A Beekeeper's Life
Winter is near the end. I'm seeing the honey bees bringing fresh pollen into the hives. It's less than a month away from opening up my colonies. March is the danger month. The queen is laying eggs. The brood chamber will be getting bigger. The bees will be using more honey to feed brood and
February is just about over. It's been a very mild winter this year. Every day that passes means spring is one day closer. It also means I will be taking more orders for packages of bees and 5 frame nucs. I'm surprised at the number of hives that didn't survive the 2020 winter in Massachusetts. Many beekeepers are left without any of their bees to open up in the spring. This is the bad part of beekeeping. Some beekeepers do get discouraged to easily. Other beekeepers haven't been able to over winter a colony for years but keep trying. The important part is to figure out why your bees didn't survive. Also to keep trying and do everything you can to give your bees the best chance of survival. This means inspecting regularly, feeding bees when needed and most important part is to have a plan for treating varroa mites. It also means you need to learn more about your bees. Continuing your beekeeping education will help. You should have a plan of how you are going to keep your bees. You should also have a plan for each hive inspection. Know what you are going to do. Don't just peek in a bit. Check your hive out so you know what's going with your bees. Take notes or pictures each inspection as well. i find taking a photo can be very helpful. You can examine your bees a bit quicker and then take your time to examine the pics you took later on. If you have a question about one of the pictures of bees. Text pic to your bee mentor with a question. See what you get for a response . I do answer many questions via text from our friends, customers and beekeeping students. I find it helpful answering the questions that have the photo sent with the question..
Many bee hives haven't made it through the Massachusetts winter. When beekeepers come into my store to buy bee packages or nucs. I'll ask them if they know why their bees didn't survive. I'll asked what they saw in the hive?. How they treated for varroa. Also when and how many times the hive was treated. There are many reasons hives don't survive. I always start with varroa. Fall time robbing or yellow jackets might kill your bee hive. But why was that hive weak enough not to be able to protect itself. Lack of stores, long stretches of real cold weather or moisture issues kill bees as well during the winter. Most inexperienced beekeepers that don't treat for varroa learn very quickly what happens to the colony left untreated. The colony crashes. It gets sick. Population drops and the bees can just vanish. Thats the answer I get most of the time. I hear things like"The bees were there in November or they saw bees flying on a warm day in December. But now there no bees in the hive,dead or alive." I tell them treat for varroa mites properly next year so your bees can have a fighting chance at surviving. It's very unfortunate that beekeepers have to treat multiple times a season to fight varroa mites. There are many treatment forms. I prefer the organic treatments. Some others use checmical treatments. The bottom line is all beekeepers should treat for varroa mites or you will be the beekeeper that has no bees in the spring.
Just remember, that you can enjoy beekeeping and keep bees in your own way. By not treating your bees for varroa mites, you can put your other local beekeepers at risk from varroa mites speading to thier colonies. I use Apiguard, Hopguard and formic acid. There are many other treatment forms. Do some research then choose the treatment thats good for you.
3 lb Bee Packages and 5 Frame Nucs
Yes, It is almost that time of the year when you order bees. Bees seem to sell out each year. So don't get caught without bees or having to drive 2-3 hours for a bee package or 5 frame nuc. Crystal Bee will be selling the 3 lb bee packages and 5 frame nucs as of 1/1/19. Hopefully everyones bees survive the winter. We can always hope.
The 2018 beekeeping season went by quickly. It was a great honey producing year for us. Many beekeepers mentioned how they had banner years. While many first beekeepers produced honey. Another thing about 2018, we started treating for varroa mites 3 times during the year. The treatment times were April, July And September. We use Apiguard, Formic acid and Hop Guard. The bees looked strong going into the fall. The hives are all wrapped up tight. The fondant and pollen patties are in the hive for an emergency food source.
Today was a nice 45 degree sunny day. I check for fondant in a bunch of hives. Some hives have already been eating the fondant. Good thing I checked.
Is it spring? The snow is falling today. It looks like winter. But spring hive openings are not that far away. Most beekeepers are preparing for the warmer weather and have ordered a bee package or nuc to replace any hives that didn't survive the winter. I am building and painting hives in preperat
March is the danger month for honey bees in our area. The population is starting to grow and the queen will be laying more eggs now. The bees will start using their food stores more rapidly. Feeding the brood several times a day and maintaining the temperature of the brood chamber will cause food stores to dwindle. So it helps if you had feed your bees in the fall and put an emergency food source in the hive for the bees earlier in the winter. Its 8 days until spring.
Winter Time Beekeeping
Beekeepers are building equipment, reading beekeeping books and attending bee meetings during the winter months. Hopefully your honey bees survived the winter. If the bees didn't survive the winter. You should have ordered bees by now or order them as soon as possible.
The record cold blast the we are getting in Massachusetts is going to tough on our bees. With so many frigid days in a row, the bees will be unable to break cluster in order to get to their honey stores. Hopefully the bees will survive this cold spell.
Wintering Honey Bees
Its about the time of year to prepare your honey bees for the winter. Hopefully your treatments and feedings are well under way or finished. If your mouse guards are not on. Put them on soon.
Im not talking about someone stealing my hive this time. This is about the amount of people mentioning about their hives getting robbed. It's about that time of year. Since there is little to no nectar flow now and seeing how bees are creative foragers. Many beekeepers are witnessing their hives getting robbed. Seeing aggressive action, bees walking up faced off the hive, bees flying up & down in front of hive and fighting on bottom board or ground would indicate your hive is getting robbed. Some Beekeepers also see yellow jackets going into your hives for a meal. It happens.
Stopping the robbing is a must. Light your smoker and smoke the front of your hive. Then close the entrance down. Put a robbing screen on or entrance reducer. If you don't have either. Put a block of wood, a handful of hay, or anything. Just reduce the entrance. Also close down the outer cover so bees can't get in thru the inner cover hole. Putting a mouse guard would reduce entrance as well. You could even cover some of the holes in the guard to have less openings.
Robbing is one reason we do not recommend going thru a hive in late September or October in our area.
Stolen Bee Hive
I never really thought someone would steal one of my bee hives. But unfortunately it happened. Someone stole my bee hive. I moved a hive to Highland rd. in Hamilton in late July to pollenate the pumpkin and squash field. I removed the honey supers a few weeks ago and started treating it for the varroa mites. When I returned for the second treatment. It was gone. We reported it to the police. We are also offering a $500 reward to information on missing hive. The hive had grayish bottom board, outer cover and brood boxes.
Nectar Flow and Honey Harvest
This seasons nectar flow has been very good. Many beekeepers in Essex County are having their best year for honey production. It seems every visit to the hives leads to more full honey supers. The best hives have produced 6+ honey supers. May wasn't the best months for the nectar flow. The weather wasn't all that great for the bees. But June and July made up for that. It seemed each hive had 2-4 full honey supers by the end of June. extract and put the supers back on top of the hives. July was the surprising month. During my hive inspections, I found many hives with 2 more full honey supers. It didn't seem there was a dearth like in years past. August and early September has less of a nectar flow than earlier in the summer. There was definitely a nectar flow though. We removed all the honey supers to prepare for the winter. Most hives had 1-2 honey supers. Some hive had no honey in supers at all. This year was one of the best our honey harvest ever.
Although this season has had its fair share of storms. The hives I visited this week produced between 2-3 honey supers. I am putting bee escapes on the hives and will return 3-4 days later to take full honey supers into my extracting room. I will tried to pull all full supers before July 4. This years honey crop seems good so far.
This is swarm season and has been for the past 6-7 weeks. Since early May we have gotten many calls and reports of bee swarming. I caught several swarms in the last 5 weeks. Which is normal. The surprising swarms this year were from first year beekeepers. People always are saying that first year beekeepers never have swarms, Just like the newbies will never produce honey. Well they do have swarms and they can produce honey. This season a few students had swarms with only 16 frames with drawn comb. Others were honey bound. A couple hives were into the honey supers and the populations were huge. They got crowded and swarmed. This one newbie started with 2 hives. The hives both swarmed a couple weeks after the honey supers were put on. He caught both of his swarms within a few days of each other. Now he has 4 hives. On a side note, I used a bee vacuum once this year and the biggest swarm I caught this year was over 9 lbs.
March is the danger month for bees. The hives that survived the winter are raising brood and expanding the hives population. Since there is more brood. The bees will be eating more honey stores to maintain the temperature in the hive and along with feeding the brood several times a day. I put fondant and pollen patties into each hive and place them in the center of the hive on top of the frames on the top box. I had placed fondant in most of my hives that last bit of warm weather. Without the emergency feeding, the bees could have perished. Hopefully the spring weather will arrive. So our bees can collect fresh nectar and pollen.
Unfortunately bees die. This year was no different than years past. Dozens of beekeepers are coming into the store to ask questions or tell stories about their bees. The stats are not out yet but it seems like half the people have lost their bees over the winter. Since that warm weather about a week ago, many beekeepers noticed there was no activity coming from their hive or they went into the hive to feed the bees fondant. Thats when they noticed their bees didn't make it through the winter. Its tough being a beekeeper now a days. That is why we teach how to best treat your bees to survive the winter. So far this winter our survival rate is around 70-80%. I'll have the exact number in April when I open up all my hives.
Late Winter Beekeeping
February 27, 2017
The past week has been quite warm. If you are lucky enough to have your bees survive. You should have seen them flying almost every day this week. I visited many hives to give the bees fondant and pollen patties. I did see a few dead outs. It is a bit depressing seeing the dead bees. But unfortunately in this business, You get used to dead colonies. I found a couple dead colonies with the bees spread all over the inner cover and on top of the frames. The bees looked fine. Just dead! Varroa or viruses weren't present. The hives had plenty of bees and honey. It could have been a victim of the weather. If the bees broke cluster on a warm day. But were unable to cluster again before the tempature dropped. Who knows? I will wait for a warm spring day to clean out and totally examine the dead hives. The good news is many of our hives have survived. I did see some colonies with the cluster covering 7 or 8 frames. Now to get through the month of March.
Winter Beekeeping is more or less a time to continue your education in beekeeping and try to prepare for the spring. I do a bunch of reading and keep myself busy teaching beginners beekeeping classes. But mostly I build boxes, bottom boards and frames to replace any old rotted hive components. In the pic, you can see how I get rid of my old bee boxes.
Winter Weather is Here
December 13, 2016
The winter weather is finally here. The hives are wrapped and insulated. Fondant and pollen patties are on top of frames in each hive for an emergency food source. There isn't much to do for your bees now other than read bee books and magazines. You can check the bees on a warm winter day. If it is above 40 and sunny with little to no breeze would be a great day to open the hive. Wear a veil and light your smoker before removing the outer cover. This is to make sure the bees are alive and to add more fondant if needed. Don't remove any frames. Just put the fondant in the center of the hive on top bar of the frames. You may have to smoke the cluster of bees to move them slightly out of the way. Do not crush your bees. My advice for all those beekeepers who may have lost or lose their bees over the winter, order a package or nuc asap.