Bee Keeping in February

The first thing that Cookeville TN area Bee Keepers need to do in February is plan to attend our regular meeting on Thursday February 2nd – TTU South hall – chat and mingle from 6:00 with the meeting beginning at 6:30 PM.

H.L. Foust  of Sunrise Apiaries in Cumberland county – purveyor of bees and beekeeping supplies will be our guest speaker at this meeting.

We will also be taking orders at the February  meeting for package bees, so bring your check books.  Eligible new bee keepers will be able to find out more about the TBA hive grant program as well.

In the Apiary this Month –

  • As always, don’t let them starve!  Add sugar, candy or fondant if needed.
  • Begin or continue feeding pollen substitute if this is part of your plan – once you start don’t stop until weather and natural pollen allow the bees to provide for their selves.
  • Sometime during the last third of the month you might want to  plan to reverse hive bodies if you have a dual brood box system – but only if all of the brood is in the top box! If brood is split between two boxes when you reverse you will “split the brood nest” and cause a lot of potentially fatal stress.  Obviously you have to inspect the hives to accomplish this – so watch the weather forecast for a a suitable day.  Not everyone does this manipulation, but the purpose of it is to attempt to prevent swarming.
  • Plan to add honey supers around March 15 – so arrange for that woodenware soon!

See you at the meeting!

Bee Keeping in January

granulated sugar being fed directly to honey bees using the mountain camp method
One of the safest and easiest ways to provide emergency food to your bees is the so called "Mountain Camp" method - granulated sugar placed right on top of the frames. A feed shim or empty super can be used to make room for the feed.

At the last meeting it was mentioned that we need to do a better job of talking about what bee keepers need to be doing in the near future instead of what should have been done last month.  So-

First of all Plan to attend the regular January Meeting on Thursday January 5, 2012 @ 6:30 pm –  TTU South hall.

You might think that there isn’t very much for a bee keeper to do in January, and there is a certain amount of truth to that, however…

As you know here in mid TN we can have nice weather almost any time – on one of those sunny days when the bees are flying and the temps are in the 50s take a quick peak into the top of your hives – no need to use smoke, but do wear a veil.  Does it look too wet?  If so you probably need more ventilation. Is the cluster all the way at the top?  You might need to feed candy or dry sugar.  Don’t stress your bees by opening the hive too much or too long, but a quick peak on a nice day won’t hurt.

Don’t let your bees starve! There was very little nectar produced in our area this fall and if you have any doubts about the stores that your bees have you can still feed them – dry sugar is one of the easiest ways to provide emergency food.  This subject was covered in the Oct 2011 Kelley newsletter.

Speaking of the Kelley Newsletter – sign up for it – it’s a great source of that “what to do this coming month” information that was previously mentioned and will hit your inbox just in time to use it. There are several very fine beekeeping resources on the web where you can find or get your questions answered just about any time – just fire up the Google and type in “bee keeping” or even “why did my bees swarm?”  Great entertainment on a cold winter day. You-tube has many informative videos as well.

Some people feed pollen substitute in the form of patties or candy beginning about the middle of January to stimulate a quick and early spring build up.  Educate yourself before deciding to do this, and once you start you need to keep it up until the weather and nectar flows are consistently good – or else all that brood you stimulate will eat your hive out of house and home and they may all starve in April. Personally – I had good results feeding Mega-Bee (from Kelley) made into candy last year.

If you are interested in buying any package bees NOW is the time to take action on that – soon they will all be spoken for, and you won’t be able to get them until the Spring season is well underway.

Now is also the time to get together the equipment you will need next year.  If you started with bees last year and your bees did pretty good you will probably need more room for them. Don’t wait until your hives are full of honey or your bees are about to swarm to try to find (and assemble) frames and supers to fit your hive setup.  If things go well you might need a stack of supers taller than you are – plan ahead.  Also seriously consider buying or building an extra hive setup – or a nuc – so that you have some options in case you get the chance to catch a swarm, or need to make a split to prevent one.  If the warm weather we are having continues you might need that equipment sooner than you thing – Like in February.  Don’t wait.

Just a heads up – late February/March  is when the swarming process can start – about the time you see dandelions in bloom. In April when you see queen cells in your hives, and a cloud of bees flying around the train has already left the station, so plan to deal with it before it starts by reversing hive bodies, adding supers, checkerboarding, splitting or some other means depending upon your available resources.

See you at the meeting!


More Natural Bee Keeping

new foundationless comb with brood

The presenters at our January meeting were John Seaborn of Wolf Creek Apiaries and Trevor Qualls of Bon Aqua Springs Apiaries and Woodenware.  Natural beekeeping was the subject of the evening – and we really appreciate the contribution of their time and knowledge to our group.  If you need equipment be sure and check out Trevor’s line of innovative locally produced honey bee woodenware.

Not all that long ago you could have a couple of beehives out back for years without paying very much attention to them other than putting supers on in the spring and harvesting honey in the fall, but that is not usually the case any more.

Our honey bees are native to Europe (not America) while varroa mites were probably imported from Asia and Small Hive Beetles came from Africa – no telling where tracheal mites, foulbrood, and nosema originated.  We don’t even know what CCD is yet. But by bringing all of these elements together we may have made it impossible for Apis mellifera to live independently in the wild.

Chemical free, natural, treatment free, organic,  freedom from buying and applying expensive (perhaps toxic)  time consuming treatments to our bees – while producing large crops of wholesome, healthy honey and other hive products – Sounds great, but unfortunately, this very worthwhile goal has become much more elusive because of the globalization of diseases and parasites.

None the less – it is not necessary to constantly douse your bee hives with chemical pesticides – but you probably do have to do something.  “Treatment free” does not mean doing nothing – it means using a different set of cultural practices.

“More Natural” beekeeping include the following:

Integrated Pest Management – such as using screened bottoms to allow mites to fall out of the hive.  Also, drone brood removal, and powdered sugar treatments.  One of Januaries presenters mentioned a neat trick for drone brood removal – putting a frame or two of a smaller than usual size in the brood nest will usually cause drone brood to be built on the bottom of the frame where it can easily be removed during inspections.

Because varroa favor drone brood to reproduction in you can use drone foundation like this to attract varroa and then remove them - along with drone brood - from the hive.

Summer Splits – “Walkaway” splitting (alowing them to make their own queen instead of furnishing one) causes a period of broodlessness which in itself  interupts the varroa life cycle, and also is an excellent opportunity to administer other treatments while all of the mites are phoretic – riding adult bees instead of inside of capped brood.  Since in our area early nectar flows mostly end (except for sourwood) by July 1st splitting after that point does not interfere much (if any) with honey production.

Natural Cell or Foundationless – allowing bees to build whatever size cells they want without furnishing any foundation.  Note that this is not the same as small cell.  Natural cell bees may never “regress” to 4.9 mm size worker brood comb, but they will build the size that is natural to them.  The effectiveness of natural cell is controversial – but it can’t hurt.

Small Cell bee keeping – In actual small cell culture bees are furnished with special small cell (such as 4.9) brood foundation to force them to “regress” to a smaller size.  A number of beekeepers – including some very reputable ones – swear that this is the magic bullet for bee health, but it remains quite controversial with at least some empirical studies refuting it’s effectiveness.  The package bees that we have ordered from Wolfe creek are small cell bees, but unless installed into hives with small cell foundation they will revert to a larger size.  If interested you can get small cell foundation from Kelley bee supplies – the only source that I know of.

Essential oils – naturally occurring in plants some EO have been proven to be useful in managing honey bee pests – the only commercially available product that I know of is Apiguard which uses thymol (a constituent of EO of the herb thyme) as the active ingredient to treat for varroa.  Other EO treatments may be – and probably are – effective, but without USDA/EPA approval as pesticides they can be used, but may not be marketed as pesticides.

Genetically resistant bees – the holy grail, often spoken of, but rarely seen.  If you know where they can be obtained, please let me know.  Seriously there is a movement to utilize “locally adapted” queens instead of those produced by queen factory farms hundreds or thousands of miles away.  Learn to produce your own queens or get them from someone locally who does.

Sustainable Apiary – Another reality of bee keeping is that you will sometimes lose hives – most often over the winter.  A way to cope with this fact is to make increase by splitting some hives, and perhaps producing your own queens, and going into winter with some extras.

Natural bee keeping is a huge subject, and probably the best way to learn about it is with the internet, but where ever you get your information be prepared to use your own judgment as you formulate your own plan of action.