Chia for the bees

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Honeybee on Chia (Salvia hispanica)

I broadcast spread a handful of chia seed on a few bald spots of the rockiest, most nutrient-poor soil imaginable back in April. I never watered them or weeded. Now, in October, at over 10 feet tall, I was beginning to worry that frost would kill them before they had a chance to flower. My fears were unfounded, because the buds and then the flowers seemed to come out of nowhere the third week of October. The bees are all over them and they are only about half way open. I’ll plant a good bit more next year for a late season forage source. Every little bit helps, so why not?


What’s your bees’ story?

Whenever I give a tour of my beeyards, I tell the story of each colony, and get to relive the excitement (or frustration) of how each one came to live with me. For example, one of my favorite colonies is one that I call “The Spool” colony. Back in June, someone from Verizon called me about some bees that moved into a 650 lb. spool of steel wire. Some workers found the bees buzzing around the spool and began searching for some wasp spray. Luckily, they asked their supervisor (a bee lover) for the spray. He told them not to spray the bees and immediately put a sign up by the spool to stay away, and then somehow found me. I came by to look at the bees and form a plan as to how I was going to get them out of the spool. After explaining all the usual methods of removing bees, the supervisor said, “Can we just bring the spool to your house?” Well, there’s an idea. The bees were in for a bumpy ride, and were pretty mad upon arrival, but have been just fine ever since. I have no plans of removing them now, and will just let them swarm this Spring and hopefully be around to capture them.

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My “Spool” colony.

Another colony I call my “Power Plant” colony, came to me as the result of a blown-down tree in the shadow of the Limerick Power Generation Plant. (Video) The tree pretty much exploded on impact, and comb was scattered everywhere. Animals drug away most of it, so all that was left was a large cluster of bees. Interestingly, in this same tree was a very active nest of European Hornets, and a large Baldface hornet nest was a few feet from that. In the ground nearby was a yellow jacket nest just for good measure. I managed to get stung by a European hornet and it nearly knocked me over. There were many dead laying all over the ground, but not honeybees. Somehow, these bees were killing the hornets in impressive numbers. I lured the bees into a hive and left them there for a week to rob out what was left of their old cavity. I wasn’t sure if I had the queen until a few weeks later when I saw her during an inspection. They have kept up their wasp-killing ways here at home and have none of the issues with yellow jackets that some of my other colonies do.

The reason I tell these stories (and titled this post this way) is because I love that all my colonies have such stories to tell. When I visit other beekeepers, I always ask where their bees are from. So often, all I hear is, “They’re from a package”. I hope that more people start to realize that packages aren’t the only way to get bees. Bees are free, but you have to get out there and earn them. Don’t let your story be “They arrived on my doorstep via US Mail for a hundred bucks”.  No one wants to hear that. 

Tell me your bee’s stories in the comments.

Mythbusting: Bee Skeps in Georgia

I love it when a myth is busted.

Kelley Honeybee Farm

DalgarvenBeeSkepOn February 22, my son Cordell and I attended the Coastal Empire Beekeepers Association’sFundamentals of Beekeeping seminar on Oatland Island near downtown Savannah, GA. One of the speakers giving advanced level presentations was David Arnal, an experienced beekeeper from Hilton Head, S.C.

One of the presentations given by David that I attended was called Reintroducing the Skep. In all honesty, I almost skipped the class and went to a different one because my first reaction to the title was something like this:

“What!? Skeps? Who would want to keep bees in a skep? They’re illegal anyway!”

But, my curiosity got the better of me so I made my way to the class to hear what Mr. Arnal had to say. I figured I had nothing to lose.

Now, just for those who may be wondering, a “skep” is a woven basket that contains bees like you see in the photo…

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Bottomless in the Bee Yard

I went bottomless in the bee yard last season. And I liked it. But first, here’s why. I kept noticing that my foundationless frames were being drawn out nicely on the top (of course), and the sides, but a space was always being left straight across the bottom without attaching to the bottom bar. This didn’t really bother me for any other reason than that it just seemed like a waste of space. The bottom bar just kind of “existed” there serving no real purpose (at least for me). So I decided to leave the bottom bar off of about a dozen frames to see what would happen.

Kelley F-style bottomless frame (before) Sorry about the finger.

The few people I mentioned my “experiment” to warned me of the impending doom to come in the form of attachments to lower frames, and in one case, possible loss of vision and death. But I soldiered on. This was the result:

Bottomless frame (after)

I only took a picture of one frame because they all looked virtually identical. Not one attachment to a frame below. I’m not saying they will never attach it, but so far they have not. So here are a few reasons I’ll be going bottomless for the most part from here on out:

  1. On each frame, the bees now have about an extra inch of space to build comb downward. Multiply that by ten frames, and its like an extra frame in every box for brood or honey.
  2. With each bottomless frame, there are now four fewer surfaces for beetles, mites, moths, or yellow jackets to walk around on and for the bees to protect. Again, multiply that by frames in your box.
  3. It takes half the time to put together bottomless frames.

I can’t think of any downsides for the bees, only the beekeeper (if any). Topbar hive beekeepers have been doing it forever. If you’ve already done this in a Langstroth, or can think of any downsides to bottomless frames, please comment below.

Robbing 3 –> Obtain ferals and LetMBee — LetMBee Blog

If you’re reading this and you haven’t read Robbing can teach us about honeybees or Robbing – 2: What do you do? you might want to start there. Just to summarize, last time I came home from work to a robbing episode. Two colonies were being selectively targeted for robbing while one feral colony was left alone. Robbing Observations The robbers looked different than […]

via Robbing 3 –> Obtain ferals and LetMBee — LetMBee Blog

Me, in the news

A lot has happened since my last post. I’ve collected many swarms, and done a few cutouts. Some were fun. Some were no fun at all. I got a call for a swarm in Pottsville, and the newspaper showed up to cover all the excitement. Read the article here.
  Two days later, Pottsville called again. About 3 blocks from the previous swarm, at a cemetery, in a tree, about 25 feet up. This one was very challenging, because I was high up in a bucket-truck and it was very windy. And it was raining. Well, the paper was there again waiting for me. Read the article here.

First swarm of 2016

I finally caught a swarm that I know is not from a beekeeper’s yard. Atleast not directly. I picked this baby up and noticed a booming colony in the tree overhead about 40 feet up. The queen was in a little clump of bees on the grass across the sidewalk from the cluster. I don’t think she could fly. The homeowner told me that the swarm was on the sidewalk at first, but they walked up into a small bush by the time I got there. It is still early for swarms around here (or so I’ve been told). I left a bait hive at the location just in case another swarm decides to leave. I can’t wait to measure the brood cell size. Another bait hive of mine has a couple dozen scouts checking it out. It’s getting pretty exciting over here in PA.