Friday, June 8, 2012

Honey Harvest June 9 and 10!

We've had a crazy spring with warm weather starting in March and then cool rain after the warm snap.  I didn't really quite know what to make of it all but I guess the bees did. We have hives heavy with honey already and will do a small but significant harvest this coming weekend.

The honey will be somewhat unusual as normally we'd not harvest until at least July, when clover and basswood would be present and contributing factors in the honey. The honey we take in this weekend will really be spring honey with fruit tree blossom and dandelion being important nectar providers to it.

Expect honey at River Valley Market in a week or two. It'll be a special but small run of unique honey, only from an oddball year like this.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Queenspotting after Brunch

We had a busy day at the apiary last Sunday. We had a visit from friend Hillary Price. We'd post a picture of her here, but everyone looks pretty much the same when their photo is take in a bee veil. We took her over to the yard and we poked around in some hives.

I cannot really imagine what it's like to look into a bee hive for the first time. They're so strange. Anyhow, we had a nice brunch with friends and then did some beekeeping.

Later on Rick Intres from Bear Meadow Apiary stopped by to help us beekeep. We know Rick from the Franklin County Beekeepers. He's very knowledgeable about bees and kindly offered to come by and show us a few tricks.

The early spring has lead to record large hives for this time of year. It's great for taking advantage of nectar, but can very easily lead to swarming, so we had to take action. We set about finding the queen bees in the hives. Can you spot her in the photo above?

It may seem easy there, but in a hive of 30,000 bees it's not easy. Rick showed us tricks that help him locate her. We then moved each queen we found to another part of the hive where she'd be less crowded and have more room to lay eggs. We spent about 6 hours in the hives. If things work out it could be a record year for us, but the swarm impulse will be intense.

This year we're inviting many experienced beekeepers to visit us in the hopes of learning a lot and sharing what we know. Nothing beats really seeing what others are doing that makes their practice special.

We also gave Rick a small colony with a queen from one of our best colonies. We're hoping he'll do well with her too. In this way we preserve and spread the best genetics to deal with the complex and harsh challenges bees face. Think of this practice as being a lot like seed sharing. Beekeepers can't compete and hope to survive; we cooperate.

Add to the list of challenges that bees face a newly emerging disease, Nosema Cerene. Most beekeepers know Nosema Apis pretty well as bee dysentery. This "new" nosema was formerly a bee disease from a social bee found in northern India. Now thanks to globalization it's here too. It's a likely contributor to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and we're trying a new fix against it. It's the extract from the bark of a tree found in Czechoslovakia. Nosema is a fungus, and trees have to fight off fungal infections all the time. The first line of defense is their bark. Make sense?

Lastly, there's been a lot of news lately about neonicitinoids killing off bees. Everyone is looking for the magic bullet that'll stop CCD but IMHO there is no magic bullet. CCD has many causes, not the least of which is how we live. Sure, neonics are probably not helping anything, but neiter is nosema cerene. I'm not sure what will stop it, or if anything ever will. In a small stand against it all we gave away a queen from our best colony to a friend.

She's been a strong girl that came to us through a swarm I captured in Florence. She was strong enough to fly away and try and make it on her own. She did this in a world with Nosema Cerene, neonics, varroa destructor and crazy weather.

Good luck with your queen Rick. She's the future, part of the one I want to live in anyhow.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring comes to Northampton

Spring comes to Northampton to find us with 18/20 hives surviving the winter. Some called this the winter that wasn't, but even this comes with problems. Some people have hives starve because the bees tried to maintain brood all winter and used up stores at a very fast rate. Others are reporting high mite levels due to strong and early growth of brood.

I've seen drone comb in our hives already. This year is historic; old timers say they've never seen anything like this. Our peaches and stone fruit are in bloom-- nectarines are seen above. Oddly we had a huge honey run with bees flying to maple and willow the week of the 70 degree temps in early March. But now the fruit trees have blossomed early and it's gone back to being too cool to fly. It's all so confusing.

Still, our girls came through winter with flying colors (yellow and black)! The bee here was likely born in October or November. She is different than the bees born earlier that year--a special bee designed to carry the hive through the long winter, keep the nest warm to 95 degrees when the queen starts laying, and to then forage in the spring. In bee years she's 3 hundred years old. Normal summer bees live about 6 weeks; she's probably five or six months old.

We also let the bees recycle some wax from last years honey harvest and they made these odd top entrances to their hives. The look like little space towers designed by some 1970s futurist architect from Sweden or Turkey. Here bees are seen boiling out of their little strange door, I guess thinking their weird bee invertebrate thoughts.

As we pick up tools we've not taken to hand in the better part of six months it's hard to not think we've entered some strange new world where it's almost 80 degrees for a week in early March. I was talking over the fence with our neighbor Pam and she commented that her toddler son Gavriel was inheriting an uncertain future environmentally. Beekeeping has brought us closer to the world we live in, marking the temperature ever day and watching a very complex and incredibly old superorganism respond to those changes.

Once again I find myself grateful to have bees around, and to see a bit of the world through my relationship with them. I guess in return I'll do my best to hold up my end of the bargain and take good care of our girls.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Buckfast! The bees that Brother Adam made

In 2012 we're going to add to our bees with some very special new bees. These bees are Buckfast, a special kind of bee. The history is that in 1916 the bees in England were decimated by something called Isle of Wright disease. the beekeepers didn't understand what was killing the bees, but it killed nearly all of them. It turns out it was an imported mite, not unlike our current situation with the Varroa destructor mite, and not unlike our situation with colony collapse.

Nearly all the colonies were killed off but then a monk, Brother Adam, found a feral colony living and healthy. He returned these to the Buckfast Abby for breeding. Over the next 70 years years Brother Adam traveled through the Near East, Africa and Europe returning with the strongest bees he could find.

These bees represent the hope of a generation and a link to ancient monastic breeding programs. Today the bee is produced only by a few specialized breeders that keep Bother Adam's work alive, literally. Our Buckfast colonies are due to arrive in late April.