Thursday, March 31, 2016

First Colony Extraction of the Year

Today I drove to Wellsville to remove a honey bee colony from a house. It was built in the 1820s and with 200 years of additions the inside was like a maze. Even worse was the inside of the walls. I crawled around the attic for awhile then found a likely stain inside an upstairs closet. Drilling two holes into the stain yielded nothing. It was a water leak. The drill bit came out of the 3rd hole with wax and honey on it. That was the wall. I opened the wall and almost not bees came out, until I removed the first comb.
 There is the drill hole in the center of the picture next to the stud. When I cut that comb out, about fifty bees boiled out, orbited the closet light bulb for awhile and then found their way to the window. I had to reach into a 4 inch gap and cut out chunks of comb, all the while wondering where the brood nest was. The farther I cut, the less bees until the cavity was cleared of comb.

No bees at all, not even a dead cluster—just lots of honey. Well, "lots" is a relative term. The total yield of hive contents came to approximately 40 lbs, lots more than I would expect in spring. The bees came from nearby colonies and were harvesting the combs. 

The homeowner took about ten lbs of honeycomb so I know they hadn't sprayed a pesticide into the nest. I've already taken one order for wild comb honey. The crystallized combs will go into a giant double boiler and I'll sell it as "wild honey"after liquefying and straining it.
   Where did the bees go? Possibly uploaded into a flying saucer, possibly a honey bee rapture. Most likely they started dwindling in the fall until there weren't enough bees to cluster, although there should have been some dead bees somewhere. There always are in my dead  colonies.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bees living in a barrel

Colonies shouldn't last more than a two or three years without mite treatments. This barrel has been next to my apiary for 3 1/2 years and it's still not dead. I didn't hive them last year because they should have died out. So I'll transfer them to a hive in April. The barrel is falling apart so I was able to lift the lid and look inside. Not too many bees but they're bringing in pollen so there must be brood in there somewhere.

You can see the bung hole from both inside and out.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

What you missed by skipping the Geneva Bee Conference

The Geneva Bee Conference ( is held once a year at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva, NY. I've attended almost every year usually as a vender. This year I just sat and listened.
First, a record number of Steuben County Honeybee Association members attended—3.  The conference was sold out, meaning all the seats in the auditorium were full. But wait! Not everyone who paid actually came, so there were lots of empty seats. That’s good fact of human nature to file away, for next time. Always have pay-in-advance registration, and then allow in the last minute people if there is room.

2. Staying seated for a whole day can be painful, but the seats were padded and the back rests flexed so you could shift a bit.

3. Your $25 fee included free coffee, tea, and pastries.

4. Mike Palmer has presented his talks in Australia and the United Kingdom and both are available on YouTube. Type his name into the search bar and you can have the GBC experience in the privacy of your own home.  I’d already watched them twice so it was review for me. Even after watching the presentation 3 times, by the end I feel confused. You remove queens from nucs, but you need new queens to replace them and you need hives in which to place new queens or queencellsandyoushouldhaveremovedqueensthedaybeforefromthehives… Anyways, there is lots of good information. The take away is a quote he borrowed from someone: “All beekeeping problems can be solved by either putting something into or taking something out of a nuc.” I thought Mike had developed his techniques by reading the nineteenth century bee writers, but surprise! He developed them independently, thought he had discovered something radical and new and then, leafing through Fifty Years among the Bees, discovered it had all been done before.  

5. Dr. Tom Seeley talked about his research on the wild bees of the Arnot Forest near Ithaca. Again, his presentation is available on YouTube. Two takeaways: First the population of wild colonies is approximately the same as before the mites came and we all assumed the wild colonies had been wiped out. Second, as a youth Seeley had pinned a bunch of bees in the 1970s and by genome sequencing those and the modern Arnot forest bees, surprise! There had been a big gene shift indicating a population drop and then a recovery. The wild bee genes indicate a mix of Italian, Black bee, Carniolan, and Middle Eastern and even some African genes.
6. There were also presentations on bee nutrition, mead making, dealing with pests, and labelling honey.

7. I’d say the really big climax of the day, not counting the bad bee puns that the masters of ceremonies filled in with, is the free refrigerator magnet with the date of next year’s Geneva Bee Conference—March 18th, 2017.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Feeding a late fall swarm

A swarm moved into our building in September. Since most late swarms don't survive the winter, it wasn't worth moving them into a hive. They did barely survive, at least until now. Here they are on March 7—just a small cluster and almost no food. With nuc colonies and packages costing over $100, it seems cost effective to give them a little extra care. I've added a Boardman feeder. It took them two days to notice it. Later I'll transfer them to a hive. When I fix the siding, I'll leave an entrance to the old cavity which will act as a bait hive for wandering swarms.

Feeding bees

On March 7, I checked the hives. Two were almost out of food. The easiest way to feed is to dump sugar on the inner cover and shim up the telescoping cover so the bees have room to walk.