Bee Season is Up and Running in Full Force

Reader Contribution by Tia Douglass

Hey, all! Sorry it’s been so long since I last blogged. It is, after all, bee season, and things are firing off to the left and to the right of me!  I’ll do my best to catch you up to where things stand at present.

The weather’s made a drastic change from the last time I wrote — it’s been hot and muggy: in the 80’s and 90’s with high humidity.  We’re getting a bit of a respite right now…a storm came through and dropped only about an inch of rain, but the humidity has dried up and we’re having beautiful 70-80-degree days! On the downside, the mosquitoes are out in force and it’s biting fly season! I find at this time of year I’m wearing my veil more often to fend off the darn flies than for working the bees! Actually, this time of year, the girls are at their sweetest (no pun intended). The nectar flow is strong — quite evident when you look in a hive and see all that beautiful new, sparkling white wax and smell the sweet nectar being dried and processed by the girls.  Such good fortune leads to good humor and as a result, it’s been a stingless spring so far.

Bee School and Ensuing Adventures in Working Bees

Bee school is over for the time being, I’m thrilled that we have lots of brand new, young beekeepers (Trivia:  the average beekeeper is over 60 and is female!) They’ve taken the written portion of the Certified Test through the N.C. State Beekeepers Association Master Beekeeping Program, and have only to take and pass the practical test (where they work a hive and tell me the names of items and what they see and what it means) to become state-certified.

Most of my newbees visited my beeyard for the first spring inspection on March 22. As expected, both hives were exceedingly strong and ripe for splitting.  But since the purpose of the day was to show my newbees what goes on inside a hive and to let them see these things for the first time so they could identify them in their own hives when they get them, we didn’t “work” the bees; we just “inspected” them. On the downside, we did see a few small hive beetles (a surprise so early in the season), but the girls were keeping them at bay, out of the central hive and on top of the inner cover where they could do no harm. On the bright side, the brood pattern was good and the appearance of the cappings and larva were as they should be—no signs of varroa infestation. We did open some of the drone brood with the cappings scratcher to see if we could find any infested drone, but all pupa were a beautiful, pure white without a single varroa on them (varroa are very easy to find in this way, since they are dark brown or black and are quite obvious on the white pupa). Although we couldn’t find the queen in the crowd, we did find eggs, which tells us that there was a queen in there at least three days ago (a bee egg hatches into a larva after 3 days) and that everything was going along as it should. So we closed up shop for the day.

On April 8, my all-time-best student, Janet Keethler, and this year’s best newbee, Megan Paholsky, came to help me in my beeyard to make the splits and see if anything else needed doing. Janet’s affinity for honey bees is amazing and although she will not take credit, I insist that in her case the student has surpassed the teacher. Janet has a booming beeyard and still has time to help others, including me! Her eyes are much sharper than mine and she can easily find those bee eggs (about the size of a half grain of rice) down there in those honeycomb cells.

Again, although we know they were there, we couldn’t find the queens, so as a team, we divided the two hives into five hives, making sure they all had eggs so whichever hives did not get the queen would be able to make a queen from the existing eggs. We made two splits off one hive and one split off the other, giving me a total of 5 hives (being a hobbyist, my maximum is 7 hives. After that, it becomes work!). Unfortunately, I don’t have much luck with splits—don’t know why, but I never seem to be successful.  I was out of state for a little while.  When I left, all hives were abuzz, but when I got back, one was quiet. . .too quiet. It was then I noticed something under the hive stand! I looked into the front entrance and saw the same thing. . .chewed honeycomb scattered everywhere. The sign of robbers!

Apparently, the colony either absconded, departing for greener pastures, and the robbers moved in and cleaned everything out, or the number of bees dwindled, the robbers invaded and conquered, robbed every trace of honey and left.  Either way, the hive was gone.  I froze the box for 48 hrs to kill all the small hive beetle and varroa eggs that might hatch and destroy the comb, and put the box aside in a light airy shed for use another day.

Catching Bee Swarms

On April 16, I was called to Edgewater Gardens Nursery to catch two swarms! Edgewater’s just down the road from me and the owner, Robin, is very savvy about honey bees.  She was having a garden club over for a tour and did not want them to become upset by the big hanging blobs of bees, so I went quickly to remove them. The first hive was a piece of cake — hanging on a pine bough 3 feet off the ground. Just a matter of shaking the bees off the branch and into a nuc. The other, however, had wrapped itself around the trunk of the same pine and it was a dickens to hive! I would scrape them off the trunk with my hive tool and drop them into the box; they would fly out and back to where they were, since I hadn’t gotten the queen into the box on that particular swipe. It took me six attempts to hive that swarm but was finally successful and the garden club was spared any anxiety!

I went back to my beeyard today with extra boxes hoping that they were ready to make some honey for me rather than for themselves, but I was disappointed. The boxes they have are not full, and on the splits and swarms all the frames have not even been drawn out, so only one box got a honey super. Two of the remaining splits, although full of bees, honey and pollen, have no queen or brood. Since we did the splits on the 8th of April, a new queen should have started laying about 3 weeks later or May 1 (17 days for the queen to hatch; 2-4 days for her to roam the hive before taking mating flights for another couple of days).  Since I see none of that, I am considering either (1) a paper combine with the swarm  hives or (2) seeing if I can get a couple of queens from the already overburdened Ricky Coor! Will let you know developments in my next blog.

Education Events: As I told you in my previous blog, on March 27 I did do the webinar with the Wiltshire County Beekeepers in the United Kingdom on the subject of Integrated Pest Management (“IPM”). IPM is taking care of the bees with medicines and chemicals only when warranted rather than on a timed schedule.  The oldtimers used to medicate routinely with chemicals and poisons such as Tetracycline, Fumidil, Fluvalinate, Coumaphos, etc.  But now we are aware that less is more and that such an attitude goes a long way in preventing super bugs!  I was, however embarrassed to find that my British friends were teaching me more than I them.  Most of the things I mentioned—even approved treatments here in the US—are now banned in the UK!  Of course, I know the dangers of things such as neonicotinoids, clothianidan, thiamethoxam, imidacloprid, sulfoxaflor, glyphosate, and the newest, cyantraniliprole, and that all these are used here in the US but are banned in the UK, but whoever would’ve guessed that Fumidil would be on that banned list as well? Frightening that we are still using these chemicals, no?

Since I had to work on April 14, I passed the baton to Janet Keethler to speak to the AARP Group. She tells me it was well attended and that everyone seemed to enjoy learning about the honey bee.

On April 24, I spoke to a brand new group: The Croatan Chapter of the Sierra Club on “The State of the Carteret County Honey Bee.” Attendees were shocked to find out how quickly our honey bees are diminishing.  I always make a point of telling my audience to thank a beekeeper. It one day dawned on me that if we are losing 1/3 of our honeybees every year, we should not — at this poin t— have any honeybees!  The only explanation I can find for this is that when we beekeepers lose a hive, we replace it, keeping the numbers up.

Thank a Beekeeper!

Where I go from here.  We’re now in the process of getting everyone their bees! The highest quality queens, nucs and hives are produced by Rick Coor, owner and operator of Spring Bank Bee Farm in Goldsboro, N.C.  Due to the bad winter—and the fact that Rick would never give anyone a mediocre colony of bees–production has been slowed, but Rick and his son Colin are working hard to provide high quality colonies with the most beautiful queens you’ve ever seen! My newbees appreciate this fact and are, therefore, patiently waiting their turn to receive their bees. Things have now begun to move rapidly and Ricky’s providing bees on a daily basis, first come, first served.

I’m also getting two or three daily calls from newbees who want mentoring, folks who have actual bee removals from their home (attics, eaves—that sort of thing [hard work!]), or swarms (a joy!). Sometimes it really does get hectic but I love doing it all!

And last but not least. The most exciting thing to happen to me since I last blogged, was to be invited to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR!  Of course, being a North Carolinian, I attended the fair in Asheville (I adore Asheville!) on April 12 and 13. Conveniently enough, my brother lives just an hour away in the foothills of South Carolina, so I was also able to get a visit in to my only remaining family. It was so good to see them again, and my niece, Beth Marie, accompanied me on Sunday.

We both had such a great time — so much information, great vendors, great food, great people — and fun! I want to thank Kale Roberts for inviting me and Editor-in-Chief Cheryl Long, homesteading editor, Thaddeus Christian and natural health editor, Hannah Kincaid for making us feel so welcome at the luncheon. But I must confess, the highlight of the weekend was shaking hands with Joel Salatin!  He is my idol!  Now that I’ve had a chance to speak with him, I have every intention of visiting Polyface Farm and learning more!  When I do, I’ll let you know all about it!

That’s it for now. Please contact me with any questions or concerns. Thanks for helping the Honey Bee!