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They need pollen!
An inspection of my mid-to-late summer nucs recently showed they were deficient in pollen and honey. These "late bloomers" needed a little help gathering the necessary amount of protein to feed the brood that will eventually become winter bees. In beekeeping, one needs to mentally think and prepare six months ahead of time of what you're are currently working in. As of today, September 5th, there is only about a month left to for the bees to gather pollen from fall-blooming native plants like Jewelweed, various Goldenrods, Ironweed, Black-eyed Susans, Foxglove and many others you can find online by entering "native plants" and your state into your search engine. I could very easily give these colonies a pollen patty and be done with it for the rest of the season, however; hive beetles are always on the rise in this time of year, so I still like to observe my hives and root out any hive beetles before they can gain a foothold before the upcoming winter season. Introducing a pollen patty can provided hive beetles a food source and a safe place to hide from honeybees. Before choosing to add pollen patties, I decided I would offer my bees a pollen powder substitute instead. With a little help from the Internet, I located the designs of DIY feeders made from parts from a gutter and plumbing pipe, all bought at a local hardware store.
Fall pollen forage at DCA
I decided to put my video skills to work by creating a short video of some of my hives gathering fall pollen sources at one of my apiaries. It's been an outstanding year for our business. We gathered 30% more honey than most years and still have five more hives to harvest from. We doubled the amount of hives through OTS queen-rearing, and just received great news on the overall conduction of our bees. This year, we volunteered to participate in a National Honeybee Survey that monitors the health of honeybees nationwide by conducting inspections of honeybee colonies and taking samples of bees, honey, and pollen from eight hives from apiries that participated in the study. The results help entomologists provide an early warning system for invasive pests and pathogens and for further scientific research on honeybee diseases. The results from our apiaries indicted that our hives were well below the national average for the seven common diseases that affect the health of honeybees and that our Varroa Mite count was zero! I hope that some of this is due to the bee management practices I started incorporating this year, and are not a fluke. Time will tell. How did your hives fare out this year? I would love to hear!
Warm winter weather = active bees
With temperatures in the lower 60’s this weekend, our bees were out foraging for pollen and nectar as if it was spring already! I’m glad I added fondant to all the hives last month as an insurance policy to prevent starvation. Warm winter weather causes them to get out of their dormant state and start flying in hopes of finding stores. With nothing in bloom yet, their efforts are wasted and they can quickly deplenish their stores well before the earliest natural sources come to bloom in mid February. On exceeding warm winter days like today, make the time to check the stores in your hives. You may be surprised at what you find. While out checking my hives yesterday, I shot some slow motion footage of one particular active colony. To me, honey bees look so graceful flying, that is until you see them landing in slow motion. It reminds me of the old silent slapstick movies. How are you hives doing this winter? I’d love to hear. Best regards, Todd #Beekeeping #Winterization #january
Hi again, Well, several weeks ago we received word from a friend in Vermont that our beehives had a second unannounced visit from our "friends" Yogi and Boo-Boo. As some may know, once bears get a taste for honey, you can usually expect them to return for seconds. So, we made an impromptu 400-mile road trip up to VT 48 hours later to assess the damage and come up with a fortification plan to try to keep the bears at bay. As with the first visit, most damage was minimized through the use of racket straps and bear boards (sheets of plywood with upturned nails in them). One of our black furry friends traversed the perimeter of the bear boards looking for a chink in the armor and found one. I had run out of the spikes used to secure the boards to the ground on ONE board out of 12. Using its claws, the bear swung the board aside with ease like it was opening a door and commenced to shopping.... Oh well. Live and let live right? Well, until bear season starts.... :-) Overall, it's been a pretty productive season where I have raised roughly 20 nucs, harvested over 500 pounds of spring honey, and only physically lost four hives to to bears and one very freak county flood. Next post, I think I will write about my lessons learned in 2018. Until then, take care of your girls... easecommthat were used to #bears
What a season... so far
It's been an exceptional beekeeping season so far! We came out of winter with 26 hives, a 52% loss from last fall and since starting early splits using the OTS (On-the-Spot) queen rearing method, we have nearly tripled total amount of nucs and operating hives. Like farmers, when the weather cooperates, you must make the most of the opportunity as drought or too much rain influences hive strength and honey yields. I'm on my third round of OTS splits this season and I believe I becoming a believer in OTS. I've never been very good at grafting and the OTS method of making queen cells is fairly easy. If you're unfamiliar with the OTS method, basically you are creating an artificial swarm impulse by removing the queen and portion of the capped brood and bees. You then identify three day old or younger larva, preferably located on newly drawn out comb, and you scrap off the comb down to the foundation with you hive tool. This act saves the effort of the worker bees from having to tear down this comb to draw out a larger cell for the development of queen larva. So in a sense, you are organizing the queen cells in one central location to harvest in 12 days and saving them time and energy expending time and energy to cut down existing comb to draw out again for a queen cell. If you didn't do this legwork, you would have to search the hive for where the make the cells and in the process, possibly damage them when searching for them prior to them hatching. Another added benefit of the OTS method is that when you remove the queen, you cease the bees breeding cycle and the varroa mite breeding cycle as well. Without uncapped honey bee brood for the female varroa mite to lay her eggs in she is unable to reproduce. During a nectar flow and during the summer months, a well breed queen can lay over 1500 eggs a day. The best a female varroa mite can do if there is uncapped brood is to lay 6-7 eggs within a 11-14 day period. So, the math alone shows that if you can halt the varroa breeding cycle several time a season, you are tipping the scales in favor of the bees. Since August seldom bring in much nectar in our part of Maryland, this will be the finial splits I will conduct. Now is the time to make up sugar water and get these nuts bulked up for the fall. How are your hives doing this year? I'd enjoy hearing other you season has been.
SPRING BLOOMS AND BUILDUPS
Over a week ago, Crocuses started blooming in our front yard. The Crocuses' blooming time has always been a sharp reminder that by the first available warm day preceding their bloom, I need to conduct an inspection of all my hives. What I am looking for is how much stores they still have on-hand and evaluating the strength of each hive. It's also the time to provide the bees with a pollen substitute either in powder form or as pollen patties. One of the genetic traits I look for when breeding queen bees is winter survivability. What I mean by this is, how many of the bees in a hive survived the winter and how quickly can the colony build back up their population in February. Why this trait in particular? Well, in this area of Maryland, we only get one decent nectar flow a year and that is with the Black Locust tree. Over the last 30+ years, that nectar flows in the Maryland region have occurred earlier. The old-timer beekeepers used to say that the Black Locust bloomed during the first two weeks of May. Just in the last ten years, (how long I have been beekeeping) I have seen the bloom start as early as mid-April. All too often, I have seen too many of my hives not reach peak population for the start of the nectar flow. It's been another record warm winter here and I take that to mean that the Black Locust nectar bloom will arrive even earlier this year. This has made me decide to change my breeding criteria. Now my most sought after bee trait is "thriveability" in mid and late winter. I need bees that can build up their population quickly, based on seasonal fluctuation of temperatures. Upon the inspection of 18 nucleus hives yesterday, I can definitely say that about one third were thriving, and and one third were just limping along. When I mean thriving, I mean I may need to add another box within a week. I record all my inspections using a commercial hive management program called Beetight, and have found it to be helpful in determining the overall health and characteristics of each queen and colony. So, if the bloom arrives by mid-April, which I'm pretty certain it will, I will be placing my honey supers on by the weekend of March 14. Although this seems early, it's actually not. If you want a hive to fill up a super, it's best to give that colony at least a month's notice of your expectations. The bees will naturally increase their population based upon the size of their hive. Coming out of winter, if it's a smaller hive, they need time to build up their population if a beekeeper plans on doubling their hive for a nectar flow. For those new to beekeeping, it takes 21 days for a honeybee to go from egg to hatched bee. Then it usually takes another two weeks before the bee is old enough to possibly forage. So, now is the time to conduct your last minute check your equipment. Spring waits for no one.
HI everyone, I hope you all are remaining safe and healthy. A weekend ago, I was using a technique I've been working with for the past year to increase the amount of hives in my apiaries by artificially creating a swarm impulse within one hive. The method is called OTS (On the Spot) queen rearing. Yesterday I returned to the hive to check on the development of queen cells in the queen less hive. To my surprise, there were none. Instead, I found eggs and three to five day old larva in the hive. Did I somehow place the queen in the wrong hive? I went to the donor hive and checked to see if it was now queen less. It wasn't. What I had encounter was a situation of where both mother and daughter queens were living together. When I split the hive, I separated the two queens and now both hives were producing brood. It's hard to tell if they both existed during the past winter or inclement weather recently had had delayed the mother from swarmed with half the colony. In either case, I'm lucky I caught it and hopefully I have reduced either hives impulse to swarm for now. I will need monitor both hives as the hive with the old queen will likely attempt to create superseder cells again. The experience reminds me of several things I have heard from the old time beekeepers. One being, the likelihood of two queens living in harmony in a hive is more common than then we think. Second, It always pays to assume there could be two queens in your hive, and that it's important to look closely for her or them when you plan to split a colony. And my advice. Check your hives every two weekend prior, during and the month after any nectar flow for queen cells. And also consider marking your queens. Have a great day!
Three in Three
Two weeks ago, our swarm season went into full swing in Harford County. I retrieved three swarms in three days, two of them just from one hive! Every year, I complete with my bees to see if I can create an artificial swarm by splitting hives before they swarm on their own. This year, I started early using the OTS (On the Spot) queen rearing method, and thought I might finally have a system that works. Ha! once again, Mother Nature and the bees reminded me who really is in charge... An unusual late spring polar vortex (with daytime temperatures in the high 40s and low fifties for well over a seven-day period) put a halt to hive inspections and conducting OTS. I made the incorrect assumption that the cold weather would also slow down the colonies' efforts to build swarm cells. WRONG! As I waited for warmer weather, many of my hives were busy building swarm cells and placing their queen on a swarm flight diet. As soon as the vortex finally passed, the swarming started. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't inspect all my colonies before they started to swarm. Not only did a number of them swarm, I had numerous hives that had two or three "after swarms." What is an "after swarm?" It's when the workers decide there are too many bees in the colony to for the hive to thrive, so they will keep the virgin queen from killing her unhatched sister queens. They do this by guarding the unhatched queen cells, preventing the virgin queen from killing her sisters. They also ensure the unhatched queens don't emerge until after the swarm has left. After swarms are usually smaller in size so, the likelihood of the swarm to survive the season is greatly lessoned. The bottom left photo shows a collected swarm informing other bees that there colony has relocated to this hive box and the queen is present. The worker bees attract the attention of fellow colony bees flying back to the swarm that they have settled their swarm in a new location by emitting a particular type of pheromone. They achieve this by flapping their wings and emitting the pheromone from the Nasonov gland, which is located on their abdomens. This chemical signal informs the bees to return to their home. Beekeepers often say this pheromone has a metallic smell. Capturing a swarm or preventing swarming in your hives isn't easy. There are telltale signs when a colony is preparing to swarm. Being vigilant as you inspect your colonies will increase the likelihood that you don't lose a portion of your hives to a swarm. Our next blog post will talk about swarm prevention. Stay tuned!
What a year!
It’s been an amazing good year for Deer Creek Apiaries! We have nearly doubled the amount of active hives heading into fall, and it been a record year for honey harvesting. The most enjoyable aspect of this year has been the mentoring of new beekeepers. This spring, we offered the opportunity to mentor anyone who purchased a nuc from us. Along with mentoring, we decided that offering an on-site inspection and feedback on their colony's health. Three customers took us up on the offer, and I can honestly say, I came away a better beekeeper! I firmly believe that when you help others, you usually get back twice as much in return. This has been the case with our beekeeping this year. Recently, I have had the opportunity to conduct Varroa mite inspections with two new and solid beekeepers. Marty and his wife bought a nuc from us this spring, and asked for assistance in conducting a sugar roll mite count. Our tests determined that one hive had a zero mite count, while the other hive located just five feet away had 4.3 mites per 100. What a dramatic difference between the two! Both hives had received Mite-Away strips on the same day, and both had the same amount of opened and capped brood and bees. So how could there be such a dramatic difference between both hives? Chances are that one colony had located and robbed honey from another hive located within two miles which had a bad infestation of varroa mites. Those mites hitched a ride back to Marty’s hive and started breeding mites in the open brood. Our solution was to apply another package of Mite-Away quick strips and schedule a follow up mite inspection in three weeks. This season, I have had the opportunity to share my passion of honeybees with Anita C., a new and enthusiastic beekeeper, who is also an active-duty servicemember. Anita has displayed a real passion in learning about beekeeping by not only maintaining her own hive, but by volunteering numerous hours to help us manage our seventy-plus hives. Since this spring, Anita has observed and helped in the harvesting and extracting of Black Locust honey and assisted in the monthly hive inspections. In one season, she has gotten to experience firsthand the tell-tale signs of a healthy hive, a diseased hive, and failing queens. She has also learned how to identify a colony preparing to swarm. She a has learned how to count bees and how to manage hives in order to get maximum stores and brood production In addition to all of that, Anita also helped apply two types of Varroa mite treatments and even learned how to conduct an alcohol wash test. What an incredible way to start your first year of beekeeping! So let's hear from you! How was your beekeeping season? What challenges did you face? Best regards, Todd
ALL TUCKED IT
Hi everyone! With the assistance of Barbara, an enthusiastic and up-and-coming beekeeper, we recently finished winterizing our hives and completing varroa mite treatments using oxalic acid dribble. Regardless of the amount of stores each hive has, I always pad it with 10 lbs of fondant and 1/3 of a pollen patty. This will take them to the first week of February, when I will pop the cover, peel back the bubble wrap insulation, check out how much of the fondant they have eaten, and welcome them to a new year. I conducted one last spot check of all hives this weekend and found that two colonies died. It wasn't a surprise as both were relatively weak heading into winter. What did you do to prepare your hives for the winter? I'd love to hear about it!
NEW YEAR OLD BUSINESS
Happy New Year! With the start of a new year, comes a fresh start in beekeeping. Successful beekeeping requires a fair amount of seasonal upkeep and maintenance of our equipment. I have been doing maintenance all this past month. What does "maintenance" in the middle of winter consist of? Here's is my go-to "to-do" list: -Inspect unused beekeeping equipment and make an inventory of what needs to be repaired or replaced. This includes: - Collecting and repairing frames, hive boxes, as well as replacing foundation. As you can see below, I need to replace over a dozen foundations and power wash over two dozen plastic frames. - Scrape off propolis and wax buildup, and remove wax moth cocoons from unused hive boxes and frames. - Scrape old paint off and repaint hive boxes. To save some cash and change up the color scheme of our hives, I acquired several full cans of paint from my county's hazardous waste disposal center. If you're not too picky, you will find plenty of paint choices. - Wash out your extractor to remove last year's honey residue. Finally, don't forget to place your orders for replacement equipment, food supplements, and Varroa mite treatments SOON. COVID has caused delays nationwide in shipping, and you want to make sure you have what you need, WHEN you need it. I've already experienced major delays for orders of pollen supplements and beekeeping equipment in 2020. This is probably the least enjoyable part of beekeeping. However, putting in the effort now will help to ensure your bees don't choose to abscond/swarm during the swarm season due to less than acceptable living conditions. Wishing everyone a Happy New Year! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Todd