Swarm Time

This won’t be an in-depth talk about swarming. There are entire books addressing the subject. It’s so easy to always be a little bit behind, but at this time in the Berkshire bee season, it pays to be ready for anything. That means having an empty nuc box or two, or even a few deeps, with some frames, drawn and undrawn. When you check your hives, if you have 2 deeps, use your hive tool to pry between them. Standing behind the hive, lift the back end of the top box and slide slightly toward you, then tilt up to view the underside of the frames. That is where you will usually find queen cells. If you do, it’s an indication of swarming. If cells are capped, your hive will almost surely swarm, so keep a close watch and hope you can be there to capture it when it happens.
To determine if the hive has already swarmed, you may notice a much smaller population (about 50%) than you saw last time you looked. That is one sign. Another sign is queen cells that are open at the bottom but have a round “hinge” of wax still attaching the capping to the cell. This means a virgin queen has chewed her way out and is hopefully still in the hive.
If the situation is uncapped queen cells, or capped cells with no newly hatched queens, you can use some frames with queen cells to start new 5 frame nuc hives. Before you know it, you’ll have more hives than you know what to do with. One other benefit of swarming is that it breaks the brood cycle of Varroa.

 

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Old Henry and the Painted Hives

Old Henry was a beekeeper. Well, actually he was a farmer who also had bees. He kept a couple of hives along side the barn where they got sun most of the day. Henry lived in Western Massachusetts in a little town called Clarksburg, in the county of Berkshire.

Henry got his first beehives and all the fixin’s from the same place most everyone relied on for the things they didn’t make themselves, and that was Mattie’s general store. Mattie had the one and only Sears and Roebuck catalog in town. People would place their orders and in four to six weeks it would arrive, either by train, or through the US Postal Service. The general store also served as the post office.

Anyway, Henry’s hives and bees both arrived and Mattie rang him up to have him come get them. It was in the spring which was one of the busiest times on the farm with plowing and planting and calving to do, so Henry didn’t have time for painting or building any fancy stands for the hives. He set them on a few stacked up boards to get them off the ground, put the bees in, and that was that. He would put empty honey supers on, and take full ones off. Over the next few years, Henry got a few more hives, caught some swarms, and sold some of his extra honey, but he never got around to having enough time to paint those hives. The wood had weathered to gray and the bees were doing just fine.

There was a  teen-aged  boy named Zeke who lived just up the road from Henry. Zeke was Henry’s unofficial helper. He seemed to have a knack for showing up at the right time to lend an extra hand. Henry could always rely upon Zeke when it came time for haying, maple sugaring, or pulling honey supers and extracting honey.

One Thursday evening Henry told Zeke he had to go away for the weekend and asked Zeke to watch over things while he was gone. On Saturday morning Zeke came over bright and early and did the chores he could see needed doin’.  When he was caught up and looking for something else to do, he happened to walk past the bees hives and thought “They could sure use a good painting” After rummaging through the barn he found some red paint and an old brush and got to work.  Before you new it, those two old hives looked as good as new and Zeke gave himself a pat on the back for a job well done.

On Sunday afternoon, Henry came home and seemed pleased with all of the work Zeke had done, but when he got to the hives there were bees buzzing all over the place with many resting on the ground. He noticed the newly painted hives. At first he thought they were swarming, but many had baskets full of pollen and the ones resting on the ground were doing so because they had stomachs full of nectar. When Henry looked closer, he saw that the bees had puzzled looks on their little bee faces and then he remembered something he had read in a past issue of American Bee Journal.  The article was about how bees see colors much differently than humans do and it also said that bees can’t see the color red. Henry had his answer. The bees couldn’t find their hives. When they came back from foraging, they thought their homes had disappeared.

Henry knew just what to do. He and Zeke went to the barn and found a couple of old cans of paint. One was blue and one was white. They painted a stripe across the front of each hive near the entrance and the bees immediately began to fly in with looks of relief on their faces. Henry and Zeke both learned something new. Don’t paint your hives red or they will be invisible to your bees.

 

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Selling Honey and other stuff

It was a good season for honey this year. We are currently selling several sizes.
1/2 lb jars $6 (sold out)
1/2 lb decorated gift jars $10 (sold out)
1 lb round jars $10
2 lb Classic jars $20
2-1/2 lb square jars $24
All of our jars are glass. Some of the honey is crystallized partly or fully. The beauty of the glass jars is that you can warm them in a pan of water if you want to re-liquefy the honey. Many people preferred crystallized or creamed honey, so it’s nice to give them a choice. If you’d like to pick some up, give a call at 413-663-9288.

We’ve done several craft fairs and have re-incarnated some of the items I used to make when I sold wooden crafts, years ago. We feel that the combination works well. Some people are drawn to our booth by the games and toys, and then ask questions about bees and honey and make a purchase. For others, they see the candle and honey display and also pick up a ball and cup game or other wooden item. And I feel good getting into the wood shop again.

Pine Cobble craft fair

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Queen Mistakes

We were installing some packages a few weeks ago and my helper mistakenly took the cork out of the queen cage. As luck would have it, she flew (the queen, that is). I told my helper that queens will often fly back, so set the outer cover on top upside down and keep an eye out for her.. Sure enough, the queen returned, but before we could grab her she flew again. I said keep your eye open and also look for a cluster of bees which may mean she landed somewhere else.
A few minutes later we noticed a clump of bees in fromt of the hive. The queen was there but the bees had already done their damage. I picked her up but she was barely moving. After placing her back in the queen cage, we observed her for some time and I knew she wouldn’t make it. I put the cage in the hive and closed it up, then called to get another queen and made the trip up to Betterbee the following morning. When I got to the hives, I noticed that there was a lot of activity in the next hive over and when I popped the cover on the one with the injured queen there were no bees, save a handful.
All of the bees had moved over to the next hive so I pulled a couple of frames and put them in with the new queen and closed it up.
I went back the next day to check on things and the bees had left again. I was heading out of town and wondered what to do. There was almost a package worth of bees hanging on the inner cover of the other hive so I figured I’d give it one more try and just switched covers. If I had the time when I first got the new queen I would have moved them to a new location to lessen the chance of them leaving, or if there were other existing hives there I could have put a frame of brood in. The bees will usually instintively care for the brood so that would keep them there.
I was away at my daughters for five days so I stopped at the hives on the way home. This time there were stil bees in it and they had accepted the new queen. The packages were installed on mostly drawn out foundation and a few frames of honey, so they should get a pretty good jump start.
UPDATE: Well it’s August now and this hive has done well. We kept a close watch on it and added a frame of brood on a couple of occasions to give it a boost early on. The queen is laying well and all are happy.

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Giving a Great Bee Presentation

You may have been a beekeeper for years, or you might be starting out. One thing for sure is that once people know you have a bee hive they will have questions. Often, one of those questions is “Will you come and speak to our group, class, club, event, etc?  You, of course, will be so flattered that you will immediately say “Yes, I’d be glad to”

After you get home and start thinking about it, you might wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. Perhaps you’ve never spoken in public before, or are afraid that you don’t know enough about beekeeping. You ask yourself, can I keep them interested? Will I be able to answer their questions? Well, don’t panic. Beekeping is such an interesting endeavor that you are bound to wow them as long as you show up prepared.

Do you have to be an expert? It used to be that as a beekeeper, you probably knew more about bees than people who weren’t beekeepers. That’s hopefully still the case, but people are more informed about honey bees than they ever were. Folks are getting back to the land and becoming more in tune with where their food comes from, and honey bees have been in the spotlight almost constantly in the last few years,but, as much as they’ve heard about bees,  there’s nothing like a first hand account from someone who has been in the trenches.  If you have hives you’ve  experienced first hand what the others have only read about or seen on tv or youtube. Chances are, you have something worthy of sharing, even if it’s just your personal experiences as a first year beekeeper.

  We know that being prepared is the key to everything, so how do we go about preparing?  Here are three things I have found to be necessary.

Know your Audience

Know your Material

Use Props

Knowing your audience means talking  with your contact person and asking some pertinent questions.  Who will you be talking to, and how long will it last? Are they 3rd graders, senior citizens, library or museum patrons? Will you be talking to a garden club or other beekeepers?  Are you going to speak for a half hour or an hour?  Other venues such as a fair or Earth Day event may be a daylong affairs.  Once you know who your audience is and your time frame,  you can begin tailoring your presentation.

 part of a display at science and history museum 

                      I got a grant to do a two day presentation on local beekeeping at the North Adams  Museum of Natural Science and History. Each day included scheduled  showings of a video, a demonstration hive, and talks on different topics about beekeeping. There was plenty of time for visitors to browse the various displays and ask questions.  The display portion of the program was supposed to remain up for 1 week, but the museum asked to extend it an xtra week, and then indefinitely.  It’s going on it’s fifth year now.

Here, I did a hands-on workshop and demo on installing package bees for beginners in my backyard. My preparation was having done it

 

plenty of times, and my props were the live bees and real hives. I knew my material well and after demonstrating, I let the participants do an actual installation so would feel confident when their bees came.

Know your material  Some of the things we learned in school actually do come in handy in real life. Know what you plan to talk about and make an outline of what you are going to cover along with any necessary notes or reminders. Refine them into a coherent plan. The time honored method of index cards still works nicely, especially if you aren’t using power point.

What props will I  need?   Here again, walk through what you will be doing and have the appropriate props available which may include a hive, posters, pictures, live bees, a power point presentation, tools, charts, etc.  A presentation to a kindergarten class might involve a story book and finger puppets.  I’ve even brought a small extractor to some presentations so that people can see exactly how the frames of honey go in, and turn the crank to watch them spin. Everyone likes show and tell.

This picture is from a presentation at the local library geared toward people interested in learning how to get started with bees. I brought a mock up of a real hive, and most everything we beekeepers use including tools and protective clothing.

Here’s an example of how you might outline a talk about installing a package of bees. For props, you’ll use an empty package screened container with syrup feeder can and queen cage. Also have a hive tool, nail, spray bottle and pliers, depending on the method you personally use when installing a package.

1. Show bee package container and explain components.                  

a. screened cage  (holds three pounds of bees)                                  

b. sugar syrup can (feeds bees while in transit)                                                                                                      

c. queen cage (protects queen while bees get used to her pheremones since she is not from the same hive)

2. spray sugar water on outside of screen                                           

a. calms bees down                                                                                 

b. keeps them busy

3. Demonstrate opening package                                                           

a. pry off lid with hive tool                                                                     

b. remove queen cage and inspect queen                                            

c. carefully poke hole in candy and put queen in safe place             

d. remove syrup can

4, install package                                                                         

a. remove center frames                                                                       

b. shake bees into hive                                                                           

c. replace frames carefully (just let them settle)                               

d. put queen in hive (explain different options)                                

 e. lean package container against entrance so the rest of the bees get out

5. Mention options for installing bees  (like using empty deep below to set package in and let bees crawl out)                                               

a. advantages are you don’t have to shake the bees, they aren’t exposed to elements if it’s cold or rainy, less drifting if more than one hive                                                                                                    

b. disadvantage is you have to disrupt hive to remove empty package the next day

The outline above may seem long and too detailed, but actually walking through the process only takes about 2 minutes, and by going over it, you assure yourself that you aren’t going to leave anything out. That’s all part of knowing your material.

Give them something.  This can be as simple as a sample tasting of your delicious honey. You can also set up a small table with  recipe cards, fact sheets about good plants for honeybees, pamphlets from the National Honey Board, and catalogs from bee supply companies. Don’t forget to put our your own business cards so people know how to contact you, and  information about your beeclub, including when and where you meet and how to join.

Every year, in May, I spend two days talking to a local elementary school first grade class about honeybees.  These kids are really sharp. You see, the teacher in this class does a great job teaching the kids about bees.

the "bees" have chewed through their cappings and are emerging

She spends a few weeks working with them. They have story books and lessons. They build “cells” out of cut sections of paper towel rolls. They make larvae using cotton balls, and keep a journal as the days go by from the time the “queen” lays her eggs, predicting what they think will happen.  When I go into class, it’s to reinforce what they’ve learned, show them the actual parts of a hive, let them wear a bee suit and hold the tools we use and ask questions.

two first graders are all smiles when
 they get to try on a real bee veil

On the second day, I bring an observation hive. Now they can see real worker bees tending to larvae. Sometimes they get to see new bees emerging from their cells. They see the difference in size between Drones and Workers, and if they are lucky, they will see the queen laying eggs. By the end, they know more than most adults do about honeybees.

checking out the live bees

If you are going to bring an observation hive, it’s handy to also have a magnifying glass to give a really good close up view of what’s happing on the frames.

How far away is it? 
Can I sell my stuff?
Is it going to be indoors or out, and if out, is shelter provided in the event of rain?                                                     Is this a paying gig, or am I doing it as a public service?                                                  Do they expect me to bring an observation/demonstration hive?

One More Option. Keep it Really Simple
Sometimes a group often just wants to meet a real beekeeper and just ask questions, and often when you are giving a planned presentation, the questions can get you sidetracked from your outline. You should decide ahead of time whether you will take questions as you go or have a Q&A period at the end. Also plan on some time to stick around after your presentation. There will always be enthusiastic beekeepers and potential beekeepers who will want to chat. Happy Beekeeping!

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Honey Bees and Tansy

ImageIt’s late July and the bees are kicking into gear on the tansy. I never gave tansy much thought, in fact I never really took much notice of it at all until It started growing in my yard years before I kept bees. Tansy is rather tall. It grows to over four feet here in Western Massachusetts. It’s considered a wildflower but you have to look close to realize that the little yellow “buttons” are actually flowers. You don’t see the typical petals as on other flowers. 

The book Plants and Beekeeping by E.N. Howes, published by Faber and Faber says this about tansy:

“Honey bees do visit the flower heads…..and have been observed probing for nectar as well as gathering pollen. However they do not visit in large numbers”   American Honey Plants by Frank C. Pellet doesn’t have a listing for tansy as a bee plant.

Nevertheless, the honey bees are out there all over my tansy, joined by bumblebees, other native bees and other insects.

by the proboscis sticking out and the pollen on the legs of this honey bee, you can tell she is making good use of these tansy flowers Its a little tough to get good photos with a macro lens, as the bees don’t stop in one spot for long, working the flowers very quickly. Your best bet is to catch one sucking up some nectar as in the photo above.The leaves of the tansy plants

 

 

I’ve heard and read that tansy acts as a mosquito repellent, so I decided to give it a try. One night before going to an outdoor play in an area that had plenty of mosquitoes, I picked some tansy leaves in the front yard and brought them with me. When we got there, I crushed the leaves and put some in the collar of my shirt, hat brim and on my lap. Although some mosquitoes buzzed around me, I didn’t get a single bite. I would have to experiment more to see if it was actually the tansy that worked, but I will surely try it again. Tansy is also used in the garden to ward off harmful insects.

Here is some information from,and a link to the site Our Herb Garden:  http://www.ourherbgarden.com/tansy-companions.html

“Tansy is reputed to be a general insect repellant, deterring many non-nectar eating insects. Our research found that tansy is reported to specifically repel Ichmeumoid wasps, Japanese beetles, striped cucumber beetles, squash bugs, sugar ants, mice, fleas and moths. Tansy is particularly attractive to honeybees. Be cautious where you plant tansy as it is quite toxic to many animals. Never plant tansy where livestock browse or graze.”Image

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Milkweed for Honey Bees

ImageIt’s the last day of June, the milkweed flowers have recently begun to open, and the bees are starting to work them. Milkweed is abundant in Western Massachusetts, and can be found up and down the street where I live. I’m lucky to live in an old mill house along a river on a dead end street. There are no houses on the other side of the street so there is plenty of space for wild flowers and “weeds” of all types. Milkweed is also known as butterfly flower and silkweed.  If you break the stem, it oozes a milky white stick sap. If you open a seed pod late in it’s stage of development you can see the long silky white hairs. Each is attached to a seed and is the means by which they are dispersed. According to American Honey Plants by Frank C. Pellet and published by Dadant, there are over 55 recognized species of milkweed in North America.

Information from Weeds of the Northeast by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal, and Joseph M. DiTomaso and published by Cornell University Press states that, “Most milkweed plants emerge from overwintering root buds. These are more robust than seedlings…seedlings do not flower the first year of growth.”

You can find milkweed growing in fields and along roadsides. It prefers well drained soil. Milkweed doesn’t just benefit honey bees. You’ll find a good variety of native bees and other insects partaking in it’s sweet nectar. The flowers are very fragrant and pleasant.

There is one “catch” to milkweed that I learned only after I started keeping bees. One day as I was observing honey bees collecting pollen on the milkweed in my yard, I noticed a bee going in circles on one of the flowers. I wondered why she would be doing that and after closer observation I realized that one of her legs was stuck in the flower. After doing some research, I learned that the pollen sacs of common milkweed have v shaped hooks which often snag the legs of insects that visit them. Some may lose a leg escaping while others can’t escape at all and die. I have found an occasional dead honey bees and other insect on milkweed flowers.

There is at least one other interesting fact about milkweed they you may already know. Milkweed is the only food source used by Monarch Butterfly larvae. The butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed and when the larvae hatch they feed exclusively on the milkweed. For more information about their life cycle as well as some great photos of monarch butterflies, check out this link. http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/#Life-Cycle

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