Quick update

With regard’s to my earlier post about the poor quality of packages coming out of California last year, I wanted to update you that the company, GloryBee was not helpful at all when I contacted them about the problem.  Considering that all my other hives did very well with none lost and only the packages from GloryBee struggling and dying out I think its pretty clear where the problem was.

I’ve done business with this company for many years but that didn’t seem to matter when I contacted them, so my suggestion, based upon my recent experience would be to find someone else to purchase your bees from this year.  They clearly delivered an inferior product and weren’t interested in hearing what I had to say about last years poor quality packages.  I think you will be better off doing business somewhere else.  Again, that just my hands on experience but it cost me nearly a thousand dollars to learn this lesson.  Plenty of other companies to get your bees from and its only fair that you get a heads up with regards to this issue.

Have a good season all.

Clean Wax and getting Equipment Ready for Spring

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Its a balmy 60 degrees today and I just came in from preparing hive equipment for the coming season.  I’m going through old frames and cleaning them up by replacing the foundation in some and tossing out some old plastic frames I made the mistake of buying years ago when I first got “stung” by this great adventure.

I rarely tell people what kind of equipment to purchase because everyone has their own goals and way of operating.  Remember the only rule in beekeeping is that their aren’t any rules.  Everyone will choose their own route.  However, I sure do wish someone would have steered me away from the all plastic frames.  Even after scraping them off and hosing them down you cannot remove the imbedded pollen and “gunk” that sticks to the bottom of the cells.

Now just why do you need to keep clean wax in your hives you might ask?  Most beekeepers use chemicals in their hives to control Varroa.  Wax absorbs these chemicals and consequently your bees are constantly exposed to low levels of chemicals intended for the mites.  Even if you don’t use in-hive miticides the wax will become laden with the toxins the bees bring home from your neighbors yards (if you are in or near town) or nearby agricultural fields.  When the comb becomes really dark its time for a change.

Brood comb will harbor all sorts of nasty’s.  A few days after the egg is laid the larva pupates and spins her cocoon.  Before she does she empties her digestive system into the bottom of the cell.  After hatching the house bees clean up what they can but they cannot clean it all and the rest is sealed into the cell with propolis and wax.  After a few generations this comb will be nearly black and sealed within it will be any pesticides the bees were exposed to, nosema spores, foulbrood, etc.  It only adds to the stress level of your colony.

So every few years you will want to replace this comb and spring is the time to do it because much of the comb will be empty.  That is what I’ve been working on today and this brings me back to my original thought.  You want to purchase frames (I like the wooden frames) with removable foundation.  Pop out the old one and replace it with new.  Some folks like the duragilt foundation, which is a very thin sheet of plastic coated in bees wax.  The bees do take right to it and I have used it with great success.  However, most of the wax used to coat the plastic comes from commercial operations so you know its had some level of exposure to miticides and possibly some other chemicals.

Another way to go is to use Rite-cell foundation.  It too is coated with wax but bees don’t always like plastic foundation so here is a surefire way to guarantee their acceptance of it.  Today I put a piece of clean wax (gathered from my hives last season) in my solar wax melter to soften it.  I then take the new foundation and rub it down lengthwise with the softened ball of wax.  Some folks actually melt the wax and then brush it on, but I find rubbing it on to be the easiest.  A thin coating of wax from your own hives and the bees will take right to it.  It will also put a thin film of your own clean wax between your bees and the wax that came with the foundation.

Maintaining clean wax in your hives will reduce your bees exposure to toxic chemicals and other waste products that build up in the old wax.  You want to own the frames that allow you to pop out the old foundation and replace it with new.  A little spring cleaning will reduce the level of things your brand new bees being born this spring don’t need to be exposed to and make for healthier hive.

Be careful if your buying packages of bees this spring!

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The garlic is up and going gangbusters and the rhubarb is just breaking through the ground.  Naturally the temperatures remain quite cool, but we do get these windows of 60+ degree weather occasionally and I like to use them to make hive inspections.  The bees are definitely preparing for spring and you should be too.

In the last few days we’ve had weather in the low 60’s.  Equally important was the fact there was no wind, so I took advantage of those days to do a full hive inspection of each and every hive.  It’s important to know the condition of your hives as soon as the weather allows so you know if your bees need to be fed while they wait for the nectar flow.

In January I wrote a piece for this blog about the poor quality of queens coming with packages that originated in California last year.  After the inspections of the last few days I feel a duty to warn you again.  The results are in and anyone considering purchasing packages of bees that originate in California needs to be careful.

All of my own hives that have been here a year or more and all of my own splits, with the exception of one, made it through the winter with flying colors.  The queens have begun laying and there is excellent capped brood in every hive.  In fact three of the hives are so full of bees you would think it was mid-season.  Fortunately those hives also have a good amount of stores, though I did add one frame of honey from the dead out hive, to a hive absolutely packed with bees.  A number of these hives are from splits made last year and it should tell you something about what a split does for hive health.  They are all very healthy!

Let’s compare the existing stock to the 9 packages of bees I purchased last season.  First off let me say that I have purchased and installed packaged bees for many years and I have never experienced the disastrous results I had this last season.  I respect and generally have high regard for the company I purchased these bees from and I have done business with them for many years.  I will continue to do business with them but I will not purchase package bees from them again.

Last summer I purchased 9 packages because I can’t keep up with the demand for my honey, so I decided to expand my business.  Unfortunately it was nearly all wasted money and that is what you need to take away from this article.

Right from the start the queens in these packages struggled and all but two hives began a constant progression of requeening themselves, a process called supercedure.  Essentially as soon as a new queen would take over the hive they would soon replace her.  One of the hives came with a dead queen, yet even the replacement queen provided by the supplier was weak and the bees made a number of supercedures even after she was added to the hive.  The bees know when a queen is in poor health or failing and will replace her.  They tell us all we need to know about the condition of the queens that came with these packages.  Also keep in mind that in the same beeyard there were very healthy prospering hives that were not having queen issues.

A search of the web has turned up numerous discussions of this problem.  In other words it was common and not specific to my own operation.  There is speculation that a new fungicide being sprayed in the orchards in California led to the problem.  Some blame it on the drought and others simply say that the commercial stock the package bees come from, in addition to being exposed to various chemicals, is getting inbred and weak queens are the result.  Most likely it is a combination of all those factors.

What’s the bottom line here?  By fall, I had lost 6 of the nine packages purchased last spring!  With the exception of one weak split I made late in the season last year, all of my eleven other hives wintered.

So why go over this again?   Recent hive inspections have revealed the loss of yet another package of bees purchased last spring.  Seven of the nine packages have now been lost.  An earlier inspection in January during a two day spell of 70 degree weather revealed a small patch of capped brood in the hive just lost.  However, I could not find the queen, even though I found the queen in every other hive I inspected.  The area of capped brood in the recently lost hive was also smaller than any of the other hives I have.  In hindsight it’s easy to see that this queen was already gone.  She had begun to lay and then expired.

With spring coming and a lot of folks out there looking to order bees, I feel its important to pass this information along.  You need to know that it’s going to be very risky business spending your money on bee packages coming out of California.  Nothing has changed since last year.  All the issues that are combining to create the poor quality queens remain.  The company I bought from is GloryBee in Eugene Oregon.  I’ve done a lot of business with them over the years, but they didn’t seem to care about that when I contacted them.  I would suggest, based on my experience, that you do business somewhere else if you can.

So unless you like throwing your money away and wasting a season of beekeeping, I would suggest you avoid buying bee packages that come from California unless you specifically know the supplier and can be assured of a quality product.  Sorry, but that’s what the facts are telling us.  Your alternative is to purchase bees from a local source.  Get to know the beekeeper and learn about his/her practices.  And if you already have bees then learn to make splits.  We will be covering splits later this spring as I continue with a season of beekeeping in this space.

For now, make sure your equipment is in order and ready for the busy spring season.  Then take the time on a nice calm day to sit in your beeyard and enjoy your bees.  Watch the activity in the front of the hive.  See what pollen is being brought in and if you can identify the source.  In my neck of the woods the pussywillow is beginning to open and it will soon be followed by aspen and poplar.  If you have beehives as full of bees as mine, you will soon need to create more room in the hive to prevent them from swarming.  More on that later.  Take care all.

Honey For Sale

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Every year I get requests for my honey long after I am sold out. Honey is generally harvested in August and I always have a waiting list of customers so it goes fast.

This year I am expanding my hives again, so if you are local to the Central Oregon area and want some of my all natural honey, then its time to think about how much you might want.

Yeah I know, it seems early, but there is a demand for honey that is chemical free. Let me explain. I don’t use commercial “miticides” in my hives. What’s a miticide? A miticide is basically an insecticide. It is used to kill the mites which can destroy beehives. Miticides leave a chemical residue behind in the wax and the honey. Levels vary, but do you really want an insecticide in your honey?

I can do this because I am a small producer and can take the time required to manage my hives without these chemicals. It is simply too labor intensive for a large commercial operator to manage his/her hives without using these chemicals.

Also, keep in mind that some of the brands of honey you are most familiar with at the grocery store are cut with corn syrup. Thats right and if you don’t want to believe that just go do a little research on the web. Its there.

So, if you are in the Central Oregon area ( I know there are many of you out there following my season of beekeeping blog) and you want some of this seasons honey, start thinking about how much you want. It always sells out fast. You can contact me at whalersman@gmail.com

Spring is just around the corner and the bees will be making your honey real soon. Think about that the next time you go to spray a dandelion. Dandelions are a favorite bee food, so if you have to spray, kick the flower off the plant first, then spray. That will keep most of the bees from coming into contact with your spray. Thank you.

First Hive Inspection Complete – Winter survival results

GaryBees14

The garlic is coming up in our garden and the rhubarb wont be far behind.  Naturally the temperatures remain quite cool, like today when its overcast and only 39 degrees at noon.  But the bees are definitely preparing for spring and you should be too.

In the last week we had three days that were either at 70 or within a degree or two.  Equally important was the fact there was no wind, so I took advantage of those days to do a full hive inspection of each and every hive.  It’s important to know the condition of your hives as soon as the weather allows so you know if your bees need any kind of help to make it to the nectar flow.

So the results are in and I was very pleased.  Tickled really, as this is the best winter survival I have ever had if the package bees I purchased last year are not counted.  More on that in a moment.

All of my own hives that have been here a year or more and all of my own splits with the exception of one made it through the winter with flying colors.  The queens have begun laying and there is capped brood in every hive.  In fact three of the hives are so full of bees you would think it was mid-season.  Fortunately those hives also have a good amount of stores, though I did add one frame of honey from the dead out hive, to one hive absolutely packed with bees. These hives are from splits made last year and it should tell you something about what a split does for hive health.  For the end of January a Beek (beekeeper) can’t ask for more than high bee numbers and solid stores.  These are all very healthy hives!

Lets compare them to the 9 packages of bees I purchased last season.  First off let me say that I have purchased and installed packaged bees for many years and I have never even come close to the disastrous results I had this last season.  I purchased 9 packages because I can’t keep up with the demand for my honey, so I decided to expand my business.  Unfortunately it was nearly all wasted money.

Virtually from the start the queens in these packages struggled and all but two hives began a constant progression of requeening themselves, a process called supercedure.  Essentially as soon as a new queen would take over the hive they would soon replace her.  One of the hives came with a dead queen, yet even the replacement queen provided by the supplier was weak and the bees did a number of supercedures.  The bees know when a queen is in poor health or failing and will replace her.  They tell us all we need to know about the condition of the queens that came with these packages.

A search of the web has turned up numerous discussions of this problem.  In other words it was common and not specific to my own operation.  There is speculation that a new fungicide being sprayed in the orchards in California led to the problem.  Some blame it on the drought and others simply say that the commercial stock the package bees come from, in addition to being exposed to various chemicals is getting inbred and weak queens are the result.  Most likely it is a combination of all those factors.

So what’s the bottom line here?  I lost 6 of the nine packages and lost only one of the 11 hives I  managed and that hive was nothing more than a weak split made late in the season.  So unless you like throwing your money away I would suggest that you avoid buying any bee packages that come from California.  Sorry, but that is just what the facts are telling us.  Your alternative is to purchase bees from a local source.  Get to know the beekeeper and learn about his practices.  And if you already have bees then learn to make splits.  We will be covering splits later this spring.

For now, make sure your equipment is in order and ready for the busy spring season.  Then take the time on a nice calm day to sit in your beeyard and enjoy your bees.  Watch the activity in the front of the hive.  See what pollen is being brought in and if you can identify the source.  In my neck of the woods the pussywillow is beginning to open and it will soon be followed by aspen and poplar.  If you have beehives as full of bees as mine, you will soon need to create more room in the hive to prevent them from swarming.  More on that later.  For now enjoy your bees before we reach the busy part of the season.

Bees – Time For an Early Season Check-Up

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The mountains are not just snowcapped, but are covered well down into the foothills.  However, even here in the High Desert of Oregon we’ve had a few days in the low sixties and more are forecast in the next ten days.  It’s given me a chance to take inventory of my hives without going deep into them.  If there is no wind, this kind of weather allows you to have a quick peek inside without harming your bees and you should be trying to get an idea of each hives health when the weather allows.

For example, my biggest two hives and by that I mean these hives are full of bees, just as if it was midsummer, have stores but will likely run short.  I have already taken one frame of honey from a deadout and placed it one of these hives.  The hive had two frames of honey stores remaining, but they were to the outside of the box.  I did not want to leave the hive open long enough to pull frames and rearrange them, so I simply slid a middle frame out and dropped in the new frame of honey.  That way there will be food right in the middle of the cluster should we get a hard freeze again that prevents them from moving about.

A quick examination of all my hives was done by removing the lid and inner cover to gauge how many bees the hive had and what level of stores were present.  We are approaching the time of year when bees are lost simply because they run out of food and starve.  A responsible beekeeper should know the condition of his/her hives as soon as the weather allows.  Remember, the bees that have made it this far are bees that have won the battle.  They survived whatever mite load was in the hive and the diseases they bring, and they also survived our sub-zero temperatures.  If your girls have enough feed or even if you need to feed them for a while, these bees are going to be what you enter the season with if they don’t starve before the first spring blooms arrive.

I began the winter with twelve hives on this side (east side) of the mountains.  Those hives on the west side of the mountains will soon get their own inspection.  Of the twelve on the east side I have lost only three and one of those was a Nuc I bought last spring that clearly came with a massive mite load.  This only serves to reinforce my belief that YOU are your best source of bees.  (We will discuss making splits and increase at another time)  Locally, one friend of mine lost all three of her hives this winter and another friend lost 2 of his three hives.  So I feel pretty good about only losing three hives out of twelve.

With only one exception, all the hives that remain have healthy numbers.  The hive that does not was an experimental split I did late in the season.  Two hives have huge numbers for this time of year.  If you were to look at them you would think of summer time numbers.  Both of these hives are Carniolan bees and they come from a split I made in mid-May.  A split is your best natural mite control and these hives show it!  As a result of the split, both of these hives have young queens and though my inspection did not take me deep into the hive I would not be surprised to find the first little bit of brood here.

We will discuss the benefit of making splits at a later date, but if you have not yet reached the point of making your own splits then this is the year to learn how to do it.

The next thing to be gained from making early inspections as soon as the weather allows is a chance to inspect and prepare equipment for the coming season.  It can be hard to see your girls lifeless bodies, heads buried in the comb, all clustered up, but it’s going to happen and you just need to make the best of it.  I have already taken my three deadouts back to the shed and gone through them.  It’s a chance to scrape out propolis and otherwise clean them up.  I also check the condition of the frames and remove old comb.  The old dark brood comb should be removed after a few years.  Each time a larva spins a cocoon it leaves another paper thin layer behind.  This is what makes the comb dark.  Even though the bees clean it out, this comb gets dirty after a while and it’s just plain healthier for the hive to remove it and allow the bees build new comb.

If you have wooden frames then this is easily done by popping out the old foundation and replacing it with new.  If you use foundationless frames then all you have to do is cut away the old comb and you are set to go.  I am in the process of getting rid of all my plastic frames as I rotate new frames and foundation into my hives.  Sometimes the bees take right to plastic, other times they build on top of it.  I’m moving more and more in the direction of foundationless frames as they allow the bees to build whatever kind of comb they like.

Another benefit of cycling out old foundation is that it often contains a little stored honey in the corners of each frame.  I set this old foundation out in the beeyard for the bees to rob.  It makes a great early season treat for them and none of the stored honey goes to waste.

One final note.  If you are planning on buying bees this year and you have not yet ordered you had better do so soon.  Many suppliers sell out and you may find it difficult to find bees if you don’t order early.

So in summary, get a look inside your hives as soon as the weather allows.  It does not need to be a deep inspection, but just have a look inside the inner cover to gauge the health of your hive.  You shouldn’t need to feed just yet, but it’s good to know if you will need to.  If you do need to feed then feed a 1:1 mix of sugar to water and remember that once you start you can’t stop until your local nectar flow begins.

Use this time to bring in your deadouts for clean up and repair equipment.  If you need additional equipment now is a good time to restock.  The pussywillow is breaking bud and will soon be in bloom and so will your next season of beekeeping.  If you have prepared your equipment early in the season you will be able to focus your attention on the care and management of your hives.

Neonicotinoids Use Restrictions Enacted, Beekeepers Rejoice

Originally posted on World Organic News:

chemical pesticides ban
Neonicotinoids restrictions enacted in Ontario have beekeepers in Canada rejoicing, and their peers in others regions and nations hopeful for similar legislation. The Ontarioneonicotinoids restrictions state that the chemical pesticides popular with biotech giants like Monsanto will be restricted by 80 percent by 2017.

A 2014 Harvard study states that neonicotinoids – the dominant ingredient found in many popular insecticides which treat much of the corn in the U.S. — are to blame for honeybee colony collapse disorder. Honeybees provide pollination for 70 percent of the food we grow to eat. Bees don’t pollinate corn, but the pollen drifts elsewhere, where it makes contact with bees.

The Harvard honeybee study was published in the Bulletin of Insectology. The university scientists studied 18 honeybee colonies in Massachusetts for about one year, and reviewed how even low doses of two types of neonicotinoids — clothianidin and imidacloprid — impacted healthy…

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