Two Beekeepers Tell Their Stories
Betty and Steve are neighbors of mine. Of course, in northeastern North Carolina, where farm fields stretch for miles, neighbors can be a half hour or more away. Like other beekeepers I’ve met, they are enthusiastic about keeping bees, and they were gracious enough to answer my request for their observations.
From Steve, whose hives are surrounded by woods, fields, and few dwellings.
Glad you are talking about the bees. We usually keep 5-6 hives all the time. We also usually lose at least one each year to wax moths. If a hive gets a little weak in any of several ways, the moths will take over and web up everything. It’s a sickening sight to open a hive and see it all clogged up with webs, and bees and wax gone. I don’t really think the colony collapse has caused any problems for us so far.
And bears….Wow. They have really increased in NE NC. I’ve been seeing 4 in the field in front of my house for about a year now, never seen bears here before. And the neighborhood reports there are a lot of them around. We had one hive lost to a bear in the spring. I put an electric fence around the hive area and that stops them. I have seen the ground pawed up around the area right up to the fence, but he didn’t go through it.
And mites are a normal thing now. I would say that every beekeeper has mites. Some beekeepers constantly medicate the bees for mites, open the hives often to observe problems. They spend a lot of time trying to keep the bees in good condition. But actually, about the only time we go in the hives is to take honey once a year. I do not medicate my hives. And I don’t think I lose as many hives as most beekeepers. If they are strong, they can take care of themselves. They have done it for hundreds of years.
Pesticides don’t cause me as much of a problem as a lot of folks, due to the location of my hives. They are behind the dance barn, and there is no field within a 1/4 mile. When planes spray the field of course, the spray drifts and can cover a hive. But it won’t usually drift that far to get to mine. I’m sure I lose some bees that happen to be in the field when it gets sprayed, but haven’t noticed a big problem due to spraying yet. Some of my friends who have hives closer to a field have definitely lost hives to this.
Most hives swarm in the spring, though you can do things to cut down on this, but you can’t completely stop it. We usually catch 1-2-3 swarms each spring, which replace any we lose. Spring of 2012 I caught 4 swarms here. This past spring, I only caught one.
BTW, each hive has a personality. The hive the bear got this past spring was our meanest hive…..good riddance! If you are interested, I’ll invite you out this spring when we take honey. You can watch from a distance, or I’ll suit you up and you can get up close…..
Update 2015 from Steve: Since the bear finally got our bee hives last year, we haven’t been able to replace any hives. . .It’s the first year in a long time that someone hasn’t called me to remove a swarm, which I really was counting on to restock the lost hives. So, no honey this year.
From Betty whose hive is in a small, new development
Whew! Years of study and experience in a few words… not my years but the masters who patiently listen and willingly guide.
As a hobbyist, we keep one hive with 2 deep supers and a honey super (in late summer). It provides us with about 2 gallons of honey at harvest although my main quest is to offer increased pollination to our new development. So, I’m in it for more/better flowers, not the honey.
First off, maintaining a healthy hive and healthy bees is paramount to ward off diseases. Food, water, and a nice place to live are key ingredients for any species’ happiness. Same for bees. Since bees think of themselves as feral, they basically take care of themselves. They tolerate my inspections but prefer to be left alone.
My hive has had only a brief encounter with tracheal mite disease which was easily remedied by putting a mixture of Crisco and sugar on wax paper at the top of the bee frames. The bees ingest the mixture to get the sugar but the lard will kill the mites in their throats. Other beekeepers have not been as fortunate.
Winter bees are slightly bigger with a higher protein count than their summer counterparts. They tend to mimic couch potatoes when it’s cold outside and stay home. They spend their time clustered together around the queen and close to the food supply with the cluster becoming tighter as the temperature drops. However, a sunny day will bring them out briefly to defecate. There are no drones in a winter hive. Drones are served eviction notices in late October and are forced to leave or be killed. Some choice.
Soon after the winter solstice, the queen bee starts laying her eggs. This is a critical time for the hive. The new brood is beginning to hatch thus increasing the demand on their food supply…. and this is while pollen/nectar foraging is low leaving them unable to re-stock.
When we harvest in the fall, we leave them with at least 70 pounds of honey stored to help them make it through the winter. This is about what a healthy hive should produce and what it needs to survive. Beekeepers are wise to leave plenty of food for this when they harvest honey.
Spring accelerates the activity level of foraging, brood rearing, honey making, and swarming among others. Bees hate rain and will avoid droplet contact at all cost. I’ve played lifeguard to many poor swimmers caught in a birdbath.
Hot summers and the bees want to enjoy the cooler evening air (Meetcha on the rooftop!) with thousands covering the outside of the hive in a bee beard.At the peak of summer, my bees can number up to 70,000. That’s a lot of hummers!!
Varroa mites have researchers scratching their heads as to etiology resulting in beekeepers pointing accusatory fingers at pesticide manufacturers and manufacturers retorting that poor management by beekeepers is to blame.
Europe has banned some systemic pesticides while our own EPA has required labels to include application times (before 7 am and after 7 pm when bees are less likely to be foraging). My bees aren’t the best readers. And apparently pilots aren’t either because I tend to see planes spraying at all hours of the daytime. New pesticides have a staying capacity that continues to coat and kill insects days after the application. This would include foraging bees.
Houston, we have a problem!
Who is Killing the Honeybee? Part I Not I, says the Gardener
Who is Killing the Honeybee? Part II Pesticides and Who? Us Gardeners?
Who is Killing the Honeybee? Part III Two Beekeepers Tell their Stories
What is Killing the Honeybee? Part IV Brinksmanship? Ignorance? Greed? Inertia?
Plight of the Honeybee