Winter housekeeping

Honey bees beekeeping Pennsylvania removal

Every morning that I have off from work, I walk around the yard and check the entrances of all of my colonies. This is what I like to see. These little piles of dead bees tell me that my colonies are still alive. I use a twig to swipe them all away while trying not to get chased away. Some call this hygienic behavior, but it isn’t. This is basic housekeeping which all bees should do. If I don’t see these little piles, there might be a problem. So far though, I have live bees in all of my twenty-something hives. It seems that my decision to requeen (almost) all of my colonies with daughters of my survivors, and heavy late-season feeding has paid off thus far.

Beekeeper Pennsylvania removal


Am I a “successful” beekeeper?

What does it mean to be a successful beekeeper? People have many opinions of what determines success to them. To some, if you do not keep a certain number of colonies, make a certain amount of money, or achieve an outdated survival rate, you are just playing around (unsuccessfully). Here are some of the questions I ask myself.

Do you keep bees every season and have an absolute ball doing it? Yes.

Do you lay out a large amount of money every year to keep bees? No. Practically no money, except for equipment (which everyone needs).

Do you contribute negatively to the overall gene pool of honeybees by propping up unfit colonies? No.

Do you earn some income from your bees? I do. Not much, but enough to cover most of my equipment.

Are you constantly learning more each season by studying your bees? Yes. And by learning from other people.

Am I off base with this? Are there any other questions I should be asking myself? I may not meet the criteria others set to be considered successful, but if all the fun I have messing with bees is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right.

“Cold doesn’t kill bees” they say.

Well, we’re gonna find out, won’t we? I’m attempting to overwinter a colony in a “flower pot” style swarm trap. They moved in some time in June, but I kept putting off hiving them until it was too late. I brought them home and leaned them against my barn, then I covered the whole thing with a tarp and logs to protect it from wind, rain and snow. It weighs about 80 pounds, so I know they won’t starve. They also chewed a few additional entrances in the back and sides of the trap, so they have plenty of ventilation. Their genetics are sound. They most likely have an overwintered queen from my buddy’s treatment-free apiary where I had the trap. We just got clobbered by snow today, about 8 inches, so I took the picture below.

They are bone-dry under there, and usually you can see the cluster, but not today.

My spool colony is going into another winter. They swarmed a few times, and I raised some queens off of the mother queen to head a bunch of other colonies. I can’t wait to see how they pan out. All of my colonies are as heavy as wet cement, so I’m feeling good about this winter.

My long lang is under a lean-to, but somehow still got covered in snow. This thing is the “Cadillac” of beehives. 2 inches thick all the way around, and insulated on top. We’ll see how they do. I didn’t requeen the swarm I put in there because I retrieved them in a very undeveloped area. They could possibly be feral bees, so I will see what they have.

Many people stress about their bees during winter. I look forward to it for my bees, even though I hate the cold. Only the best will rise to the occasion and be around when the crocuses start blooming.

Jerusalem artichokes / “sunchokes” for the bees (and me)

Jerusalem artichokes for sale
Jerusalem artichoke / Sunchoke tubers

It all started two seasons ago with one quarter-sized piece of sunchoke tuber planted in my dad’s little backyard in the city. That little tuber grew into a 15ft tall, 10ft wide plant with hundreds of yellow flowers covered in bees. I uprooted it at the end of the season and my jaw dropped at the sight of over 100 tubers much larger than the one I originally planted. After giving most of them away, I was left with about thirty tubers that I planted on my beeyard this spring, out in the country. I’m very glad I did, because they bloomed during a dearth here and provided tons of pollen for my bees.

Jerusalem artichoke Sunchoke tubers for sale

My only problem now is what to do with literally thousands of tubers that will each produce a monstrous plant if not thinned out before spring. Good news: they’re edible! And as it turns out: they’re delicious! I’ve heard alot of stories about how they cause all kinds of intestinal discomfort when eaten, but I found those stories highly exaggerated. I roasted them with just salt, pepper, and olive oil, and they were great. I wish I had made more.

Jerusalem artichoke Sunchoke tubers

Below is a picture of a patch I planted along the road. Heavy winds knocked them over but they still thrived and flowered like crazy.

Jerusalem artichoke Sunchoke tubers for sale

If anyone is interested in some tubers, let me know. $5 per pound + shipping. Next fall, you will have tubers coming out of your ears too.

sunchokes bees praying mantis

Praying mantis eating a bee

The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend.

PA honeybee removal rescue Berks County

About this time of year, for the past several years, most of my honeybee colonies would be fending off hundreds of yellow jackets daily. They also would deal with the occasional baldfaced hornet, but to a much lesser extent. This year however (so far), I have witnessed a grand total of 2 yellow jackets, and 2 baldfaced hornets attempting to harass my bees.

So why the picture of my topbar hive full of European hornets? It was back in May that I noticed a single, huge mother hornet enter my empty topbar hive. I looked through the viewing window to see an adorable little paper cone about the size of a silver dollar hanging from a bar. I was preparing to go in and smoosh it, along with mamma when I thought to spend a minute researching these things. I decided to leave it be, and if it got out of hand, then I’d kill it. It never really did get out of hand in my opinion, and it has been as interesting to observe as any other social insect colony. I’ve watched them for hours while they brought in large caterpillars, crickets, some things I couldn’t identify, and yes, baldfaced hornets and yellow jackets (and the occasional honeybee). At this point, the colony spans about 15 bars of the hive, the entrance is very busy, and the influx of chewed up hornets and wasps never stops (even at night and during the rain). Everyone warned me that they will terrorize and decimate my colonies, but I’m just not seeing it. They exit the hive and I watch as they disappear in the far off distance. I can’t help but think that their presence in my yard has contributed to the practical nonexistence of yellow jackets this year. I also can’t wait to open up the hive and look at the nest after winter sets in.

Spool Colony Update: Swarm time! (Finally!)

After making it through a crazy roller coaster winter (and spring) that killed a high percentage of local bees, my spool colony finally swarmed on the 4th of July.

Then a few days later, they swarmed again. Here is my Facebook post documenting the second time. The first time they swarmed, they landed on my small apple tree a few yards away and snapped the thing in half. A few days earlier, I sat in front of the spool capturing and marking about a hundred workers and drones with a pink marking pen, just so if I caught them in a swarm trap or down the road, I would know they were from my spool and not one of my other colonies. As I approached the swarm on my now broken apple tree, I could see all the bees with the pink dots. A few days later, during an inspection, I saw the queen for the first time and she was a monster. I really want to propagate these hardy genetics, so I’ve since given eggs from this (now manageable) colony to a couple queenless colonies so they can raise daughters. The second swarm from the spool was given to another local treatment-free beekeeper buddy of mine. A few hours after the second swarm, I spotted three queens on the outside of the spool getting chased around and bitten by workers. I could hear one queen “piping” inside, so I guess they made their choice and picked the best one.

Honeybee rescue and removal PA
An evicted queen that didn’t pass the test.

There will be no way to know if the spool’s new queen gets mated or makes it back from her mating flight. But at least now I have her mother where I can see her, and several of her sisters to take into winter and see if they have what it takes. It will be interesting to see if the original mother queen does as well in Langstroth equipment as she did in the spool. Will they supersede her the way many prime swarms do after getting settled in? Hopefully not, but time will tell.