Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stay of Execution

I asked our bee inspector Ken Warchol to come visit my hives to help me get rid of Pink because I was planning on combining Pink and Sun's hives for the winter. I am SO glad I asked him to come over.

He said that Pink's have was the stronger of the two hives and that he thought all three hives were good and strong! Yay! And being the great teacher that he is, he explained to me how to tell - essentially if on a cool day the bees are still in the top box across all the frames, there are plenty of bees.

On the other hand, and isn't there always one, all three hives need more honey. I am trying to feed them honey but it might be too chilly for then to take a bunch of honey. With the extra cold weather these days I am going to offer them sugar water as well and then treat them in the spring for the intestinal parasites bees get.

On his way out, Ken had one of Pink's girls on his hat. She'd gotten a bit chilly, so I took her home.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bee Meeting

Last Saturday I spent the whole day talking bees. The local beekeepers club was able to get two fabulous smart scientists to discuss their research.

Dr. Marla Spivak is well know for her work in to Minnesota Hygienic bees. Getting her to come to our meeting was no small feat. Hygienic bees are not girls who take more showers - they actually were selectively breed to keep the hive cleaner and groom each other. Mites that attach to larvae in the hive give these bees some small signal that gets them to remove the larvae with heavy mite loads. This does kill the larvae but also the mites. These bees also groom each other more and remove the mites from adult bees. Both of these behaviors can help to reduce the amount of medications that beekeepers use to keep bees alive.

She's moving out of this work and spoke at length about her new passion: Propolis. Wild bees line their nest cavitiesn with it and bees in boxes use it like caulking. Propolis has amazing properties including being an antibacterial, anti viral and anti fungus. Now this part is a bit complicated but essentially coating your house with propolys is like sealing it in a protective bubble that keeps nasty microbes on the outside. This allows the bees individual immune systems to relax a bit. Now how do I paint my house with it!

The second researcher is fairly local - Dr. Heather Mattila from Wellsley. Honeybees, unlike most other social insects, mate with many drones. And I am talking A LOT! Some species of honeybee queens make -on average - with more than 60 drones. Yep - SIXTY. My own girls tend to be a bit more modest mating with between 6 and 20 drones. She was studying the question is more better?

Well, more is ... more - in human terms the sluttier the better. The more drones a queen mates with the better for the colony. The bees are more active and the queen lays more babies. I am thinking, from the way she described the difference between a queen mated with one drone and a queen mated with many drones that both Red and Pink were not well mated queens.

In her second talk, Dr. Mattila talked about life in a swarm. This was soo cool. She and her students studied the waggle dances of new home-foragers. It was just amazing to see how each new space was "talked" about by the forager to the swarm, then how the swarm carried on the conversation about different potential new homes. It looked just like a social networking site on the Internet!

So what did I take away from this meeting:
1. I need to collect propolis as a hive product and now have the knowledge to do so - now I need to learn more about marketing and using it
2. Pink is not as well mated as Sun and should be the queen who overwinters
3. I want to more scientifically monitor my mite levels so I can better track which medications are needed and when to most effectively apply them

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sweet day

Today I went apple picking with a bunch of my friends. I love having friends of all ages and still being included by my friends who have kids at home. We did find the amazing Spencer apple that I lust after every year. This year my expectations are low and my hopes high for some good treats. The apples were challenging to find and many were damaged.

And on a bee-note - many of the apples were not fully pollinated. When an apple gets fully pollinated it will be round and full. A partial pollination will result in an apple that is flat on one or more sides. Although we like to think of ourselves as outside of nature, we never can be. The weather affects the bees and that affects the food we eat. And here in New England apples are among a small handful of foods we identify ourselves with.

I pulled the last frames of people honey from Joy's hive today and it was a pretty sad experience. There were - at best - three full frames of honey. So for the year that brings us near 10 frames, just about half what we got last year.

On a happy note, the bees are all medicated. MEDICATED - you ask!? Yes, I do medicate the bees with formic acid - a soft and gentle method to help them get rid of the pesky mites that attack the bee's bodies and the tracheal mites that attach to their throats choking them. We need 21 days of 50' weather for Joy's hive to be fully medicated. (Pink and Sum are 10 days into their 21.)

As soon as I spin down the people honey, I will take out all the near-honey and nectar that the bees worked so hard on. This I will feed back to them. This time of year we often experience a dearth - a lack of nectar. The extra food - near-honey and some bee honey - will be put up for the winter.