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.

Self-torture at the Bee Club Meeting

frustration

I told myself I’d never go to another generic (local) bee club meeting again. But I was suffering from spring/bee fever so I decided to attend a meeting held by a new (to me) bee club. The topic was “Spring Preparation”. It started out harmless enough with people making motions and seconding them, saying “aye” and all that fun stuff. Then, a first year beekeeper told everyone about a colony that he checked on a recent warm day only to discover that it was dead. He explained that it was very strong up until Christmas. The president of the club asked if he treated for mites (because of course, if he didn’t, that explains it). Well, in fact he did treat it. Not because he had mites or any other problem. The reason? “Because I already bought the treatments, so I figured I had better use them up.” I wondered if the bees were actually dead in the first place. I poked my finger up hesitantly and when given the nod asked what he did with his “dead” colony. “I cleaned all the bees out and stored the hive in my garage.” I asked if anyone had seen the video going around of bees coming out of “torpor” while a very experienced beekeeper is cleaning out an apparently dead hive. Silence. I briefly explained that bees can seem dead and remain that way for a few days, even when it is warm, and this condition is known as torpor. Shoulder shrugs all around. One member finally chimed in, “Well, you have to put those frames away in an unheated garage to protect them from the wax moths. That’s what it says in the book.” The book? Wax moths? It’s February. And we’re in Pennsylvania. Were wax moths going to move in to an ice cold hive now? So with that settled, it was on to spring preparation. What was the first suggestion? “Get those (Mite-Away Quick) strips in there!” Just get them in there. Treat early and often. Don’t check to see if any of your colonies are dealing with mites and not dying. Don’t acquire queens from genetic stock with hygienic traits. Just treat your one or two hives as if you were a commercial honey producer who depends on every single colony to produce as much honey as possible at any cost. Yeah, I wasn’t having fun. They referred to colonies that made it through winter (treated, wrapped, and loaded with syrup and fondant) as “survivors”. Those are the ones you split because they are survivors. My first thought was “How would one go about splitting a colony that didn’t survive.” But more importantly, is a colony that you babied and treated and fed all season really a survivor? I don’t think so. Hey, if you’re so emotionally attached to every single colony that you can’t bear to see one die for the betterment of the gene pool, then treat away. But don’t call them “survivors”. Survivors deal with mites without treatments, build up at the right time, and don’t require constant feeding to store enough for winter. You know, the way they’ve done it for millions of years.

The rest of the meeting was spent talking about how many packages everyone was getting from the “old -timer” of the group, a commercial treater selling treatment-dependent bees that will eventually flood the area with weak, non-adapted genetics by way of drones. There was no discussion of swarm traps or catching (possible) feral swarms which is what I’m most excited about. Then the “newbies” were paired up with “qualified” mentors (who will most likely familiarize them with the treatment treadmill) and the meeting was adjourned. I didn’t get a chance to ask if anyone in the room didn’t treat their bees or didn’t plan to.. I doubt anyone would have raised their hand in this group. I’m going back next month just to ask and see what response I get. This should be fun.

Treatment-free beekeeping links

 

This is going to be my little collection of favorite websites until I find a better place to put them. These are not just typical beekeeping pages. If you have a suggestion to add here, feel free to email me and I will check it out. So, in no order, here they are:

Treatment-Free Beekeepers Group (on Facebook)

The Treatment-Free Podcast

Anarchy Apiaries (NY)

Parker Farms (OR)

Bush Farms (NE)

LetMBee (IN)

Solarbeez (OR)

KirkWebster.com

ParadiseNectar.com

Blue pollen?

I’m obsessed with blue pollen now after seeing this post on BeverlyBees.com. I guess there are worse things to be obsessed with. And I’m not the only one. Rusty, at Honeybeesuite is too. So I planted 250 Siberian Squill bulbs in a long row about 50 yards away from my hives. I also ordered a quarter pound each of Borage and Lacy Phacelia seeds to spread around the many vacant lots and abandoned buildings in my area. These flowers also produce blue pollen as I learned at Honeybeesuite. The thing I’m wondering is: Do these plants also produce blue nectar, leading to blue honey? It will be interesting to find out. I don’t plan on harvesting a drum of blue honey from such a relatively small planting, but it would make for a nice picture if I could find some put away in some honeycomb.

Thinking of keeping honey bees?

Great! Now what? The first thing you will be told is to join a beekeeping club and get in touch with a local beekeeper to teach you the “right” way to do things. That’s what I did, and I would not do it again. At the club meetings I went to, all they talked about was how to treat your bees with chemicals and how to feed your bees enough sugar syrup or high-fructose corn syrup to get them through winter. They demonstrated all kinds of fancy equipment that was “needed” to keep your bees alive and produce a giant honey crop. Then, they complained about how their bees died in spite of all the “help” they were given anyway. When I raised my hand and said that I would rather keep my bees without feeding them and trea400xNxfreehoneybeepic400_jpg_pagespeed_ic_DtypS4n7GTting them, allowing them to live as they would in nature, you could hear the collective groan of all the experts. I never went back. I did meet up with a couple “seasoned” beekeepers who just regurgitated the same stuff from the club meeting and seemed genuinely annoyed at my plans to keep bees naturally. To them, it is just not an option. They have been told, and believe, that honeybees absolutely need our constant coddling just to survive. Maybe some do. But some do not. Thanks to youtube, you can see hundreds of honeybee colonies being removed from buildings and trees that have survived for years on their own with no human intervention whatsoever. Many with buckets of honey. This is what I try my best to duplicate in my method of keeping bees.

   I wouldn’t suggest starting with packaged honey bees the way I did my first year. Most packaged bees have been raised for generations on  chemical treatments and feeding, and are usually from the south, so they are not suited for northern climates and non-treatment. My package struggled and died the first year. $125.00 down the drain. I would suggest catching swarms. I caught two swarms my first year and still have progeny from them today with zero treatments. One of my favorite websites with alot of information about catching swarms is LetMBee.com.

  Once you have your swarm, you will need to put them in something. There are many different hive styles, but a standard Langstroth is good to start with. I prefer 8-frame deeps. I would use foundationless frames. Most beekeepers use and swear by a screened-bottom board with a bottom entrance. I don’t use them for many reasons that I will go into in a later post. You can just use a solid piece of wood for the bottom (and top for that matter). Save your money. For an entrance, I drill a 3/4 inch hole in the side of the top box near the lid. That’s it for the hive.  Less than $100.00 if you order it all (3 deeps, 30 frames without foundation) from a bee supply company. No syrup feeders, no landing board, no inner-cover, no hive stand (use cinder blocks), no paint. I have yet to see a colony removed from a structure that had any of those things. You will still need a good bee suit, hive tool, and a smoker. Bee suits are not cheap, but get a good one. Use the money you would have wasted on package-bees.

  If you want someone to help you inspect your hives, or transfer a swarm to your equipment, by all means look up a beekeeper. But please make sure they are on the same wavelenghth as far as not treating. There are many treatment-free beekeepers out there, but you have to find them. Another great website to learn from about natural beekeeping is Michael Bush’s “Practical Beekeeping“. I’ve read the whole thing many times and love it.

  Now, are all of your hives going to survive every year keeping them this way? Of course not. You may have caught a swarm from a beekeeper’s treatment-addicted hive that couldn’t hack it on its own. Or you may have just caught a swarm with inferior genetics. But if you catch enough swarms, you are bound to get a good one that can survive whatever is thrown at it such as mites, small hive beetles, and cold winters. It may have been from an old tree or an abandoned building. This is the hive you want to make nucs with to increase your number of hives (if you want more).

  So that’s what I do. Pretty simple. I don’t see any reason to change anything. Leave a comment or email me if you want me to expand on anything. Good luck!

Plant bee friendly flowers

I’ve been walking around Reading, placing little packets of seeds (that I make myself) with my business card stapled to them on people’s porches. I’ve also been handing them out to anyone who wants to plant them. I’ll also send one to any subscriber who requests one.  If you are one of the lucky ones who has received one, here is a partial list of the flowers you should expect next year:

 Reading PA honeybee removal

Poppy (white, red, pink)

Globe Thistle (purple)

Cornflower (blue)

Sage (red)

Anise (white)

Coneflower (purple)

Borage (blue)

Chia (purple)

Sunflower (yellow)

Chives (pink)

Honey bees and butterflies love all of these flowers. You can go out and sprinkle them right away if you want to. I wouldn’t put them all in one spot, because some of them get pretty big, such as the chia plants and the sunflowers. Most of the seeds are very tiny, so just put a tiny pinch here and there. They will all reseed themselves and spread in following years. Please let me know how they do and send me pictures.

Wasps, Yellowjackets, and Bald-faced hornets

Most people hate wasps, but I don’t. When I was a little kid, my dad took down a neighbor’s wasp nest and put it in a jar for me and I thought it was the coolest thing. I’ve loved them ever since. As long as they are not right next to your door or a high traffic area, they usually won’t bother you at all. Many times, they kind of get used to you walking by.Reading PA honeybee removal One time, I saw a large nest under a lifeguard’s post at a busy pool. The lifeguard sat up there and kids were running back and forth but the wasps never attacked anyone. I don’t think anyone even knew it was there but me. If I get a call about an exterior wasp nest, I will place the nest and wasps in a wooden box with an opening for them to get in and out. After they settle down, I’ll cover the hole and take them to my bee sanctuary where they can do what they do unharmed. (Update: No I won’t. I’ll put them somewhere else) Then I can watch them hunt and carry their prey back to the nest. (Here is a cool video of a Bald-faced Hornet battling a giant Horsefly). If their prey happens to be too many of my honeybees (unlikely), well then I’ll just have to move them further away.

   Yellowjacket nests in walls are a different story. I wouldn’t attempt to cut a large yellowjacket nest out of a wall. I’ve been unsuccessful at spraying them for people. I would suggest that a professional pest-control company take care of them. If you have a yellowjacket nest in a wall, I recommend the following local pest control companies who do not exterminate honey bees:

                                  

Bumble bees

Reading PA honeybee removal

I’ve been watching some really cool videos on Youtube about how to set up bumble bee nest boxes. Here is just one good one. You can make a box and hope they use it, or you can actually catch a queen and confine her to the nest box with some food until she lays eggs and then release her. Once she lays eggs, she will not abandon the nest. I’ve never tried it before, but I’m definitely going to have a couple of these for 2016. The bumble bees don’t make nice, neat combs the way honey bees do. Their nests look pretty messy to me, but I’m going to try some of the honey anyway. I see them on marigolds alot, and there are alot of marigolds in the gardens surrounding my beeyard. I have a collection of various marigold seeds to plant next spring, so bumble bee marigold honey is most likely what I’ll be eating. If you’ve had any luck doing this or eating bumble bee honey, tell me about it.

I love honey bee swarms!

Reading PA honeybee removal 19601

To the uninitiated, this is a swarm of honey bees. This is what I’m after. I have dreams about these things. I started ilovebees.buzz as a way to get more of these. Have you ever seen one? If you have, that means an established colony is probably nearby. Let me know where you’ve seen them so I can place a bait hive (or swarm trap) in that area. I have about 20 bait hives that I need to find places for this spring. In my bait hives, I place a frame of old comb and some swarm attractant. Its the coolest thing ever to check your bait hives and see bees flying in and out. You usually have no idea where they came from. They could be from some beekeeper’s hive or from a colony in a tree or building. I’ll leave them in there for a couple days to fill out some foundationless frames, and then transfer them to their new location.