Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Observations on my entry into my hive last evening

Observations on my entry into my hive last evening...

Bee Journal entry 6/25/13:

I got into my bee hive about 7: 30pm.  (I don't get home from work until about 6:15pm).  It was slightly cooler at that point, than the 93F it had been around 4:00pm, but it was still very hot (90F) and humid (90%).  With my full beesuit on, I was sweating buckets like in a sauna.  (This can be a problem if your skin sticks to the suit because of the sweat and the bees sting you easily through it.)

It was almost too late to be in the hive really.   I killed a lot of my girls accidentally as I moved supers and frames around as they were all there at home this late in the day, and not out foraging like they would be at mid-day with the sun up high; that's the preferable time to be in the hive.  I also had to use a lot of smoke to calm them.  A low pressure thunder storm was on its way.  They hate low pressures!  They also hate high temperatures.  So they were irritated.  I would be, too!  (A few puffs of cool smoke calmed that behavior, until the next super's work of going through each frame by frame to check things.)  Then, repeat again.

There's a bit of a derth of moisture despite the afternoon thunder boomers we've had recently.  The clover is beginning to look all dried up and brown or burned.  The nectar flow is slowing way down.  But, my queen still has a very nice brood pattern in the first three bottom supers (brood chambers); I complimented her.  She seems healthy. I didn’t actually see my queen, her highness, last night, but there was evidence of her being there-eggs and c-shaped larvae and capped larvae becoming pupae-the brood. 

There is also a lot of pollen in those bottom supers; really it is too much-pollen bound, and she is laying some eggs in strange places on the end frames as a result.  Normally, the eggs and brood tend to be in the center frames of the super. 

Drone cells (housing male bee larvae and pupae) are building up in numbers as happens this time of year. Drone cells normally are on the bottom of frames and are more elongated out than regular worker brood cells.   I actually knocked some down, as I hate the Varroa mites that come with them (and the associated viruses the mites can bring, like the deformed wing virus that my girls in the past have gotten).  Not all beekeepers do this; most do not; I'm experimenting a bit.  And, in fact, you do need 20% of your hive make up to be drones for a healthy hive.

I also knocked down several swarm cells.  They were mostly in the lower supers where space is at a premium.  There is a plenty of space at the top in those supers.

The girls are thirsty with these hot temperatures of late that are burning up the clover and starting to eliminate the nectar flow out here.  The top three supers that had had capped honey last week had been reduced by consumption, so I actually took one full honey super off to save for whenever I extract honey, so they don’t eat it all up first! 

But, since they are hungry, I gave them some older full frames of honey I had stored in the basement freezer and thawed; (these were from a hive I had last year that had died.)  The girls were all over them immediately-very thirsty. 

There was lots of propolis (the sealant they make from tree cellulose and their saliva to plug cracks) as they tried and sealed the hive completely shut to allow for best air conditioning flow.

I saw no hive beetles or other pests or signs of disease.  (I did a 24 hour ipm-integrated pest management-mite drop last week, where I slipped an ipm board covered in pam spray into the bottom of the hive for overnight. Only two mites fell and stuck to it, so we seem mite healthy for now.  That will change as drones increase in number.)

They did try and sting me through my gloves, as the storm approached.  That's when I used more cool smoke to calm them and rid my gloves of the associated alarm pheromone-actually smoking my gloves.  You don't want to use hot smoke and singe the girls or their wings, antennae, etc., or you!

Lots of bearding was going on.   As it gets hot, the girls move out to the front porch and sit out there to cool down until after sunset, when they go back in.  Totally normal behavior.

As I closed up the hive, there was fanning of wings and associated pheromones going on for stragglers to find their way home as the sun was no longer in the sky. 

The hive looks healthy and good.  Few swarm cells.  The queen appears well, as does her brood. I had 6 supers on the hive, but took the one off that was full of honey and added some old frames with honey in lower supers.  There are likely close to 80,000 - 100,000 bees inside at this point.  No pests, disease or parasites present.  But, they do seem hungry.  I will monitor this.  I may need to start feeding them sooner than normal (end of July) if the nectar flow dries up.  I will next be in the hive within the next two weeks, but likely sooner to monitor the feeding and hunger concern and build up of drones.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Buzzbumping at the tiki torch bar happy hour!

The other night, I was swinging on my porch swing and sipping an adult beverage with cats and dog at my feet and boyfriend by my side; the sun was setting, and I was admiring how the torch lilies were blooming like gang busters in front of me.  I had originally planted only two plants; but, now these lilies had budded and split in the intervening two years and grown into mega clumps, which maybe doesn't sound attractive, but actually is.  A torch lily jungle lay before my eyes and truly looked like little tiki torches; too bad they aren't real lights in the dark, as they'd be very romantic.
I discovered torch lilies, also known as "red hot pokers", after a trip to England to survey cottage rose gardens on a trip that my mom, a Consulting Rosarian, lead 10 years ago. I had never before seen them, but the British have them blooming in every garden accenting their rose blooms in the month of June, and I decided I had to have some for my own rose gardens when I got home.

These lilies, like many flowers, bloom from the bottom up.  Their flowers are clustered in a circle around the core stem and continue from about 4 inches from the top all the way to the top; they aren't very big flowers, and they are yellow or orange or red. And they really don't look like they'd support much in the way of either nectar or pollen.  Ah, but there was one of my honey bee girls buzzing around them.  On closer look, there were many of my honey bee girls buzzing around them! 

And, on an even closer look, there were my girls, bumble bees, sweat bees, bee flies, leaf cutter bees, and several kinds of paper and mud dauber wasps buzzing around them.  In fact, they were being quite territorial, and buzzbumping each other off of the flowers to get to the ones they wanted; "I was here first!"

Those that were successful were climbing all the way up into the tiny flowers to the point that their little abdominal butts were all that was left visible.  As they did so, their pollen sacs were being loaded with a bright orangey yellow pollen. 

The sun was almost set and it was now 8:30 pm; we'd been watching for about an hour.  The summer solstice was upon us, so the days had become much longer.  But, there was still a lot of light in the sky.  The girls kept coming, flying from the backyard hives, over the house, and into the lilies.  The word was obviously out!  It's happy hour at the local neighborhood tiki torch bar! Come one, come all!

Since bees use the sun to navigate to and from their hives, I was wondering how late they would stay.  I soon got my answer.  Promptly at 8:35 pm, no more honey bees.  The bumble bees lingered a bit longer sipping in the nectar.  But, all the other bees and wasps were now gone, too.  A hummingbird dropped in briefly for a sip, and was gone. Last call, the bar doors were closing.  By 9:00 pm, the bumble bees were all gone, too.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bayer Breaks Ground on North American Bee Center

This from PCT (Pest Control Technology) e-newsletter this week..., and on the heels of the EU's banning neonicitinoid pesticides for the next 3 years!  A little pressure appears to go a long way.

Bayer Breaks Ground on North American Bee Center

Supplier News
As part of its continued commitment to honey bee health, Bayer CropScience broke ground on its North American Bee Care Center.
| June 4, 2013

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – As part of its continued commitment to honey bee health, today Bayer CropScience broke ground on its North American Bee Care Center, a recognition of the importance of these pollinators to agriculture. Senior company managers, bee health experts and representatives from the community were on hand to begin work on the new facility, approximately a 6,000-square-foot state-of-the-art building which will complement an existing Bee Care Center that was established last year at the company’s global headquarters in Monheim, Germany. 

Housed in the Bee Care Center will be a full laboratory and teaching apiary; honey extraction and workshop space; interactive learning center; and meeting, training and presentation facilities for beekeepers, farmers and educators, as well as office space for graduate students. Although the North American Bee Care Center will have its own honey bee colonies for teaching and demonstration purposes, the facility will be supported by other research apiaries, located nearby the Research Triangle Park area, to coordinate and extend research projects directed toward bee health.

The Bee Care Center, a hub to promote worldwide bee health initiatives, will serve to support scientific research and help educate stakeholders and the general public about the importance of honey bees to agriculture by providing pollination of crops that help meet the growing global demand for a nutritious and abundant food supply. In order to address food challenge issues, the Center will bring together significant technological, scientific and academic resources to protect and improve honey bee health and sustainable agriculture.

In its recent comprehensive assessment on honey bee health, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) noted that bees are suffering from a complex set of stressors, including parasites and diseases, lack of genetic diversity, and inadequate nutrition, while stressing the need for collaboration and information sharing among all stakeholders as a critical component in promoting best management practices. The North American Bee Care Center is being created with these goals in mind.

Bayer CropScience is also expanding its Clayton research apiary, known as “Beesboro,” to include an appproximately 1,200-square-foot building with an office, a wintering cold room, extraction area, bee hive maintenance area and storage areas. This facility expected to be operational in late summer 2013.

“At Bayer, we have been committed to bee health for more than 25 years,” said Jim Blome, President and CEO of Bayer CropScience LP. “The Bee Care Center is the latest example of our dedication to sustainable agriculture, and we hope to continue to provide the research necessary to ensure the health of colonies and honey bees around the world. Our scientists are working to help solve some of the most pressing honey bee health problems, as their importance to the global food supply cannot be overstated.”

Additionally, the Bee Care Center will be a highly sustainable facility, which will help Bayer CropScience reduce its carbon footprint in an effort to promote corporate environmental stewardship. For more information on the North American Bee Care Center and Bayer CropScience’s commitment to honeybee health, visit

Friday, June 7, 2013

Bee swarms do not always good neighbors make!

If you have never experienced the excitement of a bee hive swarming, you haven't lived!  Suddenly out of the hive there is a tornadic like black mass of honeybees swirling around as half of the hive leaves with the old queen.  A new queen has emerged and ascended to the throne to take over reign of the hive, and no house can host two queens! The new upstart stays with the brood and the young workers and nurse bees that cannot yet fly.  But, half of the hive, which may be 30 thousand bees this time of year, leaves with the old queen!  All buzzing and flying.  They head to the closest structure that the scout worker bees have identified as being a temporary staging area.  The old queen flies there and soon the tornadic mass of older workers flies to meet her and to get as close to her pheromone on her body as possible. 

Swarming is how hives naturally reproduce.  When the current beehive runs out of room, it's time for some of the worker bees and the old queen to move on.  The hive runs out of room because: a) the queen has exhausted all available areas for laying new eggs-she lays over 1,000 a day, b) there is so much honey in the hive there is no more room left to lay eggs,  or c) the hive is "pollen bound" and has stored so much pollen that there is no more room left to lay eggs.

This sight can be one of awe for entomologists, or for laypeople who are unfamiliar or entomophobes (one who is afraid of insects), one of a worst nightmare.  The fact is, bees that are swarming are actually very gentle and are not at all interested in stinging.  They just want to find and be with their queen. 

When they find her, they form a hanging ball around her.  Where they land initially is just a temporary platform.  The scout bees are still looking for a place to call a new permanent home/hive.  In the wild, this can be a hollowed out tree or stump.  Unfortunately, in ever increasingly urbanized America, this can often sometimes be someones' back porch or eave or attic or backyard swingset or picnic table.  So it is important to catch new swarms before they move to such areas.  Usually the temporary location is left within two to three days for the permanent one.

Responsible urban area hobbyist beekeepers know that to prevent the emergence of a new queen (and subsequent swarming) of their hives, they need to get into their hives at least once every 14 days. (Fourteen days is the amount of time required for a new queen to develop from egg to adult.)  But, informed beekeepers also know that the bees don't read the literature written about them, and that it is more prudent to be in the hive once every ten days!  (Higher temperatures increase metabolism and can quicken developmental times.) 

When you inspect your hive once every 10-14 days, you are looking for swarm cells.  These are the developing queen cells.  They are very obvious.  They hang down from the bottom of the frames like a peanut; in fact, they kind of look like a complete peanut in the shell.  Simply take your hive tool and cut them away so they do not develop.  (Of course, it is important to check first to make sure your existing queen looks happy and healthy!  You may in fact want a new queen to develop, if not.)

There are different beekeeper schools of thought out there on whether you should knock down swarm cells or not.  If you leave them and the swarm occurs, you introduce new genes into the neighborhood population, and new bees into the area with the new queen and hive.  If you are on 50 acres of land and have no close by neighbors, that's perfect, and I'm all for it.  If you have near neighbors, then you don't want this.  Swarms do not good neighbors make!  At least, usually.  Just to be prepared for it, I always give my neighbors free jars of honey!

Another reason to discourage swarming is that it divides your workforce, and suddenly you have half the workers bringing in nectar and making you honey.  Thus the familiar 17th C. proverb,...

"A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly."

The nectar flow is in May and June, so you don't want to lose your workforce out there working to bring all that nectar in!  By July, the nectar flow has dried up, and it really wouldn't matter until the fall nectar flow of goldenrod and asters.  That is, if you don't have near neighbors!

An interesting thing about swarms is that March, April and May swarms tend to be found initially down low on a branch near the hive they just left.  They are very easy to put in a bucket and rehive in a new hive or even the same hive from which they just came, as long as there is just one queen-so one must go. 

June swarms are higher up, and July swarms are often in the tops of a nearby tree, or the top of a church spire or belfry.  So, it's much easier to retrieve an early swarm than a later one.  Later ones require a very long ladder, and most folks are a little nervous about being high on a ladder with buckets and bees. 

Please do try and save a hive if at all possible!  Call your local beekeeper or state agriculture extension office and ask for the state apiarist.  Or go online and google your state apiarist or University Department of Entomology for their Apiarist on staff.  Or google your local beekeeper's association.  Remember, it is alot easier to retrieve such a hive before that 3 day period is up, when they move on.  Also, do not treat a swarm with any pesticides.  Also, do not collect a swarm that has been treated with any pesticides.  You will bring the pesticides into your hive. 

If a swarm has occured long ago and the hive is now established well within a chimney or attic or wall void area, etc., you may instead need to call your local pest management company.  These hives have usually been treated with pesticide by the homeowner already.  The bees will need to be vacuumed out of the wall void where they are living.  Then the wax comb and dripping honey must also be removed.  So, the wall must be opened up generally.  It's a sticky and expensive mess!  If wax and honey are not removed, secondary pests will come to this area, including mice, skunks, dermestid beetles, flies, wax moths, woodpeckers, etc.

To prevent swarming in urban areas, provide the queen and bees room and space within the hive so she can keep laying eggs.  She (the queen) will always want to move up more than out.  So after frames are filled in one super, have another super ready to place on top.  Simply move a frame with some brood into the new super to get her to come up into it.  Knock down swarm cells every ten days or so.  Keep a journal and calendar so you remember when you've been in the hive to do this.  (This is a good idea anyway to jot down hive observations and then to compare from year to year and hive to hive and queen to queen.) 

Despite your best attempts, swarms can still occur if you miss seeing a swarm cell when you go through your hive or if you have to be out of town for over ten days.  Educate your neighbors about swarms and how gentle the bees are, and give your neighbors honey regularly; yes, I'm a mercenary! Remind them that bees are threatened currently and that the reason their yards look so good lately is that your girls have been hard at work pollinating them!  Keep the name of a beekeeper willing to collect swarms at the ready.  And, if you do go out of town, share his/her name with your neighbors.

A technique called checkerboarding can be done to try and reverse a queen who is determined to swarm and keeps laying swarm cells.  This is where you place empty frames every other frame within the top supers to give the queen space.  This usually works well.  (Of course, you also knock down all swarm cells.)

Another trick is to split the hive and start a new one with frames of brood and swarm cells attached. Be sure some nurse bees are on those brood frames and also provide some honey and pollen.  This approximates a swarm and makes the queen think that's what happened.

One other trick is to take a frame of brood and swarm cells and place with no bees on it into a weak hive.  This may boost the weak hives' health and make the old hive think they swarmed.

As you can see, there are a lot of tricks out there.  Be an attentive beekeeper and all should be well. 

In my 7 years of beekeeping, I've had only one swarm (knock on wood!).  It was about 5 years ago in early June, and I was still new to beekeeping.  It happened on a Friday evening when I was at a women's group meeting 50 miles from home.  My boyfriend went to walk my dog, and the neighbors approached him and said, "something strange is happening with Kathy's bees!"  He went to look.  The tornadic swarm was leaving my hive about 6pm and headed to the lowest pine tree branch in their backyard very close nearby.  It is quite a sight to behold and it was attracting the entire neighborhood!  Whole families had come out to watch after eating supper.  Where I live is suburban, but still rural, and the neighbors appreciate natural phenomena, thankfully. Also, the previous week, again, thankfully, I'd been the speaker at the local garden club and had spoken on bees and swarming.  So, both my boyfriend and my neighbor had heard me say how gentle they were.  He echoed this again to my neighbors.  And, he called the local bee collector of swarms.  (I call this guy Rick the bee whisperer!)  He also called me to alert me.  By the time I got home, the swarm was nicely hanging from the pine tree branch.  Rick, with no gloves or suit on, had placed a ladder below the hanging mass of bees.  On top of the ladder he placed a super and let it sit there overnight, as it was now dark.  He returned at 7am and shook the branch into the box and the whole mass dropped in.  He put a lid on it and asked me if I wanted them.  I said, no after all that work, now they are yours!  He was delighted to have another hive.  My neighbors came out to say how cool it had all been to watch and experience-nature at its best!  I breathed a sigh of relief that they shared my opinion.

Do the groundwork to make sure your hives are safe and you manage them well.  It will be rewarding for all involved.

Some of you have written to say that the feature to post questions is not working.  I do not know why.  If you have questions, place "bee" in the email title and feel free to email me at

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 high can you go?

The Whitehouse beehive, illustrating
                                                        a traditional Langstroth American hive
               with 5 supers.

It becomes a bit of a friendly competition each summer between neighboring beekeepers to see how high they can go with supers on their hives.  That is, how many boxes can they add to a hive to make it taller and collect more honey.  Afterall, this is the sweet tangible reward for your efforts and the stings and the money expended on equipment and tools! The harvested honey makes it all worthwhile.

In a season with a good nectar flow, such as what we have experienced thus far, some beekeepers have been known to add as many as 10 supers or more.  (Recall that a super is the box of frames. In my case, my supers are all the same smaller size -a medium- with 8 frames, as I have an English garden hive.  Folks with the traditional Langstroth American 10 framed hives have bigger supers called either mediums or deeps.  The deeps -larger supers but still with 10 frames- are what are used for honey collection.  My supers are more like a medium super -but with 8 frames; there is also a smaller brood super for 8 frame hives.)

When a medium or deep honey super is full of honey, it is VERY heavy! This is a bit hard on a weak back when lifting; thus, my preference for the medium supers of the 8 frame English garden hive variety.

Extraction of the honey is usually after the nectar flow is over.  So, that means end of June or beginning of July for many of us in my area.  You could do it earlier, but you are going to get your honey house or kitchen or clothes and everything else all sticky and messy, so why not do it all at one time, and just make a day of it!  So, I wait until the nectar flow is over, and I do it all at once; this is usually in early July.  Once you collect the honey, you can store it until you are ready to bottle it.

There is also a second nectar flow in the fall of goldenrod and asters in my area; it occurs around the end of September and into October until a first frost; but, I've never harvested this honey, which is much darker in color and much more pungent in taste. 

The spring nectar flow is very good this year.  There will be lots of honey.  But, it's not ready just yet.  I have already added two medium honey supers to my hive, and my co-beekeeper has added one to his.  One of mine is already full, and took less than a week to get that way!  The locusts are no longer blooming, but now the wild blackberry vines are fragrantly surrounding my home and environs.  The creek bed behind the hives is loaded with these vines and their blossoms!  Clover flowers also abound around my hives.  Both red and white clover varieties.  Unfortunately, Privet, which makes less well-tasting honey is also in bloom.  But, so far, (and I've been watching) only the bumble bees and wasps seem interested in those flowers.  My girls are still going to the blackberry flowers.  (I had considered giving the Privet a haircut to remove all of its blossoms, and I will if I see my girls headed there!) But, there are plenty of other wild flowers for the honeybees to visit, and they are doing just that.

It's that time of year.  People want honey.  They see bees flying and they think "honey".  They sneeze from pollen allergies, and they think, "I need honey!"  At church, at the nail salon, at the beauty parlor, in the grocery store, at work, at home - a knock on my door ,...everyone wants to know: "when will your honey be ready?!"  And, like every other small time beekeeper, I have to say, be patient, it's coming.  I'm sold out of my stock from last year.  Besides you want fresh honey!
I used to be a part of a farmers market that was held every Saturday and Sunday in my small town.  This was timed about the same time that the buy local trend was coming into vogue.  I would set up my table and umbrella and sell my honey and wares (soaps and candles) to passersby.  I met very interesting people from all over the nation who were traveling on the C&O canal trail near where I set up my stand.  They all had stories of a friend or a grandfather who had kept bees or a story about encourntering a bee or sting, and they seemed to buy out of nostalgia as much as anything else.  And getting to know the other vendors and bartering with them for their wares in exchange for mine was great!  That was a lot of fun, but also a heavy commitment to give up every weekend.  I gained enough of a clientele, that now people tend to call me or ask me for my honey.  (I do still attend an annual German Christmas market in nearby Lovettsville, VA each December and sell my honey and wares there.  That is also a two day event, and it is well attended and very fun and festive.)

Why should your customers buy honey from you, a local honey vendor?
It tastes far better and there are significant health benefits.  Honey you buy in the grocery store is tossed in a vat with other varieties-mostly clover-from all over the nation and sometimes the world.  This dilutes the taste.  The local honey vendor has honey grown in his or her backyard or orchard.  It has a distinct (much better) unique flavor.  It also contains grains of pollen from local trees and flowers to which you may be allergic.  By eating this honey over time, you develop an immunity to these local pollen allergies. I have one customer that buys my honey just for this reason!  It helps his allergies!

Now is a good time to say, "Never feed an infant or toddler honey!"  Be sure to tell your mothers who buy your honey or mark your bottles with this information.

"Why?,"  you ask.  Well, as the bees walk around on the ground from clover plant to clover plant or other wild flower, they may pick up Clostridium botulinum spores, the bacterium responsible for Botulism, from the ground on their feet (tarsi).  If they then fly into the hive and walk over the comb-stored honey, the spores may be deposited here.  When you extract your honey, there is no way to separate out the C. botulinum spores from the resulting honey.  Fortunately, children beyond about age 2 and adults have mature digestive systems whose enzymes can easily break down these spores and rid them naturally with other wastes and no ill effects.  However, babies and toddlers do not have a well-developed digestive tract and cannot.  Babies and toddlers who eat honey can develop infant botulism, which can result in a rare but fatal paralysis.  In the U.S. about 600 cases of infant botulism in this manner are reported annually.

Keep in mind that once you, the  beekeeper, takes honey off of a hive, the colony as a whole is going to suffer an immediate and severe set back and is now more prone to illness, disease, parasites and a weakened state in general.  So, you will want to eventually balance the amount of honey you are going to steal with the health of the overall hive and queen.  Also, remember that your hive will need at least 60 lbs of honey to make it through the winter in our area. So, don't be a glutton!  Save some for your girls.  You will also be feeding them sugar water again, starting in August, to help them regain some of the honey stores you've taken, and you will add a pinch of cream of tartar to that sugar water to facilitate the transition from nectar to honey; but it's just not the same as the real stuff!  (By the way, NEVER extract honey that is made from sugar water!)

So now that the nectar flow is full blown and you are adding supers to your hive, also begin to  inventory your extraction needs, including bottles.  More on this in a later post.