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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
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!
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
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!
A queen is born
As I mentioned in the last post, we are at the height of swarm season here in Harford County, and in light of missing several swarms from my hives, I was able to observe two queens hatch from a strong hive that was going to be one of my honey producers. I emphasis WAS, because on average, whenever a hive swarms, nearly half the colony leaves with the old queen. Shame on me for thinking I could control the destiny of my bees. Just like her worker bees, she also hatches with less hair and a lighter color. Her true color will appear then her exoskeleton hardens. This beautiful girl and her sister were moved to nuc boxes along with several frames of brood and bees. As I quickly deduced, several of her sisters may have hatched prior to this daughter queen, however; the colony had so many bees in it, it was too difficult to find them in the short period of time I had. Once again, it's a reminder of how important it is to inspect weekly before during and following a nectar flow. Stay health, Todd
HERE WE GO!
For the past two weeks, I have been recovering from pneumonia and was unable to get out and inspect my hives. The imagery below is a classic example of why is important to check your hives weekly just before and during a nectar flow. The leaves on Black Locust trees around my house started to bud around 14 April. This means the nectar flow is less than two weeks from starting. With the impending nectar flow coming, the impulse for your bees to swarm is very strong. When the bees swarm, more than half of the colonies’ foragers will leave with the queen bee. With only one true nectar flow in our area (from the Black Locust tree), if any of your hives swarm, it's very likely the remaining foragers will not be able to bring back enough pollen and nectar for storage to survive the coming winter without starving.
That's why it's crucial that you inspect your colonies every 7 days, 1 week prior to the nectar flow, during the actual flow, and probably 2 weeks to a month, following the flow. In our area, here in Northeastern Maryland, that would be from 15 April through 15 June. The most important thing you should look for during a nectar flow is bee space and the presence of active queen cells. It's critical that the bees don't come close to running out of frames to store honey or to raise brood, for if they do, it will activate the swarm impulse or force them to fill the brood area with honey, causing the colony to become honey-bound. As seen above, most swarm cells will be found on the bottom of the frames. Usually, workers build them one at a time, so you will see how some are more developed than others. Below are two queen cells that are probably one to two days apart in age. When you find queen cells like above, you can expect the mother queen to leave (swarm) with 50% of the colony between day 7 (shown above) and day 13 (shown below.) If you don't want to lose your colony to this swarm impulse, action must be taken quickly to mitigate this swarming impulse.
The best option to take is to locate the queen and remove her from this colony as well as several frames of uncapped brood, a frame of honey and a frame of pollen, and place them into another hive box. This will cause the existing colony to assume that their queen has swarmed. The original colony will now finish raising the queen cells to create a new queen. If you choose to keep the Queen, you must destroy all other Queen cells, however; understand this most likely will only delay the colony from attempting to swarm again. The impulse to swarm can rarely be dampened. Well, that's it for now. Email me if you have any comments or questions. Stay healthy, Todd
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!
IT'S A BOY!
Hi everyone, I hope you all are managing through the Coronavirus without too much hard ache. I just wanted to lighten the mood for a moment and let you see a dronesare hatching via a short video I shot in the first week of March. These were some of the first patches of drone brood in comb I had seen hatch this year. At that time, we were at least another 35 days out from have established drone congregation areas for the season. The coronavirus might be adversely effecting our lives right now, but thankfully it not curtailing their lives. Have you notified your bees of the approaching bloom by put on your supers yet? In our area, supers should be put on by mid to late March. I believe the black locust bloom will start in the 3rd week of April. Stay healthy and safe, Todd
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.
ARE YOU INTERESTED IN BEEKEEPING
Are you interested in beekeeping? If so, consider checking with your local community college to see if they offer a non-credited beekeeping course. Below is a link to the Harford County Community College's beekeeping class. Some community colleges have an arrangements with local counties beekeeping clubs to offer a free one-year membership to their club. However, If taking more college classes isn't you cup of tea, consider reading at least one basic beekeeping book before you get your first bees. Below are a few books on beekeeping Getting Started in Beekeeping Waring, Adrian & Claire First Lessons In Beekeeping Dadant, C. P. Beekeeping for Dummies 4th edition Howland Blackiston 2017 Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees Sanford, Malcom Either way you chose, the more educated you are on honey bees, the more successful you will be in this beekeeping. I love beekeeping, however will admit freely, it's not an easy hobby. Being a successful beekeeper is very loosely akin to being a farmer and a veterinarian. Honey bees don't need to be cared for daily like livestock, however routine observations of they behavior are extremely helpful. Unlike humans, insects can't tell us what's wrong with them. Veterinarian rely on years of education and the power of observation to help diagnose what ailing an animal. Successful beekeepers rely on informal their keen power of observation to determine how a colony is doing and what type of assistance if any the beekeeper could provide colonies. Through routine inspections, beekeepers must try to determine if their colonies are healthy or sick. The beekeeper must be able to determine of their colonies are gathering enough food or are they starving. He or she must be able to identify through telltale signs if a colony is queenless or preparing to swarm Staying educated on the newest bee practices, evolving diseases and latest equipment is critical to keeping your hives regenerating year after year. Getting honey from your hive takes a lot more work than it did 50 years ago. Honeybees have to face non-native parasites and disease, an increasing loss of natural habitats and food sources. They have to deal with presents of miticides pesticides, and insecticides and the effects of global warming. Regardless of how you get your knowledge, seriously consider joining a local beekeeping club. It's a great place to get advice on bee issues and ideas to improve you beekeeping skills. Most clubs offer mentorships and some even have a lending library with more books on beekeeping than you would ever want to buy. I've been a mentor for several years and I enjoy helping new beekeepers learn the ins and outs of this rewarding hobby and while also helping them navigate the challenges new beekeepers face. How much does it cost to get into this hobby? The cost for a hive, frames, basic hardware, tools, a beekeeping suit, and an initial package of bees or a nuc will run you about $400. If you plan to jump into this hobby, you will need to decide if you want to buy a package of bees or to purchase an existing hive (nuc). Packages of bees are cheaper, however they have a higher risk of failure as the queen and worker bees are not from different colonies. Nucs will cost more, however you are getting an established colony with a proven laying queen and worker bees of her lineage. As for me, I have been a beekeeper since 2010, just prior to retiring from the military. Three years ago, my wife Becky and I turned our hobby into a small business. Currently, we maintain around 50 hives and provide pollination services for several Hartford county produce farmers. Additionally, we sell honey and produce and sell nucs. If you have any questions about becoming a beekeeper, feel free to hit me on via your email address or through our facebook account. #nucs #beekeeping
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
SELF MEDICATING HONEY BEES!
In the past few years, a few mycologists and entomologist have been researching how a certain type of mushroom mycelium (fungus) may have medicinal properties that help honey bees fight off viruses from the invasive Varroa Mite; which has been devastating honey bee populations world wide. Two scientist in particular, Paul Stamets, a leading mycologist and Dr. Steve Sheppard, the leading Entomologist at the Washington State University are leadings this research. Below is one report of the research findings.