Thursday, May 28, 2009

Beekeeping Workshop

Almost two weeks ago I attended a great beekeeping workshop. Here is the apiary or cluster of hives we worked that day. Another group of hives are in those yonder mountains.

The workshop was held on an historic farm. This unoccupied building is the oldest and had been built in the late 18th century. The stone chimney on the left is for the huge stone fireplace inside on the first floor which was the dining/living area. Sturdy stairs went up to the open bedroom area or loft. In the basement, the hand-hewn timbers of the basement floor rafters were black with soot where there was another huge stone fireplace used for cooking. Before the workshop started, I enjoyed looking at all the old buildings, cemetery, and pastures.

An Ohio Buckeye tree (not native to this area) was blooming in front of the Victorian farmhouse. The huge blossoms attracted a horde of honey bees. If you stood in the path of the direct line between the tree and the hives, bees would bump into you as they flew. Guess that explains the origin of the term, bee line!

Mr. C, owner of the farm and apiary, demonstrated the powdered sugar treatment that he uses for varroa mites. He puts about a cup of the powdered sugar on the home-made screen (made of window screen) and uses the bee brush to distribute on each hive box. The powdered sugar sticks to the bees and the little mites can't hold on so they fall to the bottom through the screened bottom board. From the ground, the mites can't crawl back up into the hive. You can also use a flour sifter to evenly distribute the powdered sugar over the frames.

One experienced beekeeper said that he does the powdered sugar treatment about every 10 days. He says it does not hurt the bees because they just lick it off each other and may even eat a tracheal mite that way. This frequency of treatment is more often than I was told in my beekeeping class (once per month). They did say you should not use it on a package of bees for several weeks until the hive is well established.

After that demonstration, we divided into two groups, one beginner group to do hive inspections, the other more advanced group to learn about raising and marking queens. I stuck with the beginners.

I felt pretty good that I could easily identify the capped worker brood from the drone cells. Also, I understood when he said that one hive was not strong---very erratic queen laying and supercedure (queen) cells starting. Mr. C said he would probably requeen that one so that it would not swarm like another one did just yesterday.

The instructor was very quick with his inspections. He believed in getting a general sense about how the hive is doing, then getting out of the hive--no more than 15 minutes per hive. But, he inspects about every 10 days--more often than some beekeepers would do.

The bees were upset because some people were blocking their entrance. I got stung on my hand (I did not have my gloves on so I could take a few photos). The woman next to me handed me a penny to rub on my skin which seemed to get rid of the stinging pain immediately.

We inspected this frame of capped drone brood which works as a varroa mite trap. To make the trap, Mr. C nailed a little strip of wood about 1/3 of the way down the deep frame. The top 1/3 was filled with foundation. The bottom 2/3s was empty which encourages the bees to build drone cells. Mites are attracted most to drone cells.

Some people used their pen knives (I should carry one around like men do!) to dig at the drone larvae to look for the mites. They did not find very many which indicated to the beekeepers that the powdered treatment was working well enough to keep the mite population in check.

See the mite on the end of his finger(much better photo in the Backyard Beekeeper book, p. 86)? It looks like a freshly ground pepper flake but it's brown, not black. When you nudge the mite with a pointed stick or match, it will move and then you can see its tiny legs scrambling like a crab which it resembles a little.

After we poked around in that juicy larvae for awhile, we had lunch--sandwiches and great pecan pie (that Mrs. C made). I brought chocolate chip cookies which were eaten right away.

The workshop continued after lunch with splitting one hive to make two. I was surprised how easy it is to do. Mr. C. just took one hive box and set it aside. He determined which one had the queen so he took one frame of cells which had fresh eggs in it from the queened hive box and then put it in the other hive so the workers could make their own queen. The workers make a queen by making supercedure cells over the egg, then they put royal jelly in to make the queen. Of course, you will need another hive top and screened bottom board to put on the split hive.

A few days later, I used the powdered sugar treatment on my bees. I put my plastic mite grid underneath half of the bottom screen board and took it out the next morning. I found about 12 mites and 1 hive beetle. I am not sure what this means but will do the treatment again every 10 days since I noticed it does not hurt the bees at all--just like the instructor said.

Incidentally, Mr. C. made his own grids to put under the hives to check for mites or hive beetles. He makes them out of old political signs (the ones with corrugated plastic)--a very resourceful man. He also made an inspection cloth out of vinyl table cloth with a strip of wood at the end for rolling it back. I thought it looked like an old vinyl window shade so if I had one, I could make it too. But, I just use a flour sack dish cloth which works good enough.

I plan to attend the workshop next year, especially if they have it at this wonderful farm.


  1. I have a neighbor with a couple of hives and he is kind enough to allow me to watch the process. I find it very interesting. I will have a hive one of these day.

  2. How wonderful. Interesting information and a beautiful day. It doesn't get much better.

  3. Fascinating! Thanks for posting this.

  4.! What a thoroughly detailed and interesting post. It would be wonderful to have bees and harvest their wonderful honey. (I totally recognized the Ohio Buckeye tree! Hummingbirds also love those blossoms.)

  5. How neat! Very informative! I have always been a bit scared of flying bugs, bees, dragonflies, etc....but I'm working on it!

  6. Carol--I really have enjoyed my first time with the beekeeping so far. It's great that you have aneighbor to see the hives. I find them fascinating.

  7. NCmountainwoman--yes, it was a great day. I learned a lot and it was nice visiting with the folks.

  8. Dee--thanks. I am glad you're interested in the subject.

  9. Kelly--I had never seen an Ohio Buckeye before since it's not native here.

  10. Kerri--I have gotten so used to wasps and bees that I am not afraid of them anymore. Now, snakes are a different story!

  11. i finally just got around to reading your whole post. how interesting! i'd love to attend this workshop sometime! i absolutely LOVE old homeplaces like this. this is right up my alley!

  12. This bee keeping is very interesting!
    I guess you should keep a penny near your hives..just in case.
    thanks for all the great information.