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.

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.