Tuesday, March 30, 2010

This has nothing to do with beekeeping, but...

I just thought I would share a picture of me from a few years ago. This is me and my on-air partner, Ken Echols, as we broadcast the Reidsville Christmas Parade in 2007 for WGSR-TV.  Ken and I have hosted the on-air version of the parade on and off since 1986. This particular parade was the last daytime parade in Reidsville. That's because the television station took over organizing the event and moved the parade to nights. You can see that we're laughing, and that's because our show, Monday Night Live, is a local based variety and comedy show, so we were probably poking fun at something. Oh, in case you didn't figure it out, that's me on the left...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Check out the first Spring storm of 2010!

The first spring storm of 2010 hit here on Sunday night. While most people here were expecting a rain event, that soon changed.

The day was miserable anyway, cloudy and rainly the entire day long. But as the day turned into night, severe weather watches and warnings popped up all around the area. First came the flash flood warnings. Then came thunderstorm warnings which turned into tornado watches. Then after 7 o'clock, the first tornado warning was issued for Reidsville. I hate tornado watches and warnings anyway, but they bother me more when they come after dark. Thank goodness for my severe weather alert radio.

In the picture above, you see how the creek normally looks behind my house. This picture is a good representation of how it looks year round. This is the same creek that is the primary source of water for my honey bees. The stand that holds the hive is about 15-feet from the bank of the creek so it is very easy for my colony to access water all year. I made this picture just a few months ago.

Here is the creek at 7:30 on Sunday night, March 28th. This was around the time the first tornado warning was issued for my county because a tornado was sighted on National Weather Service radar a few miles out of town. I went out and put a heavy paving stone on top of my bee hive to keep it from blowing and I snapped this picture of the creek. As you can see, the rain was falling so hard, you can see the raindrops in front of the lens as I snapped the picture. Pay attention to how close the water is to the fresh water pipe that crosses the creek. This would soon change.

Here is the creek at 8:20 on Sunday night, 50-minutes later. As you can see, the pipe is completely gone now, covered up by flood water. I snapped this picture quickly because rain was pouring down and it was lightning pretty bad. Not long after this, a second storm system made its way over my area and the National Weather Service issued a second tornado warning. But we were lucky that the warning diminished quickly. But the rain didn't diminish because at one time it was raining so hard...I had to turn the television up.

Here in my city and county, we were rather fortunate that we didn't suffer serious injuries and damages. But to the south and southwest of us, people reported minor injuries and losses of homes and cars because of an unconfirmed tornado (unconfirmed as of yet by the National Weather Service). 

We've already had an awful winter with more snow that we've had in many years, and now the first storm of the spring was a doozy too. I'm just hoping that the weather for the rest of the spring and summer won't be foretold by the weather here in the last 24-hours. If so, its going to be a rough season for the bees (and their keepers too).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I found my first cases of DWV or Deformed Wing Virus!

So for the first time in two years, I found my first bee with deformed wings. Not just one bee, I actually found a couple. Its just one more thing I'm seeing for the first time in the beekeeping world.

I found them during an inspection Friday morning to see how they fared after last week's hive box rotation. I just happened to catch something out of the corner of my eye that didn't seem right, and when I looked at the frame I was holding, I saw something slowly crawling across it. Unlike the other bees who were busy scurrying around, this one bee was moving at a snails pace. She wasn't like the other bees -- she had two small stumps for wings and was obviously having problems walking. I took my hive tool and flicked her into the hive top, which was laying upside down, because I wanted to take a really good look at her. Then I found a second one, she obviously fell off one of the frames and into the hive top too -- so I had both of them isolated. Sure enough, both had stumps for wings, and they were both very slow moving. I knew then that my colony has the beginning signs of DWV or deformed wing virus. It really was a pitiful sight to see and being the soft hearted soul I am, I felt sorry for them.

I knew that DWV comes from varroa, but that's about all I really knew. So I went online and also read some of my beekeeping books to learn more about it. To be honest, I always thought that a colony suffering from deformed wings was because the hive was slammed packed with varroa. Not so. Experts say that hives with low varroa counts (like mine have been) can still have problems with DWV. And in many cases, the colony will expel bees with deformities like those with DWV in order to keep the hive hygienic. Obviously they missed these two -- and I'm kind of glad they did. Otherwise I would have never known about the problem. 

Knowing I have to do something, but keeping it natural and not putting chemicals in my hive, I read up on a remedy for varroa called ApiLife-Var. You can find a lot of material about ApiLife online and in Ross Conrad's book on natural beekeeping too. ApiLife is a remedy that studies show to be 95% effective..and it contains all natural ingredients like thymol, menthol, and eucalyptus oil. Three treatments (7 days apart) are all that's needed. Ross Conrad recommends that ApiLife be used in the fall instead of the spring, but the product literature says it's okay to use it during the spring and fall -- and i'm not waiting until the fall to treat this colony.

In the meantime, I did a really heavy powdered sugar dusting, and I called Brushy Mountain Bee Farm and ordered a package of ApiLife. It should arrive this coming week or week after. I plan to put it in the hive as soon as the daytime temperature stabilizes in the 60s. I'll also treat the second hive once the new queen is placed there and she settles in...and now that time frame looks like early May.

Just a reminder to check your hives and make sure you examine your bees carefully. Just because your mite numbers are low doesn't mean you can't have bees with deformed wing virus. Hopefully things will be back to normal very soon and all of my bee creatures will be healthy and whole again.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New hive bodies and a great first full inspection!

Introducing the lemon yellow hive! No, its the same colony of my girls, but they now have a delicious, lemon yellow exterior to their home. I was tired of looking at the plain white hive, so I decided to change it up a little. So I painted my second stand-by hive a bright, lemon yellow. And I have to admit that I really do like it. 

Well, I have to be honest and say that my reasoning was two-fold. One, I just wanted to make the hive boxes more colorful. But two, I wanted the bees to be able to recognize their own hive when I have two of them sitting side by side. I already have one that's bright yellow, and now I'm painting their old hive -- get this -- electric lime! Oh yeah, a bright lime green color. So now I can refer to my hives as lemon and lime. And when I have a new stand-by swarm hive, I plan to paint it orange. How I came about with all these citrus colors, I don't know, but they're the ones I liked best when I went to the paint department at Walmart.

While I was moving the frames into the yellow hive, I did a full inspection. The sun was bright and it was 76 degrees..the perfect day for doing it. While I did not find the queen, she is definitely there. I found an abundance of tiny, newly laid eggs with just about every cell filled. I also found larvae and pupae throughout the frames, so her highness is in residence and already laying. I also found drone cells through several frames too -- and thankfully, no swarm cells anywhere. Since this colony is already active, and it is full of bees -- that's been my biggest fear, that they're going to get the urge to swarm. But so far, so good. I plan to get a new queen so I can split this hive soon. While I could chance it and let them raise their own queen when I do the split, I'm not too hip on that idea. I'd rather buy a queen from a reputable dealer like Busy Bee Apiaries in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and know that chances are, she'll be as good as the one I have now. 

While I didn't see any hive beetles, varroa or wing issues, and this is still one booming colony even though we had a rough winter -- I did see some spotting on the front of the white hive that could be a possible indicator or Nosema. If its there, its slight, but I plan to make the trip to Dadant and pick up some Nozevit (all-natural) and give them a spring treatment. While I'm at the warehouse, I plan to pick another hive set-up just in case I get lucky and catch a swarm sometime this year.

Overall, I'm very pleased with my honey bees and how they've fared. Very pleased! I can't wait to split them soon and have my second colony in the electric lime hive. And as you can see in the picture above, my old hive is still in great shape, but I have a lot of propolis to scrape before I give it a fresh coat of paint. It gives me an excuse to get out and enjoy this wonderful spring weather!

Happy SPRING everyone (now that its official by the calendar)...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Here's a FREE website for your beekeeping records!

If you're like me, the older you get, the tougher it is to remember some things. While I'm good with some stuff, its the other things I worry about that I've possibly forgotten. I don't just mean in beekeeping either, I mean all sorts of things.

But for a good while, I've been looking for a really good way to keep up with information about my bee colony, especially since I'm expanding this year. My friend, Jared (of Jared's Adventure into Beekeeping) made up a really good hive records program using Excel. I altered it somewhat to suit my needs; Jared is more the research aspect of beekeeping while I'm more interested in just making sure I'm doing the right thing every time I open my hive. For me, having a way of recording information makes sure I check for certain things and do something when necessary.

While I was tooling around on Facebook, I saw an advertisement for a FREE bee hive records system called BeeTight. A second year beekeeper (like myself) named Matt, who is in Cornwall in southwest England, developed the Internet based records system. The free version allows you to keep records for up to six hives, and you can also pay for the full version which allows you to maintain records on up to 1,000 hives. And for a back-up, you can even print out your records. Its very basic but includes information that you may need at some point in the future; what works, what doesn't...etc.

On the BeeTight website, Matt says, "I set out to replace the paper or spreadsheet-based records that most beekeepers seem to use, so its first job is to handle records of inspections. I spent some time looking at examples of record sheets and tried to take the best of them. To that end, it records laying pattern and temperament on a six-point scale. You can also say whether you have seen the queen, or eggs. There is space to record any queen cells spotted, or whether there are excessive drone cells. You can record varroa drop counts, as well as any treatments that you may have given. Finally, you can keep track of when and how much you have fed them."

All it takes is an email address and setting up a password. And even though it automatically sets itself up on the Metric system, you can change your account settings to the U.S. Imperial system. And it doesn't matter what type of hives you have. Langstroth, top-bar, Warre, or even nucs -- you can register your hive types (and even more types are included). You can include the source of your colony, race of queen, when you hived your colony, medications, etc. As I said, its very basic, but includes some information that may be helpful in dealing with your hive. 

While I plan to continue to use my Excel based records system for now (so I can continue to track weather information and more) -- I plan to use this BeeTight system too since it is simple to use.

If you're needing a basic way of keeping records on your bee colonies, and you have less that six hives, I would recommend you give this a try. And what can it hurt? After all, its FREE!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Getting ready for spring! My new building and painting hives...

Sorry it has been so long since my last post. The last couple of weeks have been really busy and I'm trying to get ready for the new beekeeping season, so that means I've had my hands full. So here's an update on my building and getting ready for spring.

My storage building is finally finished! After a month of delays, mostly weather related, the crew came to my house and had it up in a week. They actually had the four walls and roof up in three days, but with the windows and doors and the shingles and paint, it took a full week. But I'm not complaining. It looks great and I'm already putting stuff in there. All of my beekeeping supplies are there along with my yard tools, and I still have plenty of room for other goodies too. To be honest, I'm a little afraid that with all of that new space available, my storage building could end up like my garage...no room for anything. But I've made a pact with myself that I'll keep it neat and orderly...and we'll see how long that will last.

I did an inspection last last week and found my hive alive and doing very well. The sugar I poured on the wax paper and placed on top of the frames was halfway gone, the girls had eaten through the bottom and made a large hole in the sugar and had taken over half of it away. I really wasn't expecting that but its good to see that the method works and I won't hesitate to use it again next winter if needed. 

The top and bottom deeps were really active with a lot of bees. To be honest, it was a nice surprise. It took a few minutes but I finally pried one of the end frames out to see that the girls had seriously used up their winter store of honey. I also found three frames that still had honey, but all the other frames were completely empty and the cells cleaned up. As I pulled up some of the frames, I found where the queen had laid eggs in the burr comb. In that burr comb, I found larvae in all stages...so she's already busy at work getting ready for the spring. I figured she would be working since the daytime temperatures here are now in the 60s and those bees out foraging have been bringing in a lot of pollen. They're even storing the pollen all through the frames, its a yellow-greenish pollen they've put in cell after cell. One frame was completely covered on one side, and they were seriously working on the other side.

So after taking the top and bottom boxes apart and cleaning up all the burr comb (and there was a LOT of it) I put some 1:1 syrup in the feeder to get them through the next few weeks. Since there's no nectar sources available now and they can still starve, I decided to give them some thin syrup. After I put the feed bag on, I closed up shop. I'll go back at the end of this week to make sure they're doing okay with the syrup and that things look okay under the hood.

In preparation for splitting this hive, which I plan to do when the weather stays calm and I can get my hands on another queen, I've already painted the second hive. As you can see, its a very bright yellow. I figure that since my two hives will sit side-by-side, I'm hoping that the color difference will make it easy for my bees to differentiate their own home hive. And as soon as I get a third hive set up, I plan to paint it lime green -- then take the current two hive bodies (now in use) and keep it as a swarm hive...probably as the standard white. I realize that painting my hives probably makes them stick out more, but they're protected where they sit. Plus I believe we all need a little color in this sometimes drab world. I'm really looking forward to put the new colored hives to work. Next up...names for my colonies. I'm not sure what names I'll annoint them with, but I'm giving it serious consideration right now. It will be a lot better than yellow hive, lime green hive, white hive, etc. Stay tuned.

More later. Until then, I hope you're all doing well and planning for another banner year in this wonderful world of beekeeping!

Bee good!