No beekeeping classes this winter, sorry!

It is now late January and time to start thinking about beekeeping, especially if you are a beginner.  While we usually offer classes at this time of year, we are taking a breather this season in order to have time for some other initiatives.   However, if you are willing to drive a bit, you can find excellent natural beekeeping classes from Jacqueline Freeman at Friendly Have Rise Farm, http://www.friendlyhaven.com/classes.html.

We plan to resume our classes in the winter of 2014.

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Swarm Season! Honeybees on the lookout for new homes.

Swarm season has begun!   So keep an eye out on sunny days, typically between 10:00am and 3:00pm or so.   If you see a cluster of bees on a branch or structure, don’t worry they won’t hurt you.  But they do need to find a place to live.  We’re out of town the first weeks of June, so call someone from the swarm list at Puget Sound Beekeepers Association:  http://pugetsoundbees.org/swarm-list/  to come and collect the swarm.  Their list is organized by region.   We’ll be back in town June 19th and ready to collect swarms again.

What is a swarm?  The bee swarm is the way a honeybee colony reproduces itself.   When a colony is healthy and the spring increase is underway, often the old queen and about half of the bees leave the hive and set off to find a new home.   They first fly out of the hive with great speed, then jet around the air for 15 minutes or so before landing somewhere nearby in a tight cluster.   The queen is at the center of this cluster.  Scouts are sent out to search for a new home, and hopefully, within a day or two they find one.   Then the cluster breaks up and they all fly to the new home.   If a suitable home is not found in 3-4 days, the swarm could starve to death or die of exposure.

Posted in Natural Methods

Time to add boxes and check for honey stores.

April is a big month for the bees.   They are beginning their spring build up and need warmth and sunshine to get out and gather pollen and nectar for the coming brood.   They are thirsty at this time of year too, so a good fresh water source is important.   I lost a colony in March, and when I went to clean out the hive, there was not one drop of honey left.  It was a very large colony, with tens of thousands of bees, and they had starved.  No sign of disease at all, they were healthy, just empty.   The strange thing is I had been feeding regularly in February and March, and the other three colonies in the apiary still have plenty of stores.  So, another lesson from the bees.   Each colony is a unique organism, a functioning unity, with it’s own peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses.   Each colony must be assessed separately, worked with individually, and approached with an open mind toward what it needs and when.   So on a warm day, check for stores by lifting or looking, add another box if they need room to expand this spring, and feed a good ph balanced chamomile syrup if they are light of stores.

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Two Upcoming Advanced Classes

A friend of mine, Jacqueline Freeman is offering two classes on March 31 at a farm in Snoqualmie, WA.   Here are the details:

HONEYBEES
from a very natural perspective

The Salvation of the Honeybee Kingdom:
   Swarms & Feral Bees
with Jacqueline Freeman

Saturday, March 31   10am – noon   $25

95% of all the bees kept by U.S. beekeepers come from seven companies with limited genetic diversity. As Rudolf Steiner pointed out 80 years ago, bees were going to fall into a deep struggle at the turn of the millenium in great part due to flawed breeding methods that compromise the bees’ vigor and health. Seems like we’ve fulfilled that prophecy pretty well. So if you don’t want to purchase bees, how can a beekeeper find healthy bees?

Our bees are from wild swarms with good genetic diversity. They are naturally strong and healthy and you can’t buy wildness. Learn all about feral honeybees, how to peacefully interact with them and collect a swarm of your own. You can even encourage wild swarms to populate hives on their own, a wonderful way to invite bees to come and live with you.
=============================================

The Arc of Creation & The Song of Increase:  
   The Spiritual Life of the Honeybee
with Jacqueline Freeman

Saturday, March 31   1:30 – 3:30pm   $25

The core of biodynamic beekeeping is the spiritual relationship we fulfill in our partnership with the bees. Jacqueline shares images, sounds and stories of the bee kingdom through their brilliant perceptions, extraordinary senses and depthful wisdom. In the bees’ words, you’ll come to understand the role the honeybees are playing in Man’s evolution.

You’ll learn about the Unity of the Hive, their contract with Man, the surprising role of the drones, the wide range of songs they sing in their daily lives and the significance of healthy pollen, how they support the plant kingdom and how best to work alongside them in prayer and blessing.
——————————————————————————-

Register for either or both classes by sending a check to Patti Pitcher
Summer Winds Farm      39819 SE 60th St.    Snoqualmie, WA  98065
Got questions? Email or call Patti at pattipitch@gmail.com or 425-831-5360

Posted in Classes, Natural Methods

Introduction to Natural Beekeeping Class – March 10th

In response to many inquiries we are offering one Introductory class this year after all.   It will be a comprehensive introduction to natural methods for the beginning backyard beekeeper.   The class will be on Saturday March 10th, from 10am – 4pm, at my home in north Seattle.   It will cover everything one needs to know to start beekeeping this spring.    To register or for more information please email: lmmontgomery@comcast.net.  Space is limited.  The cost is $30 for the day, please bring a lunch.

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Slide Show from PSBA meeting

Here are the slides from the September meeting of the  Puget Sound Beekeepers Association.  The topic was Natural Methods in Backyard Beekeeping.   They include a simple recipe for herbal sugar syrup.

Slide show from PSBA meeting.

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It’s August – Look out for mites!

Many new beekeepers ask “What does a mite look like?”, or How do I know when I have mites?”     To help identify this problem here is a picture of a single mite on a white bottom board.  As you can see, the mite is round and has a little shine of light reflecting off it’s hard shell.   All the other debris, wax scales, pollen grains etc. have rough edges.  If you see one or two mites, like this, it’s not a problem yet, but pay attention daily.   If the mite count grows to 20-30/day, you should start some form of treatment.  A good source for natural mite treatments is here: http://scientificbeekeeping.com/ Be sure and clean off the board each time you check so you know the time span of the accumulation.  Click on the picture to enlarge it for a better look.

A single mite amid natural bee debris.

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Vanishing of the Bees: Film Event at the Pink Door

The Pink Door owner, Jackie Roberts, and Chef Steve Smrstik have recently become avid beekeepers.   In an effort to raise awareness about the peril of the honeybee, Roberts and Smrstik will present,  “The Vanishing of The Honeybees: A Movie and Conversation at The Pink Door” this August.  Proceeds to benefit Urban Bee Project Seattle.

Please find all the details below

WHAT:  Viewing of the documentary The Vanishing of The Honeybees followed by conversation led by local “Beeks” (bee keepers)  from Seattle’s Urban Bee Project.com

WHEN:  Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 6 pm

WHERE:  The Pink Door   1919 Post Allley, Seattle, WA 98101  206.443.3241

WHY:  “Our food chain is in peril as the honeybees are perishing,” said Jackie Roberts, owner of The Pink Door. “We started this past spring with one hive in our backyard. The colony multiplied very rapidly and formed a ‘swarm’ and right before our eyes  six thousand flew bees flew onto a branch 30 feet high in our neighbor’s  back yard. It was quite thrilling. Our hope in showing this documentary, is to help educate and raise awareness about the dire situation of the honeybee and what we can all do about it as urban dwellers. Many people do not realize that without the honeybee we would not be able to enjoy many of the foods we eat.  Our front yard vegetable garden is lushly thriving thanks in great part to our phenomenal friends, the honeybees.”

DONATION:        $5.00 to attend the viewing and join the conversation. The Pink Door will be serving complimentary antipasti.

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Bee Seizures – toxins or illness?

Last August I noticed scores of bees crawling around my garden with intermittent little seizures every couple of seconds or so.    They did not fly, and were constantly thrown off course and even onto their backs by the seizures.  It was disturbing to see, and I began trying to find out what was going on.    There was surprisingly little information on the internet, and the bee disease specialists I contacted had no clues.  As far as I can tell, the possible causes of such symptoms are toxins and viruses, especially the Acute Paralysis Virus (APV) which is associated with Varroa infestation, which I also had last year.   This year, I’m seeing it again, but no mites yet at all.   On any given day there are a number of bees on the ground displaying these symptoms.  Here is a video of one of them:

These crawlers do not make it back to the hive and die on the ground, leaving a scattering of carcasses around the garden.   I’m interested in other people’s observations and/or ideas about this phenomenon, so please let me know if you observe anything similar.   This year I’m trying various herbal combinations to both enhance immune resistance to parasites and to help the bees detoxify any chemicals they may be exposed to.    I’ll post again if anything develops from these treatments.

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Comb builders extraordinaire!

This year there is more than expected bridge comb, and in some cases truly crazy comb in the top bar hives, and also the foundationless Langstroth frames.   This means the bees have used their own sensibilities to build the bones (comb) of their colony and not followed the nice straight wax strip indicators we provided them. Only three of the eight hives I manage this summer have followed directions in comb building.  So good for the bees!  They are building just the shape and size comb they need right now.  But rather difficult for us who would like to inspect the comb and look for a healthy brood pattern, pollen and honey stores, and the all important swarm cells (multiple queen cells produced in anticipation of swarming).    Once significant amounts of bridge comb are built, the options are few.   Earlier in the season, while the comb is developing you can go in and straighten and cut to promote straight comb, but even then they may still keep building across the bars.   By July, with cases of extreme bridge comb, the remaining options are:

1)  to go ahead and cut away the connecting comb between bars or frames with a long knife.   This certainly frees the comb for inspection but it also creates a mess of honey and ripped open brood in the middle of the box and is really not a very good idea.  The brood will likely die, the bees will have much extra work to clean up and repair everything, and the bridge comb may well be reestablished as they do so.

2)  to set up some saw horses and boards, set your boxes down then crawl under with a smoker and flashlight and do an inspection from below.    It is difficult to see the brood pattern from underneath, but swarm cells are usually apparent hanging off the bottom of the combs.   All you need to see is a couple of uncapped brood cells, either from above or below, to know your queen is alive and laying.

3) to weigh your boxes with a luggage scale to determine amount of stores.   This gives you a good idea of how well the bees are doing in terms of gathering stores.   My Warré boxes ranged from 10 lbs. to 30 lbs in late June, so, given the cool wet weather I chose to feed the lighter hives 1 quart of syrup.

4) to check your pull out bottom board regularly, keep it clean in order to monitor new deposits, and learn to read the signs it carries.   The amount and nature of the debris on the board tells one something about the activity inside the hive.   Keep a sharp lookout for mites, they are small brown specks, more round in shape than the other debris, and uniform in size and shape.   They also have a shine to them unlike the other material on the board.   If you suspect mites, take a magnifiying glass and confirm it.   A mite looks like this:

Varroa destructor - the varroa mite

5) to become a keen observer of entrance traffic and through this, learn to read the signs of activity.

These options are listed in order of the most invasive to the least.   In each situation it is a judgement call as to what approach to use.

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