You may be called to come out and get the bees from someone’s water source. I get a few calls now and then. In the Spring they want beekeepers to come get them off the bushes. In the Summer it’s bird baths and swimming pools. Here’s a typical response I offered a gentleman who reported 20 or so bees coming to his garden pond. He was able to track them towards a wooded area close by:
“Yes sir, we have a member over that way. I doubt they are his bees as usually the bees will find the closest water source and use it exclusively. I see between the two of you there are lots of water ponds the bees would have to fly over to get the mile or so to you.
There really is no way to round up bees coming to a floral source or water. A colony of bees this time of year might have about 30,000 or more bees so 20 is just a few. Also, the queen has to be captured in order for a colony to survive. Otherwise it’s certain death for the workers captured. They have no way to reproduce without the queen and the lifespan of a worker is about 6 weeks.
Take comfort in the fact that only 1 in 6 colonies in the wild survive the winter. That means they will most likely be gone next Spring. In the meantime, also know that honey bees only sting in defense of their hive unless harassed. My mother in law lives with me and sits on our front porch where we too have a garden pond. She has come to enjoy the hum of the bees coming and going to the water source. By Fall they will stop coming and start settling down for the winter. In the Spring they have all the fluids they want in the way of nectar. So this is the only time of year they come to water sources.”
All beekeeping is local. These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina. During May the nectar flow settles in, providing a steady influx of nectar keeping the bees busy. Robbing is minimal as food is plentiful. The bees are typically gentle and easy to work. Populations continue to grow and the beekeeper needs to be mindful of space management or else swarming may occur. Weather in the Midlands has stabilized with few surprises and the bees continue to fly longer and longer hours each day.
New beekeepers, starting nucleus hives or packages, may find that during a strong nectar flow their bees will no longer take sugar syrup. By now they have developed a foraging force of their own and nature’s food is preferred over sugar syrup. Continue to encourage them to build comb at least until they complete the brood chamber hive body and food chamber hive body. After they have completed those boxes, it is your decision whether to continue to feed or hope to capture some real honey in the first honey super.
1) Add space as needed during first part of month. There is still a month of nectar flow left to be gathered and your bees should be at maximum foraging force.
2) Manage space within the hive in population expanding situations as well as declining population situations. If a hive appears weak in population, or is not active, then investigate. (Colony population should be growing this time of year. If the colony population appears declining, investigate. Do not allow too much unguarded space inside the hive if the colony weakens, swarms, or declines.
3) Plan on checks every week and no longer than every two weeks.
4) Swarm season continues but is lessened. Continue to watch for swarms.
5) Continue to check for queen cells – make splits if swarm cells observed. Have an extra hive body, a five frame “nuc” box, or some other means to collect a swarm or to hive a split.
6) Monitor for disease. Assess varroa mites levels. Temperatures this month will allow wax moths to set up shop in weak hives – kept your hive volume and colony population appropriate (this is what we refer to as “a strong hive.”
7) Honey supers above the feed chamber that are filled may be removed or left in place until the end of the nectar flow but no longer. Provide super space with drawn comb if available for bees to deposit nectar to ripen.
8) Notice Blackberries in bloom. Tulip poplar in bloom. Then Honeysuckle, Dandelion, Privet Hedge, Confederate Jasmine, Persimmon.
9) Add additional space conservatively toward end of month. Remove capped honey, as nectar flow lessens to encourage the bees to fill the open cells, remove moisture, and cap.
11) Email your local club Secretary asking what you can do to help, or volunteer to lend a hand in your organization. Many hands make light work. If you’d like to see your organization grow as well as offer and maintain your current level of member services your help is needed.
The above are general guidelines for the average bee colony in the Midlands of South Carolina. We all have hives that may be outperforming the average. We also have colonies that underperform the average. Use your judgement in making changes suggested here. Beekeeping is an art as well as a science. Only you know the many, many particulars associated with your physical hives as well as the general health and population of your colonies.
Charles Frederich Muth was born in Germany, April 23, 1834 to Charles F. and Carolina (Schmith) Muth. He had a brother August and a sister Carolina. August passed away in 1890 and by 1894 Carolina had married Ernest Oberheu of the Eagle Insurance Company in Cincinnati.
Charles was educated in Germany and at the age of nineteen (1853) he arrived in Cincinnati. There he clerked for three years in the grocery of S.H. Frank at the corner of Vine and Canal streets. He spent a few years in Minnesota and Kansas, engaged principally in land speculation. Upon his return to Cincinnati (1860), he established a grocery until 1883. The grocery store changed and carried the name Charles F. Muth & Sons, dealers in seeds, honey, beeswax and apiarian supplies.
Muth Honey Jars – Since square jars were listed in the Root catalog in 1879 and the name of the grocery store changed in 1883, the earliest muth jars were made between 1879 to 1883. There were only a few glass companies at this time that made the square “pickle and horseradish” jars. They were Illinois Glass of Alton, Illinois, K.G.B. in Steubenville, Ohio, Whitall Tatum & Co. of Millville, N.J., and a couple of unlisted manufacturers such as” Z” and “C.C.S.”
Charles Muth died May 16th 1898 and is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, OH
Source and for full article including other Muth inventions: Bee Culture Magazine, July 2017
Another interesting article by Emma Craib’s on her blog can be read Here.
Let’s say you were going to open a new business and wanted to hit the market with a bang on day one of shopping season – say black Friday or whatever. You’d have to start preparing for that day ahead of time. How far ahead of time? You really don’t want to hire employees too soon and not have anything for them to do for months. Instead you want to hire them just enough ahead of time to get them oriented to their new jobs, well trained, and ready to service mobs of customers exactly on your Grand Opening date.
The same applies to your honey bees. Grand Opening date is the day the nectar flow begins in earnest. We can never know exactly when that date is as nature deals us a slightly different set of circumstances each year. But seasoned beekeepers in your area can give you a good estimate of the date nectar flow begins and ends in your area. Your job, as the beekeeper, is to have a full staff of employees ready and trained to gather that nectar starting on day one of the season. You’ll also have to worry about employee retention and expansion over the course of the nectar season. Finally, you’ll have to curb hiring as the season diminishes so that you’re not squandering resources on employees that will never gather nectar.
Here in the Midlands of South Carolina most seasoned beekeepers recognize the beginning of the spring nectar flow as April 1st. This year it appears to be running behind schedule. For the purpose of this article we’ll say April 1st and you can adjust for your location and observations. A 3 week old foraging bee available to work on April 1st has already graduated through the various stages of nurse bee, house bee, wax producer, etc. Prior to that she spent 21 days as an egg, larva, and pupae. So exactly when did you need your queen to lay that egg to produce that foraging bee available for work on April 1st? Bee math tells us she needed to lay that egg on approximately February 14. This is easy to remember as it is Nicolai Nasonov’s birthday. But wait, if the queen lays 1,200 eggs per day and does so on February 14 that results in 1,200 foraging bees on April 1st – but we want more than 1,200 bees don’t we? No worries, she didn’t go from 0 to 1,200 in one day. Instead, she’s been increasing her output since the winter solstice. But my point is February is critical for the beekeeper to stimulate production if he or she wants to have a full staff of foraging bees to get the job done in a manner that produces excess honey.
The same math can be used to determine when to start curtailing hiring new employees (bees) during the nectar flow. Our Midlands nectar flow ends approximately June 1st – a brief 2 months from its start date. An egg laid on April 19th will become a foraging bee on June 1st. That’s simply too late to contribute to nectar gathering. But that same bee will eat as much as any other bee in the hive and required the same amount of nutrition and work to create. Now here’s the dilemma, that colony is going to be in full tilt workaholic mode during the course of the nectar flow. It’s all hands on deck and as long as nectar is coming through the front door the queen will continue to lay eggs. The colony will continue to build and build bees because they have all the resources to do so. And the summer solstice isn’t until June 21st so that’s of no help. If you’re still hiring bees after April 19th you’re setting yourself up for having to feed those non-productive bees during the remainder of the nectar flow as well as the coming summer dearth. That means less excess honey for you.
What’s a beekeeper to do? A couple ideas might be to use that nectar flow time after April 19th to create a brood break by caging the queen. This would benefit the colony by reducing mite count via a brood break. A second option might be re-queening your hive allowing for a brood break. Moving your queen across the yard and allowing them to requeen would provide an almost perfect 25 or so days with out new brood. (Your queen across the yard is your failsafe.) Another option might be to “steal” frames of brood and get an early start on summer splits. The number of cells in a deep frame is around 7,000 although there is honey and pollen taking up some of the cells. Nevertheless, taking a frame of open brood, a frame of closed brood, and a frame of honey will hardly set an expanding colony back much and should result in an increase in your honey yield due to fewer mouths to feed. Plus you’ll get another colony, a new queen, a break in mite production, and a backup colony should anything go wrong in the fall. And with the nectar flow still in progress everything goes easier – wait until dearth comes and the same tasks will be much more difficult.
I’ll end here. Tending bees is a lesson in looking forward.
Stephen Taber III. (17 April 1924 – 22 May 2008) was an American apiologist, noted authority and author in the field of artificial insemination of queen bees for the purpose of developing disease resistant and gentle bee colonies.
Mr. Stephen Taber III, was a world-recognized honey bee researcher. He was born on April 17, 1924, to Dr. Stephen Taber II and Bessie Ray Taber of Columbia, S.C. His father was the South Carolina State Geologist from 1912 to 1947 and the head of the Department of Geology at the University of South Carolina, where he was involved in the engineering of the Santee Cooper Dam among many other projects.
Steve became interested in bees at an early age, using the banks of the Broad River in Columbia as his research yard. Steve’s first commercial beekeeping experience was in 1941 in upstate New York where he worked one summer making $30 a month. He continued working in NY and later Wisconsin where he claimed to have learned much of the basics of beekeeping.
He graduated from University High School in Columbia, SC in 1942 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an Aviation Cadet in October that same year. While serving in the Navy, he taught beekeeping as a sideline job at several local universities. Steve was later honorably discharged from the Navy in September 1945 after the end of World War II. After the Navy, Steve attended the University of Wisconsin. In 1950, he graduated from the University of WI in Madison, with a Bachelor of Science, specializing in Bee Research under the tutelage of Professor C.L. Farrar.
His first position was with the Entomology Research Division of USDA as an assistant to Dr. O. Mackenson in Baton Rouge, La. This is where he met his longtime friend Murray S. Blum. It was during this time that Steve pioneered the use of instrumental (artificial) insemination, undertaking some of the first seminal and biochemical investigations carried out with invertebrate spermatozoa.
After 15 years in Baton Rouge, he was transferred to the USDA Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, where, in his words, “I was my own instructor.” Steve traveled extensively teaching, lecturing, and researching.
Some of his students are leaders in the world of beekeeping research today. His book, Breeding Super Bees, will attest to some of his research and his studies around the world. His articles and research publications are still being referenced by honey bee researchers worldwide. Articles written by Steve, and his collaborative efforts with others, appeared in numerous publications for more than 50 years. They include American Bee Journal, Gleanings in Bee Culture, Journal of Economic Entomology, Journal of Apicultural Research and Beekeepers Quarterly.
From his obituary:
“The life and legacy of Steve Taber is one that will remain in the hearts of those who knew him. His knowledge and mannerisms have molded the lives of all those he touched. He will never be forgotten.
One of his students writes: “Taber was the most brilliant and wonderfully eccentric bee researcher, ever. He also was the best teacher; he made us question everything we knew or took for granted, and then transformed those questions into creative and constructive research problems – all while teasing and yelling and laughing wildly and free.”
Happy Birthday ~ Moses Quinby, April 16, 1810
Moses Quinby is known as the “Father of Commercial Beekeeping in the United States,” Among his innovations in beekeeping, he is credited with the invention of the modern bee smoker with bellows. He is also the author of the book Mysteries of Bee-Keeping Explained (1853). At his peak, he kept over 1200 hives of bees.
Moses Quinby was born April 16, 1810, in Westchester Co.,N. Y. While a boy he went to Greene Co., and in 1853 from thence to St. Johnsville, Montgomery Co., N. Y., where he remained till the time of his death, May 27, 1875.
Mr. Quinby was reared among Quakers, and from his earliest years was ever the same cordial, straightforward, and earnest person. He had no special advantages in the way of obtaining an education, but he was an original thinker, and of that investigating turn of mind which is always sure to educate itself, even without books or schools. When about twenty years old he secured for the first time, as his own individual possession, sufficient capital to invest In a stock of bees, and no doubt felt enthusiastic in looking forward hopefully to a good run of “luck” in the way of swarms, so that he could soon “take up” some by the aid of the brimstone-pit. But “killing the goose that laid the golden egg” did not commend itself to his better judgment, and he was not slow to adopt the better way of placing boxes on the top of the hive, with holes for the ascent of the bees, and these boxes be improved by substituting glass for wood in the sides, thus making a long stride in the matter of the appearance of the marketable product. With little outside help, but with plenty of unexplored territory, his investigating mind had plenty of scope for operation, and he made a diligent study of bees and their habits. All the books he could obtain were earnestly studied, and everything taught therein carefully tested. The many crudities and inaccuracies contained in them were sifted out as chaff, and after 17 years’ practical experience in handling and studying the bees themselves as well as the books, he was not merely a bee-keeper but a bee-master; and with that philanthropic character which made him always willing to impart to others, he decided to give them, at the expense of a few hours’ reading, what had cost him years to obtain, and in 1853 the first edition of Mysteries of Beekeeping Explained made its appearance. Thoroughly practical in character and vigorous in style, it at once won its way to popularity. From the year 1853, excepting the interest he took in his fruits and his trout-pond, his attention was wholly given to bees, and he was owner or half-owner of from 600 to 1200 colonies, raising large crops of honey. On the advent of the movable frame and Italian bees, they were at once adopted by him, and in 1862 he reduced the number of his colonies, and turned his attention more particularly to rearing and selling his Italian bees and queens. In 1865 he published a revised edition of his book, giving therein the added experience of 12 years. He wrote much for agricultural and other papers, his writings being always of the same sensible and practical character. The Northeastern Bee-keepers’ Association, a body whose deliberations have always been of importance, owed its origin to Mr. Quinby, who was for years its honored president—perhaps it is better to say its honoring president, for it was no little honor, even to so important a society, to have such a man as president. In 1871 Mr. Quinby was president of the N. A. B. K. A.
It Is not at all impossible that the fact that so many intelligent beekeepers are found in New York is largely due to there being such a man as Mr.Quinby in their midst. The high reverence in which he was always held by the bee-keepers, particularly those who knew him best, says much, not only for the bee-master, but for the man.
On the occasion of the first meeting of the Northeastern Society, after the death of Mr. Quinby, Capt. J. E. Hetherington said in his address, in a well-merited eulogium on Mr. Quinby: “Of the great amount of gratuitous labor performed by him, to advance the science of bee culture, the fraternity as a whole will never know, nor can they realize the information imparted to the numbers who flocked to see him personally, especially in the busy season…
“His life has been in every sense a life of usefulness and not wholly devoted to the interests of bee culture, for he took it living interest in any movement he thought would benefit society : and as an advocate and helper in the temperance work he did no mean service. He possessed true kindness of heart, and regarded it as a religious duty to make all better and happier with whom he came in contact, and regarded that life a failure that did not leave the world the better for having lived.
Birth: April 14th, 1846
Death: June 3rd, 1918
Gilbert M. Doolittle (1846-1918) was a 19th-century apiarist and author considered to be the father of commercial queen rearing. His book Scientific Queen-Rearing: As Practically Applied (Thomas G. Newman: Chicago, 1888) was reissued over several editions.
Doolittle also wrote several brochures on beekeeping, and submitted regular articles to Gleanings in Bee Culture over many years. His involvement coincided with a great expansion of beekeeping knowledge in the United States.
From the Online Books Page: Online books by Gilbert M. Doolittle:
Bee biologist Harry Hyde Laidlaw Jr. (1907-2003), known as “the father of honey bee genetics,” served on the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty from 1947 until his retirement in 1974. Long after his retirement, however, the professor continued his research and outreach programs, publishing his last scientific paper at age 87 and his last book at 90. He died at age 96 at his home in Davis.
Childhood and Career Development
Born April 12, 1907 in Houston, Harry spent his boyhood and teen years in the Southeast: Virginia, Florida and Louisiana. In his childhood, he developed a keen interest in bee breeding and worked with his grandfather, Charles Quinn. They experimented with mating queen bees and control breeding and developed what became known as the Quinn-Laidlaw hand-mating method.
In 1929, while working in Baton Rouge, Laidlaw was encouraged by his boss to attend Louisiana State University. He completed his master’s degree in entomology in 1934 from Louisiana State University and received his doctorate in genetics and entomology form the University of Wisconsin in 1939. Two years later he was inducted into the U.S. Army, commissioned. and served as the Army entomologist for the First Service Command in Boston. There he met Ruth Collins, whom he married in 1946. They lived in New York City where he worked as a civilian entomologist for the Army. His career with the UC Davis Department of Entomology began in 1947.
Laidlaw is best known for developing artificial insemination technology for honey bees. His contributions enabled selective breeding of honey bees and pioneered the fundamental study of insect genetics. He authored numerous scientific publications and four books on honey bee genetics and breeding.
Laidlaw studied pests and diseases and conducted research on the breeding of queen bees and on re-queening bee colonies. His research on artificial insemination of bees inspired poet E.B. White to write a poem, “Song of the Queen Bee,” published in the New Yorker magazine in 1945. It included the lines “What boots it to improve a bee, if it means an end to ecstasy.”
Laidlaw received national and international awards for his research and service to the university, agriculture and the beekeeping industry. He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955, and the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in 1991. At UC Davis, he was the first associate dean for research (1969) in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The College of Ag selected him for its Award of Distinction in 1997.
Laidlaw was awarded the Western Apiculture Society’s “Outstanding Service to Beekeeping” award in 1980, being cited as “one of the great scientists in American agriculture.” In 1981 he won the C.W. Woodworth Award of the Pacific Branch of the ESA.
Laidlaw published his classic text Queen Rearing in 1950, in collaboration with J. E. Eckert. He published his last book, Queen Rearing and Bee Breeding, written in collaboration with Robert Page, former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, in 1997
Although retired, in 1980-85, he established a honey bee breeding program for the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture as part of a joint UC-Egypt agricultural development program.
Naming of Laidlaw Facility
In 2001, the Bee Biology Laboratory at UC Davis was renamed the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility. Local artist and sculptor Donna Billick and entomologist-artist Diane Ullman designed the sign at the facility.
Source: Harry H. Laidlaw Papers from the UC Davis Special Collections
Biographical materials, correspondence, writings, research materials, course materials, printed materials, memorabilia, photographs.
Upper entrances. Increasing efficiency of nectar delivery to the hive means more honey stored. George Imirie developed a shim to add entrances between boxes. This is an upgraded version and the idea came to me from a friend. An advantage over Imirie’s design is the space between boxes is reduced to 3/8″ thereby reducing burr comb. I modified the measurements and added reducers.
Additional benefits include:
-They allow upper access and reduce travel across the brood nest possibly decreasing brood nest congestion and swarming. -They add ventilation.
-They cut down traffic across the brood to the honey supers allowing better access thus some think an increase in honey stores.
-If doing comb honey they cut down staining
– And if using an excluder it may help encourage storing in the supers.
Cost is less than a buck each.
Read more about my upper entrances here: Goals in Beekeeping and Upper Entrance
Congestion. A topic I repeatedly misunderstand. And, in all likelihood I remain confused. Congestion, which leads to swarm behavior.
I used to think congestion was not enough room within the hive to comfortably house all of the bees. Kinda like when your cousin comes to town with his 6 kids and stays for a week. Apparently this is in error. Adding an empty box with foundation may help a little because the wax producing aged bees may go up and draw some wax but that’s not it, really. I mean your cousin’s kids are still holed up in your bathroom even if you make them sleep on the back porch. With my cousin’s kids it’s not congestion in the house, it’s congestion in my bathroom. With the bees it’s not congestion in the hive, it’s congestion in the brood nest.
So, I’ve read about opening up the brood nest with an empty frame. I tried this a few years ago (2015) only I couldn’t bear to place an empty frame in there so I placed a frame with foundation. Mistake again. Placing a frame of foundation only split the brood nest up causing more problems rather than helping.
So a couple years ago (2016) I thought maybe it’s time for me to switch to nine frames since I have drawn comb now. That has to be more “open” right? Turns out I got it wrong again. What this would do is reduce the number of frames for bees to hang out making them more likely to be crowded on each frame.
Okay, so what I understand now, I think, is (how can I really know anything when it comes to bees?) that it is nurse bee congestion in the brood area, not bee congestion. And it is not simply too many nurse bees. I mean it IS too many nurse bees, but more importantly it is unemployed nurse bees in the brood nest. The nurse bees are getting in each other’s way. There is an overabundance of out-of-work nurse bees for the amount of work available. It’s like ladies night and there are only 4 guys in the bar.
So, what does a colony do when it has too many nurse bees, which also happen to be coming into wax creating age? Swarm, that’s what.
So how do we reduce their unemployment and keep them in the hive? Give them work. 1) Add drawn comb in the brood area for the queen to lay in, producing more work space and more employment opportunities for nurse bees as well as spreading them out (reducing congestion). 2) Also add drawn comb above the brood nest for the bees to store nectar in thereby reducing the tendency to backfill the brood nest with nectar.
All this adding of drawn comb into critical areas promotes more work space, egg laying, and work opportunities also creates some disruption in the hive, something I consider beneficial during the period the bees are contemplating swarming. It may also allow for Queen pheromone to be more equally distributed amongst the workers which satisfies another swarm theory.
This worked for me last year so I’m going to confirm by trying it again this year. Good luck with your bees!
Why did my bees die?
This is a question often asked and sometimes difficult to answer. The beekeeper looking at a dead colony is left with clues that can sometimes indicate the cause of death. More often though the beekeeper looks at the “crime scene” and makes an incorrect assumption. We’ve all heard it, “Wax moths killed my bees.” or “They got robbed.” or Small hive beetles killed them.” Most often though these are the results of problems that were missed or not addressed earlier.
I like murder mysteries. And, like in murder mysteries, what kills the bees isn’t always the most obvious suspects. It’s not the one the mystery writer wants you to initially think it is. After all what fun would that be? Instead the beekeeper must use some logic in backtracking the history of the colony to solve the mystery. Many times the downward spiral started some time back and we missed it before it lead up to wax moths, robbing, small hive beetles, or other maladies.
This past winter I had a 9% overwinter loss coming into the spring buildup. All in all, in today’s world of beekeeping that’s pretty good. Early in this season’s buildup, in February, I rotated boxes as a swarm prevention technique. I noted that a particular row of hives were not building up as fast as my other hives. As I rotated the hive bodies I inspected and found that they were all queen-right though so I just chalked the slow buildup up to “one of those unexplained things.”
That row of thirteen colonies coming into spring lost six colonies AFTER that first box rotation of spring. All of my other colonies continued to grow and expand. Granted the ones lost were not the strongest but they had queens (I saw them). How were these different than the ones that were thriving? Time to put on my detective hat. They were unique in that they are all on same row, were not taken down in size last fall (I just ran out of energy), and had older queens. So what killed them? I don’t know but I suspect the stress of the box rotation on an already stressed colony. How were they already stressed? Why did they not build up like the other areas in my bee yard? Thinking about the differences: this group had older queens, larger hives usually have/maintain higher mite counts, and were in an isolated row in the bee yard. I don’t know exactly which stressor was the largest but I suspect some or all of the above come into play.
Now my overall losses were at 27% instead of the 9% prior to this event and most likely because I failed to reduce size, monitor this row for Varroa better, and not re-queen in the fall. Which exactly? Beekeepers always want to know which one is the culprit. I don’t know. Maybe it was multiple stressors and not just one. But I do have some excellent suspects! Regardless of which stressor killed these colonies I failed to do that which a good steward should have done for these bees. Ultimately it’s on me.
So, after writing the above I was further pondering the possibilities while making up some sugar syrup, and I was thinking about the stressors and it came to me what killed those colonies. Distilling it down to a single element – laziness. I should have taken those hives down to 2 boxes post nectar flow last summer. I should have monitored Varroa better in that row instead of assuming it would be the same as the newer hives in other areas. And I should have re-queened as would have happened easily if I had made splits last year when I should have taken them down in size. My laziness killed those colonies. So there, I came up with a single cause, identified the culprit, and solved the mystery!
It won’t happen again. Maybe something else but not this.
Birth: March 29, 1896
Death: November 1, 1977
Inventor of the Cobana round comb honey sections, later to become “Ross Rounds.”
The modern round plastic section appeared in 1954. It was called “Cobana” and seems to have been designed by a Pennsylvanian beekeeper named Dr. Wladyslaw Zbikowski, a retired physician.
From Badbeekeeping blog of 2010: The gentleman who receives the credit for the modern invention, a retired physician from (get ready) western Pennsylvania designed the round section device which he called Cobanas in 1954. Dr. Wladyslaw Zbikowski (1896-1977) was born in Beaver Falls, PA, but educated in Russia and Poland. He started keeping bees in 1953, after retiring from medicine. Dr Zbikowski made the modern plastic round section the very next year. http://www.badbeekeeping.com/beeblog2010.htm
More on rounds sections here: http://www.dave-cushman.net/bee/sectionsround.html
This time of year, in my truck, I keep a deep 10 frame Langstroth box with 10 frames installed, screened bottom board, inner cover, and either migratory or telescoping top. And a ratchet strap to hold it all together for transportation. The entrance reducer is either closed or I replace it with #8 hardware cloth folded in a “U” shape. I also have ready for quick loading a swarm bucket with attachable telescoping painters pole and a ladder.
Additional, sometimes useful, items I usually have on hand include: A queen clip, a spray bottle of imitation almond extract, small and large limb pruners, and a spray bottle of sugar water to spray them with before the shake.
Turn your telephone on with volume up this time of year. You need to ask how high. If they say “not too high” ask what that means. Head height? Taller than two men, etc. How large is the cluster – baseball? soccer ball? or basketball? Are they in a bush or tree? If they say they are flying around their front porch ask if they are clustered? (yes, people call because their ornamental holly is blooming and attracting bees). After you determine they indeed have a honey bee swarm and not miner bees, yellow jackets, or carpenter bees, get the address and get there soon.
When you return home with your swarm now in your equipment let them settle down for a couple hours before you open them and insert a frame of open brood from another hive. This will typically lock them to the hive (remember they didn’t choose your hive as their preferred cavity). One final item is to place a feeder on them. They will want to draw comb and it takes carbohydrate to do so. You can get some fantastic drawn comb in a short amount of time from a swarm. Then open the entrance to let them fly and orient to their new home.
Here’s another method used called the queen’s throne. It uses a frame of brood or brood comb to lure the bees into the bucket. In the video he is capturing bees at a school yard and wants to minimize flying bees.
Add any tricks you have below.
The varnishing of cells?
Where does this get a mention? It’s in the study notes..
They asked lots of people too.
In Ribbands, Chapter 27, Huber (1814) observed that new combs become more yellow, more pliable stronger and heavier and sometimes there were reddish threads on the inner walls. Chemical tests showed this was propolis.
Source: Uses of propolis
This week reports of swarms have increased indicating that swarm season has started in earnest. The flood of calls has yet to begin but will start soon. This picture, from last year shows a swarm capture utilizing my friend Dave’s combination arborist’s tree tool and a homemade bucket with paint strainer modification. These bees were about 28 feet up.
In the US, those interested in catching swarms should visit Bees on the Net which lists beekeepers willing to go out and retrieve swarms in their area.
It’s time to start enjoying your bees!
Do you like to watch behavior? Are you itching for more during this “leave ’em alone” period of time after package installation? Okay here’s your treat. Recently a friend, posted a positive review about a book link she had read titled, “At the Hive Entrance” by H. Storch. It was one of my favorites when I started beekeeping. And it’s something you can do now – watch the hive entrance. Just place your chair off to the side of the front entrance about 6 or 8 ft. away and watch. After a few days you’ll start to see the routine of the bees. You’ll notice different pollens coming in on different days. Some days they’ll almost jump into the air on takeoff and zoom in on landings. Other days they’re a little slow. You’ll start to relate this to the temperatures, the flow, the season, and other things. You’ll get a feeling for the range of normal behavior (which also varies depending on seasons). In time, you’ll also notice behavior that’s not their norm which may necessitate an inspection. Which brings up the single warning about enjoying this book – it is only one factor in your assessment – entrance observation. If it looks like something unusual you may have to open them up to take a look. Enjoy.
Ebook is available via: Brecknock and Radnor Beekeeping Association
I’ve been very busy lately preparing for the upcoming nectar flow and have been neglectful of Beekeeping365. For that I apologize. But after daily work in the barn and the bee yard I have had a few moments to read some each day. This week I’ve spent my free moments reading Scientific Queen Rearing by Gilbert M. Doolittle. Written in 1889, it’s subtitle reads:
“Scientific queen-rearing as practically applied; being a method by which the best of queen-bees are reared in perfect accord with nature’s ways. For the amateur and veteran in bee-keeping.”
As I have read the book I can’t help but be impressed with the tenacity of Mr. Doolittle. It appears as though he rarely allowed himself to wallow in defeat. One instance of frustration is mentioned in the book whereby he goes home without success in a particular endeavor, the bees behavior having defeated him it would seem. But he rallies and in the next paragraph explains how he awoke the next morning with a new and fresh idea ready to try again.
Relentlessly he overcame difficulties and in the end gave us the product of his efforts which serve queen breeders to this day. I recommend reading his short book, Scientific Queen Rearing, to increase one’s knowledge on the subject but also as a lesson in perseverance.
The book can be found in its entirety here: Scientific Queen Rearing by Gilbert M. Doolittle
The Bee-keeper’s Manual,
Practical Hints On The Management And Complete Preservation Of The Honey-Bee;
With A Description Of The Most Approved Hives, And Other Appurtenances Of The Apiary.
This review was long due. “Review” would be a misplaced word here. How do you do a critical appraisal of a beekeeping manual written 166 years ago? A technical know-how book is hardly a thing of leisure reading, unless you have an inherent interest in the particular field. I don’t even do beekeeping; neither do I fancy myself taking up this occupation in the future. But this is precisely what is appealing about Henry Taylor’s The Bee-keeper’s Manual. To read the book, you don’t need to have an interest in beekeeping, just a healthy appetite for curiosity.
My curiosity in the subject of beekeeping was sparked when I read Neil Gaiman’s The Case of Death and Honey. Right after reading Gaiman’s Sherlock Holmes short story, I found The Bee-keeper’s Manual while browsing Project Gutenberg on a dull day at work. Enticed by the book’s fine Victorian woodblock illustrations (illustrator unknown) of beehives, I thought “Why the hell not?”
The Beekeeper’s Manual is about the art of beekeeping and not just the technicalities of the apiary—an occupation that needs a Zen-like dedication, for when dealing with bees, as the author says, “Entire quietness is the main requisite.”
Henry Taylor was an amateur bee-keeper extraordinaire. In his words, he took up bee-keeping to seek “occasional relaxation from weightier matters in watching over and protecting these interesting and valuable insects.” Following a friend’s request, he wrote the book as a brief practical handbook on the management of bees. The book must have been quite a success considering it went for six reprints.
Taylor starts off by introducing the poetic sounding Apis mellifica, the domesticate honeybee found in his native country, England. Although outdated to be adapted to modern times, the book covers every aspect of starting an apiary including, but not restricted to, how to deal with bee stings (in case you are attacked by a swarm of bees, stick your head into a nearby shrub). Clear and concise descriptions along with beautiful illustrations show how to construct different hives, protect the hives, manage the hives in different seasons, protect the bees from disease and predators and aid the bees in their work without annoying them.
Bees are sensible creatures. They follow a clockwork precision, yet adapt themselves to changing circumstances. Each bee has its function in the hive spelled out: build cells for the hive, nurse the larvae, lay eggs, and bring farina to make wax and honey, or impregnate the queen.
The last category of bees—the drone—is the most interesting one. The only job of the drone bee is to fertilize the queen bee. Once this is done, the drone bees are kicked out of the hive or killed. Although drastic, this is quite a practical measure from the perspective of space conservation. Additional cells are required in the hive for the larvae that the queen will lay. Also, the drone bees are pretty much useless after the breeding season, unlike the worker bee that works throughout the year. So, it is only prudent to do away with the unwanted drones than to construct new cells. Why carry the extra baggage?
During the swarming season (similar to migration session of birds), the combs in the hive are occupied by larvae. It is also the season when honey is in abundant. However, there is no room to store the collected honey. The bees can’t wait for the young ones to hatch and leave the hive. The flowers will wither and there will no honey to make. Te young bees can’t kick out too early, the brood will diminish. So how do to work around this dilemma? Although, preprogrammed by nature to work and live by a set schedule of weather, bees are clever little fellows. This is what Henry Taylor observes:
Mark the resources of the industrious bees. They search in the neighbourhood for a place where they may deposit their honey, until the young shall have left the combs in which they were hatched. If they fail in this object, they crowd together in the front of their habitation, forming prodigious clusters. It is not uncommon to see them building combs on the outside.
And they quite attached to their brood as well, especially the queen. As the queen moves around the hive, the bees show their affection by bringing their antennas in contact with the queens. She returns this gesture likewise.
She is the mother of the entire community, her office being to lay the eggs from which all proceed, whether future queens, drones, or workers. Separate her from the family, and she instinctively resents the injury, refuses food, pines and dies.
Henry Taylor’s humane perspective towards the bees makes the book a delight to read. The technicalities of beekeeping are quite extensive throughout the book. However, they are easily absorbed due to the author’s empathy towards his subject. Bees are just not the means to obtain an end product—honey and wax. They are “wonderful creatures” that teach “perfect organization and faultless adaption of means to an end, a lesson of humility; and finally, by the contemplation of their beautiful works.”
…How oft, when
Man might learn
Abbe Warré developed the popular hive based on his experience with 350 hives of different systems existing at the time as well as on the natural behaviors of the bee . In order to disseminate his works, he wrote several books: Health or the Best Treatments of All Diseases , Honey, Its Properties and Uses , Health, Guidebook for the Sick and Well- Being and especially the Most Important ‘Beekeeping for all’ , a new edition was published by Coyote in 2005. The previous edition was published in 1948.
Its goal was to obtain a hive closest to the natural conditions of the bee, while being practical for the beekeeper. He preferred to make savings rather than profits and was looking for savings instead of productivity. His hive was thus based on a small financial investment for its manufacture and its exploitation. He hoped that everyone could have a hive and harvest honey without having to equip themselves with many tools of extraction.
Happy Birthday William Woodley born at Oxford on March 9, 1846.
Source: originally written in the Obituary British Bee Journal – 25 October 1923 and presented here as found at: Beehive Yourself
From Mr. Woodley’s Obituary Notice in 1923:
Thirty years ago Mr Woodley had become famous as a bee-keeper. He specialised in sections with great success, and for years carried off the best prizes at the biggest shows. He was no jealous guarder of secrets, but for many years by his contributions to the “Bee-Keepers’ Record,” the “Berkshire Bee-Keeper;” to this journal, and occasionally to the American bee-keeping magazines he placed the advantage of his knowledge and great experience at the disposal of those who were seeking success in bee culture. Until the last he was a reader of current American bee literature, but his habit of thought saved him from the error of imagining that methods and practices that suit America are equally suitable for this country, with its different climate and flora. Years ago Mr Woodley worked over 200 stocks, and did a large business in honey and in supplying swarms of bees, many going to Scotland, where they were worked for the heather. Acarine disease robbed him of the whole of his stock, but he had began to work it up again, without any intentions, however, of going so extensively as formerly into the business.
Mr Woodley was led by his cousin to take an interest in bees. Mr A. D. Woodley’s father promised him a hive of bees, but for some time he did not accept the offer. An article in “Chambers’s Journal” which he read in 1879, and the subsequent possession of Cheshire’s “Practical Bee-Keeping,” published about that time, filled him with enthusiasm. He accepted the offer, and got his father during the Easter holidays to help him make a frame hive, into which he transferred the combs and bees. He persuaded Mr Woodley to take an interest in the bees his great-aunt kept at Beedon, and at Whitsuntide of the same year went over to Beedon and made him his first hive. This hive Mr Woodley called “Jumbo,” and it is in existence today. Mr Woodley secured some most beautiful honey in bell glasses, which were exceedingly popular in his novitiate days, and the products of his bees were soon on the show bench at the Crystal palace and elsewhere. Until disease swept away his stock Mr Woodley had been a regular exhibitor at the Royal Agricultural Show.
Read the full article originally written in the Obituary British Bee Journal – 25 October 1923 at: Beehive Yourself. There you will also be able to further explore the life and works of Mr. William Woodley.
George Demuth’s birthday was on Tuesday of this week and no doubt many of you spent the day re-reading his book titled, Swarm Control. At 36 pages it’s a quick read. Although it was published in 1921, the bees are unchanged and exhibit the same behaviors as they did then. An excerpt:
“A colony of bees that is normal and prosperous increases Its brood in the spring as its adult population increases, either until all the space available for brood rearing is occupied or until the queen reaches the maximum of her capacity In egg laying. At first only worker brood is reared but as the colony increases in strength the rearing of drone brood is begun, thus providing for male bees in anticipation of swarming. Finally, when the brood nest becomes crowded with emerging and recently emerged young bees and the combs are well filled with brood, if nectar in sufficient quantity is available, several queen cells are started and eggs are placed in them, this being the first definite preparation for swarming. About nine days from the time the eggs are laid the queen larvae have developed to the point at which the queen cells are sealed, and this is about the time the swarm usually is-sues. The exact time of the issuing of the swarm depends to some extent upon the weather, issuing sometimes being postponed by inclement weather and sometimes, especially in the case of Italian bees, being hastened by extremely hot weather. In nature there is a marked slowing down in work of the colony after the queen cells have been started preparatory to swarming, especially during the last few days previous to the issuing of the swarm, when the field workers in increasing numbers remain in the hive instead of working in the fields.
In some cases in nature the instinct to gather nectar is almost entirely subordinated for several days at this time, the swarming instinct apparently becoming dominant. In well-managed colonies this is not universally true. When the swarm issues, a varying proportion of the adult bees, together with the old queen, fly from the hive, leaving in the original hive a greatly reduced number of adult worker bees, a large number of un-emerged young bees, and several un-emerged young queens. Some of the drones accompany the swarm, but many of them remain in the hive.
After circling in the air the swarming bees form a dense cluster on some convenient support, and after an interval they break the cluster and fly to a chosen abode for the inauguration of a new colony. After establishing themselves in a new home the bees begin almost immediately to build comb, the queen begins to lay eggs, and three weeks later young bees be- gin to emerge from the cells.” Read the book here:
I had one of my bee buddies call me yesterday. He was headed out of town for a few days. He wanted to tell me how well his colonies were doing on the lower Congaree River. Booming! He had just come from inspecting them and said they were dripping out when he lifted the inner cover. He said he rotated boxes and placed a super.
My question to him was, “How much capped brood did you see?” He replied that there were multiple, multiple frames of deep frames with capped brood.
From my experience, if they have not yet started queen cells his efforts may work for a few days tops. By then they will probably start queen cells and swarm. Why? Because a deep frame of capped brood with clinging bees represents about 9000 bees (very close to a package worth). That’s 1000 of clinging bees on each side and ~3700 capped cells per side. Cappped on day 9 and emerged on day 21 means within the next 12 days all of those capped cells will emerge. That’s roughly 7000+ more bees in that brood nest per capped frame in a short period of time. One of the “events” leading to swarming is congestion of bees in the brood nest which can happen very fast this time of year. And my friend said he had multiple frames of capped brood.
Another way of thinking about this is simply that the queen is laying 1000- 1500 eggs a day. Therefore, every day 1000-1500 new bees will emerge. Probably a minimum of 7000 – 12000 per week – about a package worth of bees per week.
Why am I so concerned about all this? Well, it’s the bees end-game to swarm. Swarming = Success They started this effort back in the fall and upped their game in January. And about 4 weeks ago they started the spring buildup. Bees start final swarm preparations 2-4 weeks prior to actually leaving the parent hive. My friend’s efforts are appropriate if there were no swarm cells but his efforts will be short lived unless he takes measures to reduce congestion. And in case you were wondering, that super he placed above will do little to prevent congestion in the brood nest. Simply, nurse bees have a job to do and that job is in the brood nest which is where they want to be – not that super given to them way up above.
Those that have suffered through my presentation on swarm prevention know that swarm prevention can be divided into two phases – early and late swarm prevention. Early swarm prevention starts at the first signs of spring pollen production while night time temperatures still threaten freezing. These measures are low stress which take into account that the bees’ population is still low and unable to heat the brood if we are too aggressive and disrupt their nest too much. Low stress swarm prevention methods include hive body rotation and checkerboarding honey frames in the boxes above the brood nest.
Then there is the second phase of swarm prevention. These are interventions that we can do after the weather warms enough to allow us to disrupt the brood nest. We are able to disrupt the brood nest during this late swarm prevention period because 1) the night time temperatures are higher and 2) we now have many more bees to heat the colony and brood area. The bees can now handle the addition stressors. Manipulations which can now be done late phase to interrupt the swarm urge include opening the brood nest with drawn comb, or even foundationless frames. Another method is an early Demaree which involves moving open brood out of the brood nest and into a hive body and placing above the brood nest separated by an empty super. This will reduce brood nest congestion as the nurse bees will migrate upward to cover the open brood. Pretty disruptive but remember that congestion in the brood nest must be lessened to disrupt the urge to swarm. A final option is to simply make splits moving frames of open and closed larvae out of the brood nest and replacing those frames with drawn comb. A word of caution here, do not insert frames of foundation in the middle of the brood nest. By doing so you may create a wall further restricting the queen. The drawback of making splits instead of working within the parent hive is you are losing 9000 future foragers with every frame you take out. That’s like reducing your nectar gathering work force just before they are needed to make surplus honey.
Swarm prevention hopefully does what the name suggests – prevent swarms. So what happens if the bees beat us and start queen cells. Well, first realize they have more practice than we do at this so don’t despair. If they make queen cells they will be relentless in their efforts and more drastic measures must be used.
After queen cells are created, these measures are called Swarm Control. The easiest is to simply split them which, for the bees, seems like they swarmed. Sure you’ll lose out on a bountiful honey harvest from that colony but hey, they won the battle so make lemonade from the lemons – you get a new colony of bees anyway. Other ways of handling include the Demaree method, and several other methods all of which fool the bees into thinking they have swarmed. Google: Snelgrove, Padgen, or Taranov all of which fool the colony into thinking they have swarmed.
Worked as a Apicultural Assistant with the USDA Bureau of Entomology. Wrote many pamphlets and books on honey bees.
Commercial comb-honey production / by Geo. S. Demuth.
The temperature of the honeybee cluster in winter / by E.F. Phillips and George S. Demuth
Wintering bees in cellars / E.F. Phillips and George S. Demuth
The preparation of bees for outdoor wintering / E.F. Phillips and George S. Demuth.
Comb Honey 1917
George S. Demuth is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, Medina. Medina County, Ohio, USA
This time of year, the bees should be flying with purposeful intent, gathering pollen and looking for nectar. However, it’s also the time of year when we anticipate swarming behavior. This usually first occurs in healthy overwintered colonies a week or two prior to the start of the nectar flow (early deciduous leaf out). There will be some colonies that are ready early and some won’t be ready if ever. When you walk your bee yards notice the behavior at each hive. Just prior to swarming, there will be a lethargy on the landing board. I’ve noticed this several times over the years and only recently been able to understand why. Thanks to Jamie Ellis I now attribute this behavior to the soon to be swarming bees having engorged themselves with honey in anticipation for the coming swarm event. So, as a beekeeper this sign is your very last notice to take action if you wish to prevent losing 50 – 60% of your bees and possibly your honey crop from that colony. The choice is yours to take action then and there or risk seeing your bees take flight. Just look at those chubby bees!
This week we are talking to Joe Lewis from Maryland in the big Ol’ US of A. This is Episode Ninety Nine of our beekeeping podcast.
Hi, it’s Gary and Margaret here, We are beekeepers from the hills of the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland, New Zealand. Our podcast is about beekeeping, Gardening and bit of politics about environmental issues. We also have been known to go off on tangents about other issues.
This interview was recorded in October 2016.
Joe is a Beekeeper and writer from Bel Air, Maryland which is between Baltimore and Philadelphia in North America. He has a passion for the Honey Bees and took up the hobby after retiring from the US Army. He was self diagnosed with the “Not enough bees disease” over eleven years ago and spends his days trying to locate a cure.
Click one the video below to see a video lecture by Joe Lewis
It’s spring colony splitting time and one thing we should keep in mind as we delve into the congested and complex hive is having the correct balance of bees of various ages within the hive or split. An upset in the balance of bees’ ages upsets the proper functioning of the colony. Ex.: who’s going to clean the cells and feed the young larva if the colony goes queenless for an extended period and all of the bees have passed that stage in their adult development? Reversible? I wonder to what degree, and about the quality of work that can be expected from a bee that has passed it’s normal period for the work expected.
I’ve read below and elsewhere that there is some flexibility in the bees’ ability to move forward or backward in their age defined activities. However, the quality of the work suffers based on the bees’ physiologically ability to perform a particular task.
When making splits during the spring buildup there isn’t any difficulty finding brood of various ages so as to provide a split with a diverse population. Done well, a split hardly misses a beat and continues to grow and build effortlessly, while poorly configured splits struggle to get going and sometimes fail.
A simple diagram showing the life history of the honey bee worker.
The schedule of worker bee activities is both flexible and reversible, depending more upon physiological age than on chronological age, and is altered according to the needs of the colony. Diagram Source: Sipa Honey Bees
The rule of 72 and mite control.
The rule of 72 is a financial rule of thumb that says that 72 divided by an interest rate will tell you how long it takes for any given amount of money to double.
There are a lot of factors involved but this is also true with many other things in life. For example, we could determine a similar calculation for mites in honey bee colonies.
How is this relevant? The relevance is in the doubling effect. A financial planner will tell you to start saving early for this reason. No matter how much, or little, it matters to start early. Why? To get more doublings.
Your first year’s savings may take 7 years to double. That may be doubling from $1000 to $2000. Not much in the big picture of retirement, huh? But remember there’s another $1000 for each year you saved after your first year. And so it goes. Compounding takes effect and the total grows.
In ten years lets say you have$15,000. That $15,000 doubles in another 7 years plus any additional you have added. By the second doubling you’ll start to see the effects of compound interest.
So, here’s the kicker. By the time you are ready to retire, let’s say you have $500,000. That’s great but what if you had started 7 years earlier? Think about this. The answer is you’d have another doubling in the equation. That’s right, $1,000,000. The big One Million. Or an additional $500,000 in just seven years. Crazy huh?
And to the point of this post. A mite population has a rule of 72 which can be calculated by it reproductive rate. What does that mean when it comes to mites? It means, just like the rule of 72 and money, it isn’t the first doubling that kills the colony, it’s the last doubling. Now doesn’t this explain some things that sometimes seem unexplainable? Like sudden colony crashes and what appears to be abscondings? That last doubling is simply overwhelming. The viral load transmitted by the mites becomes unsurvivable by the bees. Of course, with bees, the rule of 72 with mites in beehives has a limiting factor – the survivability of the bees.
Bees fill voids greater than 3/8″ (1cm) with comb. When not given a guide to work with they build it according to their own liking. Hence the marvel of Hoffman frames and hive designs that encourage them to build within the design guidelines.
I made this mistake last year, discovered it, and left it until this year. Somehow I placed six shallow frames in a medium hive body located in the center brood box position. On inspection last year I realized my error when I tried to remove the frames. Oops! Since last summer I have spent many sleepless nights tossing and turning anxiously awaiting 2018 spring inspections when I hoped the box would be vacated and I could remove it. Yesterday was the day and last night I finally had a good night’s sleep. 🙂 BTW: These bees get an F for maintaining proper bee space.
(All beekeeping is local. The dates given below are guidelines for the Midlands of South Carolina. Adjust to your local area as needed.)
This time of year both beekeepers and the honey bees are working towards the same short term goals but for different reasons.
Let’s start with some bee math. We can expect a bee born this time of year to have a life expectancy of approximately 5 or 6 weeks. Of those 6 weeks only approximately 3 weeks will be spent as a forager.
We also know, based on information provided to us by our seasoned mentors, that here in the Midlands we can expect our nectar flow to begin, in earnest, around late March / early April and to last approximately until the first week of June.
To gather the greatest amount of nectar (ultimately honey) and to get the most comb drawn during that 2 month window of strong nectar flow we must have all hands on deck on day one of the nectar flow. Meaning a colony at its peak of nectar gathering abilities, fully staffed to handle the challenge of millions of blooms occuring in a short period of time. (Think of it as having enough wait staff in a restaurant just prior to dinner hour. Too few staff and things just don’t get done.)
The bees want the same thing we do at the same time. They want a full staff on day one of the nectar flow. Missing the mark and showing up with a full staff at the end of the nectar flow is useless and, in fact, a burden on the colony’s ability to feed lots of bees after the nectar is gone.
So, it seems we have a mutual goal between beekeeper and honey bee – lots of bees on day one of what amounts to their work shift.
Let’s make a best guess as to when Day One occurs based on history as given to us by our mentors and say it’s April 1st here in the Midlands. Should I run an ad in Free Times advertising for Help Wanted to help with this year’s nectar flow?
“Seasonal Help Wanted: Honey Bees to help gather nectar during this year’s nectar flow. Must be willing to travel and be in foraging phase of life.”
No, probably won’t work. But using bee math and the bees own instincts for this time of year we can determine how to get those bees. I need a three week old bee available on April 1st. Given it takes 21 days from egg to birth and then allowing for the three week age requirement for the job, I can determine that a new foraging bee on April 1st was an egg exactly 6 weeks before the nectar flow began. Also, since the queen can only lay a set amount of eggs a day – perhaps 1,200 or maybe a bit more, I had better start even before that 6 weeks if I want a FULL staff on day one of the nectar flow.
Still with me? Great because the good, and bad, parts are coming soon.
What this means for you today (Feb. 20th), is that we are just now at that date when an egg layed today will get her work permit as a 3 week old forager on the first week of April. That’s good! Another thing that’s good is the bees have already been ramping up and your queen should be a laying machine right now. What you want to do is encourage that queen and that colony to continue this egg laying, brood rearing mania, tirelessly for the next 60 days. Important: Do you know how to do this?
Now for the bad news. Your reasons for the buildup are not the same as the bees. You both want a buildup and on that point you support each other’s efforts. However, because you have different end goals you have to understand each other’s motivations if you are going to be successful partners.
I’ll try to be gentle but, you see, they (the bees) want to move out. Not all of them; just about 60% and the queen. They’re preparing now for their move. You may have thought they were building up for the nectar flow and you’re right, they are, but they see the start of the nectar flow as providing the means for a successful move. We call it a swarm; they call it reproduction. By moving out at the start of the nectar flow it gives them the best chance of building a new home and surviving.
For the beekeeper this is like half of your employees leaving just as your grand opening day presents itself. And the amount of work to be done is so great that you’ll not get it done if you lose more than half those employees (well, you’ll probably get enough for them but not you).
So, the dilemma is to convince the bees they’d actually like to stay around in their current home for just a while longer. Very Important: Do you know how to do this?
Heck, convince them that if they stay, in June you’ll actually help them move (i.e. make split).
I’m not at all convinced the warm climate we are seeing this winter is here to stay. But I’m not sure the bees agree with my weather predictions either. Watching the landing boards with foragers in full pollen collection mode and brief inspections tell me that some colonies are already in full tilt brood production.
What does this mean for the beekeeper?
Well, it means lots of excitment watching them grow at a rate that is phenomenal. By this time next month either you will have made roo…m for the extra bees and managed them for swarming or you may be looking up in the trees for half of your work force.
Or it could actually be more dire. Winter food stores up until this point may have been steadily declining at a gradual but predictable rate. So what happens when the queen starts her spring buildup, egg laying extravaganza? Well, between increased consumption of ever more house bees and foragers, plus trying to feed thousands of larvae, the food stores decline can no longer be graphed as a straight line. Now it is a sharp spike upward!
Beginning now is when the beekeeper needs to remember to lift the backs of their hives. And on those pretty days when you get into them to ooh-ahh at their numbers and beauty, look and assess for nectar stores. December and January saw a full pantry with slow, steady declines, but brood rearing brings on food demands that dwarf late fall and early winter.
And a final scare for you. It’s quite a curiosity that starved bees don’t slowly decline due to lack of food. No, for them it’s the Three Musketeers: “All for one and one for all,” meaning they’ll do down together if they run out of food. One day they are all fed, the next, well…not.
Not long ago, someone asked when we should start feeding the bees. The answer given was another question – What are your goals?
We want to building strong colonies but for what purpose? To catch the nectar flow? To make splits?, nucs?, or early pollination purposes? Each goal has a different start date.
Much of what we do with our bees involves looking forward. Last year I wrote a piece on when we should start the push towards building them up for purposes of capturing the nectar flow. I’ll bump that article to the top at a later date when it’s more relevant. Today, though, I’d like to think through another planning exercise for the beekeeper wanting to make strong splits from overwintered colonies.
I like bee math!
An experienced mentor and bee buddy of mine called me recently to ask if I wanted to order some early season queens. He caught me off guard just a bit because I really had not done my math homework for the coming splits season. Well, I’d better get hopping and decide if I’m going to order queens or make queenless splits.
And if I’m going to make spilts, when do I need to get busy?
Framing the issue:
We know from prior swarm seasons and winners of the “Golden Hive Tool Award” (given to the first captured swarm of each season) that swarming in the Midlands starts as soon as late, late February but typically early, early March and will remain strong for a month to six weeks into April then taper with an occasional spurts and sputters along the way.
We know that nature provides natural pollen and nectar for buildup in the Midlands around early to mid February (give or take). Some people see some earlier and this is climate and location dependent. So in nature we see feed for the bees a ~ month or so before swarming.
We know that the climate is still a bit dicey March 1st with occasional surprise freezes which could impact the survival of splits. I’m not sure I want to tempt Midlands weather.
March 1st looks to be an intersection between climate and colony readiness.
So, with natures help,some colonies are ready to swarm as early as ~ March 1. What constitutes being “ready?” Well, colony swarm preparations are a topic in itself but one hardwired componet is drone production. So we deduce that swarming colonies will have made drones ready to mate. I presume nature and the bees assume other colonies have done the same so as to provide some genetic diversity. But back to the point. If a colony is ready to swarm with ready drones when did they start those drones? The answer might help me as to when to start pushing buildup.
Let’s try to nail down a date to promote drone production by reviewing our bee math for drones: 3 days as an egg; 6 1/2 days as a larvae, and capped by day 10. 14 days as a pupa – 24 days. Right? Oh, but we must not forget that that drone is but a wee tot when born and needs to get to his “adolescence” to be ready for mating. That occurs after another 14 days give or take. Okay, I need to start making drones 38 days prior to making queenless splits. Right?…Wrong. Remember that if I make a split the bees will have to begin queen cells and we don’t need ready drones at the start of queen cells. We need them to coincide with the time it takes to make a queen and allow her to “harden” ready for her mating flight. Oh my, that probably negates some of my original calculations.
Nature tells me it will start making the splits for me (i.e. swarm) around March 1st. Let’s use that a date that nature chooses as the earliest date swarms are likely to survive and use subtraction to come to the date I need to start building up my hives in order to maximize my success with queenless splits. March 1st minus 38 days leaves me at January 16th. I know this date as the birthday of Johann Dzierzon, father of parthenogenesis. (In animals, parthenogenesis means development of an embryo from an unfertilized egg cell. Ain’t that a coincidence?) But, as much as I would like to start pushing for drone production on Johann’s birthday, remember I need to deduct (or add back) the time for the colony to create a mating ready queen or approximately 20 to 24 days. My head is starting to hurt. Okay, January 16 plus 24 days = February 7th (or three days before Ormond Aebi’s birthday).
Isn’t it a curiosity that my efforts at calculations results in a bunch of needless time wasting when mother nature gave me the buildup date to begin with – the bloom of Red Maples! That is, when the maples bloom is the start date when nature itself provides the necessary ingredients to maximize successful colony reproduction on a date conducive to climate and impending nectar flow. You can’t fool mother nature. I’m exhausted but it serves me right. Beekeepers should probably reply to questions like this with bloom dates rather than calendar dates.
Our swarm season has officially begun here in the Midlands of South Carolina. Beekeepers, old and new, enjoy the thrill of the chase which kicks in the excitement factor associated with gathering a swarm.
So what does it take to catch a swarm? I was doing a quick search this morning to determine the ideal swarm catchers equipment list and I was struck by a web page I stumbled upon which detailed the swarm catching of a young sixteen year old making a few bucks while providing a valuable community service during the spring swarm season. What impressed me the most was the young man’s minimalist approach to necessary gear. Basically he had a cardboard office supplies box reinforced with duct tape with a makeshift screen for ventilation on the lid. His second piece of equipment is a plant mister/sprayer with some sugar water. Otherwise he wings it.
I have been caught out without any equipment while driving around and responded to a phone call unprepared, yet the property owner and I have found a box, a ladder, and a pruning shear to successfully capture a swarm. Once home it’s easy enough to put them into a proper box.
But let’s say you really want to gather a swarm this year and would feel more comfortable having a few items in your car or truck ready to make short work of almost any situation. What items are in the swarm catcher’s essentials bag? Well, probably a standard Langstroth box with frames on a ventilated bottom board. If space in your car or truck is a concern a five frame nucleus box (wooden or cardboard) will suffice. You’ll want to be able to keep them enclosed for the drive back so use some screen or otherwise completely block the entrance. Next is a mister bottle of sugar water to wet the cluster down prior to shaking them or moving to your box. Sugar water isn’t essential but the bees will stay together nicely and it gives them something to occupy themselves with while you work with them. Other items which the homeowner may not have available: ladder, pruning shears or loppers, small handsaw, bee suit, gloves. That’s pretty much all that’s needed to handle most situations. An extra suit is nice if the homeowner wants to get involved. Often they are interested and it’s a good time to do some community education.
Here are a couple links if you’re interested in gathering swarms. And also, if you think you’d be interested join one of the online swarm call lists to have your name out there for people in your community to call. Warning: It’s addicting!
There’s lots to do in the bee yard today since mother nature has stolen at least two weeks preparation time out from under us here in the Midlands of South Carolina.
I had a few, okay maybe a half dozen, hives that were just too burr combed up in the feeding shim to properly handle than I would have have ten or more days ago. Things weren’t better today.
The first venture into the hives after winter is probably one of the most difficult and dreaded for me each year. They have burr combed up all my violations of bee space and propolized everything together such that not much goes quite as planned. Then there’s always that space between boxes where the bottom bars of the frames above become connected to the top bars of the frames below. The bees, having not been allowed much in the way of drone comb find this a great spot to build drone comb and raise spring drones. That the hives in question today had been deferred spoke to the fact that I didn’t really want to deal with them ten days ago as I should have.
But things must be handled and there’s always the knowledge that afterwards the hives are easier to work for the remainder of the season.
My first adventure today was into a well populated two story nucleus hive I overwintered. They objected somewhat but adequate smoke kept them in check while I rotated a full box off the top and replaced it with drawn comb and returned some of their stores. I was happy to get out of there though as I was spending far too long performing my tasks being a little rusty and not having every widget available I normally like.
I did the same for several more nucleus hives and started in on the ten framers that still had feeding shims in place. That’s when the trouble started. Entire feeding shims filled with willy-nilly comb in all directions and filled with honey and drone brood. And black with bees covering everything and spilling out over the boxes. A little smoke helped move them but nothing short of a rap of the inner cover on the box dislodged them back into the uppermost hive body. Unhappy bees; unhappy beekeeper. Usually though they settled down shortly. Once I had to take a walk with them following me for 100 feet or so. I was probably not working them slow enough in the hive nor fast enough overall to get out of their domain. Get ‘er done, and I was almost there.
I had passengers in the truck with me as a drove away from the last hive. Windows down, suit on, and proud of myself having gotten the deed done without a sting through my glove or on top of my head as sometimes happens with the veil pulled down tight.
Oh, what’s that? A hive over by my main stretch of ten framers with it’s brick standing on end. Usually I use this brick position to indicate a queenless condition but I remembered from ten days ago why I stood it up then. The bees were too thick and they were too irritable to bother so I deferred and stood the brick up. Having completed all except this one hive I decided to stop and complete today’s task list. Only take a minute – probably.
The bees were still thick under that inner cover and they had the entire feeding shim filled with honey comb and drone brood. Most of it hung down off the inner cover. I smoked them down and waited. They kept coming back up in short order. As mentioned earlier, there tends to be an overall time limit for bees after which they just say, “You’re done here.” I was running out of time and knew it. I had a thought to go back to the barn and get a bottle of Bee Go to run them down out of that shim with its unpleasant odor. But my dilemma was time. Things weren’t going to get better in ten minutes. I was already taking a heavy bombardment of bees against my veil. I decided it would be best to bang the inner cover against the shim and smoke them some more. After a couple raps most of the bees dislodged and I was able to get the inner cover and the shim removed. I scrapped the honey and drone comb into a ready bucket and thought I’d better close up. Then, as one does when they are tired, a bad decision presented itself to me. While it’s good to know that I’m still capable of decisions at my age, bad ones just stink. I decided as I reached for the replacement inner cover that the bees were so thick I had better check for swarm cells between the boxes. Okay, that’s a quick hive tool between the boxes, a tilt upward, and I should be done – right? Well, there was drone brood between the boxes as I should have known, and maybe in my haste I forgot to smoke them down. Or maybe I did and they were so thick they had nowhere to go. I took my hive tool and scrapped the first top bar and my gloved had was covered. Second top bar and they have decided to cover my entire right arm. Third scraping and they are like Velcro on my jacket and veil. I can’t remember the final strokes as I was in get ‘er done mode. I did get the box down and in place when I started to feel the stings though my jeans and forearms. Oh my! Folks, when they decide they have no place left to light on you other than your jeans you’ve stayed far too long.
I started walking, stopping occasionally to brush some off. New beekeepers, remember I told you to buy a brush! I walked and walked and covered a hundred yards. Finally I headed back. I still had to replace the inner and telescoping covers. I did so and had to walk again with irritable bees. I had made every mistake I could have, overstayed my welcome by a stretch, rapid movements, and kept coming back when they said, “GO!”. One last trip and I eased into my waiting truck and drove off fully suited with about twenty bees that decided it best they give me an escort.
Done but not proud of my finesse on this one. Maybe I’ll go back for my smoker later, or tomorrow. Wonder where my hive tool is?
Here are some recent pictures. I’ve been negligent posting here while making last minute preparations for the nectar flow.
Pictured above are new hive stands built for queen mating boxes, a Varroa mite alcohol wash jar, Varroa Mite Assessment Vehicle with treatment gear, a shaker box for separating queen from nurse bees, an Oxalic acid treatment sublimator, and a swarm bait hive I hung a few days ago. Not pictured is a nice swarm capture bucket I have mounted on a 23 foot painter’s extension pole.
It’s been busy but through the years I have learned that one either prepares before the nectar flow begins or one stays behind the entire spring. Nature does not wait for the procrastinator.
Birth: Feb. 17, 1851
Death: May 30, 1911
William Z. Hutchinson (1851-1911) was a 19th-century Michigan apiarist and author. He founded the Bee-keepers’ Review in 1888, and served as its editor over the remainder of his life. Hutchinson was an enthusiastic proponent of producing comb honey.
A review of First Lessons in Beekeeping by C.P. Dadant. The current edition is written by Keith Delaplane and is widely available in hardcopy. The original is available via download here: First Lessons in Beekeeping by C.P Dadant
“Camille Pierre Dadant (1851–1938) was the son of Charles Dadant, one of the fathers of modern beekeeping techniques, inventor of the Dadant beehive, and founder of one of the first beekeeping equipment manufacturers. The business is still extant and run by the family, as is their publication, American Bee Journal” – publisher review. I’ve chosen this […]
The full article can be read here: First Lessons in Beekeeping – C.P. Dadant, Published 1917 — Gastronomy Monk
Nikolai Nasonov is best known among beekeepers for the Nasonov gland in honeybees which is named after Nasonov who was first to described it in 1883.…
“The scent organ of a worker honeybee lies on the dorsal surface of the abdomen, at the front edge of the last abdominal segment. It consists of several hundred gland cells. The Nasonov gland was named after the Russian scientist who first described it, in 1883. (Honeybee Democracy By Thomas D. Seeley 2010)
Nasonov pheromone are emitted by the worker bees and used for orientation. Known as the “come and join us” scent. Bees use the pheromone to find the entrance to their colony or hive, and they release them on flowers so other bees know which flowers have nectar. Nasonov pheromone in synthetic form should be 2:1 ratio of citral and geraniol. It consists of glandular cells which secrete pheromone through c. 600 ducts into a groove between the 6th and 7th tergite. Honeybees release this pheromone for attracting other bees to join the swarm, to mark the entrance to the hive, to mark a source of water while foraging.
Nikolai Nasonov was a Soviet zoologist. Academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1906; corresponding member, 1897). He was born in Moscow, Feb. 14 1855. In 1879, Nasonov graduated from the University of Moscow. From 1889 to 1906 he was a professor at the University of Warsaw. From 1906 to 1921 he was director of the Zoological Museum, and from 1921 to 1931 he was director of the Laboratory of Experimental Zoology of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. His principal works were on the morphology, taxonomy, faunistics, zoogeography, ecology, and embryology of insects, crustaceans, Turbellaria, and some vertebrates, such as mountain sheep and the ostrich. In 1911, Nasonov organized the publication of the comprehensive work Fauna of Russia and the Neighboring Countries, subsequently called Fauna of the USSR. Twenty-five books of this work were published under his editorship. In 1916 on Nasonov’s initiative, a commission was created in the Academy of Sciences of the USSR to study Lake Baikal and to organize the Baikal Biological Station (now the Institute of Limnology of the Siberian Division of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR). Nasonov was a prolific author producing works in four languages but was not a honeybee specialist nor did he have a knowledge about pheromones. Nikolai Nasonov died in Moscow Feb. 11, 1939
PORTRAIT Nikolai Victrovich Nasonov
Насонов Николай Викторович
Nasonov, Nikolai Viktorovich
Honeybee Democracy, by Thomas D. Seeley
circa. 2012 page 185
Pheromones of the Honeybee Colony
Nasonov, Nikolai Viktorovich (1855-1939)
Nasonov, N. V. 1889. Contribution to the natural history of the ants primarily of Russia. 1. Contribution to the ant fauna of Russia. Izv. Imp. Obshch. Lyubit. Estestvozn. Antropol. Etnogr. Imp. Mosk. Univ. 58: 1-78 PDF
N. E. McIndoo, PH.D. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia Vol. 66 No. 2 (Apr. – Aug. 1914), pp. 542-555
“ It is reported that Nassonoff first described the morphology of the scent-producing organ of the honey bee. His original work in Russian cannot be had here , but according to Zoubareff (1883), nassonoff did not describe the structure of this organ as seen by the writer, and he suggested that the gland cells of the organ produce perspiration.
Nasonov pheromone are emitted by the worker bees and used for orientation. Discovered by Nasonov, Nikolai Viktorovich (1883) from Russia. Known as the “come and join us” scent. Nasonov includes a number of different terpenoids including geraniol, nerolic acid, citral and geranic acid. Bees use these to find the entrance to their colony or hive, and they release them on flowers so other bees know which flowers have nectar.Nasonov pheromone in synthetic form should be 2:1 ratio of citral and geraniol (Born Feb. 14 (26), 1855, in Moscow; died there Feb. 11, 1939. Soviet zoologist. Academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1906; corresponding member, 1897). It consists of glandular cells which secrete pheromone through c. 600 ducts into a groove between the 6th and 7th tergite.Honeybees release this pheromone for attracting other bees to join the swarm,to mark the entrance to the hive, to mark a source of water while foraging.
Nikolai Victrovich Nasonov ( N. V. Nassonov) 1855 – 1939
Dr. Nasonov studied taxonomy and distribution of various groups of invertebrates. He was a member of the Academy of Sciences of the URSS. He visited Japan (June-July, 1928) for the study of freshwater microturbellarians. For his scientific activities and the publication list, see the following paper.
Académie des Sciences de l’Union des Républiques Soviétiques Socialistes, 1937. À l’Académicien N. Nassonov pour le Quatrevingtième Anniversaire de sa Naissance et le Soixantième Anniversaire de Son Activité Scientifique. Cover page and prefatory portrait + pp.13-32. http://www.ras.ru/win/db/show_per.asp?P=jd-51438.In-en
Literature (a selection):
Nassonov, N. V., 1924. K faune Turbellaria Rhabdocoelida Kryma. Izves. Akad. Nauk, SSSR, 18: 35-46.
Nassonov, N. V., 1925. Die Turbellarienfauna des Leningrader Gouvernements. 1-2. Izves. Akad. Nauk, 20: 817-836, 869-883.
Nassonov, N. V., 1927. Über eine neue Familie Multipenatidae (Alloeocoela) aus dem Japanischen Meer mit einem aberranten Bau der Fortpflanzungsorgane. Izves. Akad. Nauk, 1927: 865-874.
Nassonov, N. V., 1929. Zur Fauna der Turbellaria Rhabdocoelida der japanischen Susswasserbecken. Doklady Akad. Nauk, SSSR, 1929: 423-428.
Nassonov, N. V., 1932. Zur Morphologie der Turbellaria Rhabdocoelida des Japanischen Meeres. Trudy Laborat. Exper. Zool. Morfol. Zhivotnykh. Akad. Nauk, II: 1-115 + Taf. I-VIII.
It takes preparation to get to the Olympics. Are your bees going to the Olympics this year?
Time is short. Will you be ready? Have you coached them up and prepared them for the adventure of the spring nectar flow? Are they building strength in population? Are they healthy? Is their mite count 1% or less? Is your equipment ready?
It takes approximately 6 weeks to prepare a bee population of sufficient size to fully capitalize on the nectar flow. The time to stimulate that increase is now. It is time to do everything you possibly can to get your bees healthy and increase their populations. The saying is, “build your bees before the flow, not on the flow.”
One either prepares before the nectar flow begins or one stays behind the entire spring. Nature does not wait for the procrastinator.
Jan Swammerdam (February 12, 1637 – February 17, 1680) was a Dutch biologist and microscopist. His work on insects demonstrated that the various phases during the life of an insect—egg, larva, pupa, and adult—are different forms of the same animal. As part of his anatomical research, he carried out experiments on muscle contraction. In 1658, he was the first to observe and describe red blood cells. He was one of the first people to use the microscope in dissections, and his techniques remained useful for hundreds of years.
While studying medicine Swammerdam had started to dissect insects and after qualifying as a doctor, Swammerdam focused on insects. His father pressured him to earn a living, but Swammerdam persevered and in late 1669 published Historia insectorum generalis ofte Algemeene verhandeling van de bloedeloose dierkens (The General History of Insects, or General Treatise on little Bloodless Animals). The treatise summarised his study of insects he had collected in France and around Amsterdam. He countered the prevailing Aristotelian notion that insects were imperfect animals that lacked internal anatomy. Following the publication his father withdrew all financial support. As a result, Swammerdam was forced, at least occasionally, to practice medicine in order to finance his own research. He obtained leave at Amsterdam to dissect the bodies of those who died in the hospital.
At university Swammerdam engaged deeply in the religious and philosophical ideas of his time. He categorically opposed the ideas behind spontaneous generation, which held that God had created some creatures, but not insects. Swammerdam argued that this would blasphemously imply that parts of the universe were excluded from God’s will. In his scientific study Swammerdam tried to prove that God’s creation happened time after time, and that it was uniform and stable. Swammerdam was much influenced by René Descartes, whose natural philosophy had been widely adopted by Dutch intellectuals. In Discours de la methode Descartes had argued that nature was orderly and obeyed fixed laws, thus nature could be explained rationally.
Swammerdam was convinced that the creation, or generation, of all creatures obeyed the same laws. Having studied the reproductive organs of men and women at university he set out to study the generation of insects. He had devoted himself to studying insects after discovering that the king bee was indeed a queen bee. Swammerdam knew this because he had found eggs inside the creature. But he did not publish this finding. In 1669 Swammerdam was visited by Cosimo II de’ Medici and showed him another revolutionary discovery. Inside a caterpillar the limbs and wings of the butterfly could be seen (now called the imaginal discs). When Swammerdam published The General History of Insects, or General Treatise on little Bloodless Animals later that year he not only did away with the idea that insects lacked internal anatomy, but also attacked the Christian notion that insects originated from spontaneous generation and that their life cycle was a metamorphosis. Swammerdam maintained that all insects originated from eggs and their limbs grew and developed slowly. Thus there was no distinction between insects and so called higher animals. Swammerdam declared war on “vulgar errors” and the symbolic interpretation of insects was, in his mind, incompatible with the power of God, the almighty architect. Swammerdam therefore dispelled the seventeenth-century notion of metamorphosis —the idea that different life stages of an insect (e.g. caterpillar and butterfly) represent different individuals or a sudden change from one type of animal to another.
Swammerdam equally made the first precise descriptions of the bees’ mouthparts and of the sting and poison gland. In both respects his description was correct and highly detailed.
Wikipedia at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Swammerdam
Jan Swammerdam website: http://www.janswammerdam.org/
The saying is, “build your bees before the flow not during the flow.” But when, exactly? Well, the answer is based on your location, your current assessment of your colonies, and what you anticipate the weather and bloom times will be providing. In the Midlands we often hear beekeepers speak of the start of the buildup corresponding to the bloom of Red Maple. And, notwithstanding a surprise freeze, that is a good indicator as to where nature is currently and when the bees will put all else aside and dedicate all efforts to their buildup.
Using bee math we can add a little more to try to nail down when WE need to support or add to the bees efforts. To make a foraging bee, and let’s face it that’s what we need to make honey, a little simple arithmetic is needed. Add together: 3 days as an egg, 6 as a larva, and 12 as a pupa = 21. Then add that to approximately three weeks the adult bee will spend as a house bee before graduating to foraging bee. Oh wow, three weeks to make an adult bee and 3 weeks until forager – 6 weeks total.
Now let’s make our best guess as to when the nectar flow will begin. That’s our target date to unleash our foraging bees to collect nectar. Historically, in the Midlands that date is April 1st. But some years it comes a couple weeks early and sometimes it comes late. This is why beekeepers are also obsessed with watching the blooms and temperatures; trying to predict if we will have an early bloom or a late bloom. Adjust this to your prediction but for illustration, I’ll use April 1st..
Taking our knowledge of bee biology and that we have figured out it will take 6 weeks to make a foraging bee, and estimating that we need that bee ready to work on April 1st, we can guesstimate when the queen needs to lay that egg. That date this year, aside from any surprises nature may hand us, is February 19th.
But wait. I don’t just need the all the foraging bees resulting from the eggs laid by the queen on February 19th. No, I need a true foraging force to start the gathering of nectar from the many trees and blooms that will begin Around April 1st. So, knowing that the queen can lay about 1,200 to 2,000 eggs a day I need to begin a tad before February 19th to get a truly large and efficient foraging force.
Assuming I’d like to begin the nectar flow event with all hands on deck and a fully functioning colony (after all the magic in honey bee eusocial efficiency is in their numbers), I need to start at least a week or two prior.
Won’t that early stimulation cause them to swarm? Won’t they become congested at exactly the wrong time of year? Shouldn’t I split them instead to keep them from swarming? All good questions. Beekeeping isn’t always about easy answers. Yes, stimulation will result in the bees satisfying all of the items needed to lead them to believe they have the perfect situation to do what they want to do – reproduce. On splits, David MacFawn gives a good lecture on the economics of the colony in which he calculates the cost of moving frames during the build up by making splits. A deep frame of brood with clinging bees is approximately 9,000 bees (2,000 adults and potentially 7,000 immatures). Doing the math David calculates that to result in a loss of ~ $75 of honey. (and this does not calculate the stress and loss of efficiently within the superorganism).
When I started beekeeping I was taught to hope for a colony to make 40 pounds of honey per season here in the Midlands. (I suspect many make less than this as on average.) I accepted that. I even met beekeepers that had moved here from the Midwest that quit beekeeping after a few years of our less than ideal honey crops. Then after a few years I started seeing over performers. Colonies that made 80 pounds or more. One year I captured an early super swarm that filled two 10 frame Langstroth hive bodies (deep and shallow). They made 99 3/4 pounds of honey that same year. A light bulb came on for me somewhere along the way. It wasn’t the Midlands to blame. It was my management. Within two years I was averaging 60 lbs per hive and that was counting the ones that failed to make a drop over colony needs.
If you want to produce a large honey crop, it involves management of large colonies. One must simply accept that it takes two things to make honey: 1) a large force of foraging bees that start on day one of the nectar flow and 2) a lot of work using swarm management techniques to prevent the bees from swarming. One must accept that it is work getting into the hives to prevent them from swarming.
I suggest to those wishing to make a crop of honey the free online books and articles available on Swarm Prevention and Control. There are online resources from many, many sources. The older books are also of great value. These resources speak to the management techniques that result in a large population while keeping the bees at home. Hope this is of some help to those that wish to make honey this year.
Born February 10, 1916
Died July 19, 2004
Source: Wikipedia – Ormond Aebi
Ormond Aebi (1916 – July 2004) was an American beekeeper who was reported to have set the world’s record for honey obtained from a single hive in one year, 1974, when 404 pounds of honey were harvested, breaking an unofficial 80-year-old record of 303 pounds held by A. I. Root. Together with his father Harry, the Aebi’s wrote two books on beekeeping: The Art and Adventure of Beekeeping (1975) and Mastering the Art of Beekeeping (1979) (both currently out-of-print).
He was known to have enjoyed beekeeping all his life. In 1981, Mr. Aebi told the Santa Cruz Sentinel he knew his bees so well that, when out driving, his father would say, ” “Ormond, isn’t that one of our bees?,” and I’ll say, “No, I don’t think so,” or “Yep, sure is.”
Ormond told me a curious story that day though, which I’ll retell just as he told it to me. Ormond was a character with very strong beliefs, beliefs that I don’t happen to share, but he was earnest and sincere and his beliefs do make for a good story. So here it is.
He said that Jesus came to him in a dream one night and told him that if he wanted to increase the productivity of his hives that he should attach a wire to the queen excluders of his hives. Jesus was very specific about the length of the wire and Ormond carefully complied with Jesus’ instructions.
For those who don’t know, the queen excluder is a series of parallel wires placed closely together in a bee hive. It sits between the lower brood boxes and the upper supers, the boxes where the honey is stored. It functions to keep the queen from laying eggs in the boxes that contain the honey in them. She’s too big to fit between the wires, but the worker bees can still come and go unimpeded.
So Ormond attaches the precisely measured wires to the queen excluders and waits. Sure enough, just as Jesus promised in the dream, the productivity of the hives increases significantly.
Ormond is a religious man, and so he doesn’t think it is too surprising that Jesus’ advice worked. He mentions his experience to his beekeeping friends, and word eventually reaches the biology department of Stanford University.
Stanford University finds it surprising, very surprising. They come to his home in Santa Cruz to investigate.
What the scientists eventually conclude is that somehow the wires that Ormond attached to his hives were acting as antennae, turning the hives into natural radios and piping in the local classical music radio station to the hives. The bees loved it. (KSCO AM 1080, if you’re curious, it is now a right-wing talk radio station. I wonder what effect Rush Limbaugh would have on honey production.)
In his later years he was diagnosed with Diabetes, which did not seem to affect his health, but did contribute to his decision not to continue beekeeping when his swarms were destroyed by varroa mites. He worked as a part-time handyman at a daycare next door to his home for the last several years of his life, and continued to write to friends he made worldwide due to his books.
Source: Wikipedia – Ormond Aebi
Exponential, my dear Watson.
Pardon the paraphrase. But for the bees right now it’s “exponential.”
They take every food morsel inside the hive and everything they can gather from outside and bet it all. Nothing to be saved this time of year. Spendthrifts and gamblers. Betting the house on the upcoming nectar flow. Right now the nurse bees are eating as much as they can hold in an effort to maximize production of brood food. The queen is laying as much as she can and together a symphony is playing at breakneck speed.
If their timing is right they’ll reach a large population at the exact moment or just prior to the beginning of the nectar flow. Their goal – reproduction – swarming. Hopefully. Because if a freeze or extended stay inside occurs their exponentially large population can easily deplete their food supply since the nectar flow has not yet started. Interestingly, bees will share the food until it’s gone. But when it’s gone it’s gone and for the bees it’s not only their food but also the means by which they heat themselves and young. If the bees don’t time their buildup correctly, they risk en masse starvation.
Now, you’d think I’d be trying to discourage them from building up so fast. In some ways maybe I can and in other ways I can’t deter them from their program. But one thing I do regardless is keep supplying open comb to the queen. In turn she lays in it and makes more bees. Wait, wasn’t I suppose to be discouraging more hungry mouths?
Therein lies a management paradox for the beekeeper. We need more bees to make a large honey crop but more bees means more mouths to feed and the chance of starvation before the nectar flow begins. And more bees can also increase the likelihood of swarming – sorta. But by opening up the brood area and letting the queen lay they are less likely to swarm. So the dilemma is solving both issues by opening up her brood area AND keeping a close eye on the colony’s food stores. In essence, you, the beekeeper, get to act like a bee and join the symphony too, playing as loud as you want.
Keep a close eye on them.
Here are two articles on a topic we should brush up on now that swarm season is almost here. The first article is on Checkerboarding, a swarm prevention technique invented by Walt Wright. The second article is titled, Swarm Control and Management by Dr. James Tew. (The second article is a little misaligned but you should be able to find it elsewhere.)
Checkerboarding is a relatively new approach to swarm prevention. Although it has only been published for about 15 years, it defies the old adage that “swarming is inevitable.” This submittal is intended to substantiate or quantify the advertised reliability.
Implementation of the checkerboarding (CB) manipulation is disgustingly simple. The manipulation consists of removing alternate frames of honey from the top box and replacing those frames with empty comb suitable for rearing brood. Since there is no brood nest disturbance, it can be done in late winter before the brood nest expands into the top box of capped honey. After the initial manipulation, to sustain swarm prevention reliability, maintain empty comb at the top for the colony to grow into with brood nest expansion. If that sounds too simple to be effective, you are in good company. Almost nobody believes it would get the reliability that is inherent in the approach.
Read the full article here: Swarm Control — Bill’s Russian Bee Blog
“If beekeeping was easy I guess it wouldn’t be interesting.” Fleming Mattox
Reading the old timers’ beekeeping books from the 1800’s and early 1900’s I am struck with their struggles with wax moths and “disappearing disease.” It almost sounds like they are writing about today’s beekeeping struggles. We could say, “but we have mites” but then they also had the struggles of transporting their bees via horse and wagon so maybe beekeeping has always involved a bit of effort.
Books and articles written in the late 20th century talk about the additional problems encountered when tracheal mites arrived and later Varroa mites. These two pests caused many beekeepers to hang up their veil. But there have always been those that persevere through difficult times. And, ironically, some are drawn to the challenge.
I generally dislike articles written from the perspective of singling out a particular bad guy on the topic of current honey bee health problems. Instead I like those articles that state a problem and offer solutions that I can take to my own bee yard and implement. I know that commercial beekeepers take over two million hives to almonds every year which receive compensation depending on their grading. In Georgia, the package bee industry makes so many excess bees every year that it absolutely boggles the mind. My local association alone usually orders from four to five million honey bees each year – and we are only a single club. So, it can be done! I want to be like that guy with the extra bees and I’d like to see all beekeepers succeed with their bees.
Randy Oliver has said in “The Rules for Successful Beekeeping,” honey bees need four things: food, a dry cavity, help managing pests, and protection from toxins. That’s the proactive way of stating their needs and tells us what we can do to help them survive. (If your mind thinks differently he stated the same thing in a different article, “The Four Horsemen of Bee Apocalypse,” but from the negative point of view, what kills bees: famine, chill, pestilence, and poisons.) Randy runs about a thousand hives and sets up multiple experiment yards for his scientific studies. He knows bees.
It seems that thoroughly understanding the above four things that honey bees need might be the answer to keeping bees alive and healthy. The problem is each of these four items is accompanied by a lengthy list assessments, methods, timings, and manipulations. Instead of four things to remember I now have many. Not to mention I have to choose wisely among the many options to accomplish these four goals.
Soon after getting involved in beekeeping I got the thought that there might be some secrets involved to being a successful beekeeper. You know, like some sort of insider tricks which weren’t being generally offered in books and articles. I decided to start listening very closely when in conversation with successful beekeepers in the hope they’d let something slip. I checked my own thoughts and beliefs at the door and listened to them talk, hopeful of gaining a tip or trick here and there. Soon it started to pay off. Yes, there were tricks and tips that I hadn’t read about. For the most part these secrets weren’t really secrets though. They were methods and observations that really worked to satisfy, “The Rules for Successful Beekeeping.” Some were old school and some were new school. And the jewels came out when least expected, sometimes during a lecture, in casual conversation, before or after a meeting, during a get together over dinner, or in a bee yard while tending the bees. There was no telling when one of these jewels would just pop out and a light bulb would light up in my head. As for the speaker, I doubt they were even aware that the casual bit of beekeeping wisdom or artistry they had imparted was exactly what I needed to hear at that particular moment.
In closing I’m going to share with you how you too can get the inside scoop on improving your beekeeping. Beekeeping is both art and science. You can read a lot of the science but successful beginning beekeepers learn the methods of successful seasoned beekeepers. And I’ll add that this goes tenfold over for beginning beekeepers. Go to the knowledge base of your club. They are talking bees before, during, and after every monthly meeting and if you’re not there you are missing information on the art of beekeeping you need now or will need later.
I’m still a long ways from being the beekeeper I want to be. I’ve got more things to learn – some from the bees and some from others. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life Is a Journey, not a destination.” Pardon the poor paraphrase but for beekeepers, “Beekeeping is a journey, not a destination.” Enjoy the ride!
Charles Henry Turner (February 3, 1867 – February 14, 1923)
Here’s an excellent post by Ron Miksha of badbeekeeping blog recognizing a bee scientist who went unrecognized in his own time. Thanks Ron for bringing many of us up to speed.
You probably know that Karl von Frisch figured out how honey bees use their waggle-dance to communicate. He won the Nobel Prize for that and for other studies of bee behaviour. I think it was well-deserved and his experiments withstood criticism and independent confirmation. His discovery was intuitive and required hundreds of replicated experiments conducted over years of work in personally risky circumstances in Nazi Germany. But there is another scientist who came close to figuring out many of the things which brought von Frisch fame. The other scientist did his experiments in America, decades earlier. But he’s mostly unknown, largely forgotten.
Read entire article at: The Man Who Discovered that Bees Can Think — Bad Beekeeping Blog
Henry County, Kentucky, USA
|Death||14 Jan 1915 (aged 82)
Shelby County, Kentucky, USA
Christianburg, Shelby County, Kentucky, USA
George Whitfield Demaree was born January 27th, 1832 in Henry County Kentucky. As a beekeeper he is credited with the development of a method of swarm prevention which retains the total population of bees in their parent colony thus greatly increasing honey production. This can’t be emphasized enough – it takes lots of bees to maximize honey production. Other swarm methods which employ splits will adversely affect honey production.
Demaree, also known as “Mr. D” by his contemporaries – was a lawyer, magistrate, breeder of prize Jersey cattle, and a renowned beekeeper on his farm in Christianburg, Kentucky. He was a pioneer in “swarm control,” and his findings allowed bees to be transported out West for the pollination of crops that helped make permanent settlement possible.
The method was first published by in an article in the American Bee Journal in 1892. Demaree also described another swarm prevention method in 1884, but that was a two-hive system that is unrelated to modern “demareeing”.
As with many swarm prevention methods, demareeing involves separating of the queen and forager bees from the nurse bees. The theory is that forager bees will think that the hive has swarmed if there is a drastic reduction in nurse bees, and that nurse bees will think that the hive has swarmed if the queen appears to be missing and/or there is a drastic reduction in forager bees.
The Demaree method is a frame-exchange method, and as such it is more labor intensive than methods that do not involve rearranging individual frames. It requires no special equipment except for a queen excluder. In this method, the queen is confined to the bottom box below the queen excluder.
The method relies on the principle that nurse bees will prefer to stay with open brood, and that forager bees will move to frames with closed brood or with room for food.
In the modern Demaree method, the queen is placed in the bottom box, along with one or two frames of capped brood (but no open brood), as well as one or two frames of food stores, and empty combs or foundation. A queen excluder is placed above the bottom box, thereby restricting the queen to the bottom box but allowing bees to move freely between the bottom box and the rest of the hive. The original hive, along with all open brood, is placed above the queen excluder. The method works best if the nurse bees are remove far away from the queen. The distance between the queen and nurse bees can be increased by placing the brood nest at the very top of the hive, with honey supers between the upper brood nest and the queen excluder. If any swarm cells are present, these must be destroyed by the beekeeper. The relative absence of queen pheromone in the top box usually prompts the nurse bees to create emergency cells. After 7–10 days, the beekeeper destroys the emergency cells, and then either removes the queen excluder (thereby ending the “demaree”) or repeats the process a second or a third time until the swarming impulse is over. (Note: Developed queen cells in upper box could also be harvested for use after they are fully capped and ripe.)
The Demaree method makes it possible to retain the total colony population, thus maintaining good honey production. The technique has the advantage of allowing a new queen to be raised as well.
Ref: American Bee Journal, Wikipedia, Six Mile Creek History