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Spring is coming!

Wow, what a week. Last Sunday we had no snow. On Monday we got 8″ of snow. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings the thermometer was on empty ( 0 degrees F). By Sunday the temps had increased to 60 degrees and the snow had all melted! This week looks like the daytime temps will be in the mid to upper 40s and the nights will be in the low to mid twenties. Perfect weather for making Maple Syrup.

Many beekeepers  in New England also make Maple Syrup. It is a similar but very different pursuit that kind of dovetails with keeping bees. When I was a kid, I used to help my grandmother make a little syrup. We lived on a small farm down in Bozrah and had a few nice Sugar Maples to tap. We never had all the right equipment but managed to get some syrup of varying degrees of quality. If I had a sugar bush close by I guess that I would  think about taking it back up. There are a couple of problems with a new endeavor, one being that the way I generally dive into projects means that I would spend a small fortune setting up a top notch sugar house and all the accompanying equipment. I am getting sick of spending money like that!  My wife keeps mentioning retirement funds etc.

The other problem is that this time of the year is also when my bees need a lot of very necessary attention. When the sap is running, maple syrup producers have to hustle in order to keep up with collecting and boiling off all that water to make syrup. In times of a good run they just can’t afford the time to work bees. Because of this they generally have to ignore their bees in March and therefore often miss the important early spring management steps that result in good spring buildup of honey bee colonies. I have too much invested in bees to let that happen. My time is better spent insuring that my bees have ample nutrition so they stimulate the queen to lay up to 1200 eggs a day. I accomplish this by placing a pollen replacement patty over the cluster of bees and weekly filling of the division board feeders that are a permanent fixture in my hives.

One of the things that always amazes me is how quickly the flowers start blooming witha little warm weather. This Sunday, when I was adding Mega Bee Patties to some hives in Lebanon, I noticed a bee with lemon yellow pollen on her legs. I opened the hive to see if there had been more natural pollen coming in and sure enough, there were several hundred cells with fresh pollen in them.  The queen had laid a nice pattern of eggs in the center of the frame. While there is nothing like natural pollen to get things rolling, the problem in March is that the weather will change on a dime and shut off any additional incoming pollen for days or even weeks. When the bees run out of resources, the first thing to go is brood. In many cases the bees will cannibalize young brood in order to recycle the nutrients and in severe cases avoid starvation. Enter the Beekeeper.

When I teach “Bee School” I often will say that the best time to start spring feeding is on September 15th. There is nothing  like a well supplied colony of bees going into winter. This will avoid starvation and insure a good supply of stores to be used in spring to raise lots of new bees. Reality can be somewhat different. Often by March the honey and stored pollen supply are getting a little thin. Only by supplementing both incoming protein and carbohydrate sources will the queen be able to ramp up her production of eggs and the workers be able to keep the larvae developing. I generally keep pollen replacement patties on the hives until mid April when I am sure that there is a continuous influx of natural pollen. I also feed sugar syrup as long as the bees have less than three full combs of stored honey. Sometimes I have to go back to feeding when we have a long cold and rainy period in May. Most hives starve out in April or May when the nutritional demands from  thousands of growing larvae quickly consume the stored reserves in a hive. Beekeeping is really about raising healthy bees, then the bees make the honey.

I am not sure what the source of the pollen was last Sunday. I think that it must have been either skunk cabbage or a Silver Maple tree. At any rate I always look forward to the first pollen as both a sign of spring and that the annual cycle has come full circle. Now I need to go make a batch of sugar syrup.

End of Bee School 2009

I would like to take a minute to thank all who helped run the 2009 Bee School. It  would not be possible to put on such an event without the involvementof the membership. Each night, there were about 120 people in attendance with around 75 new members. This thing keeps growing! I would also like to congratulate all of the students who are the future of our association. I  hope you all share the same enjoyment that I get from keeping my bees.  Adam

Life in my hawthorn bush

Shortly after we bought this property, A dear friend, the late George Colburn, gave us some saplings he had received  from the Arbor Day Foundation. One of them was a Hawthorn about ten inches tall. For lack of a better place, we planted it in the lawn in front of my shop. The main stem had been broken so I made a splint to hold it straight. As the years passed the tree grew and soon it was eight feet tall, as sturdy as a hawthorn ever gets, and at some point it started to flower in mid June.

This tree is an incredible source of pollen and nectar for insects. Not just bees but wasps, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, almost everything but the kitchen sink visits this plant!  The first day it flowers, it is attractive from 7:00 Am until after 3:00 Pm. There are literally hundreds of insects of many kinds buzzing along collecting  pollen and apparently nectar in huge quantities. I can hear the noise from 75 feet away!  On each following day the frenzy starts an hour later and ends an hour earlier until after about four or five good days it is over!

Last year a pair of American Robins had  nested in the midst of its dense folliage and I wondered if all this activity disturbed the birds at all. Birds  have evolved being exposed to nesting in flowering trees so I don’t think that this would be any exception. At any rate, as summer progresses my tree becomes covered with thousands of small green berries that ripen into  pea sized fruit in the fall. These fruit are very hard and aren’t very sweet so they stay on the tree until well into the winter.

Usually sometime in late February on early March, a flock of Robins will descend upon the tree and in the course of a day or so will eat every last one of those berries. The iconic image of a Robin pulling a worm from the lawn is still too far in the future to do these early birds much good!   The birds that return the earliest will be able to claim the best nesting sites, but part of the price is scarce food supplies until worms and insects are readily available.  No doubt, in the naked light of yet another late winter cold snap in New England, this fruit will help keep dozens of birds from starvation. It reminds me of the old addage about not wasting food in the summer because some winter day it will taste mighty fine!

Its February 23rd, 31 degrees outside and the robins are back! I can’t wait for spring, but for now I need to tend the fires.         Adam

Bee schools and fstops

Bee schools and  fstops.

Last night was the first evening of the bee school sponsored by the Eastern CT Beekeepers Assn. Members of ECBA spend various amounts of time  planning and preparing for the four nights of class. My involvement as President of the club consists of oversight of the entire process as well as presenting several segments of the classes. Therefore, I get a lot of the limelight and each year my job becomes easier as now all I  have to do is slightly modify last years presentation to reflect changes in beekeeping practice.

The real work  is performed by the soldiers of the group, the members who agonize over  how many students to plan for, print and assemble the notebooks, order reference books, register students, haul all the materials to and from class, account for the money, update membership data, bake cookies, buy supplies, make coffee, make more coffee, usher students to the last available seats, find more chairs and on and on!

Then there are the fellow instructors who plan and present their class segments. Each one updating hand outs, hauling in their stuff, showing students how to hold a hammer and nails etc. Two of them have a background as professional instructors while we other two are carpenters. The one thing we  have in common is that we all have a passion for beekeeping and a desire to share this with other people.

This year we have more than sixty new students as well as fifty current beekeepers who want to update their skills. This reflects a renewed interest in beekeeping that is occurring not only in our area but across the nation as a whole. Many people are tired of the disconnect from food sources that has happened in the last couple of decades. Our food is most likely shipped hundreds or thousands of miles from farm to table, many times coming from overseas, grown in countries that don’t have the standards of our farmers here in America. By starting a hive or two of bees, some one can not only produce some honey for themselves, but they can also contribute to the pollination of local food sources as well as the plants that make up our environment. Some estimates claim that 40%  of our food requires pollination from insects in order to grow and reproduce. That’s quite a responsibility for a bunch of bugs!

So what does bee school have to do with fstops? Years ago, Charlene and I took up photography. Like most people all we really did was ruin a lot of film and once in a while, mostly by accident, we got an good photo. One day we decided to take an introductory photography class.  It was at a local Middle School and was taught by a skilled photographer. She spent the next several nights teaching us how a camera works. Things like shutter speed, fstops, depth of field, composition and so on. By learning the basics, photography no longer was frustrating.It became enjoyable and we could predict results, not just waste film. We now have many photos that we can be proud of.

Beekeeping is a similar endeavor. If you spend the time and money starting a colony and then don’t know the basics, all you will do is kill bees. At beginner classes like ours, you will benefit from the experience and knowledge of seasoned beekeepers who will save you from the pitfalls that trip so many beginners.  It costs over $300.00 to set up a beehive. If you go to a beginners class and pay attention, you can have a reasonable expectation of keeping the bees alive and perhaps harvesting a little honey for your self!My good friend Lex with a couple of honey supers!