Holly Blooms

We are still in the thick of our nectar season. This week we’ve had holly blooming. Holly is a great pollinator plant, with small white flowers that are very attractive to all kinds of bees. There are varieties that bloom in early spring and late summer, so they provide a long season of nectar. In the winter, the pollinated flowers become berries that birds and other animals enjoy.

Some varieties have a male and female version. Both produce flowers, but the male plants produce pollen and relies on pollinators (like bees!) to pollinate the female flowers. We have a bit of both kinds on our property.

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Marking Queens

I’ve been marking queens recently, both for my own benefit and for some nucs I am selling. Marking the queen is not strictly necessary, though it does make it easier to find her amongst a crowd of bees. I do not consider myself very good at it, so have come up with my own technique once I find her majesty on the comb.

This year I have really struggled to find my queens, I’m not sure why. Normally my queens are a bit more distinctive in terms of color or other trait. This year their coloring seems to be similar to the workers, so perhaps that is in.

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The ground under your hives

Do you need wood chips? I have some extra…. There is a service getchipdrop.com that provides free wood chips to home owners. Local arborists drop their fresh wood chips off at no charge, which is often quicker and cheaper than taking them to a dump or other location. So it is good for home owners, good for the arborist company, and good for the environment. One challenge, of course, is that you never know exactly how much you will get. Let’s just say I have more than I was hoping for.

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First Swarm of 2023

My hives had their first swarm of the year this week, on Tuesday, April 11. We’ve had 80 F temperatures this week, and I happened to be in the bee yard while it was happening, which is always fun. Bees flying everyone, gathering at the entrance, and making their way to wherever the queen decided to land. In this case, the bees landed on a nearby fence post.

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Spring Swarm Traps

It turns out I don’t always cut straight. Fortunately, the bees won’t care, as I tried my hand at making swarm traps. Basically you make a deep box turned on it’s side, and place it in a tree for the bees to find. I used the plans available at hacknbuild.com, that uses a single 4′ by 8′ sheet of plywood to make three swarm traps. See the image below.

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Screen Bottom Board

We are having a cold snap this week. After some nice bee flying weather we expect temperatures in the 30’s and 40’s this week. The bee’s prefer above 50 F to fly, although I’ve seen some bees flying in temperatures as low as 45 F (7 C). The danger for this time of year is that the bees are ramping up for spring with lots of brood and new bees emerging every day. The hive can be overwhelmed with young adult bees, and if there isn’t enough nectar coming in, the hive can parish during a cold or rainy period.

As a result, every beekeeper gets a little nervous this time of year. If the queen has laid too many eggs and there isn’t enough nectar stored, they can be in real trouble. This is why many beekeepers feed sugar patties in the spring. It is too cold for sugar syrup, but a block of sugar or fondant on top of the hive can provide that extra food the hive needs on colder days.

There are couple ways to check your hives. Some use internal sensors or thermal cameras to find the cluster. You can also listening for their buzzing with your ear against the side. A simple method I use on some hives is a screened bottom board.

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2023 Inventory

It is time to order some supplies for the year. In preparation, I did a full inventory of my bee stuff last month. I have equipment spread out between the basement, the garage, the shed, and the bee yard, and as my hives have expanded I haven’t kept track of exactly what I have as well as I perhaps should.

So I counted everything everywhere, from boxes to feeders to covers to frames. It turns out I have a lot of stuff. I have never done such an inventory in the past, so it was a bit eye opening.

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First Blooms

Since I started keeping bees in 2015, I have tried to track the flowers that appear in our yard. We have a couple acres here in Virginia, and quite a few trees and other landscaping. Not to mention our very “pollinator friendly lawn” full what other people less bee-inclined might refer to as weeds (perish the thought). As I mentioned in my post on growing degree days, the bulbs come up rather early this year. The past week we saw our first flowers appear so I thought it would be a good time to share a little project I’ve been working on.

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Good Nuc, Bad Nuc

Beekeepers (or least, this beekeeper) think grand thoughts towards the end of winter. Spring is coming and we think about the wonderful things we will finally do this year. As for myself, I am thinking about raising nucs, producing honey, beekeeping on more of a schedule, and catching swarms. Of course, most of this depends on actually having some bees.

So I was a little concerned on a warm day last week when one of my hives was fairly quiet. The other hives were flying all over the place, but this one only had a bee or two active in the front. I’ve been tricked in the past by an apparently quiet hive doing just fine over the winter, so I wanted to check the hive and see how it was doing.

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Back to the Future of Varroa

This week was January 19, 2023, the day Marty McFly arrived in the movie Back to the Future. The movie was released in 1985, and did so well that it became a trilogy that included trips to the future and the past. In Marty’s 2023 they had real hover boards and self-fitting clothes and other things that seemed futuristic back in the 1980’s.

It occurred to me that that’s about when the varroa mite invaded the United States as well, long before I took up beekeeping. The mite first appeared in Florida and then quickly spread to the rest of the country. With a scientific name of Varroa destructor, Varroa is an ectoparasitic mite that lives and feeds on the adult and pupal stages of honey bees. They have proven surprising resilient and very adaptive to the various treatment methods tried over the years.

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