What's happening at TLC Apiary, The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County's own beeyard.

Come check it out at the corner of Hillendale and Rosedale Roads in Kennett Square.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

One hive down...

After almost two full years of enjoying our healthy hives at TLC's demonstration beeyard, we finally lost one one of them this winter.  Winter losses are all too common for beekeepers these days (average winter losses are somewhere the in the neighborhood of 30%), and there are a number of reasons a hive might not make it through this trying season of the year.

Without leaving sufficient stores on the hive (I'd say at least 50 lbs. of honey), a colony could easily starve over the winter months.  In our parts, beekeepers usually harvest in the summer, trying to leave enough honey for the bees to get through the summer dearth.  We then usually experience a modest nectar flow in the fall, and the beekeeper may or may not do some supplemental feeding at that time to get the hive up to weight.

Also, if there are problems with the queen in late summer or fall, there might be a low population going into the winter, so that they have a hard time forming a sufficient cluster to stay warm and move to where the stores are in the hive.  Bees don't exactly die from the cold, but if there is inadequate ventilation in the hive, it can become damp.  Cold and wet bees is definitely a deadly combination.  Add to the equation stresses from parasitic Varroa mites and their associated viral diseases, and the cluster of bees could already be dwindling throughout the winter due to a really high attrition rate.

The hive we lost was "Hive A", which was previously a superstar, but attempted to swarm last summer and stumbled a bit in requeening itself.  It didn't seem to have an especially high Varroa count, but honestly any Varroa mites in the hive are not helping matters.  When I found it dead on March 16th, I didn't have time to do a full autopsy, but peeked in and closed up the entrance to prevent the remaining stores from being robbed out.  There seemed to be a rather small number of (dead) bees in the hive, which leads me to believe there weren't that many in there going into winter.  That may have been related to queen issues from last year, that I didn't pick up on in the fall, or it may have succumbed to a combination of other stress.

The fact of the matter is- hives die; though it's sad, it's the beekeeping world we live in.  On the bright side, the hives at TLC's apiary have done better than average.  Also, as long as Hive A did not fall to a communicable disease, we can reuse all of the equipment and drawn comb from that hive to give a new colony a real head start this spring.  Sounds like a post for the near future!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Beginner Beekeeping Seminar on March 2nd

For all of you new and aspiring beekeepers out there, the Chester County Beekeepers Association will be hosting its annual beekeeping seminar at the Westtown School in West Chester, PA on March 2nd.  It's a wonderful event with great speakers, great company, and even some great food! 

If you've been thinking about taking the plunge and getting started with bees, this all day seminar is one of the best jump-starts you can get.  You can CLICK HERE for more information and to register.  I hope to see you there!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Winter update

2012 turned out to be a great bee year for most beekeepers in the area, and we at TLC were no exception.  There were a few of the typical stumbles along the way, but we went into Winter with 3 strong hives again.  They were basically set up similarly to last year, so you can browse those posts for a few more details.

In a nutshell, we build a short wall out of straw bales to provide a windbreak for the hives.  Cold winter winds blowing straight across the field toward the hives is the one Achilles' heel of that location.  The wind break was an easy quick fix that has worked in the past, and I recommend that everyone makes sure their hives have some wind protection throughout the winter.  Each hive also got a metal mouse-guard over the entrance to keep out pesky invaders.

All 3 hives were a little light on stores at the end of the Fall, so in early December I put 5-10 of dry sugar on each hive to act as "emergency stores".  If, and when, the bees run out of honey stored in the hive, they will hit the dry sugar that I placed above the frames.  It is not the best bee food, but our goal is to make sure they don't starve!

In mid-January we had a very warm weekend, so I took the opportunity to do a quick inspection of all of my hives.  Each hive had bees flying, and when I peeked under the cover, I could see theat they had eaten a little of the sugar I placed in there earlier.  Hive A, always the most robust, had eaten about half of it, so I just topped it off with a few more pounds of sugar and closed up the hive.

There's not much else to do in Winter, other than wait, and worry, and sometimes give some emergency feed if necessary.  Hopefully there will be at least one or two warm days for me to do a similar inspection each month until Spring really begins. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012


At the last Open Hive Day on August 25, we focused on the different methods of sampling for Varroa mites in our colonies.  I had placed sticky boards (plastic boards rubbed with vegetable shortening) under the screened bottoms of the hives to trap any of the mites that naturally fall through.

After doing a careful count, we came up with 24-hour average mite drops for each hive.  Only Hives A and C had levels that were close to the threshold for treatment (50 mites on the board after 24 hours), so we did a follow-up test on those hives, just for fun.

We used another test that is relatively new to my arsenal: the "powdered sugar roll". When using this assay, you get a certain volume of bees into a mason jar with a screened lid.  Then you put a couple tablespoons of powdered sugar in the jar with them, and shake and roll the jar to coat them well.  After a minute or two, you can then shake the jar upside down to dump out any mites that were in the jar, as they have been dislodged by the powdered sugar.  If you know how many bees you had in the jar (about 100 bees/fluid oz, or 400 bees/half cup), then you can calculate your percentage of infestation.

If you've never tried it, getting 400 bees into a quart jar really is great fun.  There are several methods for accomplishing this out there.  I went with shaking a few frames of bees into an upturned hive cover, and then just pouring the (totally excessive amount of) bees into the jar.  Admittedly, my technique could use some refining.  I used far more bees than necessary, and had bees crawling all over my arm.  Still, not one sting.

Using the powdered sugar roll, we found an infestation level of 6% (6 mites per 100 bees) in Hive A, and  14% in Hive C.  Published guidelines recommend 10% as a treatment threshold, so I decided I would just treat Hive C this year.

I went with using a formic acid treatment, which is an organic acid, requires just one treatment, and does not contaminate honey.  Perhaps at the next Open Hive Day, we can do one more follow-up mite count to see if it was effective.  See you there!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Open Hive Day, August 25th, 9:30-11am

Join us again this Saturday, August 25th from 9:30-11am to take another peek in our hives.  This is the time of year to make sure that pest levels are acceptable for preparing for winter (and has been for a while now).  We'll make sure our TLC colonies are doing well, and discuss pest pressures and monitoring.  If you've never visited our hives before, it's always a great time to start following their progress.  Whether you're just curious, a newbee beekeeper, or a seasoned 'keep who can't get enough, stop by and bring your questions and curiosity.

Protective veils are absolutely required in working up close to the bees.  We have veils available in limited quantity, so if you have your own, please bring it along.

Cost for the event is free for TLC and CCBA members.  $5 for non-members.  Click here to register for the Open Hive Day.

*DISCLAIMER*  TLC is not responsible for injuries including bee stings to preserve visitors and program participants.  Those with severe bee allergies should refrain from attending.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Summer Rush

July has been a busy month for me.  The July Open Hive Day was another great experience.  We peeked in each of the hives, which all were queen-right and seemed to have healthy populations.  We also managed to spot the queen in hive "C", who has been quite elusive, and marked her.  Now all three queen are marked with a nice yellow dot on the thorax to make them easy to spot. 

Yellow is the international color code for queens born in years ending with a "2" or "7".  Not only does marking queens make them easier to spot, but it can be the only way to track your queen.  Otherwise, you may not be sure that the girl you see in your hive today is the same one you saw a couple of weeks ago.  Often, this doesn't matter to the average beekeeper, as hives can re-queen themselves quite seamlessly (and often do).  For teaching purposes at TLC apiary though, it can be handy to quickly identify the queen.  Also, I am working to select the best stock in all of the yards I manage to potentially go into a breeding program.  Without marking, tracking performance becomes impossible. 

In mid-July, we finally pulled off honey from the hives at TLC (as well as my other hives).  All three hives managed to produce a surplus of honey, with hive "B" being the star performer.  I promise to bring some honey out to the next Open Hive Day for tasting.

Now that August has finally rolled around, I find myself in Burlington, Vermont at this year's Eastern Apiculture Society conference.  This is my first year attending EAS, which is a weeklong conference and the largest gathering of beekeepers in the region (over 600 this year!).  For those of you interested, I can fill you in on what I pick up at the August Open Hive Day on the 25th.  For those of you who wish that you could have made it, I have good news.  EAS 2013 will be held right here in West Chester, PA!  It's an honor to be hosting an event like this right in our own backyard, and it may turn out to be the biggest EAS yet.  I hope I'll see you there next year.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Open Hive Day, July 21 9:30-11am

Join us again this Saturday, July 21 from 9:30-11am, to catch another glimpse of the inner workings of a beehive.  We'll take a look at the small split we made last month, see if we can spot a queen, and maybe even take off some honey.  This is a great time to get initiated, peek into a hive for the first time, or ask questions about keeping your own bees at home.

Protective veils are absolutely required in working up close to the bees.  We have veils available in limited quantity, so if you have your own, please bring it along.

Cost for the event is free for TLC and CCBA members.  $5 for non-members.  Click here to register for the Open Hive Day.

*DISCLAIMER*  TLC is not responsible for injuries including bee stings to preserve visitors and program participants.  Those with severe bee allergies should refrain from attending.