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Buzz Words - April 2015

April Meeting
Our next meeting will be Tuesday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the West Barnstable Community Building, Route 149, West Barnstable. We’ll have a roundtable discussion of winter successes and failures, so come armed with your histories, comedies and tragedies. It’s also our annual meeting at which we elect board members and officers. Refreshments will be served; donations of sweets and treats gratefully accepted.

From the Board
Spring means excitement and promise to a beekeeper. If beekeeping is the poetry of agriculture, then now is the time to begin a new poem. Whether you are an experienced beekeeper or a new beekeeper this is the season when eagerness and optimism abounds. As with so many other aspects of agriculture in May, “hope springs eternal,” and the apiary is no exception. It is the queen that is frequently at center stage in the hive each spring. Colonies that have overwintered, and also new packages, can succeed only if the queen is healthy and reasonably mature, is accepted or continues to be accepted by the colony.

It stands to reason that new packages have young queens that may be less than mature or not in excellent condition. Breeders experience heavy demand for queens at this time of year, and their efforts to supply volume for their customers can result in poor-quality queens.

On a March weekend I attended the New Hampshire Beekeepers Association’s spring event in Bow, N.H. The main speaker was Mike Palmer, owner of French Hill Apiaries of St. Albans City, Vt. He spoke extensively about his use of nucs to achieve his No. 1 apiary goal - growing his bee population. Queens and workers are his focus. Mike is a remarkable commercial beekeeper, with at least 1,000 hives - in Vermont, no less! His video about sustainable apiaries is well-known, if not famous.

At some point in the New Hampshire presentation Mike stated we have to “think like a bee” with regards to achieving beekeeping success. I allowed his advice to sink into my mind. I recalled my interest in bees began more than 30 years before I bought my first hive. I believe my preparation to keep bees actually began with the chickens we had when I was barely a teenager. Another bee internship has been the 40 years I spent commercial fishing.

I will explain: It doesn’t take much brain power to think like a chicken, but by closely observing individual chickens it can be determined that the most healthy flock of hens feeds more often, consumes grit regularly, is more active, makes more noise and lays more eggs. Good observations can yield good conclusions … the chickens are happy and healthy, or not.

Likewise in fishing. A few good fishermen are described as “fishy.” A great deal of the best fishermen’s time is spent in thinking like a fish: which bottom the fish will be on, when the fish will arrive, the influence of the tide and wind, the state of the lunar cycle, the fatness of the fish landed, the fish’s hunger level, the stomach contents and many other factors constitute “thinking like a fish”… in order to catch fish.

Relating this “thinking” to our colonies: When we look at our bees on a frame we are often generalizing about the frames – maybe we would like to see the queen, but we often deduce the general health of the colony merely from the distribution of brood and nectar. Thinking like a bee is more than the condition of the frames. By acquiring the habit of intently observing the behavior of individual bees you will learn more about your bees.

One opportunity to think like a bee comes upon introducing a queen. A new queen purchased from a breeder is by definition young and not yet mature. Young queens are often restless and their introduction into a queenless colony is frequently risky.

Observe your new queen and the bees as you follow the supplier’s installation instructions. Do not simply insert the cage and then close the hive for a week. If you believe the colony has been queenless, the caged queen should be inserted between brood frames and not among a concentration of workers.

Premature checking can cause a young queen to be destroyed. But you may quietly and gently take a peek at the cage the day after insertion if the weather is good. It helps your ability to observe if you have placed the cage with the intent of taking a peek. Now look at the bees near the new queen. If the bees are all around the cage, are easily removing themselves and are flapping their wings, close the hive and allow the bees to continue to feed on the sugar plugs of the cage. Ask yourself the questions: Do the bees look content? Are the bees happy?

If the bees are restless and aggressively attached to the cage, then wait another day or two. If they continue to be restless on the cage, they are not happy. If they are agitated the outcome for the caged queen is not good when she is released. Perhaps the hive is not queenless. Remove the caged queen and insert a frame with uncapped brood from another hive to allow them to create their own queen - which they will do if the colony is actually queenless.

The colony often tells us if it is content by the general noise level, quality of the noise and by its activity. Be thoughtful about your observations. Think like a bee … it is your opportunity to reconnect with nature.

—Mark Simonitsch

Information is from Mike Palmer, French Hill Apiaries and the handbook “Slovenia: The Homeland of the Carniola Bees, Selective Breeding and Breeders.”

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Check Out Club Member Blogs

Julie Lipkin -

BCBA discussion group -

Tamar Haspel -

Facebook page -

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Bee School Classes for March
Thursday. March 5: pests and diseases
Thursday, March 19: swarming and swarm prevention
All classes begin at 7:30 p.m. at the West Barnstable Community Building, Route 149, West Barnstable

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Dues are Due
More than 200 of you have paid your dues. Thank you for supporting the association. And we have nearly another 200 who have not rejoined. Please pay attention to the comments when you receive Buzz Words and that will tell you which side of the fence you are on!

—Claire Desilets

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Volunteers Keep Us Going
As you know, the bee club rides on the shoulders of a small group of volunteer board members and we all should be deeply appreciative of what they do to help all of us with our beekeeping. Bee school, Buzz Words, monthly club meetings, mentoring, bulk purchasing of bees and equipment, hive openings, the bee house at the fairgrounds, and more, are but some of what they do. With that in mind, the board appreciates the willingness of three club members, Paul LeFebvre, Michael Hackworth and Melissa Sanderson, to come forward to volunteer to serve on the board. Board service, per our bylaws, requires a vote by the club membership, which we will conduct at our monthly meeting on April 14. We look forward to seeing you all then and welcoming the new ideas and energy these board candidates will bring to the board.

—John Beach

NB: The proposed slate of officers is John Beach, president; Kalliope Egloff, vice president; Claire Desilets, secretary; Lynn Heslinga, treasurer. Nominations will be accepted from the floor.

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Real-World Pesticide Use...
A new study from the University of Maryland shows that the world’s most common insecticide – imidacloprid – does not significantly harm honey bee colonies at real-world dosage levels. Galen Dively, emeritus professor of entomology at the university and lead author of the study, says the insecticide cannot be demonized as the sole cause of bee declines, though it is a contributing factor. Imidacloprid is “an order of magnitude safer than organophosphates,” Dively told Bee Culture magazine. Kim Flottum’s Bee Culture article on the study is available here.

—Board of Directors

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...And Local Pesticide Use
A few of us in the club participated in Nantucket High School senior Mia Silverio’s science project measuring the amounts of imidacloprid in bees and honey from various points on the Cape and Nantucket. The highest concentration found in the samples of honey was 104.589 mg/kg (on Nantucket), and the highest concentration found in the samples of dead bees was 0.0728mg/bee (also on Nantucket). Among Mia’s conclusions: “All levels of imidacloprid detected in samples of honeybees and honey from colonies on Nantucket and on Cape Cod were high enough to cause significant damage to colonies” … but … “the concentrations of imidacloprid found were not high enough to pose significant danger to humans who consume the honey.” And here was a surprise: “The second highest concentration of imidacloprid found in honey samples was 57.920 mg/kg. This concentration was found in the sample of store-bought honey.” Whoa. Another surprise, for me, was that of all the dead bees submitted for study, mine had the second-highest concentration of imidacloprid per bee (the first and third being on Nantucket in areas of high-end homes and golf courses). What? What’s that about?

—Julie Lipkin

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Our Club
Last month daily feedings of diluted honey with pollen substitute were not successful. If the weather had not continued bitterly cold, life in the observation hive might have been different. When supplementing the diet with protein, elimination flights are very necessary. If not, dysentery sets in and that is just what happened with the girls. The numbers dwindled, bodies piled up and the glass became quite clouded.

Fortunately, there was a break in the weather in early March and the hive was lugged outside, opened, the empty frame was removed and the girls were treated to a full frame of honey. Ideally, the honey frame should have been placed on top but that would have been too disruptive and many lives lost. They should find the honey if they are hungry enough.

Current activity is rather puzzling. Many, many times the queen has been spotted backed in laying eggs. Once it looked as if multiple eggs had been laid but it was hard to tell as the workers cover them quickly. But to date, no pearly white larvae have been sighted. Why? Perhaps the lack of pollen is realized and the eggs are pulled out? The workers know they are not able to provide a suitable diet for the young larvae? In a conventional hive, a smidgen of pollen patty could be added but not here. Interestingly, the cluster remains constant with sufficient numbers, so once the snow clears and the crocus appear, life might begin anew.

—Claire Desilets

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Packaged Bee Delivery
As of this printing, pickup date is Saturday, April 18. Please know that can change in a week’s notice. It is imperative that the date is fixed on your calendar, as these girls cannot sit around waiting for your schedule to clear. They need a home shortly after arrival. For newbees, there will be an installation demonstration at each pick up time and site.

Lower Cape residents (east of the Yarmouth-Dennis town line): Pickup will be at Bill’s Bog at 1150 Harwich Road, Brewster. Directions – Route 6 to Exit 10, head north on Route 124 for approximately 2 miles. Bill’s Bog is on the left side of Route 124. Parking is on the right side of 124. No vehicles allowed on Bill’s Bog!

Upper Cape residents: 186 Old County Road, East Sandwich. Directions – Route 6 to Exit 4, head NORTH off the ramp for approximately 1/2 mile to a left on Old County Road. 186 is the FIRST driveway on the left. PLEASE PARK ON THE STREET AND WALK IN. 11 a.m. both sites.

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Timely Tips
Assuming spring has arrived by early April, the hives should be ready for the new packages and your sugar syrup made in a 1:1 ratio. For overwintered hives, come those first dandelions, deep brood boxes can be rotated to provide more room for the queen to move up and continue daily laying of eggs. Good management at this time would be to replace a few brood frames that are over three years of age, damaged or blackened. Hold up to the sunlight. If you cannot see much light through the bottom of the cell, then replace with new foundation. It would be nice if we did not need to feed early in the spring and that a nectar flow would be upon us early. Joe Latshaw of the Ohio Bee breeders mentioned in a past issue of Bee Culture that the “reason for feeding colonies in early spring with sugar syrup is to mimic a nectar flow to encourage brood rearing. The water and sugar in syrup (and nectar) is critical. Water is needed for the developing brood.”

—Claire Desilets

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Farmers Market Selling Opportunity
The Barnstable Village Farmers Market vendor applications are due soon. Confirm your interest (either way) to allow planners to promote your business as part of this year’s market. Applications are online at and may be mailed, with payment, to

BVA - Farmers Market Committee
PO Box 1177
Barnstable, MA 02630

Find us on Facebook:

Added bonus: The Barnstable Village Farmers Market is teaming up with the Cultural District Committee to bring family fun activities to the western section of the courthouse lawn from 9 to 10 a.m. Musical performances are also being booked from 10 a.m. to noon on market days.

Barnstable Village Farmers Market: Saturdays July 11 – Sept. 12, 9 a.m. to noon, shaded grounds of Superior Courthouse, Main St. / Route 6A, Barnstable.

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Slovenian Beehives
The new website for Slovenian Beehives and for Slovenian Beekeeping Tours is Please feel free to contact Mark Simonitsch and/or Suzanne Brouillette with any questions about the hives or tours.

—Mark Simonitsch

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Did you Know?
Security agencies have experimented with exposing the bees to chemical scents associated with bomb production and training them to swarm when the scents are detected.

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Websites of the Month
This one is self-explanatory: 9 Health Benefits of Honey | This one suggests the best garden plants for honey production: And this one is an inspiring story of the healing effects of bee venom:

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Recipe of the Month
Easter morning biscuits*

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ c. butter
1/3 c. honey
1 Tbsp. honey
1/3 c. light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. milk
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsp. orange juice

Make the dough: Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, combine the butter, 1/3 cup honey, and sugar in a large bowl until they are light and fluffy. With the mixer running, add the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated. Add the milk, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons orange juice and beat on medium speed until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat for 1 more minute until all the flour is incorporated and a soft dough forms. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Bake the biscuits: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine the remaining honey and orange juice, stir glaze until smooth, and set aside. Divide the dough into 16 equal-sized pieces and form each into either an S-shaped serpentine shape or a twist. For serpentine shapes, roll each dough piece into a “rope” approximately 8 inches long, bend the rope into an S, and coil each end. To form twists, fold the 8-inch rope in half and twist the ends of each side over each other 3 times. Place the biscuits on a baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Remove the biscuits from the oven, brush with the orange glaze, and continue to bake until golden - about 15 more minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve with coffee or tea. * Recipe reprinted from

back to top Last updated 4/3/15