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.

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.

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.

Reading in prep for 2014

25 hivesFall is upon us! Though the bees are slowing down, I’m already plotting and scheming for Spring 2014. We have equipment that needs painting, frames that need foundation, and still awaiting a half dozen or so more colonies that we’re obtaining soon. This will put our apiary at or above 30 colonies for this Winter.

If we don’t have too many Winter losses and start more colonies in the Spring, we will be managing over 4 times as many hives as we did this past Fall. That’s a big difference! I want to be ready to make the most of next season. I want 2014 to be bigger and better, in hopes that we will actually have enough honey to meet our demand and have some to sell throughout the year.

Part of my preparation for Spring 2014 is that I’m currently reading a book called Beekeeping With Twenty-five Hives: From Passion to Profits, by Grant F.C. Gillard. The book is the 2nd title I own from this author, and was a gift from a friend. It is, in my opinion, one of the most helpful books on beekeeping in my small library thus far.

What I like about it is that’s not written as a bland how-to manual. In it Grant shares with you his experience growing his apiary. You read of his highs and lows and ups and downs. He shared mistakes he’s made and points out things you need to consider when growing from a hobbyist to a side-line beekeeper. It’s rather “pastoral,” which makes sense because the writer’s vocation is pastoral ministry.

At 472 pages, there’s quite a bit of information to digest. I’m nearing the half way point now. By now, it’s almost as if Mr. Gillard is a 2nd mentor to me. I’m very happy that he’s taken the time to write this and I heartily commend it to all beekeepers who desire to grow their apiaries to the size of 25 colonies or more.

Rhett’s Beginning Beekeeping Tips #2

We’re continuing on in our series of tips for beginning beekeepers. In the first article, my tip for would-be beekeepers was to study like crazy before ever spending a dime on equipment or bees. I believe this is the first, most important tip for anyone interested in keeping bees.

Yet, after all I emphasized in the first article about studying bees, I must now let you in on a dirty little secret: Bees don’t read the books to know how they’re supposed to act! Sooner or later, your bees are going to do something totally unexpected, even if you’ve done everything the book says. When that happens, you’re going to need some help and advice. So that leads us to the next tip:

Tip #2: FIND A MENTOR!

You can memorize all the books I previously listed and watch every video on Youtube, but you need someone with experience to help guide you through and be there to answer questions during those times the bees (or hive pests) are doing something you can’t remember reading about in the books. Even with all the reading and Youtube watching I did before getting my bees, I’ve still asked countless questions of my mentor, Bobby Colson of B & G Honey Farm.

If you can, I suggest finding someone local with many years, even decades, of experience keeping bees. For as the Bible says,

Bobby Colson, teaching a bee class.

Bobby Colson, teaching a class.

“Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.” Job 12:12.

You’ll be amazed at all the helpful advice you will receive from an experienced mentor. If you run into a problem, chances are he may have dealt with it countless times before. He’ll teach you little tricks and techniques he’s picked up over the years.

If you can find one who also sells equipment and bees, then so much the better. When you stop by to purchase equipment or supplies, you can talk shop for a bit and learn even more. He benefits from your patronage, you benefit from his experience. It’s a win-win.

One of the things that’s really difficult to learn from books is botanical information on what plants are growing and when the nectar is flowing for your specific geographical area. This is one big reason to find a local mentor. He can help you in this area more than anyone else. Admittedly, this area of beekeeping is probably where I’m the most ignorant.

As far as where to find a mentor, I’d say the best place to start would be at a local bee club or association if there is one in your area. There you can meet beekeepers, listen to discussions, and ask questions. If you don’t have a local club or cannot locate one, look for signs advertising local honey and then try to track down the source. Beekeepers are often willing to help newcomers, but if not, keep looking.

Be friendly and do your homework so you’re prospective mentor can tell you’ve really been trying to learn all you can. Maybe see if they would like some help in the bee yard sometime. You could learn lots just by watching them work.

That’s it for the 2nd installment in this series. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment.

Rhett Kelley

Rhett’s Beginning Beekeeping Tips #1

In my interactions with people, I meet many who are intrigued by honeybees and say that they’d like to start a colony.

Getting into beekeeping was something I wanted to do for at least 15 years before I started. Back when I first became interested, I didn’t have a computer. Youtube, Blogger, WordPress, and Facebook didn’t exist, so even if I did have a computer, learning what I needed to do just to get started and networking with people in the bee business was much more difficult than it is today.

I’ve decided to write a series of articles for our customers and friends who may be interested in starting hives of their own. I want to share some incite and some observations that may be helpful. Some things will be simply my opinion, which you may or may not find useful. Whatever you do, please pay careful attention to this first tip because I think it is most essential:

Tip #1: STUDY. STUDY. STUDY!

I cannot emphasis this enough! I read at least 3 books on beekeeping before I ever placed my first order for a package of bees. Additionally, I watched hours of beekeeping videos on Youtube. I encourage you to do the same. If you’re going to keep bees, you need to have some basic knowledge of bee biology and bee behavior burned into your brain.

If you don’t invest time here, your experience keeping bees will be short lived and not very enjoyable. Learn the information so well that the first time you open your hive of installed bees, you can automatically spot worker bees, drones, and the queen. Know what brood, pollen, and honey looks like stored in honeycomb. Learn to tell the difference between worker brood, drone brood, and queen cells. Be familiar with all the common bee pests and ailments, and various treatment options as well. Learn what triggers the swarming impulse and symptoms of queen failure. That’s just a start. There’s much, much more.

It’s just like they used to say on the G.I. Joe cartoon: “Knowing is half the battle.”

You wouldn’t believe the stories I hear about eager, would-be beekeepers who skip this first, most important step and then end up in a mess when they get their bees and have no clue what to do, or what the bees are doing. I’ve even heard of people ordering queens from queen dealers, expecting that the lone queen is enough to start a new colony all by herself. That tells me somebody didn’t pick up the first book on beekeeping! Beekeeping isn’t a cheap hobby to get into, so learn all you can so you’re investment isn’t in vain.

As far as beginning resources go, I always point people to the book Beekeeping For Dummies. It was the first book I ever read on the subject and I have recommended it to others more times than I can count. It’s chock full of good information and I think ever new beek should have a copy.

A must have for new Beeks!

A must have for new Beeks!

From there, I would suggest the following titles. This is not an exhaustive list, but just some books I’ve found helpful. Some are beginner level, some more advanced:

I always say that if you ask 5 beekeepers a question, you’ll end up with at least 6 opinions. This is true when it comes to all the resources above. You’ll find general agreement on some topics and some strong differences of opinions too. I like to take all the viewpoints into consideration and do what works best for me.

One other resource I want to mention is the Brushy Mountain Bee Farm Youtube Channel. I have benefited greatly from their webinars and I think anyone interested in beekeeping would do well to spend some time watching their videos. These are free and very informative.

That’s it for my first tip. I hope this is useful. I am writing this on July 1st, 2013. Package bees won’t be available again until Spring 2014, so if you’re interested in keeping bees, I encourage you to spend the rest of the Summer, Fall, and Winter learning all you can.

If you have any questions, comments, or would like to suggest other resources, please feel free to leave a comment.