Saturday, April 28, 2012

Artiste Apis Mellifera = Crazy Comb Patterns!

One thing that new beekeepers should learn is to expect the unexpected. And while I'm not a new beekeeper anymore, there are still things that I discover inside the hive that baffles me from time to time. One is the crazy comb patterns that bees will create on frames. Like this frame for example. As you can tell by the color, this is a drone frame that I use for varroa mite control. But the ladies decided to use it for another purpose. It has become their artiste's palette.

This frame is in a one year old colony. I believe in being proactive to eliminate pest problems, so weeks ago, I placed the drone frame in the hive so the bees could draw it out. Then after the frame is drawn and the eggs are capped, you take it out and freeze it, then put it back into the hive. The hygienic bees remove the dead brood and the varroa mites too by throwing them outside the hive. But when I checked to make sure they were doing what they are supposed to be doing, this is what I found. I also found a similar pattern on the end of another frame. As you can see, the ladies even started making honey in the comb. And when I pulled the frame out and broke the wax bridge going to the next frame, the ladies took advantage of the situation and had a tasty lunch.

While I really don't want to quash their artistic side, I really wish they would use the frame for its intended purpose. Oh well. I'll just add the wax to my waste wax collection and use it later.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Two weeks later: Eggs in my swarm hive!

Saturday (April 21st) was the fourteenth day that my swarm colony has been in their new hive. If you remember, this swarm was from one of my own hives, and they landed 20 feet from their former home. Saturday was the second time I had checked this colony since I caught them. I also checked them at the one week mark, and while they were drawing comb, I could not find any new eggs on the three frames I moved from the other well established hive.  

Here is a frame where I found the new eggs. As you can see, there is some capped brood from this frame that I moved, but I also found brand new eggs scattered around it too. The frame was so full of bees, I had to gently blow on them to move them around. But at just the right angle with the sun behind me, I finally saw the tiny white eggs at the bottom of the cells. And with the worker bees building new comb on the other frames, the queen will soon be able to lay more eggs to keep this colony thriving.

As you can see, I seriously need to get some deep hive bodies. I'm still using two honey supers stacked on top of one another to act as a hive. My trip to Dadant in Chatham, Virginia, was sidetracked this past week because of work. But I'll have to make time soon because the bees in my swarm hive are building a lot of comb to fill in the extra space. I was tempted to go ahead and scrape all the excess comb off, but decided to just leave it so the bees will stop working to replace it and concentrate on finishing the task of drawing out the empty frames. The excess comb won't go to waste. I'll melt it down and use the wax on the frames in the hives. I'm getting ready to experiment with foundationless frames in my honey supers, so the wax will come in handy.

So overall, I believe this colony is doing well and I'll continue to check them in weekly increments. I'll have to in order to fight the burr comb until I can get them moved into a proper hive.

On a side note, I received a local swarm call on Saturday afternoon. A woman contacted my father and said she had a swarm of bees at her house. When I called her, she told me that the bees were in her fireplace chimney and somehow getting inside the house. A deputy Sheriff was at her home (they called the Sheriff's Office and asked for help) and he's the one that told her to call me, a local beekeeper. Based on her description, the bees were located deep in the chimney, so I knew there was little I could do for her. She said bees were flying in her house and crawling on the carpet, so I told her that the first priority was to plug the hole where they were coming through so no one would get stung. Then I told her that she would probably have to get an exterminator to kill them. It broke my heart to tell her that. If the bees had been in an outer wall or more accessible, maybe I could have done more. But with them being deep in a chimney and getting inside the house, there isn't much I or anyone else could do. But above all, the family's safety comes first. I thanked her for calling a beekeeper and I also appreciate the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office for thinking of me when it comes to saving the bees. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Partially Africanized bees found in eastern Tennessee!

VONORE, Tennessee – Tennessee’s first case of partially Africanized bees was confirmed through genetic testing last week in a colony belonging to a beekeeper in Monroe County. The colony has been depopulated and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is working with beekeepers in the area to determine if other bees could have been affected.

State Apiarist, Mike Studer, says it is no surprise that partially Africanized bees have made their way to Tennessee considering they have already been found in other states such as Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida. “I’m actually surprised it’s just now happening. We have been expecting this for some time,” Studer said. “Citizens need to be vigilant, but there’s no need to overreact. This is a situation that can be effectively managed through good beekeeping practices.

“We will be working with beekeepers to monitor their hives and to look for any signs of other aggressive bees in the area.”

Test results show that genetically, the bees were less than 17 percent Africanized, far less than the 50 percent considered by USDA to be truly Africanized. The bee colony was purchased by the beekeeper last year from an out-of-state dealer.

The most important difference between an Africanized honey bee and our domestic European honeybee is their behavior. Africanized bees are much more aggressive, defend their nests more fiercely and in greater numbers and are more likely to defend the nest when threatened by predators or adverse environmental conditions. But, the sting from a single Africanized bee is no more venomous than a European honey bee.

Africanized bees tend to colonize in smaller spaces than the docile European honeybee. Therefore, if you see honeybees in the ground, or in small openings such as flower pots or bluebird houses leave them alone and call the state apiarist immediately to assess the situation. Bees do not try to hurt people, they simply defend their territory.

If you do disturb an Africanized honeybee colony, follow these steps to protect yourself.
1. Run.
2. Cover your head with your shirt or jacket while running because Africanized bees tend to sting the face and head.
3. Never stand still or get boxed into a place outdoors where you cannot escape the attack.
4. Seek immediate shelter in an enclosed building or vehicle. Isolate yourself from the bees.
5. Do not attempt to rescue a victim without the proper protective gear and training. Doing so could make you the second victim.

State law requires all beekeepers register their colonies with the TDA and to update their registration every three years. Once registered, the state apiarist is able to contact beekeepers in the event of a disease outbreak or aerial pesticide spraying in their area. Registration also gives the beekeepers the opportunity for free inspections to make sure their colonies are healthy. Registration can be done online.

For more information on TDA’s Apiary Section or to register a bee colony,

*Photo by the USDA shows an Africanized honey bee on the left and a European honey bee on the right.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Local county prison farm produces "Jailhouse Honey" and "Jailhouse Jelly"

I can tell you that jail is a boring place. That's because I worked in one for two years. In case you didn't know it, I was a deputy Sheriff for 18 years, and my first two years of full-time service was working in the county jail. It was one of the best experiences in my career because you learn a lot about human nature. And one of the most important lessons I learned while working there is that not everyone who goes to jail is a bad person. Yes, they did something bad to get there. Many of the people behind bars have some good characteristics too, but they made bad decisions for whatever reason and landed in jail. But as I said, jail is a boring place and much of the time, there is absolutely nothing to do. Some watch TV, some play cards, some sleep when they can - and the others may try to figure out some mischief to break the monotony. The mischief is what all jails want to avoid. It is better to keep the inmates occupied with something good than something bad.

One local Sheriff's Office is doing something to break the monotony of serving jail time and teaches some post-release skills too. The Guilford County Sheriff's Office, which is headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina, runs a prison farm. Not just a prison farm but the only remaining county operated prison farm in the state of North Carolina. The prison farm has a capacity of 134 inmates and consists of 806 acres of land located in eastern Guilford County near Gibsonville. The prison farm is just that, a working farm. It includes cattle, greenhouses (the prison farm sells plants to the public), hay, corn, and lots more. And inmates maintain the farm under the supervision of ever-watchful detention officers.

In 2010, the prison farm added a muscadine grape vineyard. No, the inmates aren't making wine with the sweet grapes, but they are making what is called "Jailhouse Jelly". And to help the grapes and other plants to thrive on the farm? Yep, bee hives! Three prison farm staff members attended a basic beekeeping course held by the Guilford County Beekeepers and brought back their newly learned skills to form a 10 hive apiary on the premises. Between the acres of other crops, and the vineyard and the apiary, the detention officers share their skills with the inmates, and the inmates can use those skills when they go back into society. It is a win-win for everyone, plus it helps the honey bees too. I think it is a fantastic idea to teach these skills to others, and I hope more jails and prisons that operate farms will pick up on it.

Here is a clip with details about the prison farm apiary and vineyard. It comes from a weekly television show called "Guilford Sheriff 911" which is hosted by Sheriff B.J. Barnes and airs on Guilford cable and WGSR 47.1 in Reidsville. In the clip, Steve Carney, one of the detention officers and beekeepers, details how it all came about. I was graciously given permission to post the segment by Arch Embler, the public services liaison and producer of the show. Thanks, Arch!

And hats off to the Guilford County Sheriff's Office for not only helping the inmates learn something they can take with them when they leave, but for helping the honey bees thrive too!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My first swarm catch of 2012? MY VERY OWN BEES!

Saturday started out really great. I already had my day planned; Mow the yard, reverse the hive chambers on all four honey bee colonies, get a haircut and follow up on my taxes. Well I made it through the yard mowing without a hitch, then went inside to make some sugar syrup for my hand sprayer. As soon as I finished, I went back outside and as I approached the building that houses my beekeeping supplies, I hear this really intense high-pitched buzzing. And when I looked up, the air was full of bees. You guessed it, one of my hives was in full swarm mode! It was the yellow hive which holds an Italian colony I bought in 2011.

Afraid to take my eyes off of them for fear I would lose their flight path, I just stood there and was prepared to say goodbye forever. I stood behind the yellow hive amongst the cloud of bees in a tee-shirt and track pants and carefully watched. And while bees were flying virtually everywhere, I noticed a lot of them flying towards the fence at my neighbors house. Continuing to watch them, I noticed that once they hovered in, they would fly to the middle of a wild crabapple bush at the corner of the fence. So I walked over to investigate, and sure enough, there they were.

20 feet from their former home, my traveling swarm landed on a couple of limbs in my next door neighbor's wild crabapple bush. How much luckier could I get? The only issue for me would be to make sure I could retrieve them since wild crabapple bushes are full of nasty thorns. So while it was a fine respite for them, it might be a pain for me. But thankful they were so close, I started gathering up my tools to get them back including the bottle of syrup, a cardboard nuc, a small step ladder and my bee brush.

While I was gathering my tools, the swarm settled down significantly into the customary ball. I then told my neighbor what was going on (her first words.."poor Mark"). Getting back to the swarm, it was easily three pounds of bees and they were on a prominent limb in the bush. The only real issue was trimming the smaller limbs away so I could get the box under the swarm ball and not get stuck by the thorns. After about 10 minutes of trimming, I could easily get the cardboard nuc under the swarm.

After giving them a healthy spraying of sugar syrup, and holding a tight grip on the box, I grabbed the limb and gave it a hefty downward jolt. Plop! The bees fell right into the box as planned. While quite a few went airborne, the majority were inside the box, so I felt like it was a success. But as I looked on the ground below the bush, there were quite a few there too. My fear was that the queen may be among the ones on the ground, so I immediately placed the nuc on the ground and placed the lid back on top. 

As soon as I placed the nuc near the bees on the ground, the parade began. I've always been in awe of watching swarms as they crawl their way into a hive, and I wasn't disappointed this time. Slowly and surely, the bees made their way to the small hole in the cardboard box. I was also hoping that if the queen did happen to miss the box, she would crawl with her daughters into the temporary mobile home. And after about an hour, most of the bees were inside the box with the exception of the ones fanning their wings outside to tell the rest of the crew, "Hey girls..we're over here!"

The next dilemma was..what was I going to put them in? All I had left was new shallow honey supers and no complete deep hive set ups. So knowing that two shallow supers was about the same size as a deep, I put two of them together. I did have two solid bottom boards, so after putting one on the bottom, I realized I didn't have a top. So I improvised by putting an inner cover over the two supers, then I made a temporary top with another bottom board turned upside down. To block up the top entrance, I put an entrance reducer there.

As you can see, it all fit together perfectly. With three frames of brood that I took from my other hives (to hopefully keep the swarm from absconding), and filling up the hive with plastic frames, I closed it all together and put three landscaping bricks on top to keep the lid from blowing off. I am especially curious about how this situation is going to work out. The swarm is only a few feet from where they left just hours before, so I was curious if the bees would travel back to the old hive to visit. I guess we'll see for sure, but I can tell you that 24-hours later, all is fine and the bees have been busy all day flying in and out just like normal. So I take that as a good sign that things will be okay.

I've been waiting to see if I would get a swarm call this year. And I really think it's funny that my first swarm for the year was for my very own bees. So now it looks like I'll be making the trip to nearby Dadant & Sons in Chatham, Virginia, to pick up some new hive set ups. After all, swarm season is very much underway, and I've learned an important lesson; Its better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Why you should always call a friendly beekeeper FIRST!

In my quest to help save the honey bees, with every question I get I always try to use it was a learning experience. I always tell people that the bees are our friends and here to help us in countless ways, so we should always do whatever we can to help them in return. That includes saving them when they swarm or move where they're not wanted.

Last year I had a couple of calls from people who had bees in their homes and wanted to get rid of them. They didn't want to kill them, only move them. And when I told them that I knew a few cut out beekeepers who would come and remove the bees for a small charge or no charge, but they (the homeowners) would be responsible for any repairs, the next question was always, "But what if I just stop up the hole so they can't get in or out? Can't I just kill them and be rid of them that way?"

That's when I seize the moment to tell people that's not the way to handle it, that if the bees die, they are going to have a huge mess from the aftermath. I always tell them that as long as the bees are alive, the nest is air conditioned. But when they die, all that oozing honey, the melted wax and smell has to go somewhere...not to mention the ants, roaches and mice who will come around to dine on the free eats. Most elect to allow a cut out beekeeper to save them the hassle and take care of the issue.

Here's a video of someone who decided to take it upon themselves to kill a colony in an old apartment building. The video, from beekeeper JPtheBeeMan on Youtube, shows several cans of wasp and hornet killer, a can of spray foam, and thousands of dead bees in the apartment. Did they get rid of the bees? No. The owner ended up calling a beekeeper anyway, but by that time it was too late. The bees were contaminated from all those pesticides and I understand the colony ended up dying. If the owner had just called the beekeeper to begin with, she could have saved herself a lot of time and the bees would have lived and found a new home.

I've already posted this on my Facebook and will use it in the future when people ask if they could just try to get rid of the bees themselves. This should be a training video for beekeepers to use when trying to educate the public about why they should not try to "do it yourself" when it comes to removing squatter honey bees!