Spring Has Sprung, the Grass Has Riz, I Wonder Where the Flowers Is


| 3/21/2014 12:31:00 PM


Tags: beekeeping, spring, North Carolina, Tia Douglass,

bee on jonquilWhere the heck is spring? All this cold, rainy weather really has me depressed: can’t work my bees; can’t work the garden. . . In an effort to keep my spirits up, I pulled out my gardening and beekeeping journals to start planning this year. Much to my amazement, I found that my first inspection last year didn’t happen until March 10 which means that as I write this, I’m only one week behind last year and hoping to get into the hives for the first time with my student “newbees” this Saturday, March 22—that is, if this rain ever stops! It’s been raining now three days and counting. . .

Of course, last year’s first inspection held bad news with three of my hives queenless and dwindling. I wasn’t alone (misery loves company). This area of NC had a real problem last year with queenlessness occurring over the winter. There were so few bees I dumped the survivors in front of the strong hives so the orphans might “beg admittance” to a new home. Two months later, at the peak of nectar flow, I split the two remaining hives, and installed new, beautiful queens, only to have those queens die as well! The mystery of those queen deaths was never solved despite extensive research into the problem by Dr. David Tarpy, NC State University Entomologist. This is a situation I’ve never seen in my thirteen years as a beekeeper—and one I hope I never see again! At first I was blaming myself because prior to this incident I never purchased queens. Rather, I let the bees take the helm and left it to them to replace their queen when they thought the time was right. Last winter, however, it appears that either they had no eggs to work with or they had no incentive to make a new queen. After looking the hives over with our state inspector, and talking to Dr. Tarpy, we decided the hive death was definitely due to queen loss, but we never could ascertain why (although Syngenta, Bayer and Monsanto would be quick to tell you it was a varroa problem—certainly nothing to do with neonicotinoids, clothianidan, glyphosate, etc. (I will stop here, so I don’t start ranting!).

Where the hives stand going in to spring: So, after “going easy” on them last year (I left them alone as much as possible) it looks like my two remaining hives are doing well. The stronger of the two continues to be strong while the less strong hive seems to be building up. Our anticipated inspection will shed more light on their wellbeing and I’ll follow their lead as to what they want and what I’ll do (IPM in its most extreme form).

Something New! Since I’m not happy having only two hives, and since I don’t really want to buy new stock, I’m actually hoping to find some queen cells! Normally if I were to find queen cells I’d split the hives to keep them from swarming. . .BUT. . .when I attended the NC State Beekeepers Association Spring meeting in Wilmington at the beginning of the month, Shane from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm introduced me to a great new idea: The Queen Castle! This great new piece of woodenware is merely a deep Langstroth box with follower boards and separate “tops” for each section, allowing you to keep up to four mini-nucs in one box! So this year, if I have queens in the two boxes, I will use only one follower board in the center, put a queen cell from each hive in either half of the box with two frames of honey and pollen on either side of each queen cell. . .in other words, side-by-side nucs! In better years, I’ll be able to start four new hives at a time! Can’t wait to give it a try. I’ll let you know the outcome.

Bee School 2My Busy Time of Year. Not only do my own bees and garden keep me busy right now, but so do mentoring, bee school and speaking engagements--and of course, our local chapter, Crystal Coast Beekeepers where I’m membership chair! It’s really amazing and gratifying how many people have become aware of the plight of the honey bee and are either concerned with helping them survive or are interested in becoming beekeepers.

Mentoring: I already have a list of “newbees” who want me to come help them site their hives to best position their girls to make them happy.


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