Dorcas Lane from “Larkrise to Candleford”

We entered winter, worrying over our remaining colony, Dorcas, and intending to make the occasional post about off-season beekeeping activities like cleaning the smoker or building new equipment. Unfortunately we did none of those things and so neither did we post. Now that an indecisive Spring at last is gathering her resolve to stay a while we should make a brief status report before the season truly begins.

When we tucked Dorcas away she was quite populous, having been merged with all our other colonies as they became queenless. On the odd warmer winter day we would look for a litter of dead bees or speckling of droppings but we had neither many such days nor much sign of the other. Just enough to give us a tiny bit of hope.

Last Saturday we attended the Michigan Beekeepers Association 2022 Spring Conference in person. While we had certainly enjoyed the ease of attending last year’s conferences virtually from the comfort of our couch, it was good to again have face-to-face conversations and wander the vendor room.

We felt embarrassed to admit to our plummeting colony count but our listeners were uniformly sympathetic and reassured us that waxing and waning of hive numbers is somewhat up to fortune. We still feel responsible but perhaps a little less guilty.

Then we were further heartened in a queen-rearing session when a large number of hands went up in reply to the question of who could not see eggs. Likewise to who could not find the queen. We are not alone in our handicap. In spite of last season, perhaps, we really are proper beekeepers after all. Of the hobbyist, bees-as-pets variety but still.

This warm Monday live bees were very much in evidence. Returning foragers hovered in a cloudlike holding pattern in front of the single open entrance hole, trickling into the hive in between departing bees. With just a glove and needle-nose pliers we cautiously opened the second entrance, which was immediately put into use. Neither maple nor crocus is yet in bloom so it was unsurprising if slightly disappointing that we saw no pollen being brought into the hive. In terms of forage the bees may have been wasting their time but it was cheering to imagine that they enjoy a flight after being long hivebound.

When the scene was repeated on the nearly summerlike Thursday we finally removed the black insulation from Dorcas to let her greet the coming season in her festive purple. We have hope.

Edited 2022-Mar-21 : Our first crocus bloomed yesterday and today we saw a bee working it. At the hive the bees were steadily bringing in pollen in small amounts from farther off.

a2b2This year’s Fall Conference of the Michigan Beekeepers Association was hosted last Saturday by the Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers, the club to which we belong.

Way back in July we were told that there was enough interest in or, at least, curiosity about top bar hives that the conference should have a related talk and we were asked, as members of the hosting organization known for years of keeping bees in such hives, to consider being the speakers. Some sense of duty overcame our natural introversion and we ended up agreeing.

And so it came to pass that, after a summer of idly scribbling and gathering material, the last few weeks had us focusing all spare attention to adding yet another slide and taking yet another picture and trying to decide if we had too much or too little to present in our assigned hour until, at last, with empty hive and Powerpoint we gave our talk to an appreciative audience of about forty people. And then home to collapse.

Should you wish to see the slides from our talk, go to the newly added MBA Talk 2019 tab on our home page. There you will find a link to a publically accessible Google Drive page, where you will find the Powerpoint slides for our talk and the Excel spreadsheet referenced by it.

Somehow we have not yet published a single post from this year’s Michigan Beekeepers Association Spring Conference back in March. And there are only eight months left until the next one, which our past reporting performance indicates is not much time at all. Let us then hastily commence.

Dr. Milbrath of the Sandhill reprised her Plan for Varroa talk from last year to a large and interested audience. Having already written about last year’s version of this talk we need not repeat ourselves but we shall post a few useful links.

We have dawdled enough that a revised version of the talk is available for viewing along with other recordings of webinars from Michigan State University’s Pollinator Initiative.

And there is an education section on her apiary website with links to articles on many aspects of beekeeping. The most relevant to varroa are:

We hardly need write anything further but we shall anyway.

Having heard the talk before we were better able to note smaller points that were overshadowed by the main message in the first hearing.

Some of the beekeepers who avoid treating their bees do so out of an attempt to stay “organic” and avoid “chemicals”. However organic farming standards do not allow the farmer to withhold treatment from a sick animal even if that treatment is not organic. Do honey bees under our care deserve less than cows or sheep?

Suddenly high mite levels can occur to anyone at any time. If you have been monitoring and treating responsibly then it is not your fault. You can not control hitch-hiking varroa from other colonies.

Although unnecessary treatments are to be avoided, allowances can be made for overwhelmed first-year beekeepers, who have so much to learn. Such a beek may simply treat by the calendar to keep varroa levels low while acquiring the skills to monitor in the next year.

Mite levels do tend to spike in the fall. Bees are reducing their population while the mites continue to increase theirs so the measure of mites per bee rises quickly. If you have observed this in previous seasons then using your local knowledge to treat in anticipation is permissible.

In a similar vein if you have lost colonies to varroa in previous years then treating by calendar to keep levels down is not “treatment”. It is “control”.

Let us end with a few words about our own monitoring. Wee Angharad has not yet suffered the indignity of a sugar roll. Dorcas a month ago scored zero mites in the sample. We shall be retesting her soon. Beatrix and Clarissa were tested just last week and also scored zero mites. We can hardly believe the low scores but it is yet early and they have each had a brood break for one reason or another. We shall remain vigilant.

Dr. SeeleyLast weekend, we attended the Michigan Beekeepers Association Spring 2017 Conference. The main attraction this year was Dr. Thomas Seeley, famous for research into honey bee behavior, who gave four talks over the two days.

Will we be able to post a report on each of them before the year is up? Probably just barely.

The Bee Colony as an Information Center This talk described how a colony efficiently deploys and redistributes foragers to nectar sources in numbers related to the changing quality of the source. We serendipitously discovered that the material is also in his book The Wisdom of the Hive, which we bought at the conference. The diagrams are so much better than our hastily scrawled sketches.

Plastic Foundation: Good for Beekeepers? Good for Bees? We attended in spite of using no foundation of any kind, certain that we would learn something interesting about the bees. We did but you will have to wait.

The Bee Colony as a Honey Factory This was a repeat of the talk from a SEMBA conference in 2013 and we have already written about it. So we need report on only three talks before the year ends. We may just make it.

Capturing Swarms with Bait Hives After describing his experiments to determine what kind of home the bees themselves prefer, also found in the popular HoneyBee Democracy, he presented the results, rather well-known by now, and gave practical advice on exploiting those results to successfully catch swarms.

We also attended some non-Seeley presentations, which may or may not result in blog posts.

Plan for Mites by Dr. Meghan Milbrath. The message, that we are in a varroa epidemic and whistling past the beeyard will not be helpful, is much the same as her previous talks but the tone has gotten firmer. If one will not be a responsible bee-keeper then one will not be merely a bee-haver but a bee-serial-killer. She has thoughtfully provided the text of her talk on this Michigan Pollinator Initiative web page.

Beekeeping in Uganda by Sarah Scott. Currently conducting field research for the United States Geological Survey this talk is from her time studying honeybee health in Uganda. The saddest thing we learned was that as the illegal distillers of sugarcane attempt to improve their fortunes they are inadvertantly ruining that of beekeepers. Bees drown in the open fermenters full of sweet sugarcane liquid.

Essential BeekeepER First Aid by Dr. Tyler Andre. The capitalized ER is deliberate to nod at the speaker being an Emergency Room resident.

The Benefits of Splits and How to Make Them by Nathan Snyder. This presentation contrasted methods used in his own hobby apiary and in the larger commercial apiaries for which he has worked.

And so to start writing.