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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Growing-Degree Days – Spring is Coming

We are starting to see early signs of flowers in Virginia. It has been abnormally warm this year, and the bulbs are starting to peek up from the soil. There a science called phenology that is the study of periodic cycles in biology. One concept that has come from this field of study is growing degree days, or GDD. The idea is that plants and insects require a certain level of warmth before they sprout and bloom, or emerge in the case of insects. You can calculate the GDD for your area as an estimate of when different plants might bloom for spring flowers or agricultural management

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The 12 Days of Honey Bees

If you missed it (and how could you!), we finished up the 12 days of honey bees this week, conveniently aligned with the Twelve Days of Christmas. For future posterity, here is the complete list of days.

May you prosper and find honey.

Day 12: Mouthparts

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 12. A honey bee worker has 12 (or so) mouth parts.

Bees in general have rather complex mouthparts to access the inner rewards found in flowers with all sorts of configurations. Since we not mentioned the honey bee proboscis (tongue) or mandibles yet, this seems like a good place to do so. These higher numbers are a real challenge, but the parts a honey bee’s mouth is a useful way to finish our honey bee days. Another option for 12 was honey bee pheromones, although there are actually more than 12 of these.

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Day 11: Hind leg

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 11. A honey bee worker has eleven (or so) parts on each hind leg.

Finding an eleven in honey bees is a challenge, so I ended up with the many parts of a worker’s hind leg. If you have a better suggestion for this number, please let me know in the comments. Other options include the roughly 11 days a worker spends as egg and larva, and extending our prior day to simply say the male bees have 11 flagomeres on their antennae.

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Day 10: Flagomeres

The Twelve Days of Honey Bees, Day 10. A honey bee worker has 10 flagomeres on her flagellum.

What the heck is a flagomere, you say? Well, I am here to tell you. You may remember from Day 2 that a honey bee antenna has three parts: the scape, the pedicel, and the flagellum. The scape and pedicel allow the bee to flex each antenna in all sorts of ways. The flagellum is where the various receptors are located. The flagellum is composed of segments, called flagomeres, with 10 flagomeres on female bees (workers and queens) and 11 on male bees (drones).

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