THE BEE WHISPERER

If you see a swarm, think about calling someone to save precious bees

Bees swarm on the blueberry barrens of Down East Maine.
Peter Cowin
Bees swarm on the blueberry barrens of Down East Maine.
Posted Aug. 27, 2014, at 2:28 p.m.
Peter Cowin.
BDN File Photo
Peter Cowin.

This time last year the goldenrod honey flow was quite spectacular. I wouldn’t say we’ve reached those levels this year but the hot spell this week could change all that.

You certainly can smell the bees working on the goldenrod pollen and nectar each afternoon and evening. It’s quite a distinctive, funky smell yet the honey itself does not seem to reflect this. Perhaps it’s the pollen generating the smell from the hives.

Whatever it is, it’s a very good sign. The four weeks from about July 20 to Aug. 18 were lean ones for the bees. Most hives probably lost 20 to 30 pounds in weight. Now they are regaining it and stores of honey and pollen are being restored for winter, and hopefully a bit extra for the beekeeper.

The sudden turnaround in forage availability has some hives starting to swarm again. A swarm at this time of year is really bad for the bees and the beekeeper. If the swarm is not captured it certainly will starve to death in the coming months. There is no time for them to build comb, build up brood and store adequate food supplies to last more than a month or two. It is imperative that these late swarms are captured by a beekeeper.

They can be housed in fully built nucleus hives along with several combs of honey or they can be introduced to weak hives which do not look strong enough to make it. The combined strength of the two can make all the difference.

If you see a swarm, please call me at the number listed below or go to mainebeekeepers.org and report it.

Over the summer I have been called out to remove quite a few colonies from the walls of houses. Some of the latest relocations were from the roof of Las Palapas Mexican restaurant near the Bangor Mall and from a beautiful old home in Deer Isle.

Unlike removing a yellow jacket nest (for which I get dozens of calls) the relocation of a honeybee colony is for some an almost spiritual experience. The homeowner is often amazed at the intricacy of the colony construction and totally taken aback by the sheer number of honeybees working together as one superorganism. Though there is some cost involved there is also the knowledge that the decision to relocate rather than spray has saved the lives of not just those tens of thousands of honeybees but the millions they will give rise to in subsequent years.

My hives are getting treated for mites right now. This year I am using “Mite-away-quick-strips,” which are basically a neat way of dosing the hives with formic acid, the same stuff ants use to defend themselves. Honeybees need help to rid themselves of parasitic mites called Varroa destructor. These mites attack the larvae and suck their blood. The bite also introduces bacteria and viruses which between them will kill the hives, usually within a year.

It’s quite surprising how the reaction to the introduction of these patties of formic acid varies from hive to hive. Some appear to go about their normal business while others mass up on the outer surface of the hive seeking to avoid the fumes.

It is a harsh treatment. Many exposed larvae are killed by the fumes and are carried out of the hives by the worker bees. Even the grass outside the hives is burned brown by the fumes as the bees fan it out of the hive. This is all, however, a price worth paying, as within three to four days the bees are busy rebuilding the brood which all will grow up healthy as 90 percent to 98 percent of the mites have been killed off.

The colonies will need lots of healthy brood to grow into strong young bees as these are the bees that will have to survive a long, cold Maine winter.

We are now closing in on the big beekeeping event of the fall as the Penobscot County Beekeeping Association will host the Maine State Beekeepers Association’s annual meeting. Our keynote speaker will be Dewey Caron of the University of Delaware. There will be a number of other speakers as well as vendors and a huge raffle assortment.

This is the first time the meeting has been held this far north and east so it’s a great opportunity to attend. The meeting is open only to members of the Maine State Beekeepers Association, so if you are interested in coming along you can sign up to join the group and to attend the meeting at www.mainebeekeepers.org

My Beekeeping for Beginners and Intermediate Beekeeping classes will start in Bangor, Newport and Bucksport Adult Education the week of Sept. 8. I also will be giving classes in Bangor, Hampden and Mount Desert Island from the week of Oct. 20. Places can be booked with those adult education organizations by phone or online.

Peter Cowin, aka The Bee Whisperer, is president of the Penobscot County Beekeepers Association. His activities include honey production, pollination services, beekeeping lessons, sales of bees and bee equipment and the removal of feral bee hives from homes and other structures. Check out “The Bee Whisperer” on Facebook, email petercowin@tds.net or call 207-299-6948.

 

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