Spring 2021 is Here

Things are happening very fast.

Spring has sprung. Two weeks ago the nights were going into freezing temperatures and the bees were all clustered together trying to keep warm. Last week they are out foraging until dusk. This week they are having cold nights and the days are getting warmer. It is hard to work with this weather!

So far it looks like we have had a good winter. We took twelve hives into the winter, and it looks like we have ten that survived. That is 17% losses … not perfect, but much better than the Maryland average of 30% to 40%. This is a nice coincidence with the fact that we have decided that ten is the number of production hives that is sustainable with one beekeeper (who has other interests as well).

Neil Armstrong and Lady Jane Franklin, coming out of winter – March 2021

We have some spring honey that we will sell until it’s gone. Ordinarily, Maryland beekeepers will harvest honey in July, when the first nectar flow is over. Sometimes here is a second harvest in September/October if there has been a second nectar flow from fall foliage like goldenrod. It might make your allergies miserable, but it makes a nice honey.

This is also the time of year when honey bee colonies, like many creatures, start to think about reproducing and propagating the species. Honey bees do this by swarming. A honey bee swarm is not something scary … bees in a swarm are as gentle as any insect can be. They are temporarily between homes, so they have nothing to defend but themselves and the queen. If you don’t try to squish them, they won’t sting you. Here are local resources to address swarming honey bees.

If you see a cluster of honey bees in Montgomery County (Maryland), go to the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association swarm identification page and follow the directions there. If you see a cluster of honey bees in the District of Columbia, go to the DC Beekeepers Alliance Swarm Squad page and contact them. In other locales, contact your local beekeeping club. If you can’t find it by googling, try your state beekeeping association which will list clubs near you. Please don’t contact us directly … we will be trying to prevent our bees from swarming.

Starting the Bee Daddies Apiary Diary

The 2019 Calendar Year is already zipping past us ferociously … today is the last day of February. The Beekeeper Calendar in the DC metro area begins in August and goes through July.

When time permits, we will post entries about what is happening with our bees and our apiaries. This is our first post, so I should update where we are and how we got here … but that would take a while and I’ll never catch up to the present. So, I will start in the present and then flash back as appropriate.

Last night was a great meeting of the DC Beekeeping Alliance (DCBA) at the National Grange. The speaker was retired Virginia Bee Inspector, Bob Wellemeir, and his topic was Swarm Biology, Prevention, and Management. Bob has decades of experience as a beekeeper, bee inspector and advisor to thousands of beekeepers in Virginia.

Bob demonstrates how to use a shaker box to find the queen

Bob’s first quotable line is this: “You don’t prevent swarms. Trying to prevent honey bees from swarming is like trying to prevent teenagers from having sex. It happens.” Swarming is a natural instinct and behavior for honey bees. It is how the species reproduces.

The best we can do, as beekeepers, is to reduce the chances (a little bit), and when they do, try to manage he aftermath. If we can allow our bees to satisfy their swarm instinct and at the same time, keep the swarmed bees without climbing a 50-foot tree to capture them, we are in good shape. There was plenty of good information in his talk.

The other part of the meeting was about the DCBA Swarm Squad. Most beekeeping clubs try to offer a service to help capture bees that are swarming. Last year the DC club had 72 ready volunteers covering 37 ZIP codes. I plan to join the swarm squads in Montgomery County and DC this year, after doing a couple of “ride alongs” with experienced swarm catchers. The bonus, of course, is that when you catch a swarm, you get some free bees to add to your apiary … or to give/sell to another beekeeper who needs bees.

Swarming bees are often the scariest part of having a honey bee in the neighborhood. People panic when they suddenly see a cluster of bees hanging from their tree, porch, sign, etc. What many people don’t realize is that swarming bees are as calm and docile as honey bees can be. When you see people doing that crazy “bee beard” thing, or covering their hands and arms with hundreds of bees … those are probably bees from a swarm. All they want to do is be near the queen and wait for their scouts to find a new home. They have full honey stomachs, they don’t have any brood or honey to protect. If you are gentle with them, they will barely be curious about you.

After the meeting, our friend Patricia took some photos of our hives with her infra-red camera. We have to do this when the sun is not out because otherwise the only heat signature will be where the sun has heated the exterior of the bee boxes. I’ll post the pictures when we receive them. So far, it seems like all three of our hives: Stanley, Livingstone and Magellan are doing well. On a sunny day we can see this by the bees flying in and out. It is still too cold to do a proper inspection of the hive and start rearranging for the Spring.