So my first NUC colony is planned for an April 1st delivery. March has been a rather un-cooperative month for beekeeping in Maryland. We have had four nor’easters in as many weeks. Lots of below average temperatures. To top it all off, the last storm dropped about eight inches of snow and is keeping the ground level air at near freezing temps. Gurrr (or is it Burrr).
I’m thinking that the delivery date is going to have to slip a bit.
I did get enough time in the garage to put together a five frame NUC box. I’m being a bit optimistic that my first coloy will be doing well enough in June that I might be able to do a small split. Nothing wrong with hope.
I think I’m ready. We will see what I have over looked as Spring starts up.
So I’m settling in on the idea that one of my first priorities in getting beehives working is to have a good inventory of frames that have had the wax combs built out by the bees. Bees only create the wax comb when there is an active nectar flow on and they need some place to store the nectar that they are collecting.
The nectar flow here in Maryland is in April and May, and there is pretty much no real nectar to collect for the rest of the summer. The problem that I’m trying to think my way through now is that bees can only make wax when the temperature inside the area clustered by the bees in the hive is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. April and May are usually very pleasant months here which does not include hot summer like days.
It looks like I may want to find some way of insulating the hives for the first few months. I’m thinking that they will need to be covered by some Styrofoam insulation in April and May.
So much for Cindy’s whimsical decoration. At least they will look cool in June!
I have come to the determination that the very first thing that I need to make this beekeeping “project” work is to develop an inventory of built out comb frame. Comb frames are movable frames that are used by the bees to store food and raise young. This is the hexagonal wax honeycomb that first comes to mind when we think of honeybees.
My starting point for approaching this is based on George Imirie’s guidance on Building Foundation and Proper Supering. George was probably the most experienced beekeeper in my area. Just how much comb I’m able to build out in my first year is mainly a function of how many bees I can get to work on the task. With the current plan being to start with a single NUC hive, it seems that I may only be able to get them to build out two deep boxes of comb. I may only be able to get 20-30 drawn out frames. I need that much just to get them through their first winter!
If the winds of fortune blow in my direction and I’m able to capture a feral hive I may be able to more than double this amount. Right now I’m thinking that I may need to come up with a more dependable plan (possibly buying a package or two of bees). Trapping feral bees is kind of like fishing – easy when you know what you are doing but probably frustrating while you are learning. It will bee interesting to see how that works out.
Whew… Getting through Winter here in Maryland. The groundhog stuck his head out of the burrow and scurried back in for another six weeks. So what are some of the things that I know now that I hadn’t considered …
The pine that BrushyMountain and Mann Lake use for their hive woodenware it not the same as the clear pine that you buy at Home Depot or Lowes.
Trying to paint woodwork in an unheated garage in January is probably not a good idea.
Crylon Spray paint on unprimed wood is like pissing into the wind.
Differences in pine density
The pine that BrushyMountain and Mann Lake use for their hive woodenware it not the same as the clear pine that you buy at Home Depot or Lowes. The brood boxes that I made from lumber from the big box stores weigh noticeably more than the boxes that I bought from the bee suppliers. This difference got me to look a bit more closely at the wood and wonder about if the denser pine will survive better in the wild. Time will tell and I will have to observe this over time.
I mostly wanted to build a few brood boxes (8 frame deeps) just for the practical experience and to get a little feeling for how hive boxes look and feel. I’m planning to use them as bait hives this season so I’m not overly concerned that they are heavier than the ones I bought. I won’t be stacking and un-sacking these on a periodic bases.
Painting hive woodenware
Trying to paint woodwork in an unheated garage in January is probably not a good idea (at least in Maryland). Both the primer and the paint (exterior latex) that I am using recommends that temperatures be above 60 degrees when painting. I think that the best temperatures that I got in January were in the upper 40 degree range.
I did some painting where I set up an area inside in the dining room and waited for somewhat warm days outside. With the wood and the paint nicely warmed in the house, I would grab a box and my paint (and dash outside to apply the coating. I would then immediately drag my work back into the dining room to dry. This approach worked much better as to ease of applying the primer/paint both in terms of ease of application and coverage.
Spray paint sucks as a primer
In an attempt to get paint onto a couple of last minute items of woodenware, I thought I would try to use Crylon spray paint. It had worked (sort-of) for decorating other items that I had already primed and painted with exterior latex paint. This was probably a bad idea. The paint just sucked into the wood and does not seem like a good layer of protection. Weather permitting, I think I’m going to end up sanding these pieces down and properly priming them before trying to put any paint on them again.
It is Thanksgiving and I have most of my beehive woodwork mostly ready. My plan is to put out a single hive early in Spring. Looking at this shot you might wonder why I have so many boxes for just one hive…
The far left stack is a couple of 8 frame deeps that I built from scratch for practice. This was mostly an experiment in woodworking to get an idea of what the cost and effort was in building beehives. I’ll post a blog on that later. The plan is to attach a solid bottom and a plywood top to each of these, attached with lag bolts, and set them out in late march as traps.
The second stack from the left is what I plan to use as my beehive for year one. It has a screened bottom board, two 8 frame deep hive boxes and two medium supers, along with an inner top and the roof type telescoping cover. I have a five frame deep NUC on order for early April that will populate the bottom box of this hive. If the NUC has a lot of bees in it I will add the second deep when I move the colony from the NUC box into the hive. If the NUC is a bit light on bees this addition may have to wait for a couple of weeks to give the bees time to move into their new home. The medium supers (like all of the boxes) have new frames. The bees need to make comb on these frames before they can use them. They will be added to the hive as the supers below them have considerable comb built on them.
My current guidance is that the peak nectar flow in my area happens in April and May. If I can keep the bees alive through the spring they should be able to build out the comb in these without too much suplimental feeding once the two bottom brood boxes are filled out.
Spares and Backups
The smaller box (second to the right) is a five frame NUC hive. My understanding is that these are sometimes needed to handle re-queening or deal with swarming behavior in the main hive. I’m assuming that these will most likely stay in the wax closet in the garage, but if I need a NUC I’ll have one immediately at hand.
The hive to the far right is a complete setup eight frame hive with two deep and two medium supers. This is just contingency space in the event of something unexpected happening (like actually catching a swarm in one of my traps). I’ll probably build solid bottoms and simple plywood tops for the two deeps and put them out as traps in the spring (depends on getting some brood comb to add as bait).
So that’s why I have so much equipment for setting up a single beehive next spring. We’ll see how reality impacts my plans as I move along!
So I was struck by the insane notion that I might enjoy keeping honeybees. After a couple of evenings of research, I decided that I could plunk down a small hive in my side garden, buy (or trap) some bees, and be rewarded with some honey in the fall. Along the way I might learn a thing or two about one of nature’s more interesting creatures (the honey bee) and about the problems that they are encountering surviving in an environment complicated by invasive species.
A few more evenings poking around on the internet and I had ordered an “English Garden” hive from Brushy Mountain Bee, along with a couple of additional NUC boxes and I was all ready and set to order some bees and get on with this project. I was about to learn that there was a lot mort that I needed to learn before I could sit back, relax, and enjoy having a cool bee hive in the garden.
Digging in to Learn the Basics
There is an incredible volume of information on honey bees on the internet. Evening after evening was consumed in reading articles from around the world about different approaches, hive management philosophies, bee differences, beetles, mites, and approaches to pest management, bee types, and on and on and on.
In the time between researching and chasing down various inexplicable ‘bunny trails,’ I was spending time assembling hive woodwork and frames, carefully sanding and priming and painting. Then, back to more research and even more endless ‘bunny trails’ in the search for bee understanding. There is quite a range of opinions ranging from witchcraft to some very solid academic and scientific research. Some common themes seemed to emerge from all of this that:
Pest management is an issue, whether the approach was praying for natural selection to provide strong bees or carefully managing chemical treatments.
Preparing hives for winter survival needs to be a key component of any hive management approach,
Hives need to be managed to prevent or control swarming.
Through all of my early research it became clear to me that while all North American beekeepers were addressing these issues, and there were a few accepted schools of thought in how to address them, the when of addressing issues seems to be determined by a mystical event known as the nectar flow.
Bee Keeping is a Local Endeavor
With the nectar flow being such a critical determining event for when everything happens in bee keeping, I turned my attention to trying to learn a little bit about the nectar flow in my area (Baltimore County, Maryland). In researching this, I came across the research of George W. Imirie Jr. George was a serious scientist who studied honey bees in my area for 74years. What I learned from his publications and how they are affecting my next steps will be the subject of my next blog.