Saturday, May 28, 2011

My new swarm colony from Danville is doing GREAT!

The Danville, Virginia, swarm that I caught a little over a week ago is doing really well.  I admit that I was a little worried after this catch. After all, in just one day they landed on a stake, then I placed them in a cardboard nuc, moved them to North Carolina at night, then kept them in my storage building overnight.  The first thing on my mind when I woke up the next day was getting those bees in a permanent hive - then pray they would stay put.

As soon as it warmed up some (and I had a couple of cups of coffee), I got everything ready.  That included putting the feeder on the front and getting the frames inside the hive so the bees could start building their new home.  I added some clean "used" frames (ones that came from a previous colony which had been scraped clean) along with brand new frames sprayed with sugar syrup.  With everything set up, all I would have to do now would be to move the frames out of the cardboard nuc to the new blue hive.

Here are the bees after I added them to the hive.  The white, plastic frames are the ones that were inside the cardboard nuc.  When I opened the nuc to remove the frames, the bees were extremely calm and very few of them flew around.  Unfortunately I didn't see a queen, but based on their very calm demeanor, I believe the queen was in residence anyway.  As soon as I got the bees settled into the new hive, I started to shut everything up.

Here you see the new colony as they get their bearings.  Once I got the inner cover on the hive, the girls started peeking out.  While this was probably a good sign, I was also a little apprehensive that they could still be in swarm mode.  So I hurried to get everything shut up so they could settle down.  I put the hive top on and covered it with a paving stone to weigh it down so the wind won't blow it off in a storm.  Oh, and I kept my fingers crossed all day that they would stay put! 

I went back about a half-hour later and found that the girls were already flying some.  And oddly enough, they ventured out and took to the air faster than the colony I bought from Dadant.  Before I left for work later in the afternoon, I noticed that air bubbles were rising in the feeder bottle every few minutes, so I knew they were taking the sugar syrup.  And now, a little over a week later, they're taking one bottle of sugar syrup per day.

With the addition of the Danville bees, I now have four colonies in my back yard apiary.  The Danville bees occupy the blue hive, the package from Dadant is in the yellow hive, and the green and orange hives are last year's stock.  But there may be some news as far as the green and orange hives.  With spring came the abundance of swarm cells in both hives, and I can't find my marked queens from 2010.  I saw a new queen in the orange hive weeks ago, and now I'm finding frame after frame of eggs, larvae and capped brood.  The green hive may be in trouble, but I'm working with them and hope to have good news soon.  More on those hives later!

Once again I would like to thank the Jacob, Barbara and Kimberly Hairston of Danville for helping to save another colony of bees!  Good job!

Bee vigilent everybody!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Got my first (and only) swarm this year thanks to a Virginia family!

So far this has been a slow year for me getting calls about honeybee swarms.  Although I've talked about the swarm season on my television shows, and even advertised my website through Facebook, I've only had a few nibbles.  And most of those were from people who had bees in precarious places like the walls of their houses or chimneys.  Last year I had all sorts of swarm sightings reported to me, but this year, it has been a little slow.  I was beginning to think the bees had let the swarm season least in my case anyway.   

That all changed this past Wednesday, May 18th.  I received a text message and phone call from a coworker, Bruce Hedrick, who said that a lady called our office in Danville, Virginia, and said a swarm of bees landed at her house.  I called her and spoke with a very nice lady named Barbara who said that the bees were on a stake in her yard and close to the ground.  She told me the bees must have landed there Tuesday or earlier that morning and they were still there.  When she told me that the bees were close to the ground, I became concerned that they may not be honey bees at all and could be yellow jackets instead.  To help me decide the identity, honey bees versus yellow jackets, Barbara said that her daughter could send me a picture with her cell phone.  So and after a few minutes, I got the picture and sure enough they were honey bees.  So Barbara and I talked again and I told her I would be on the way to her house.  So I packed up my overalls, a spray bottle of 1:1 sugar syrup, and a cardboard "nuc" and then I headed north to Danville.

When I got there after the 24 mile trip, sure enough the bees were waiting for me at the edge of the yard.  They were so gentle that I stood really close to them and they didn't even budge.  I met with Barbara who told me that recently her family noticed that honey bees were drinking from the birdbath in her front yard, so that led me to believe that the colony was fairly close before they swarmed.  And with Wednesday being the first really sunny day without rain in about a week, the bees knew it was time to hit the road.  So I suited up, soaked the bees with the sugar syrup, then I gently pulled the stake out of the ground.  All I had to do at that point was gently shake the bees off the stake and they plopped right into the nuc.  It was a very easy job!

Some of the bees that were on the ground near the bottom of the stake were still in the grass. But once the bees in the nuc got their bearings after being plopped in the box, it didn't take long for them to come out of the hole and start fanning their scent into the air.  Of course that attracted their sisters to come inside, and that's when a mini parade began towards the entrance.  I stayed for a little while to make sure everything was okay and secure the box, then I told Barbara I would come by around nightfall and collect the nuc while all of the bees were inside.

So once it started to get dark, I went back to Virginia to get the bees.  Once I arrived and suited up, I slowly opened the top of the nuc and found a box full of honey bees.  After one last stray bee made her way inside, I put the plastic cap on the entrance and taped the top on the box to make sure the lid wouldn't come off while I'm traveling back home.  The bees were lively inside the temporary hive, and as soon as I picked it up -- they started making the steady hum of an active colony.  

After I loaded the bees in the truck, I stayed for a few minutes and talked to Barbara and her husband and daughter.  In the front of me is the bird bath that Barbara told me acted as the watering source for the bees.  Apparently the bees would fly to the bird bath and sit on the edge and drink the water that would collect there.  Knowing that bees will usually go to the closest water source, that's what led me to believe that the colony was housed somewhere close by.

Meet the Hairston family.  That's Jacob, Barbara in the middle, and Kimberly, their daughter.  Barbara told me that they knew I kept bees because they've heard me talking about it on my television shows.  And I also found out that Kimberly found my blog and website so she did some reading up on beekeeping and swarms.  The Hairstons are extremely nice people who decided to help save the honey bees by calling a beekeeper.  And I just happened to be the lucky beekeeper who got the call to go to their house.  It was a pleasure meeting them and I hope to see them again soon.  Thanks again for helping the bees, and thanks to Kim for the pictures of me picking up the bees!

I got the bees home and kept them in my storage building overnight.  Then on Thursday morning, I hived them.  More on that (complete with pictures) in my next post.  But so far, so good.  

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Calling Ranger Smith! Yogi Bear raids a bee hive in my county!

Not so long ago, I read a news report that said the bears are now waking from their long winter slumbers.  And like many humans, they probably wake up, mmmm, hungry as a bear!  That means they get up, yawn, scratch themselves some, then decide to scrounge around for something to eat.  I think bears are like a lot of humans.  They're not always particular what they eat.  You know how it goes; you wake up and in a fit of hunger, then you eat the first thing you find. 

But the last thing most humans would do would be to raid a bee hive with thousands of angry and confused bees.  Bears? They're not so particular.

Just this week I read that my friends Jessica and Glenn over at The Beneficial Bee had their bee hive ravaged by a bear.  And then tonight one of our local television stations reported that a bear got into a local beekeepers hive in Madison, North Carolina.

While the town of Madison is rather rural and almost 19 miles from me on the other side of the county, its still a little close for any kind of bear sightings. Especially when they're getting into bee hives!    

I guess I'm thankful I live in a bigger city in the county and my bee hives are behind my house.  But to be honest, I've seen a bunch of deer in my neighbor's yard at their apple tree, so I guess that's no guarantee that a bear wouldn't wander around here too.

So like Ranger Smith keeping an eye out for Yogi Bear and Boo Boo as they try to snatch a "pic-a-nic" basket -- I guess all of us Rockingham County beekeepers will have to keep a closer eye on all of our bee hives.

I'll be happy if the bears will just stay in Jellystone Park!

Here's the story that was broadcast on our local Fox affiliate, WGHP!       

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Here we go again? Scientist claims cell phones to blame for bee deaths...

Mark's note: Greetings fellow beekeepers! While I think I'm pretty open to the various theories of Colony Collapse Disorder, I'm not so sure that I buy the cell phone theory as the cause.  Several years ago, this theory made the rounds and was later debunked by scientists as complete hogwash.  But now there appears to be a new cell phone/CCD theory making the rounds thanks to Dr. Daniel Favre who previously worked as a biologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  Now he claims that his study shows that an active cellular phone disturbs bees.  The reason I don't necessarily buy it is because in my years of working in radio and television broadcasting, I've noticed that some insects like wasps and hornets seem to be attracted to the signals emitted from transmitters.  While I'm not a broadcasting engineer, my own eyes have spotted countless wasp and hornet nests around the "dog houses" that encase AM/FM/TV transmitters and antenna equipment.  Even a good friend of mine, who is a broadcast engineer, said that he's noticed throughout his career how they're attracted to the signals.  And even though cellular signals are different than AM/FM/TV broadcast signals, I just don't believe that cell phones are driving bees away from their hives.  For right now, I lean towards the chemical poisoning theory and believe that bees are bringing something home (which they share) and that causes the bees to leave and forget how to find their way back.  But of course, I could be wrong.  Anyway, now that I've finished my stand on the soapbox, now its your turn to read the article and decide for yourself.  The article appeared in "The Daily Mail" (United Kingdom) with reader comments afterward.  Be prepared, many of those that posted their own comments aren't buying the theory either. -Mark

Why a mobile phone ring may make bees buzz off: Insects infuriated by handset signals
By David Derbyshire

Signals from mobile phones could be partly to blame for the mysterious deaths of honeybees, new research shows.

In the first experiment of its kind, a bee expert placed a mobile phone underneath a hive and then carefully monitored the reaction of the workers.

The bees were able to tell when the handsets were making and receiving calls, and responded by making the high pitched squeaks that usually signal the start of swarming.

Dr Daniel Favre, who carried out the experiment, believes signals from mobile phones and masts could be contributing to the decline of honeybees and called for more research.

But British bee experts say there is still no evidence that mobile phones posed a risk.

They blame the vanishing honeybees on changes in farming, the decline of wild flowers and pesticides.

The number of honeybees in the UK has halved in the last 25 years while in America bees have been badly hit by 'colony collapse disorder' - the sudden disappearance of entire colonies over winter.

Experts say bees have been badly hit by the varroa mite, a blood-sucking parasite that makes colonies vulnerable to disease, freak weather or poisoning.

Some experts say the latest generation of pesticides may disrupt the nervous systems of bees, causing them to get lost and confused.

And most bee experts say the creatures are suffering from the loss of wild flowers, meadows, rough pasture and untidy gardens.

However, a handful of experts say mobile phones could also be partly to blame.

Dr Favre, a teacher who previously worked as a biologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, said: 'This study shows that the presence of an active mobile phone disturbs bees - and has a dramatic effect.'

He placed two mobile phones under a beehive and recorded the high pitched calls made by the bees when the handsets were switched off, placed on stand-by and activated.

Around 20 to 40 minutes after the phones were activated, the bees began to emit "piping" calls - a series of high pitched squeaks that announce the start of swarming.

Within two minutes of the phone call ending, the worker bees calmed down.

In the study, the bees did not swarm - even after 20 hours' exposure to mobile phone signals. However, the onset of unexpected swarming triggered by mobile phone signals could have 'dramatic consequences in terms of colony losses', Dr Favre reports in the bee keeping journal Apidologie.

The study did not show that mobile phones were deadly for bees, he said.

"But one hypothesis is that electromagnetic fields could be contributing to the disappearance of bee colonies around the world," he added.

But British bee expert Norman Carreck of Sussex University said: 'It's an interesting study but it doesn't prove that mobile phones are responsible for colony collapse disorder. If you physically knock a hive, or open one up to examine it, it has the same result.

'And in America many cases of colony collapse disorder have taken place in remote areas far from any mobile phone signals.'

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