A year in the life of a North Carolina Beekeeper

Welcome to my blog.  I will be writing about the next year in my beekeeping journey.  It is possible that the blog may continue on, we will see. 

You may be wondering about why I am starting the blog now, instead of the spring when the bee season begins in earnest.  It is because now is the time when we have to make the preparations for the winter.  We are in a nectar dearth, the bees are getting frustrated and the decisions we make will shape the future of our apiaries.

Why would I want to write a blog?  Well, I decided to keep a diary of what I did and how it worked out.  I am always on the quest to improve my skills and my success with the bees. Last year was a disaster, not only for my bees but for many in the Piedmont of North Carolina.  I live in Asheboro, in Randolph County, right in the middle of the state.  Last winter I lost 20 out of 25 hives, in the majority of the cases, it was because I split the hives too late in the year, and so as a result, the hives were weak and then we had a long cold wet spell in March that did mine in. 

I am determined to do a better job this year and will be experimenting with several ideas on how to improve my practices and thereby improve the results.  Some of the things that I will be trying are ideas from the NCSBA spring meeting.  At that meeting, I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Paul Kelley from the University of Guelph who has a queen breeding program using islands to isolate the drone population that mate with his Buckfast queens. (http://www.uoguelph.ca/honeybee/education-beekeeping.shtml).  From his Youtube videos, I walked away with a number of practices that I am implementing.  One of the first is his use of a canvas inner cover.  This seems to work well, I have used it this spring and removing it doesn't upset the bees as much as prying off an inner cover.  I would recommend having an upper exit because it will restrict airflow.

There were a couple of other events that have shaped my philosophy for the upcoming year.  Last year my wife attended the OTS queen rearing seminar put on by Melvin Disselkoen in Charlotte, NC.  We have applied the principles, and have good results in getting hives to create new queens.  We also attended the presentation this spring by Michael Bush on natural beekeeping.  While I am not going to stop treating bees, I do believe that a lot of what he said made sense and so we are moving to a more natural system.  We will still feed the bees in the dearth, and I will treat for varroa, but using chemical-free methods.

I have also decided that I am done with packages and Italian bees.  One of the speakers talked at length about the challenges with the queens and packages we get from the south.  Since most of these breeders care about generating a large number of bees early in the year to sell packages, they breed for that characteristic.  That does not necessarily mean that those bees are well suited for honey production in our area.  One challenge is that they winter over large clusters requiring significant stores.  In the past, I have wintered over the hives with a single deep and multiple supers or a double deep configuration. 

This winter, I will be wintering over in a single deep 10 frame configuration with an insulated sugar board as the cover for the hive.  This configuration will provide emergency stores for the hive and will require less energy to maintain the heat in the hive.  I will have a small upper exit and a reduced lower entrance to vent moisture from the hive. I will also have one yard that has double deep 8 frame hives.  This configuration will allow for more stores and more space for a spring buildup.  We will see which configuration seems to perform the best.

To reduce the size of the winter cluster, I have changed from Italian bees to Carniolan since they winter a smaller cluster and build up extremely fast in the spring.  I made the mistake of leaving some in Nucs after I picked them up in April, and had several Nucs swarm before I got them into hives.

I currently have 6 separate yards, and I am going to test Buckfast queens in one of the yards to see how well they winter over and produce in the spring.  I have heard many stories about how evil the bees get if the queens supersede, but I have also heard stories about how well they produce, and how frugal they are.

To help all of the hives, I am going to insulate the outside of the hives leaving the lower entrance and the upper vent uncovered to allow moisture to escape.  I will also be sealing the bottom of the screened bottom board to reduce the total airflow through the hive.  My goal is to reduce the amount of heat that the bees need to generate to keep the hive warm.  I think this may result in a reduced demand for food in the hive.

In my bigger yards, I will start open feeding both pollen substitute and sugar syrup so that they can produce really healthy fall bees and go into winter with sufficient stores.  For the remaining yards, I will feed hives using buckets with screened openings and for July and August, I will be feeding 1 to 1 syrup.

The last plan that I am implementing now is to aggressively treat for varroa, using a device to heat the hive and kill the mites.  I will treat this month, and then again in October and in February so that I start the year mite free. 

Today we resolved the last hive configuration issue we had.  This hive wintered in a deep with two supers, one of which had two medium frames and those had brood on them.  The queen was laying in the two upper boxes and I was able to find her and persuade her to move into a new deep box that we installed below a queen excluder and now I just need to wait for the brood to hatch before removing the supers and having the desired configuration.

Tomorrow will be hive inspections in the home yard.  We will be doing sugar shakes and counting varroa prior to beginning the treatment regimen. 




Comments

  1. I'm interested in your pretreatment and post treatment mite counts with the thermal treatment. Also interested in other observations/opinions you can share. Thanks

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