained some more. I can only imagine how bad it is in Georgia where they're getting flooded by heavy rains. And since it has been so rainy, it has given me some time to think about my colony and whether I should take preventative measures and medicate it before winter. The question that keeps playing over and over again in my mind is...should I or shouldn't I? 

As I've mentioned before, I want to keep my colony as natural as possible, and I prefer to use all-natural methods to treat my bees. When the state apiary inspector came to inspect my bees, I spoke to him about medicating a healthy colony. In some books, like Beekeeping for Dummies, it recommends that you medicate hives in the fall and the spring, and it is best to treat your bees much like you would treat your should use preventative methods to keep your hives from becoming ill. Kind of like you would treat your dog to keep them from getting heartworms or rabies. The books recommend you be a proactive beekeeper, not a reactive beekeeper.  

But Don Hopkins, the apiary inspector, didn't seem to be too quick to recommend proactive colony treatments. While he didn't rush to tell me yes or no, he did give me a clear indication that if a hive is healthy, you should keep a watchful eye, otherwise leave it alone. And my hive is doing really well and I want to keep it that way, especially with winter on the horizon. But should I put chemicals in a healthy hive? Some sources say yes, others say no. It truly is mind boggling and confusing for me as a new beekeeper.

I read conflicting information about Honey B Healthy. Some swear that it is a miracle potion that bees go nuts over and makes them thrive in the hive. Others say it is a total waste of money, or to be more blunt, that it is a form of "snake oil" for honey bees. It runs in the neighborhood of around $20 bucks for the smallest container, and for that price, I would hope it would do something miraculous. I found the recipe for Honey B Healthy online, and when I called the vitamin store to price the key ingredients to make it at home, I discovered it would cost me more to do it that way and it would be cheaper to buy it ready made. Since I didn't speak to a single soul that's used it and found great success, I decided to forget about it. Maybe I'll try it in the future, but for now, no.

Apiguard. The one thing I don't have is a problem with varroa mites. I did a three-day test using a sticky piece of corrugated cardboard, and I couldn't find enough mites to do a decent count. I've already done a powdered sugar dusting in the hive and after I looked like whirling snow storm of honey bees. While I'm sure that Apiguard does a fine job for hives with a varroa mite problem, I don't think mine would benefit in the least from a treatment. And besides, many sources say that mites develop a resistance to varroa treatments over time, and the last thing I want to do is run out of options before there was a problem to begin with. So for now, I'm saying no to Apiguard.

One thing I would consider using in my hive is menthol crystals which is used to treat tracheal mites. I know a guy who lost his colony to these invisible mites. They basically get in the breathing tubes of the bees and suffocate them. The most recommended treatment for tracheal mites seems to be bags of menthol crystals (which comes from oil of peppermint). It is recommended that you put a bag in the hive when the daytime temperature is over 70 degrees. The crystals slowly evaporate and give off a gas which the bees breathe in and cause a decline in the mites. While it won't eliminate the mites, it will cause their numbers to drop. I am still mulling this one over since it is a natural way to treat the bees.

I don't think I need Fumagilin-B. It is an antibiotic used for the treatment of Nosema, an intestinal disorder of the honey bee. Usually if a hive is infected, it will have yellow or brown streaks on the front of the hive or the bottom board which comes from a form of bee diarrea. Nosema usually infects adult female workers. And sources say it rarely infects drones or the queen. It is recommended to use Fumagilin-B in the fall and spring and with with all newly installed bee packages. Since I haven't noticed any outward signs that my bees have a tummy disorder, it doesn't seem sensible to treat them for something they don't have. I will keep it in mind though. Beekeeping sources say that Nosema is more prevalent in overwintered colonies, so who knows what this coming spring will hold. Thank goodness I'm one hour away from the Chatham, Virginia, branch of Dadant & Sons in case I need a bottle.

I could go on and on, but the more I think about it, I really believe that I should leave my colony alone medication-wise and just keep an eye out for any possible problems. While I'm fairly confident that I'll leave my girls alone, I've also learned to never say never. I plan to continue my research to see if I'm making the right decision, but since we're already in autumn by the calendar (and the weather on some days too) I have to hurry. But I think I'm going to ride it out.

I would love to hear your ideas on medicating colonies and whether you do it or not. Please feel free to share!

Bee-have yourselves!       

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy Rosh Hashanah! Break out the honey and apples!

Today, the Jewish observance of Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown and ends on Sunday at dusk. This day should hold a particular interest to us as beekeepers since the observance includes the fruit of our labors -- delicious honey. It seems to be a custom that is almost as old as life itself.

In case you're not familiar with it, Rosh Hashanah, literally "head of the year" -- is a Jewish holiday commonly referred to as the Jewish New Year. It is the first of the Jewish High Holidays or "Days of Awe" or the Ten Days of Repentance which are days specifically set aside to focus on repenting. It concludes with Yom Kippur. It is the new year for people, animals, and legal contracts.

Rosh Hashanah is observed as a day of rest and certain activities prohibited on Shabbat are also prohibited on Rosh Hashanah. It is characterized by the blowing of the shofar which is a trumpet made from a ram's horn, and is intended to make the listener arise from their slumber and alert them to the coming judgment. During the afternoon of the first day, prayers are recited near natural flowing water so that one's sins are symbolically cast into the water. And many Jews throw bread or pebbles into the water to symbolize the casting off of one's sins.

Of particular interest to beekeepers would be one of the meals during Rosh Hashanah that includes honey and apples -- which symbolizes a sweet new year for those of the Jewish faith. The apple is dipped in honey, the blessing for eating tree fruits is recited, the apple is tasted, and then the apples and honey prayer is recited, "Blessed are you, Lord, our God, king of the universe who creates the fruit of the tree. May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our ancestors that you renew for us a good and sweet year. Amen."

L'Shanah Tovah!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Inspection report: This one gets TWO thumbs up!

So as everyone knows, I was on vacation for a little over a week, and returned this past Sunday. Since it had been two weeks since I'd ventured inside my hive, I decided to get out and perform an inspection on Monday. I would have done it on Sunday, but after being on the road and fighting Interstate 40 traffic, I made what was left of Sunday as a day of rest. But I had to see just how the girls were doing, the curiosity was getting the best of me.

Monday came and after firing up the smoker, I suited up and headed for the hive. As I approached, I noticed the in-and-out traffic was rather slow, but I figured that since it was a cool day in the 70s, maybe they just decided to take their time and wait for the sun to go a little higher...then venture out. Turns out I was right.

Three to four puffs -- that's all it took -- and the hive tuned up like a well oiled machine. It was a steady, almost happy buzzing coming from inside. Honestly, in the four months I've had this hive, I must admit that the hum from the hive was the smoothest I'd ever heard. Not a panic kind of hum, but an almost serene kind of hum. It was music to this beekeeper's ears.

I took the hive top off and looked into the top chamber. As you can see, there were very few bees on top of the frames -- that's because by the time I got the camera out, they had scurried down unto the box. If you click the picture, you can see the little heads peering at me from inside -- and even though this is the honey box, they were not defensive whatsoever...matter of fact, they were rather laid back. I pulled out all of the frames, checked them quickly, and put them back. Most of the frames were filled with honey with the exception of the two wall frames, but they were working on those too, drawing comb on them. As hard as they're working, I feel like even those will be filled over the next few weeks. I think this colony's winter store is coming along rather nicely.

After prying apart and lugging the heavy honey box to the side, I got into the brood chamber, the one that seems to house most of the eggs and larvae in this colony. The first thing I noticed when I pulled a few of the center frames was that her majesty had indeed been busy while I was away. I did find eggs, but I found lots of capped brood too...brood just waiting to break through the seals of their cells and come into the new world. Larvae was there too...but I found capped brood all throughout the chamber. For a queen that almost "bought the farm" a few weeks ago, she sure was chugging along now like nothing ever happened. 

Take a look at this frame. This is one of the frames from the lower brood chamber, one of the few frames that has this much honey in it. Most of the other frames in this chamber have brood, but for some reason (and they know more about it than I do) -- they decided to load this one down with honey. But take a good look in the middle -- at the capped brood. Apparently the girls were so slow in filling up this frame, her majesty decided to put some brood in there for good measure, and in a consistant pattern too. I was almost tempted to put this frame in the top box since it had so much honey in it, but I decided that not breaking up the brood nest was the better option, so I left it alone.

Now as you can see in this picture, it is packed with bees. I started to do a "shake" so I could get a better picture of the capped brood and larvae, but it was covered with nurse bees tending to the bambinos, so I couldn't bring myself to do it. But this frame was heavy, not from honey (you can see a small amount at the top) -- but from all the bees crammed on it -- both sides jammed packed. After checking this and all the other frames, and scraping off the burr comb on the tops and bottoms, I gently put them back and closed everything back up. I put the hive-top feeder back in place with two gallons of freshly made sugar syrup, and headed back for the house. Everything looked fine.

On Wednesday afternoon, I noticed a frenzy of activity in front of the hive. Besides the large amount of bees flying all in front of the hive and going in and out, I noticed a steady stream of bees crawling up the front of the hive, taking off in wide circles straight up -- then flying off in all directions. It looked like some of the new hatchings were making their way into the new world and checking it all out.

As for now, I plan to leave the hive alone for two weeks other than feed it. Then around the first week of October, once some of the really warmer September days are over with, I plan to install the mouse guard and switch over to a 2:1 sugar syrup and feed them till they stop taking it. At the rate they've made honey and stored it in the top chamber, I don't think they'll take the sugar syrup for long before they cluster. We'll see though.

Inspection done. Report card shows all A+'s and two thumbs up (for good measure)...

Bee good, everybody!

Monday, September 14, 2009

I'm back from the beach! Boy, do I have lots to catch up on!

Hello everyone! I'm back from the beach and sporting a really nice tan -- but now its time to get back into the usual rhythm of life here at home. Although I love Oak Island, its kind of nice to get back home to my own house, my own bed, and my own routine. I'll miss it, but I'm already planning next year's trip to the seashore. Its a year from now but already it doesn't seem so distant.

I was tooling around and looking for pictures for a show I'm doing when I happened to find this picture of a dog in a beekeeping veil. Sometimes when I'm working my colony I could use four hands too. Can you imagine what it would be like with four paws, err, hands? You could do all your work in half the time!

I did an inspection today and things looked superb. While I don't have time to go into the meat of it now, I can say I was very impressed with what I saw -- and I made pictures of the inspection so you can see the progress my girls are doing. As soon as I can get all my stuff unpacked, I plan on posting my inspection report, should be in the next couple of days, so keep an eye out.

Anyway, I'm glad to be back in the beek's fold once again, and I'll be talking with you soon!     

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Greetings from Coastal Carolina, USA! Wish you were here!

Greetings all! This is Mark, coming to you from beautiful, scenic Oak Island, North Carolina! 

The vacation is coming along...swimmingly (sorry..couldn't help it) although it was rainy all day Monday. It would rain, clear off, then rain some more. During one of the clearing spells, I got out on the beach -- thinking there wasn't that many strong UV rays. WRONG! My face looks like a beet, but I know that once it sinks in, I'll be all nice and golden brown. And you should have seen me trying to cook Italian chicken on the grill in the rain. It wasn't a pretty site..but the food was fabulous if I do say so myself. A crowd pleaser for sure!

I snapped this picture with my cell phone just this morning. It looks really cloudy, but the clouds are leaving and the weather forecast calls for mostly sunny the rest of the week. With a nice sunblock lotion in hand, I plan to get out and enjoy the beachfront with some of my good friends from home who are here for the week too.

Two huge cargo ships were anchored off the coast in front of our cottage all day yesterday, but they steamed off at midnight last night -- who knows where they were going. And this morning, while drinking coffee and enjoying the roar of the waves from our deck, we watched porpoises playing not far from shore. Least I think they were porpoises. I've been a little suspicious of the ocean and things with large, upright fins ever since I saw "Jaws" the first time. Maybe this would be a good day to just lay on the beach?

Anyway, I've been keeping up with the blogs since I have WiFi, and I see that you all are staying busy with your colonies. Although I'm not wishing my vacation away, I'm looking forward to checking on my girls when I get home. Hopefully they've been busy getting ready for the fall while I've been away.

Bee good, everybody! And talk soon!

ADDENDUM: My Dad called on Tuesday afternoon after they got back home to Reidsville from the beach. He checked around the house and walked down to the hive. He said they were flying in and out of the entrance like the weekend at a busy airport. I feel better already! I'll expect good things in the hive when I get home on Sunday.   

Friday, September 4, 2009

Triple-S: Sand, Sun, and Surf! Yes, I'm officially on vacation!

By the time you read this, I should be soaking up the sun's rays at beautiful Oak Island, North Carolina! Situated between Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, Oak Island is a small family beach...a place you can relax and have fun without the crowds, but you're close enough to go hang out in Myrtle Beach or Wilmington (both about 45-minutes away) and then go back to your own world of peace and quiet. My parents bought their first piece of property there when I was three years old, so needless to say, its like my second home. Maybe one of these days I'll end up living there for good and tending my bees.

Last year while on vacation there, the island took a hit from tropical storm Hanna (downgraded from a hurricane by that time). We didn't evacuate because they didn't make was just a tropical storm, but if they had forced an evacuation because of a hurricane, I would have gladly packed up and left. The maximum winds were 60-70 miles per hour, and we did lose the lights for about an hour. Other than some rocking of the house, a few shingles blowing off a house across the street, and sand washing over the street, it did very little damage to the island. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we won't have to face that again this year.

The picture to the left was made by me at 6:00am the morning Hanna hit. The heavy winds had died down to just heavy gusts, but you can see that the water was extremely rough. Besides three television stations broadcasting live, and a police cruiser in the area, I was the only person out on the beach. I was soaking wet because of the ocean spray, and I also got sand blasted near the dunes. But it was amazing to me that there was no major damage to the land or to houses around us. As you can see, the Ocean Crest Pier survived without a board out of place.

Take a look beyond the pier at the clearing in the clouds. Just six hours beyond this -- at noon -- there wasn't a cloud in the sky and a group of young guys were out "hanging ten" on their surf and boogie boards. It was almost like the storm never happened. The worst part about it was that we lost cellular service, AT&T was out, and my folks went into a tailspin. But I finally got through to let them know that everything was fine and that my vacation would continue along. And it did -- drama free -- the rest of that week. 

And here I am -- doing what I said I was going to do -- finishing out my 2008 vacation. This was made the day before it ended. Yeah, I'm smiling, but I knew I would miss the beach like always.

But you know, there's something about coming back home too. Once I see my house, I'm always glad to be back. And I'm sure that as much as I love the coast, I'll get that feeling when I see my house on September 13th. Old habits die hard.

By the way, I will have my laptop with me and I'll be check my email and blog so I'll be in touch while I'm vacationing. Thank goodness for WiFi!

Take care and have a fun and safe Labor Day holiday weekend (to the American readers of my blog).      

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Inspection report: A box full of brood and a gold star for my queen!

Since I'm going on vacation, I decided to check on my colony to make sure everything was on task before I hit the road. Just yesterday, I noticed these tiny, fuzzy creatures sitting on the hive front, and I knew it was newly hatched baby bees. It was funny to watch them walking around, not really doing anything other than walking in and out of the hive. Every now and then one of the adult workers would come over and check them out, but otherwise, they just did their own thing.

So today I light up the smoker and decided to concentrate on the lower brood box. That's where I saw the eggs and larvae last week, so I figured that would be the place to go first. Once I gave the hive a few gentle puffs, I tried to take the top chamber off, and it was as heavy as lead. After getting my hive tool between the boxes, I was finally able to pry it apart and I sat it off to the side and began my work.

Without going into long details, let me say that her majesty has bounced back full force. While some of the frames in the lower deep held nectar and pollen, there were at least four middle frames with capped brood, and another was full of newly laid eggs. One side of a frame was jam packed with nothing but capped brood, and the other side was capped brood and larvae. So needless to say, she has made up for the time she stopped laying -- the time that almost called for her to be replaced with a new queen. Maybe she's trying to make up for being naughty?

I decided that I would check the top chamber while I had the hive apart, and I was surprised that about eight of the ten frames are pretty much drawn with comb...much of it filled with beautiful white capped honey. That's the reason the darn thing is so heavy, they've filled it up for the winter -- and might I say, doing a rather thorough job. I was thinking that I may have to feed them this winter, but if they continue to fill up the top brood box with honey, I may not have to feed until later in the winter, depending on how fast they consume their current stores. But I'm very proud of this colony and how hard they've worked, and I'm thankful my queen hasn't let me down.

By the way...funny story. I thought I would put the mouse guard on the hive since the weather is turning cooler, but in order to fasten it to the hive, I needed a tack which I didn't have. I decided to see how it works and if the bees could get in and out of it okay before I fasten it on.

After a few tries, most of them got right inside the hive -- but one poor girl, her pollen sacs were packed full, and she could not seem to grasp how to get inside. She got her upper body in the hole, and she fought and fought to get her rump inside, but it just didn't work. Then she flew off a couple of feet, eyeballed the hole -- and tried it again -- but it was the same thing all over again -- she got her head inside, but the rest of her body just wouldn't go. I decided to help her and pull the mouse guard off, and before I could get my hand on it -- boom -- she popped herself inside the hole. I felt sorry for the old girl, and I'm sure she wondered what the heck happened in the time she left home for work...who put that funky looking wall there? I'm going to give them one more week of a wide-open entrance, then I plan to put the mouse guard on for the fall. The last thing I want is some field mouse building her nest inside my hive. I love handling my bees...but mice? No way!

Like they used to do in elementary school for a job well done -- my colony gets a gold star for today's inspection. Can you tell I'm smiling?