Welcome to Oak Orchard Honey

We are a small beekeeping operation a short bike ride from the shore of Lake Ontario. Our hives are located in the heart of an old growth apple orchard planted by Ed Archbald back in the 1920s. A variety of apple trees were planted nearby in the 1990s that our bees visit, and we also have enough meadow with wild flowers to supply them with nectar and pollen through much of the season.

We are in the process of collectin feral bees and regressing our present bees back to the cell size of 4.9 mm. Cell size has been artificially increased since 1890s, and some members of the beekeeping community attribute many of today's bee health problems with this increased cell size.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bee Audio and Video

Picture of the sun this morning.

School is almost over for the year. On June 24 all the paperwork for the year has to be handed in by 11:00 a.m. and I can walk out the door.

In the next couple weeks I have two trap-outs I'm going to try for the first time. I've read the blog posts, looked at pictures, and watched the videos. One of the colonies is in a tree that is up pretty high in a tree, so I'm going to get a travel-lift from my brother to reach that one. The other is in an inaccessible area of an old house that is the grandmother's home of a teacher I work with. I should get some interesting posts on my blog from those situations. Not too interesting - I hope.

About two weeks ago the catalpa blossoms emerged, but I really haven't seen any real honeybee activity on any of the blossoms. June 5 was the first day that I noticed them, which seems earlier than last year. I think I posted the bloom date on the BeeSource forum last June after school was out.

Thanks to my friend over at Poemfarm.blogspot for the heads-up on the NPR podcast below.

Music from the NPR podcast "Honeybee" by Zee Avi


Backyard beekeeping is hot and cool at the same time — part environmental, part epicurean. A meditation on buzzing beauty. A path to nature, and to sweet pots of honey.

Maybe there’s a hive in your back lot, or a honeycomb fresh on your kitchen table.

This Hour, On Point: we’re catching up with America’s new wave of backyard beekeepers.

-Tom Ashbrook

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Just Keeping Up

The end of the school year is coming up fast. For me this is always a mad dash to the finish. I've got projects that students have started that need to be wrapped-up, and bookkeeping that needs to be entered...

I've got a picture of my new method of protecting my ankles with my bootlaces that works very well and makes me look a lot like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. If I only had a brain...

Last weekend I was picking up a piano that was a Mother's Day gift when my "A" hive swarmed. My wife was out in the backyard when it happened and she told me it was amazing. By the time I went out to see where they were - it was too late. They had left the area to parts unknown.

Yesterday I went out to my $300 beekeeping shop (well-beaten travel trailer) got my tools ready and headed down the hill to see what had happened. Luckily for me Matt, a local beekeeper showed up just as I was struggling to light my smoker. After a lesson on how to make fire we walked the path back to the hives. We took a look at my "B" hive that used to bee the weaker of the two, but now is going strong. I had added four foundationless frames the week before to replace the four shallow frames I had mistakenly added at the end of last season. That had created a kind of mess because the bees had added a lot of bur comb in the large space I had created - steep learning curve for me at times. The foundationless frames were built up very well in just a week. I was amazed at how fast the bees were able to build the comb and fill it with honey. Matt was curious as to why I was adding foundationless frames, and I had a hard time articulating my reason. I would like to have the bees slowly regress back to natural cell size because of the information that has shown the ability for natural size bees to fight off varrroa better.
I'll have to wait and see if that makes sense for me. The newly drawn comb was filled with honey, but it was definitely large drone comb, not small worker cells. I'm not sure if the bees will reach a point were they have built enough drone comb to revert back to smaller cells or not. I was warned that this done cell building would happen by Joe Caton at BeeManDirect. Now I see that it most definitely happens. The bees in hive "B" looked great and all was well.

I took a look into hive "A" that had swarmed and found that I had no real build-up of comb in a medium super I had added just before the swarm. The two other mediums that had over-wintered on the hive were filled with capped honey. The brood box was empty of all brood and no queen cells were built. This was alarming. I thought I would find that they had started their new queen, but there was no indication this was happening and with no eggs, couldn't ever happen. Today I am going to order a queen, or put a frame of freshly laid eggs in the "A" hive from the strong "B" hive along with a saw-tooth cut foundation to let them begin the process of building a queen cells.
I'm going to have another cup of coffee and think about what I want to do.

This bottom picture was taken with my iPhone camera. I had to use a magnifying glass along with the camera to focus on the bee. Not really easy to do, but it turned out pretty good. A stationary object would be a piece of cake...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Michael Bush on Queen Rearing

It's really cool to finally get to hear Michael Bush speaking after reading so much from him on bushfarms.com. I thought I would give this video a place to live on my blog so I can come back and listen any time I like. I'm not sure when-and-if I will ever get to the point of raising my own queens, but life is an exciting journey and one never knows. (PowerPoint slide link)

Today was very windy, so I never got a chance to look inside the hives to see how things are progressing. I did add medium supers about a week ago because both hives looked as though they have a lot of capped honey in the top medium and they were running out of room. When I got home one day this week I slid the cover back to see if they were building comb, and I could see that they were - that's always exciting. I've ordered six more mediums and frames from my friend Joe Caton at BeeManDirect.com along with some other things - like a bee brush. Ive been grabbing handfuls of grass to sweep the bees away at times, but grass tends to get stuck to propolis and make a mess. I'm slowly gathering the knowledge and tools to allow me to be successful.

I don't have a water source that is very close to the hives, I see the bees landing in my kid's backyard assortment of toys that hold water. So, I am thinking of taking a carboy and inverting it into a large pan with gravel. Once the level of water is stable in the pan I'll add the gravel so that there is ample landing area for bees without the chance of drowning. If I can get this to work properly I'll post some pictures.

I am going to try and get my technology department to unblock my blog so I can share it with my fifth grade students. I really think that blogging, or journaling helps you to reflect on how much you understand about a topic. And, as far as beekeeping, I've got a lot to learn.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

34 Million Years

So, 34 million years seems like a long time... It's pretty amazing to be working around insects that have been doing what they do for so long.

From Wikipedia:

Honey bees represent only a small fraction of the approximately 20,000 known species of bees. Some other types of related bees produce and store honey, but only members of the genus Apis are true honey bees.

The first Apis bees appear in the fossil record at the Eocene-Oligocene (around 34 million years ago) boundary, in European deposits The origin of these prehistoric honey bees does not necessarily indicate that Europe is where the genus originated, only that it occurred there at that time. There are few known fossil deposits in the suspected region of honey bee origin, and fewer still have been thoroughly studied. There is only one fossil species documented from the New World, Apis nearctica, known from a single 14-million-year old specimen from Nevada.

Honey bees represent only a small fraction of the approximately 20,000 known species of bees.

A Brief History of Beekeeping (interesting reading)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Leaves on the Trees

Everywhere I look I see the beauty of an early spring in Upstate New
York. The only exception is for the catalpa trees. As I understand it,
the catalpa that grows here in this climate is the most northern
variety of a tropical species. Also, the name catalpa was writen in
error by an early botanist. The name originally being catawba after
the Native American tribe Catawba.

When the catalpas in this picture have leaves, I'll know warm weather
is here to stay. It will be interesting to see if the blossoms are a
big hit with the honey bees.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

iPhone Movie

This is a test to see if I can upload movies from my iPhone. I was out at sundown and tried a 15 second movie of the evenings's activities. Now I just have to figure out why it's sideways...

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Cold with a bit of snow today; kind of thought we were past all that.
I took some pictures of what is blooming in the yard so I could look
back next year and get an idea how early or late spring is.

The dandelions have just appeared in the past couple days. I've always
liked dandelions and felt that they are wildflower not a weed. I think
of a weed as one of those things with thorns that causes intense pain
when you step on it. Now that I have honey bees I feel like mowing all
those great flowers is not as easy as it used to be, especially when
bees are working them.

The catalpa trees have small buds and some are starting to open on
lower branches of the young trees. The older ones look as if it were
mid-winter, not any signs of life.

The cherry tree pictured here has bloomed within the past two days,
while the Bradford pear has been in full bloom for about the past five
or six days. A few honey bees were on the blooms in the late afternoon
when I got home the other day, but I never got to see if it was being
heavily visited during the rest of the day. Not sure if it is a good
source of nectare or not.

We will be out of the freezing temperatures by tomorrow and back into
the sixties by the middle of the week.

Friday, April 2, 2010


Things look active at both hives, but I won't see them for a week
because of vacation. I'm writing as we travel down 95 on our way to
Kure Beach. The forsythia and cherry trees are in full bloom as we
motor along the Virginia countryside. I'm looking to see if there are
honey bees on the blossoms, but haven't noticed any yet.
I have heard it said that spring travels north at about twenty miles
an hour. That puts flowers like the ones I'm looking at about twenty
days away. That's not too bad.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Unknown

I tell people I have a growing list of things I don't know. There is
really no way for a person to keep up with the information that
becomes available every minute of the day - it's a battle I have
conceded after years of self deprication. Now I'm happy with a general
working knowledge of a few concepts.

Beekeeping is a new world to me filled with ideas and knowledge
gathered by multitudes of observant people over the past hundred and
fifty years or so. It seems like such a peaceful past-time with roots
in an earlier days before corn syrup and fast-food. I can walk out to
the back corner of our big yard and go back in time, and slowly learn
information about honey bees that has been common knowledge for over a
hundred years, and yet for me it is the unknown.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Nostalgia and Archaism

Scientific Queen Rearing by Gilbert M. Doolittle, published in 1889,
is a wonderful story. One can sense the time and place in Doolittle's
writing and feel the tug of nostalgia for days-gone-by. And, even
though more than one-hundred years have past, Doolittle's outlook on
life and beekeeping seem to be what many of us are looking for in our
"modern" world.

It was very nice of Michael Bush to republish this work at: http://www.bushfarms.com/beesdoolittle.htm

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Making Sure

Things look good down at the two hives. The placement of the apiary
seemed to have worked out well this winter. Living at the top of one
of the highest spots around leaves our property exposed to the West
winds that blow across the open fields. I was able to locate the hives
on the lee side of a stand of sumacs, blocking the worst of the winds.
I was lucky on the first summer of beekeeping, the field that borders
our property to the East was all red clover. It will most likely be
field corn this summer, but it could be soybean and that would be great.
For now I'll keep feeding the bees until I see some signs that the
maple trees have bloomed. I've read that maples could be a good source
of nectar if the weather stays warm enough for the bees to fly.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Not so great

I can't expect too much from March. It looks like Saturday will be a
good day for bees and people, then the long haul to Wednesday.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

First Day of Spring

It's nice to be able to compare the rates of syrup being consumed by
the bees in both hives. They have both taken up half of a quart in
just over two hours. This is the first time I have cared for bees in
the waning weeks of winter. Now that spring is officially here this
blog will help me to chronical all the changes I see taking place in
and around the hives. All pictures and postings will be done in the
field with my ever-ready iPhone (recently identified as an addiction).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Start

A picture from July 2009, just starting out with two hives that I
purchased from Joe Caton of BeeMan Direct. I borrowed a 1950's
bulldozer from a friend to carve out this apiary in some sumac trees.

Today 3/17/10 - St. Patrick's Day was warm and both hives had consumed
a quart of 1:1 by late afternoon. I replenished both around 5:00 PM.
Sunny and mild, mid 50s, the bees were very active.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Feral Colony

The bees out in the back seem to be active. This catalpa tree is home
to the honey bees that got me interested in beekeeping last season.
After reading about the decimation of the wild bee population it
seemed like a perfect time to purchase some bees.
A fellow sailor and friend of mine in Toronto had talked to me several
years ago about becoming a beekeeper, and it always seemed like a
wonderful activity. With the purchase of an old farmhouse on a couple
acres of land the time was right.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Good Stuff

It warmed up today to about 56 - degrees and sunny all day. By 6:00 PM
the bees in hive "B", what I thought was the weaker hive going into
winter, had consumed a quart of 1:1. The stronger hive "A" (pictured
here) had dropped about half a quart. I refreshed B and left A alone
to see where they would be tomorrow.
Both hives seemed very active.

End of a Warm Day

Monday, March 15, 2010

Feeding the Bees

This week it cooled off and the bees were not as active as they had
been last week as temperatures reached the fifties for the first time
this year - it was time to start feeding the bees. Today it was in the
forties - I mixed a 1:1 syrup for the entrance feeders and expanded
the opening for the bees to about one and a half inches. When I placed
my ear against the hive and tapped the side I could hear the loud
buzzing from the clusters in both hives. I'm hoping this is a good sign.

Shoulders of Giants

I have two hives that I purchased at the beginning of summer 2009. I probably would not have these two hives if it weren't for the help and encouragement of Joe Caton of BeeMan Dirrect.

A little about Joe from his apiary supply store on the web:

E.J. Caton started his journey in beekeeping back in1963.His mentor was Amos Archer who taught him everything he knew until his passing in the early 70's. Early on Caton started thirsting for more when he began working his own hives, and went to the local libraries, and the local university's library seeking out anything he could find about Honeybees and about Beekeeping.

Years passed and his hive numbers expanded quickly as he and his father started seeking out places to go and things to buy. Buying out equipment from other old timer beekeepers such as hand crank extractor, tools, hives and anything that he could use. He even made his own observation hive, after reading about them in a monthly bee magazine he was receiving.

Years later his father was killed in a terrible, tragic accident by, not one, but three drunk drivers. Joe was a senior in High School when he lost his father.

Joe went on to college and met a woman he married and one year later started a family. His Beekeeping days were put on hold until his girls were grown and on their own. Now he is back and is enjoying his first love,
and he loves to share this love for nature and his honeybees, with others, and with you.

E.J. Caton's business is located in Seneca, PA
Email: beeman@beemandirect.com