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First hive inspections of spring

It is now mid-March here in Kentucky and temperatures are starting to get warm enough to inspect hives after the long sleep of winter. What do we look for? What should we want to see on the frames and what are our concerns? We should be looking for brood, food and bees.

First, check for brood, both larvae (uncapped brood) and pupae (capped brood). If it has been warm where you live (extended temperatures above 60°F) and the bees have been carrying in pollen, your colonies should be rearing brood. Look for larvae (uncapped brood) and pupae (capped brood).
          Photo by Mary Parnell Carney – click, hover over photo and click to enlarge

If you are seeing pollen being brought into the hive and frames of brood this will tell you that Continue reading

Music Video Which Stars Honey Bees – Check It Out!

This music video was uploaded to YouTube in 2009, but I just became aware of it. It is by the Canadian band Beast and the song is called Mr. Hurricane. The video was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Short Form Music Video in 2010. You must take a look!

How was it made? Well, I hate to disappoint beekeepers, but I think it was entirely created in a video studio. I still think it is pretty neat. You can view or read an interview with the video producer.

For the Beekeeper’s Book Shelf: The Joy of Beekeeping by Richard Taylor

If you’re looking for some winter reading on beekeeping, I recommend Richard Taylor’s The Joys of Beekeeping. This is much more than a “how to” manual, though it does contain pertinent information for the new or novice beekeeper. Compiled from a series of essays, many of which appeared in Mr. Taylor’s Bee Talk column in what was then known as Gleanings in Bee Culture (since shortened to Bee Culture), this is not reading for new beekeepers only. The first essay in this little book – only 166 pages – is titled The Taste of Joy, and the sense of joy permeates to the end. Not a recent book, it was originally published in 1974. I have a 1984 edition, which is the one you will probably find if you seek it out. I discovered this volume many years ago and still pick it back up occasionally, as I did just this morning, to enjoy it again. The section on bee yards, which describes the smells of wax and honey and the sounds of buzzing bees, makes an impression on me every time I read it. This is what I enjoy most about beekeeping: my time in the apiary, those smells and sounds, and the daily discoveries in the hives. Richard Taylor shares with us his pleasure in these simple things. Enjoy!

About Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor may be known to readers as a beekeeper and writer, but his original career, never abandoned, was professor of philosophy. He earned his PhD in that field from Brown University, and during his long academic career he taught at Brown, Columbia and Rochester Universities. He passed away in 2003, but his words live on.

Bee Candy or Fondant As Winter Feed for Honey Bees

I’m receiving questions about making fondant or bee candy, which is a preferable alternative to feeding liquid syrup during the winter. You’ll find a couple of recipes in a post I wrote last winter. More are available on the web, along with suggests on methods for feeding fondant. Just enter “beekeeping”, and “bee candy” or “fondant”, into a search engine like Google or Yahoo.

Above: candy board, with candy, sitting underneath an empty candy board. After the candy is poured into the board and hardens, it is covered with thin pieces of plywood. (Note the slits to allow the bees access to the candy.) The board containing the candy is turned over when it is placed on hive, directly over the top brood box. The outside dimensions of the candy board are the same as those of a hive body, allowing a telescoping or one piece cover to be placed on top for protection from the weather.

Candy board on top of upper brood box. The outer cover will be placed over the candy board.

New Pollination Webpage

Beekeepers, growers, and non-beekeepers alike may all find this new Canadian pollination website interesting and helpful – Though produced in Canada, the information is relevant to all of North America and beyond. For the beekeeper, there are detailed guides for pollination of different crops, information on pollination contracts, pesticides, and more. Growers will be aided by much of the same information as well as by suggestions on numbers of hives needed to provide adequate pollination. The general public and students may learn from the sections on the basic biology of pollination of flowering plants, pollination by honey bees, non-honey bee pollination, and non-insect pollination. The guide is also an excellent reference for middle and high school students’ research papers.

Winter Preparation, Guest Post from Kent Williams

Below is another guest post from Kent Williams, president of the Lake Barkley State Beekeepers Association in Western Kentucky, and of the Eastern Apiculture Society Master Beekeepers. A good beekeeper, all around nice guy, and good friend of mine. Kent always offers up good down to earth beekeeping advice. More posts by Kent.

Hello again, and welcome to the November edition of the LBBA newsletter. It does not seem possible that the holiday season is upon us, but it is. By now, the bees should be prepared for winter with ample food stores, majority of the bees (cluster) in the bottom box(es), supers of stored food above the cluster, and no supers full of empty comb above the cluster. For colonies that are low on food stores, the best option at this time of year is to feed solid feed, such as a patty or candy-board. If preparing solid feed for a colony, it is advisable to employ a philosophy of over-kill. Even for relatively small colonies, feed a patty or candy board the size of the top of the hive. Continue reading

Ooh That Smell! Can You Smell that Smell – In Your Beeyard?

Did you detect an unusual smell in your beeyard this fall? Every autumn brings calls from beekeepers about a funny, funky, dirty socks odor emanating from their beeyards and hives. So what’s that smell? It probably comes from aster or goldenrod nectar. This funky odor can be detected upon opening a hive, and sometimes even from outside it. In 2011, it was so prominent that it could be picked up from my driveway – 25 feet from the apiary. While ripened aster and goldenrod honeys have a strong flavor and so are less preferred by some, they would not be considered bad-tasting. However, their raw nectar often produces a sour, unpleasant odor which can permeate the hive and the apiary.

There are many species and varieties of aster. The common nectar source plants are described as small flower asters, and vary in color. I commonly see two types, Continue reading

Current Varroa Mite Control Products

After posting the recent article on varroa control research, I received several questions regarding current varroa treatment. We have two classes of products to control varroa. The first consists of the older, more toxic chemicals, Apistan (with active ingredient fluvalinate), and Check-Mite Plus (active ingredient coumaphos.) These are traditional agricultural pesticides which have been in use for many years, and most beekeeping professionals have serious concerns about their negative effects upon honey bees. In addition, due to the length of time they have been employed to control varroa, the mites have developed varying degrees of resistance to them, rendering these chemicals less effective than they once were. There is a newer generation of varroa control products on the market, products like ApiLife VAR, ApiGuard, the Miteaway Quick Strip and Hop Guard. These products use more natural materials like thymol, formic acid and hop oil. These products are considered much safer for bees, if used correctly, and they are effective.

I recommend beekeepers use these newer line of products. I also recommend that you contact your apiculture extension specialist or your local bee inspector for advice. Some products may work better than others in your area. And always follow the label instructions that come with the product.

New Research: Fungus as Varroa Killer

A press release from the University of Guelph, announces a newly published scientific paper describing recent varroa mite research conducted in Canada. Researchers tested a species of fungus as a possible biological control for varroa, with promising results. One of the researchers, Dr. Ernesto Guzman, is a frequent speaker at beekeeper meetings in the United States, including the Heartland Apicultural Society conference in Indiana in 2011.

Keep in mind that commercial control products based on such research will take years to develop, or may never materialize. I recall sitting in a meeting in 1999 and hearing a scientist report on her research, using a different fungus from the one in the Canadian study, and on its potential as a varroa control product. Here is a report on that research, conducted at the USDA Weslaco Bee lab. Scientists in England also looked a varroa eating fungus over ten years ago. A varroa control product has yet to be developed as a result of either of these studies. Read the press release, but don’t start looking in the beekeeping catalogs for a varroa eating fungus product any time soon. Continue reading

Helping Our Bees Get Ready for Winter

It is fall, which means cool nights, frost in some places, and Friday night high school football. It also means that it’s time to make sure our hives are ready for winter, and time to give the bees some assistance where needed.

While it is possible for bees to prepare themselves for the big sleep of winter without the intervention of a beekeeper – feral colonies have been doing so for eons – with good management, beekeepers can make hives better prepared for the hardships of winter. And by doing our job as beekeepers, we can improve on the survival rates of managed colonies over those of unmanaged (feral) colonies. Actually bees don’t sleep in winter; Phil sleeps more in winter. Bee cluster together, eat honey, and flex their wing muscles to produce heat. They do not hibernate. (I would like to.) Bees are very much awake – most of the time. Continue reading