Where Have I Been?

Where Have I Been?

The blog has been very neglected over the last four months. There have been so many things taking my time away from being able to write. The biggest of these things is the Maynard Honeybee Meadow. This spring the meadow started as a small idea to put a beehive in an empty lot behind ArtSpace Maynard and now we are looking at installing an amazing wildflower meadow with filled with art and an active top bar beehive!

When we first started, we had no idea how we were going to fund this project. Now we have just successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign through Patronicity and MassDevelopment will be giving us a matching grant. There has been so much excitement and positivity around the development of the honeybee meadow. We had several events during the fundraising campaign to help raise awareness for the project and for honey bees. It was a great learning experience for me, I had never done anything like it before.

Once the crowdfunding had come to an end I was focusing on getting the work done in the meadow that I can do before winter got here. We tilled the plot and put in some wildflower seeds and bulbs in the hopes of some color in the spring. Of course winter came more quickly than I had thought. The ground is now frozen and we can’t really do anymore work in the meadow. We have asked the artists to start working on the pieces that they will be creating for the meadow.

Now the meadow project has slowed down and I will have some more time. My own garden didn’t get as much of my attention as I would have liked, but it did well. I grew tromboncino squash for the first time and they did very well. The largest one was 4 feet long and weighed 13 pounds! Now with the freezing temperatures, the garden has been put to bed for the winter.

My beekeeping year was a rough one. I lost the Willow Hive in August and in November I lost the Orchard Hive. I think that the mite load in the Orchard Hive was too high and they had deformed wing virus. They may have had other issues, I am not sure. At this point, I am not sure if the Host Hive is alive or not.

I went to check on the Orchard Hive in early November on what I thought would be our last decent weather day. My plan was only to look into the window since I had checked them not long before. When I looked in the window, I saw one bee walking around. It was later in the afternoon and the sun was going down so I should have seen more bees than that.

I went home and picked up my nuc box just in case. I wasn’t sure what I would find. Back at the hive, I opened it up to look around. I found the queen and about 12 bees. The rest of the colony was dead at the bottom of the hive. There were probably 10 or so yellow jackets in the hive. I grabbed the queen and all of the live bees and put them in the nuc with bars full of honey. I decided to take them back to my house and see if there was anything that I could do for them.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I couldn’t help them. They would need to be a much bigger colony in order to make it through the winter. It was a devastating realization for me. I had lost two of my three colonies and winter wasn’t even here yet.

Winter was fast approaching, I knew that I needed to figure out a way to protect the Host Hive from the wind. That hive is out in the open with no protection. This year I decided that the hay bales would not work and the family hosting the hive didn’t want the hay bales either. I found 3/4” insulation and put it on three sides of the hive. I did not put any on the side where their entrance is, so that they can get out on the warmer days.

A couple of weeks ago we had one of those warmer days. My husband stopped by the hive to check in on them. He said there were no bees flying so he knocked on the hive to try to get the guard bees to come out and no one came out. There should have been bees out, it was the middle of the days and the temperature was in the 60’s. There have not been any more warm days for me to get over there and look. To be honest, I am also putting it off a bit. There has been so much loss for me this year with the bees.

I have learned a lot this season and I know that all of that will help me in the future, but right now the loss hurts. Looking on the bright side, I am hopeful that the Willow Hive and Host Hive swarms are doing well. I have been telling myself that I am helping to repopulate the feral bees.

Looking forward to the new beekeeping season I have been thinking about things that I can try to see if I will be more successful. There are options as far as what kind of bees I get to put into the hives. I am considering ordering small cell treatment free bees from Gold Star Honeybees and I am thinking of looking into getting Russian bees from a beekeeper here in Massachusetts. It is possible that I can do both since I will have four hives to populate.

The other thing that is on my mind is the design of the Bee Thinking top bar hives. When I bought the hives, I had the option of screened bottom or solid bottom. Since the bees would be living here with the cold winters, I went with solid bottoms. I am excited to work with my first Gold Star Honeybees top bar hive because I did not have to choose. The hives have a screened bottom as well as a solid board to put up when it’s needed. Now I am wondering if I can modify my current hives to have this kind of option.

My thought is that having the option to have the screen bottom in the summer and fall and the solid bottom when the weather is cold will allow the bees to try to reduce the number of mites when the bottom is open. This choice also gives me another option if I choose to use it, I can “treat” the bees with powdered sugar if the mites are proving to be too much for the colony.

The problem that is presented with modifying the Bee Thinking hives is that the stand gets in the way of being able to have a complete screened bottom and being able to raise up the solid board for winter. I am going to look at just modifying the middle section and the sides will need to stay as they are. At least that would allow some chance for the bees to try to chase some of the mites out. Now I just have to bring myself to get the hives and bring them home to work on them.

One of the other things that I am planning to try out and learn more about it using plants and essential oils to help the bees deal with the mites. I will be planting mint close to all of the hives. I had read that the mites do not like the oil from the mint plants that the bees will pick up when they visit the plants. I have been using essential oils for many different things inside my home, so now I plan to expand my knowledge and use of them to include the bees.

There were also so many things that happened while I was inspecting the hives this year that taught me many new lessons. I will be restocking my tool bag and making sure to carry things with me that I hadn’t even thought of at the beginning of last season. I will be adding zip ties and thumb tacks to my bag for when the comb falls off the bar. I will be keeping my nuc box with me whenever I head out to the hives, just in case. Also small collection containers for when things don’t go well and I need to collect a sample of bees. A flashlight will also be in my bag for when I have a hard time finding the eggs.

To every inspection I carry a checklist that I made to keep notes of what is going on in every hive. The basic things that I have are two hive tools and alcohol wipes to clean them with. I also keep bentonite clay around in case anyone gets stung, cinnamon and peppermint essential oil to deter the ants, extra bars and a sharpie to mark them with. During beekeeping season I keep my bag as well as all of the bee suits we own and gloves in the car to make sure that I am always ready.

Now with January almost behind us, I will get more serious about preparations for this year. At this point in the year I also get to start planting seeds for the garden. This time of year always feels so refreshing, it’s a time to start over and enjoy what the year has to bring. I am hopeful that 2017 will be a great beekeeping and gardening year for me! Happy New Year!