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Beginner Lessons in Feeding Hives Sugar Syrup

We have been blessed this spring with our hive count having increased by 900%. We began this year with essentially one hive when our second one didn’t make it through winter. That hive split into two and swarmed once. The swarm got away. Each of the splits each swarmed once. We caught them. Two random swarms showed up at the house. We boxed them. We installed 1 package at the beginning of spring as well. We then purchased a queen from a fellow beekeeper at the NCSBA Summer Meeting who won it as a door prize. We’re up to nine hives now. Completely amazing! This is exactly what we wanted. We want to get our hive count up to around 20-25. Thank the Lord.

The original hive has been struggling. After all the splits and swarms, I believe they went queenless for a while. They raised another and she was beginning to lay. The package hive and one of the splits from the original hive were the strongest.

The Beeks in our local club were aware that most of our hives were new and weak. The advice we kept getting was feed, feed, and feed. We were reluctant to feed. We wanted to see if they could make it own their own. But, early in the spring here in NC we had heavy rains that have really messed with the pollen and nectar flows. So on Saturday July 11th, 2009 I decided to feed the bees. I fed five of the weakest hives. It was about 5:30 PM and HOT! We had to promptly leave town for a family cookout. The next day, Sunday afternoon, I looked out the window towards the hives as I do so often. I saw bees all over the place. I went outside quickly and there were bees all over 2 of the hives I had fed the day before. It kind of looked like when they’re swarming or a very busy orientation flight. I looked closer and saw lots of fighting. They were being robbed! I had no idea how to stop it. I suited up and put entrance reducers on all the hives. I called a more experienced beekeeper and explained my plight. He headed right over. He took a look at everything and laughed a little. He said, “I’ve been where you are. In 5 years from now, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a call from someone asking for your help.” Ultimately, he took the strongest of the weak hives with him. It happened to be the ones that were being robbed out the most. He also told me that putting the entrance reducers on was the right thing to do. Our first hive that was struggling so hard to recover got frustrated and swarmed to an Oak branch nearby.

The robbing didn’t stop after he left. The robbers proceeded to the other hives with feeders. I was still at a loss for what to do. We were scheduled to leave town for a break that day as well. Finally I decided to pull the feeders from two of the other hives that were being robbed. That taken care of we packed up and took our new queen along with some frames of brood, pollen, and honey from a very productive hive to a new location for installation. Don’t forget there is still a swarm from a weak hive hanging out on a branch. But we left town, anyway, frustrated and somewhat defeated. We figured we would just let nature take it’s course.

Vacation was nice and I didn’t think about the bees much at all. On the way home we checked on the new queen. They had freed her but we are not sure if she lived or not. More to follow on that in a later post. After we arrived home and unpacked I took a walk around the property to check everything out. To my surprise the swarm was still hanging out on the Oak. I picked up a nuc and was able to retrieve them. The next day I moved the two strongest hives that were doing all the robbing to a new location in a different county. This would allow us to continue to feed all the weak hives with little fear of a repeat robbing event. We’re also not taking any honey off this year due to the low flow and the fact that are hives are weak. We want them to have as much food as possible going into the winter. With any help we’ll make it through to spring with what we have now. In which case the idea is to split them and we’ll be roughly around our desired 20 hives. That’s the plan anyway.

The lessons here were this. Be careful when feeding weak hives in the presence of strong hives. As the experienced beekeeper said, “Feed as close to dark as possible.” We have really had an awesome spring in only our second year of keeping bees. What happened that Sunday was a real shame and was so discouraging I was ready to throw in the towel. But with the help of an experienced beekeeper and some understanding family that have allowed our apiary to expand onto their properties we’re sticking with it. Always remember that bees are insects. They behave the way that God programmed them to behave. They are not malicious to the beekeeper. If there is a supply of weakly guarded food they will exhaust it till it’s gone and stored up in their hive. At first I was upset with the two stronger hives. But, honestly, that is what I want from a hive. Survivors. Strength. Growth. Population. They looked good. But I can’t have them here with so many weak colonies. It can be frustrating sometimes. But for me, working through it and finding the lesson is the reward. I love to learn. That is why I got into beekeeping. I wanted to learn something new. There is one more lesson. All the advice we received about feeding from all the other beekeepers should have had a disclaimer that we didn’t find out about until it was too late. Feed as close to dusk as possible.

With the two strong hives gone we have begun feeding the weak hives again and I’m happy to report minimal to no robbing. There’s a little fighting but no more than normal. I filled the feeders at dusk and was careful not to spill any. So far so good. We’ll see in a few months if it’ll all pay off or not.

If you’re a new beek also, or have a story you’d like to share please leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

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2009 North Carolina Summer Meeting

The Beekeepers of Wilkes County will be hosting the NC State Beekeepers Association 2009 Summer Meeting. It will be held at the John A. Walker Community Center from July 9 through July 11, 2009. The meeting begins at 1:00 pm on Thursday and ends at 12:00 pm on Saturday. For the official agenda for the meeting or to register please visit

There will be many important topics discussed, including one of the largest threats to the honey bee, the varroa mite. Varroa mites infest the hive and attach themselves to the honey bees weakening them by sucking hemolymph from them also passing viruses such as deformed wing virus. The mites can be treated by using different chemical treatments and also non-chemical treatments will which will be discussed at the meeting.

Many experts from North Carolina will be holding workshops at the meeting. These workshops will be very informative and interactive. Some of the topics are Using your Own Wax for Foundation, Reducing Honey Bee Stress, Natural Queen Rearing, and Beeswax Candles and Other Wax Works. There will also be a tour of Perry Lowe’s Apple Orchard, Lithia Springs Vineyard, and one of the largest beekeeping equipment suppliers located right here in Wilkes County, Brushy Mountain Bee Farm.

Every beekeeper likes to show off their honey and they want everyone to taste it as well. For those beekeepers there is a honey competition including not only just the honey but beeswax, mead and photography. There is also a cooking with honey competition to show off your culinary skills using honey as the sweetener. Speaking of food, there is an awards banquet on Friday evening that is sponsored by and will be located at Brushy Mountain Bee Farm. There will be a chicken and beef BBQ, bluegrass entertainment and the awards presentations.

Each person that attends the meeting will be given a goodie bag when they visit the registration table. Local businesses that donated items for the goodie bags were:, Wilkes Chamber of Commerce, Elite Insurance, Miller Bee Supply, Wilkes Telecommunications, W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir, Parkdale Mills, Sonic, and Blue Ridge Parkway Association. Attendees will also be entered into door prize drawings. There are some great door prizes that were donated by: Busy Bee Apiaries, Miller Bee Supply, Shurtape, W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir, Dadant, Mann Lake, Key City Grille, YMCA, and the John A. Walker Community Center. A silent auction will take place in the ballroom of the Walker Center. Many items have been donated including a complete hive and a small extractor. If you’re looking for new equipment or just want to check out some different styles of equipment there will be many beekeeping vendors on site for you to browse and ask questions of.

There is also a Master Beekeeping program that is sponsored by NC State University, NC State Beekeepers Association, and the NC Dept. of Agriculture. North Carolina’s program is the oldest, continuously active, Master Beekeeper program in the U.S. There are four levels in the program, Certified Beekeeper, Journeyman Beekeeper, Master Beekeeper, and Master Craftsman Beekeeper. In order to achieve one of these statuses you must pass a written test, practical test, have a certain number of years experience, and acquire a certain number of public service credits. Each level has different requirements. Testing will be going on Thursday and Friday at the Summer Meeting. Wilkes County has our very own Master Craftsman Beekeeper, Howard Blackburn. He has been a Master Craftsman for many years now and is always helpful and full of invaluable information from years of experience with beekeeping.

With so much happening at this years NC Summer Meeting you would really benefit from attending. There will be information, discussions, and networking available for all levels of beekeepers. Comradery is an important part of beekeeping as well, since there is no right or wrong way to keep bees everyone can benefit from discussing and sharing experiences with one another.

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The Life Cycle of a Queen Honey Bee

One of the topics beginner beekeepers find helpful and educational is the life cycle of the queen honey bee. Each bee’s role is very important to the survival of a hive, from the nurses, workers, and drones, but there’s just something about the queen. So here’s her story.

A fertilized egg is laid by either a queen or a laying worker (will make a post later on laying workers). The egg is laid vertical in the cell, parallel to the cell walls. The cell that the queen’s egg is laid in is special and is called; yep you guess it, a queen cell. These cells are shaped different from any other cell. The bees draw this cell out and down so it’s shaped like a long upside-down cup.

On day 2 the egg begins to move and is now at a 45 degree angle in the cell. Day 3 the egg is horizontal, lying on the bottom of the cell. The queen is an egg for 3 days, then it hatches and becomes a larvae From day 4 through 8 the queen larva is fed royal jelly by the workers. Only the queen larva is fed royal jelly. Each day the larva molts and by day 8 the size has expanded to fill the cell. Then the cell is sealed. The larva is now pro-pupa for 2 days, spins a cocoon, and molts one time 3 days after the cell is sealed. Now the queen is a pupa for 6 days and her color changes from white to her golden brown and black colors. The pupa molts one more time just before the queen emerges from the cell on day 16.

So, the day that the queen emerges from her cell she then goes hunting for other possible queens still inside their cells. She calls out to them by making an interesting sound. They reply to her so she can find them and kill them. She wants to make sure she’s the only queen in this hive! After that she takes her orientation flights from days 3 through 5. In her first three week she takes her mating flight(s) It may take more than one for her to become completely inseminated. When she is mated she will begin laying eggs 2 to 4 days after that.

The queen honey bee also produces pheromones to inform the colony of her presence so they will stop trying to raise a new queen.

A new queen will be reared if the current queen is old, dies, or is removed from the hive.

I was able to find a helpful timeline at

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It's Sourwood Time

We are located in the foothills of North Carolina and one of the most desired types of honey is Sourwood. The Sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) is most common to the lower chain of the Appalachian Mountains and can be found anywhere from Pennsylvania to Florida. The tree can grow from 40 to 65 feet tall and has dark green leaves in the summer that turn to a bright red in the fall. The flowers form in clusters and are a white, bell-shape that bloom in late June through about the third week of July. The honey that the bees make from Sourwood nectar doesn’t actually have a sour flavor, but the flavor is very distinctive and the aftertaste to me, has sort of a twang to it. Sourwood honey has a light amber color that is easily recognized.

The Sourwood honey flow only lasts a short period and if the weather and other factors have not been favorable the flow will not be as productive as hoped for by many beekeepers. Since this type of honey is so sought after in our area it sells very quickly and is usually sold for a premium.

Since our hives are fairly new this year, we are not counting on a Sourwood honey flow for profit. We are hoping that our bees will be able to store enough honey to get them all through the winter. It would be a nice benefit if we were able to take a little for ourselves, but I’m not counting on it. It is much more important for the hives to survive the winter months.

Every region in the US is different. Do you have a special type of honey in your area that is more desirable than other types? If so, please leave a comment about the type of honey and when the flow usually occurs. We’d all be interested in hearing about your prized honey!

More references on Sourwood Honey:

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