Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wisdom on Overwintering

“Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

-Alexander Pope

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Urban Hive Moving

Moving beehives is one of those things best avoided, but sometimes it just has to be done. Choosing an apiary site is an imperfect science at best and 'perfect' locations are about as common as henteeth. Pretty much every site is a compromise in some respect and this is particularly true in the city. Beekeepers in the city don't have a lot of space, so we often have to take what we can get. People change as well; beekeeping is not for everyone and sometimes the only way to find out is to try it. If you decide it isn't for you, you're going to have move your hives one way or another.

Bees? In MY elevator?
It's more likely than you think!
Moving a donated hive to the Brooklyn Grange last week.

Accepting these apiary compromises means that we, as urban beekeepers, also have to accept that we might someday have to move our bees, either because we want to or because we must. With this in mind I generally recommend that people do not put bees on property they rent.

Situations change, often when it is least convenient.

Personally, I prefer to (and do) keep my bees in permanent, established community gardens and on top of buildings owned by people I know and trust. Still, if it was a choice between no bees and keeping them somewhere potentially inconvenient, I know what I would do.

So say that you have a hive and you need to move it. How do you do it? It depends on a few factors. What's the weather like? How far are you moving them?

Conventional wisdom says that you can move a hive two feet or two miles. Anything more than two feet or less than two miles and the foragers get confused and try to return to the original location they oriented to. Obviously this is a problem as there isn't a hive in that location any more. You end up losing most of your foragers, or about a third of your hive population. So what do you do if you need to move your hives more than two feet (which is probable) and less than two miles (which is likely)?

Beehacks. (Beehacks?) More on that later.

This guide will assume that you have easy access to both hive sites, either because they are ground level, or easily accessible via stairs or elevator. I'll be writing a follow-up for locations featuring roof hatches or otherwise limited access.

The first thing you'll need to do is prep the new apiary site and gather the equipment you'll need. You should never move bees unless their new location is completely set up and ready to go, so that you can just set them down, open them up and let them be for a while. Moving can be traumatic, so it's best to give them time to adjust without prodding them any more than is strictly necessary.

In terms of required equipment, the list is short: A vehicle large enough to carry the hives you'll be moving, one or two strong ratchet straps, window screening material, some branches or bundles of grass (*hint, hint*) and a staple gun or strong duct tape (I use Gorilla brand.) You'll want some extra hands as well. Optionally, bring your bee suit, your smoker, sugar to feed with, a hand truck, or a hive lifter.

Once you've gathered your equipment, and gotten your new site prepared, you'll have to schedule a time to move the hives. In the winter, when it is too cold for the bees to fly, any time is acceptable. If it warm enough that the bees are flying (over 50F), you'll want to wait until the foragers are all back home for the evening so that you don't lose your field force.

If you crack open the hive first, they will come to see what has happened.
Can you spot the extended stingers?
Seal them up first, curiosity be damned.

Once the bees are all in the hive, cut a section of window screening large enough to seal the entire entrance of the hive. If your inner cover has a notch as an upper entrance like the one from Brushy Mountain, you'll want to plug it up so that the bees can't escape. If it's warm out, you'll need to smoke the bees so they don't come flying out at you when you open the inner cover.

I only squashed one bee.  I consider it a victory.  Once you start stapling, they'll come to investigate, so make sure that you have the mesh placed snugly and are holding it in place.  Extra hands help.

Take the screen and staple or tape it over the entrance so that it is completely sealed around the edges. The screening will keep the bees in, but allow some air circulation. If you have a screened bottom board, take out the sticky board so that they'll have plenty of air.

Ventilation and curiosity.

With the hive sealed, you can secure it. Run the ratchet straps around the entire hive and cinch them down snugly, but not so tight that you tear into the wood. I like to use two ratchet straps, one front to back and the other left to right, so that they cross at the top and bottom. It's probably overkill, but better safe than sorry.  Make sure that you seal up the hive before you ratchet them down.  They don't like the vibrations and will come out to investigate.

First sting of the year!

Now that the hive is sealed and secured, it is ready to move. If you are carrying it by hand, pick it up from the front and back and be careful to keep it as vertical as possible so that the frames don't come loose. If you have a hand truck, make sure that you set it so that the back of the hive is against the metal frame. If you put the hive in sideways, the frames will tilt, break apart, squash bees, and possibly do some serious damage. If you have a hive carrier, follow the instructions, but remember to keep the hive level.

Notice how the hive is only being leaned back, in line with the frames so that they don't shift.

Load the hive into your transportation and take it to the new location. Unload it just as you loaded it, slowly and keeping it level. Set the hive where you want it and remove the ratchet straps.

Home sweet home at the Brooklyn Grange.

If you've moved the hive more than a couple of miles, you can open the hive and only lose a small percentage of foragers. The vast majority of the bees will take a short flight, realize that nothing around them looks remotely familiar, and reorient to the new location. You don't have to worry about any new foragers, since they'll orient to the new location as soon as they're ready to start flying.

But what if you've moved the hive close enough to the original location that the foraging areas overlap? The foragers will take their first flight, spot a landmark they previously identified in relation to their old hivesite and use it as a guide to fly directly back home. When they get there, they'll find nothing and mill around, confused and possibly cranky, until it starts to get dark. At that point, they'll start looking for the closest hive to take shelter in. Chances are, it won't be yours and you'll end up losing up to a third of your population.

If you don't want that to happen, there are a couple tricks (BEEHACKS!) that you can use to trigger reorientation behavior in older foragers.

The simplest is to just keep the hive sealed in for a couple days so that the bees can't fly. Make sure that the hive has plenty of ventilation and food. Combined with the vibrations and shaking from the actual move, and many of the bees will pay extra attention to where they are and trigger reorientation. According to Michael Bush, author of The Practical Beekeeper, about 72 hours of confinement is the sweet spot. Any shorter and fewer bees will reorient; any longer and the number will plateau.

You can also obstruct the entrance of the hive. When bees leave the hive, they leave on autopilot. They fly out with not a care in the world and only use landmarks for orientation on their RETURN trip. By obstructing the entrance with something the bees have to fly or crawl around in order to exit the hive, you force them to pay attention and register that something has changed. This change in the hive entrance will trigger reorientation to the new location. Loosely stuffing the entrance with grass so that the bees have to carry it aside works well. So does leaning some twiggy branches in front of the hive and over the entrance. You want to use something dense enough that all the bees will have to fly close through, but not something so thick that the entrance is blocked. After a couple a days, you can remove the branches, or let the bees remove the grass.

After you've moved them, you'll want to give them a couple days (at least a week) to recuperate and adjust. In your first post-move inspection, pay extra attention to any damage caused by the move, and make sure that the queen is laying (if it is seasonable for her to do so.) Queens tend to be a bit fragile, and the stress of moving can sometimes cause bees to ball, or kill, her.

I'll be writing a follow-up article outlining how to move hives that cannot be moved in one piece because they are too heavy or because they are too large to fit through the entrance to the apiary (roof hatches), so check back later this week!

1.) Prep new site and equipment.
2.) Seal up hive entrances with mesh and secure with hive bodies with ratchet straps.
3.) Move hive vertically to new location.
4a.) If moved over two miles, let them loose.
4b.) If less than two miles, keep sealed for 2-3 days, and obstruct but do not block entrance to trigger reorientation.
5.) ???
6.) Profit.

If you want to read about the hive moved in the pictures, check out this blog post at the Brooklyn Grange:

Weekly 101 (2/21/12)

Been a while since I've done one of these, eh? Lucky for you, there's a bunch of good stuff happening this week and next!

Firstly, I'm teaching my BEST EVER Beekeeping 101 Course at the Brooklyn Brainery, starting on the 23rd of February. I've been reading some fancy new literature and rejiggering some of my explanations, so expect to learn a lot of nifty information in nifty ways.

If you were on the fence about keeping bees this year, now is the time to jump. This will probably be the last section of Beekeeping 101 that I'll teach this season before I throw myself into new and exciting projects. (Apprenticeship program!)

Check it out here: $50

For those of you who have bees already or just have a passing curiosity, the Backwards Beekeepers of NYC are hosting a Wax Processing Demo at the Brooklyn Brainery on February 27th, starting at 8:30PM!

Please join the Backward Beekeepers of NYC for a wax processing workshop! We will be doing a cooking show style demo plus bee trivia with prizes!!

We will be covering all the live steps in rendering beeswax from the hive so it can be used in various applications, including candles, salves, furniture polish and starter strips for foundation on foundationless hives.

Open to beekeepers and folks who would love to learn more!

Hope to see you there:)

For more info and to stay in touch:
AND it's FREE.


Continuing the excitment, Meg Paska, another co-founder of the Backwards Beekeepers of NYC is teaching Beekeeping 101 at TWO locations in March!

In Midtown!
If you have a sunny yard or rooftop and 15 minutes a week, you could be harvesting honey from your own bee hive! Learn the basics of first-year beekeeping, including honeybee anatomy and hierarchy, hive assembly, feeding, re-queening, and swarm prevention. This course is guaranteed to get you hooked on honeybees. Please bring lunch to the Saturday field trip.

Classroom Hours: 9

$213 for members, 191 for non-members.
In Bushwick!
Beekeeping isn’t just for farmers anymore! Learn the ins-and-outs of keeping bees in an urban environment. Maintaining an apiary is easier than you think - all one needs is a relatively accessible rooftop with a lot of sun, 15 minutes a week and tolerance for the occasional sting. With some patience, you can harvest your own distinctive, local honey and contribute to the pollination of your community’s flora!

In spite of what you might think, Honeybees thrive in urban areas like New York City. With an abundance of flowering trees and weeds, pollinators have their pick of as much nectar and pollen as any country bee might. In addition, they don’t come into contact with pesticides like rural bees do, so colonies tend to be healthier.

In this class you will learn about honeybee anatomy and behavior, hive function and construction, neighborly relations, urban beekeeping pros and cons, disease and pests, legality and safety and much more. You will leave this class with enough understanding and confidence to start your own colony in the Spring.

Basic/Custom Member Price: $80
Nonmember Price: $100

What is the difference between Meg's class and mine you may ask? I'm not sure, but they both rock. Go to the one that's most convenient!

Also, she is a girl.

I am not.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: The Beekeeper's Bible

Further proof that I am not dead: A guest review of The Beekeeper's Bible on!
Really, the title of this book is appropriate. Like the bible, it tells a great story, full of historical trivia, interesting characters, quotes, battles, parables, and bite-sized lessons. Then again, like the bible, it isn't a lot of help in living your modern life, or managing your bees, as the case may be. The trivia adds context, as do the characters, but the lessons themselves are out of date, trite, or just one-sided. Both were even written by committee! The Beekeeper's Bible has no less than 22 listed authors, and just like its namesake, suffers from constant self-contradictions in sections written by different people with different opinions on how things should be done.
To read the rest of the review, head over to BrooklynHomesteader!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Queenright In Red Hook, Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Wearin' my sexy hat.

So, I waited a couple weeks. While queens take only a few days (15-17!) to develop from an egg to an emerging virgin, it takes them a few more weeks to stretch their wings, take some mating flights, and get to laying.

Hey guys, I think there are bees in there!


For the young virgins, this is a delicate time; developing hormonal glands, expanding ovaries, and drones where there were none before. With this in mind, it is often a good idea to leave a requeening colony alone until they've had time to adjust and start makin' babies. In any case, bees are much more relaxed when they have brood to take care of, especially later in the season when they are starting to get a bit more defensive and wary of wandering hands. Waiting is the prudent choice for everyone involved.


The bare minimum time for a queen to develop from an egg to a LAYING adult is approximately 25 days. In the last update, I mentioned that I found queen cells, including some capped ones, meaning that they were well over a week into development. With this in mind I didn't stick my head in the hive for over a month; more than long enough to allow for any variables, like poor weather or trouble finding drone congregation areas (DCAs).

Empty super.

Diggin' deeper.

I went in hopeful.

I left disappointed.

Well, at least they have plenty of drone comb?

No seriously, drone comb is great.

I went though the entire hive, every side of every frame looking for any sign of a laying queen and found none. No capped brood, no larvae, no eggs. I found the remains of the queen cells, indicating that at least one of the queens emerged successfully, but I found no sign of her or any other.


Nice distribution.

There is no way of knowing what might have happened to her. There are a huge number of reasons that a new queen might fail. She might have been injured in the highlander style deathmatch that sometimes ensues when multiple virgin queens emerge, or all of the queens may have been killed outright. She may have been eaten by a predatory insect (wasp?) or bird on her orientation or nuptual flights. She may have just failed to mate at all; a lack of virile, vital drones to share their genetic material, or a lack of DCAs. Etc., etc., etc.

Crowd control.

Well, at least there is plenty of honey to make it through the winter.

Regardless of the reason, the problem remains the same. A queenless hive has no chance of survival. Even if the hive was not destroyed by predators or stronger hives as its population waned, it would eventually die of attrition. Laying workers are a clever evolutionary trick to flood the area with drones carrying the genetic material of the hive, but drones can not sustain the hive.

Lots of honey, actually.

So what's a boy to do?