Friday, January 29, 2010

Check out this oldie, goldie beekeeping film from 1951!

Thanks to Backward Beekeepers for posting this.

The educational movie we're about to see goes back to 1951. It is titled "Bee City" and its narrated by John Francis Kieran who was an author, journalist, amateur naturalist and radio and television personality.

While it has an almost spooky appearance at times, and Kieran almost appears to just ramble through his narration, he does a good job of explaining how a bee colony works.

While the production values are seriously dated, the information the film contains is about as current as it gets. So sit back and relax and check out "Bee City" on Mark's Bee Haven!

Just when things settle down...more snow is on the way!

As most of you know, the weather here in my area over the last month has been totally rotten. In mid-December we had an unusually heavy snow (8 inches here) and then the first week of this month it was brutally cold for this region. Earlier this week we had flooding all around my area. It even washed part of the creek bank away from behind my house.

And now...we're expecting another torrential snow event within the next 24-48 hours. As I write this, we're under a winter storm warning for around 8+ inches of snow. One local weather forecaster said he was being conservative in his estimate. Oh, and nighttime lows are supposed to be back in the mid-teens this weekend too. When it rains (or snows) pours!

Old man winter is just determined to stick around it seems. Over the last few days the weather was really nice. Even today I noticed people out in shorts and tee shirts as they try to absorb some warmth and put some color to their pasty appearances. But just as things settle down and looks as if we might start down the path to springtime, old man winter taps us on the shoulder and reminds us that he is still here and going nowhere soon.

I figured it was warm enough to get inside my hive and see how the girls were doing with the 2:1 sugar syrup I made for them this week. It was 61 degrees when I looked out the kitchen window at lunch time, and the front of the hive was abuzz with activity so I knew now was the time to check. So I grabbed up my overalls and headed for the hive.

I'm yet to use smoke on my bees when I've checked them lately. I think the last time I used it was October. So far they've been extremely gentle I wish I could manipulate them all year without smoke. I got inside the top of the hive and checked the sugar syrup and was pleasantly surprised that about 3/4 of an inch of syrup was gone. My guess would be about a quart, maybe less. So that indicated to me that they're taking the syrup, plus I could see some of the bees peeking at me through the vent on top of the feeder. Evidently on warmer days, they're able to climb to the top and use the feeder which is great. I definitely felt better knowing that they're doing as I hoped they would.

You can see in the picture to the right (click and it opens in a new window) that my foragers were finding pollen again. Some of it was a really bright orange and some was a light gray color. It seemed that they were bringing in more pollen a couple weeks ago when I checked them, but I didn't watch them all day, so maybe they had started early and continued past the time I went inside the house. 

I decided to experiment and see if my bees would take some moist cane sugar or some Mega Bee if I placed it just outside the hive. Since they really take the Mega Bee when I spread it across the frames, I figured they may take it here too.

Guess what? Not one single bee took the bait. Not one bee tried the sugar...and only one walked through the Mega Bee (she actually landed in it) and it looked like she was irritated because she got dusty. But I left it there and will check it again to see if I can determine if any is missing. And I'll definitely get it up before the snow storm sets in. Maybe I should try it again when spring comes and stays. 

I'll make more pictures when the storm gets here so you can share in the glory we call an unusual Piedmont-Triad area, North Carolina, winter. Hopefully a very short winter.

Bee safe!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bees win in court: Judge pulls pesticide from shelves.

This is a few days old, but it is such a dramatic victory for the honeybees, I wanted to share it.

Big Win for Bees: Judge Pulls Pesticide

Bee toxic Movento pulled from market for proper evaluation

NEW YORK – A pesticide that could be dangerously toxic to America’s honey bees must be pulled from store shelves as a result of a suit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Xerces Society. In an order issued last week, a federal court in New York invalidated EPA’s approval of the pesticide spirotetramat (manufactured by Bayer CropScience under the trade names Movento and Ultor) and ordered the agency to reevaluate the chemical in compliance with the law. The court’s order goes into effect on January 15, 2010, and makes future sales of Movento illegal in the United States .

“This sends EPA and Bayer back to the drawing board to reconsider the potential harm to bees caused by this new pesticide,” said NRDC Senior Attorney Aaron Colangelo. “EPA admitted to approving the pesticide illegally, but argued that its violations of the law should have no consequences. The Court disagreed and ordered the pesticide to be taken off the market until it has been properly evaluated. Bayer should not be permitted to run what amounts to an uncontrolled experiment on bees across the country without full consideration of the consequences.”

In June 2008, EPA approved Movento for nationwide use on hundreds of different crops, including apples, pears, peaches, oranges, tomatoes, grapes, strawberries, almonds, and spinach. The approval process went forward without the advance notice and opportunity for public comment that is required by federal law and EPA’s own regulations. In addition, EPA failed to evaluate fully the potential damage to the nation’s already beleaguered bee populations or conduct the required analysis of the pesticide’s economic, environmental, and social costs.

Beekeepers and scientists have expressed concern over Movento’s potential impact on beneficial insects such as honey bees. The pesticide impairs the insect’s ability to reproduce. EPA’s review of Bayer’s scientific studies found that trace residues of Movento brought back to the hive by adult bees could cause “significant mortality” and “massive perturbation” to young honeybees (larvae).

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), bees pollinate $15 billion worth of crops grown in America . USDA also claims that one out of every three mouthfuls of food in the typical American diet has a connection to bee pollination. Yet bee colonies in the United States have seen significant declines in recent years due to a combination of stressors, almost certainly including insecticide exposure.

"This case underscores the need for us to re-examine how we evaluate the impact of pesticides and other chemicals in the environment,” said Colangelo. “In approving Movento, EPA identified but ignored potentially serious harms to bees and other pollinators. We are in the midst of a pollinator crisis, with more than a third of our colonies disappearing in recent years. Given how important these creatures are to our food supply, we simply cannot look past these sorts of problems.”

The court decision is available here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The feed bag is back for now...

After mulling it over for the last week, I decided to forgo the dry sugar or "mountain camp" style of feeding my colony. Instead, I went back to the favorite old stand-by method of using my hive-top feeder with a 2:1 sugar syrup.

The last few days have been pretty nice with an almost spring feeling. My bees have been flying everywhere in the welcome warmth and continue to bring in pollen from nearby sources. On Thursday I decided to make another quick under the inner cover inspection. While I found frames with honey still in them, I could see that my girls had gone through quite a bit of their prized food store. This winter has been brutal at times, worse than years past...the frigid cold and snow wreaking havoc to plants and animals (and insects). And it was obvious my bees had been eating really well for their survival.

While I'm sure the dry sugar or "mountain camp" method may work for a lot of people, I just didn't think it would work for me. I read where the newspaper you use gets wet from condensation in the hive, and that mixed with the sugar on top makes a big, sticky mess. And some even said the bees would carry the sugar out of the hive and dump it because they considered it as trash. 

So I went back to the method that worked with my bees last year...and that was sugar syrup in the two gallon hive-top feeder. When I made the syrup on Saturday, I decided to give it a little scent to attract them to the syrup, so I added about three drops of pure vanilla extract to the mix. Since the 2:1 ratio is more like honey, what they've been eating for the last few months, that's what I decided to use now. And as spring gets closer and it gets time for the queen to start laying eggs again, I can change the syrup to a 1:1 ratio. And I'm not concerned about the syrup freezing solid. The temperatures here for the next week are supposed to be up in the 50s again so it should be just fine.

For good measure, I also added some Mega Bee powder to the hive. I figured they may want to store it somewhere to get ready for spring, so I sprinkled a generous helping across the tops of the frames. They seem to really like Mega Bee because every time I've used it, then go back to the hive after a week or two, its always gone. It must be good stuff. 

Hopefully between what honey they have left and the syrup I've added, that will get my girls through the next few months. Then we can wave goodbye to winter and welcome the new beekeeping season and watch the girls do what they really do best!

Bee vigilant, my friends!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Check out this new beekeeping forum!

Attention all beekeepers, old and new! There's a new forum in town and it looks like it is gaining popularity fast. You're welcome to visit and join..and that welcome comes via the website administrator himself!

I found out about the new forum through Jared of Jared's Adventure Into Beekeeping. After he told me all about it, I decided to pay the site a visit...and I just couldn't leave until I registered.

While I do like the Bee Source forums, it seems like the same topics are posted over and over again. And at times, some of the information given by fellow beekeepers is downright questionable if not absolutely ludicrous. Like the guy who said he wanted to get out of beekeeping and so he dumped his bees on the ground and tried to wash them away with a garden hose...but then he changed his mind and wanted to know if he could re-hive them. Anyone that stupid should: A) Never touch a bee again, and B) Not show his ignorance to other beekeepers, or C) All of the above. And he wondered why the bees kept stinging him when he went in the yard? Sheesh...

Anyway, a fellow by the nickname of Iddee, who lives right here in my own area of North Carolina, is the site administrator. I used to talk to Iddee on the Bee Source forums when I was more active there...and he sent me a message tonight after I registered. He told me that he started the new forum with 20 members and 200 posts...and was moderator and then became the administrator. Iddee tells me everyone is welcome and they want all sorts of topics and he tells me they are a little strict on foul language, politics, and arguing, but that is just to keep it family friendly. Good move, Iddee. After all, beekeeping is turning into a family affair for many so its got to be on the up and up.

And get their "Beekeeping 101" section, they even have a thread where you can post your blog or website address so other beekeepers can find you. I really like that!

Check it out, I think you'll like it. The new site is simply called Beekeeping Forums and you can click the link to go there. I've also included them in my favorite links to the right side of this blog.

C'mon and register and join in the fun!    

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Another peek under the cover - or - come and get it!

This is a continuation of the earlier post from Friday, January 15th, where I checked under my hive-top for the first time since the somewhat blast of unusual weather our region has experienced.  

We had yet another nice day here on Saturday. It was a little overcast, but the high temperature got up to a nice 57 degrees. Needless to say, it was another good day for my busy bees to be out of the hive too. And they were all over the place. 

As you recall, I checked under the telescoping cover on Friday. I saw my girls under the inner cover (above) but didn't remove it because I really didn't want to disturb them much. But as the day turned into night, I had this gnawing feeling that I really should have checked under the inner cover to see just how their honey store is doing. And I figured that if the weather was nice enough on Saturday, I would check again to put my mind at ease.

So Saturday rolled around and I went out again with just my veil. No smoker this time either. Curious, yes, but none of the bees were overtly concerned when I opened the hive. They rather ignored me to be honest. I took my hive tool and tried to pry an end frame out but that wasn't going to work. As most of you know, when propolis gets hard, its like glue, so those frames would not budge. But armed with my magnifying glass, I was able to peer down between the frames.

As you can see here, the end frame #1 had some open caps. In October, this frame was full of honey, but it appears that maybe they started eating from the outside and they're working their way in. As I was examining the frames from above, I took my hive tool and gently raked it across some of the open caps and they crumbled. So I knew they were empty and had been cleaned by my hygienic bees. No ooze or anything, just flaky white wax.

While the girls had a meeting to decide just what the heck was going on and why I was back for a second visit in two days, I moved over to frame #10. And as you can see on the inside of the frame, they still have some honey that hasn't bee touched. A few caps at the top had been opened, but for the most part, it was still full. When I took my hive took and touched a couple of caps, golden honey oozed out. So it looks like their food store is still okay, but I know that I'm going to have to keep an eye on it pretty soon to make sure they're okay and do an emergency feeding if necessary.

Speaking of feeding in winter, I've been reading a lot about winter feed and what some people do. I can already tell you that my bees won't get corn syrup because I've just heard way too much negative feedback about it and the problems it causes. And I know first-hand that sugar syrup will easily freeze in hive-top or Boardman feeders. So if it becomes necessary to feed my bees in cold weather, I think I'm going to try the dry sugar method that Michael Bush has discussed on his website. But instead of doing it like some people and sprinkling the cane sugar across the tops of the frames or on top of a newspaper, I think I'm going to make something sturdy to hold the sugar on the bars. And can you guess what I'm going to use? Corrugated plastic! As you may remember, I still have a few of those signs (simular to campaign signs) that didn't pass inspection, so now I've found a new use for them. When I make my newest project, I'll take pictures and show you how I did it.

Before I close, I noticed that even more pollen was making its way into the hive on Saturday. The foragers who returned to the hive while I was inspecting had varying amounts of pollen, some with nothing, some with just a small bit, and some were loaded down. Obviously my girls have been gossiping about the pollen gold mine out there and they decided to check it out. It was really good to see them working.

And one more note, I didn't see any small hive beetles in the hive, and as I examined my honeybees with the magnifying glass (one that would make Sherlock Holmes proud) - I didn't see any varroa hitching a ride either. Not very scientific, I know, but it made me feel better that none were under the watchful eye of my spy glass.   

Bee good, everybody!   

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A peek under the cover on a warm winter's day!

We've finally gotten a break from the frigid weather, thank goodness! The temperatures for the last couple of days have been more like spring than winter. On Friday, the temperature actually made it up to an almost balmy 61-degrees here. And while I'm loving it, I know that I shouldn't get too comfortable with it since it will turn cold again within the next few days. My wish is that we can ride out the rest of this winter with moderate weather and get out of this pattern that seems to be more suited for northern climates.

I took a peek outside just after lunch and found my girls flying all around the yard. While they would cover the entrance in spells it seemed, for the most part, they were flying everywhere. I noticed them flying by my kitchen window, through the mid-part of my yard, and all around the hive. Some would come out and spiral round and round and then take off in all different directions. So I figured this would be a great time to take a short peek inside the hive.

Without smoke, just my veil, I took the top off the hive and looked at the inner cover. Check out who was looking back. The top deep had girls all on the tops of the frames walking around and being busy. I figured that the intrusion would illicit a response, maybe flying out at me from the hole in the inner cover. But nary a bee seemed to be concerned with me at all. I was in a slight hurry and didn't take the inner cover off the chamber. Since everything looked fine, at least from this angle, I decided to leave them alone. The next warm day I'll go out and check a few of the frames to see how their honey is holding out and if I see any hive beetles lurking around. But for a quick peek, they looked fine. I closed up shop and put the bricks back on top of the hive so the wind won't blow the cover off.

If you click the first picture, you can see the bee at the top with her legs covered with pollen. Well here's another. Check her out as she landed on the hive stand. I have no clue where they found this pollen. I read on the Town Bees blog in Raleigh, North Carolina, that the dandelions were blooming there. So maybe my girls hit dandelion gold somewhere. I've checked my yard and haven't seen the first one yet, but maybe my neighbors have some.

Here you see a larger version of the same picture. She was just one of several that had pollen in her sacs as she made it back home. While they're a heck-of-a-lot smarter than me and know where their essentials can be found, I still think I'm going to scatter some powdered Mega Bee across their frames when I check the hive in a few days. And I'm toying with the idea of buying some Honey-B-Healthy for when I split this hive in a few months. While I have mixed emotions about the true usefulness of Honey-B-Healthy, it may not hurt since it has essential oils that helps the bees. We'll see.

So as you can see, all looks pretty good with my colony as of now. They seem to have fared well in this blast of wintry weather, and I think they're probably like me -- ready to get this blasted winter over with.

In other news; a co-worker asked if I would be interested in some bees in the chimney of a house that's 10-miles away in the city of Eden. The house belongs to a friend of his and he said that in the last few weeks, the bees will fly out of the entrance hole on warmer days. I told him I was ill-prepared to take a honey bee colony out of walls or masonary, but I would love to see them anyway. And get this, a man that runs a health food business in the same area told me that he has a colony living in the wall of his store..and I am welcome to take them if I can get to them. Unfortunately they're in a brick wall, down in a fire wall, between neighboring downtown businesses. 

Isn't it amazing that when people find out you're a beekeeper, they really want to give you the business? Maybe my very first swarm catch will be a little easier, maybe a low tree or some lawn furniture.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Critters in my hive! My new book arrives in the nick of time!

When I attended the Certified Natural Grown workshop this past Saturday, January 9th, I thought they would devote more time to dealing with bee colony pests in a more all-natural way. And I was disappointed when they didn't. They spent more time dealing with the rules for the organization than anything else. I still haven't reviewed the meeting, but I plan to soon. You can probably tell that I'm not all that enthusiastic about the program as of yet...but keep in mind that its the infancy stage and has a lot of growing to do yet. But more on that later.

The temperatures here are finally climbing back up to the moderate level. Over the next few days the daytime temperatures are expected to climb back into the 50s, so I decided to remove the corrugated plastic from under the screened bottom board so the air can circulate again. The plastic sheet had been in place since December 31st, and I decided that it wouldn't be necessary anymore with the warmer day and night temps on the way. 

When I removed the plastic, I noticed a dark dot the size of a really small garden pea. Making sure not to drop it, I went inside the garage and grabbed my magnifying glass to get a closer look. You guessed was a small hive beetle. Honestly I didn't know what it was at first, but the more I examined it (and looked at pictures on the Internet) I realized I found my first. The beetle was dead, possibly dying from the freezing cold we've had lately. I've always heard the beetles could be found inside the hive itself..but this one was between the screened bottom board and the plastic corrugated sheet I installed. That leads me to believe that it may have hatched on the underside of the stand where it is dark and out of the way of the colony itself. But its possible that it was inside the hive. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website says, "They have been shown to attack bumblebee nests in the laboratory, and have been observed to survive winters in the hive inside the bee cluster." So now I'm going to have to keep a closer eye on this situation. The last thing I want is a major invasion of these beetles in my hives. They're disgusting looking and obviously not good for the colony.   

Now remember, I put the plastic corrugated sheet in place on December 31st. So it had been in place for 13-days altogether. While I was examining the plastic sheet, I also found some dead varroa mites. How many? 67. So if the sheet had been in place for 13-days, and a total of 67 varroa mites were on the plastic, then I consider the count as rather low. I realize that some may say that my method of arriving at that conclusion may not be very scientific, that a 3-day count would be more accurate. But when you add the extra days to my count, I think a count of 67 is a low count. Still though, it looks like the first thing I will do after I split this hive in a few months is give them time to settle down, then do a thorough powdered sugar dusting.

In light of these developments, the book I ordered over the weekend, "Natural Beekeeping: Organic Approaches to Modern Apiculture" arrived from Amazon on Tuesday, and just in the nick of time it seems. Ross Conrad, the author, looks at holistic methods to keep our hives healthy and handle pests without chemicals. It is obvious that many people, like myself, prefer to steer clear of chemicals when it comes to hive health. I've heard nothing but good things about the book, and now I plan to delve into it and read some each night. I think I'll hit the small hive beetle and varroa sections first.

Enjoy your day and bee safe!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sourwood honey and soul food on a Saturday!

So on Saturday, I had the chance to finally meet Lynn, a fellow blogger and beekeeper who attended the Certified Naturally Grown workshop in Winston Salem. Lynn writes great posts on her blog, Walter Bee, and includes experiences and pictures of her bees and her beautiful garden. My friend Jared, a soon-to-be beekeeper who blogs at Jared's Adventure in Beekeeping also attended the class. He's the person that mentioned the class to me in the beginning and got me interested in the workshop, then Lynn decided to come down from her home in the mountains and go too. I'm glad she did because it was fun to finally meet and talk face-to-face.

Lynn came bearing gifts. She brought me some wonderful beekeeping literature from other sources in North Carolina and Tennessee. I can't wait to read them on these cold winter days when I can't get outside. She also brought some information on bee attractive plants for your yard which I'm sharing with Jared who has a jump on me in the planting department. While I've planted some things around my property, I could do a lot more, and I'm glad Lynn shared this information. She also brought some information on how to catch swarms. Lots of good reading to keep my eyes and brain busy for awhile.

After our morning workshop session ended and it was time for lunch, Jared suggested this nearby place called Mountain Fried Chicken. I had never been there and neither had Lynn so we decided to give it a try on Jared's recommendation. It was great! The chicken was terrific and they had a ton of side items like green beans, mashed potatoes, stewed apples, turnip greens, corn on the cob, and different fruit cobblers. It was definitely soul food, maybe it would be better described as Southern comfort food. I stuffed myself on chicken tenders and potato wedges and sweet tea (if you're Southern, you have to drink sweet tea). As we ate we had the chance to talk and catch up on life since we didn't have much time to do that in class. I really enjoyed it and I think Lynn and Jared did too.

As I mentioned, Lynn came bearing gifts. Not only did she bring me the wonderful beekeeping literature, but she brought me a jar of her very own sourwood honey! I love honey (after all, I keep bees) and Lynn's sourwood is a really light, golden brown. I knew as soon as I got home, I would have to sample some of it. It was almost as if it was calling my name all the way back. And I knew the perfect food to accompany my honey would be some fresh honey wheat bread. So later after the workshop, Jared and I made a stop at Dewey's Bakery and I got a couple loaves of bread, wheat and white. If you ever get the chance to go to a Dewey's...GO! But if you're on a diet, you can kiss that goodbye with a trip to the bakery! 

The pictures you see of the honey and the bread are ones I made myself (and my bosses at the television station would be very proud of me for making a visually pleasing presentation). But I just wanted you to see how light and beautiful Lynn's honey is. And it tastes absolutely terrific! There's nothing like sourwood honey. If people know you have it, it goes very fast. Unfortunately sourwood doesn't fare too well here is what I'm told..otherwise I would plant some just to have the same taste Lynn's honey has. Lynn, great job on the nectar of the hive! I know you're proud and you should be.

I learned that Lynn is a really great person and a lot of fun to hang out with. You can talk with her and tell she's passionate about her bees and about her gardening. When she talks about them, she positively glows. She has a lot to share with others on her ideas and passions. I know that if need to ask a question, especially when it comes to good things for my yard or bees, I would readily ask Lynn what she would do for sure. 

Lynn, thanks for coming down and going to the workshop and thanks for my bag of goodies! It was very sweet of you to do! Literally!

Call when you come back this way and let's all go to dinner.   

Friday, January 8, 2010

Excited about class...and hanging out with my fellow bloggers!

I'm headed to school on Saturday. That's right, I'm packing up my pencil and notebook and highlighter and heading to an all-natural beekeeping class. For nine years I taught basic law enforcement students in the local community college system, but it has been a good while since I've been a student. So this time I'm on the other side of the desk. This should be a lot of fun!

I've going to the class with my new friend who is local and into beekeeping, and that's Jared of Jared's Beekeeping Adventure. Jared will get started with his bees this spring, but he's already blogging about his ride so far; buying equipment, getting set up, etc. Jared and I already have a lot in common.

And I'm really excited that I'm going to finally meet Lynn who blogs about her venture into beekeeping over at Walter Bee. Lynn used to live in this area and now she resides in the mountains of North she has local ties. Lynn was one of the first persons I ever spoke to who is into beekeeping and blogging, and I'm darn excited to finally meet her face-to-face! 

The one-day workshop we're going to centers around organic beekeeping which I totally believe is necessary for healthy hives. I've never introduced man-made chemicals into my hive and unless its an emergency of some kind, I don't plan to. My belief is that man and his overuse of chemicals has caused the emergency situation we're in now with our bees. The last thing we need? More chemicals.  

I'm planning to take my camera to get some pictures too. So watch for highlights on my blog in the next few days!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stretching their wings on a warm(er) winter day!

And maybe I should add that I was pooped on three times by my honey bees today! More on that below.

This has been the coldest stretch of winter weather we've had in my area in a long time. In years past, we've had cold weather, but nothing really like this frigid pocket we're in now. So far the lowest overnight temperature at my house has been 14.9 degrees, but we're still having lows ranging from around 20 to 17 degrees or do. Daytime temperatures have been just above freezing.  

As you know, I've been pretty concerned about my bees. Lately there has been very little activity if any at all. The girls that did bother to stick their heads out of the hive lately were dragging out the dead, and other than the sounds from inside (when I would put my ear to the side of the hive and listen) - there has been very little going on.

That all changed today. I went to the kitchen to make coffee and when I looked out the back window, the entrance to the hive was covered with lots of bees, and there was a constant flurry of girls flying around the front of it too. I looked at the thermometer and it said 39 degrees, so I knew that it was warm enough for them to break out of that hive and stretch their wings. And I was so glad that I had that craving for a cup of coffee...otherwise I wouldn't have paid attention to what was going on. Of course I grabbed up my camera and headed for the hive.

So as you can see, here is the results of cabin fever, or better yet, hive fever. The warm sun beating down on this hive warmed it up enough to bring the girls out of their winter slumber to stretch their wings.

Of course they were everywhere. This picture doesn't really do the ladies justice because you can't see all the ones flying in front of the hive. They would fly out, circle around for a few feet, then land back on the hive front.

By this time, maybe 10-minutes, I noticed that I was the focus of their attention. I looked down and had a handful of bees flying all around me, some landing on my arms and my clothing. If you look at the picture above, just to the bottom left, you can see one of the girls flying right at me. They didn't seem aggressive, just curious, although I did bring one in the house. I caught her in a cup and put her back outside. After all, if she's made it this long through this harsh mid-winter, she needs to go back to her house and help keep her sisters warm until spring.

By the way, when I got back in the house, I found that my bees, yes my beloved bees that I fret about so much...had pooped on me in three different places! So in addition to stretching their wings, the ladies were doing what nature instilled in them...taking their cleansing flights...and apparently yours truly was in their flight path! Does anyone know if they made Charmin-Ultra in honey bee size? Now its Tide with bleach to the rescue!

Until next time, bee warm everyone!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A honey of an exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo!

The North Carolina Zoo is located in Asheboro which is about an hour from me. The Honey Bee Garden opened last summer with help from the North Carolina State Beekeeper's Association of which I'm a member. The state beekeepers worked hand in hand with zoo officials to put this exhibit together, and get this, it includes a working hive on the grounds. I can't wait to see it sometime. This is a short feature on the garden but it says a lot.

By the way, North Carolina has a state insect...which is...ta-da...the honey bee! If you live in North Carolina, sometimes you would swear the state insect is the mosquito.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A reassuring message in the midst of frigid weather...

The weather forecasters missed it by almost four-degrees. This morning's predicted low was supposed to be 18...but as you my was 14.9. Okay, I'll give them the 10th of a degree and we'll say they missed it by three degrees. They were close anyway.

As you may recall from my post earlier this week entitled "Weather warning: Batten down the hatches" -- North Carolina and the eastern states are in a nasty pocket of frigid weather right now. And according to the local weather prognosticators, it doesn't look like we'll warm up too much for the next few days. Overnight temperatures are expected to climb back to the regular range of the 20s by later this coming week...and then we have the threat of snow on Friday. It seems like, at least here anyway, that Old Man Winter is making up for those really milder winters we've had over the last few years. All I can say is, C'MON SPRINGTIME!

I got a really nice email reply from Richard Underhill. Richard is a fellow blogger and beekeeper, and you can read his posts from the links on the right side of my blog. He owns the Peace Bee Farm in Proctor, Arkansas, and he is the former President of Memphis Area Beekeepers Association and the Tennessee Beekeepers Association. All of that and he's a really nice guy too.

Anyway, I sent him an email to ask about shutting off screened bottom boards...and about all the dead bees I've found in front of my hive in the last few weeks. Since I've read so many blogs lately where people have the same concerns about dead bees near their hives in winter, I thought I would share his reply with you. After all, he's a very experienced beekeeper and you don't become the president of two large beekeeping organizations while you're a novice. Here's what Richard had to say:


Greetings, I’m glad that you are finding my writings of interest. Thanks for the kind words and your most interesting hive observations.

From your descriptions, it sounds like you have a healthy hive which is well set-up for the winter. Keep in mind that there are two requirements for successfully over wintering a hive of honey bees. First, they must have an adequate store of honey which is located where the bees can access it. It is usually best to go into the winter with the cluster of bees low in the center of the hive with capped honey above the cluster. Second, the hive must have adequate ventilation. It looks like your bees have both.

Protection from the cold is not a requirement. You should be able to safely leave the plastic insert off of the screened bottom board even in the coldest of North Carolina winters. The design of a honey bee nest with parallel sheets of honeycomb is quite good at blocking the wind. As the bees eat the honey stored in the honeycomb over the course of the winter, the empty cells filled with dead air provide excellent insulation to hold the warmth of the cluster of bees.

Finding a hundred or more dead bees in front of the hive in the winter and seeing worker bees carrying out dead bees on a warm day seems quite normal for a healthy hive. Typically, a hundred bees die inside the hive in a day’s time. At this time of the year the only surviving bees are those born in the fall. They are the bees that have a longer life span of about six months, and they will feed the new brood in the late winter for the colony’s spring build-up. Among the dead large and small bees found on the ground, there were probably drones forced out in the late fall and possibly some chilled brood.

Nothing that you mentioned sounds an alarm. It looks like the colony is in good condition to complete the winter and start its spring build-up as soon as the bees find some dandelion and red maple pollen on a warm January day.

Best wishes,
Richard Underhill
Peace Bee Farm
Proctor, Arkansas

So there you have it! Thanks so much to Richard Underhill for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer questions from a newbie like me. His email made me feel so much better about my hive and knowing that all seems to be okay. I do appreciate it! And I hope others that read this blog can take comfort that maybe the lack of activity in our hives during these cold months just means that our girls are snug inside their homes and doing just fine.
Stay warm!  

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A moment of silence: Carrying away the dead...

For certain is death for the born
And certain is birth for the dead;
Therefore over the inevitable
Thou shouldst not grieve.
-The Bhagavad Gita

It was just in the past few days that I read an interesting post on Barbara's blog, The Bee Journal. It was 2010 resolutions for beekeepers, and the first resolution read, "I will not cry over each bee that dies. I accept the fact that it happens on occasion. However; I still reserve the right to raise them from the dead if they are willing."

I agree with Barbara 100% in her post...bees dies just like people and animals and plants. We all have to go sometime, sooner or later, although I think most of us opt for the later part. And even though I know that dying is all a part of living, its just a part of life, I'm still bothered by it in some way.

In the case of my bee colony, I'm bothered to see the dead in front of the hive..and the sight of them leaves me with questions I just can't answer. Maybe it is all first-year beekeeper jitters..but I find myself dwelling over why they're dying and then I start quizzing myself. Did I do something wrong? Could I have done something better? Should I be doing more? And at the rate they're dying, will they make it to the spring?

Today as I was checking around my hive to make sure everything was okay, this is what I found. The girls were removing the dead from the hive. As you can see, the landing board and edge of the hive stand are littered with the carcasses of bees that died inside the hive...that's because their sisters would drag them out and leave them. Within a short amount of time, other bees would come along, pick them up, and fly away with them. As always, you can click on the pictures to see them in their full size which gives better detail.

The ages of the bees varied. I found some older ones, much larger in size. Then I found some very small ones, they looked as if they were just days old. Of course, some bodies were heavier and required two bees to drag them out. In the case of the dead bee above, after the two got her outside, one of the stronger ones would pick up the carcass and fly it away from the hive. She went about six to eight feet away and dropped it on the ground. Then she returned for another body.

And yet, here's another. Here you see one bee as she drags the body of her sister out of the hive. It was amazing to watch. She climbed out of the hole, and while she was clutching the body of the dead bee, she finally got her bearings and flew away with the body. And like all the others, after she made her deposit away from the hive, she returned to start the task all over again. All while I was crouched down and watching all of this, not one bee offered to stop and see what I was doing. I suppose they were too busy with the task at hand.

Take a close look at this picture and you can see that this bee is depositing her sister's carcass on the ground not far from the hive. That is just one of many little bodies there..and there were plenty more in the immediate vicinity. As I took a good look at the dead bees, I kept my fingers crossed that none of them would have a green paint mark on her back. My queen, reared in 2009 and thus marked with a green dot, has the mark on her back. But as I examined the bees, I saw none with green markings, so I felt a little better about the situation. Not that much better really, but enough to figure that the matriarch of the hive is most likely still alive and protected by her charges.

This old leaf almost caresses the lifeless body of a dead bee who was newly removed from her hive. I watched closely as she was placed here. Her sister landed on the leaf with her cargo, deposited her, then just flew away. I tried to snap the picture quickly but I was too late to get them both. But as you can see, she's not the first dead bee to be brought here, and I don't think she'll be the last either. All I can hope for is that this is nature at work and not something out of the ordinary.

I'm most sure that my hive, with two deep supers, still has a pretty healthy population of bees inside. When I stick my ear to the side of the hive, I can hear a low, steady buzzing of activity inside. It sounds busy and alive. As many of you recall, late this past summer, there were so many bees in there that it was difficult to manipulate and manuever at times. And as I said in the beginning of this post, maybe it is just first-year beekeeper's jitters that's getting the best of me.

But seeing all those dead bees, those being brought out of the hive while I was there and those already deposited on the ground, it sort of un-nerved me just a little bit. I'm just hoping that this is what nature does to bees in the winter and its not something that I did...or something I didn't do. Truthfully, I'm perplexed. Some people say that dead bees on the ground in front of the hive is normal..then some say that you shouldn't have all that many on the ground at all. I didn't count them...but I can say I've never seen this many before.

As always, your thoughts and own experiences are more than welcome. Please share what you think is going on. I would love to hear from you!