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Sustainable Beekeeping and More Early Blooms

Wow – this year is turning out to be a weird one. Today, I noticed a couple of dozen dandelion blooms over at one of my rentals! My bloom chart is getting a bit of a skew this year, as this seems really early. For some reason, I didn’t record the Dandelion bloom last year, but I think it was mid-March. This will be an interesting Spring for the beekeepers around Richmond, Virginia for sure. Having gardened for several decades, I know full well that very cold temperatures are in our future for two months ahead, but the last two weeks and the next two are like early Spring and not mid- to late-Winter! The bees are collecting nectar and pollen well in advance of when they normally do. In two of my yards, they are getting syrup and taking it down like piglets. How will this play out when it gets cold?

The big concern that most folks have is that the bee will ‘over lay’, effectively creating more brood then they can keep warm, should the temperatures drop. A big cold snap hits and they suffer – they stress themselves trying to keep a lot of brood warm. Normally, without the syrup or early blooming flowers, they wouldn’t have that much brood to cover. The other concern is around moisture in the hive. Putting a lot of sugar syrup in the hive somehow is a detriment. Having a fairly good background in chemistry and physics, I definitely do not understand this logic (we put buckets of water in the greenhouse to keep the temperature up – water stops it from getting cold, due to the massive energy it takes to convert water from a liquid to a solid.) Ventilation should resolve moisture issues and I think having a liquid in a structure actually keeps the temps from dropping as fast or as far!

In my opinion, the bees do what they need to do. I am pretty confident that they will be just fine, but only time will tell.

Sustainable Beekeeping

This past Friday, the Central Virginia Beekeepers Association out of Ashland, Virginia had Billy Davis of Sustainable Beekeeping up in Northern Virginia. It was an interesting talk and only cemented my resolve to focus on bees that are born and bred in my neck of the woods. Billy Davis focuses on splits, Nucs and overwintered Nucs to do increases off of bees that make it through his Winters. By ‘make it through his Winters’, he means that they do so after he gives them a lot of pre-stored honey frames and a big block of candy. I absolutely respect his work, but it does not surprise me that he has a ton of success overwintering bees in that manner. If you used the exact same strategy on a full hive, you’d probably have great results as well. But, the point is that he is doing it not to just ‘survive’ but to end up with an increase Nuc off of his prime hives. He advocates that we should all do this, trading our increases with other beekeepers or selling them to others in the area. This spreads good genetic material throughout, which benefits both the honey bee and the beekeeper.

He really focuses on using bees that are his version of ‘survivor stock’. He did not mention whether he uses chemicals or not, but you have to admire his tenacity. He uses tons of hives and weeds out the weak, making a great stock for his neck of the woods. If I lived up there, I’d get all of my bees from him. And that’s his goal. Folks up there should start getting their bees from him and from each other, effectively spreading survivor genes throughout the region and eventually (a tertiary goal that he mentions) leading to feral bees again. To be fair, he jammed a 6 hour lesson into 2 hours, so I probably missed a lot of the meat. I will take the full course from him in the future.

On a few points, I believe he is mistaken. The biggest is the African Honey Bee. He points out that getting local hives will prevent the spread of this bee to our region. I am here to say that AHB is coming and will be here, no matter what mankind does. The new Honey Bee pest in Australia will eventually get here as well, no matter what mankind does. Mother Nature rules, but we still fight it. As mentioned in previous posts, I believe that the future of our bee (the European) will hinge on the African strain (and the Russian strain and many others.) They will need the best traits of the mix to  make it in this rough world!

1 comment to Sustainable Beekeeping and More Early Blooms

  • David Stover

    I’ve also noticed that the Red Maples are blooming about two weeks early this year here in the city. Hopefully we will not have a deep freeze later this month. Bees in all hives are bringing in boat loads of pollen the last few days. I’m really trying not to feed this spring and see what happens. I did put fondant in most hives back in February as they were almost void of capped honey, but no more. They’re on their own!


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