As the early spring blooms are coming to an end, the excitement of the start of a new bee season for me is about to begin. It was a difficult year in my little apiary last year, and I’m eager to start again with hopes and prayers for a successful year. This year I have ordered two packages of #3 Gold Star Honeybees. These guys are used to small cell comb and are a mix of Russian, Italian, and Carniolan genetics also winter hardy, which I’m hoping is better than getting packages from Floria. I’m hoping that these girls will be able to withstand the temperatures of WV winters with less overall stress.
This year I’m also going to try an additional varroa mite treatment that I read about in The Beekeepers Quarterly (No. 127) on how a couple of beekeepers, Ann and Maciej Winiarski, in Poland, have been using rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) as an effective method of controlling varroa. Rhubarb leaves have a natural low dose of oxalic acid which can be used at any time in the apiary to control varroa without harming the bees or honey. By placing the leaves, together with their crushed stalks between the brood box and super, the worker bees will work to remove the rhubarb. Because of the conditions inside the hive, the leaves don’t dry out but slowly releases oxalic acid in a gaseous form which circulates around the hive.
this method wasn’t originally done in a top bar hive, but I don’t see why this wouldn’t work perfectly in my hives. I have a beautiful patch of Rhubarb transplanted years ago from my in-laws. I usually just compost the leaves…but I’m super excited to be able to use them for the good of the girls. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a healthier and stronger hive going into winter this year.
After last years terrible ending, I decided to order a package of bees to start my season off. This is the first time I have bought bees…I’ve always caught swarms to add to the apiary. With the terrible losses last year throughout the state, I was nervous the swarm scene might not be as magnificent as it was in 2017. I received my package yesterday–it was a balmy 42 degrees out. I was hoping for much warmer weather, but this coming week looks to be delightfully in the low to mid 60’s.
The post office called me at 6:30am to let me know that the bees have arrived in town. It was 32 degrees. When I got there to pick them up, the Postmaster told me he was a little worried because they were all very quiet first thing, but as the temp began to rise, so did the bee activity. It was 42 degrees when I decided to hive them.
I’ll admit I had to watch a YouTube video before trying this. (you can learn anything from YouTube!) I found that getting the sugar water out of the package was a bit difficult, but what I really failed at was the Queen herself.
As I flicked the staple out to release her cage I did so without holding on to her! Down she fell! Retrieving her was not that difficult actually, but I was worried that I would squash a few reaching for her.
In the end, the rest of the installation went smooth as can be. The cool weather might have helped a little, but I was surprised to see so many bees flying around the apiary. They seemed calm, just taking a look around. I closed up the hive, and I’ll check on them on Monday to verify the Queen has been released from her cage.
Fingers crossed and a quick prayer to Saint Valentine, who not only is the Patron Saint of love and romance but is also charged with ensuring the sweetness of honey and the protection of beekeepers.
Here’s to new beginnings.
Spring is such an exciting time for those of us in the beekeeping world. Last week another swarm was added to the apiary. I wasn’t prepared for how large this was, so instead of placing it on a small nuc box until the 4 topper hive was ready for occupants, I tried something new. Using 2 follower boards and a wall of straw between the two…I added this swarm to the back of the previous hive that was captured earlier in the spring. A 1/2 in. circular hole was added to the side of the hive for a second entrance. I was nervous that it might not be far enough from the front of the hive and a bee war would insue. Happily, this plan worked! A week later I was able to easily move the new swarm into their permanent home. These ladies are most likely Carniolan bees, and there are kicking butt! This hive is very busy and making comb and bringing in nectar and pollen.
There official name within the apiary is the Maple hive…and they are doing great in their new home.
One of the very first tasks a colony needs to accomplish when setting up a home in a new hive, it to create wax. The wax is formed into “scales” by wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees. Once secreted, a different bee will harvest it, and use it to build comb. One of the amazing things that bees sometimes do when making wax is called festooning. This is when bees hanging together, leg-to-leg, between the frames of comb. Some beekeepers say this is done to get new comb to the area of the frame in need. Others think that this chaining is a way for the bees to measure out what space needs comb. Either way, I think its neat to watch them work together to get things done.
An interesting thought about wax. It’s said that a bee will use 10 pounds of sugar (artificial or nectar derived) to produce 1 pound of wax. That makes wax a huge commodity! Much more so then honey itself.
The obvious issue in harvesting this commodity its the availability, and harvestability. In a standard Lang hive that uses wax foundations with wire support, the process of harvesting the wax can become a tedious task. The alternative might be to use the removed capping when harvesting honey, but this is a limited volume. That said, the National Honey Report indicates that on average honey goes wholesale for $2 lbs, where wax yields $3.50 or higher depending on color and cleanliness. It might be of significant value to save those cappings even if it might take a while to collect enough to use.
One of the biggest reasons I choose to learn top bar beekeeping was to be able to harvest wax much more readily. Without the use of foundation and wire supports, it is pretty easy to remove a start of new wax before the bees even begin to use it. I currently use wax in my artistic adventures and continue to find new ways to try and include wax as a selling point in both encaustics and candle making.
It’s crazy what these ladies have to offer!
A few years back…actually 10 now, my next door neighbor stopped by my yard with a wooden box covered on all side with a screen and asked my grandson and I if we wanted to see something neat. It was a package of bees, and he sat on my grass and answered every question we had about why the bees were in the box, and what he was going to do with them…and most important to my grandson, why he wasn’t afraid of being stung by all those bees!
Skipping ahead, 10 years later my mother was able to get some land that both my brother and I have placed hives on. I decided at the time to start with a top bar hive, and my brother started with Langs. Our little apiary (Little Falls Apiary) started its first season with 3 hives in total.
My top bar hive almost didn’t happen though, because actually I only ordered 2 nucs, and but the time I realized I wanted a third hive, there were no bees to be bought! Taking it as a gift from God, I was called about a swarm. Not actually ever touching a bee yet, (but taking a beginners beekeeping class) I mustered up the courage and caught my first swarm.
It went as smooth as butter, and before I knew it…I was officially a beekeeper! With the adrenalin still pumping, I called a mentor/member of my local club, and she helped me to get my new colony into the top bar hive.