1st Batch of Potential Queens for 2014.

We’ve officially started off our queen rearing for 2014!

Last year we hit several snags and realized our dream of being able to have dozens and dozens of queens to use for splits and to sell just wasn’t going to happen. I recently finished a book on rearing queens using the Nicot no-graft method and I think it’s going to make a big difference. So far, so good. Here’s a few pics thus far:

2014-03-26 13.41.31This is actually day 4.. My queen was on the other side of this Nicot device enclosed for 4 days inside of her hive. She has laid nearly 110 eggs into the artificial comb cells. Most of the eggs have now hatched and are ready to be moved.

 

 

2014-03-26 13.48.23

28 of the cell cups have been removed from the back of the Nicot and placed in to the holders on these cell bars. Today was a bit cool to be doing this, so I did all the transfers inside my truck with the heater on.

 

 

2014-03-26 14.26.08The two cell bars are no enclosed into my queenless cell builder hive. In about a week, I will take the cells that made it to the capped stage and place them into mating nucs to hatch and prepare for their nuptial flights. Now it’s a game of seeing how many make it to become laying queens.s are no enclosed into my queenless cell builder hive. In about a week, I will take the cells that made it to the capped stage and place them into mating nucs to hatch and prepare for their nuptial flights. Now it’s a game of seeing how many make it to become laying queens.

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Dealing with SHB the Kelley Way

Small_hive_beetle

If you see me, smack me with your hive tool! You’ll be glad you did!

Last Fall a Mennonite beekeeper from Pennsylvania brought down some hives to overwinter on a local farm. He called me on the phone to find out about what he needed to watch for with his bees here in Georgia. Naturally, Varroa mites were at the top of the list. When I mentioned Small Hive Beetles (SHB), he said he had never seen them before. I responded with a chuckle, “well, you will soon enough!”

Though normally credited with having come in through Florida, it is also thought that they may have first been introduced from the ports of Savannah, GA. or even Charleston, S.C.. No matter where their port of entry, SHB are now just a normal part of beekeeping here in the Deep South.

We’re now beginning our 4th season in beekeeping and I have to say that, so far, we have never lost a colony to SHB.  For us the SHB have only been an opportunistic nuisance waiting in the wings for something else to go wrong so they can take make a mess.

In this post, I want to share some of my experiences on how we’re handling SHB. None of this will be ground breaking or revolutionary, but the point is, controlling SHB doesn’t have to be difficult or impossible.

IMG_0331

SHB don’t like colonies like this!

Strong Colonies:

This is your first line of defense! In order to keep SHB from getting the upper hand in your apiary, you need strong colonies. I have seen hives with literally hundreds of beetles on and under the inner cover of a hive and the colony doing just fine. With a robust population of bees, there’s plenty of bees available to corral the beetles and keep them in check.

Full Sun:

From what I’ve seen, hives kept in full Sun have no where near the number of SHB as hives I have seen in shady areas. I know it’s tempting to place a hive in the shade because of how hot it gets here in the Summer, but this makes your colony more attractive to SHB. Rest assured, the bees know how to air condition their hives, but they won’t do well with putrefying frames filled with hive beetle larvae!

Traps and Hive Tools:

If I’m going to take any action at all against SHB, I do so normally by use of trapping them using a Beetle Jail and/or crushing them with my hive tool if I get half a chance. Whenever I acquire a hive with lots of SHB, I take a minute to crush all the SHB I can with my hive tool and then place one or two of my Beetle Jails in the hive and put the lid on. After a couple of weeks, the SHB population will end up drowning in the oil mixture and then I remove the jails. It’s easy as that. No need for Check-Mite or drenching the ground with the GuardStar pesticide, or using illegal treatments such as Combat roach baits.

Fire Ants:

Aethina_tumida

These disgusting little things are worse than the adult beetle!

Okay, so you’ll probably never read this in any book as being an ideal way to handle SHB, but we are blessed/cursed with an abundance of fire ants in this area and I have noted that the hives with ant beds under the stands have fewer SHB. It has lead me to conclude that the ants do help control any SHB larvae that finds its way out of the hive and onto the ground to burrow and pupate.

The natural question is don’t fire ants cause the bees problems? I’ve had some problems with fire ants in my queen nucs, but I’ve not had too many issues with ants in my strong 10 frame hives. I acquired a hive last year from someone that had been sitting in the midst of a huge ant bed and the bees were doing just fine: 9 frames of wall-to-wall brood in the deep hive body with 2 shallow supers full of honey on top!

Rethink Pollen Patties:

Okay, I’m not saying NOT to use pollen patties or substitutes, but in areas with a heavy SHB presence, just slapping on a patty and walking away can cause SHB to get the upper hand. I’m not big on using patties, but I have been told by local beekeepers that you must be watchful or the beetles will lay eggs in the patties and begin to make a mess. If you’re going to use patties, try cutting down the amount you put on at one time so the bees can consume it more quickly giving the beetles less time to set up shop.

Removing and Freezing Frames:

This is another thing you won’t see in any books, but in the worst SHB infestation I ever saw, the beetles had occupied and overtaken nearly half of a hive, taking refuge in a bunch of empty drawn comb. The bees were on one side in the top super and the SHB almost everywhere else. It was almost like trench warfare during WW1, each side waiting for the other to cross no-man’s land. The good thing was that the beetles hadn’t gotten into the honey stores. In that case, I went through the colony removing all the empty frames where the beetles were lurking and stuck them directly into my deep freezer. I maneuvered the other combs into a more suitable situation for the bees.  What was previously a 3 medium box configuration was reduced to 2 mediums. Now the bees had less area to patrol and fewer beetles to deal with. The reason I put the frames in the freezer was because I knew all those beetles would find their way back into that and other hives unless they died. Frozen beetles = problem solved!

Late edit: 

Diatomaceous Earth

I forgot to include this when I first posted this article, but I have used Diatomaceous Earth  (D.E.) under and around my hives to aid in controlling both the SHB larvae and fire ants. With the frequent and extended periods of rain we had last Summer, I am not sure how much it helped as it got washed away soon after application. I keep my hives mostly on pallets now, so it’s hard to get the D.E. under them now. I know one beekeeper who uses rock salt, but I’m not a Roman conqueror, so I think I’ll pass on this idea. 

Conclusion:

And there you have it! That’s the Kelley way of handling hive beetles. We now have 45 hives and I inspected all of them last weekend. I would guess I didn’t see any more than 5 beetles scurrying around in any one of our colonies.

Please feel free to leave comments on what you are doing or what has worked for you.

Mythbusting: Bee Skeps in Georgia

DalgarvenBeeSkepOn February 22, my son Cordell and I attended the Coastal Empire Beekeepers Association’s Fundamentals of Beekeeping seminar on Oatland Island near downtown Savannah, GA. One of the speakers giving advanced level presentations was David Arnal, an experienced beekeeper from Hilton Head, S.C.

One of the presentations given by David that I attended was called Reintroducing the Skep. In all honesty, I almost skipped the class and went to a different one because my first reaction to the title was something like this:

“What!? Skeps? Who would want to keep bees in a skep? They’re illegal anyway!”

But, my curiosity got the better of me so I made my way to the class to hear what Mr. Arnal had to say. I figured I had nothing to lose.

Now, just for those who may be wondering, a “skep” is a woven basket that contains bees like you see in the photo above. Bees were kept in skeps for centuries. In fact, the modern wooden box (Langstroth) hives used predominately today are very recent development by comparison. Though hardly seen in use in the U.S. today, skeps are still depicted in bee related art and also on the State Seal of Utah.

From my earliest days exploring learning about keeping bees, I have read and heard that keeping bees in skeps is illegal because it is a hard to inspect them for disease because they do not have removable frames like modern Langstroth hives. So when I went into Mr. Arnal’s class, I expected him to reaffirm what I thought I knew. Boy, I was wrong! Contrary to popular belief, Mr. Arnal stated that skeps were not illegal everywhere; his home State of South Carolina had no law against them! Moreover, he also noted that he could not find anything mentioning this in the beekeeping laws of Georgia either. That got my attention.

Yesterday I decided to investigate further on the legality of skeps in Georgia. Scripture says where there is no law, there is no transgression (Romans 4:15), so if there is no law or regulation specifically banning skeps, then they cannot be illegal, no matter how many beekeepers, books, or bee supply companies say otherwise!

I decided I’d ask someone who would know, so I emailed David Williams who heads up the apiary inspection section of the Georgia Department of Agriculture Plant Protection Division. I figured he would be able to point me to where it is written that skeps are not allowed if such a ban existed.

Here is his reply:

It is not against the law to own or possess a skep hive.  It would not be eligible for an inspection because it probably would not go back together very well.

It’s not often I get to expose an urban legend, but there you have it! Myth busted! There is no law preventing beekeepers from using skeps in this State. Anyone who tells you otherwise is misinformed.

I think it’s safe to say that skep beekeeping may never be economically feasible for most beekeepers and they probably won’t make a comeback, but as a matter of historical preservation they do have value because this was the method bees have been kept for centuries. Personally, I have no immediate plans to start using skeps, but I don’t want anyone prevented from doing so because of urban legends.

I invite you to watch the first in a series of videos I have been watching on Youtube that follows a skep apiary in Germany. It’s quite fascinating to me really. One thing I learned is that the idea a skep cannot be inspected because they lack removable frames is actually a canard as well. The skep beekeepers are in their hives working more often than most of us, and they have ways to check the health of the colonies and inspect them.

Here is the first video:

 

I’d like to say a special “thank you” to David Arnal for his presentations and getting me interested in the legality of skep hives in Georgia.

It’s 2014!

Just a quick update to wish everyone a Happy New Year and to announce that our fundraiser ended with a total $1270.00. We grateful to those who contributed and will be putting those funds to work to make 2014 our biggest and best year so far!

 

Help us grow. Help the bees!

I would like to share with you our indiegogoHelp us grow. Help the Bees!” Campaign.

Honeybees today face more threats than ever. Every year beekeepers face an average loss of 30% of their colonies. We lost 25% of our colonies this year, some have lost a much larger percentage.

We often meet people who are concerned and would like to make a difference, but don’t know what to do. Perhaps they cannot keep bees themselves due to their location or just don’t have the time for a new hobby.

Kelley Honeybee Farm was founded by Rhett Kelley in 2010 with the goal of becoming a multi-generational family operated apiary. We started with just 4 colonies in our backyard and have now grown to 38. We were recently featured in a local newspaper article and met with Congressman John Barrow to discuss the issues facing us as well.

Your contributions will enable us to expand our apiary debt free and have resources available for when times come that swarms or colonies need to be rescued.

How we will use the funds if we meet the goal:

  • Establish and maintain 10 brand new colonies in 2014.
  • Enable us to purchase colonies from beekeepers who decide to downsize or need to reduce their number of colonies.
  • Provide funding for supporting swarm and feral colony rescues.
  • Purchase a portable observation hive and educational materials for use in community education projects.
  • Purchase and/or refurbish equipment to support expansion and the 2014 honey harvest.
  • Covered storage area for our equipment.
  • Website upgrade.
  • Upgrade our locally adapted queen bee rearing program.

The Impact

Your contributions will help us expand our apiary debt free instead of going to a bank or the government farm programs for funding. Your contributions will help to produce healthy bees that produce honey of the highest quality and purity as you will see when you receive the honey we send you at harvest time (U.S. donors only, but possibly other nations if regulations do not prevent the importation of our honey).

Perhaps you are one of those bee friendly people who have severe allergies to bee stings or cannot keep bees yourself for various other reasons? This is one option for you to be able to help the bee population directly. We will put your generous contribution to work for the bees in your stead.

Because we have managed to avoid debt and expand thus far in a very cost conscious manner, we will be able to make your contributions to have a bigger impact for less.

Those who sponsor us will have their name or their business/organization name posted on our sponsor page on our website.

More about Kelley Honeybee Farm

Our philosophy in beekeeping is to avoid using chemical pesticide treatments for common apiary pests. We rely upon integrated pest management techniques and organic treatments to keep problems to a minimum.

The secret is out that much of the honey sold in U.S. supermarkets is illegally sourced honey from China where many chemicals and antibiotic treatments are used that are illegal in the United States. Our honey is as natural as it gets; never adulterated or cut with corn syrup, pasteurized, or filtered like the honey you find often in grocery stores.

Associations and Affiliations:

Other ways to help:

Even if you cannot contribute, sharing our campaign with others would be a great way to help us find people who may be able to contribute.We’d even appreciate prayers for our family, this funding campaign, and for the success of our apiary.

Rhett’s Beginning Beekeeping Tip #3

It has been a while since I posted a beginning beekeeping tip. I have been busy with my other business. This tip comes not from something I did right. Rather, it’s something I should have done when I first decided to get into keeping bees.

Tip #3: Subscribe to one or both of the main bee journals and also e-newsletters!

  1. American Bee Journal – Has been published since 1861 except for a brief period during the War for Southern Independence.
  2. Bee Culture– The magazine of American Beekeeping.
  3. E-newsletters- normally free and many bee sites have sign-up forms.

Considering the fact my first tip is to study, you would think I would have subscribed to all of these long ago, but I’m ashamed to say that I just recently began a subscription to Bee Culture. I plan to get the American Bee Journal sometime soon as I find the available funds.

The main reason I didn’t get the magazines is because I’m not much of a magazine reader.  I love books, but the magazines I dobee culture receive each month are mostly from the life memberships I hold in a couple of organizations. I find I seldom open them up and they end up being tossed in the trash.  If you’re not a magazine reader, both journals do have an online version you can get that’s cheaper.

The first time I got my hands on one of the main journals was a few months ago, and after flipping through it for a few minutes, I realized I had really been missing out on lots of valuable information. Because beekeeping is becoming a larger part of my life (and hopefully future income as well) it will be essential that I don’t allow my bee subscriptions to sit unread.

As for the e-newsletters, you’ll find most well established bee organizations and suppliers have them. You normally sign up right on their front page or if you order something. While normally just advertisements, there are some with some great advice and tips. Sometimes you’ll find a product you’ve been needing, so it can even save you a few dollars here and there.

Looking back, getting subscriptions to the journals should have been something I did back while I was waiting on my first package bees to arrive. Hindsight is always 20/20. Don’t be like me, go ahead and get your subscriptions even if you’re still waiting on your first packages of bees.

 

Kelley’s Meet the Congressman

John Barrow

Rhett and Cordell with Congressman John Barrow

On Saturday, Cordell and I attended Congressman John Barrow‘s “Congress on the Corner” meeting in Metter. There were a number of other topics discussed, but as the meeting wrapped up I was able to speak one on one with the Congressman about a few issues that are of concern to many of us in the beekeeping community. He was open to learning more and said he would like for us to send information to his office on those things which are of concern so that he may be better informed.

My grandmother once said “you catch more flies with honey than you do with salt,” so we gave Congressman Barrow a bottle of our wildflower honey. I wasn’t sure he could accept it, but he did so eagerly and said that he was allowed to receive the gift as it was in promotion of a product from his District.

If you look at a map of Georgia’s 12th Congressional District, you’ll find it is home to 3 of the larger apiaries in the State. With such a large apicultural presence in the District, it would behoove those of us who live here to make sure Congressman Barrow is informed on issues that are important to beekeepers.