Bee Updates & Blog

Apiary has gone hi-tech!

One of the buzzword/acryonyms you may have recently heard  is “IOT” which stand for the “internet-of-things”.     In simple terms, this refers to all of the sensors out there that transmit their data (wirelessly or wired) so that a computer program can analyze the  sensor reading.  These days sensors include microphones, water flow meters in pipes, thermostats, scales, fit bits.. you name it.. including “IOT for bees”.

There are many small companies and university research projects trying to utilize sensors to help us know what is going on in a hive.  Some of the most common “hive IOT devices”  include hive scales along with humidity and temperature sensors.   In April, I installed a hive scale & temp/humidity sensors from the company Broodminder on the two hives that I started new last year.

The sensors take one reading every hour.  Every few days I take my cellphone to the apiary, start the  Broodminder App which reads the new data that has been collected since I was last there.  The app then uploads the new readings to the Broodminder site on the internet.  This site provides some nice graphs of the data as well as the ability to download all of it in .csv format.

You are probably asking – why in heck would you want scales or temp/humidity readings from the hives,?   Well, the reason is it can give me insight as to what is going in the hive so that I don’t have to disturb the bees.   For example,  to develop properly,  bee larva/brood needs to be kept at ~95F.  If  it gets much colder,  they get chilled and die…   So having a temp sensor in the brood chamber can tell me if 1) There is brood being raised (if is is < 95 there is no brood) 2) if the bees are regulating the temperature properly.  Similarly, brood needs to be raised in a 50-70% humidity environment.

Below is a snapshot of  the temperature readings for 10 days in May.  The blue line is the temperature at the brood next (~95F).  The pink is the outside air temp.  Notice that even when the outside temp is in the 40s, how steady the bees are keeping the brood nest.  This is a sign that the bees are doing a good job raising brood.

Brood (blue) vs Outside (pink)  Temp in May

The scales on the hive give beekeepers lots of information including  when there is a nectar flow on, if the bees are actively foraging for food and if the hive swarms.

The graph below is a little hard to read the details, but it shows the weight changes in the hive since May 14.. Notice how starting at the beginning of June the weight is going up?  This means there is a nectar flow on so the bees are bringing in lots of nectar.

Here’s a zoomed in view of the last couple weeks.  The hive has gained ~30lbs since May31; and 10lbs  between Jun9-Jun11.   When I see this, I need to make sure that the bees have plenty of room in their hive to store all of this nectar which usually means adding boxes to the hive

Any guesses as to why we see the sine wave shape to this weight curve??  Believe it or not, this due to the bees leaving the hive to start foraging early in the morning and coming back into the hive at night.   From the zoomed in shot below.. You can see on June 10 about 6am, the bees started leaving the hive.  By noon the hive had lost 5 lbs.. this means  close to 20K bees had left the hive  (10K bees is ~3lbs).. then as the afternoon went on, the bees were back in the hive and by 8pm the weight stabilized for the night.. until 6am the next morning when they started to forage again!

I’ve added a page to the website where you can view the live hive “IOT” data from the last 7 days:   Hive Scale Data.   It will be updated each time I take a new reading from the sensors

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Dandelions – Finally!

Finally, the dandelions are blossoming!   Now to the average person, dandelions are a weed that you really don’t want in your lawn, but if you are a beekeeper, you welcome the site of the yellow flowers because they are a great source of pollen & nectar for the bees of all kinds!

Can you find all 3 bees ?

Next time you see a patch of dandelions take a close look – you’ll probably see honeybees, bumble bees, mason bees & probably some hornets  enjoying the good nutritious forage.

In the short video (click on the picture to play it)  below you’ll see one of the bees is loaded with pollen (the yellow appendages on her back legs), but she is still going back for more!

All 5 of my hives were bringing in pollen (and probably nectar) today!

Honeybees in the NH News

With spring here,  newspapers are doing more and more articles about what’s going on  honeybees.

The Concord monitor did a story at the beginning of April.  The story was also run in the Valley News

http://www.concordmonitor.com/New-Hampshire-Beekeepers-Association-winter-hive-loss-survey-2018-16495644

The Union Leader  did a story about the plight of bats, honeybees & moose  on 4/15:

http://www.unionleader.com/States-bees,-bats-are-in-a-bad-way-while-NH-moose-enjoy-ray-of-hope

That same day the UL also ran a story about one of our NH  beekeepers – Martin Marklin, owner of Marklin Candle in Hopkinton (one of 7 companies in the country that produces liturgical candles!):

http://www.unionleader.com/Hopkinton-beekeeper-and-candlemaker-keeps-his-bee-keeping-passion-alive

Spring is Here!

….. well kinda….

All of the signs of spring are showing up at our house:

  • The bluebirds, tree swallows & phoebes  are all back and catching what few bugs are out.
  • We’ve been hearing partridge drumming every day to attract a mate (it sounds like someone starting up an old car!).
  • Woodcock have been running around in the woods looking for bugs. Hopefully, they will nest in our field this year
  • Pussy Willows are out:

    Pussy Willows are out!
  • The first Crocus have blossomed!

    The first crocus of the season
  • Daffodils are budded.

    The daffodils are setting buds
  • The bees are out every day that it is above 40, but I haven’t seen any pollen coming in yet.  This is definitely late as I often see at least some pollen coming in by the first week of April.
  • And how you really know it is spring – the boat is in the water and ready for salmon fishing (of course it is the first one in the marina!)
Always the first one in the marina in the spring!

Now if the weather would only cooperate & give us some warm weather instead of snow & freezing rain… we’d be in business!

Think warm weather!!!

 

Bee Hives, Frost Heaves & Nor’Easters

While I sit here looking at the snow from the 3rd nor’easter in 12 days, it is hard to believe that only 3 weeks ago I wrote a blog post with a video showing all of my bees out flying around!

You might have noticed in that video a couple of the hives looked like they were leaning toward one side.  This was due to the frost coming out of the ground and causing heaving around the cement blocks the hive stands were sitting on.   For the last few weeks, I have been looking at each and thinking, I should probably try to do something to level those up, but then thought – nah – its just the frost, they will be back to normal in a week or two………

Well, in the first of the 3 nor’easters,  one of the hives tipped over due to the combination of the wind, the frost heaves and the softening ground.      Fortunately, nothing broke and the hive “sort of” stayed together, because I had a  “bungied” the top down to the hive stand.

When I noticed that something didn’t look right in the apiary, I put on my hive jacket and went to investigate.   The hive was too heavy to just tip upright, so I managed to get the bungy disconnected and remove the stand (which weighs at least 15 lbs).   The next step was to disassemble and reassemble the hive quickly on a level spot.  Fortunately, the snow had stopped, and it was in the low 30s so it wasn’t too bad to work out there.

Step 1 went fine – pull the bottom board and get it on a level/stable location..  Step 2- pull off the top so I could put a boxes one-by-one on the new location – didn’t go quite so well… the bees to put it mildly were “pissed”..    They didn’t appreciate the fact that I was trying help & not harm them  🙂  so they immediately started trying to sting me..   Enough got me where I went to the house to put on my full bee suit for the rest of the operation.

Back down to the bee yard with better protection, I did reassemble the hive, added some food  and got the top back on.   The bees that had been trying to sting me pretty much went back in the hive and left me alone.  The next day, I “shimmed” up the other hive that was leaning so it is level and shouldn’t suffer the same fate!

As of yesterday, I could hear the hive “buzzing” (none have been out since the weather has been so cold)… so I am hoping the queen survived the ordeal and the hive will be OK as we get closer to April.

Think Spring!… it can’t come soon enough for my girls!

Beekeeping in Scotland – part 2

The following is the rest of the article I wrote for the NH Beekeepers Association’s Winter Newsletter:

The Highlands seem to have a similar winter climate to NH.  They get snow.  They feed sugar water to their hives until mid-Oct, and then do emergency feeding with fondant or candy boards until spring.    The Borders have milder winters – but no forage, so they feed sugar water throughout the winter.  I heard varying winter loss numbers, but I would say the most common was 10-15%.

When I asked beekeepers about their biggest challenge/issue, the answer was always Varroa.   They use a variety of treatments – including IPM, but oxalic vapor was the most common.   With their weather, I can see that Mite-Away or other treatments that depend on certain temperatures for dispersal could only be used for a very limited time.   I also learned that to use products like Amitraz, they must have a veterinary prescription.

They do not have small hive beetles currently, but they anticipate the bugs will eventually make it to Scotland so they are doing a lot of education for the beekeepers.

American Foul Brood (AFB) and European Foul Brood(EFB) are taken very seriously in Scotland and the entire UK.     Law prohibits the use of any anti-biotics in hives so they do not have many treatment options.  In England and Wales, if a beekeeper suspects they have either EFB or AFB, they are required by law to call the bee inspector.  In Scotland, it is voluntary to call – but most do from what I can tell.   The bee inspector comes out to check out the hives and brings a field test kit (aka Lateral Flow Device Kit).  They sample some larva and put them in a container with some ball bearings.  They shake it up, drop in a few chemicals and it tells you if you have EFB/AFB (there is a kit for each disease).   The inspector then decides what will be done with the hives.  If it is a very mild case of EFB, they will do a shaken swarm and then sterilize the hive.  If it is more severe, the hives are burned.   All of this is done under the supervision of the inspector.  This apiary is then flagged as “red”, and the inspector will come again the following year to inspect it.  Unfortunately, I did not get to ask how common EFB and AFB are.

They have both local bee clubs and the national beekeepers association much like we do in the US. They are laser focused on education.   The national association has worked with the equivalent of our community colleges to develop an accredited beekeeping course. They have a formal training program that starts with Junior beekeepers and ends with honey judging  : https://www.scottishbeekeepers.org.uk/images/education/exams/The%20SBA%20Education%20System.pdf  .

The two most interesting conference talks were by Dr. Robert Paxton, head of the Zoology at Martin Luther Universität, Halle-Wittenberg, and Dr. Jamie Ellis, University of Florida.

Dr. Paxton described the research his team has done on deformed wing virus (DWV), and how they have been able to show a direct correlation between DWV and hive loss.  They looked at many other viruses (including Nosema Cerena), but none had the direct correlation that DWV did.   DWV is very interesting because Varroa is ~90% efficient in transmitting DWV to honeybee pupae.  This research was done in conjunction with research groups from around the world, including the Bee Informed Partnership.    In controlled experiments, they also found that bees that did not have DWV lived ~40 days; those with DWV-strain A – lived ~18 days and those DWV-strain B – lived 14 days.

Dr. Ellis (some of you might recognize the name from his regular articles in ABJ) talked about beekeeping in the US.  It was very interesting to hear the reactions in the room when he talked about the migration of colonies to the almond pollination or that the biggest commercial beekeeper in FL has 60K hives.  Since most beekeeping in Scotland is either backyard hobbyist or very small-scale operations, the sheer scale of some of the US operations was hard for folks to imagine.

There was also big honey and wax show with entries with everything from baked goods to candles.     The most amazing thing I saw were flowers made of beeswax.  When I first saw them, I thought they were a silk flower decoration!  I talked to someone about how they make them, and apparently, they warm the wax, roll it out and then use molds made for creating frosting flowers to shape them

We found everyone we met in Scotland to be very friendly.  Not surprisingly, the beekeepers were as curious about our management practices as I was about theirs.   Our trip reinforced how much beekeepers, whether local or from another country, have in common, and how curious and willing to share experiences we all are.  I guess another way to say this is – We never get sick of talking about our bees!

Beekeeping in Scotland – part 1

We spent 2 weeks in Scotland in late August/early Sept 2017.   I wrote about the trip & a 1-day bee conference we attended for the NH Beekeepers’ Winter Newsletter.   Here’s the first part of the story:

Beekeeping in Scotland

What could be better than a vacation in Scotland?  A vacation in Scotland and getting to attend the Scotland Beekeepers Association Fall Conference while you are there!  That is what happened this year when my husband and I planned our vacation.   Once we had the dates for our trip, I looked to see if there were any bee club meetings I might attend so that I could meet some local beekeepers – and low and behold I found the SBA conference.

Scotland is a small country.   Compared to NH, they have approximately 4.5 times as many people (6 million in Scotland vs 1.3 million in NH), and approximately 3 times as much land.   The country is very rural – mostly made up of huge estates where they farm all sorts of things from livestock to barley to strawberries.    To give you an idea of how big these estates are – approximately 500 people own more than ½ the land in Scotland.

We drove all over the country during our trip, and I was amazed at how similar the landscape was to NH (but with a lot more sheep and castles!).     It is not as forested as NH is now – but I can imagine that NH looked very much the same during the “sheep boom” that we had in the early 1900s.

Scottish Landscape (purple on the hills is heather)

The weather in Scotland is generally wetter and colder than NH.  We were there in late August/early September, and the temperature was in the high 50s/low 60s.  They seldom have to water their crops or flowers (one B&B owner was telling me how dry it had been. She had to water her flowers once this summer!).

As I met beekeepers, I found it interesting how similar (varroa is their biggest challenge, they must deal with cold winters), yet different (hive types, honey crops, etc.) beekeeping is in Scotland.

Most beekeepers I talked to use “National” Hives which have 14”x12” hive bodies.  They use “British standard” frames which have much longer “ears” so they can fit in the hive body either left-to-right or back-to-front.  Poly-styrene hives instead of wooden ones seem to be much more common than here in NH.

 

They do not use inner covers – even on Langstroth hives.  Instead their outer covers are deeper (6”) and have ventilation built in.

Langstroth Hive – note the depth of the outer cover & the notch for ventilation

Most folks I talked to seemed to use 1 brood box and only 1 or 2 supers.  They were shocked to see a picture of my hives which are 5-7 medium boxes tall.  Unfortunately, I did not get to ask how big their typical honey harvest is or how often they harvest.  My guess is the fact that they have so much rain may limit how much their bees can forage; thereby limiting the harvest.

One of their biggest honey crops is heather – which blossoms in August/Sept.   We timed our trip so I could see “heather” blossoming (for obvious reasons!).  I figured we would have to go on certain roads or to particular towns to see the bloom (like going to Sugar Hill to see Lupine), but the heather was absolutely everywhere, covering entire mountain tops.   It was in full-bloom in the Highlands (northern Scotland) and had just gone by in the “Borders” (southern Scotland).

I also learned that in Northern Ireland, a big honey crop is a combination of heather and fuchsia which blossom at the same time.    Apparently, the combination of the two nectars has a wonderful taste.   Unfortunately, I never saw any “heather honey” so I did not get to sample it.

 

Making Candy Boards for winter feed

In the winter, bees cluster together to keep the hive at ~50F while they are not raising brood (Nov–>Mid Feb), and then when they start raising new brood to prepare for the spring (starting in Mid-Feb), they keep the hive at closer to 95F.     Generating this heat (by shivering) takes lots of energy so you need to make sure they have enough honey stores to make it through the winter.  Generally, in our area of NH, this requires  ~80-100 lbs of honey in each hive.  The exact amount each year varies depending on how many bees are in a given hive & how warm the fall & winter are.

Unfortunately, some years (and it looks like this may be one of them), they will go through more honey than what you left for them so you need to provide emergency feed – in the form of raw sugar, fondant or winter patties (a sugar/pollen mix).    In past years, I’ve made fondant and left some on the hive  in case they run out of food.   This has worked well for me, but this year I decided to try making “candy boards” to provide the emergency feed.

A candy board is essentially a frame of hardened sugar that you put on top of the hive so the bees can get to it if they need it.     There are many DIY instructions for candy boards on line, but I used some very simple instructions provided in the Pawtuckaway Beekeepers monthly news letter.  Here’s  what I did:

  1. For each hive, Mike made me a wooden frame that would fit on top of the hive and  about 1″ deep

    Candy Board Frame made from scrap wood
  2. I stapled 1/2″ hardware cloth  onto the bottom side (Hardware cloth is another name for metal mesh fencing – like chicken wire)

    Added 1/2″ hardware cloth to support the candy
  3. Lined the hardware cloth with wax paper  & put in two pieces of wood to block of areas that I wanted to leave without sugar (the right area is to allow bees access to the outside, the middle is for adding a “pollen patty” (aka artificial pollen) in the late winter to given the bees protein for the new brood.

    preparing for adding the “candy” by lining with wax paper & blocking out the areas that we want to remain open
  4. Mixed  8 lbs of sugar with ~1- 1/8 c of water & a few drops of honey-b-healthy to create a paste
  5. Put the wet sugar in the frame on top of the wax paper and let it harden

I made  5 of these boards & put them on top of the hives in early Dec (the bees won’t eat them if they don’t need them).   When I checked the hives after the early Jan cold snap:

  • one hive hadn’t touched the candy board (2016- overwintered hive)
  • one had eaten a very small amount (the 2017 package)
  • two had eaten about a 5″ square of the sugar  (one of the 2 hives I started from a split in the summer & the other overwintered hive)
  • one had eaten almost the entire candy board! (the 2nd of the 2 hives I started from a split)

What this tells me is that even though every hive had at least 80 lbs of honey/sugar water, at least a few have gone through most of their stores during the warm fall.  I need to stay on top of giving them additional feed – otherwise I’ll lose the bees to starvation over the winter.  I have given that last hive some fondant and am making a new candy board (with twice the amount of suger ) to give it later this week.  Fingers crossed spring comes early!

 

Mead is ready!

This fall I bottled the mead that I started last Feb.      Since we tend to prefer dry over sweet wines, I let the mead ferment until the yeast had eaten all of the sugars – making the resulting mead very dry.

Blueberry, plain & strawberry mead from my first try at “brewing”

I bottled about 2 liters each of blueberry (left), plain (middle) & strawberry(right)  mead.    Interestingly, while they all taste slightly different, you don’t get a strong taste of the fruit that I used.  I asked the expert at the local brewing supply shop, and he told me that this is common.  When you use fruit, you will get the color and aroma but seldom have much in the way of flavor.  Apparently most folks will had a few drops of concentrated flavoring so it tastes as expected.   (I decided not to do this).

We’ve enjoyed the mead with a few meals so far.   I plan on starting another batch this winter.  This time, I will probably stop the fermentation a little sooner so there still is a little sweetness when you taste it. .. stay tuned!