Monday, November 23, 2015

SNEBA 2015

Spent a terrific day Saturday meeting up with old friends at the Southern New England Beekeepers Assembly. Just as delightful was meeting new friends with whom I've corresponded via FB and/or email as a result of this blog! Apis mellifera -- bringing folks together.

My dear friend, Kit, is a skilled woodworker and one of the most inventive problem-solvers I know. For instance, he has a fabulous comb-holder that I would love to re-create on my own if I can. It's sturdy; it folds up, so it's compact; and it even has a lazy Susan base so the comb can be spun around for optimal viewing.

Anyway, Kit brought in several of his inventions to share with us such as his feeder, which holds two jars of syrup, a wooden feather handle to extend the reach of the feather he uses to "brush" comb, and a wind block/entrance reducer for winter. My favorite, though, was his Hesbach Blocker (HB), named after local beek, Bill Hesbach, who teaches a TBH course. The HB fits over the hive entrance. Screen allows for air circulation, but blocks wasps. A narrow gap at the top of the HB allows bees to come and go.

Kit's feeder and feather with handle

The handle is just a wooden dowel with a hole drilled to hold the feather

Hesbach Blocker in foreground. Wind blocks/Reducers for entrance in background.
You can't really see it, but the reducers use nails to reduce the space.

I've been having some terrible arthritis in my thumb (long story) and have to wear a brace to keep it still for awhile. As a result, I took fewer notes than usual, and my notes here will be even sparser. However, most of the information was pretty basic, or it can be found online or in a book. So I'll just share some tidbits that I found particularly interesting.

Dr. Larry Connor: The Sustainable Apiary

  • Sustainable apiaries require abundant and diverse drones. The average DCA contains 10,000 drones, but another 5,000 are always coming and going, so a DCA requires at least 15,000 drones to maintain it. If a DCA does not have enough drones, it will shut down, and the drones will fly elsewhere -- like guys in a college bars.
  • During peak season, the average honeybee colony produces sexually mature 200-500 drones.
  • Healthy drones are needed as well. That means that during development, they must be well-fed, kept warm, and not be exposed to any miticides. I found this info on miticides interesting because research shows that drone development starts earlier and ends later than queen-rearing. I have to check my facts, but I believe that recommendations advise treating for mites during that time when drones are still being raised (because miticides require certain temperatures to be effective.)
  • In a survey of beeks that start with a single hive only, 60% of them lose their bees because they have no backup resources.
  • Studies conducted by Dr. Jim Haskell as well as others indicate that new beeks who get local nucs from a mentor have and 80% survival rate their first winter. The success rate for those with southern packages is 20% for the first winter.

Dr. Larry Connor: Queen Quality
  • We all know bees have different jobs in the hive. Wax producers are one of the hottest groups.
  • When evaluating queen cells, cell size is not necessarily an indicator of quality. Dr. Connor indicated that one should look at the base of the cell (where it is connected to the comb) to see how much royal jelly is there. More royal jelly is desirable. Another indicator of a good queen is a lot of sculpting of the wax.
  • When inserting queen cells into a hive, place the queen cell against the comb if the colony is weak. If it's a strong colony, the cell may be placed between frames.
  • Russians will often keep their queens "caged" in their cells. As the queen begins to emerge, the bees add a wax cap over the cell and feed the queen through the cell. They will often keep their queens in cells this way for days.
  • When introducing a queen, there are a number of ways & tools that one can use. Dr. Connor mentioned that even a pink hair curler would work. LOL! I never would've though of that, but heck, why not?!
  • Laying workers can lay only 10 eggs a day. So if a queenless colony has a lot of drones, it likely has multiple (lots and lots) of laying workers.
Pink Curlers

Mike Palmer: Keeping Bees in the Frozen North
Mike Palmer: Brood Factories and Bee Bombs

I won't post too many notes here since these talks are essentially the same as the following talks he gave at the National Honey Show in England:
One thing that you don't get from those recorded talks, though, is a sense of his personality. He's a bit dry there at the show. However, hearing him on Saturday, his wicked sense of humor really came across. One of my favorite lines was when he spoke about living so close to the Canadian border. He said, "I make Canadian honey. My bees go across the border and come back speaking French."

One interesting bit of info I learned from him is that bees hate duct tape. He has a tool he uses to separate queens from the other bees. It's basically a box with a queen excluder nailed to the bottom. At a certain level along the wall, he has a line of duct tape. Bees who start climbing up the wall of this tool won't go up the duct tape and instead go down into the hive. (BTW, Dr. Connor mentioned that 10-20% of spring hives have multiple queens. Palmer says that when separating his queens, he's found up to 30% of his spring colonies have more than one queen.)

This past spring, a friend recommended Caron's book on bee biology, but I haven't gotten around to reading that. Mike, however, inspired me to do that, though, when he showed a photo of a queen and asked us to evaluate her. One of the things he pointed out as a sign of her quality was the deep crease across her thorax. I wouldn't have thought to look at that, but this morning, you can bet I looked for photos of my own queens to see about that! (Yes, my girls have it.) In any case, it was a reminder that we can't be effective beekeepers if we don't understand basic biology and know what to look for!

Mike is adamant about every beek treating for mites every year. (If you know me, you know I disagree.) However, viewing things from his perspective, I can understand why he'd feel this way. A big theme running throughout his presentations is that he has production hives for making honey and he has nucs for boosting production hives or making queens. He says that he never wants to split production hives. He wants them to get massive colonies, and he never wants them to slow down. He's a professional beekeeper who makes his living that way, so he's going to want to harvest the most honey possible. When you have enormous hives that never get a break, you're going to have lots of mites, too. 

He mentioned that he harvests his honey in August. As soon as he stops smelling goldenrod, he weighs his hives and feeds any that are underweight. (His target weight is 160 lbs.) For every 10lbs underweight a hive is, he will feed 1 gallon of 2:1 syrup. He feeds all of the syrup that hive needs all at once.

Steve Repasky: Keeping Healthy Honey Bees and Varroa Management

Basically, this was a talk that centered on varroa  -- how to recognize it, the dangers of it, how to monitor for it, how to treat it, the pros & cons of each treatment and monitoring method, etc. One interesting point he made was that sugar dusting was an effective hive monitoring method. However, as a treatment, it was less effective than screened bottom boards, which he claims provide a 10%-15% reduction in mite load. Is that true? I don't know. I don't sugar dust anyway. So far, I've been relying on brood breaks.

One thing he did say that I wholeheartedly agreed with was, "Not every management style is correct for you as a beekeeper... Management of beehives is as local as your own backyard."

Usually at meetings and conferences, there is a treat-treat-treat mentality, so while his talk was very focused on treatment, I appreciated that he didn't seem to advocate prophylactic treatment or treatment without considering all of the consequences. To me, although he seemed very pro-treatment, it was more of rational attitude of "monitor your bees and see what's going on. Then decide if they need treatment and what the best method given the circumstances would be." It was a refreshing change.

Steve Repasky: Swarm Management

This ended up being my favorite talk of the day by far. It wasn't as thorough as the talk Dr. Gilley gave earlier this year, but he included scenarios for us to analyze and respond to. For example, he gave use details about various hives with photos and asked us to ascertain what was happening and what the correct response to the situation should be. As an instructional designer, I totally dig interactive exercises like this.

His book Swarm Essentials covers all the info from his talk and then some.  However, here are some interesting factoids from his talk:

  • In Pennsylvania, where Repasky lives, swarm season typically begins 4 weeks after the dandelion begins or when purple-eyed drones appear in the hive. So when you see dandelion, this is the time to get ready for swarms, including getting necessary equipment together.
  • Swarm cells are usually on the bottom third of the comb. Supercedure cells are along the top 1/3. I've heard this over and over, and it may be true in Langs because there is more space at the bottom of the hive.  However, from my own experience with TBHs, I haven't found this to be true. My bees make swarm cells all along the edges, and I think it's because of the sloped hive walls. From the bees perspective, the entire edge is the "bottom of the comb."
  • Swarms usually occur between 11 am and 1 pm. Orientation flights usually happen between 3 pm-5 pm.

There is a rumor that Tom Seeley may be speaking at next year's SNEBA. Fingers crossed!


  1. Great summaries, thanks for sharing! I saw Michael Palmer (and Tom Seeley) earlier this year and he is indeed a great speaker, very engaging and passionate about his approach. I haven't seen anything from Dr. Larry Conner or Steve Repasky, sounds like they were pretty interesting as well. Hope your wrist is doing better - I find push-ups help, but not always easy to do. Happy Turkey Day!

    1. Yes, Mike is nothing if not passionate! Thanks for the well-wishes. I'm starting to feel better -- just in time to chop, dice, and cook all day. ;-)

      Hope you have a fantastic Thanksgiving!

  2. Even with an arthritic thumb, you still rock at note taking. Thanks for sharing this info - all good to know. I have a couple of Larry Connor's books on my Christmas list - guess I should add Repasky's Swarm Essentials as well. It's interesting that Mike Palmer thinks everyone should treat for varroa - Marla Spivak was the same way at the WAS meeting. Quite the contrast from the Michael Bush video you posted recently. I remember Wyatt Magnum had some charts on swarm/supercedure cell placement. I think there are "general rules", but that the bees are going to do what they will do. They seem them more as "guidelines". And, different hive styles have different rules.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. From Mike's perspective, I can see why he's so insistent on treatment, but I also found it curious. For instance, at one point, he brought up the mite resistant/tolerant bees in Swindon that have been in the news lately and how they have a superinfection that prevents them from succumbing to K-wing virus when all the other hives in the area do come down with the disease. However, what he failed to mention was that the owner of the bees with the superinfection has been treatment-free for over a decade now, maybe longer.

      Anyway, different strokes. He's probably still forgotten more about beekeeping than I'll ever know.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and all your family!


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