Thursday, December 31, 2009

Weather warning: Batten down the hatches...err...hive!

When bad weather is coming, sailors use the phrase, "batten down the hatches" which means to prepare for the worst. Although I'm no sailor, that's just what I'm having to do here...batten down the hatches, or maybe I should say...the hive! 

The weather forecasters here in my area are calling for severe weather, most say bitterly cold, over the next few days. While the daytime temperatures will be in the 30s, the nighttime temperatures are dipping into the upper teens, low 20s range. Not taking a chance that it could freeze my honey bees, I've decided to shut off the screened bottom board until the temperatures climb back up a little warmer.

Closing off screened bottom boards in cold weather can be the subject of controversy among beekeepers. Some never shut off their bottom boards..while others say that when the weather gets nasty, they shut it off to restrict air-flow inside the hive and make it easier for the cluster to conserve heat. My though is this...if screened bottom boards make it better to increase ventilation for the bees in the hot summer months...closing it off during extreme cold temperatures to reduce the frigid air-flow can't be all that bad. So I have elected to close it off until the temperatures stabilize again.

I am really fortunate that I have friends in the sign business. Steve Moore and his wife own Southern Screen Printing and Graphics, and they make all sorts of signs including campaign signs and those signs you see for big sales..and they also make special notice signs for our local city government. The signs are made of heavy-duty plastic corrugated cardboard which is basically weatherproof. Unfortunately for Steve, if they make a mistake in the printing, they have to throw the sign away. But his loss is my gain. I asked Steve if I could have some of the throw-away signs for my bee hive..and he gladly handed me about ten of them. So I brought them home and had them in my garage...knowing that I would use them at some point. And now is the time. Thanks, Steve!

As you can see in the pictures, the corrugated cardboard is perfect to slide right under my screened bottom board. I did have to trim off about six-inches down the length of the sign, but nothing else. Luckily I have a spare screened board in my garage and was able to use it for a guide. So I inserted it under the hive and pushed it in.

Voila! As you can see to the right, the sign is pushed all the way to the front of the hive, and now the screened bottom board is completely shut off from the outside air. Plus I have enough excess on the edge that I can just reach down and pull the sign out and not have to dig around to grasp it. Oh, and he also had some plain white signs that had flaws in them, so I can use those to do mite counts when the need arises. Plus I have enough extra signs to use for my new hives that pop up in the future.

Here's an idea. If you're like me, I hate to see campaign signs sit around for weeks or months after an election. So now you can see just how those signs could be put to good use after their original usefulness is long gone. Of course, don't get yourself into trouble taking them if it is against the law. 

As I close this out, I would like to take time to wish a happy new year to one and all! May 2010 be your best year ever in so many ways!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Introducing a hive that may be more practical than a Langstroth..

I was looking at some articles on bee hive construction when I happened to run across a hive that caught my eye and I wanted to share it with you. It is called the People's Hive, named after a minister - Abbé Émile Warré (War-ray). It is a simple little hive and the design is quite old. Here is more about the hive thanks to

The Warré Hive (also known as the People’s Hive) was developed in France by Emile Warré (1876?-1951). Warré developed the People’s Hive after experimenting with over 350 hives of various designs and types. It was his goal to find a hive system that was simple, natural, economical, and bee-friendly. The result was the People’s Hive. He outlined the construction and operation of the hive in his book “Beekeeping for All.” 

In 1783, a German beekeeper named Johann Ludwig Christ developed a beekeeping system almost identical to that of Warré. And in Japan, many beekeepers still employ a similar system of beekeeping that has been in constant use since the Edo period of Japanese history (A.D.1586 to A.D.1911).

A Warre hive is a vertical top bar hive that is simple to build and easy to use. The cost is about one-third to one-fourth the cost of one standard ten frame Langstroth hive. A Warre hive is simple to manage and maintain. Also known as tiered or supered supered top bar hives, a vertical top bar hive is such as the Warre hive is friendly to the bees since they are allowed to draw out their own comb, thereby ensuring a hive environment that is healthier and better suited to their own needs.

Warre hives have a simple hive box with no frames. The bees draw down their own comb from top bars affixed to each box. The quilt provides a layer of insulation to the hive. It sits under the roof on top of the uppermost box. Warre hives are also easy to build from materials available at your building supply shop. The Warre hive is designed so that it will not take enormous amounts of time out of your busy schedule. In short, the Warre Hive is a good solution for those who are interested in keeping bees simply, naturally and wholesomely without harsh chemicals or medications.

The Warre Hive comprises tiers of identical boxes fitted with top-bars, but no frames. Its essential design and usage features can be summarised as follows:

■hive-body box internal dimensions 300 x 300 x 210 mm, with projecting handles
■eight 36mm centred 24mm wide top-bars resting in rebates in each box (NO FRAMES)
■wax starter strips under each top bar (NO FOUNDATION)
■flat floor, notched with a 120mm wide entrance, alighting board
■coarse weave cloth covering the top-bars of the top box
■100 mm high ‘quilt’ boxed with wood, filled with straw, sawdust, wood shavings etc., retained with cloth
■gabled roof containing a ventilated ‘loft’ and separated from the quilt by a mouse-proof board
■the bees build natural comb in the first (top) box and extend downwards into further boxes
■new boxes are added at the bottom
■one or more boxes of honey are harvested from the top after the main flow
■the bees winter on two boxes of comb containing a minimum of 12 kg stores (France)
■honey is harvested by draining, or by centrifuging combs in baskets
■at the spring visit, the hive is expanded by one or more boxes, containing with starter strips or comb
Here's a video of the bees in a Warre hive as they come and go. Notice the odd entrance, unlike the standard Langstroth hive -- and I admit I like it. 

If anyone builds one of these hive, let me know how it works for you. I would love to have one and who knows, maybe one of these days I'll build one myself! 

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I'm attending my first beekeeping class!

It looks like I'll be attending my very first class for beekeepers in January. When I went into this thing we all love called beekeeping, I did it after reading books and talking to other beekeepers. I never attended any classes...and that's because I didn't know that any existed in this area. But now I'll get the chance to take an "official" one-day class on the methods of natural beekeeping.

I'm attending the class with my new friend, Jared, of Jared's Adventures In Beekeeping. He's got lots of beekeeping equipment already, he just needs his honey bees. He's already getting set up for this coming spring with all of his equipment at the ready.

The class will be held all day on Saturday, January 9th in Winston Salem at the Forsyth County Cooperative Extension Building.

According to the website: "This one-day workshop will provide a series of lectures on natural approaches to apiary management that don't rely on chemical inputs, as well as hands-on demonstration sessions. Lectures will include the following topics, and more: hive position and construction, supplemental feeding; honey removal, processing and labeling; wax processing; frame and hive storage; hive transition and previous chemical exposure; record keeping. Demonstrations stations will cover the following: - Making 'no foundation' frames; - Using your own cappings wax for foundation; - Making splits for brood comb removal and disease management. These workshops will be particularly beneficial to those interested in participating in CNG's new honey certification program."

The Forsyth County Beekeeper's Association is gearing up for their spring beginner's course which last five Saturday mornings. I wish I lived closer to Winston Salem so I could take this course. If you join the FCBA, attend all the classes and pass all the exams, they're giving away hives...including the bees! And all for $45! Learn something, have some fun, and get goodies too. No wonder their motto is, "We're not bragging, but we're the best!"

ADDENDUM: I've learned that Lynn at Walter Bee, who lives in the North Carolina mountains (and who used to live here in my area) may be attending the natural beekeeping class too! I'm excited about this possibility since Lynn was one of the first people that found my blog, and we've shared a lot of our beekeeping experiences this past year. C'mon down, Lynn! It will be great to see you! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas to all...and to all...a good night!

I want to take this time to wish everyone the Merriest Christmas ever! And may your 2010 be the most prosperous year in so many ways.

When I started beekeeping this past summer, I planned it as a small hobby..something I could do to help the dying bee population..and entertain myself as well. Little did I know that I would be blogging about my experiences, and all the while, meeting some of the nicest people around the world who share my love for this fascinating hobby. 

Whether across my state of North Carolina, this great country, and in distant lands like Ireland, England, and even Greece...through the Internet...I've met some of the greatest people around.

When I've been perplexed by the behavior of my bees (who just happens to be a lot smarter than me) or gushing over some success I've experienced, you all have been here for me to share the glory or offer your help. I've learned that you don't have to have people with you in the physical sense...friends are everywhere...across town, in the next county, or maybe thousands of mile away. Friends are friends wherever they are. 

With that, I would like to thank you for your friendship and your support. At this festive time of year, when we're feasting and opening presents and spending time with our family and friends...I'll think of you all, my fellow beekeeping friends. Wherever you are, I'll think of you and send my warmest wishes for peace and joy in your lives.

On behalf of my colony of busy bees, I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas...and may 2010 be your best year ever!

Happy holidays to all!


Monday, December 21, 2009

House cleaning in the sun...and my honey supers are on the way!

So I decided to trek out to see how my bees are faring after Friday night's snow storm that blanketed my area with 8-inches of snow. Even though we're slowly but surely thawing looks like this snow isn't going anywhere anytime soon. And the weather forecasters are calling for the possibility of more snow on Thursday night (Christmas Eve) -- so one way or another, old snow or new snow, we'll have a white Christmas...the first here since 1999.

The closer I got to the hive today, I noticed little dark dots on top of the hard, crunchy snow. They were little dead bee bodies. And the bee bodies were not the ones I scraped out of the hive entrance on Saturday. No, they were some that the housekeepers had brought out of the hive themselves. Some were about six feet from the hive entrance, others a little closer. Obviously the full sun against the hive had warmed the girls enough to where they wanted to do something, to stretch their wings, so house cleaning was the order of the day. I snapped this picture as the bees would come out, check what was going on, then fly off. Obviously they had been working some on Sunday too, removing the dead bees from the hive, because the dead bee bodies were scattered about the yard. I can't wait for the temperature to warm up into the 50s and they can get out and take a break from being stuck inside the hive. 

Great News from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm! My shallow supers and frames are on the way. They're coming by UPS, and the representative told me that she thought they would get here by Wednesday. Brushy Mountain Bee Farm is just on the western side of Winston Salem in Moravian Falls, North Carolina, but I don't have the time to drive there like I can with Dadant and Sons in Chatham, Virginia.

As I've admitted here before, my carpentry skills are horrible. I know it costs more, but I'd rather order some things made and ready to go. So when my package arrives, I'll have six assembled and painted shallow supers. All I'll have to do is put them on the hive and let the girls go to work.

What good are the shallows without frames? So I have 60 already assembled frames coming too. These are what they call the "Super White" frames. The frames are wooden, the foundation is plastic and beeswax coated. Many beekeepers (old school beekeepers) say that plastic foundation frames are worthless and that bees don't like them. I beg to differ. My colony took to plastic foundation frames just fine and drew comb on them in days. So I know they'll do fine with the shallow plastic frames too.

I've heard from a lot of beekeepers that when you set up your honey supers, don't forget the frame spacers -- otherwise you'll end up with a total mess. So I bought a box of 10 spacers. For the life of me, I don't know why I had it in my head that you just space the frames with one spacer. But Brushy Mountain tells me that you put these spacers in the supers after the bees draw out all 10 frames - then you remove one frame - leaving nine - and these spacers will make the distance exact. I learn something new all the time. Anyway, once I figure it all out, I'll get more if needed.

One thing that I plan to do is get another hive body set up (two deeps and a bottom board) in the next few months. I have one in the garage now, but I plan to split my one hive this coming spring, so I want another on stand-by in case I find a swarm somewhere -- or mine decides to it the road. Maybe I'll get the extra hive in February or March.

Just as I said recently, I was hoping that Santa would bring me some beekeeping supplies. And sure enough its going to happen! It has put me in a jolly mood for sure! Ho, ho, ho!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

December snow! And yes, you can tick off guard bees...even in the snow!

Greetings everyone! As promised, I made pictures of the snow storm we had here in the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina. Not just here mind you...I see Lynn at Walter Bee (who is in the mountains of North the west of me) had a doozy of a snow fall there too. Parts of our state definitely became a winter wonderland overnight -- and weather forecasters are saying that we might, just might, have another system moving in on Christmas Eve!

I decided to make pictures of all sorts of things, including my bee hive, and of course, each picture has a story. You can click on the picture and it will open up in a new browser in a larger size. So here we go...

This one really doesn't need a description. He's everywhere...

Thank goodness that the hummingbirds are farther south for the winter. If they were here now to see this, they would be totally irritated with me. I just have a feeling that I'll need to buy a new feeder before the spring comes.

Fritz, my 13-year-old Dachshund. He is almost totally blind now. He was extremely reluctant to "do his business" in the yard with all the snow, but after a little coaxing, he finally did it. When he was a pup, he loved the snow and would run like a rabbit through it. But today, after being outside for a new minutes and completing the task at hand, he let me know he was ready to go back inside and get under the blanket with Klaus, my 5-year-old Dachshund. By the way, Fritz was a shelter dog and just a baby when I got him. Animal control officers picked him up wandering and he was scheduled to be put down when I rescued him. He's the best dog I've ever had and there will never be another like him.

My snow covered bee hive! When I got to the hive, a bee, who was dying, crawled out and fell on the ground. I figured that others had to be dead inside, probably from the cold, so I decided to take a closer look while I cleaned the snow away from the entrance hole. It was a sad sight to watch her dying, but I suppose it is a part of nature.

As you can see, I was right. There were casualties of the cold lying inside the entrance reducer..all dead. Not wanting the dead bodies to pile up and trap the living bees inside, I cleaned it out as best I could. But here is where it gets interesting. Pay attention to the upper part of the entrance. See it? That's the cluster of bees. While I was raking out the bodies of the dead bees, I heard them tune up a little -- the buzzing started -- and out comes a frisky guard bee. Oh yeah, I had to dodge that one..and she flew within inches of my head. I have no clue where she went, but I hope she got back okay. She still had plenty of light to guide her back to the colony.

This is a sad picture. This is what I raked away from the entrance -- all dead. I know it only seems like a few bees...less that fifty, but it still bothers me. And yes, I know its all living creatures, bees are going to die. But something gnaws at me and I always wonder if I did something wrong. The hive is still bustling with bees on warmer days, so I think they'll do okay for the rest of this winter. But whenever I see dead ones, I tend to think the worst. Maybe its because I struggled with this colony when they first arrived in June. I just don't know. Paging Dr. Freud!

Not wanting to let it get cold inside the hive, I hurried myself and put the entrance reducer back in place, then I cleaned off the snow from the top. Now when the temperature warms up and the girls decide to make their cleansing flights, there won't have anything to stand in their way. Plus the mortician bees can clean the rest of the dead bees out of the hive.

I just had to snap this picture of the creek below the house. This is the same creek that sits just feet from my hive and where my girls get their water supply. The picture would be a lot better if it didn't have that pipe that runs across the creek, but I can't help is part of the city's water system. I understand that several years ago, before I moved here, a tree fell across it and when it cracked the pipe, around 400 people lost water until it was repaired. For the sake of the beauty of the creek, you'll just have to pretend it isn't there.

So there you have it. Some of the pictures I made of the great December snowfall of 2009. I hope you enjoyed seeing them as much as I enjoyed making them!

And now, its off to make some hot chocolate!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hunkered down honey bees! We're ready for a significant snow event...

Welcome to winter everyone! Okay, I should clarify and say that winter is here in my area now. The first official day of winter on the calendar is three days from now, but that makes no difference to old man winter who has a mind of his own. While other areas of the country have already had a taste of winter weather, my area of North Carolina is currently experiencing the first significant winter event in years. Sure its been cold, but this is the first time that wintry precipitation has hit my area of the state this year. 

Right now, the snowfall amounts vary. Some places are reporting 6 to 8, even 10 inches of snow in my area, and to the west of me in the mountains, they're reporting up to 12+ inches of snow right now. And the wintry weather is not expected to end for another 10 or so hours. The last time we has a simular snow event was back in 2002. 

People from other areas of the country always laugh that Southerners in the United States make a big deal of winter weather...that's because around soon as the forecasters call for snow or ice...people rush out and buy milk and bread like they'll be stuck inside for weeks. What can I say? Its a southern thing! Plus you can always make French toast with all that left-over milk and bread. 

When I checked my hive this week, I noticed that my bees had stopped taking their winter syrup. Even though the weather has been fairly mild up until now, it is evident that my girls have all the winter feed they need, so they stopped taking the syrup. I took the feeder off, dumped the excess syrup, and shut the hive up for the rest of the winter. I looked down into the hive which is completely packed with capped honey, a dark gold color, so they have what they need for now. I'll keep a check on the hive through the rest of the winter to see how their food store is doing, and if needed, I'll start the syrup feeding again. But for now, I'm sure they're all warm and snuggly in their winter cluster deep inside the hive. When I tapped the side and listened with my ear against the lower deep, I heard the steady buzz, so I know they're doing okay.

The picture above, showing my hunkered down hive, was made just after the snow began. The picture to the right was made from my office in downtown Reidsville. As soon as I can get out later, in the daylight, I'll make some more pictures of the area, including of how my bee hive fared in this pretty significant winter weather event for this area.

Oh, and for the first time in forever, the weather forecasters are calling for another snow event here...on Christmas Eve! Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he may find snow when he comes to the Triad area for Christmas! Gosh..I'm so excited!

More later!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

These girls don't know the meaning of a holiday...

Thanksgiving is a day of rest for many. A day of over-indulging in all sorts of rich foods, parades, movies, football - and then dozing after all that fun. I'm no exception to that rule, after all, who am I to turn down my own generous helping(s) of my Mom's turkey and dressing with cranberry sauce? 

The one common denominator for many on Thanksgiving is that its a day off from work. Some people get the one day off and many turn it into a long holiday weekend. But whichever it may be, usually very little work gets accomplished during this time.

Not for the honey bee!

Oh no, not my girls. As you can see in the picture above, the early morning of Thanksgiving, the temperature was still in the low 40s and the girls decided to sleep in some. But take a look at the picture on the left and you can see that by 11:00am, the temperature was up into the low 50s and the hive was wide awake. There was a flurry of activity, the traffic coming and going from the reduced entrance was constant, and lots of buzzing all around the hive. While I stood there to make the pictures, a few of the girls flew around me to check me out..but otherwise I guess they were too excited to take advantage of the warm, dry weather. 

The one thing I noticed is that amid all this buzz of activity, quite a few of the girls were bringing in lots of pollen. It seemed that over half of the incoming foragers had varying amounts of golden yellow pollen in their leg sacs, a darkish yellow, and when they landed, they would scurry inside the entrance. Then some would exit, flying up and around, and take off. I'm not all that wise on flowers, but I have seen pansies and other wintering flowers out in full force now, so maybe that's where they're getting it from. I'm lucky that many of my neighbors work hard to landscape their yards with flowering plant, so my bees found a treasure of pollen somewhere close by. Although I've sprinkled some pollen substitute across the frames of my hive, it looks like my busy bees decided to find their own -- and they're doing a darn good job of it too.

Side note: My brother told me that he's noticed more honeybees at his house this year that ever before. He lives about a half mile from me and said he believes they're my girls. I have no clue if that's true or not but I've had several people stop when they see me working my hive (remember I'm within seeing distance of the city's scenic walkway) to thank me for putting a hive in my yard. They're hopeful that my current girls (and a new hive coming this spring) will make their gardens more fruitful than ever. I hope my bees won't disappoint -- many people have great expectations from them this coming year!

I've been asked what I would like for gifts this year. First and foremost: shallow honey supers! I get the oddest looks when I say that I want honey supers and frames for gifts...but think about it. What else could a beekeeper want...or need...especially when its something that will be nothing but an asset? This year -- I hope Santa brings shallow supers from Brushy Mountain.

Dear Santa, don't you let me down!