Tuning out...to tune in
These are the days beekeepers live for. Get in there and live the experience…including the stings. And, while you're at it…share the love with your friends.
Bee time is the time to put away your phone. (Except for taking photos of your bees for note taking, including closer discernment of enlarged photos out of bright daylight).
Put aside making plans for dinner. Forget the emails you haven’t answered. Suspend the rush of a busy life…and BEE.
Pay attention to the initial observations of the colony activity from outside the hive, both at the entrance and if you have an observation board under the hive. These are “windows” into the hive that can inform your concerns, or provide clues to colony health and queen viability.
Have equipment at the ready, and a purpose for your visit. Dive in with an open heart.
When you open that hive box, you have just introduced your energy into the inner being of the colony. You have changed the temperature and humidity. The sounds and smells become a shared sensation. Consider, and appreciate, all of this…
Dynamics will be different in each hive. One hive can be brimming with abundance, and the hive next to it may need to be fed. Act upon your observations, not your assumptions. What a blessing to have an “excuse” to live in the moment. Think Zen Master meets Ecological Biologist.
The adrenaline of new beekeepers will always feel edgy. Breathe through the newness to a sense of calm and wonder. It will take time. Seasoned beekeepers will keep learning if they can retain that sense of newness, curiosity, and wonder. Every day, I feel blessed to be a beekeeper, even when it hurts.
Summer Beekeeping Tasks
Comb Building Slows
Shuffle frames into brood nest with empty worker-sized cells if congested. Allow empty built comb in honey supers to remain, if you expect a fall flow. Start to tighten up hives in mid-September.
Protect Hives Against Robbing
Protect honey supers from robbing interest while working in brood area. Keeping supers dark and quiet will help.
Protect against Wax Moths and Small Hive Beetles
Wax moths and Small Hive Beetles can begin to be a problem in late June. Be careful with reserved comb, especially with stored pollen.
Monitor and Treat for Mites
Monitor and treat for mites. Late July/early August is a critical time to kick back the mite population, before winter brood is being raised.
Watch for Summer Dearth
Lack of nectar will impact brood production. Consider feeding if brood nest is dry.
The Power of Sunlight
The tilt of our earth in orbit offers us long hours of daylight during these bountiful summer months. Foragers are out working early on warm mornings, and many are on their final trips back as the twilight slips into darkness. The strength of the sun, and heat, concentrates the sugar in plant nectar, and calls it up into the nectaries for offering, as pollinators sip and suck.
The sun is also a great ally to beekeepers who can use the powerful UV rays to help sanitize beekeeping equipment. Honey bees are remarkably hygienic, and create propolis to aid in the efforts, however the insides of hives can harbor all sorts of pathogens over time, including the dreaded American Foulbrood, with spores that can reside in woodenware for years.
"The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.” Galileo Galilei
I have developed the habit of scrubbing with steel wool, sunning for a day or two, and applying a propolis stain on the inside of my hive bodies and supers before they are put back into use. It is a tedious task, however it suits my reasoning mind.
Propolis stain, as per research by Michael Simone-Finstrom and Marla Spivak, is made with 70% isopropyl alcohol, 50/50 ratio. Let sit for a minimum of 8 hours and rub on inside of woodenware with a rag for the medicinal qualities.
Solar Radiation: What is it and how can it be used to help my bees?
Solar radiation includes visible light, ultraviolet light, infrared, radio waves, X-rays, and gamma rays, all of which are forms of electromagnetic radiation reaching earth from the sun. The shorter wave lengths of UV and Gamma Rays are the most effective for disinfecting and disarming pathogens. “Gamma rays have the shortest wavelength of electromagnetic waves. Notable artificial sources of gamma rays include fission, such as that which occurs in nuclear reactors." (Wikipedia)
Gamma irradiation is used for medical equipment sterilization, and is also utilized with food products. Some states, including Pennsylvania, have set up irradiation programs for beekeepers to bring in their used equipment for a blast of Gamma Rays.
“Irradiation is a sterilization procedure that kills microorganisms present on the equipment using gamma radiation powered by Cobalt-60, which penetrate bacteria cells and kills them by breaking down their DNA. Although irradiation can be expensive, it is commonly used by many beekeepers to prevent an array of bee diseases including American foulbrood, European foulbrood, chalkbrood, stonebrood, and nosema.” Lopez-Uribe Lab, Penn State
Research is still being conducted on the efficacy of irradiation programs for beekeepers.
A month on either side of the summer solstice will provide the strongest solar radiation, since the sun is directly overhead and has less refraction through the atmosphere.
With dedication and elbow grease, I can harness the power of the sun in my own yard to help the health of my honey bees. Ice cream and some peace of mind are my rewards.
Sterilize your Hive: Gamma Irradiation with Tim Ferris. Philly Bee Guild, Feb 22, 2022
To feed...or not to feed?
Before this question can be answered, other questions will come into play. Since nectar provides the colony’s carbohydrates for brood rearing, comb building and honey production, consider where we are in the season, the age of the work force in the hive, and the kind of season it is, such as too much rain or too little. When there is a dearth of nectar feeding is an important option for the health of colonies. I choose not to feed high-fructose corn syrup, nor a straight sugar/water combination. I follow a recipe that in Biodynamics is called “Bee Tea,” offering my bees carbohydrates emulating nectar.
General thoughts on spring thru mid-summer feeding are that you want bees to use the “nectar” not store it. Packages of bees and nucs/splits that may be light on foragers, will benefit from feeding, however you don’t want to fill up the brood nest.
Late-summer into fall feeding is often to boost the stored “honey” for winter. Feeding heavy and fast with thicker sugar ratio, allowing time for curing, is key to augment the winter supply. Generally, I try not to feed past mid-October.
Inspecting your bees is the next path of empirical questioning.
When you open a hive in good stead, each bee will have a task. There is a pleasant hum and rhythm. If the bees are running around at a frantic pitch the colony could be queenless, or perhaps there is a dearth affecting brood production. Only a deep inspection will provide clues to answers.
Last summer, I was inspecting my apiary at the end of July, since I consider this a critical time to check in and treat for mites. Across the board, I found the brood was “dry” and the bees were stressed.
I marked the supers that were full from early flows, and then fed 50/50 formula for a couple of weeks. All hives came beautifully back into good rhythm.
Basic Bee Tea Recipe
Steep in a large mug, one bag each of chamomile and dandelion root tea. Refrigerate or freeze unused portion.
Boil water, with some dried thyme and a dash of sea salt. Allow to boil for five minutes to draw out the thyme essence and sanitize water.
Turn off heat and stir in cane sugar, until dissolved. Add 1/2 cup of the steeped tea, per gallon of boiled water/sugar.
Spring thru early September, make 50/50 water-sugar formula. If feeding to augment winter supply, feed 1 part water to 2 parts sugar from mid-September to mid-October, as needed.
If you are not feeding all of your hives at the same time, protect weak hives against robbing pressure. Consider feeding internally, plus keep entrances tight.
If Yellowjackets are encroaching, make Yellowjacket traps or leave beer bottles around the apiary, with one swig remaining. Your neighbors may wonder about your drinking habits, but you will certainly drown some pests.
Enjoy the abundance of the season!
Place a comfortable seat near your hives to enjoy the sight of sunlight on their wings, and the smell of warm honey and beeswax.
Casually watching your hives, while sipping coffee in the morning or beer in the evening, is a unique pleasure.
Citations & Links
Gamma irradiation for beekeepers. López-Uribe Lab. (2020, January 20). https://lopezuribelab.com/2018/02/14/gamma-irradiation-beekeepers/
Tim Ferris, Philly Bee Guild. (2022). YouTube. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glLrTrYPlLw.
Fondriest Environmental, Inc.. Fondriest Environmental. (n.d.). https://www.fondriest.com/
Simone-Finstrom M, Borba RS, Wilson M, Spivak M. Propolis Counteracts Some Threats to Honey Bee Health. Insects. 2017 Apr 29;8(2):46. doi: 10.3390/insects8020046. PMID: 28468244; PMCID: PMC5492060.
About the Author:
Grai St. Clair Rice
Grai has been a beekeeping educator since 2006. She teaches beekeeping classes, coaches beekeepers, does public presentations, writes about Honeybees and gardening for pollinators, and consults on landscape plantings.