May 04

2009 Queen Rearing Classes

The Maumee Valley Region will be holding it’s class on June 5th and 6th.   It is a hands on class where you will learn both the theory of queen rearing and practical methods with a slant on rearing queens in Ohio.  Cost of the class is $50 to members of the Ohio Beekeeping Association, otherwise the cost is $70 and includes a 1 year membership to the association.

Full details and a map to the location can be downloaded in this PDF – 2009 Queen Classes

If you have any questions or to reserve a spot call me at 419-371-1742 or email

Classes will be held this year in 8 regions of Ohio.  Should our class not fit your schedule or location, check out out the OSBA webpage for other queen rearing classes held in Ohio this year.

Note: Unlike last year, there is a fee to all individuals taking the class this year.  This fee was set by the Ohio Queen Project and all of the money will be used to further the project and its goal of both teaching beekeepers to raise queens and to develop a breeding program in Ohio.  All the regional coordinators are unpaid volunteers and donate their time, money and often supplies to teach and further the program.

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Apr 30

For Sale – One Old Barn

[singlepic id=26 w=240 float=right] I hate to see old barns like this go, but there really is no salvaging it as a barn.  I was already too far gone when we purchased the property nearly 12 years ago and would cost far more to fix the foundation, siding and roof than a new building.   The foundation shift seems to have accelerated over the past couple years with the help of a groundhog.    It’s ok for storing beekeeping equipment out of the weather but I can see the day coming soon when it will need to come down.

I’ve seen others sell similar barn for the siding, shingles and heavy beams.   I certainly could use some of them in a new building and some great furnature for the house, but for the right price it would be worth parting with and just building with new material.  Any takers?  I know it won’t bring anywhere near the price of a new pole barn, but covering a down payment would be a start.

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Apr 24

Buzzing Trees

There is nothing quite so wonderful and calming as walking by a tree in full bloom and listening to the tree literally humming with activity.  This was the picture today (Thursday) as the pear trees were blooming today under a perfectly clear sky.  Some trees were just starting to bloom, and others like the one pictured were in full bloom with dozens of bees working the flowers.  I would have loved to just take a nap under the tree watching the bees instead of heading back inside to my day job….. perhaps one day…

Honeybee On a Pear Tree

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Apr 23

Spring May Have Arrived.

Honeybee on a DandilionFinally…. The dandelions and pear trees have started blooming.  A good sign that spring may finally be here to stay.  You can see the large load of pollen this bee has already collected on her back legs.

April has generally been cold and wet seriously limiting the number of days that it’s been possible to do spring inspections, reverse hive bodies and make splits for mating nucs.  While it’s only 55F right now, this weekend is suppose to be very warm so hopefully a lot of bee work can be caught up.

The picture below shows a few of the mating nucs that were setup last Friday.  I ended up having to introduce virgins into the nucs because the cold weather earlier in the week didn’t allow for setting up nucs before the queens were to emerge from the cells.  They were released from their cages yesterday and most were accepted.  With some luck they may even make mating flights this weekend when it’s suppose to be up to 80F, if it doesn’t get too windy.

Nucs under a willow grove.


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Apr 18

Small Bee – Varroa Proof?

Small BeeIn a routine inspection a couple years ago I ran into a bee that caught my eye. Normally I’m looking for mites, general age of the bees, signs of mites such as deformed wings, etc. Fortunately I had a camera with me (the bee in the bottom left corner of the picture). She seemed to be little bigger than the abdomen of all the other workers, but otherwise seemed completely normal. I have no idea where the origin of the queen was (though apparently the swarm she came from was Italian), and by this time she had been dispatched a few weeks earlier and replaced with a NWC queen. I have seen one other worker in my inspections this past weekend that was equally as small, but this time she was a NWC worker. Do these small workers have as productive a life as their larger counterparts, or are they considered a runt to be kicked out? It didn’t appear they were being treated any differently, but I couldn’t really watch the normal hive activity without disrupting it.  Not a terribly useful observation, though I did find it interesting.

There is a debate that honeybees have been made artificialy large in the effort to increase honey production and that ‘small cell’ beekeeping is the answer to many ills.  I have not tried it myself, and have only read the arguments for and against by strong proponents of each.  I suspect that if there is something to it, the mites will adapt just as they have to everything else we have thrown at them.  I still think the long term answer is in the breeding, though that will be a long time in coming in a well rounded bee that is still gentle and productive.

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Apr 13

Cold April

woodenwareI has bee a  fairly cold start to April.  I should be thankful it’s not snowing, but the consistently cool weather has made it nearly impossible to begin any inspections or other bee work that involved more than peeking under the inner cover. The hives do appear to be building up well and drones are starting to appear which is a good sign.  We have fortunately had one day that hit the upper 60’s and a few days in the mid 50’s that allows me to setup a cell builder and begin grafting with great care not to chill the brood.  I use a portable incubator to transport the brood frame to graft from into the house where it’s warm and then to transport the grafted cells back to the hive.  It does seem to work quite well and the brood is only in the open for a few seconds at a time.

On the plus side I’ve had more time to catch up on building equipment.  Not exactly what I planned on doing this time of year, but with rain and a high of only 40F today I can’t do much else with the bees.

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Apr 13

Beekeeping – Does anything change?

It is surprising to me how much in beekeeping really hasn’t changed in spite of all the new gadgets and gizmos on the market.  It’s also equally as surprising how many topics heard at beekeeping  association meetings discussed as if it were something new; topics such as hive ventilation and the longevity of a queen.

E.W. Phelps' Ohio Combination Bee-Hive I recently read an 1858 book ‘Phelps Bee-Keeper’s Chart‘.  The book is obviously horribly out of date and out of print (though it is available on-line).  Though it is interesting none-the-less for several reasons.  While it does cover a lot about honey bees, much of it is for the purpose of promoting the authors patented ‘Ohio Combination Bee-Hive‘ saying that he expects it to ‘ supersede all others’. The book also describes  Sadly, while it apparently claimed honors at the Ohio and other state fairs, his book was published 6 years after Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth’s book ‘The Hive and the Honey Bee’, which details the bee hive most of us use today in the US and in other parts of the world.
(The ‘Ohio Combination Bee-Hive’ is shown to the right.  It has removable compartments to facilitate removing honey from the hive and a glass window so inspect the hive)

But what is probably more interesting, is the number of details that are identical to the topics (and jokes) that are asked to day in many meetings I’ve been to, in many cases with the same answer:

  • Life Span of a Queen.
  • Hive Ventilation.
  • Beekeeper’s opinions:  The running joke is that if you ask 5 beekeepers in a room a question, you will receive 6 different answers.  Apparently this is one of the oldest beekeeping jokes on record.  Phelps wrote nearly 150 year ago that ‘there is scarcely any subject on which such a diversity of opinion exists, as on the form and size of bee-hives, and the general management of bees.’

  • Other old books point out similar ‘new’ facts brought up at meetings, such as rotating old brood comb (1859, Domestic and rural affairs. Elliot Storke)  and many other topics that are often hotly debated.

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Apr 09

When to Begin Grafting

Drone BroodThere are really two things two things that one needs to consider before they graft for the first time in the season.  The availability of drones is the first.  To successfully raise queens one must have a plentiful supply of dones for mating and they must be mature drones.  Drones in the larvae state when you graft won’t be mature enough for mating when the queen is ready.  Instead you must be looking for capped drone brood at the minimum and preferably lots of capped brood and a few adult drones already emerging from their cells.  The picture to the right is a good sign.  This hive had lots of drone brood in the pupae/purple eye stage in the burr comb between supers plus a few newly emerged drones on April 2nd.

While the availability of drones is somewhat out of the beekeepers control and depends on the weather, it’s very possible to help things get an early start by feeding pollen or pollen substitute.  Hives with plentiful resources (especially a protein source) will raise large numbers of drones.


The other factor to consider is the weather itself. While you can graft and manipulate the hive to set up cell builders and mating nucs while it is still relatively cool, queens simply won’t mate until the temperature is around 68-69 degrees or warmer without rain or too much wind.  This unfortunately is completely outside the beekeepers control and extended forecasts are not accurate enough several weeks into the future when the larvae you just grafted will be a mature queen ready to mate.  This makes early queen rearing difficult and somewhat of a gamble if there aren’t a couple good mating days in the 3 week window after a queen emerges from her cell. 

For beginners I generally recommend waiting until May or later to do their first graft.   Drones generally aren’t an issue then and the weather mid May and later when the queens will be ready to mate is usually much more reliable.   For those willing to gamble it can be done nearly a month earlier with some care, but there is always the risk of a late April cold spell that lasts too long where your new queens will fail to mate and will simply turn into drone layers.

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Apr 06

Record Keeping with Bricks

Some beekeepers keep track of the health of a hive or what needs to be done on the next visit to the apiary by marking on the hive or setting a brick in a particular orientation on the hive.  I must admit I do sometimes use a brick as a reminder when going back to a bee yard.  It is not the best or most reliable method of record keeping.  It is however cheap and easy, and Jim Fischer and other members of contributed the following guide to record keeping using bricks (I can’t claim any credit here, but thought it far too useful not to share):

The Signal Brick System Explained

  1. If the brick is atop the hive, the cover has not blown off just yet.
  2. If the brick is on the ground, a bear has visited your apiary
  3. If the brick is standing upright, the bees are Egyptian, or have seen "2001 – A Space Odyssey"
  4. If the brick is lying on its side, see above, but a bird has knocked it over
  5. If the brick is wet, don’t work the bees right now.
  6. If the brick is hot, check to see if you can pull some supers.
  7. If the brick is ice-covered, knock on the hive with the brick to see if you still have bees. As a general rule, no noise means no bees.
  8. If the brick is covered with stingers, you likely have had AHB take over your hive. Dress and acting accordingly.
  9. If the brick has moss on it, you have not checked that hive often enough.
  10. If you talk to the brick.. and it talks back to you.. you’re visiting the hive too much!!!
  11. If you suddenly have more bricks than hives, its time to make splits.

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Apr 01

Ohio’s Inspection Program is in Jeopardy

An envelope from Ohio's Apiary Division?

It shouldn’t be a complete surprise.  Ohio’s inspection program has been dwindleing for some time now as state inspectors retire and aren’t replaced.  However, I got that gut feeling that something terribly wrong when my 2009 apiary registration came in an envelope marked ‘Emerald Ash Borer Program’.   I know the program was litterally down to one state inspector, but now it was looking like the Apiary Division of the Ohio Department of Agriculture which once has several inspectors and a secretary was demoted to a lone inspector given a corner in another programs office.

Not long after I received news report about the loss of Ohio’s inspectors.  4 more counties had dropped their inspection program and the last remaining inspector at the state, Andy Kartal, will likely retire mid year and I honestly don’t believe he will be replaced.  At best I suspect his many, many years of experience will be replace by a plant pest inspector, likely with little experience with bees, and will serve double duty as state bee inspector and plant pest inspector.  Even a single full time inspector can’t begin to cover the state, including the growing list of counties with no county inspector, so this could put the state inspection program in a comatose state.  It may still be there, but virtually lifeless.

Does this mean disease will be on the increase in the coming years?  Perhaps, after all the inspection programs started due to widespread disease (mainly American Foul Brood) and the inspection program effectively brought it under control. But perhaps the worst thing besides this and the lack of a valuable resource for new beekeepers is the negative impact to beekeeping research just when it is needed most.  Inspectors often provide valuable information to research programs and are often partners in the process (See The Fate of Bee Inspection in the U.S, Bee Culture 2003).

Want to see a change?  Talk to your county officials (they pay for the county inspector), and your state representatives both at the state and national levels.  I know everyone is asking for money right now and everyone needs to do their share of belt tightening, but we can’t afford to completely eliminate funding for beekeeping without paying far more in the future.


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