(photo: Vincent Ramos/wikipedia)

It has been exactly one year since my first post on bees.

Here are some of the more interesting experiences of the hobby in that year.

Weather

Weather continues to be a challenge. 2011 beat the RECORD precipitation by 10½ inches! Rain washes pollen off the flowers and dilutes nectar, so the girls have to work a lot harder to feed their babies (bee bread made from pollen) and make honey from nectar. Normally nectar water content would have to be reduced by about 80%, mostly by bees fanning their wings. You can imagine how much more exhausting a worker’s short life is when the nectar is more dilute than normal.

This past winter was mild, about tied for warmest on record. My girls had plenty of food, which started them off this season already ahead of schedule. Normally, the queen would start laying again in February, at which point the hive temperature (meaning the temperature around the queen and the brood) must be kept in the 90s, up from the 50s when there is no brood. Had the temperature turned very cold around February, there might have been a problem, but it didn’t so survival was excellent.

A couple of weeks ago, owing to continued warmer-than-normal temperatures, the whole cycle was about a month or more ahead of schedule. In the last two weeks, though, overnight lows have been chilly so swarming/splitting has been delayed.

Reviewing the Royal Lineage

When I acquired my first hive in June 2009, I decided to name my queens after Victoria, as she had a lot of children and grandchildren that I could name future generations of bee queens after. What I failed to anticipate was that a human generation lasts a couple of decades, whereas a bee generation lasts a year. My first naming scheme, then, has already run its productive course.

My bee Queen Victoria (human one was actually christened Alexandrina Victoria) swarmed in early May 2010, before Chris had a chance to split the hive. Human Victoria’s oldest daughter and first child was named Victoria Adelaide Mary, but called Vickie, so I named bee Queen Victoria’s daughter, who then ruled the hive, Queen Vickie. She swarmed in late May 2010, leaving Victoria’s second daughter, now Queen Alice, in charge of the hive.

We captured the second 2010 swarm and that became my second hive.

In 2010, we were able to harvest 15 pounds of honey.

In May 2011, Chris split the hive and I gave Queen Alice and her attendants to my friends the Simons. They were the people who got me into the bee keeping hobby, and their hive kept dying over the winter, whereas mine survived and thrived. I had survivor’s guilt which I assuaged by giving them bees.

The queen remaining in my hive was Alice’s daughter, Queen Irene. Now I have two hives, ruled by Vickie and Irene.

As this queen naming scheme became unmanageable, I’m going to start over with a different one. I’m going alphabetical so I can keep track of the generations, starting with the letter D (great granddaughter of Victoria) and look for a queen name that begins with that letter. Queen Dido, for example.

In 2011, we were able to harvest only 10 pounds of honey, owing to varroa mites in one hive and extreme rains.

2012 Season

All three queens survived last winter in fine shape, with plenty of honey to spare. Supers (a box with frames added to the top of the stack when the lower ones get full) were added to all three hives about a month ago, as there were so many workers and so much pollen and nectar to be gathered that they needed the space.

The weather problem this year is drought. Although the season started strong, if the drought persists, there will be fewer wildflowers, bees and less honey.

Other Highlights of the Past Year

The Ulster County Bee Club had two particularly interesting speakers.

The first was a couple, Laura (Ramona) Herboldsheimer and Dean Stiglitz. She talked about developing hives that are not treated for varroa mites. The theory is to develop a strain of smaller bees, where the smaller larva makes it harder for the mite to reproduce and provides less food for it. The other part of the theory is survival of the fittest. If you don’t treat the bees for varroa (there are several ways to treat without using complicated manufactured chemicals with unknown side effects), gradually lines of bees should develop that are less susceptible to varroa. Ramona and Dean seem to be coming along well in that project. Small time honey producers and caretakers of a couple of hives don’t have the resources for that kind of project but I applaud their efforts.

Dean is a fantastic bee photographer, and his part of the presentation showed how he does it. That is so far about my pay grade, I could only gape at the screen with my mouth hanging open in wonder.

The other interesting speaker was Mike Embrey who is associated with University of Maryland. His Bee Club presentation was on the small hive beetle, but I hosted a reception for him the night before, when he talked about his travels. He’s been to several exotic locations on the planet, like Tajikistan, Bulgaria, Ukraine, forming connections to find out how they raise their bees in different climates and terrain, what problems they have that might be headed our way, how they handle them, helping them with marketing, and in turn learning about some of their special activities. For example, there is a resort on the Black Sea that is flooded with wealthy German tourists in the summer where honey and related chachkas fly off the shelves at premium prices.

And just this past Thursday morning I went with my neighbor Noa to buy some used beehives. The seller is 75 years old and has been keeping bees for 65 years. He still has quite a few hives, and is in good shape himself, but is cutting back on the number of hives. He regaled us with stories for over an hour. One thing about beekeepers: they have a lot of character.

I’m still as in love with my girls as I was when I first got them.

What are your bee, honey, wildflower, nature stories, and how is spring in your climate?