Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Oh those silly bees!  As much as you think you've figured them out, they will pull a fast one and surprise you.  Case in point, I put honey supers on two of the hives a good while back.  One hive went right to work drawing comb on the frames, and the other took its sweet time.  I sort of figured that the slow response may have been because of swarm season and a changing of monarchs, and I figured they would get around to it.  And they did.  Just not in the way I thought they would.

While checking the hives on Saturday, I did as I always do and looked for brood.  And while I found quite a bit of brood, I noticed something else too.  In the upper deep chamber, I found that the ladies were packing the nest with honey.  I found four frames in one hive jammed packed with honey, and another frame was mixed with brood and honey.  Deciding that I needed to lighten the load and avoid a honey-bound hive, I pulled the frames that held nothing but honey and decided to extract it.  While I got a brand new extractor for Christmas, I decided that it wouldn't be worth it for a few frames, so I decided to do the "crush and strain" method. After scraping all of the honey and wax off the frames into a strainer, gravity made all the golden honey drip into the five-gallon bucket below.

After all the honey dripped out of the wax, I strained it through mesh and then bottled it.  The four frames yielded almost two gallons, and between all my neigbors and family, it went rather fast.  I still have quite a bit left over and I have even more honey waiting in the hives.  And with the honey that I'll be getting from the supers on the two hives, that means I'll have to make the trip to Walmart to buy even more jars.  And I wondered whether I would be getting much honey this year!

As you can see, the honey is a beautiful dark amber color.  It has a heavier taste compared to last year's harvest, but a delicious taste.  I'm wondering if it came from crimson clover. 

But the ultimate compliment came from my neighbor.  She told me that her grandsons have already dived into the honey and loved it with hot, fresh biscuits and butter.  And while that truly made my day, I can't take the credit.  The bees did all the hard work.  I just provide the house they live in.

Bon appetit!       

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Paying a visit to a new beekeeper's hives...

On Saturday, I paid a visit to a friend's bee hives.  Keith Mabe started beekeeping this year with his own two colonies.  After taking the basic beekeeper course that was offered through the Rockingham County Beekeeper's Association, he bought his hive set ups and his bee packages and got started right away.  Here you see Keith as he stands next to one of his hives. This one is booming by the way.

Keith was a little concerned because one of his two hives seemed to be running a little slow.  He told me that he didn't see a lot of eggs and spotty capped brood, and thought something may be wrong.  So he asked me if I would come out and take a look and give him my opinion.  Always glad to see another beekeeper's hives, I accepted and met him on Saturday morning.  The hive he was concerned about is on the left.

Based on what he told me, I though he may have a failing queen.  But once we got into the hive, I found a lot of eggs in a tight pattern.  And we also found the queen as she made her way across the frame with all the eggs.  There was also larvae present that was hidden under bees on the frames.  I told Keith that it appears that all is okay with this hive, and that some colonies are faster in building up than others.  My advice was to close the hive up and not disturb them for a week, and to continue to feed them sugar syrup so they can finish drawing the frames.  Even without smoke, the colony was gentle and easy to work with.  

The hive on the right is doing great!  Keith told me that this colony took off as soon as he hived them, and that's apparent by the numbers of bees and the eggs and honey all throughout the hive.  They had so much honey there that I advised Keith to put a shallow super on top and let them fill it with honey, then he could have some for himself and leave some for the bees.  This colony was a tad testy at times, but they had a lot of honey to protect and we didn't smoke them either.  Overall I say that this is a very prolific colony that should do well through the rest of the year and hopefully overwinter well.

Keith has a great location for his bees.  They are near several area gardens and he provides water for them near the hives.  They are in a rural area of the county, not far from the county seat, and the area isn't accessible unless you drive through a parked gate.  So they should be protected from vandals or theft.

My only advice was to keep an eye on them to make sure that he sees eggs and brood, and that we would check them again in a few weeks.  I also advised him to switch to a non-toxic weed killer to spray around and under his hives, and to not use something like Round-Up which the bees can get into take back to the hives.  I use a gallon of vinegar to one full container of table salt.  Once I mix it in a sprayer, I use it liberally around and under my hives.  While you have to apply it more often, it doesn't carry the risks of poisonous chemicals.  You can also use rock salt under your hives to kill weeds and grass.

I think Keith is going to make an excellent beekeeper.  He's very excited about his bee colonies and doing all he can to help them.  Plus he wants to learn all he can from more experienced beekeepers.  And as we all know, that's what it takes to survive the ups and downs of helping the bees.

Happy summer!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Appalachian State University students working with Bee Informed...

From Appalachian Today which is the official magazine of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina:

The U.S. honeybee population has been dying at a high rate each winter—an alarming 30 percent during the 2010-11 winter. That matters because pollinating bees are responsible for 15 to 30 percent of the food U.S. consumers eat, scientists say. Possible contributors to this "colony collapse" include environmental change-related stress, potent pesticides, pathogens and insect diseases, cell phone radiation and genetically modified crops.

Faculty and students at Appalachian State University are working to be part of the solution through the Bee Informed Partnership, a $5 million program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and led by Penn State. The team hopes their efforts will reduce national losses in honeybee populations by 50 percent in the next five years, by identifying common bee management practices and determining the best management methods on a regionally and operationally appropriate level.

Participants in the project are:

•University of California
•University of Illinois
•The University of Georgia
•The University of Tennessee
•University of Minnesota
•North Carolina State University
•Lincoln University
•Florida Department of Agriculture (and Consumer Services), and

"We would like to reduce honeybee mortality, increase beekeeper profitability and enhance adoption of sustainable management systems in beekeeping," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, senior extension associate with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture who will lead the project. "At the same time we want to increase the reliability of production in pollinator-dependent crops and increase the profitability of pollinator-dependent producers."

Appalachian's Department of Computer Science was awarded $729,736 through the project to create and maintain a honeybee health database with an interactive web-based interface that will provide valuable feedback to beekeepers as well as information for future research. Appalachian's funding will support full-time research associate Mark Henson, who also is a beekeeper, as well as undergraduate students who will work on various aspects of information technology support.

Department chairman James Wilkes' experience as a beekeeper and his desire to blend computer science with the science of beekeeping led to the university's involvement in the project. "Personally, I had a horrible winter this past year with my own bees," he said. "I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do, but something happened and I lost a lot of bees. That's what's been happening in the beekeeping world for the past several years."

Appalachian students have already gotten involved with the issue. They have been working with Dr. Jay Fenwick, professor of computer science, to develop an Android mobile phone application that will help beekeepers keep track of maintenance of their beehives. The application provides a mobile, secure way for beekeepers to store their records and will provide alerts of needed maintenance. Fenwick and his students presented this project at the 2011 National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Ithaca, N.Y., this past spring.

"I have benefited from this project by seeing the students use the concepts and theories they have learned in their classes in a real-world setting," said Fenwick. "The students benefit from an exposure to the culture of research as well."

Appalachian's response to the honeybee concern has provided students with hands-on experience with an issue affecting their community and the world around them. With more than 10,000 beekeepers and more bee hives than any other state, this is an opportunity for Appalachian students to make a real difference in North Carolina.

*In the photo, Appalachian State University professor, James Wilkes, displays a swarm of honeybees*

Sunday, June 5, 2011

We have BROOD! All four colonies get two thumbs up!

I'm proud to say that I have four thriving colonies in my humble backyard apiary.  Months ago, I somehow got the idea that this may be a "run of the mill" season as far as my beekeeping goes.  But that all quickly changed with the April addition of the colony I bought from Dadant, then the swarm that I was lucky enough to catch in Danville.  

Since it had been a few weeks since I hived my swarm colony, I figured it was a great time to do a first inspection and check all the hives for brood production while I was at it.

First up, in the blue hive, the Danville swarm. This is one gentle hive of bees which I believe are Italian.  In eighteen days, the bees had already drawn several frames (with a sprinkling of some bur comb too).  As you can see, on this frame, they mixed new capped brood in with honey at the top.  On the other side it was mostly brood.  This has been one busy colony in the time they've been here, and I think I should be able to add a second deep box and frames pretty soon. 

Next up, the colony from Dadant inhabits the yellow hive.  I did add a second deep to this since they had drawn around seven frames of comb.  As you can see, these caps are a little older and the hive is full of it, plus they're storing honey at the top of some of them.  The queen in this colony is really good, Italian stock, and she went to work as soon as she was released and had a place to lay.  This colony is increasing in numbers thanks to her majesty's hard work.  They're a very gentle colony too.

Here is the green hive, one of the existing Carniolan colonies which was a split from last year.  A couple of inspections back, in April, this hive was full of swarm cells and no eggs - which can indicate the preparations for swarming.  Then a few weeks ago during a brief inspection, there were no eggs in either deep, but the swarm cells were disappearing and I could not find the marked queen.  I also noticed it seemed the population was less than before, so that led me to believe this hive had already swarmed.  But here's what I found on Friday.  This hive is full of eggs, larvae and capped brood, so now I believe that a new queen is ruling this colony.  This colony hardly required smoking so they're very gentle.  I can't wait to see what these bees look like once they start hatching.

Last but not least, here is the orange hive which is another of Carniolan stock.  As you can see, here is another fine example of a lot of brood.  Back in April when I did a deep inspection of this hive, I could not find the marked queen, and that was after three intense inspections of all twenty frames. This colony had swarm and supersedure cells all over, a few of them opened at the bottoms, and I found a couple of new queens walking the frames.  After giving it a couple of weeks, I opened this hive and found new eggs everywhere, so I knew one of the new queens had successfully returned from her mating flights.  This Friday's inspection also indicated that most of the swarm cells had been torn down from the sides.  I'm led to believe that this colony superseded the queen since the population doesn't seem to be much different than it was when the marked queen was here.  I'm also interested to see what these bees will look like.  And this colony was a gentle as lambs too.

After inspecting everything, I added a hive-top feeder to the blue hive, a second deep chamber and syrup for the yellow hive, then closed it all up.  The orange hive will have a super of honey ready soon, and that may be all I get this year.  While I haven't gotten a lot of honey from my bees, the peace I get from working with them is my satisfaction.  Plus hearing the remarks from my neighbors that their gardens are doing the best ever since I brought bees here (and them giving me some of their surplus too) is a big payoff.  In their own way, the bees are helping the neighbors and me too.  I'm happy with that!

Until next time, fellow beekeepers!