Beekeepers Associations and Groups · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Queen Bee

Getting ready for spring

Frames - February 2018
400 Frames waiting for foundation!

The weather hasn’t been conducive to trips to the bee yard the past two weekends, but that doesn’t mean we’re not thinking of our bees.    On days when the temperature in the garage has been above freezing, Hubby has been busy putting frames together in preparation for another year of growth in the apiary.   I’ll help with the foundation just as soon as I get a break from grading, but as soon as I finish one batch of essays, students write the next batch.  This will be the story of my life for the next couple of months, but I will go visit the bees next weekend!

Hubby has been reading a  book about rearing better queens and one of the suggestions is to include frames with starter strips as comb that the bees draw “freeform” apparently leads to bigger queens.    Old comb with all the cocoon remnants in cells can also negatively affect the size of queens — or the bees have to extend the queen cell out and float the egg into the larger area in a sea of royal jelly.   All in all, we’re going to try some new things this spring.    We’ve also been watching many videos on YouTube to get a variety of ideas.   One guy we really like is Ian from Steppler Farms in Ontario.   While he clearly has different weather conditions to us, his experiences are relevant most of the time.   We missed this month’s Mid-State Beekeeper meeting this month because of a conflict with work, but we also really look forward to getting to the next one and learning more from people in our area.   January’s presentation about fire-ants was enlightening and fascinating — and it will change the way we apply fire ant chemicals.

I’ve always noticed the first signs of spring, but now I notice them differently.   That red haze around some maple-trees — that now means pollen and nectar!   A dust of pollen on the car means bee food in addition to allergy flare-ups.  Bee-keeping does indeed change us.

Leveled embankment
Leveled embankment

Before beekeeping, I would have seen the newly leveled area along our driveway as prime land for daylilies and maybe a rose bush or two.   Now I have dreams of buckwheat and clover to provide early food for the bees.  Instead of having a greenhouse full of tomato seedlings, I currently have basil, rosemary and lavender growing.   These plants repel moths, mosquitoes, house-flies, and some beetles, so I plan to plant them around the new hive stands.  Of course, they are also nectar and pollen sources and the rosemary and lavender repel snakes.  That alone shows how much I’ve changed — protecting the hives has become more important than keeping snakes at bay.   Of course, we haven’t seen a rattlesnake in a while, so my priorities might well change with the next sighting!

I don’t know which of us is more impatient to get out of the city, but I doubt the dog will need any more encouragement than the two of us next weekend.   All the hives were active a couple of weeks ago, but we have no idea what’s going on inside them.   My new pollen feeder was popular, so hopefully the queens have been ramping up production and all those frames in the garage will disappear into the new boxes that await paint.  Spring is just about here and I can’t wait to get back to the bees!



Pesticide · The Honey Bee Health Coalition

Wipe Out

Last week, Dorchester County, SC decided to combat mosquitoes with an aerial application of pesticide.  One apiary alone lost 46 hives in just a few hours.    To an outsider, that may look like an equable loss, given the severe impacts of the Zika virus, but to a beekeeper it represents the loss of years of hard work and the likely loss of income until next spring when they can start their business from scratch.   The pesticide didn’t just kill the bees that were foraging — it killed the bees and the larvae in the hives.  Total destruction.   Any honey in the hives is also non-marketable now that it is contaminated with pesticides.
Dead bees under hive
On a smaller scale, we are dealing with the same problem at our house in the city.   Our neighbor has her yard sprayed monthly as her son is very allergic to mosquito bites.  That is her right.   However, the EPA requires that citizens be notified in advance before toxic chemicals that can drift from one yard to another are sprayed in the air.  The EPA also requires that pesticide companies ensure their products do not drift from the intended application site to other people’s properties.   After calling the company, we now sometimes get a phone call 30 minutes before the technician arrives, during the day, while we are at work.  But not this past weekend. A phone call or email the day before would allow us to protect our bees and honey.
In addition, the company told us that the spray was not toxic to bees, and left no residue.   Wrong and wrong again.   The chemical they are using, CYZMIC CS, is highly toxic to bees, is a skin and respiratory-tract irritant for humans and remains on any flowers it comes into contact with.

When we returned from Labor Day weekend at the farm, the ground around one of our Nuc splits was littered with dead bees and, on opening the hive, we found a 75% bee loss.  Over the next few days, more bees died and the surviving bees pulled the contaminated larvae out of the frames.  The state regulatory investigator from Clemson University confirmed that the hive loss was a result of pesticide application.  They took the hive with them so that they can try to determine which pesticide was used, and we are waiting to hear back.  Even if they had not taken the hive, we would have had to destroy it as the chemicals are clearly ingrained in the wood and frames.   The second Nuc from our recent split has less damage, and we are hoping the queen cell and larvae in there are viable.

UPDATE: January 2017 — Clemson University confirmed that the bee loss was due to pesticide application, and we lost the second Nuc.   The mosquito-spray company was not responsible, but a neighbor told us that she saw someone go into our backyard Labor Day weekend, so it seems like someone intentionally killed our bees.  We have heard of that happening to other bee keepers, and that is the main reason we have moved most of our hives to the country.   

Dead bees at the bottom of the hive
What to do?   It is possible to kill mosquitoes while minimizing bee loss by administering chemicals very early morning before the bees are out and about.  There will still be some bee loss, but not total destruction of colonies.    Informing beekeepers in advance gives them time to trap the bees in the hive at night and keep them “indoors” until it’s relatively safe.   Even giving beekeepers enough advance warning to let them throw sheets over hives is better than nothing.
Beekeepers also have to be proactive.   Register your apiary’s!   In South Carolina this is done through Clemson University.   Companies that administer pesticides are required to review the database of apiary locations before applying chemicals that can harm bees.   Beekeepers also need to report losses to the EPA.  The Honey Bee Health Coalition has a wonderful incident reporting guide.  It won’t get the bees back, but it may reduce future losses.
We got into this business when we figured out that no bees = no tomatoes + no zucchini in our garden.  And that’s just the tip of the pollination iceberg.   There’s more at stake here than some annoying insects that sting.
The good news (let’s end this on a positive note) is that the master beekeeper who investigated our hives as  part of the regulatory team said that our other hives are very healthy and clearly well maintained.  He told hubby that we should keep doing what we are doing because it is clearly working.  It was good to have our apiary practices classified as professional and to hear that the bee loss was in no way-shape-or-from a result of anything that we could have done or prevented.
Beekeepers Associations and Groups · Bees

Hats off to South Carolina Beeekeepers Association

On Saturday, we picked up bees for BIL and us that we purchased through South Carolina Midlands Beekeepers Association.    I am still in awe over the fantastic organization and the cooperation of all of the members present.   There were 450  packages of bees to be picked up, with most people picking up 1 – 3 packages.  Everyone parked where directed and waited patiently for the bees to arrive.  Once they were there, we were directed to move from the parking space to the front of the building.  Right before we picked up our bees, the barcode on our receipt was scanned and our order called out.  The volunteers loaded the boxes in the back of my car, and we were out of there in under 15 minutes.   Now, we were about 2/3 of the way back in the queue, so the 15 minutes tells you how efficiently everything was handled.  I wish the volunteers could handle parking at graduation!

It was almost dark when we got home and our bees were going to out yards, so we sprayed them down with sugar water and put them in the greenhouse overnight.  Early Sunday morning, we headed out to our two out yards and shook bees into hives hubby had set up the day before.   After the first hive, I felt like an expert!   The practice was good, because the bees became more animated as the day warmed up and our spray bottles ended up being uncooperative for the last two hives, but we got them all installed.   Our friend has been giving us frequent updates on the bees in his garden and I suspect the bee-bug has bitten him too.  I’m glad there are so many others who find bees so fascintating.

Then it was back to the house to load the vehicles for a trip to BIL’s house.   He let us shake his bees while he filmed the process with his phone.  (I just realized that I never saw the film!)   He wasn’t wearing gloves, but the worst thing that happened to him was when I stuck him with a thumb tack while I was trying to hand it to him.  My gloves shrunk when I washed them, but there is still a good bit more glove than fits which gives me a good excuse for being clutzy.

His bees seem quite happy today, although I didn’t see any bringing pollen back to the hive yet.  The bees in his established hives are finding plenty of pollen, but I guess the new guys haven’t figured out where the best stores are.

The next step is to go back to each hive and make sure that the queens have been able to get out of the queen cages and that they are happily cohabiting with their new servants.   Hopefully we will be selling and not buying next year.