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

Reader Contribution by Tia Douglass
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Where 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.

My 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.

Speaking Engagements: On March 27 I will be Skyping with the Wiltshire Beekeepers Association in the UK, giving them my presentation on Integrated Pest Management (don’t fix what ain’t broke!), on the 14th of April, it’ll be the local AARP group to whom I’ve spoken before and they’ve asked me back(!) and on April 24 I will be speaking to the newly formed Croatan Group of the Sierra Club.

Bee School: My class in January was the largest ever (26 people), and the other day six “newbees” got up the courage to take the written test to become Certified Beekeepers through the NC State Beekeepers Association Master Beekeeper Program. The written test is only half of it, though. When they’re ready, all they have to do is give me a call. I’ll go to their beeyards and watch as each newbee inspects his/her hive. I will ask them various questions about what they’re doing, what they’re seeing, etc., and will watch how they handle the situation. Once I’m sure they’re confident in the procedure, they’ll get a passing grade on this, the practical test. Shortly thereafter they will receive their NC State Beekeepers bona fide Certificate proclaiming them Certified Beekeepers. I always get so excited for them! Of course, this is a way off since they don’t even have their bees yet! We placed a joint order with Ricky Coor of Spring Bank Bee Farm, and in May we’ll go as a convoy to his bee farm and pick up the nucs. And on April 5 I will be offering an intensive, all-day, 7-hr beekeeping class. Looking forward to every single bit of this. Bees are such fun!

Well, just writing this all down kind of cheered me up and now I’m really looking forward to this bee season. So far as the crummy weather, my girls have nonetheless been in a surprisingly good mood, and have been flying and bringing back pollens in hues of white (red maple), yellow (dandelions) and red (henbit). They must be finding nectar somewhere because they’ve stopped taking the sugar water I was providing. So I’m optimistic that we’re off to a good start and I’ll blog again after the inspection—keep your fingers crossed for a sunny day otherwise we’ll be postponed yet again!

That’s it for now. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for subject. I love doing anything I can do for the honey bees and the people who love them. Hoping your spring makes you smile!

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