We have hives! Bee hives, that is. Not the itchy kind of hives….

Matt and I took the afternoon off one day last week and went to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm.  They were AWESOME there!  We knew we wanted enough hive boxes for three separate hives, but they helped us buy everything we needed and counseled us on some things that we thought we needed, but probably didn’t.  We came home loaded down with 6 deep 10-frame hive boxes and 3 shallow 10-frame hive boxes, a smoker, 40 frames and foundation, a beekeeper’s suit for Matt and two hive tools.  Oh, and a pound of honey.

Putting together bee hives

Putting together bee hives

We spent that evening assembling the hives.  See the carpenter’s square above (second box from right, at top)….have you ever seen such a square corner?  That was one of my hives.

It took me a little longer to paint them (I’m the painter of the family).  We went with traditional white.  Even our French bulldog, Louie, got into the act and tried to help.  He brought his pig to put into one of the hives while it was drying (see second box from left, at top) and got a little paint on his coat (second box down, on left).  I appreciated the help!

Now, it’s time for bees!  The weather here was beautiful this weekend — in the mid-60s — so it shouldn’t be long, only a few more weeks!

Crops and wild bees — NPR story

This was a story on NPR on Friday, March 1. Interesting theory that “kept” bees can’t be as efficient at pollinating the crops without the help of local feral bees. The link will take you to NPR’s website where you can actually listen to the broadcast.

Link to story

Wild Bees Are Good For Crops, But Crops Are Bad For Bees

Wild bees….play a key role in boosting crop yields.

Some of the most healthful foods you can think of — blueberries, cranberries, apples, almonds and squash — would never get to your plate without the help of insects. No insects, no pollination. No pollination, no fruit.

Farmers who grow these crops often rely on honeybees to do the job. But scientists are now reporting that honeybees, while convenient, are not necessarily the best pollinators.

A huge collaboration of bee researchers, from more than a dozen countries, looked at how pollination happens in dozens of different crops, including strawberries, coffee, buckwheat, cherries and watermelons. As they report in the journal Science, even when beekeepers installed plenty of hives in a field, yields usually got a boost when wild, native insects, such as bumblebees or carpenter bees, also showed up.

“The surprising message in all of this is that honeybees cannot carry the load. Honeybees need help from their cousins and relatives, the other wild bees,” says Marla Spivak, a professor of entomology at the University of Minnesota. “So let’s do something to promote it, so that we can keep honeybees healthy and our wild bee populations healthy.”

Unfortunately, a second study, also released in Science this week, makes it clear that wild bees aren’t having an easy time of it.

That study essentially follows in the century-old footsteps of Charles Robertson, “one of America’s great scientists that nobody knows about,” says Laura Burkle, an ecologist at Montana State University.

Robertson taught biology and Greek at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill., and he was fascinated by the close connection between insects and flowers. He spent years in the forests around Carlinville, carefully noting which insects visited which wild flowers at what time of year.

Burkle and Tiffany Knight, a colleague at Washington University in St. Louis, went back to Carlinville to see how much of the ecosystem that Robertson observed still exists today.

Much of the forested area around the town has been converted into fields of corn and soybeans — or suburbs. In the fragments of forest that remain, Burkle and Knight found all of the flowering plants that Robertson recorded in his notes a century ago. Of the 109 species of bees that Robertson saw, though, just over half seemed to have disappeared from that area.

“We don’t know why,” says Burkle.

One possibility might be a loss of nesting sites for these bees. But a changing climate may also play a role.

The bees that disappeared tended to be species that depended on just a few kinds of flowers for food. For those bees to survive, their preferred flowers have to be blooming when the bees start flying and need food. The warming trend might have thrown off that timing.

In fact, Burkle says, if you map the interactions between flowers and bees, they seem more tenuous now. Some flowers may get visited by just one or two kinds of bees, and maybe just for one week.

“I don’t know that these systems can take a lot more environmental change without something drastic happening,” she says.

Many bee researchers are trying to figure out how to help those native bees — and how to help farmers who benefit from them.

Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s a co-author of the first study in Science, says one of the biggest problems for wild bees is the agricultural specialization that has produced huge fields of just one crop.

The almond groves of California, for example, are a sea of blossoms in February. It’s a feast, as far as the eye can see, for honeybees that come here from all over the country.

“But for the rest of the year, there’s nothing blooming,” she says.

That means there are no bees. “In fact, in places where we have very large monocultures of almond, we don’t find any native bees anymore,” Kremen says.

Planting other flowers in and around these almond groves, maybe as hedgerows, blooming all summer long, would help, she says.

Even better would be farms with smaller fields, and lots of different crops flowering at different times. Wild bees, Kremen says, need diversity.

AgriNews: Honeybees and Agriculture

My friend, Wendy, sent me this great article from AgriNews this weekend about honeybees and their importance to agriculture.  It’s a good reminder about we have to protect the honeybees and get more people interested in beekeeping.

Here is the link to article online.

Honeybees and agriculture must co-exist, entomologist explains

INDIANAPOLIS — Honeybees and agriculture can coexist, explained an experienced beekeeper, entomologist and manager of the Bayer Bee Care Center.

Or rather, he stressed, they must.

“I’ve been a beekeeper a long time — crop protection and apiculture overlap,” said Richard Rogers at the Corn Belt Seed Conference. “Healthy honeybees are better pollinators, and efficient and effective pollination means more effective fertilization.”

He said it is very clear there is a honeybee health problem emerging from a variety of factors. He mentioned Colony Collapse Disorder, the name given to the sudden reduction in bees leading to the collapse of their colony.

Rogers said growers, scientists, seed companies and people involved in agriculture must look for multiple causes of CCD.

“In 2006, we began observing a specific set of symptoms that became known as CCD,” he said. “Colonies do collapse, and CCD is credited for many bee deaths, but CCD does not cause all the bee deaths.”

While honeybees themselves are not at risk of becoming extinct, commercial beekeepers are, Rogers warned.

Beekeepers, like other farmers, are pushing to survive in a tough economy that limits them from expanding their operation, he added.

Varroa mites and tracheal mites continue to plague commercial beehives and contribute to bee deaths, and entomologists are planning and monitoring for the incidence of the Tropilaelaps mite in bee populations, as well, Rogers said.

Last April, entomologists at Purdue University revealed the results of studies showing that the neonicotinoid insecticides used in popular seed coatings were present in the dead bodies of bees and that seed treatments that remain in the soil from one planting season to the next may be causing bee kills.

With planting season just around the corner, beekeepers and commercial crop growers likely are wondering what this year will bring in terms of planting conditions and crop protection products and strategies from Bayer.

Rogers said an integrated bee management plan is needed, similar to an integrated pest management plan. This option would include monitoring, management and control. “Beekeepers are at the mercy of the landowners, so one good thing growers can do is provide forage, access and security for honeybees to survive,” Rogers said.

Following the launch of its Bayer Bee Care Program last February, Bayer CropScience has established Bayer Bee Care Centers — one in Germany and another in North Carolina, the second of which will open this year, he said.

Scientists at the bee care centers will study management techniques for breaking the life cycle of the Varroa mite, Rogers said.

The Bayer Bee Care Center in Monheim, Germany, will have a full-time team of specialists, including two experienced beekeepers.

Additional activities will be rolled out by the Bayer Bee Care Program, which includes educational projects and bee health promotion schemes, including the planting of flowers and natural habitat essential for bees to thrive.

Rogers said integrated bee management will take good education, for one.

“There is no point in putting bees where nothing is growing,” he said. “Integration will take a while.”

“This will be a difficult year for beekeepers to recover from bee losses,” he added.

“I’ve seen bee kills from pesticides. We prefer that growers use seed treatments rather than foliar sprays since foliar sprays present a much higher level of chemical drift.”

The bee management strategy will include taking a hard look at the Varroa mite as an efficient vector of viruses and a harmful pest in the beekeeping industry, Rogers noted.

Beekeepers, like grain and specialty crop producers, also are aging, and a younger generation of beekeepers is needed to bring new perspectives to the industry, he said.

He also recommended that growers provide good forage and habitat for bees, citing the Xerces Society as a source of information for bee-friendly plants and seed mixes.

Beekeeping Association Meeting

The Iredell County Beekeepers Association monthly meeting was last night.  When Matt and I attended the New Beekeepers school last month, our fee for school also paid for our annual dues to the association.  It was the second meeting that we have attended and I am really glad that we went.

There was a record crowd (or so we were told) last night.  I overheard someone say that 73 people showed up.  I can confirm that it was SRO (that’s “Standing Room Only”) and that it was very, very warm.  We were sitting on top of each other with little elbow room.

I am going to take personal credit for the upsurge in popularity of beekeeping in Iredell County, NC.  I’m blogging about it (we’ll ignore my very limited audience), I’ve posted the awesome picture of me in my beekeeping suit on social network sites, and I talk about it to lots of people.  I mean, is really coincidence that so many people are getting into beekeeping just as I am getting into beekeeping?

Uh….yea.  Just a coincidence.  I’m 99.99% sure.

Matt and I are still waiting to get our bees, so we’re not actively working in any hives.  In fact, I feel like I’ve already forgotten a lot of the things we learned in Bee School.  Last night, one of the experienced beekeepers went over how to install a package of bees, giving tips and things to avoid.  He also showed a video that he found on YouTube (below):

Matt and I got tickled during this because it seemed like the speaker showed this video as more of a “what not to do” rather than a “what to do”.  Almost every time the guy in the video said, “And then you should do x, y, z”, you could hear all the beekeepers in the room start to murmur, “Oh, no, I would never do it that way.”  “That’s crazy.  You should never do that.”

One thing that Matt and I have already learned about keeping bees — everyone has an opinion on how to handle a situation.  And everyone has told us to find the way that works for us and use it.

The way to install a package that made the most sense to us was to take out 5 frames from one side of the hive, spray the bees in the package with sugar-water, remove the sugar-water and the queen cage from the package box, hang the queen cage between two of the remaining frames in the hive, shake a couple of handfuls of bees on top of the frames with the queen, then set the entire package box into the hive where the five frames were removed.  Leave alone for 7 days, come back and remove the box and replace the frames.

Now, Matt and I wish that we had bought at least one package to try this out, but we are starting our brand new colonies with nucs.  And with at least one of the nucs, we’ll take a hive box to the seller and he’ll install the five frames of brood, honey, pollen, and bees into the box and all we have to do is bring home the hive box and put in 4 more frames (we’re going to do 9 frames in a 10 frame hive).  So, for at least one nuc, we don’t even have to do the install.  😦

The veteran beekeepers also shared tips on splitting hives.  That was interesting, as well, but not as relevant to us at this stage.

The association has talked about creating a mentor program for newbies, especially to help them through the first couple of years.  I would LOVE it this would get up and running.  Several beekeepers offered to let us work with them when they were tending their hives.  Hope we get the chance.  I can’t wait to have my first bee on my finger!

Dreamzzzzz

I dreamed about bees last night.  I was at a place, like a resort, where everything was in bloom.  The drive to the resort was covered by a huge arbor that was in full bloom and bees were buzzing everywhere.  They were like a giant cloud.  While most people were driving under the arbor, safely in their cars, I walked down the drive, amidst the millions of bees and none of them stung me.

I dream I can fly in a lot of my dreams.  In this one, I dreamed I was flying with the bees.  Before you ask, NO, I didn’t have pollen sacks on my legs and I wasn’t doing any waggle dances.  I didn’t dream I WAS a bee.  I just dreamed that I was flying with bees.  Shut up, haters.  I’ll be going for therapy soon.

Graduation day from bee school

Matt and I “graduated” from Beginning Beekeepers School on Saturday.  We have the certificates to prove it:

photo-2

I think that it is still official even though my first name is misspelled.  At the end of the class we took the written portion of the NC Certified Beekeepers test.  I’m a little ambivalent about that — I still haven’t been in my first hive, but I was able to take the first part of the test to become a certified beekeeper.  The second part will take place in April when we have to complete the “practical”portion — showing the examiners that we know how to work with an actual hive of bees, identify brood cells, eggs, pollen cells, get in and out of a hive with as little disruption to the bees as possible, etc.  I don’t know that Matt and I will even have our hives by then so we may still be complete “bee virgins” when that portion of the test is given.

The examiner, who is the President of the North Carolina State Beekeepers Association, said that we would only hear from him if we didn’t pass the test.  So far, no word from him.  I guess that I could be one half of the way to being a certified beekeeper!

The bee school on Saturday was hard because I was suffering from a migraine and (as I found out later) was coming down with bronchitis.  I felt awful.  But we had a presentation from a commercial beekeeper that was sooooo interesting.  Jeff Lee, the owner of Lee’s Bees in Mebane, NC, is a commercial beekeeper that uses his bees to pollinate.  Honey is very secondary to his business.

As he pointed out, pollination is the most important thing that honeybees do — pollination helps the plants make seeds (seed production).  Jeff explained that there are 130 agriculture plans that require bees in the pollination process in order to produce their fruit, vegetable, whatever.  The estimate is that honeybees increase crop yields by $15 BILLION annually.

Jeff takes his bees to California in February for the almond trees.  He has over 1700 hives and trucks almost 500 hives across country.  He said that there aren’t enough bees in the United States to send to California in February for the almond crop — almond trees are 100% dependent on honeybees for pollination and production of the almond nut.

He then trucks his bees back to NC for the blueberry crops.  Then up to Maine for the blueberry crop.  Then down to NC for the cucumber crop.

All of this is extremely tough on the bees.  Some farmers require 8 – 10 hives per acre which causes a lot of competition among the bees and they weaken.  Jeff is constantly monitoring their healthy, not only from over competition but also from the pesticides that a lot of the farmers use.

Both Matt and I were fascinated by this — and convinced that commercial beekeeping wasn’t in the cards for us.  Hobby beekeeping looks more and more like our thing.

And best news:  at the end of the class, Matt won a nuc during the door prizes!  So we know that we have a least one hive taken care of.  I won a bee brush.  Not as exciting as a nuc, but one less thing that we have to buy.

We are planning on a trip to the beekeepers supply store within the next two weeks to buy our hives and other equipment so that we can start building our hives.  SO EXCITED!

With each thing we learn, we are more excited about being beekeepers.  I have one goal for our first year:  get at least one hive through next winter with a fairly strong colony.  Matt wants to extract a little honey, but promises that he won’t steal any honey from the bees from their winter store in order to do so.

I wonder if I should add “NC Certified Beekeeper” to my business cards?