Sept. 2016 Posted, 9/17/16 - WJM
August was another hot and difficult month for both bees and the beekeeper. We should have been pulling honey and placing on mite treatments. There were two problems with that. One, the bees don't like to be bothered on hot days when there is little or not nectar coming in and temperatures above 90 F are too hot for many of the mite treatments. I was doing both on one of the cooler times earlier in the month and for some reason the bees were having none of it. A few hives were quite nasty. (Remember I am a short sleeve beekeeper.) I don't tolerate aggressive behavior in my colonies, but that being said, everyone has a bad day. If after a few times a colony is consistently aggressive, their genetic line will come to an abrupt halt. I don't think the success rate is high with re-queening a strong, aggressive colony, at least not for me, so I usually split them down first and re-queen or if I don't have any queens I wait a few days and destroy any queen cells and then give them a frame of eggs from a "nicer" queen.
Like I said anyone can have a bad day. The next time I checked, about two weeks later, there was no aggressive or overly defensive (there is a difference) behavior. That day was a perfect day in more ways than one. The bees were gentle and no robbing started even though I was pulling honey supers. In fact the honey that dripped on the catch pans was mostly ignored for a few days. So either there was something in the smoker, or there was a good nectar flow, of which I have no idea.
Although I like to have all my honey off and treatment on before September 1st, I am waiting a little on some colonies. If last year's problems may have been due to the long warm fall, treating in July or early August may have been too soon and the mites had three good months to build back up. I am only doing this with some of my colonies and do not recommend it since it is only a theory. We do know in most years if you wait too long to treat it does not give them time to raise healthy bees for winter. On some of the colonies treated early, I may follow up with a second treatment in mid-September. Again, just my thoughts and not a recommendation. Hopefully we will all do the right things to get them through.
Oh and one other tidbit. One of my colonies swarmed in mid-August. It was a young queen do go figure!
June 2016 Posted, 6/12/16 - WJM
We can probably agree that May was clearly a strange month. After a warm and somewhat dry April we saw cool and wet followed by close to 90 degrees for the last weekend. We saw a lot of swarming which I think the weather played a big part. Colonies are expanding and the cool wet conditions kept them in and crowded. I saw colonies that were nowhere near the strength to swarm still do it anyway. But as Pooh always says, "when it comes to bees you just never know."
As of this writing (May 27th) the black locust are finally staring to bloom. People have been asking what is wrong with the locust trees. They have definitely been affected by the cool weather and this is the largest number of days between the daffodil and the locust blooms I think I ever saw. The honeysuckle have been blooming and all the colonies are bringing in nectar between the raindrops. With any luck this will continue well into June however the hot weather that rushed in may also push the rest of the spring blooms a little faster than we would like. We will have to wait and see.
I came across an article that mentioned they are beginning to study the contamination of plants surrounding an agricultural field where pesticide coated seeds are used. They are fining very high levels of these pesticides in the "weeds" that most pollinators visit. It has always concerned me to think about the small amount of coating on a seed that will provide enough pesticide to protect an entire corn stalk. That has to be some pretty strong stuff. The farming practices have changed considerably over the relatively short period of tme and maybe we are just staring to see the effects.
Based on the information that Robyn Underwood presented at the last meeting. I think alarms should be sounding everywhere. I know her research was comparing management practices and although some data definitely gave some direction of where it may end, it is still too early to draw any conclusions just yet. But to think that she lost such a high number of colonies is very concerning. She visited those colonies way more than most of us visit ours so you would think her success rate would have been a little better than the state average. There is clearly something very wrong and why it is not getting more support from agriculture to find the cause is beyond me. If this was happening to the dairy industry or somewhere else they would have an army of scientists working on this. Not only has this not been happening there is pretty good evidence that the EPA is ignoring some of the data already out there and doing nothing to address this problem.
Watch for clover, basswood, blackberries to bloom in June. Hopefully locust will have had a good bloom and also tulip poplar. Make sure you have an extra super on just in case the weather is right and we get a great nectar flow.
May is definitely the most important and the busiest month (closely followed by April) in
beekeeping. It is the beginning of the strongest honey flows and the time when the bees will
collect a good amount of nectar that will become the honey we harvest. May is also the prime
swarming time. So what you did last month (April) goes a long way to determine what happens
in May. Spring is running early this year although the recent cooler weather has slowed things
down a bit. Last year Apples started blooming around May 3rd and this year they bloomed April
18th. Based on my records for similar years I don’t see the honey flow extending too far into
June. The longer/later the honey flow the better it is for us. Colonies that were marginal in
strength the beginning of May are much stronger by the end. Even colonies that swarm early
still have a chance to catch up and make a little honey in June if the flow lasts. If the weather
stays more spring-like and we don’t see a lot of eighty-five plus days over the next week or two
we may still luck out. On the other hand if you had a really strong colony and it did not swarm
you should already be making honey.
I saw something this past weekend that I never witnessed before. I went early in the morning to
pull my bees out of an orchard. It was still very cold so there were no bees hanging around the
entrance, and screening them would be easy. Bill Mondjack was there and as I went around the
trailer I came to one colony that did have a small cluster of bees on the landing area of the
bottom board. I lit the smoker to chase them inside but I recall thinking it was strange the way
they were clustered in one area. As the smoke moved them there lay a dead queen. She was
small, maybe a virgin, and the bees were clustered around her. I am not sure I can explain
what was going on. It was a strong colony and did not swarm (yet). If, it had been a queen that
was dispatched by a rival, I don’t think the bees would have clustered around her, especially in
the cool weather. Was she on a mating flight and was exposed to something and later died?
She did not appear to be damaged as you would expect from a balled queen. As the weather
permits I will check the colony to ensure a queen is still there, but I think there will be and I will
never probably know what happened.
Watch for swarms especially on nice day after a few rainy ones. Look for honeysuckle to bloom
early in the month (and continue quite a while) closely followed by black locust. Tulip popular
should come in toward the end of the month but I have found the bees seem to still be working
the honeysuckle or something else and have not seen much tulip popular honey.
April is a key month for the bees and the beekeeper. For those starting out it is usually time their bees
arrive and for those wintering over colonies, it is a real time of buildup. The temperatures in March
have been up and down which did push some plants to bloom early. Maples were in bloom by the 11th
and I have also come across some cherries and a few other trees starting. The daffodils were starting by
18th in some areas but a few colder days/nights right before Easter (and when I am writing this) may
slow them down a little. If temperatures are “normal” for the next few weeks I would expect to see the
dandelions blooming around April 10th (or even a little earlier). This is for my exact area. I am a few days
later than Allentown and about a week earlier than parts north of the Blue Mountain. Weather that
affects the plant growth is very much localized and can vary in relatively short distances. But we should
all be within a seven day window in the Lehigh Valley. A little later to the north and earlier south. If you
do not have what you need ready, you really only have a short time to correct that. Things happen
really fast between mid-April and mid-May. I would have preferred if it would have stayed cooler a little
longer. The earlier the nectar flow starts the earlier it ends. In years where we had an early spring the
flow was over by the beginning of June. That is one more month of nectar dearth during the summer.
When spring is later the colonies are stronger and tend to bring in more nectar and the dearth is much
shorter in the summer.
There have been a lot of reports of high losses this past winter. This was a relatively mild winter but as I
have said for years the winters don’t kill the bees. The health of the colony during the winter
determines survival. Unfortunately there are many suggestions as to the cause but no real confirmed
reason. Maybe it is a little bit of all the reasons given that are having a cumulative effect and they just
can’t handle it all. But there is something that is seriously wrong out there and mites, once again,
appear to be high on the list. However, they are clearly not the only problem.
April is the month that the Beeinformed survey is taken. I want to encourage everyone to go to their
website (beeinfomed.org) and fill out the survey on your colony survival for this past winter. The data
they gather goes a long way to demonstrate the problem and hopefully get some grant money or other
support for agriculture. It only takes a few minutes and it is worth it.
February 12, 2016
Now that we are in the middle of winter not much has changed since last month. Although by the time you read this I hope the worst is behind us. Phil did not see his shadow and predicted an early early spring. I wonder if Valentine's Day weekend temperatures will have caused him to pause and reconsider. Being a weather junkie I always tune into the local weather. I have to say I have never heard the term "now cast" being thrown around so much as it has been lately. It seems they no longer forecast the weather. now they tell us what is currently happening.
I am writing this article on February 12th. I left for work this morning and the temperature was 4 degrees (F), which is pretty cold by anyone's standards. However on this same day back in 1979 I was driving to work in -20 degree (F) temperatures. I remember because it was my first day at work. What I also remember about that year was two weeks later we had a pretty good snow storm. That year Phil did see his shadow. What does all this tell me? Two things. The middle to end of February can be a very cold, snowy, and unpredictable. And Phil is just about as accurate as our "now casting" weather people. We really need to keep an eye on our colonies during this time. If you do notice a problem you may only get a very small break in the weather where you can act on it, therefore you need to have things ready.
Brett did a great job on winter feeding this month so if you think your bees may need some hep now or later in the season be prepared ahead of time. I would like to finish on a more positive note. Last week Carol and I went to Longwood Gardens to see the orchid display. (I highly recommend going.) As we were walking outdoors we aw f flock of (no exaggeration) over 100 robins, and the witch hazel was blooming. I hope that was good news for all of us.
I would like to take this space to also apologize for the some of the discussion that went on during the February meeting. People don't come to a meeting and expect to be chastised for not participating. (The fact that you are there puts you way ahead of those that don't attend.) Although it was not my initial intent, unfortunately, the conversation went in that direction. What I was really trying to get across is the more participation we have the stronger the club will be. I also was trying to point out that we should be recognizing the effort that is being made by a number of the individuals that do always seem to be the folks that step up when help is needed. It was never my intent that they should be paid. Steve mentioned "what about the person that takes care of the club apiary area?" I am willing to bet most members don't know who that person is. I just think we need to do a better job in showing our appreciation of these individuals and acknowledging their contributions. In doing this we may see more members willing to get involved.
Again I want to apologize for the direction the discussion went. I hope you accept that it was not my intent for this to happen. I am also hoping that, although it was not the best approach, at least it will give us some food for though. Lastly I really hope that a number of you are reading this, and maybe understand where I was coming from. But like Bill says "no one reads the newsletter anyway". I hope that's not the case.
January 10, 2016
Happy New Year! Those of you who have been around for more than a couple of years may remember this column. It is my attempt to talk about what is happening in Nature that could have an effect on our bees. It usually includes some mention of the weather. I have to say the previous two winters were so horrible that I did not want to think about them let alone write about them. However, one of my resolutions this year will be to try and keep this column going. It may be long or short and sometimes even off topic a bit but I will try and make it enjoyable as well as helpful.
Let’s start with the weather. Nothing is normal any longer. We just finished the warmest December on record. Because it has never happened before in my lifetime I have no idea how it affected the bees. I would think that it would have made life a little easier for them as they had time to fly and were not clustered for long periods. Generally there is not much brood rearing in November/December but if there was any, it had a better chance of surviving and that would just make the colony that much more stronger. We noticed a lot of spring like behavior in the garden which does have me concerned. There were early spring flowering plants that were blooming. I saw the bees bringing in some pollen a few days before Christmas. Some plants actually had leaves pushing (which are now frozen). I saw a number of cherry trees blooming too. This makes me wonder if they will be able to bloom again in the spring. I don’t think they will but since I never experienced this before, I am not sure. You wonder if it will affect our fruit crop next year. The buds on the maple trees looked swollen too and maybe a few even opened. We count on those maples as an early food source for our surviving colonies.
The meteorologists tell us we are in a strong El Nino which usually brings a mild wet winter. But I read that the El Nino is located further east which could allow for a cold and wet winter. This could mean some good snow storms if the timing is right. What I really don’t want is an early spring. I have found in years when it gets warm too early and quickly it pushes the bloom times of many plants sometimes two weeks ahead. While it seems the plants respond more quickly to warming, the bees will lag behind. If the queen is laying around a thousand plus eggs a day that is fifteen thousand less bees that will be in the colony when the plants bloom. I also noticed that when we have an early spring the honey flow ends much sooner and we have a longer nectar dearth so the bees end up eating the honey stores and some colonies actually need feeding. I am always ok with a cool March and early April. For now we can only wait and see and hope the winter will not be too harsh.
A reminder; now is the time to be ordering and assembling any extra equipment you are planning to get this year. I understand Steve Finke is packed to the roof with stock just waiting for you. Tell him this article reminded you to buy early and maybe I will get a commission. See you all at the next meeting.