Monday, March 28, 2011

New equipment for an expanding apiary!

Tis the season for beekeeping equipment. In the next couple of weeks, I plan to pick up a couple more complete hives to add to my backyard apiary. And to hold my new colonies, I just received my custom-built, all steel, three hive stand. It was built by a local welding shop, Amos Welding, and built to my specifications. Its 6 feet wide, 2 1/2 feet deep, and sits 24 inches off the ground. Click on the picture and you can see the heavy duty screen that covers the top (which combined with screened bottom board will aid in ventilation), and the legs have "feet" on the bottoms to keep them from sinking into the ground. The steel is heavy grade so it will safely hold the hives..even at their heaviest when full of honey honey in the fall.

Once it receives two coats of metal paint, I'll locate it at the back of my property and in close proximity to my current hives. I'll use post-hole diggers to plant the legs in the ground, then once its leveled, I'll use some Quikrete to secure the stand. Once it sets, I'll be able to locate my new colonies at their new home.

I have to have everything ready by April 11th when my new 3-pound package of bees arrives at Dadant and Sons. That will take one space. Then I'll use another space when I split the orange hive. Then the third will be ready to go for any swarms I may catch this spring. And if I get more swarms, I'm already thinking about alternate locations. After all, I have to keep the neighbors happy too!        

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Winter just doesn't want to leave...

This past Monday the high temperature here was 84 degrees and the bees couldn't stop bringing in the pollen. And now the various forecasts are calling for the possibility of snow here Sunday and Monday.

Winter truly doesn't want to let go even though the calendar says it is officially spring.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Recent visit to the hives (and a friendly word of warning)...

The weather has been absolutely beautiful the last couple of weeks. While March can come in like a lion and leave like a lamb, most of this month has been worthy of all the lambs in North Carolina.  As you can see, the flowers are blooming and the trees are budding. Here you can see the Bradford pear trees at my house as they open and show their blooms.  

This past Friday, the temperature made it to a balmy 80 degrees, perfect weather for foraging for pollen. Here you can see the girls in the orange hive as they come and go from their home. Deciding that it was nice enough to fully open up the entrance to the hive, I removed the wooden reducers to give the girls plenty of room to some and go. While the holes are small enough to keep mice out, they also create traffic jams for the girls coming and going.

Here the girls have all the room they need to come and go. This was just after I fully opened the entrance. While I had the hive open, I scraped all the burr comb off, and I added a green drone frame to keep the burr comb down to a minimum. I also put a honey super on to keep the girls busy. The bees are bringing in all sorts of pollen, so I know they'll soon fill up the brood nest with honey. So now they can go to work filling the honey super.

The ladies that inhabit the green hive were not to be undone when it came to foraging. Actually, the bees in this hive seemed to bring in more pollen than the orange hive. I could see that the bees were having to wait to get inside the hive, so I also took the entrance reducer off this one too.

Take a look now that the entrance reducer is gone. And if you click on the picture, you can actually see the different kinds of pollen that the bees found on their foraging trips. I found bees bringing in bright orange pollen and a pale green pollen too. The dandelions are in full bloom as well as all sorts of trees and bushes. If they're finding this much pollen already, I can only imagine what they'll find in a few weeks when the pollen hits full force.

As I mentioned earlier, I added a honey super to the orange hive. Because the green hive is slower, I didn't add a honey super to it, and that's because I don't want to stress them. The good news though, the queen in the green hive is working. I found four frames of capped brood and freshly laid eggs so the queen is alive and well. Once I see more honey production in the green hive, I'll add a super to it as well.

The ladies in the green hive came to the top of the frames to see what all the commotion was about. Since it was just me, they went right back to work and forgot about me. Unlike the orange hive, I haven't had to smoke this colony quite as much to work with them. While the orange hive is full of bees, this one is a little slower and their numbers lower. But with the queen laying a good pattern, I think it won't be long before this hive will be teaming like their next door neighbors.

A WORD TO THE WISE: This is the time of year when the grass and weeds start to grow. Many of you are like me and prefer to keep a neat bee yard, and that means keeping the grass down. Always remember to be careful and protect yourselves when mowing or trimming around bee hives. I always prefer to wear a veil and gloves or my overalls to work around my bees, especially with a lawn mower or Weedeater. Bees can easily become agitated by the vibration, the exhaust, fast movements and flying grass. And of course, when they become agitated, their behavior can become completely unpredictable -- but chances are they will go on the defense. This past Saturday, while mowing with the riding mower, my bees went into a frenzy because I made a fast, close sweep by the hives and they followed me to the street. I should have known better..but I was in a hurry. Most of the time I make slow motions with the push mower while trimming close to the hives, but I was trying to save time and that turned into a mistake. Luckily I didn't get stung. But next time I might not be so lucky. So remember, when you're mowing close to your hives, take your time and mind what you're doing. My neighbors chuckle when they see me in full gear while mowing near my bees, but I'd rather be the butt of their jokes than picking stingers out of my butt (or my head or somewhere else) while trying to be bold. We all have to remember that bees are wild and we have to respect that. When they go on the defense, that's their instinct. You can never predict what they're going to do, and yes, that includes even the gentlest of bees. Happy bees mean happy beekeepers. Remember friends, its better to be safe than sorry!

Bee good everybody!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Carrying on a family tradition: Beekeeping

By Rachael Wright
Contributing Writer
News & Record (Greensboro, NC)
March 6, 2011

In the photo: James Wilkes (left) takes frames of honey out to explain the process to a professor from Appalachian State University as his son, Sullivan, watches.Courtesy of James Wilkes.

Mark Martin and James Wilkes are passionate and deeply involved in the adventure of beekeeping. Martin even calls his worker bees and the Queen bee in his hive “the girls.” The two men’s work in apiculture, or beekeeping, is as important as saving the rites of spring.

Wilkes, professor and chairman of the computer science department at Appalachian State University in Boone, grew up with bees in his backyard on Moir Street in Eden. His dad, Bob Wilkes, began keeping beehives a few years before Wilkes’ birth. Wilkes learned all the skills, terminology and discipline of beekeeping at a young age from his father, a beloved Eden educator.

Martin received his first beehive as a Christmas gift from his wife, Teresa, after they bought land on Roberts Road off N.C. 770. Martin had finished his Navy duty by then and had returned to his hometown. The Martins bought 3 acres — enough for fields of flowers, a garden, a greenhouse and the bee yard.

Three more beehives now sit in their lower front yard as sisters to the first hive in the back. Martin counted on the close-knit community of the Rockingham County Beekeeping Association to help him set up his hive. Bill Waddel is a friend and mentor to Martin.

In 2006, colony collapse disorder was first noticed, and ever since bees have been vanishing from many states and elsewhere in the world.

“The media jumped on the story of the disappearing bees, and people thought the world would come to an end,” Wilkes said. “With no bees, there is no pollination. Without pollination, there would be no fruits, nuts or vegetables.”

Although there has been no single cause attributed to the devastation of the bee population, research is being done to find a reason, Wilkes says.

Martin describes the heartbreak of opening a hive and instead of finding thousands of bees, finding only a few.

Varroa mites are particularly deadly because they enter the abdomen of the bee and are hard to see. Other mites, beetles and diseases plague the hives and the beekeepers. Colony collapse disorder is perhaps the most dreaded.

Even Albert Einstein worried about bees. Rachel Carson’s 1960 “Silent Spring,” a groundbreaking study about the evils of using pesticides in farming and gardening, initiated a burst of environmental laws and research.

Martin is a crusader for helping bees. He encourages people to plant bee-friendly plants and flowers and to set out water for bees.

Martin often sees bees encircling his birdbath. He hopes that gardeners will think twice before using pesticides. If pesticides are used, he suggests spraying in the late afternoon. Bees will take the toxic pesticide from a blooming flower to its hive.

Martin’s descriptions of the life and care of bees make it hard to believe that beekeeping is only a hobby. He is employed at Dixie Sales in Greensboro and also operates a landscaping business from his home.

Wilkes inherited three hives from his father in 2000. Now, he has 75 hives on his farm in Creston. He leases one-third of his hives and splits the honey harvest with the leasers. His older sons, Galen and Sullivan, are already involved in keeping bees and selling honey at the Watauga Farmer’s Market in Boone on Saturdays from April to October.

On the family farm, the brothers help their dad with the beehives. They are learning beekeeping: the fascination of bees, smoking the hive to calm the bees to be able to work with them, catching swarms that have left a crowded hive to find another home in the springtime, observing Wilkes extracting the honey from the centrifugal honey extractor and, as Wilkes says, “trying to figure it (beekeeping) out.”