Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cell Phones and Collapsing Beekeeper Disorder

Here's my article in the November issue of Bee Culture. It cost money to subscribe, but you get to see it FREE!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Philadelphia Honey Festival

Here's me talking to Lorenzo Langstroth's great great granddaughter at the American Philosophical Society building in Philadelphia. No, I couldn't convince her to take up beekeeping. We missed the plaque dedication, but did manage to drive past Langstroth's house on front street after circling downtown Philadelphia and a brief sojourn into NJ. You can drive into NJ for free, but you pay to exit. Next thing you know, they'll put up an iron curtain to keep them in.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Our local 9-1-1 just called me and asked if I can be their emergency contact for bee swarms. I hope I don't regret this.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Books available online

My how-to books can now be ordered at www.makingbeehives.com.

Sad end of a promising Queen

I volunteered to supply bees for the observation hive at the Steuben County Fair, the oldest continuous fair in the United States (they are very proud of that). I had a little colony in a four frame nuc. No brood at all, but when I looked, the frames were packed with eggs. Apparently a new queen just starting to lay. I put them into the observation hive. There weren't enough bees for the hive so they couldn't maintain proper temperature. They ate the eggs, the glass fogged up, and they wouldn't or couldn't take any sugar syrup for the two weeks they were confined.
   As soon as I brought them home, I opened the entrance. A few tumbled out and the rest of the colony looked damp. I noticed fecal material on the frames and soon around the floor below the observation hive.

I thought the bees were in the process of dying, Then, Suddenly! They were gone! Here's what their domicile for the last 3 weeks looked like after they absconded. You would move out, too. Look at all the brown spots—bee poop.
I found the bees in a nearby plum tree, looking much cleaner and happier:
Anybody want a tiny swarm at the end of August with a brand new and, I think vigorous queen? I'm not going to do anything with them because there's not enough time and it's too much trouble.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lunch with Ross Conrad

If you missed the Symposium, too bad. It had all the advantages of Eastern Apicultural Society Conventions (meet other beekeepers, listen to lectures, see exciting bar graphs, and win door prizes) and none of the disadvantages (it was free, short (no need for hotel rooms and good for attention deficit people like me), and not as complicated (everyone sat in one auditorium-no simultaneous lectures). That ends the most complex sentence that I have ever written since sixth grade.

Lunch with the famous author/beekeeper Ross Conrad The Natural Beekeeper
Some people naturally know how to follow the crowd and at lunch time almost everyone disappeared. I still don't know where they went, but it left a few of us wandering around, like scout bees returning to the swarm only to discover that the swarm has just left. This left Vince, Mary Ann, Ross and me. We found a picnic table, sat down and started talking. Never mind what we discussed. It was esoteric bee stuff: things like genomes, adjuvents, and things.I did learn that Ross manages around 50 hives.
Suddenly, we were surrounded by hundreds of screaming school kids. We had inadvertently taken one of the lunch tables belonging to an Alfred summer camp program. Someone remarked that there were no adults among the children. I, who had a college course called Human Growth and Development explained to the others that camps usually hire counselors who aren't much older than the children, and indeed, if you looked closely there were slightly older children, one at each table and others standing nervously around trying to ignore us.
Suddenly, my view of Ross was obscured by a large beekeeper who sat down between us. It was Lash LaRue, a fellow bee club member of mine and nephew of the movie star and comic book character:
At that point the conversation turned to railroads and bullwhips.
Here's how Ross and I differ in our approached to chemical free beekeeping: Ross actually takes care of his bees. Mine are essentially wild bees kept in manageable boxes.
I didn't ask how many colonies he lost last year so I can't compare our strategies.
New website for some of my publications: www.makingbeehives.com  We're still waiting for the web goddess to set up the online pay program.
To my one reader (everyone else, stop reading here):  See you next week, Sweetie Pot.With good timing, you can help me remove some bees from a house in Pulteney. XOXOX

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Swarm Season Begins

On Thursday I found my first swarm at my bee yard, a lovely prime swarm. I had to run back home to fetch loppers to trim away the brush. On returning, I see a new born fawn trying to hide in the foot long grass. His hind legs are so long they stuck up like a grasshopper behind. I walked within 3 feet of him. With one great "bleat!"(translated "Mom!" in English), he ran for the hedge. Mother jumped out of the hedge, considered whether to run or stomp me to death, then ran into the woods with junior. That's when I remembered I had a camera in my cell phone.
Back to the swarm. Dr. Tom Seeley says that to conserve energy, a swarm keeps its temperature too low for flight until the swarm is ready to take off. The scout bees grab hold of the low temperature bees and shake them to get them warmed up. I thought of this as I noticed the top of the swarm seemed to be "bubbling"—a lot of activity. As I trimmed around the swarm the activity increased, then the bees began sloughing off the sides and within a minute they were airborne.
Tanging: the beating on a pot or clanging a bell to induce a swarm to alight. The superstition persists, probably because it appears to work most of the time (especially when the swarm, emerging from a hive, is going to alight anyways). I had a pan handy, and no one around to see me make a fool of myself. So I tanged them out of sight. Good bye bees.

Swarm Call and a Moral Dilemma

The Avoca School had a swarm on the gymnasium wall at ground level. In their panic, they called 2 beekeepers. When I arrived, beekeeper #1 was already there, trying to brush bees into a hive body. Because the swarm had split into two areas, I offered to scoop up the bees in the second area. My area contained the queen and the bees were soon filing into my swarm box and exiting Matt's hive body.
Who owns these bees, the beekeeper who arrives first, or the one who catches the bees?
Matt should get the bees, but what you can't see in the picture is that these boxes fit into my bee vac and I didn't want to just give them away and I sure didn't want to drive to Wallace to retrieve them.
"You want these bees?" I asked Matt, knowing they should be his. Matt, it turned out was mostly getting the bees as a service to the school. He let me take them. And they moved right into one of my dead hives.
I also received sting #5( hand) and #6(right between the eyes-enough impressing the audience, time to put on the veil and gloves).

Monday, May 17, 2010

First 4 Stings

One of the local plant that yields surplus honey is blooming. I've heard it called Autumn olive or Russian olive. It's probably an invasive species and considered a pest. I didn't see any bees on these when I looked.

Saturday, May 15th: cool and breezy. Not an ideal bee day but I'm not keeping up with them very well. I opened the first colony. A couple bees seemed annoyed. The phone rang and as I talked for the next 20 or 30 minutes, a lone bee kept batting at my head, until I walked away into the woods.
That colony looked good—lots of brood, nectar, and pollen.
After the phone call I opened the 2nd hive. Suddenly I had a cloud of bees around my hands. I backed away, but too late. Later I counted 4 stings. I closed up that hive but a cloud of bees followed me around the yard so I gave up for another day.
Sometimes "hot" hives return to normal. Sometimes "hot" is a reaction to some sort of stress. I'll use gloves when I work that hive. Some experts say there's no correlation, but in my experience, aggressive hives often produce lots of honey.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

2008-9 honey bee losses

I got an e-mail from Dennis VanEnglesdorp with the results of the latest bee loss survey:
Just over one third of bees died last winter: 33.8%. The year before that was 29% and three years ago 35.8% of colonies died.
These are managed colonies and many or most are probably treated for various diseases. If you lose a third of your colonies after treating them, you waste the treatment cost as well as the value of the bees.
How serious are these statistics?
1. Some mortality is normal and acceptable. I don't know what's acceptable, but despite a beekeeper's best efforts, most hives will swarm at least once a year. (My hives swarm somewhere between 1.5 and 2 times a year.) If all colonies survived the winter, we'd be over run with bees in ten years.
2. The survey includes people with 5+ hives. The number of beekeepers with less than 5 has increased in all three years.
3. This number doesn't count wild colonies.
4. These losses aren't cumulative. The losses are replaced every spring and summer through swarming and swarm preventive splits.
The total number of colonies every year may be somewhere in this article and I missed it. That's probably an important number.
Anyways, I lost 1/6 of my colonies, or 16.7%, about half the national average and I didn't waste time and money on medications.
I expect more summer deaths and unless I have time to make splits and add supers, I'll probably have lots of swarms to catch again this spring and summer.

Beekeeping class

It's snowing now at 9 PM, May 8. Seven hours ago I hosted a "Bee Yard Etiquette" class during a high wind advisory. 5 attended and we broke my first two rules of Bee Yard Etiquette:
1. Don't open a hive when it's cold.
2. Don't open a hive when it's windy.
We broke rule 3 after about twenty minutes:
3. Don't open a hive in the rain.

The first hive was a drone layer.
The second hive was a double nuc—it survived the winter with only 8 frames. I wanted to check the condition but the frames were pretty tight and then it started to rain.
I shortened the class.
The power was gone when we returned home.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Noah's Ark Preschool lecture

How do you scoop bees out of a hive when it's snowing? I tried putting the jar over the inner cover hole, then tapping on the hive, thinking they might crawl up. They didn't, but the inside of the jar fogged up. You forget how warm it is inside a hive.
There were 20 or so bees on the inner cover and I had a large funnel. Once the bees cool down they don't fly so by the time I thought of it, it was easy to brush them into the funnel and into the jar.
The next morning I took my little pets to preschool to teach the children about honey and bees. There were 10 just over knee high children there and they put them in a semi circle on the floor. I put my stuff on a flannel sheet I use for swarms. I put on my veil and gloves, opened the hive and lifted out the jar of bees. The kids inched closer as I talked until they were all over me and the hive, spreading deadly preschool germs. Could this be how Nosema ceranae spreads?
I passed out crackers with a glop of bamboo honey. Both women later bought some of my bamboo honey at the local bulk food store.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Formic Acid Mite treatments

At our April meeting of SCHBA, we invited Earl Villecco to speak on treating for mites with formic acid. Earl is a member of the Southern Tier Honey Bee Association, Empire State Honey Producer's Association and the at least temporarily defunct AIAC, or Apicultural Industry Association Commission.
That last group advises NY state on beekeeping issues. According to Earl, it sounds pretty official—the NYS inspection program has been de-funded for this year. I guess I won't have to put my apiary number under my hive cover after all (I was going to wait till the inspector actually came, then slip it in when he wasn't looking.
Earl talked about how he uses formic acid.
The advantages:
It's inexpensive, around $1/hive
It's quick, 24 hours and it's done
Thorough, killing mites outside cells and up to 90% of mites inside cells.
Formic acid occurs naturally in colonies.

You have to buy wholesale quantities of formic acid
It's not approved in NYS
It's corrosive and dangerous in the wrong hands

Several club members expressed an interest in buying formic acid and distributing it to others. If you are one of them, here are two links you should check:


This site provides results from a test using an applicator that is more complicated than Earl described at the last meeting but the other numbers and quantities look the same.


youtube video lecture on pros and cons of formic acid and different application methods.

I'm going to continue not treating bees with anything. Earl commented on non-treatment, saying that some people do that and after several years, appear to have colonies that tolerate mites. He didn't feel he could afford that. On the other hand, I couldn't afford the time to treat and monitor mite levels (lazy and cheap might be a better description), so I did lose bees for a few years. I'm waiting for the colony loss numbers to appear so I'll know if I'm still above average.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

First Bee Removal Job

It took about 4 hours to gather all the equipment from the outbuildings. The woman who called said there were thousands of bees everywhere, probably several colonies. They had started to remove the siding in the winter and the comb went from the ground to the rafters.
I drove sixty-five miles. The woman showed me the colony on the back of the barn.
No bees. Not even one.
No comb.
No $$ for removing bees. She grudgingly gave a little gas money when I asked.
Three things happened since three days ago when she saw all the bees and honeycomb. 1. The colony died in the winter when they removed the siding and exposed the colony to the weather(actual colony size was about 2'x3'x 6"). 2. Neighbor bees came to harvest the rest of the honey by the thousands until a 3. bear or other large mammal consumed the rest of the hive contents, leaving nothing but a pleasant beeswax smell and wax residue.
On the good side, none of my potential assistants could accompany me to the job, so I didn't have to share the money.
Next removal job is next week. This time I'll charge $1.00/mile to get there, which ends up being included in the removal job if there are bees to remove.

Important note to beekeepers talking to non-beekeepers:
Don't forget the principle called the "coefficient of exaggeration". Non-beekeepers usually don't look directly at a colony or swarm so they have only a vague impression of what they saw. It's nearly always smaller than a non-beekeeper's estimate. The coefficient varies by individual, but a good rule of thumb is to divide their estimate by 2—10 depending on the degree of panic in their voice.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Removing bees from a barn

The Bee-Team got our first bee removal call of the year. The woman said they started removing siding from a barn and it contained floor to ceiling bees. Her son-in-law is allergic so they have to go.
I got the impression there may be multiple colonies (we've removed as many as 4 colonies from one barn). The problem is that a non professional bee person often sees more bees than there really are. I'll try to remove them the first good week in April and plan for more than one colony but expect just one.
These bees are approximately 50 miles away so I'll take every tool I can think of ever possibly needing to do the job in one trip.
Sorry my daughter can't come to video the job. My partner can't help either-he's working on the census.

Spring Inspection

March 21—I lit the smoker and looked in most of the hives. This is, I think, the 8th year since I quit using all forms of medication in my hives. In the fall there were 12 live hives. In March, 10 are still alive.
If I were medicating hives with Apistan, I should have put the strips in at the beginning of the warm spell, a week or so ago, so I could take them out in April.
Some highlights:
Hive #1: light in weight. The bees were bringing in white colored pollen.
Hive #2 was dead so I moved their super containing some honey to #1.
Hive #3 dead, with an almost full honey super which I gave to hive #8
Hive#4 is a lively double nuc but will need feeding.
Hive#5 dead(2 hives were already dead in the fall so they aren't counted in the winter mortality)
Hive #6 heavy with honey and bees
#7 is a log with a long story and it died.
#8 low but they are finding nectar somewhere and storing it.
#9 heavy with honey and lots of bees
#10 and 11 were harvesting yellow pollen (alder is making pollen and apparently something else is: willow maybe?)
#12 and 13 look good but need feeding
#14 another hollow log looks good but I can't see how much honey they have.

New President of Bee Club

It was a nasty campaign with a lot of mud slinging but I won the presidency with one vote, literally. I'm now the president of the Steuben County Honey Bee Association (SCHBA). Since there was no opposition, the secretary cast the single vote to elect P, VP, Secretary, and Treasurer. Wait! The secretary didn't show up at the meeting, so the future secretary who wasn't secretary cast the vote. That's illegal, isn't it. Is this one of Robert's Rules or did someone at SCHBA make it up? Well anyways, we borrowed the time machine from the Science Fiction Writer's Association that meets the following day and made it work.
The last time I was elected president, in 2002, I had 0 votes. The real president got all the votes, which made me, in the convoluted constitutional rules of the SCHBA, vice president. But the president died shortly after and I had to take over.

Article in Bee Culture

I believe its the absolute simplest hive you can make, except for top bar hives. It's a standard Langstroth style hive you can make in less than 2 hours, including the frames. Catch a swarm in the morning, build a hive and install the bees in the afternoon. It's a perfect bait hive because if a swarm moves in, you can set a regular super on top or transfer the frames to a regular hive without messy cutting. The plans are available right now in the online edition of Bee Culture and will be in the April paper edition whenever it comes.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Beekeeping class

This double nuc hive was packed with honey in the fall and still doing well. Some people think you have to have double deeps to survive the winter. The mortality probably is higher with something like this, but I've had single 5 frame nucs make it to spring.

4 bee-mails from the Alfred State College CCET coordinator yesterday. We're planning a one afternoon bee class on April 24th. Hopefully my bees will still be alive and the weather will cooperate.
We'll open and evaluate several hives, talk about fun stuff like nosema, foulbrood, chalkbrood, plus where to find bees if you don't have any, and making hives. I don't know what the class will cost, but the Sept. 2009 class cost $45.00


The spot are from the bee's cleansing flights. The large quantity of spots might indicate nosema, or it might be they had to hold it in for a long time.

March Inspection

The snow is still a foot deep, bees flying everywhere. It's hard to tell which colonies are alive and which are being robbed out. There were 3 types of hives: 1. wildly busy, 2. a few bees flying around quietly, and 3. hives with no activity. I flipped the lid on an apparently dead hive and no it was quite lively. Note the bee on my arm left a spot of bee poop. Another did it on the camera, but I couldn't photograph that.
I'll have to count surviving colonies when it's cooler and the bees are clustered. Then I can listen with my ear to the hive. Most of the 12 seem lively.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hiving a swarm

Click here. See the author plunge his hands into a seething mass of venomous honey bees. Hear author's daughter as she is stung while holding a swarm of bees. Learn why you shouldn't work with bees in bare feet.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Dr. Larry Connor, Bee Sexpert

Combined meetings of the Ontario and Ithaca Finger Lakes Beekeeper’s Association

I sneaked in as the lone representative of the Steuben County Honey Bee Association. I felt a little furtive, like a robber bee, expecting at any minute that one of the people would notice I smelled different and they’d started pinching and biting me as they pulled me out of the meeting.

Having customers at work right up to the last minute and locating the meeting with faulty online directions, I arrive late and sat in back. There were approximately 180 attendees, including some vendors

Driving home, I couldn't remember anything I’d learned. ;(.

But I had a recorder! :), and have a poor quality but mostly audible record of Dr. Larry’s Lecture.

Arriving late, I missed the title, but it was about breeding bees for health and mite tolerance—moving away from medicating hives.

Here are a few new pieces of information I learned:

1. In mating, queens fly low and far, up to 6 miles (is this radius or diameter? Either way it’s counter intuitive.) Drones fly high and near.

2. Queens mate with 13 drones on average and can vary from one to (highest known) 45 drones.

3. Queens artificially inseminated with a single drone, but same quantity of semen as multiply mated queens were taken to the Adirondack area by Dr. Tom Seeley for research, by the end of the season, 80% had died from a variety of diseases. This emphasizes the importance of diverse genetics among a queen’s offspring for the health of the hive.

4. What about those bees surviving in the wild?

Dr. Connor says you don’t know how many times that hive has died and been reoccupied with a new swarm.

Mite tolerance may, as suggested by Dr. Tom Seeley, be the result of their isolation.

My un-medicated bees aren’t in isolation. Maybe they should be. If bees in the wild have mite tolerance and disease resistance and if your bees mate with wild drones, that means you will have some degree of tolerance/resistance already in your bees.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Keeping Bees without Chemicals

I stopped treating my bees in 2002. No Apistan, Coumophos, Apiguard, Amitraz, formic acid, or Sucrocide. No Fumagilin-B, Terramycin, or Tylan. No open or screened bottom boards. No grease patties or Mite-A-Thol. No IPM. No voodoo, secret rituals, or chants.

In 2002, I had 12 colonies. In 2010 I have 12 colonies. I haven’t always had 12 colonies. In 2003 I had 0. They all died of American foulbrood.

Though the coming year, I am going to reveal my amazing colony management secrets to my reader. That’s you Bob. Thanks.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


My February issue of Bee Culture arrived today. I showed my wife a picture of the Bee Girls (I haven't read the article yet, so I'm not sure what they do, but I had met one of them at the August EAS convention. "I pointed her out to Nancy, "I had lunch with that one."
"Oh?" she raised her eyebrows. It's the same expression I associate with a cat's twitching tail. "When was that?"
"At EAS. Don't blame me. I can't help being a girl magnet. I was just eating and she came and sat down at my...at our...table. There were several other people there, but I'm pretty sure she wanted to talk to me. People always ask for my advice on bee problems."
Speaking of Bee Culture magazine, Read the back page column—Portrait of an Artist as an old Man.