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Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

Well, I’ve been caught somewhat unprepared for the nectar flow this year. For some reason I thought I still had time to get things moving — I thought the nectar flow was from May to mid-June. I was wrong. The nectar flow around here is mostly mid-April to end of May. I went to check on the bees yesterday as well as to refill their hive-top feeders and found this out the hard way. The hive top feeders are still pretty full — as well they should be if the bees have nectar to harvest. On top of that I should have had the new supers ready to go (which I don’t — I have the supers but not the frames) and I should have started feeding the bees back in February — never mind the fact that the temperatures in February were extremely cold and there was a whole boatload of snow on the ground making it hard to get to the hives. I’ve now realized my mistake.

I found some articles written by Master Beekeeper George Imirie (who lived here in Maryland until his passing away in 2007) on the Tennessee beekeepers website and learned alot from two articles about the timing of the nectar flow and about when I should start preparations for the nectar flow. Ok…there will still be a nectar flow this year…I just need to keep working and accept that I’ll just probably have a much smaller harvest. If anything I’m not upset…I’m not doing this for the harvest…I just love the bees as the wonderful creatures they are.

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Well, I finally got out to take care of the bee hives. I’ve put down paving stones and moved one hive onto them and I’ve got 4 more paving stones (16″ x 16″) and I’ll put them down as well and move the second hive onto them. This way the feet of the hive stands won’t sink into the ground anymore and the hives won’t be tilted (although I have to shim the hive that is currently on paving stones to completely level it).

I’ve put an insert between the hive bodies and the honey super I left on during the winter on both hives and I’ve put some MegaBee patties in there. I’ve also put the hive-top feeders back on the hives. I whipped up a 1:1 sugar syrup and added 4 tsp. of HoneyBee Healthy as a supplement. I also will mix up some VitaGold as well. The bees seem to be doing well, I changed the entrance reducer to the larger opening (from the one-bee sized opening) as well as removed the bottom board inserts that I had put in to provide more insulation. Overall things look good…although I did see signs of Varroa…so I’ve decided to treat with ApiGuard for a couple of weeks. I’ll need to remove the ApiGuard trays though when I put the honey supers on (I built and painted two more and need to order another two). If everything goes well I should have some honey this year!

With regards to the garden Diana spent a good part of the day double digging 3/4 of one bed (I did the final 1/4 after I finished taking care of the bees). I’ve forgotten how hard that is…and we still have three more garden beds to do (as well as move the Bee Balm plants and the Butterfly Bush so that we can expand the garden). Still it feels good to get out there again and to work with my girls and the earth. Looking forward to this year with a lot of enthusiasm.

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It’s gotten up to 52 degrees Fahrenheit (11.1 degrees Centigrade) today…sunny and beautiful. The girls have come out of the hives and they are enjoying it immensely! A great day for some cleansing flights as well as a chance to look around. Considering that it’s been pretty cold here for the past few weeks I’m sure they are very happy (ok…maybe I am anthropomorphizing a little but I’m very happy to see them out and about!). The temperature is going to drop tonight to the upper 30s but then it will be back to the mid to upper-40s tomorrow. I guess I need to start preparing things for the coming year so that the girls will have plenty of frames to put honey into!

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It’s a new year finally…2009 is finally over and thankfully so. I still worry about my girls in the backyard but the good news is that we can hear them in the hives (just need to listen carefully 🙂 ). I have about 50 lbs of fondant that I haven’t even touched as there’s plenty of food in the hives and with the cold weather my thoughts only turn to the coming spring and all the work I will have to do with the hives.

The weather hasn’t improved very much since I last blogged a couple of weeks ago. And the forecast for next week isn’t looking much better — highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s or upper teens. Oh well. I have a lot to do between now and spring though — clean the smoker (as well as some other equipment like the excluders), repair equipment, assemble and paint more supers as well as assemble the frames for those supers.

I also just stumbled upon an interesting site (actually, this gentleman commented on my last post and I followed his comment to his site) — Mark’s Bee Haven which then led me to look for more information about the Warre hive. You can find more information here. Overall it looks interesting and I may consider trying it — probably not next year but possibly the year after that. Once I’m more confident in my ability to shepard my hives through winter.

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I have to say this has to be one of the most challenging times of the year for me as a beekeeper. I spent the spring, summer, and fall caring for my hives — feeding my bees, treating them for pests like Small Hive Beetles and Varroa — and now I just have to sit and wait to see if they over-winter well. I estimated that by the time things got really cold each hive had about 100 lbs of honey stored away in the hive bodies and the super.

My wife went back to the compost pile and then came in telling me that there were dead bees on the ground (actually in the snow — we got about 21″ of it this past weekend). I wasn’t sure what to think. I know the bees throw out the drones in the fall in preparation for winter but I wanted to see what she meant exactly. Well — yes there were dead bees in front of the hives in the snow. And I picked up one of them and it was a worker — not a drone. That made me worried. So I opened up one of the hives and took off the hive top feeder and listened carefully. Deep in the hive I could hear the buzzing. I was very relieved. Also, looking at the top super I could see that there was a ton of capped honey in the cells. And, two bees came flying out to see who was messing with the hive. I immediately closed everything up (and took the hive top feeder with me back inside to clean up) and walked away. The sun shines most of the day on the hives which, in my mind, is good as it keeps my little girls warm (hopefully). Tonight is going to be the coldest yet for the year — a low of 18 — and it doesn’t look like it’s going to warm up any for quite a while. So I have to sit inside and worry.

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Yesterday I went to do some work with the bees — to continue the Varroa treatment as well as to feed them with a 2:1 sugar syrup (since we’re now into the fall preparations). To treat for Varroa I’ve used the Dowda method (with a slight modification talked about in Ross Conrad‘s book Natural Beekeeping where I mix 4 parts powdered sugar with 1 part garlic powder). Well…that seems to work but the next time I dust the bees I won’t be using garlic powder. Seems that they’re very good in separating the garlic powder from the powdered sugar and dumping the garlic powder through the screen onto the mite board making it nearly impossible to count the mites that have fallen.

I’ve decided however to augment the Dowda treatment with Apiguard (later I will try Api Life Var as well if need be). Anyway, yesterday I went to install the 1/4″ spacer so that I could put the Apiguard trays into the hives. As I was walking towards the hives I was taking some equipment out there and didn’t bother to have my veil on. As I was walking away something pursued me and stung me at the base of the neck. I was very surprised to say the least. I could not tell whether it was a bee or something else but I went inside to have Diana take the stinger out. However, she could not find it…there did not appear to be a stinger in my neck.

I then went back out (with my veil on this time) and began to smoke the bees. Their disposition was very defensive almost immediately. Many bees kept coming at my veil and I couldn’t understand why they were acting this way. We were expecting a rain storm later in the day and this was around 4 PM when I went outside. As I opened up the first hive I recall seeing a yellow jacket in the hive (which I promptly squished) and managed to get the spacer as well as the Apiguard tray installed. I placed the spacer and the Apiguard in between the two main hive bodies on top of the brood frames of the lower hive body. I then replaced the upper hive body, the queen excluder, the super above the excluder (which contains honey just for the bees), and the hive top feeder. I then refilled the hive top feeder and closed up the hive. The bees were so irritable and defensive that I was stung a second time in the wrist of my right hand.

Hive “B” was even more difficult. I could not get the honey super (the one above the excluder) off since the bees had propolized it so much that it was pulling brood frames out of the hive body below it. After several minutes of very hard work (all while the bees were very irritable) I finally managed to get the honey super off. I then got the hive open and installed the spacer and the Apiguard tray. In the process I was stung in my left thumb this top at the first knuckle. I finally decided to go inside and get my gloves as I was becoming very frustrated with the fact that I was stung three times in one day. I managed to get things closed up and went back inside.

In the end the only thing I could attribute to the irritable, defensive nature of the bees yesterday was the presence of yellow jackets as well my working the hives late in the day and the coming rains. I also suspect that the sting on my neck was from a yellow jacket rather than a bee since no venom sac was found at the sting site. I’ve learned my lesson and will definitely keep my veil on whether I’m actively working the hives or whether I’m just bringing equipment out there. And I may use the gloves more often.

As it stands my tasks now are:

  • Level the hives so that I can use pail feeders rather than the hive top feeders next year
  • Install another spacer between the upper hive body and the honey super so I can add another Apiguard tray or Api Life Var tablets if need be
  • Add mega bee patties to the hives
  • Add essential oils to syrup to help build up the bees immune system and to treat for Varroa

There’s a lot still left to do to get ready for the winter but I’m hopeful that both hives will go into the winter strong and with plenty of food so that they will come out in the spring ready to go.

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I just checked the hives again (as well as refilled the hive top feeders) and in one of the hives, hive “A”, I only saw two small hive beetles (SHB) in the feeder this time (and I squished them). I opened the hive to check the frames for any sign of problems but everything looks good. I went down all the way to the bottom hive body and checked the brood pattern. Some of the frames are completely full of honey/sugar syrup in capped cells, there’s still lots of brood in the hive and and the bees are very active and busy. I didn’t see the queen but I couldn’t dig around so much as the bees began to get defensive and agitated that I was messing with the hive. While putting the hive back together I added a couple of SHB traps in the super above the queen excluder in order to try and trap any SHB that may be in the hive.

In hive “B” (the one on the left or the south side) I did not see any SHB in the hive top feeders and things are looking good. I didn’t see as much brood as there was in hive “A” but I did find a frame that was packed with brood in uncapped cells. One thing that bothers me is that almost all of the frames that I added to this hive — using Duragilt as the foundation — have comb on them that is incomplete. Rather than build comb on the entire frame the bees have built it only on part of the foundation. In the spring, assuming all goes well, I will be replacing these frames with new ones where the foundation is beeswax only with wire support. The hive has no problems with the frames in the super above the excluder (which is made with beeswax only).

I am waiting until this evening to go back out to spray the ground with nematodes who will burrow into the ground and feed on SHB larva. Once that’s done I’m going to wait a couple of days before putting down the diatomaceous earth around the hives. I’m going to install mite boards to determine varroa mite levels as well as Boardman feeders with water either tomorrow or the day after.

On the whole I’m pleased with the status of hives.

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