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Buzz Words - October 2014

October Meeting
The next meeting of the Barnstable County Beekeepers Association is Tuesday, Oct. 14, at 7:30 p.m. in the West Barnstable Community Building on Route 149 in West Barnstable. Our speaker will be Kris Ramsay, director of the Orleans Conservation Trust.

From the Board
Real informative BCBA meeting in September. Hope you were there, as several veteran beekeepers gave great tips on how to overwinter hives. The ideas were varied, the opinions many, and answers often contradictory: queen excluder or no queen excluder, mountain camp or fondant, to wrap or not to wrap, how much to shim, re-insert the white bottom debris board or not, insulate under the outer cover or not, pollen patty in spring or fall, leave on a honey super or not, inner cover vent to the front or rear. By the end of the evening I was sure Charlie Baker and Martha Coakley had more common ground than any two beekeepers. It also made me wonder if you could ever possibly distill all the opinions bandied around the room into a few certainties. The presenters as well as many of the participants in the audience clearly knew their stuff. They all, in their own ways, seemed to be highly effective beekeepers. And it?s that phrase, “highly effective,” that got me thinking (with a nod to Steven Covey, author of the book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”) whether there were also seven habits of highly effective beekeepers Well, with apologies to Mr. Covey and his seven habits, here is what I came up with:

  1. Be proactive: Good hives don?t just happen. They have to be managed.
  2. Begin with the end in mind: How you want your hive to be next spring depends in large part on the care you give it in August and September.
  3. Put first things first: Allocate the time necessary to achieve the second habit.
  4. Think win-win: When the bees win, you win. When they have ample water and nectar sources, have a viable queen and are malady free, then you get better pollination, flowers, fruit, vegetables, and honey!
  5. Seek to understand, then to be understood: This one is a little tougher. I think we all try to understand what the bees need each time we visit the hive, but I still have not met a bee that seemed to understand that when I pry off the inner cover and drop some fondant on the frames, it is a sign of friendship.
  6. Synergize: Be a mentor, attend the monthly bee meetings, contribute to Buzz Words, volunteer at the various exhibits the club sponsors.
  7. Sharpen the saw: Learn, learn, learn! Read a bee magazine such as Bee Culture, attend a workshop such as the one in Plymouth October 11, watch your hive and take notes.

Well there it is, the seven habits of the highly effective beekeeper. Maybe next month someone can take a shot at the seven habits of highly effective bees.

—John Beach

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Check Out Club Member Blogs

Julie Lipkin -

BCBA discussion group -

Tamar Haspel -

Facebook page -

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Comming Up
Our club is joining with the Plymouth, Norfolk and Bristol county beekeeping associations to present a very special (and FREE!) program on Saturday, Oct. 11, featuring Dewey Caron, author of “Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping,” and Ross Conrad, author of “Natural Beekeeping.” The daylong program will be at the Kingston Knights of Columbus Hall, 91 South Street, Kingston, MA. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. For details on the program and for directions, go to

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Playing the Numbers
It's a numbers game: From battling mites and squashing small hive beetles in the summer to making sure our colonies have a healthy queen and plenty of food stores as fall sets in, there really are a fair number of “moving parts”' for a beekeeper to consider when managing the odds in affecting colony survival and overwintering. While I experienced a very high percentage of overwintered colonies from last winter, the percentage of colonies producing any honey at all was lower than normal, with only four, all overwintered, producing colonies. Out of the four producers, only one – let?s call it Colony 1 – on the edge of two ponds, yielded over 50 percent of the total honey amount harvested. Another Provincetown apiary site, Colony 2 – within a residential area of town, with two colonies that used to be my top producer – didn't give anything. I lost one of the two hives kept there in early summer to what would best be described as slow-moving bees that didn't do anything until the colony completely collapsed. European Foubrood? Pesticides? It may also not have been a coincidence that one of the homeowners nearby was advertising "Mosquito Squad" on her lawn! Another location – Colony 3 – in what used to be a great producing rural Truro area, gave a measly 25 pounds. For the first time, on Colony 3, I'd seen a hive entrance SO heavily propolized that it was nearly closed. Why? Finally, Colony 4 (producing honey) gave a measly amount – 12 pounds – in its second season. In a season with well below average rainfall amounts, it was clear that the stronger and surviving colonies and better honey producers were near pond or marsh and not in populated residential areas. In testing for mite loads, it was a mixed bag, and I did not treat any of the colonies that had fairly heavy counts. Small hive beetles were present in most of the colonies, but not too overwhelming. Certainly when faced with an extremely dry season it makes sense that areas with more water would provide a better foraging experience, but still the total amount of honey yield rests around 25 percent of the norm. Now, as we head into fall, I repeat what I do year after year – feed heavily for another several weeks in an attempt to fatten up the bees to make it through winter. I'm also going over which colonies collapsed during the summer and trying to figure out why. For next season, I'm making a plan to relocate some of my colonies to areas of better nourishment and farther away from highly pruned residential areas which might have residents spraying chemicals that are harmful to honeybees. Even though I feed when necessary, do weekly inspections and take decent notes on each of the colonies, it's simply not that easy to either predict survival rates, after preparing well going into winter, as colonies collapse in the beginning or end of summer, or be sure which colonies will harvest lots of honey during our short season. It's a numbers game, after all … keep taking those notes on your inspections and happy feeding and overwintering!

—Rebecca Matarazzi

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Overwintering a Nuc
NucHere is a strong and healthy-looking five-frame nucleus colony that I hope to bring through the winter. Note the new mountain camp sugar sheet and the nice job the girls are doing on last week's sugar sheet. Once the sheet has sat in the hive for a few days, it becomes fairly solid with the condensation in the hive. This makes it easy to move around and to add a second section if needed. They were also treated to a small piece of pollen patty. This will be consumed in a few days before the small hive beetles will settle in for dinner and try to multiply. This particular unit holds six frames, but note the yellow division board feeder on the outside edge. This will stay in the hive all winter. The queen mother is a local gal. In a few weeks, this hive will be moved back home and tucked onto a shelf against a building facing southeast. It will be protected from the wind and nestled next to other nucleus colonies and insulated. Fingers are crossed for a positiv

—Claire Desilets

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Consider Winter Feeding
Ideally, our hives here on the Cape should be chock full of stores (nearly 10 deep frames of honey/nectar in TOP deep) come late October. For us gals, the hive should be difficult to heft from the back. Too often this is not the case. And to find a dead hive lost to starvation come March is very sad and should not be the norm.

As a rule, sugar syrup (2:1) should not be fed to the hive from mid-October to late March. Lack of time to cure the syrup and too much moisture in the hive can cause dysentery. Below are a number of options for winter feeding. The fondant or sugar sheets are laid on the top of the frames directly over the cluster. If needed due to an extended cold period where the bees cannot break cluster to reach stores, the bees will have this supplemental feeding readily available.

Fondant Recipes

Microwave recipe (feeds 1 or 2 colonies)

  1. In a 1-quart or larger microwave dish, thoroughly mix 1½ cups granulated sugar and ½ cup light corn syrup (no water).
  2. Microwave on high, stirring every few minutes until the mixture is clear and bubbles become thumbnail size (about 10 minutes). Stop immediately if the mixture starts to brown. A wooden spoon is very effective for stirring, as it can be left in the dish during cooking.
  3. Pour into a mold made from cardboard or a container lined with paper to cool. The candy will become brittle and can be slipped on top of frames where the bees will consume it.

Stovetop recipe (makes nine 5-by-6-inch pieces)

  1. Mix 5 pounds granulated sugar, 1 pint corn syrup, 11/3 cups of water in a large pot.
  2. Hold over medium heat to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. VERY IMPORTANT TO HOLD THE 240°.
  3. Stir only occasionally; it takes a while.
  4. At 240°, place the pot in a sink of cold water.
  5. Change the water a few times.
  6. Beat with a mixer, cooling the mixture to 190°.
  7. Pour onto greased (Pam) cookie sheets to quarter-inch thick.
  8. Cool and slice into patties.

Mountain camp feeding – from Kelley Bee News (Nov 2011)

  • Use 1- or 2-inch spacer placed directly on top of brood box.
  • Add two sheets of newspaper directly on frames (leave one-third of frames exposed).
  • Mist paper with water spray or sugar syrup.
  • Dump 1 to 2 pounds sugar on paper and mist sugar to clump, repeat sugar and spray once more.
  • Misting sugar to clump will keep bees from carrying it out as a foreign material.
  • Condensation from cluster heat will be absorbed by newspaper.
  • If bees have not used all sugar by spring, use it to make first batch of 1:1 syrup.

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And more thoughts regarding survival
Many thoughts and questions race through my mind as I feed hives in each of my apiaries. It is hard not to wonder which hives will survive or why the heck others will expire. What have I missed or neglected? Was it the queen, starvation or the varroa mite overload? These are the three likeliest reasons our hives fail to survive the winter. When you think of it, all three can or could be prevented.

There are a few hives that I know I should have requeened, but when they are stacked with five honey shallows, four full and capped, it is just too difficult to find the queen. And why would I want to when she has outdone herself this season? There must be 100,000 bees in a few of those hives! Only next spring will reveal if I made the right decision to let her live.

Many members have expressed their concern over the lack of stores their hives have approaching cool weather. No excuse here – just keep feeding. As of this week, I am amazed at how much my hives have consumed. Not just sugar syrup, but most have been getting 2 to 3 pounds of sugar on newspaper each week for the last three to four weeks and there is rarely a scrap left between weekly visits. But I can tell they are gaining weight when I heft from the back bottom board. In early September each hive gets a rating. Minus (-) means trouble and no stores, a plus (+) equates to some stores but could be better, and a double-plus (++) means good girls! Each is written on the hive cover so I can tell which needs the most attention. As of this week all the (-) are now (+) or better. „Tis a good feeling!

Then there is the third reason we might lose a hive. The varroa mite will always be with us. Unless we let them get out of hand, small numbers should cause little harm. Since they chomp through the bee?s exoskeleton or chew into the larva, they are bound to emit some virus or deplete the life of the bee. Most beekeepers do not do monthly varroa counts, and I am just as negligent due to time. But we do have IPM methods that help reduce the numbers low enough so the bees can handle the infestation. Screened bottom boards give the hive some relief, as does breaking the brood cycle or requeening. Some use drone comb removal which, again, reduces the numbers. And if you have a hygienic queen, you might be a bit better off than others.

If I find a hive with a number of varroa in the drone brood after culling, I make no apologies, but I will treat this hive in August with a miticide. The most effective and organic product available is formic acid in the form of Mite Away Quik Strips. It is a quick seven-day treatment, but one must be careful when applying as the fumes are caustic. Any hive that has a new queen or a hive that has overwintered or one with a Carniolan queen will never get treatment. As it turns out, only a few received the miticide this season. It is hoped with an increase in the availability of Cape bee queens and nucs, we might see an increase in our winter survival rate since we are breeding or raising our queens from untreated surviving hives. T?will be a long winter but here is hoping we made some good decisions.

—Claire Desilets

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The Scallopfest was a success. It was a good chance to sell your summer/fall harvest of honey at a good price for a three-hour shift in our building at the Cape Cod Fairground. Since it was our first opening at this function, we did not know how it would materialize. This seems to be an adult function rather than children, where the main purchase was the honey versus the honey sticks; so the club didn't make much money, but the membership did. There was a wonderful array of varieties on the shelves showing the different color flowers can make to the honey. We know we can be separated by a mile and have completely different-tasting honey, which is great. I want to thank those who came forward to help make this a success. I have heard that there were lots of questions about our bees and a couple new people interested in taking our winter classes for new beekeepers. Thanks to everyone for your help and sharing your love of beekeeping.

—Marte Ayers

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Feeding by the Numbers
For the last three weeks I have been feeding my bees with 2:1 sugar water at the rate of 1 pound of sugar per day per hive. A couple of days ago while preparing the next batch of syrup I started wondering about how many flowers the bees would have to visit to get the same amount of sugar. Here are some back-of-the-envelope calculations: Using nectar composition published in a 1981 article of the Am. J. Bot., there is a maximum of of 3.5 mg. of sugar per blossom (in most plants nectar contains a mixture of fructose, glucose and sucrose in different ratios depending on the species). To collect that pound of sucrose would require completely emptying about 150,000 blossoms. The crop, or honey stomach, of a bee has a capacity of 40 mg. of nectar, of which about 50 percent is water, or the equivalent to 20 mg. of sugars (note that it will have to visit many flowers to accumulate that much nectar). Assuming that each bee brings that much sugar to the hive in each trip, it will take about 25,000 trips to complete that 1 pound of sugar.

—Miguel Zamora

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Top-bar Doin's
I reported here in June that a fellow beekeeper in need of swarm prevention gave me two frames of brood, an unhatched queen cell and a bucket of bees in exchange for two frames of honey from my Langstroth hive. But it was my top-bar hive that was queenless and in trouble, and anyone with a top-bar hive knows the parts aren?t interchangeable with Langstroths. Not at all an innovator, I had little hope of success when I cut the comb from her two frames into four pieces and literally tied them onto four empty top bars with butcher string and prayer. I am happy to report that the hive is doing marvelously. The girls attached the comb to the bars right away, and now the only way you'd tell the difference is by the tell-tale foundation wires descending from the bottom of those four combs. I have 20-plus combs going into winter, with almost half of them filled with honey and nectar.

—Julie Lipkin

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Interesting Links
Researchers Create Honeybee Sperm Bank to Breed Colony of Superbees
Are Bees Back Up on Their Knees?
(This one, by our friend Noah Wilson-Rich, may be available only to New York Times subscribers)

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Did You Know?
Try topping the coolness of this fact, passed along to me by former club member Ritchie Kolnos: European honeybees have no defenses against the super-lethal Japanese giant hornet, having little to no evolutionary experience with them. Japanese honeybees, on the other hand, have developed a very effective counterattack: When said hornet approaches the nest, the bees surround it in a tight ball and begin furiously vibrating their wings (as they do in winter to keep the hive warm), bringing the temperature inside the cluster to 117 degrees Fahrenheit (exactly 2 degrees higher than the hornet can withstand), thus roasting their attacker.

—Julie Lipkin

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Honey Recipe of the Month
Pumpkin Honey Bread*

1 cup honey
½ cup butter or margarine, softened
1 can (16 oz.) solid-pack pumpkin
4 eggs
4 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground nutmeg

In large bowl, cream honey with butter until light and fluffy. Stir in pumpkin. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly incorporated. Sift together remaining ingredients. Stir into pumpkin mixture. Divide batter equally between two well-greased 9 x5 x 3-inch loaf pans. Bake at 350°F for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let loaves cool in pans for 10 minutes; invert pans to remove loaves and allow to finish cooling on racks.

* Recipe reprinted from the National Honey Board,

back to top Last updated 10/14/14