Archive for Bees

Honeybee Colony Record Keeping

Hive notes on a split colony

Hive notes on a split colony

The one tool I carry whenever I go to the bee yard is a Sharpie permanent marker.

As a “sideliner” beekeeper, I’m responsible for about 25 colonies.

A simple method for keeping track of colony health using a sharpie and spiral notebook.

A simple method for keeping track of colony health using a sharpie and spiral notebook.

There is no way I can remember all the details and needs of each colony, so recordkeeping and a system for reminders is essential. The basic tool for my system is a sharpie and the back side of each colonies bottom hive body.

 

Logged notes for 26 colonies, their health, and special needs.

Logged notes for 26 colonies, their health, and special needs.

 

A spiral notebook and highlighters complete the supplies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the back of each colony I make note of the age and source of the queen, a dated ‘score’ for Bees-Honey-Queen, varroa counts, and any other bit of information I think useful. As soon as I complete an inspection or chore on a colony, I pull out the sharpie and write down anything relevant. As part of post-work cleanup in any beeyard, I copy my notes into the spiral notebook.

Here’s my system.

#1 Queen heritage/character
Top right corner gets the date the queen was installed and the origin. If I purchased the queen the origin is a “$”, if she was hygienic “Hy”, package “Pkg”, “split” or “cells” cover most of the options. [Picture one Queen came from Queen-cells in May of 2016.]

Under the queen heritage, I might include a simple description of the character of the colony, which is often tied to the queen. An example is the word “Hot” for mean girls. I tolerate a certain attitude if it comes with production. [No special status for character.]

#2 Status Bees-Honey-Queen
Starting in the bottom left corner, I record the date and a three number code describing the state of the bees, the amount of honey available, and the condition of the queen. For example 10-10-10! indicates a colony with an excellent number of bees, excellent honey stores, and the presence of eggs, larvae and capped brood. If I have actually seen the queen, I’ll add an exclamation point or checkmark next to the last number. A colony that is 8-5-7! has a fair number of bees, poor honey stores, and though I saw the queen, I did not see adequate eggs or larva. If I do not see a queen nor eggs, the last number gets a zero or “X.” [The last B-H-Q status for this colony was done on 3/27 with a 10-10-10 score, followed by being Split.]

While I very rarely use numbers less than 4 (in which case an intervention is overdue), and never less than 7 for queens, I can dial it up to “11” in the case of bees that need to be split, or excess honey to be harvested or redistributed.

Other shorthand notes include “Qc” for “queen cells”, “HB” for “hive beetles”.  If I add or remove a frame of brood, that is marked with “Br+” or “Br-“, while “QX” indicates no queen [5/20] but “QR!” means Queen Right!

#3 Varroa

I obsess over varroa.  Generally colonies are sampled in July, immediately after honey harvest, and again in September.  Varroa is sampled by an alcohol wash of about 300 bees (1/2 cup).  My varroa score is simply how many dead mites I counted.  This score is simply a “V#” [on 9/5 this colony scored 14 dead mites – a high count.]

My varroa treatements include oxalic acid dribble (OX), oxalic acid vaporization (OXV), formic acid / Mite Away Quickstrips (MQ # of strips), or thymol/Apiguard (APG). [This colony got 1g of OXV followed one week later by 2g OXV and then 2g again.]

 Benefits?

Varroa treatment tells a story.

Varroa treatment tells a story.

Last week I sat down with my records looking for patterns from last year, and maybe hints to why some colonies were so much  stronger than others. I first listed all the colonies, then created columns for (selected) inspections going back to last July. My big take away was that being aggressive against varroa paid off and stick to proven treatments.

 

 

 

 

*A sideliner beekeeper is trying to make a buck – come out ahead moneywise at the end of the year, but still needs a real job. For us this is an extension of egg and garden money for the homestead.

** Using the bottom hive body for notes can make season frame swapping a bit more work, but using my empty-deep-on-top method makes it no big deal.

Honeybee Colony Winterization: Wrapping in Northern Virginia

Wrapping colonies for winter is a THING. Some beekeepers wrap, some don’t. Catalogs and magazines have advertisements for wrapping products and even heaters. Before wrapping, the number one question a beekeeper has to address ‘WHAT IS WINTER LIKE HERE?’ Winter in Georgia is different from winter in North Dakota. I’m writing for Northern Virginia, USDA zones 6 & 7.

To start, my hives are elevated for ease of work and ventilation.  During fall when raking leaves, I partially fill strong black plastic trashbags with leaves and wedge them underneath my colonies.  (Bottom boards should have been placed in late September, entrance reducers in November.)  The trash bags wedged under the colonies reduce wind and provide bottom insulation. An added benefit is that on sunny days, the black plastic captures solar radiation and provides a little warmth.  Moving solar radiation to heat to the the colony is my theme for wrapping.

Bottom insulation from bagged leaves

Stuffing black plastic bags of leaves happens during October, or whenever I’m raking leaves. This colony has a plastic bottom board where the landing area has broken off – maintenance item but the bees make do.

 

Stuffing black plastic bags of leaves happens during October, or whenever I’m raking leaves.  Actual wrapping comes later in December when the weather has definitely turned to cold.  This area is prone to warm spells well into December, and with no forage available, I don’t want to stimulate into wasteful flight activity.

The wrap I use is very simple – heavy black plastic with maybe some bubblewrap on the north face of the colony.   Other than the bubble wrap on the north face there is no insulating material.  What I’ve found with styrofoam or full bubble wrap is that come spring I’m keeping the cold IN.  I don’t want to turn the hive into an insulated cooler.  The black plastic provides 2 main benefits.  The first is to block wind which can get into the cracks the bees haven’t filled with propolis.  The second is to catch the heat of the sun.

The wrap is heavy black plastic with enough bubble wrap to protect the north face of the colony.

The wrap is heavy black plastic with enough bubble wrap to protect the north face of the colony.

The top edge of the black plastic is folded down about 2 inches, which provides a better grip for stapling.  Bottom corners are folded up such that the south face is not fully covered.  Folds are held in place with either tape or office staples.

Black plastic is 6 mil, cut to 32 inches by 6 feet 8 inches.

Black plastic is 6 mil, cut to 32 inches by 6 feet 8 inches.

I cut, fold, and tape the wraps in my workshop before heading out to wrap.  At the end of winter I remove and store the wraps.  Some of the wraps I have in use are seeing their 4th winter.

This is a weak colony I wrapped in November.  As it is light on bees and stores (only 2 mediums), it got early protection and prolonged access to 2:1 feed.

This is a weak colony I wrapped in November. As it is light on bees and stores (only 2 mediums), it got early protection and prolonged access to 2:1 feed.

You can see how the folded up bottoms of the plastic leave the south face relatively exposed. I don’t want to overheat the colony and I also want to allow the bees to cue in on the color of their home when returning from forage or cleansing flights.

Honeybee Colony Winterization: Feeding

During early spring, beekeepers feed 1:1 sugar-water solution to stimulate reproduction. In late summer 1:1 again is fed to stimulate reproduction to increase winter populations. In autumn, 2:1 can be fed if honey stores are light as winter approaches. Keeping with simple ratios, I provide 12:1 sugar blocks “just-in-case” and to give the girls something to do.

These instructions are for use with an empty hive set above a 3/4″ plywood inner cover.  The inner cover has screened holes for ventilation and a hole to accomodate a standard-sized mason jar feeder.  The sugar block created will be fed thru the feeding hole.

Mix sugar and water at a 12 parts sugar to one part water by weight ratio.  This will form a somewhat wet granular paste. Spoon the mixture into insulated drinking cups (16 liquid ounces an ideal size). Add a couple drops of either lemon-grass oil or Honey-B-Healthy to attract the bees. Invert the cup over the feed hole.  Check and replace as necessary.

Sugar-water mix

12 parts sugar mixed with 1 part water.

Sugar blocks ready to feed.

Sugar-water mix packed into hot beverage cups. A couple drops of either lemon grass oil or Honey B Healthy added to attract the bees.

Inner cover feed hole.

Peering through the shredded newspaper insulation, through the inner cover feed hole and down to bees on the colony frames.

Feed_Added

Sugar block cup in place over the feed hole, ready for the insulation to be repacked. Replacing the feed can be done without compromising colony heat or bee cluster.

Not so hard?

If 12:1 is hard to calculate, use 5 pounds sugar to 1 cup water.  If you don’t have a simple kitchen scale that measures grams, ask for one for Christmas.

Feeding in winter is something that hopefully isn’t necessary.  In Virginia, where I live and where this advice is most relavant, if a colony has a full medium hive body of honey – 50+ pounds net weight – the colony ought to be in good shape for winter.  But things happen.  Winter 2016 had 70 degree days leading up to Christmas, such that bees were burning calories (and stored food) on foraging flights.

Then there is the question of whether a colony will eat provided food (some won’t), or treat sugar as debris and remove it from the colony (some do). Sometimes bees will store sugar granules in food cells. Another good thing about block sugar feeding, is that come spring, when it is time to start 1:1, the unused portions of sugar blocks can be recycled and won’t go to waste.

 

2017 Honey Harvest

Laughing Duck Gardens in Washington, Virginia.

 

Honey extracted during June 2017, batches A-D.

Honey extracted during June 2017, batches A-D.

[by Keith Rowand]

Rappahannock Arboreal Honey Facts

Jump to Batches Scroll to bottom for Batches

Inside a hive, bees store honey in frames that contain about 4 pounds of honey each.  When I remove the frames from the hives, I store the frames separated by hive location and date.  Once I remove enough full frames, I start extracting the honey into buckets and jars, all the while keeping the batches as separate as possible.

Flowering plants blossom at different times throughout the year, tempting bees and other pollinators with nectar of different characteristics (color, smell, taste, viscosity).  Those floral nectar differences are reflected in the resulting honey; as flowers change the honey changes. In the past couple of years the honey has been dark in the early spring (autumn olive and tulip poplar in April/May),  then became lighter in color as the bees moved  to wild berries and brambles (May/June),  and lighter yet as they finish with basswood, linden, and clover in June/early July.   2017 has been different – for the first time in several years black locust has bloomed in glorious quantity.

Black locust honey is among the sweetest of honeys and very light in color.  I won’t say that I sell black locust honey, because so many other things blossom at the same time and the bees gather whatever they can. What I can say is that the early 2017 honey is lighter and sweeter for which I credit black locust.  Early autumn olive did not make it into honey frames, while tulip poplar was stretched out over several weeks.  Linden, basswood, berries, and clover will be in later honey batches.

For these notes, color is taken from the Pfund color chart, a standard honey measurement.  Grade A honey must have no more than 18.6% water content (above 20% fermentation can occur)

Batches

Batch “A”
Black locust, tulip poplar, early wildflowers.
Color: Extra light Amber
Moisture Content: 17.6%
Origin: Tiger Valley Rd, Washington, near Goat Hill Farm, harvested June 24.

Batch “B”
High black locust content, with tulip poplar and wildflowers.  Thicker with beeswax scent.
Color: Extra Light Amber
Moisture Content: 17.8%
Origin: Blend from Tiger Valley Rd (June 24) and Jericho Rd (June 8).

Batch “C”
Predominately black locust; very sweet with butterscotch and vanilla tastes.
Color: Extra Light Amber
Moisture Content: 18.2%
Origin: Tiger Valley Rd, June 24 of selected frames.

Batch “D”
Some autumn olive, with black locust and some tulip polar; creamy with caramel.
Color: Extra light Amber
Moisture Content: 17.5%
Origin: Jericho Rd, Huntly, June 8.

Batch “E”
Color: Light Amber
Although I manage over 25 colonies, not all colonies produce equally.  Jericho #2 was one of my top 3 producers contributing over 80 pounds.
Moisture Content: 17.2%
Origin: Jericho Rd, near Flint Hill, June 24

Batch “F”
One of the first batches harvested from the rock star Jericho #2.
Color: Light Amber
Moisture Content: 17.9%
Origin: Jericho Rd, near Flint Hill, May 27

Batch “G”
This Laughing Duck home colony was a surprise and promises good production in the future!  A captured swarm, such colonies get a late start and a harvest is not expected.  The girls of LD #L4 didn’t get the memo and contributed a full harvest of about 35 pounds.
Color: Extra Light Amber
Moisture Content: 18.0%
Origin: Harris Hollow Rd, Colony #LL4 August 1

Batch “H”
This was the last batch of the second extraction run, each batch has 9 frames and these were the leftover frames at the end of the day!  Its like a capping tank batch, but more cohesive as I tried to identify frames of a like color.
Color: Light Amber
Moisture Content: 17.8%
Origin: Blend from Jericho, Tiger Valley, and Harris Hollow areas, August 7.

Batch “I”
This is another batch of 21.9 pounds from Jericho #2.  The nectar was collected over 4 weeks with contributions from many different plants including tulip poplar, basswood, and clover.
Color: Light Amber
Moisture Content: 18.0%
Origin: Colony Jericho #2 Honey Super, July 16, Jericho Road, near Flint Hill

Batch “J”
This is was the last batch of the year, taken from colonies at our home. The light color reflects clover with basswood (American linden), the basswood providing a fruity, leitchi-like aroma.
Color: Extra Light Amber
Origin: Laughing Duck Apiary, Harris Hollow.
Moisture Content: 18.4%

Batch “K”
Capping tank batches represent a mix of all the individual colonies and flowers collected during June and early July. The color is a little darker with pollen from many different sources.
Color: Light Amber
Origin: July capping tank
Moisture Content: 18.2%

Batch “L”
Tiger Valley Colony #1 was a captured swarm that wasn’t expected to produce a harvest. My eye will be on this colony to propagation the strong work they did in a short time. I expect the colony found a stand of basswood (American linden) and harvest a large amount of honey is a short time.
Color: Extra Light Amber
Origin: Tiger Valley Colony #1, July 8.
Moisture Content: 18.4%

Batch “M”
Tiger Valley #4 was an established colony which swarmed at an inopportune moment. The harvest took a long time building, as a result having a darker color with a wide variety of pollen.
Color: Light Amber
Origin: Tiger Valley Colony #4, July 8.
Moisture Content: 17.9%

Batch “N”
The final batch from the rock-star colony #2 at Jericho Road. The timing and very light color suggest a strong clover component with basswood (American linden).
Color: Extra Light Amber
Origin: Jericho Road Colony #2, July 16.
Moisture Content: 17.6%

Batch “O”
Batches are built of up to 9 frames of honey taken from a colony. In the case of this batch from my home beeyard, I had several isolated frames and not enough to build a batch from one or two colonies. Given the frames on hand, I selected those of lighter color to make up this batch. Its companion batch of darker frames will make up Batch P. This batch has a higher clover and basswood component.
Color: Light Amber
Origin: Laughing Duck Apiary, Harris Hollow, selected light frames, July 17
Moisture Content: 18.2%

Batch “P”
This is the companion to Batch O. This batch has a higher tulip poplar and bramble component.
Color: Light Amber
Origin: Laughing Duck Apiary, Harris Hollow, selected dark frames, July 17
Moisture Content: 18.3%

Batch “Q”
This was the last batch of the year, taken on August 26.  Very light and sweet. White clover with thistle and basswood.
Color: Light Amber
Origin: Laughing Duck Apiary, Harris Hollow, various colonies.
Moisture Content: 18.6%

Batch “R”
This is a blend of the August batches as taking from the capping tank.
Color: Amber
Origin: Harris Hollow, Jericho Road, and Tiger Valley beeyards.
Moisture Content: 17.9%

(This post will be updated as more batches make it to market.)

Printable Honey_Fact_Sheet

 

Shades of Honey

Shades of the 2015 harvest

Shades of the 2015 harvest

Have you ever wondered what determines the color of honey? or its texture? why are some honey darker or lighter? why are some honey extremely liquid, other much thicker, or some even “solid”? why do they have different textures?

In essence, it boils down to which flowers the bees visit. Nectar from different flowers yield honey with different color, texture, viscosity… and taste. Honey absolutely reflects the terroir where the bees live, since they forage within 2 or 3 miles from their hive. When large fields of the same plant bloom at the same time (whether it’s a field of clover, an orange grove, or acres of wild blackberries or autumn olives), bees are able to collect their nectar in mass over a short period of time.  Since a foraging bee collects nectar from only one flowering species on any one trip (50 to 100 flowers are visited on one trip), the hive gives priority to plants that are blooming in mass at the same time: it’s much more productive for them! The beekeeper monitor blooms, nectar flow, and bee in-take to time the placement and removal of the honey supers. Honey supers are boxes of frames dedicated to collect harvestable honey (as opposed to brood frames, or honey that will serve as food for the bees)

Even with our small apiaries the color differences are startling, and the taste sometime very different. Look at the picture: all eight jars represent honey from 2015, harvested at different times and from different small apiaries, yet all located within 8 miles from our house, in Rappahannock county in the Northern Virginia Piedmont at the foothill of the BlueRidge Mountains.

Keith (who is the beekeeper) tries to set aside a jar from each harvest batch and here are his notes for the jars in the pictures: Read more

Honey For Sale!

Rappahannock Arboreal Honey

Rappahannock Arboreal Honey

The 2014 harvest is now available for purchase at R.H. Ballard in Washington, VA,  and through Heritage Hollow Farms Store in Sperryville.  We kept a few jars for direct sale, if you are local and interested.

It’s a very small harvest as we are letting the bees keep most of the honey since we plan to increase the colony numbers, every year for a few years.

Real honey is truly a miracle. That 12-oz jar represents the nectar from 1.5 million flowers. For us, the main sources of nectar are forest trees (hence the name “arboreal Honey”: tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), basswood (aka American Linden, Tilia americana) and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) The bees from one hive traveled 41,000 miles to gather it: ten of thousands of bees forage within 1 or 2 mile radius of the hive. Each trip represents a visit to 50 or 100 flowers of the same kind. It takes 10 or 12 bees their entire life time to make a teaspoon honey. Pretty sobering when you think about it.

We are grateful.

Prior blog posts on beekeeping are here:

Signs of Spring

 installing bees 009 comp

March 30:  black currant leaves just visible.

April 2: 14F (14F!!!!!!) at night. Forecast called for 24. I did not cover my newly planted brassicas. A week later they show damage – the outer leaves show large whitish spots.

April 3: spotted the first green deciduous tree on the way to a client – a weeping willow with its acid yellow-green new leaves.

April 5: Keith installs 2 new bee colonies.

April 7: peas pushing through. No sign of the fava beans. Afraid the mice got them.

April 8: we are harvesting large bowls of salad “greens” from the garden. My favorite fast food available again!

fast food lunch 005 comp

April 9:  first bear visit of the year. Yikes! A big fellow (or madam?) too, on the porch, at 2 AM sniffing around empty grain bags. He carried out the box where I neatly fold the bags and proceeded to go through them. No damage done. Noise maker in action…

April 10: First dandelions blooming here. Time to start watching for bee swarms.

April 11: Spice berries clouded in yellow. Can the redbuds be far behind? And we all know what that means

 

 

The Bees in Winter

bees in winter acomite 004

It’s been a hard winter for the bees. Harder than usual. We have lost 1 of our 3 colonies and it’ll be a few more weeks at best till we see reliably clement temperatures and blossoms for them. How can we help them?

Read more

Postcard From The Hedgerow

Basswood Flowers

Basswood Flowers

 

End of season for the blossoms  – they are now drying for later uses. The bees love linden too. That’s the other name for basswood aka American linden, Tilia americana.  The British call linden “lime” which used to confuse me to no end. But by any other name, the flowers smell delicious and the bees turn them into a specially fragrant honey.

Sweet As Honey

Harvesting honey is – I hope – going to become one of our spring rituals. We just harvested out first honey: four medium frames, two people working two hours give 8 pints of honey (4 liters) or 12 pounds.

We are about to start our 3rd year with the bees. Last spring, at the  beginning of year two, we could have/should have had a harvest. We did not – for a number of reasons. Not the least of it was that we had a heat wave just as Keith put in new wax frames – which pretty much melted the wax frames which dripped all over the box, blocking access to the new areas of the hive. There was no room for the bees to expand; so the colony – a strong one in need of more room –  swarmed before we realized what happened.When bees swarm they load themselves with honey so they can start a new home with some food. Our harvest-to-be was depleted. We left the remaining honey to the remaining bees.

Going into winter we had two colonies. Coming out of winter we only had one. We knew one queen was weak, and she did not make it in this cold winter. And so no queen, no eggs, no replacement workers, no replacement queen With that knowledge and  no obvious signs of diseases, Keith gave most of the frames of honey of that hive to the remaining hive and saved four for us to extract. Finally! Long awaited honey….

And so last Friday on a beautiful balmy day, we extracted honey. Which proved surprisingly easy.

Remove the frames from the super (the box). The bees have capped the honey in the cells with wax.

harvesting-honey-003

Read more