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Buzz Words - November 2012

The November meeting will be Tuesday, November 13th, at 7:30 p.m. at the West Barnstable Community Building, on Route 149 in West Barnstable.    We have invited Eve Gabriel, a Naturopathic Nutritionist, chef, and author of “The Fateful Fork”. Eve will present her “Qualivore” perspective on foods. This encompasses the 4 components that make up a food’s nourishment – soil/original environment, processing vs. intact freshness (seasonal & local) and preparation methods. Also, she will offer ideas on wise holiday eating and a honey based recipe.

From the President
I try to do it once a year; at least when I can.  That is, whenever I can capture a nectar flow and get some honey.  I figured that there should be some etiquette or protocol regarding how to do it, but I haven't seen it yet.  The closest I could come to it was wine tasting protocols.  I suppose you could borrow from the wine afficionados and comment on its legs, its clarity, its crispness.  That would be part of it.  And then you would need the right adjectives-again, borrowing from the wine people- perhaps fruity, or oaky, or smooth. 

So what was I trying to do?  I was offering a bunch of middle schoolers some of my local honey and having them compare it with Brand X off the store shelf.  I always do this with a bit of trepidation as the palate of your average 13 year old are often different from yours and mine.  And the words they have to describe experiences is also often quite different from yours and mine.  But here are some of their reactions to local honey: “Awesome,”  “Sweet,” “Scentier,” (I think that means having an aroma),  “Stickier,” “Lighter,” “Clearer,”  “Better.”   

All sounded good to me.  And even better, with 100% agreement, they all preferred the local honey to Brand X.  A fun afternoon with a focus group and a ringing endorsement for fresh and local!   


Upcoming Meetings of Note
Saturday, November 10th, 2 to 5 p.m. Plymouth County Beekeepers present Mike Palmer, of St. Alban’s, VT, speaking on his method of wintering hives and rearing queens.  This program is sponsored by Plymouth, Barnstable, Bristol and Norfolk County Beekeepers.  There is NO CHARGE for this event. More next month and it will be held at Pembroke High School. Perhaps some of us might wish to car pool.

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Recipe of the Month
Recipes from Honey Feast by Gene Opton & Nancie Hughes

Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp fresh oregano, marjoram, tarragon
1/2 tbsp lemon juice or basil, finely chopped
1 tbsp green onion finely chopped
1/2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

Combine all, chill; use within a day or two. Use any fresh herbs you have growing-do not substitute dried herbs.

This dressing may be used on mixed green salads or may be passed in a side dish to spoon over fresh cucumber and tomato.

Curry Salad Dressing
Made without oil, this is a refreshing dressing for those who watch calories or cholesterol.
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp sweet pickle juice
1 tsp curry powder

Shake all together, serve on fruit salad. Best when freshly made.

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Claire's Corner
Here is something to think about as you read through the scale hive information. At a recent MA Beekeepers Association meeting, we heard Jamie Ellis, Ph.D. from the University of Florida, speak on “The Plight of the Honey Bee: An Overview of Colony Health”. As a general rule, we consider that honeybees forage two to three miles. With a radius of 3 miles, workers can readily cover 28 to 29 square miles when searching for nectar or pollen. Dr. Ellis reminded us that Tom Seeley, Ph.D. has realized that bees can forage up to 5 miles with some regularity. Extrapolating this out, a single colony could forage over 80 square miles. While trying to digest this tidbit, we wondered if those of us who harvested small honey crops this past season might have areas too saturated with colonies. Obviously  many factors are involved, including weather and available nectar flows, but it does lead us to wonder if fewer colonies are better.

On occasion we have printed book reviews and would like to encourage any of you who have read a “bee book” of interest to send us a review for a future winter newsletter.  With this in mind, member Stan handed us a book he thoroughly enjoyed. Finally finishing this week, we invite you to pick up a copy of “Sweetness & Light, the Mysterious Mystery of the Honeybee” by Hattie Ellis.

Not written as a history book per se, this book relates the fascinating story of the honeybee beginning with the Stone Age and travels to current activities. As the author is not a beekeeper, one can tell she is amazed with what this tiny insect accomplishes in its lifetime. You will learn something new, but will be taken back in history and reminded that honeybees are not native to North America. So, how did the early settlers bring them over on those long ocean journeys?

A few years ago, B.C.B.A. wrote their version of Best Management Practices. But, in 1895, Paris (France) passed a law stating that hives may be 16 feet from a neighbor, except when there is a fence; and hives must be 328 feet from a school.

Mentioned, you will find not only Langstroth, but Aristotle, Pliny, Shakespeare, and of course Charles Darwin. It is a quick read and a “buzzing chronological narrative”.

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Some observations from my scale hive.
John Portnoy, 1 October 2011

Figure 1.  Periods of colony weight gain, indicated by heavy horizontal lines, from April through September, 2001-2011, Wellfleet scale hive.

Below is a summary of seasonal trends in colony weight gain and loss, as observed in one of my Wellfleet colonies over the past 11 years.  Colony weight was recorded generally daily at dusk.  Most observations are from April through August, a period when the colony is actively foraging (Fig. 1), but I have some data from fall and winter, when the bees are mostly confined to the hive (Fig. 2).

From Figure 1:

  • Daily gains in colony weight occur over only about five to eight weeks each year.
  • The timing of weight gains is fairly consistent, and coincides with the blooming of three major nectar-producing plants: black locust (late May to early June), winterberry (late June to early July), and sweet pepperbush (early August).
  • Rainy, cool weather often interrupts weight gain during a major nectar flow, e.g. June 2009 and 2010.
  • A dearth has occurred every year in mid- to late July
  • Colony weight gain has occurred only once after mid-August since 2001 (in 2003).

From this, it’s clear that substantial nectar flows occur over very short time periods, at least on the outer Cape, when colonies must have a strong enough work force (abundant foragers) to store surplus nectar for winter survival, and the beekeeper.  Also, robbing can be expected, and should be guarded against, throughout the warm months whenever the above nectar flows are not under way.  Finally, given the apparent scarcity of nectar in fall, the sweet pepperbush flow in early August should be considered the last chance that the colony has for major honey storage before winter.  If the beekeeper removes too much honey after this flow, or the pepperbush flow fails due to bad weather or other factors (as in 2011), the colony will need to be fed by the beekeeper.

Figure 2. Colony weight loss through winter 2003-4, Wellfleet scale hive.  Trend lines are fitted by eye for October (green), November-January (orange) and February-March (red), and approximate weight loss per week is indicated.

  • From Figure 2:
  • Colony weight change (loss) varies greatly over the fall-winter-spring period.
  • Weight loss is extreme during October, least during mid-winter, but increases significantly starting in late January and February.
  • Thus, beekeepers, at least on the outer Cape, should anticipate and plan for a large drain on hive resources, and no major nectar flow (see Fig. 1) in fall.  Weight loss moderates greatly once the colony begins to cluster in November, and remains low through most of January.  The higher rate of weight loss in late winter coincides with the resumption of  brood rearing; it follows that most colony death occurs during late winter, and, not surprisingly, usually through starvation.   More winter data would be interesting.

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    The Value of Scale Hive Data

    • Several of us on the Cape are using hives mounted on platform scales to regularly monitor weight changes in our honey bee colonies. Once set up, a scale hive is one easy and sensitive way to track how a typical colony is doing, with no disturbance to the bees. I’ve been using data from my Wellfleet scale hive to manage my bees since 2001, and now wonder how I ever did without one. Here is just a partial list of applications. Also, see my 2011 report summarizing 11 years of Wellfleet scale-hive data.
    • Observations of weight gain indicate a nectar flow when you might need to add more supers, and otherwise leave the colony undisturbed. The scale hive has shown me that a nectar flow is not always obvious from the behavior of bees at the entrance. Also, weight gain can be correlated with coincident plant bloom of locally abundant plant species to identify most important nectar sources. Information on the seasonal timing of plant bloom, as indicated by our bees’ collection of nectar, can even help NASA in their project to use honey bees to study climate change; see
    • Observations of weight loss in the warm months indicate the high potential for robbing, and are a warning to avoid opening weak colonies, exposing uncapped honey, feeding sugar syrup, etc. Observations of weight loss in winter indicate the rate of honey consumption by the winter cluster, and the possible need for emergency feeding. A surprising observation here has been rapid weight loss in October, probably because the bees are still busy rearing “winter bees”, followed by little weight loss November through January, when there’s almost no brood to keep warm. Weight loss picks up in February as the brood nest again starts to expand. From all this I know that: 1) if my colonies are light in September, they’re going to be at least 10 lbs lighter after October, and I’d better feed them and 2) I’ll also need to watch and probably feed these light colonies again in February or March, if they are to survive; most of my colony losses – to starvation - have occurred during these two months.
    • Observations of decreasing weight gain, e.g. towards the end of a nectar flow, indicate a good time to remove and extract honey when the bees are still enjoying a flow and are unlikely to begin robbing each other, and you. The bees will practically ignore you if you remove honey from the hives during even a light nectar flow; removing honey during a dearth is a headache.
    • Many years of scale-hive data have shown me that nectar flows big enough to provide measurable colony weight gain are fairly predictable, but very limited in duration on the outer Cape. Perhaps most importantly, I know to expect no major weight gain here in Wellfleet after mid-August, so I can’t count on a fall flow to provision the bees for winter. If I don’t want to be feeding bees loads of sugar, I’d better leave plenty of honey on the hives after the August sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) flow.
    • I’m sure we’ll find many more uses for scale-hive data in managing our apiaries.

    -John Portnoy 28 Oct 2012

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    BCBA Blog
    In an effort to lessen the amount of emails some board members receive, we would like to encourage members to join the new Google blog.  Healthy questions and comments would be more educational for all. Honeybees do not always follow the textbooks an beekeeping varies considerably across the Cape. Join at or follow instructions below and Dave will help get you on board.

    Can’t go a day without wanting to talk about bees? Want to exchange information with other BCBA members between meetings? The BCBA now has a free, online forum where members can ask and answer questions, and talk about all things bee-related. All you need to access the forum is an email address. To sign up just email me at and let me know you’d like to be included.

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    Check Out Club Member Blogs

    Julie Lipkin @

    Tamar Haspel @

    I thought you might be interested in this link from the Guardian: Bee study lifts lid on hive habits -     - Julie L.

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    Seasonal Hints/Tips

    • It is time to switch to solid carbs –either candy/fondant or mountain camp sugar sheets, IF your hive lacks sufficient winter stores.
    • Depending on the location of your hive – wind – you might consider a wind block or wrapping with tar paper.
    • Some of us will be adding the white plastic board under the bottom board, also for wind protection.

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    Top-Bar Hives
    There has been a request to include a section in the newsletter with seasonal information on top bar hives. As this manner of beekeeping is new to most of us, we need your help. Should members submit questions or management techniques that have worked for them?

    “Top Bar Hive Beekeeping: Wisdom and Pleasure Combined” authored by Wyatt Mangum, PhD. has been added to the CLAMS system recently. Also, the website has interesting information and will be periodically updated by the author.

    Also, Julie Lipkin has passed on a weekend TBH workshop in Cambridge, MA on October 13th, organized by Christy Hemenway of

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    Andy will be bringing club tee shirts at the next few meetings.  I had saved a photo, but am getting ruthless as the amount of saved innocuous material grows in this machines inner workings, so guess I deleted.

    $10 each, check to B C B A or EXACT amount, please.

    back to top Last updated 11/09/12