Experience is a brutal teacher. But you learn, my God, do you learn.

-C.S. Lewis

Stream In January

Stream In January

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ag Day at Fairview Middle School

Our Smoky Mountain Beekeeper's group was asked to participate in an Agricultual Awareness Day at a local middle school. We were represented by Al, our president, Tom, our treasurer, Kelley, our outgoing VP and me, new secretary. There were also 9 other organizations representing different areas of agriculture in the area. From 9:00 until 12:00, we talked to about 100 8th graders. The event was well organized with the kids being broken down into about 10 groups of 10 -12. Each group spent 15 minutes at the various stations. The morning started off very foggy and cool, but by 10 had warmed up nicely. Other than our bees, my favorite station were these farmers with their team of mules. All the kids and most of the adults were treated to a good, old-fashioned wagon ride. I always learn something from my fellow beekeepers and on this morning I found a product that I absolutely will buy and keep in my bee bag. Sitting in front of the smoker is a fuel that is a natural fiber product. A little before 9:00, I lit the smoker with 1 match. When we finished at 11:45, the smoker was still going strong. I've been using pine straw and/or cotton strips from old t-shirts, but not anymore. This is awesome stuff. I know it's available in the Dadant catologue and I'm sure from all the others.

Articles from my bag including hat, veil, gloves, hive tool, brush, frame-lifter and smoker. Al's full suit. The teaching hive has 10 frames that shows various stages of bee development, great pictures of a queen and also a bee with varroa. A shame we have to talk about the dreaded V, but it's a fact of life for beekeepers. Also on hand, our observation hive, an extractor, a nuc box and jars of honey.

The kids were a lively and curious bunch as kids this age usually are, and this group wanted to know how the bees got in and out of the box. Above, Kelley agreed to show them the little door on the side but jokingly said she'd kill anyone who tried to open it. She is an awesome beekeeper and was great with the kids. I'm happy to have her as a good friend and mentor. I told her about my "robbing" problem on Wednesday and she confirmed that, just as I thought, bees will attack from the bottom of the hive to get to powdered sugar. This may be one small drawback to treating with sugar shakes, but she is committed to natural beekeeping and, like I am learning, has figured out ways to prevent the sugar from falling under the hive. She currently has 42 hives. All the groups of young people searched for the queen in the observation hive, but she was well hidden this cool morning. I've seen this hive many times when the queen chooses to come out and put on a show and I wish the kids could have seen her. What they did get to observe were the bees fanning to keep the box warm since the morning started out so cool.

We had a great morning and I'm fortunate to be associated with a wonderful group of talented beekeepers. Of course, none of them do things the same way, but are all successful. I've been
chosen to serve on our board of directors and readily agreed to do so. The knowledge I gain from working with these guys is invaluable.

Update on my hives: It was 1:30 before it got back to the house on Thursday and when I checked my hives, everything was back to normal. No more fighting. The bees also seemed much more comfortable with the entrance reducers in place and I've decided to leave them for the winter. Ora still has a stick wedged in the entrance but I do have a real reducer and will replace it this weekend. It's raining today so there are no bees out.

I had a question by email about why I used water on the hive to calm the bees. I had read that it is sometimes possible to discourage a hive from swarming if you make it "rain" with a waterhose. It did drive the bees either back into or away from the hive and I'm convinced gave me enough time to take some of the measures I used to head-off a full scale robbing event.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Did I say beekeeping was fun? The past hour and a half has been anything but. We had 2 days of wet weather but this morning was beautiful and I spent my time at the library and then onto the park for a while followed by a long walk. When I got home around 12:30 I headed to the garden to check on the hives. (We had over 2 inches of rain yesterday along with high winds.) I noticed even from a distance that there seemed to be quite a bit of activity around Walter. As I got closer I saw there was a problem. The guard were very actively "excorting" intruders away from the hive. Some of the bees were yellowjackets, but most were other honeybees.

When I did the sugar shake on Walter, Sunday, I put the entrance reducer on to help guard against robbing. I was worried about yellowjackets. I took it off late Sunday and because the weather was so bad Monday and Tuesday didn't have any reason to think I might have cause to be concerned. There were no bees flying. Obviously, today was a different story because of the nice weather. There were LOTS of bees out! There was no signs of any problem at the entrance to Ora and not wanting to have one, I grabbed a stick and stuck it in the entrance leaving about a 3 inch opening. There was sedum in the compost pile and I stuck a dead flowerhead in the opening leaving just a small half inch space. I ran and grabbed my gloves, hat and veil and also turned the water hose on. By creating an artificial rain many of the bees headed back into the hive. I also hoped any of the invaders would be on their way back home. This helped to calm the bees enough for me to get the entrance reducer back on Walter along with sedum there, also. Walter with entrance reducer. As I began to calm down I realized what was happening. I use screened bottom boards on both hives and when I did the sugar shake a lot of it fell down on the table that holds the hives. The table is solid and I could look up under the entrance and see lots of sugar and bees. The problem was under the hive instead of inside. I was able to take the water hose and, from the front and the back, spray enough water to get rid of the sugar. Sadly, I also drowned several bees. But at this point I figured a small loss was better than a big one. After I got out most of the sugar and dead bees, I used a small solid stick under the entrance to seal off the space under the hive.

This is the back of the hive where there was also quite a bit of activity. I used a small board and stick to close it.

After almost 2 hours, things are much calmer. I may need a glass of wine, but I think the bees are OK. I very quickly took at look under the inner cover and the bees that I could see inside the hive were working very calmly almost as I nothing was going on outside. In still such a beginner, but I don't think this was a serious robbing event.

I paraphrase, but Ross Conrad says there are no mistakes in beekeeping, just learning experiences. I hope he's right. What I will do differently next time is to put my sticky boards over the screened bottom boards before I do the sugar shake. Then when I'm finished, remove the boards holding all the fallen sugar. I may have to wait until the weather turns much colder and we can move the hives more easily, but I'm going to get rid of the solid table. Along with the sugar, there is a lot of other debris from the hives there. I've seen a couple of good options thanks to some of my fellow bloggers. I hope to be able to get out this evening while there is still light and, with the help of G, lift both hives and do some cleaning underneath and also raise them with some lumber.

I walked back up the hives and there is a lot of buzzing around the front of both, but no fighting. My bees simply do not like the entrance reducers. They will have to live with them for the next few days until I feel confident there is no further threat.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Too Close For Comfort

Our daugher decided to go for a walk about 8:30 last night and headed for the local track. Although it was dark, the 1/4 mile track is well lit. She had walked a short distance when she noticed a large dog walking out of the woods. As it got closer she realized it was not a dog but a big black bear! Thankfully she was fairly close to her parked car and being a smart wise young woman, started to slowly and carefully back away from the approaching bear. She made it to the car safely and watched as the bear walked on up the track, cut across the field and headed into the woods. I had to comment as she told her story that I certainly would have lost weight if I had that experience because it would have scared the !*#+ out of me. We had a good laugh about it and know it's just one of the wonderful reasons to live in the moutains.

Click on the link below for a picture and story about one of our most famous bears. The picture was taken from the same spot I photographed the mountains last Monday, but this bear eludes all but the best photographers.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

October Bees

On Friday, we had torrential rain and very high wind, but by Saturday morning the bad weather had blown itself out and by midday I was able to open the hives and do some fall maintenance work. I use a grease patty in the fall and winter as a soft treament for tracheal mites. I'll quote Ross Conrad - "Because of A. woodi's microscopic size, the oils from a grease patty, when lightly covering the bodies of the bees, inhibit the movement of the mite from bee to bee, which out of necessity must occur outside of the honey bee's breathing tube. As a result, the grease patties work to help prevent the spread of mites from infected bees and limit the damage they may cause within the colony." The recipe is simply 2 parts Crisco to 1 part sugar. I also mix in some essential oil and shape into patties. These freeze well. I had some honey that I squirted on top to make it more attractive to the bees.
I also reverse the inner cover for the fall and winter. Flat side is now facing up. This creates an airspace above the bars in the small super. Last winter I didn't use any insulation on or in the hive and although we had a very cold winter, I saw no problem with bees dying from cold. Walter was a very small colony going into winter last year, but the bees obviously did a good job maintaining a warm hive. It turned into a large, productive hive this summer.
What Walter did last winter was build propolis and looks like this year is not going to be any different. This is what they've done in the past couple of weeks to the opening in the inner cover and also on the top bars of the super. Propolis has great therapeutic value for a hive, but I don't want the opening to be completely covered because of ventilation issues. However, having said that, I still think the bees know what's best and maybe I should leave well enough alone. The photo above is from Ora and there is no sign of propolis there.

I had some powdered sugar in my bee bag and since I had the hives open, I took the opportunity to give Walter another good treatment. This is the hive that showed the most mites earlier. They don't like it! Walter is, by far, the harder of the 2 hives to work and I suspect it is because I robbed the honey from that hive. There is sugar on the front of the hive and because I didn't want to have a problem with robbing yellowjackets, I....

....added the entrance reducer. Not being used to it, they really didn't care for that little addition at all! It took all afternoon for the bees to settle down. I used an entrance reducer for a short period of time last winter when the temperatures were the coldest. We had about a week of 0 degree temps in the mornings.

Both hives looked good with a healthy amount of bees. Ora is quite heavy with honey stores but I'm a bit concerned about Walter. Lot of the honey in that hive has been used probably because it is my second year hive and much bigger. I'll keep very close watch on this one and already feel I may have to feed. I have a couple of frames of dark, capped honey that I can add and see how far that will go.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Mountains Where I Live

Someone asked by email how much in the mountains I live and I think these pictures give a pretty good indication. They were taken Monday, about 8 miles from my house, at the overlook between Jackson and Macon counties. I live in Jackson. Click on the pix for better views.

At the top of this picture, there is a big white house. Directly in front of this peak, which is Big Sheep Cliff, is Cashiers Valley. I am on the other side of this mountain. It's the one that shades my house in the morning. There was also snow on the peaks in the distance. That's the Blue Ridge Parkway. There was a good amount of snow in our northern mountains on Saturday night, but I'm told only a dusting in Cashiers. This is to the left of Big Sheep Cliff. The sheer rockface in the center is Hogback Mountain.

In the foreground and to the right of Hogback is Whiteside Mountain. Whiteside is a great hike and I hope to get there soon. Great place to take pictures of the whole valley and beyond. From the peak, you can also see South Carolina.

Because I live here, sometimes I forget how much I really am in the mountains. The weather has turned cold, several mornings now of low-20's, but the days are glorious. The bees are still flying on mild days, but the frost has killed everything that was still blooming and there is no pollen. I hope to be able to do a quick check on Sunday and reverse the inner covers to provide an air space and also to put on the grease patties for the winter. There is rain forecast for tomorrow and Saturday, but Sunday looks promising.

A. D., I hope this gives you a better understanding of where I live.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Odds and Ends

My little garden angel has been watching over my gardens for fifteen years now. Once again, she has come full circle. October has been rainy and the past few days have been cold. I imagine by the end of the weekend she will be wearing her first winter blanket of the season since snow is forecast for the next couple days. I'm ready for it, but won't be here to enjoy as I'm headed out of town to visit good friends. My garden was beautiful this season thanks to the honeybees. The flowers bloomed more fully and the vegetables produced more abundantly. I had more birds and bees, of every kind, than I've ever seen. I'm not plagued with many bugs, but the snails that love my moist garden soil, were at a minimum. In a word, there was balance. Or maybe synergy is a better word.

I've been reading a lot about Russian honeybees and hope to have 2 new hives in the spring. Russians are showing good resistance to varroa and tracheal mites, and from what I'm reading, are, are better suited to my mountain weather. The following is a great article by Dr. Tarpy of NC State.


I've also just gotten a copy of Phil Chandler's book, The Barefoot Beekeeper, and am very interested in Top Bar Hives. I'm such a natural, organic gardener and beekeeper and everything he says makes sense to me in keeping bees in a more natural state. I'll be posting a lot on his ideas in the next few months. Check out http://www.biobees.com/.

I let the dogs out late Tuesday and they let me know in a hurry that there was a problem. I ran out and caught the big backside of a black bear headed down the yard. I could hear it crashing down the stream and through the woods. I had also seen a bear up the road about 3 weeks ago. The bear fence stays on all the time now. Bears know what's coming and are stocking up for the winter. The following photo was taken about 12 miles up the road from us. It's one of the funnier ones I've seen.


At our last bee meeting, a couple of local beekeepers had sad news that some hives had starved. It would seem funny that bees would starve in the fall instead of spring, but most are attributing it to the rainy weather . The bees are having to stay confined to the hives and are eating honey stores. These are experienced beekeepers so I'm listening to what they say and will be checking as often as I can. The weight of both my hives is still good. We'll see after this cold weekend.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Varroa Mites

This morning I received a disturbing email from our county extension agent concerning varroa mites. One of the largest beekeepers in my county (Jackson) has reported losing several hives to varroa. She further stated that in speaking with Dr. David Tarpy, researcher at NC State University, he is verifying that, in pockets of NC, Apistan and Checkmite are no longer effective against mites as they have become resistant to the 2 chemicals contained in these products. For several years Dr. Tarpy has been suggesting alterate control measures for mites:


Unfortunately, varroa mites have become something we are all having to deal with. My mite levels have been low this season and I feel comfortable, right now, using the powdered sugar shake as treatment. I have several fellow beekeepers who are using Api Life Var with good success. Looking to the spring season, my plans are to have 2 TopBar hives with Russian stock. As stated in the paper, Russians are showing good resistance to varroa. I had also heard this from another source at a meeting I attended last week.

Unfortunately, I also learned yesterday, of another beekeeper in the area who had lost 7 hives to CCD. I dislike passing along bad news, but that's the reality of beekeeping right now. I wish we could all put our heads in the sand and it would go away, but unfortunately that's not going to happen. Hopefully, if we're diligent in caring for our bees in a more natural manner, we may begin to reverse the damage that's been done through the use, or misuse, of chemicals in the past.