Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Winter Recap and a Fresh Start

And what a winter it has been, snowy and cold like last year. Bee-wise it has been flat-out depressing. Following the debacle of the Francisville stolen honey frames, things only went downhill. Two more of my hives died, making a total of 4 dead and only one colony remaining. Those are some bad numbers - if I was a baseball player I'd be hitting .200 and riding the bench! As far as I can tell, these two hives met their demise because their populations were too small - both of these hives were queenless for a long period of time last summer and this hurt their numbers going into winter. One of the hives had zero pollen in it, which probably isn't enough to kill them but it certainly didn't help.

And as usual the silver lining is that I have lots of honey, pollen and drawn comb from my 4 dead-outs. After cleaning out the hives of bees I piled the equipment in my backyard - must have at least 80 pounds of honey sitting back there. Most, if not all, of that honey will go towards feeding my new colonies this spring (I'll get to that in a minute). My remaining living hive looks really strong and they should hopefully pull through the rest of this cold spring with no problem. If this hive is strong and the weather warms up a bit, I will split it into two hives in a few weeks.

Contrary to my beekeeping, this has been an awesome winter for me and the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild. In January I was elected President of the Guild. Then in February we had a hugely successful event when Ross Conrad came to speak to us. We had over 100 attendees come to Penn Charter School to see Ross and everyone was extremely happy with how the day went. After Ross gave his two talks, we had a showing of a documentary called Vanishing of the Bees. It was a great event which we hope to replicate in some form next winter.

In March the Guild held its first Beginner Beekeepers Course. Four of the Guild officers, myself included, planned and taught the course. We had 20 "students" and this day also went really well. For me it felt great to be teaching again, something I haven't done for quite a few years. We plan to offer more and longer courses in the future.

OK, back to the bees. To make up for my losses this winter I ordered 4 small cell packages from the Seaborns at Wolf Creek Apiaries. I have already installed two of the packages at one of my new apiary locations. Woodford Mansion is located in East Fairmount Park and was built in 1756. I want to say a quick thank you to Bruce Schimmel and Martha Moffat for helping this apiary location happen (Martha also took some of the pictures of me below). Here is the front of the house...

This site should be a great home for the bees - in addition to tons of nearby red maple trees (an important source of early spring pollen), there is a new orchard that was recently planted around the grounds of the house. And the bees will have the run of the entire East Park, they should find plenty of food. Here are some more pics...

 A new home

Two packages in trunk of my car
Beautiful frame of pollen from one of my other hives
Queen cage with attendant bees
When bee "packages" such as these are made up by suppliers, they take a queen from one hive and worker bees from multiple other hives. So the workers and queen don't "know each other" yet and if the queen was not caged, the workers would likely kill her. So when you are setting up a new hive from a package, you generally give the workers a few extra days to ensure that they accept the queen. The workers will release the queen by eating the candy (the white stuff on the left side of the cage) and revealing a hole which she can crawl out of and then get to work. There are many ways to introduce the queen and I tried a new technique this time. I attached a small piece of wood to the queen cage and slipped it under the front door, with the end of the wood sticking out of the front door for easy retrieval. The most typical way of introducing the queen is to stick the cage in between frames inside the hive. One problem with this method is that in a few days when you go back to check if the queen has been released, you have to disturb the bees and frames in the new hive. The "front door method" allows me to just pull the stick and queen cage out of the front door with minimal disruption to the hive. We'll see how it goes when I check on the hive in a few days.

Queen cage slipped under front door and into hive

Workers dumped on top of queen cage
Frames are in, dumping the stragglers into the hive
I installed two packages and everything went very smoothly, no problems. I will go back in a few days to check on the queen and see how the bees are taking to their new home. Here's hoping this year is better than last for the bees!

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