February 2013 Bee Keeping Update

Package Bee Orders – If you have not already ordered bees or paid in full for the bees that you have reserved  Please send a Check ($85/order total)  to the following address – you can still order package bees.  Make checks payable to Cookeville Bee Keepers and mail to:

  • Cookeville Bee Keepers
  • 453 E. Whitehall rd.
  • Cookeville TN
  • 38501

I will be finalizing our order soon and any orders which are not paid in full will not be placed.

From the TBA – I represented our club at  the Tennessee Bee Keepers Association Executive meeting yesterday, and I made a few notes of things that I thought you might find interesting:

I picked up our hive grant kits, and noticed that each kit contains two 8 frame medium hive bodies and accessories.  I personally use all 8 frame mediums and have not regretted starting out that way.  We are all set now to award kits to 3 lucky beginning bee keepers at our next meeting.

In a floor conversation between Mike Studer (TN state apiarist / apiary inspector) and Dr. John Skinner (TN State Apiculturist,  – UT Entomology & Plant Pathology Dept)

It was recommended that treatments for varroa mites be applied asap – during the spring build up – as soon as weather permits.  The reasoned opinion  being that hives treated in the spring are more likely to survive the following winter.  Reducing mite loads now, reduces virus build ups in the hive population for the entire season more effectively than  treating at any other time.  Keeping colonies healthy early and throughout the season is key to long term survival.

The only commercial mite treatment which Mike Skinner recommends at this time is Apiguard – here’s why:

  • Apiguard uses thymol which is a naturally occurring substance – and not particularly dangerous.
  • He prefers that we avoid “hard” chemicals such as coumaphos (check mite) – even though they can be effective if used correctly.  Coumaphos in particular is dangerous to people if mishandled and can not be used when honey supers are on the hive.
  • Formic acid treatments can be safe and effective, but the only commercially available formic acid product available at this time is mite away quick strips, and they have apparently experienced quality control problems during the past year – some shipments being too weak to be effective, while others were so concentrated that they cause very high bee mortality.
  • It was also recommended that formic acid treatments only be used during cool conditions – 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit – to limit bee mortality.

High winter losses have been reported in TN – most dead out hives which have been examined were highly infected with Nosema Cerana – the “new” variety of nosema – which is not well controlled by use of Fumagillin.  N-cerana does not cause streaking on hives like N-apis and is therefore likely to be un-diagnosed.

Mike recommends that using Honey-Bee-Healthy whenever feeding syrup results in healthier colonies that are less likely to succumb to nosema, and other pathogens.

At Our Last Meeting:

Maples are already or about to be in bloom throughout the region, and on fair days bees are foraging both pollen and nectar – queens are starting to lay, and brood will increase quickly.

All that brood has to be kept warm and fed – during bad weather the cluster will not move off of the brood – even if food is close by, but just out of reach.

David Young made the observation that more bees will Starve to death between now and April than at any other time.

Make sure that your bees have food Within Reach of the brood area.

If the cluster is already to the top of the hive it is likely that they have used up most of the food lower down – you should consider feeding.  Bees generally will not take syrup unless it’s relatively warm, so alternatively to feeding syrup during winter/spring you might want to try “Mountain Camp” feeding using dry sugar. This method can put the food in contact with the cluster no matter how the weather turns.

Inspections can be done when the temps are in the high 50s as long as it is sunny and with little or no wind – even then try to be as non invasive as possible to avoid chilling brood.

When he addressed our club last year Mr. Ed Holcomb recommended that you reverse hive bodies only when 3 or more days of fair weather are forecast.  He also had this insight:  When you reverse hive bodies you disrupt the arrangement of resources in the hive, so the bees go to work to re-arrange things back the way they want them.  Since bees move honey within the hive by eating it, reversing hive bodies forces the nurse bees to eat more than they normally might – simulating a nectar flow and stimulating brood production.  Reversing hive bodies might not be as fashionable as it once was, but it’s part of the system that Mr. Holcomb uses to produce 100 pounds of honey per hive.

During the discussion of Top Bar Hives I heard the comment that this method sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.  And it might be – depending on what you want out of bee keeping and are willing / able to put into it.

Top bar hives may require a bit more hands on involvement than Langstroth hives, but then again beginners often crave more hands on experience than is good for the bees anyway.  So that might not really be a point against them.

You probably won’t make much money top bar bee keeping – but the truth is that most hobby bee keepers don’t make much money no matter what method they use.  Although I would speculate that it might be easier to make money sooner with top bar hives and collected swarms than it would be using expensive equipment and bees.  If you don’t have much invested you don’t have to make much revenue to show a profit.

If a would-be bee keeper is  short on funds (or you just don’t WANT to spend a lot of money if you don’t have to) then top bar hives are a good way to get into the hobby with little or no outlay of cash.  You still get to practice bee keeping, and enjoy working with the bees – and you can still get a little bit of honey out of it.  You just don’t need a lot of money to get started.  So, if you really want to start keeping bees don’t use (the lack of) money as an excuse to stop you.

I’m not really recommending that anyone start top bar bee keeping unless they just want to – just saying that it does have merits.

Don’t forget the beginners short course on Sat. Feb. 23.