May 09

The positive side of big winter losses.

Old dirty framesAt first it’s hard to think of a positive side of losing 55% (or more) of your hives.  It means lost sales of nucs, queens, expense and time buying packages and/or making splits and possibly a reduced honey crop because split hives aren’t as strong as they should be when the flow starts.

But there is a positive side.  In good years every scrap of equipment I have is on hives, unless it’s in such bad condition that even the bees won’t touch it (and that takes quite a bit).  This year, all the damaged, old dirty or mouse eaten frames from all the deadouts were piled up for recycling or burning.  Over the past week as I did an inspection of all my hives, I also pulled any (unused) junk frames from the live hives as well.  Most were positioned on the outside of the hive bodies so in most cases they weren’t really used yet.

The wax melter was first filled with frames, but with litterally 100′s of frames to process it would take all summer, with only a little bit of wax in these old frames.  So the rest went into the burn barrel.  Sort of a sad sight, but I’m sure the bees will be happier and healthier without all those old dirty frames harboring an untold number of AFB spores and other contamination.

The other upside is that I’ll have more time and can focus more on queen breeding rather than queen rearing.  The first batch of queen cells destined for instrumental insemination have just been placed in queenless hives and next week we’ll be inseminating them. 

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May 08

It’s not CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder)!

Any other beekeeper out there sick and tired about hearing this ‘mysterious’ bee disease, CCD (Colony colapse disorder?).  The coverage has been overwhelming from national to local TV coverage (on every network including PBS), radio and newspapers down the small local papers.  And it seems to be increasing with attention from even the US congress.  The continuous stream of stories all saying the same thing with little or no new information is becoming unbearable.  Then there are the questions for everyone I meet and phone calls from reporters asking about the bees.

I don’t doubt CCD exists, someting with the same symptoms has been described as early as 1915 and in many different countries.  There are many beekeepers in the US that lost quite a few hives with symptoms matching CCD exactly.  Some of them have been virtually wiped out by it, and I understnd their loss. However, not all the bee losses this year were due to CCD.  Many were due to well known and explained reasons such as starvation, mites and other diseases.  It’s almost too easy just to blame the unknown than to really take a look at what is really happening in some of these hives.

CCD has been reported in Ohio, but from talking to many beekeepers thoughout the state, the state inspectors and my own observations, the majority of the 72% average loss in ohio was not due to CCD.  Rather it was ultimately due to weather.  The 2006 summer was poor for honey production and the following fall was no better.  This resulted in many hives that either did not have enough honey to survive the winter, or that simply did not have a strong population of young bees, or both.  This ment that hives either starved, or their population dwindled thought the winter until they were too small to sustain themselves though the bitter cold this past February. 

Looking back, the loss of bees this winter in Ohio shouldn’t have been a surprise.  I honestly expected a bad winter, with losses several times the normal level, but even that was underestimating the loss I did have.  Starting around June of 2006, hives did not build up as they normally would.  This really continued into fall and should have been a sign to all of us that we needed to do something.  Sadly most of us (including myself) didn’t do enough.  We treated for mite and feed sugar syrup so they would have enough for winter, but failed to reconize the lack of young bees in the hive.  I know hindesight is 20/20, but should I ever see these signs again I will be feeding pollen and pollen substitute to increase brood production in the fall.  Interestingly I just spoke to a beekeeper who use to know Don Cox, a longtime beekeeper whom everyone seems to know.  Don recommend feeding pollen in the fall because it boosted the strength of the hive going into winter.  That piece of advise may have saved many hives this past winter.  The one beekeeper I know of who did this lost 0% of his hives.  (Note: Doc Cox was instrumental in founding the Northwest Ohio Beekeepers Association and started the honey booth at the Allen County Fair.  He passed away just a few years ago and will be missed by those who know him.)

On the plus side, honey bees are finally getting a lot of attention.  I’m not sure it’s putting beekeeping in the best light with all the ‘doom and gloom’ talk, but at least it’s getting attention.  And more important it looks like it may be translating into dollars for research in beekeeping, something that is badly needed.  So I do welcome the attention.

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May 04

Honey from Yellow Jackets?

Yellow Jackets selling honey?The image to the right is NOT, I repeat, NOT a honey bee.  Nor has anyone figured out how to get honey out of them.  It is rather a yellow jacket, a type of wasp.  They are the stinging insect that hangs around garbage cans at amusement parks and ball games, especially in the fall, and should not be confused with a honey bee.

With the blame honey bees receive for stings actually from yellow jackets (even in newspapers to the extent of calling them killer ‘honey’ bees), and the misidentification of the general public, this picture is especially troubling.  I already get calls about ‘honey bee swarms‘ in the fall that are really yellow jackets and don’t really need the public to have any encouragement in that direction.  I received a link to this picture on a honey manufacturers homepage (by the manufacturer soliciting their products).  What is especially annoying is that this manufacturer claims to run some 20,000 colonies themselves as well as processing honey from others.  You would think they know what a bee is.  (That said, the other pictures on their website showing ‘bees’ acually appears to be real honey bees).

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Apr 24

First Graft of 2007

Queen Cells 24hours after graftingI’m only running about 2 weeks late due to the weather.  On Friday I made up a strong queenless hive by removing a queen a couple frames of brood and bees from a hive, placing them in a five frame nuc.   Then adding a full medium of bees and brood to the now queenless hive.   Saturday afternoon I grafted the first batch of larvae from one of my overwintered NWC breeder queens. 

This particular breeder made it though the winter in great shape with a good strong population (you couldn’t tell it was a bad winter looking at them).  She was from the European stock (semen) Sue Cobey managed to import last year after many years of trying to get approval and cutting though all the red tape.  I must say the effort was well worth it as the 2 queens I have from this stock both look great and are probably the strongest hives I have.

A check this Sunday revield what I had hoped for, almost perfect acceptance of the grafted larvae.  37 of the 38 took.  I might actually be getting the hang of this.  Lack of recent practice in previous years usually made the first graft difficult and often with less than desireble acceptance resulting in having to regraft.   A picture of the cell cups, still well covered with bees after being removed from the hive to check it, is show to the right.  This picture was taken just 24 hours after grafting.  You can already see a good rim of wax being built on the cells and a good amount of white royal jelly in the bottom of the cups.

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Apr 23

The Bees are Here!

Package BeesAfter 2 weeks of delays, the bees are here.  110 packages of bees arrived around 7 and Saturday.  While I was eager to get them started, I really didn’t mind the delay due to all the bad weather, and even snow we had the previous weeks.  By 8 the first beekeeper had already picked up his packages and most of the rest of the beekeepers picked theirs up on Saturday. 

Most were in very good shape with only a couple with a lot of dead bees in the bottom of the cage, and only one queen was reported dead in the cage (a replacement was sent out this monday).  Timing couldn’t have been any better as the weather was beautiful, if not even a bit warm for the package bees.  We kept the last ones to be picked up on the cool concrete floor of the garage, and it was none too soon as Sunday got into the 80′s and the bees in the remaining packages were starting to get stressed running around the cages.

Those I had purchased myself to help make up for losses were installed on Friday and Saturday without incident.  They were relatively calm for being transported so far and being shaken out of a cage.  A few queens were released on Sunday, and the rest will be released today, weather permitting.  I watched the first queen released on the comb was very calm, and laid her first egg after only 5 minutes.  I’m hoping that’s a good sign of queens well taken care of (I’ve seen queens banked for awhile before shipping take a week or more to start layng)

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Apr 14

Snowstorm (in mid April?)

A snowstorm in April?It seems like winter just doesn’t want to let go this spring.  I’ve actually seen snow falling more than half the days this past week.  It hasn’t been terribly warm this week and the snow that has been sweeping across the country from Colorado to the Northeast arived this afternoon.  I couldn’t get a picture because it’s now dark, but there is an inch or two on the ground now and it hasn’t stopped yet.  The kids even wanted go go sledding (there is actually enough for that), but mom vetoed that idea in favor of bed time.

Needless to say nothing has gotten done beekeeping wise.  Last year this time I was making up mating nucs and putting out the first batch of queens.  This year it’s simply too cold to begin.  The shipment of package bees was also delayed due to the weather.  I’m eager to get started, but it was probably a good thing.  Hopefully this next week will be more promising.  It doesn’t look like  a warm forcast, still below normal, but should get into the 50′s.  The package bees should be here late this coming week, and with luck it will be warm enough to start grafting and inspecting hives.  I expect to find a few more hives that were lost in the past couple weeks with the cold weather and snow, but only a few.  Still, it could push our final loss to 60%, a full 6 times our normal loss. 

Snowstorm in April at our old barn.

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Apr 09

Where Did April Go?

Snow reportWhat is wrong with this picture?  April and today at 41 degrees, was the warmest day in the past 6.  4 of those days I’ve awoke to find snow on the ground.  (I had a picture of hives in the snow take just yesterday, but it was on a new camera phone and I just couldn’t get it working right). 

Delays:  Was a beautiful 2 weeks before this past week.  highs in the 60′s and 70′s with lows only in the upper 40′s.  But as of last week everyting was put on hold.    We were to begin grafting last week (can’t do that when the high’s barely got to freezing), and the package bees that were to be delivered were delayed due to bad weather in the Rocky Mountains.  They didn’t want to chance them getting delayed due to road closings.   We’ll have to keep a close watch on our weather, it’s finally starting to look up this weekend (at least I hope this is the last snow I see this season).

Chilled Brood:  The couple of warm weeks did give the hives a much needed boost.  They were bringing in nectar and pollen with no end in sight and the willows had just bloomed and were literally buzzing just before the cold front blew in.  Unfortunately though I think I’ll find a lot of chilled brood in the hives once it warms up.  In the warm spell they simply started raising more brood than they could keep warm once it got cold again.  The scene in my observation hive paints a sad picture.  Even with the hive indoors, the bees weren’t able to keep 1/4 to 1/3 of the brood warm and there is noticeably stressed and decaying brood where they weren’t able to cover it.  The hives still should recover, they’ll just have lost another week or so.

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Mar 15

Winter Losses

As I wrote the previous post I know losses were high.  But until I got into the rest of the yards, I didn’t know how high. At home they weren’t too bad, but some of the out yards got hit hard.  It’s nothing like anything I’ve seen before. Everyone I’ve talked to in the state are seeing losses of 50-80%, and unfortunately mine are no different.  I got a good chance to look at the hives this week in the warm spell and many of the remaining hives are week.  I expect to loose a few more before spring really hits, but most of the remaining should survive, but won’t be ready to split for nucs come April.  The only good thing is that most of my breeding stock (Instrumentally Inseminated queens) made it.

I’ve spent the past few days trying to decide how to proceed from here.  After long consideration and several sleepless nights, I’ve decided to scale back the queen rearing significantly this year to rebuild and concentrate on the breeding stock.  I simply don’t have the bees for mating nucs and financially bringing in outside hives just isn’t an option.  It’s depression and I just want to go outside and scream, but I’ve got to deal with the hand I have.

Some Observations:

I haven’t spent much time looking at the dead outs yet as I’ve been concentrating on the live ones.   I can’t say if it’s this CCD that is all over the news.  Only one hive ‘dissapeared’ as described, and that was back in October.  There were also only a few that outright starved (we had a very poor honey year and I ended up doing a lot of feeding in the fall).  Most so far seem to have smaller than normal clusters and appear to have starved surrounded by honey.  Possibly caught in this last cold spell we had.  I’ve talked to several people who’s hives were alive before the cold snap,  but then lost around half.  My hunch is that it is due to lack on nutrition or nutritional stress.  They seem to have little pollen and haven’t begin raising brood like they normally would.  Hives in the latter part of last year had trouble building up as well.  Some others have noticed that bees going on cleansing flights over the winter (on warmer days) didn’t seem to return.  I also saw a lot of dysentery, someting I usually don’t see in more than 1 or 2 hives at most.  All this (and more) makes me lean towards a pollen deficency as it reduces overwintering success, health, increases sensitivity to pesticides (herbicides, etc.).

Overall, my the bees at home did the best (I did open feed pollen substitute in the fall), and The II queens did well.  The 2 yards that had the larger losses last year (though it wasn’t high), were nearly decimated this year. 

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Mar 12

The Season Begins

Large drifts still have not yet melted, but it’s finally above freezing with temperatures near 50 for the past few days.  The latter part of last week was spent mixing up sugar syrup and feeding hives to get them moving and prevent starvation.  I also put out dry pollen substitue to keep them busy until the maples start blooming.  Later this week I’ll be adding pollen patties to the hive to really get them producing brood.

Winter losses were high.  Much of it was expected though after a very poor honey crop last year and a poor fall, resulting in hives that were light in fall.  Much of it seems to be due to starvation in spite of our fall feeding attempt, in hindsight we probably should have fed earlier, longer and more of the hives.  There also seemed to be quite a few that died of local starvation where the cluster got caught away from the honey in a cold spell.  In these cases the cluster looked smaller than expected.  Those hives that were fed in general did much better.  It will take some work to get built back up again.  On the plus side, most of the breeder queens made it.

Of course the question I am constantly asked now due to all the media coverage is ‘do your bees have CCD’ or similar question.  I really can’t answer that one.  Other than defining what some symptoms are, no one knows what it really is.  Losses are up statewide, with most everyone I’ved talked to seeing 50-80% losses (commercial and hobbiest alike).  A lot of it is being blamed on CCD, but I think it’s a bit of a ‘desease of the day’ syndrome.  I did see one hive in October that looks exactly like CCD, but most of the deadouts do not.  Are the small clusters that died due to a milder case of CCD?  Until someone figures out exactly what it is, I don’t know.  Apparently CCD (or something similar) has been documented in this country as early as 1915 (according to James Tew), with occurences in other countries.  But is always seemed to go away as quickly as it came, and no one figured out why then either.  Hopefully it will do the same now.

Here’s hoping for a good year….

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Dec 05

Keeping Warm – with Corn

The warm spell is definately over with highs now in the 20′s and the bees are nicely tucked away in their hives. The front that brought an end to the heat wave came in with a roar with wind gusts I believe near 50 mph. I ended up having to check all my hives and replace telescoping covers which had blown off the hives and landed 20 feet away in some cases. As I was coming home from work I wasn’t dressed appropriately and between the standing water soaking my shoes and gale force winds below freezing, it wasn’t pleasent.Quadra-Fire Sante Fe

So it made for a good weekend to sit by the fire and do on overdue computer work. We actually installed a Quadra-Fire pellet and corn stove in both the home and at my wife’s business to help cut down on fuel costs (our furnace runs on fuel oil). Of course it helps that we live in an area where corn is plentiful and we can buy it directly from the farmer.
Overall my wife and I both love the stone. It isn’t enough to heat the whole house; mainly because the heat isn’t distributed well because of the floor plan. It has automatic start and can be hooked to a thermostat so it can be left on when you aren’t at home. It can use a direct vent strait out the wall with a 3″ID double wall pipe making installation a breese (and you get to play with power tools!). It has very minimal power requirements to run the blowers and electric start so it can be plugged into any 120v outlet. It generates a bit of smoke when starting, but is virtuly smokeless once started and the exaust is cool enough to put your hand in. It does need daily cleaning (especially if you run corn or a mix of corn and pellets that is required for auto starting), but it typically only takes about a minute and has several pulls built in to clean the various parts. The top and sides get warm, but not too hot to touch. In fact several of our cats love sleeping on it while it is on. Overall it is quite well thought out and we wouldn’t trade it in, however:

I do have a few complaints and suggestions:

  1. The corners of the soot drawer (underneath the unit to catch and remove the ashes) are not tight or sealed. This means soot leaks out and forms a small pile at the botton front corners of the unit. I’m not sure why the corners couldn’t be welded or simply sealed with a heat resistant sealant as several parts inside the unit already are. (It just seems cheap and a big oversight in an otherwise nicely designed stove).
  2. The unit comes with a can of paint to touch up scraches and a small scraper to break up clinkers and scrape the fire pot. It’s a small thing, but very nice to have included. However, I’m surprised Quadra-Fire stops there and doesn’t also include a 99 cent cheap 1″ paint brush to clean the soot. (I bought one myself).
  3. It does come with a thermostat, but it’s a cheap bimetal mechanical model. I would have appreciated a cheap digital thermostat with a stove that costs a couple thousand dollars. I purchased one locally for $20 retail.
  4. The 3 speeds is a very nice feature and a big selling point in my opinion. However, I was surprised that the only way to control the speeds is via a switch in the back of the unit. There are no contacts available so that it could be controlled by a remote switch or even a dual stage thermostat that could turn the speed up when the room is colder. Such thermostats are readily available (typically for heat pumps) but could be used with the stove if only the connections were available. The switch that is built in unfortunately is part of a sealed speed control unit with a ‘warrantee void if removed’ seal. So unless one wants to void the warrantee, you cant use a remote switch or multiple-state thermostat.
  5. The speed of the feed mechanism is controlled by a plate inside the hopper where the fuel is. It’s located such that it’s nearly on the bottom so the hopper has to be mostly empty to adjust the feed which is inconvenient. We also found that with our two units, the plate had to be adjusted significantly different for the two units to work properly. On the stove at home it needed to be adjusted all the way down or the feed rate was too high (the fire was too high), yet the same model we have at work wouldn’t maintain a fire at all unless the plate was raised to increase the feed rate. It seems to me that the feed rate between units with feed control plates set identically don’t end up with the same feed rate. It would be nice if the rate could be controlled electronically by a simple knob located inside the unit. It would also be good if there was a feed rate ajust for each of the 3 speeds as we have found that a different feed rate is optimal for each speed. (We had originally set the feed rate when on low and it ended up being too fast for the medium speed setting. Now we have it set well for the medium speed, but it tends to be a bit slow (bit still useable) on low).
That may sound like a lot of complains, but we still are very happy with the stove and think it offered a better value than the other stoves we looked at.
One optional item I’d like to see avaliable for the stove is a hopper extender to increase the capacity of the hopper. I think it would be a simple matter to have an extender consisting of a cast iron top (identical to the one already on the unit), sides to match and sit inside the ridge on the existing top and a sloped bottom to feed the fuel into the existing opening. The cast iron lid could be removed and simply used on the extender.

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