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Bee-Friendly Gardening: How to Spray (If You Must)

10 Mar

Spring is here! For many gardeners, this means spraying clouds of herbicides and pesticides that can kill or weaken neighborhood bees. Fancy a cool drink of Round-up, anyone?

Here’s how you can minimize damage to neighborhood bees if you absolutely must spray chemicals in your yard or garden.
Bee Friendly Gardening

Of course, this won’t help with a new kind of garden evil — neonicotinoids — but every little bit helps. Even better, pull weeds instead of spraying and keep everyone healthy, happy, and safe.

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And the brood is on!

14 Feb

It’s barely spring in Albuquerque, but already my backyard colony is ramping up for the big bloom! It hit 50°F this afternoon and the girls were soaring like tiny eagles.

IMG_20130214_131128_065

Which is all to say the queen has increased her egg production and the workers are out looking for food and water. Food? There’s none to be found yet in Albuquerque — not even the elm or sumac are blooming. But water? They’re drinking like champagne on New Year’s Eve.

photo (7)

If you haven’t set out water for your hives yet, consider doing so. Even if it freezes at night, the girls will be out on a warm day looking for a source of hydration to mix with pollen for “bee bread”, so it’s safest to ensure they find yours.

NOTE: I’ve found it takes about a week for my bees to find a new source of water, so yet another reason to start watering earlier than you might think.

A Happy Birthday Bee Swarm

11 May

For almost a year now, this hive has stood silent in my backyard. Today, just in time for my birthday, we caught a wayward swarm (likely from my other hive)  and installed the girls all snuggly into their new home.

Swarm!

A gorgeous swarm in the neighborhood

Our swarm transfer process

Swarm!

Exposing their Nasonov glands to waft a “homing” pheromone

For more on technique, see: https://mistressbeek.com/2010/05/13/how-to-catch-a-swarm/

The Beekeepers of Albuquerque, New Mexico

21 Apr

2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers

We’re an eccentric crew.

With over 400 teachers, students, attorneys, engineers, scientists, accountants, fighter pilots and more, the Albuquerque beekeeping scene is endlessly varied. And one of my greatest pleasures is to volunteer as co-chair with Jessie Brown to organize our collective efforts.

Hands down, the highlight of our annual event series is our Spring Field Day. Lucky us, today was another beautiful and bee-filled day in the Rio Grande Valley.

2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers 2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers
2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers 2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers
2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers 2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers
2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers 2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers
2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers 2012 Spring Field Day for Albuquerque Beekeepers

View a slideshow of the full photo set.

Learn more about beekeeping in Albuquerque.

Update on the DIY Propolis Hive Entrance

9 Apr

A month ago, I found that my neglected hive had built its own propolis entrance reducer since I forgot to add one last fall. As temperatures warm up with the season, my theory is that the girls will remove and reshape the propolis as needed. Here are two shots, about one month apart and one month closer to summer. Do you notice any changes?

Propolis at the hive entrance on March 2

Propolis at the hive entrance on March 2

Propolis at the hive entrance on April 9

Propolis at the hive entrance on April 9

Spring Hive Check: What to look for + how to prevent swarms

25 Mar

‘Tis no time for inaction. The dandelions are blooming and neighborhood fruit trees are covered with frizzy flowers, all of which means SWARM SEASON is upon us!

So giddy up, it’s time to dig into my hives and see how they fared the winter.

First hive check of the year

Spring is unpredictable in Albuquerque with great swings from night to day, so I try not to open my hives AT ALL until late March when temperatures stabilize. This restraint prevents me from destroying clustering bees or chilling brood but it’s also a fine line — how late is too late? If I delay too long, will the colony swarm?

What the landing board can tell you…

To slake my curiosity, I watch the landing board for weeks before opening the hive. I’m looking for 2 things:

  • Pollen on the legs of bees entering the hive: If worker bees are carrying pollen inside the hive, this likely means a) there are fresh larvae inside needing pollen and b) those workers aren’t robber bees.
  • Lots of orienting bees in the afternoon: When temps warm up each afternoon I should see the familiar arc of new bees orienting themselves near the hive entrance. If I don’t see this but there’s pollen entering the hive, something is keeping the queen from laying aggressively.

First… a health check.

Once it’s consistently warm enough (above 60° F), I’m ready for my first hive check of the season. Here’s what I look for to determine the overall health of the hive:

  • Bees: Are the brood boxes full of bees? If so, this means a strong hive with enough bodies to possibly split the hive.
  • Pollen: Are the bees finding and storing pollen in the hive? Pollen = protein for new larvae, so it’s  a critical component in building colony numbers.
  • Capped Brood: Is the queen laying? The ultimate goal of the first Spring check is to determine whether the queen is solidly laying worker brood. A solid brood pattern looks like the image below, with worker brood as far as the eye can see with only a few holes for heater bees.

A gorgeous brood pattern -- solid worker brood as far as the eye can see.

Then… a swarm check.

While we’re in there, let’s gauge the colony’s likelihood of swarming. Here are the indicators I look for:

  • Drones or capped drone brood cells: If there are drones walking around, consider making a hive split. If there are capped drone cells (but no live drones), start preparing for a split, maybe 1 or 2 weeks out.
  • Swarm cells: If the hive contains swarm cells, split ASAP. In fact, some experts say that the presence of swarm cells means it may already be too late as the hive is determined to swarm regardless of your interventions.

In the case of my hive check this weekend, I found drone cells (but no live drones) and queen cups (but no swarm cells). In about a week, I’ll go in and split this hive in two. More on that technique below…

Problem solving.

With a strong disease-free hive, the main goals for Spring maintenance are to provide room for brood & honey and prevent swarming. Here’s how I manage both:

Provide room

If the hive doesn’t have enough empty frames in the brood chamber, the queen can’t lay eggs. And if the super (assuming you’ve overwintered with 3 boxes) doesn’t have empty frames, there’s nowhere to store honey.  In my case, I had both problems. Nowhere to lay eggs and nowhere to store new honey. My hive was totally honeybound.

So, I decided to “checkerboard” the hive by alternating empty and full frames in the super and upper brood box (but keeping existing frames with brood next to each other for warmth. It still gets chilly at night in Albuquerque).

How to checkerboard a hive:

Split hives

If your hive is burgeoning with bees, drone brood, and swarm cells, make a split ASAP. Otherwise, start preparing for a split in 1 or 2 weeks.

How to make a split:

Requeen

If your brood pattern is spotty or the hive is aggressive (in urban areas, it’s important to promote docile bee genetics), make a call to your favorite queen breeder and order new royalty for your hive.

Propolis: The original entrance reducer

3 Mar

Score another victory for lazy beekeeping! Either it blew away or I just plain forgot to add one, but regardless, when I went to visit the Candelaria Farms apiary, there was no entrance reducer on the one surviving hive. The girls had managed on their own and here’s how…

But first, what is an entrance reducer anyway?

Many beekeepers, myself included, reduce the size of the hive opening each winter to give the girls an edge in controlling pests, ventilation, and more. It’s a cheap, quick, and commonly-used intervention.

Read more about entrance reducers

What happens if I don’t use an entrance reducer?

The colony gathers propolis to reduce the entrance as it pleases. As you can see in the entrance to this hive, my girls simply formed columns of propolis this past winter to ventilate and protect the hive according to their needs.

Propolis columns at the hive entrance

I’m going to leave these sticky columns intact until the heat of Summer and see how the girls adjust them to suit their collective desire. Watch for photos…

UPDATE: Here’s what the propolis “front door” looked like one month later.

Hive splitting = Lazy girl’s swarm prevention

17 Apr

The Great Split of 2011

Last year, one of our hives swarmed 6 times. Each swarm involves dropping everything to capture and rehouse the wayward dames, none of which is easy to do with a full-time job.

So this year, we split our hives the minute the nectar started flowing and they began to look crowded. This year, we hope to be sipping wine after work instead of chasing swarms all over Albuquerque’s SE Heights.

Hives are ready to be split when:

  • The hive is strong.
  • Nectar is flowing.
  • You see drones in the hive (not capped, but actually walking around).
  • And definitely if you see swarm cells. But splitting before you see swarm cells is OK too if you’re a risky sort of beekeeper.

How to make a split:

About two weeks ago, we followed the Bush Bees process for a walk-away split which involves far more wine-sipping then it does bee-checking, so I’m a hopeful believer.  Only time will tell though, and we’re still a couple weeks away from knowing whether there’s a laying queen in both hives.
UPDATE 5/20/2011: So it looks like 2 of our 3 “walkaway splits” were a success this year! Score one for lazy beekeeping.

3 Deeps = Overwintering Success?

8 Mar

She's heavy up top.

Despite being one of the coldest winters on record in Albuquerque (20° below, anyone?), we had our best beekeeping winter yet. 3 out of our 5 hives survived and those that survived all shared a single characteristic: We left 3 deep boxes full of honey and pollen for the girls.

Commercial beeks would likely gasp at our profligacy — how wanton! how wasteful! Why not dose up the hives with chemicals and sugar water and get that honey on the market? Giddyup.

But those who’ve read the studies coming out of University of Minnesota for the past 20 years are probably nodding their heads already. In a 1988 study, researchers Sugden at al.,came to the following conclusion:

Highest winter survival occured in colonies wintered in three brood chambers. There were no significant differences found between [the various types of insulation studied.]

p. 844 in The Hive and The Honey Bee

Thusly our girls survived Albuquerque’s Coldmageddon and we’re hoping it hints at a honey-filled summer ahead.

Bees need water too

3 Mar

"Bees Need Water Too" by Sasha, age 7

You’d be thirsty too if you’d just hibernated for 4 months.

Now that we’re consistently touching 60° in Albuquerque, my bees are out foraging and not just for pollen. The hunt for water is on! Though it’s only March, they’ve started to mob our water source, in this case a pet waterer (photos below), as they begin raising brood for the season.

How to provide water for bees in the city:

  1. Fill a pet waterer, pond, bucket, or bird bath (as illustrated by my niece Sasha) with fresh clean water.
  2. Provide rocks or floating mulch chips for the bees to land on, so they don’t drown.
  3. Be diligent about keeping the water source replenished, lest the bees move on to another source.

For urban beeks, providing a clean water source for your bees is the best way to ensure they don’t take a fatal dip in your neighbor’s pool or flash mob the dog bowl. Continue reading