Welcome to the blog! We welcome your articles on various aspects of beekeeping, and your comments and questions.
Bee season has started, but I’m not working hives. Instead, I’m in Oregon ever-so-attentively managing a single bee: our ba-bee grandson. His parents returned to work in April, and Grandpy and I have been here since. We’re totally enthralled with little Thomas. I don’t know how we’ll ever leave him shortly, but thank goodness for bees at home whom we suspect need some attention. (Special thanks to our beek friends checking them for us.)
I’ve done hundreds of package installs over the years, and wished I’d known about this less-stress, better-for-bees method years ago. Dr. Larry Connor recommended it to me; I now teach it in my bee-ginner classes and have used it very successfully.
Someone from one of my classes found a lovely video of this method (put box in vs shaking). While a bit long, it makes a very compelling case for the gentler method. Find it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9qu-zMhtQ0
I’ve also included a few reminder pictures for handling the queen …Continue Reading
I invested in a new, vented suit for bee season, which seems to be approaching. There are tempting hints of spring, and I want to put on my suit and jump in the hives, but Mother Nature has other plans.
It could be several critical days or weeks until pollen and nectar are readily available. If you have the time and opportunity (weather-wise) to check on your colonies in the next few weeks, here are some things to consider:
— Add a protein patty: bees desperately need protein for spring build-up. A pollen patty placed atop the bars of the brood nest (be sure to stay close to the nest) might give them the critical protein they need as the weather comes and goes over the next month. Chances are their version of March Madness doesn’t focus on basketball–but rather how do they get enough protein to properly care for developing bees?
— Provide sugar syrup: until the world erupts in nectar sources, they’re burning lots of fuel looking for more.
— Reduce space: if you had on three or more boxes, chances are that at least one might be empty. Minimizing space helps them keep brood warm. If you have one of those “three cups of bees” clusters that appears to be struggling, you may even want to reduce the colony to one box.
We’re tempted to remove the black wrap skirting and Styrofoam we use for winterizing hives, but we’ll probably wait until later April to do so. Mother Nature loves the way snow looks on tulips, so we could have more cold nights and fluffy white stuff. When we do remove the gust-protective skirts though, we’ll put slider boards back in to help the bees control temperature.
Chances are that you’ve lost a colony or two (or seven.) I’ve heard anecdotally of about 40% overwintering loss; it happens—especially if your Varroa were not under control. Here’s what we’re doing with dead-outs. And yep, we also had some, doggone it.
— Autopsy: to try and figure out why. (Chances are very good it is related to Varroa.) A tell-tale sign is crystallized mite urine, especially about the brood nest. Once we rule out American Foulbrood, we’ll evaluate the frames, foundation and boxes to see if their suitable for reuse.
— Drawn foundation less than three seasons will be re-used IF it’s not predominantly drone-sized. The queen will lay a fertilized (worker) or unfertilized (drone) egg according to the size of the cell her workers have drawn—and predominantly drone comb will result in more bees watching basketball then working. After about three seasons, the chemical load in wax is allegedly substantial, so that foundation will be destroyed. (We don’t use plastic.)
— Dead bees are brushed off, and if there is a lot of decay on the frames or foundation, we’ll discard. Otherwise, time in the sun usually handles mold issues and some sterilization. Let frames get plenty of air and sun.
— Boxes with heavy defecation are washed with a mild bleach solution, rinsed, and then allowed to dry / sterilize in the sun for a few days. We’ll also repair them if need bee.
— All frames are pulled out to ensure they’re solid–repaired if not. It is super-frustrating to encounter a frame of honey in July and try to pull it only to pull off the top bar.
— Honey frames are put in the freezer. We’ll save them to use in splits in a few months from our strong colonies.
Once we’re through our equipment overhaul, we’ll return to the couch and basketball, but continue to dream about the upcoming season …
Greetings and welcome to Part One of a three-part blog series for the Kalamazoo Bee Club! I’ll be writing about the recent Beekeeping 101 course hosted by Kalamazoo Valley Community College featuring instruction by members of our local Kalamazoo beekeeping community. This blog entry details how the class was created, who participated, and how we prepared for it: essentially the “Who, What, Where, When, Why” of the class.Continue Reading
In these dwindling days of 2016, we SW Michigan beekeepers wouldn’t normally know the status of our colonies. But Mother Nature wanted us to give us more to worry about than the peaceful transition of democracy and whether Detroit beats Green Bay. Temps in the mid-50s the day after Christmas allowed folks to pop the tops to check on their bees, and investigate further if they saw no signs of life.
And then there was great sadness.Continue Reading
by Brett Kozma
Administrator’s Note: We welcome guest authors, and are featuring this insightful article from Brett Kozma, of bkbees.com.
In today’s day and age we hear all of the time about the benefits of eating raw, organic or natural, and honey is not an exception. All over the internet there are wild, seemingly outrageous claims about the benefits of raw honey and the evils of mass market stuff. In this blog I will try to paint the real picture, the true benefits of raw honey versus processed mass market stuff that most people have in their kitchen cabinet.
A fellow beekeeper recently summarized it well: “It’s a bee-itch to love a bug.” So so so true, especially this time of year.
Mite counts are soaring–are you testing, and treating if need bee? A count can go out of control real quickly in a strong colony, because it may be robbing from weaker colonies (who have counts way out of control.) And there’s plenty of robbing going on, with the thieves not only wasps and hornets, but also friendly turned frenzied honeybees.Continue Reading
(Subtitle: No, they’re probably not about to swarm.)
I’ve received quite a few calls from panicking beekeepers lately, concerned about the swath of bees hanging out on the front of the hive.
It’s called bearding, and it is one of my most favorite things about beekeeping. As I recently explained in a recent Facebook post (you can find me on FB under ‘Charlotte Hubbard, Beekeeper and …’), bees do it because they’re at peak population. When the foraging bees return from the fields late afternoon, they just hang out on the “front porch” so the house bees can try and keep things cool inside and dry down nectar into the honey we all love. The foragers will hang out there all night, catching up on the day … hoping for a breeze, discussing politics or the Olympics. Sometimes, if you look closely in the mornings, you might find find little beer cans, chip bags, and a list of places to pollinate the next day. 🙂
This time of year is one of the most enjoyable times of beekeeping. Colonies are hopefully strong and productive. If you’re a newbee, you’ve figured out drone versus worker brood, what capped honey looks like, and how to keep the smoker going more than five minutes (salute!) You love your bees; they’re loving you back. You can just coast into fall, right?
Dr. Marla Spivak, recipient of a Genius Grant for her work with honeybees (among other impressive credentials) summarizes it well: “Left untreated, varroa mites kill most bee colonies within one to two years.”
All colonies have varroa mites; some (very few) have the genetic traits to keep them under control. Unless you are monitoring your bees to determine their level of infestation … and treating if it exceeds threshold, the little winged darlings are going to die a painful death. Lots of people have bees … but really keeping bees requires active and appropriate management, including knowing your mite level, and keeping it under control.
Beyond being able to call yourself a true beekeeper (instead of being a bee-haver), you probably got bees because you wanted to help them and the planet. You’ve put a lot of time, money and sweat into your bees and are emotionally invested in them. Don’t let them down now.
So let’s try and keep them from dying. Here’s what you do:
- Now – August — test your infestation level with a powdered sugar roll. It’s simple, takes about five minutes, and it is almost sort of fun (for you, not necessarily the bees, but it isn’t destructive to them.) I can’t get the video to upload on this site, but you can find it on my site, sorry! Detailed instructions are found in the HBHC Guide_Varroa_Interactive_23Sep, page 7.
- As described in the guide, determine the level, and see if it is OK for August (what’s acceptable varies by time of year; colonies in SW Michigan are generally at population peak in early August.) Page 8 of the guide tells you what is acceptable when.
- React to the number of mites appropriately:
- If the test revealed more than 15 mites, you’ve got “dead hive walking” unless you do something immediately. Review the guide to determine the best option for you … and treat. And then check again after the prescribed amount of time to ensure treating did what it was supposed to do.
- More than 6? You’ve got a week or so before you need to test again to see if your beloved insects are definitely in danger or not. Schedule to test again in a week or so.
- Less than 6? Awesome. Kick back until September, when you’ll test again.
“Denial is not a strategy”
When you were first learning about beekeeping, you might have missed the part about varroa monitoring and having a strategy for how you’re going to deal with this devastating parasite that all colonies have. The beekeeping learning curve is broad and steep, and includes understanding the very real varroa threat and strategizing what you’re going to do about them.
If you’ve read this far, you can’t claim ignorance any longer. As Dr. Meghan Milbrath said, “denial is not a strategy.” ALL colonies have mites; the issue is whether your bees can keep them under control or not, and unfortunately – most cannot as we go into fall. There’s an excellent blog here that explains why.
Assuming your bees are fine also doesn’t help the planet (one of the reasons you wanted bees, right?) Uncontrolled varroa in your hive not only dooms them, but as your colony declines from the undeniable, life-shortening impact of varroa, it can no longer defend itself. Strong colonies in the area, with varroa under control, will raid its stores. Mites are smart. They’ll hop on the back of the raiding bees and leave the sinking ship for more the healthy bee colonies of responsible beekeepers and wild colonies, starting them on a parallel march toward death.
But but but …
I know you wanted to keep bees chemical free. Most of us do … but first you have to keep them alive. And, “left untreated, varroa mites kill most bee colonies …”
Just do it
Monitor. Treat if need bee, and then monitor again to make sure it worked.
And then monitor again in September, and maybe even October depending upon your counts.
Meanwhile, study natural ways to help bees combat mites, like splits and drone trapping.
We desperately need bees …. And beekeepers.
Want further motivation? Think about your spouse. Your Honey is perhaps already a little miffed about how the time and money your honeybee hobby has consumed. (And if you’re like most beekeepers, well, we’ve kept Honey in the dark about some of the costs.) It won’t be that fun explaining to Honey that you need to drop another $125 next spring to replace dead bees.
There is SO much happening in hives this time of year. Colonies are expanding, and the weather has allowed for massive nectar (soon to be honey?) collection. We’ve been busy mentoring newbees, and taking calls and answering texts about similar issues.
Hopefully your colony is booming. Here are some amazing statistics to consider. According to Dr. Larry Connor, who spoke at to Kalamazoo Bee Club last week, a full deep frame of bees yields 5,000 – 6,000 bees. A vibrant queen in a thriving hive will lay a frame every 2-3 days. The package you installed contained only about 10,000–so as that queen reaches her peak laying, the hive’s growth is exponential (and awesome!) It is a fun time of year with colonies expanding so rapidly. It means swarms, lots of nectar gathering, queen cells, and splits to be made to increase the number of hives. (We had some mentees with such powerful nucs that yes, we’ve already split them. They doubled their number of hives their first two months of beekeeping.)