First for the bad news. We checked the hives in the backyard last week and none survived. We had 5 traditional hives and one top bar. Most had very few bees left in them. There weren’t many bees on the bottom board like you would usually see in a dead out. All of the traditional hives had plenty of honey. We left most in the fall with three deeps or at least two deeps and a medium. Some still had a full 70 lbs or more of honey stores. Three were treated with the older style formic acid pads, not the quick strips. Two were not treated for mites. I didn’t use any other treatments on the hives last year. None were wrapped. I’m not sure what the answers are. It’s frustrating to see the crocuses blooming and no bees working them.
A hive we checked in nearby Williamstown is looking great. It has a very large cluster of nice dark bees. There is plenty of honey to get them through till dandelion bloom.
We still have other hives to check this week. I’m hoping at least some have survived. At our bee club meeting on tuesday, we heard that pretty much everyone is suffering from heavy losses. One old time beekeeper in our club hasn’t bought bees in many years. He’s done splits and bred some queens and we all consider his bees “local stock” His yards were devastated. He lost 27 out of 30 hives. There is definitely something going on here besides a bad winter, which we really didn’t have. We’ve heard that losses have been heavy throughout the northeast. A state survey is being taken and I’ll post results once they are final.
The Good News: I was contacted by my publisher at Storey and my beekeeping book should be out within the next week or two. I will post an update as soon as it comes out, with info on where to buy it for those interested.
There is an organization in south Berkshire County, MA called Project Native www.http://projectnative.org/ that promotes the use of native plants for landscaping and wildlife food sources, rather than bringing in plants from other areas that can become problematic. About 5 or 6 years ago our bee club sponsored a talk by one of the women from project native at our local library and she brought a variety of plants to sell.
As the honey bee queen starts ramping up egg laying in early spring pollen is needed for food. I knew that pussy willows were a good early food source for bees, so I bought one plant, put it in the backyard and watched it over the next two years. It grew, but didn’t produce any catkins, which are what we want for the bees. That fall I called Project Native to see if maybe there was a mix-up and I got something else by mistake. The woman explained that it takes a few years before the plants start producing, so I decided to stick it out one more spring. When spring came, I watched excitedly as the buds began to open and the pussy willows appeared. Once they were fully open and turned yellow with pollen the bees were all over them. I was very happy.
In November 2012, my friend Shira was at the house and we were outside. We decided to do some pruning on the willow since it was getting taller than I wanted it to be. We really did a lot of trimming and I was going to toss the branches in the brush pile. Shira suggested we save a few and put them in water, so we kept about a dozen and put them in a bucket of water in the kitchen to see what would happen. In a couple of weeks roots started to grow.
You can see how well the roots have grown in the water. Most of these whips will be planted near the existing one, which is in a naturally wet area of the yard. My hope is to create more of a brushy area and keep them trimmed so they don’t grow too tall.
These open catkins are a real joy to have inside in the cold, snowy winter months. Soon we will transfer the whips to pots of dirt and wait for spring to plant them outdoors. Eventually the bees will have an abundance of early spring food and there will be plenty of whips to share.
You’d think that there would be a slow season when it comes to beekeeping, but I can’t seem to find it. There is always something to do. We finished extracting in the fall and our local farmers market ended the last week of October. For a while there was still some bottling and labeling to do, and then we started getting more orders for candles in November. For all of November and December it’s been pretty steady with people wanting honey (especially 1/2 lb jars) and candles for gifts.
Once the holidays are over it will be time to think about ordering a few packages or nucs and start building a few more hives. I’ll also try to get ahead a little on candle making so I can build up stock. Our club will come out of it’s brief hibernation and start meeting again toward the end of January.
I’m making good progress on my book about building hives. It’s now listed in the new Storey Publishing catalog and is slated to come out in April of 2013. That has kept me really busy for more than the last year, and is finally nearing the final stages.
Before you know it spring will be here and the cycle will start again.
When people contact me to buy honey or catch a swarm, I always ask how they got my information. Sometimes it was by word of mouth, but often, surprisingly, they just did an internet search and found my contact information. I don’t exactly know how it works, but it does, and I’m grateful. Of course, that also gets you a lot of calls for people with wasp and hornet problems who think they have honey bees.
A few nice things that have come my way were an offer to write a book, an offer to be in a book, and an article in American Bee Journal.
The first came about when some editors from Storey Publishing were talking about doing a book on building bee equipment. Storey is based in the town where I live, and some beekeepers in our club work there. They knew I make most all of my own stuff, so I met with a couple of editors and we worked out a deal. I was never aware of how much work goes into producing a quality book, and how many people are involved, from editors to copywriters, layout and design people, and many more. So far it has been a great experience, though trying at times and very labor intensive. I am very happy with the way it’s coming. and hopefully the finished product will be out early in the spring of 2013.
The second event came out of nowhere. I got an random e-mail from someone named Luke Dixon who lives in Soho, England. He said he was writing a book on urban beekeeping and found my information online, and asked would I be interested in being one of the many featured beekeepers? I said sure. We e-mailed questions and answers and photos back and forth, and after a couple of years of work, his book “Keeping Bees in Cities and Towns” published by Timber Press, arrived at my doorstep. I’ve really been enjoying reading it. There are three pages devoted to my bees that are less than a mile from Main Street in North Adams, MA.
The book is filled with interesting information and great photos of beekeepers from all over. I would recommend it as a good read, even to a non-beekeeper. I’ll do a more detailed review when I’m done reading it and try to post a link to it on my sidebar.
As random as that e-mail was, I got a call from a gentleman named Cecil Hicks, who writes for American Bee Journal. He was flying out east to travel and take in the fall foliage, and would I be interested in being interviewed for an upcoming article? Feeling like there are so many better and more experienced beekeepers than myself, I tried to convince him to do an article on our club and talk to other local beekeepers, but he had his mind set and knew what he wanted so I agreed. When he arrived in late September, we had a nice talk and visit here at my house. We later went out to see the hives, and he snapped a few quick pictures. The weather wasn’t cooperative with a light rain falling, but we made the best of it. I’m not sure when the article will run, but I still feel a little embarrassed at being the one chosen. I guess that’s what happens when your name is out there in cyberspace.
Overall we had a good season this year, extracting over 300 lbs from five of the hives that produced surplus. We also pulled about another 150 pounds from five hives that were given to me by a friend who plans on moving. The deal was that I would extract the honey for him and I get to keep the 5 hives and the location, which works well for both of us. It’s also on a farm about 5 miles away, so it fits right in with our name Berkshire Farms Apiary.
My friend Shira has been an awesome help with all of the bee chores, visiting the hives, extracting, bottling honey, and especially working the North Adams farmers market and filling in for me the last two weeks of October.
My daughter had a baby, so I was in Syracuse NY from October 14th through the 28th. More on that excitement another time, but the gist of it is, it was 1:30 am on Sunday morning and I was desperately trying to finish up the last of the frames from two last supers of honey, when Mackenzie called saying she was in labor.
My wife and I were already packed and ready to go, and Shira and I had gone over plans for her to do the last two weeks of the market.
The only things I hadn’t done were put out the extractor and the cappings to be cleaned. While I was away I missed the last two week window of good weather. I came home to a week of rain and cold weather, so I held off for another week hoping for a few warm days, but it’s been in the high 30-low 40 degree range, so last night I resolved to clean the extractor.
I took one of those green Scotch-Brite cleaning pads, cut a section off, and wrapped it around a wooden dowel, attaching it with a staple gun. With a few gallons of warm water to wet the rack and sides of the extractor, it made quick work of cleaning the sticky honey and excess wax out without having to reach inside by hand. After that I set up the little space heater to dry it out, and it’s ready for storage. Now, to get those cappings cleaned and melted.
After days of cool weather and a few of rain, the sun poked out this afternoon and the temperature went up to about 70 degrees.
I stoppede by my cousin’s house where I have two hives and caught him as he was about to leave. He had left a message saying he thought a hives was swarming. I had my veil and smoker in the truck, but no smoker fuel, and my hive tool was sitting in the workshop at home.
I grabbed my veil and smoker, and a hunting knife that is usually on the seat of my truck. On the way past the chicken coop, I grabbed a handful of wood shavings and some dry grass. I figured that would be enough to get me through.
When I got to the hives they were bringing in lots of pollen and there was a waiting line to get in the hive. Activity usually slows down before a hive swarms,so I wasn’t worried. I used my knife to pry the boxes apart and reversed the boxes on both hives. This will give them more room. The knife did the job and I also used it to remove burr comb from the tops of the frames. I also cutoff some drone cells and checked the larvae for any signs of mites. All was well. One hive is a deep and two mediums and the other is two deeps. I’ll return and put supers on both of the hives. The dandelions are in full swing now, and the bees were very calm, paying no attention to me.
Next time I’ll bring the smoker fuel and a hive tool, but sometimes we have to make do with what we have.
With the extremely warm record setting weather we had a few weeks ago, it was tempting to jump the gun on a lot of things having to do with the outdoors. Two areas that come to mind are gardening and beekeeping. While many seeds like peas and radishes can be planted as soon as you can dig the ground, it was sure tempting to put some tomato plants in the ground.
I got a few emails from people saying they heard we should be reversing boxes on our bee hives because they were going to swarm. I wasn’t even temped to reverse my hives because I didn’t think the cold weather was actually over. With the bees being up top in most hives, they were in the warmest area, which is good when the queen is starting to ramp up a little and there is brood to rear. The bees were bringing in pollen which was also a good sign.
One problem with jumping the gun with your hives is that if there is brood in both boxes, it’s probably in the upper end of the bottom box. By reversing them too soon, you are creating a sizeable gap and with the population not high coming out of winter, there aren’t enough bees to properly cover both sections of brood. If I have brood in both boxes, I let them be. If I do reverse my hives, I wait until dandelions are out in earnest.
The other problem I see is that you are putting the majority of the brood on the bottom where it’s still too cool. Of course, these are conditions where I live in western Massachusetts, so your climate may vary. We are still getting some nights with temperatures in the high twenties and low thirties. Patience is key at this time of year.