First Spring Check on the Beehives Coming Out of Winter

Last weekend it was reasonably nice with temperatures creeping into the 60s with gusty winds. It was not the ideal time to check on the bees, but it was close enough and aligned with a break in my schedule.

I didn’t plan on doing a full inspection just yet but I did plan to get in enough to make sure the hives were even still alive. As a first year beekeeper without a mentor, I certainly did everything I read and gleaned from forums to ensure winter survival. Yet being realistic…I wasn’t sure it was enough.

The weaker hive from last year had about 14 frames of stores going into winter where the stronger hive had 18. I left each hive a half pound of sugar atop newspaper on top of the frames to provide winter snacks. Others use fondant or sugar cakes which I find to be an unnecessary use of time and energy. All forms of dry sugar are consumed by bees solely for immediate nourishment whether it is plain old granulated sugar or if it been processed into something else.

This “weak” hive was literally buzzing with activity as I approached. Upon opening the hive, most of the sugar remained untouched by the bees. However a few small hive beetles scurried from the light. In large numbers in a weak hive, these beetles could be a problem. Otherwise a healthy colony will deal with them just fine on their own. The main cluster of bees was spread across the bottom half of 3 frames in the upper super. No cause of concern was found so I moved onto the next hive.

My “stronger” hive was alarming even from a distance. No bees were flying in or out and there was not a single guard out front. Opening the hive caused nothing in the way of the anticipated buzzing sound and revealed entirely consumed sugar that was left for winter snacking. Uh-oh!

Turned out the bees were just cold which makes sense as the siting of this hive does provide much early day spring sun. The cluster was small and confined to either side of a single frame. My strong hive, while alive and seemingly happy, has fallen behind the previously weaker hive!

All that was done to either colony was adding the hive top feeder with 2 gallons of syrup and removal of the insulating hive wrap. Next chance I get I will return to remove the entrance reducers which I held off due to the weather forecast. Today strong gusts, snow flurries and near freezing temperatures shows that was a good decision, and if any syrup remains unconsumed, the decision to feed might not have been a good one.

Now my main concern is catching the building of queen cells, and spliting those frames to a Nuc the day that the bees cap those cells all in an attempt to simulate swarming. Time to buy and paint some nuc hives!

Bees, GIS Planning, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Trees for Bees 6: GIS Map and honorable mention

Other posts in this series:

Trees for Bees introduction

Trees for Bees 2: Planning

Trees for Bees 3: Sumac

Trees for Bees 4: Sourwood

Trees for Bees 5 : Basswood


You may notice one species mentioned in the first post is absent: Liriodendron tulipifera aka Tulip Poplar.

“Liriodendron tulipifera tulip close” by Dcrjsr – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons –

This species is an abundant nectar producer early in the season helping colonies build up food stores and population numbers. While other bee gardeners are full encouraged to consider this tree, it will not be planted on the farm for a few reasons. Tulip poplars require loose, fertile soils as their roots systems are small, fleshy, soft and to put it succinctly: weak. It is also susceptible to numerous pests and diseases. Combining these attributes with its huge form and full sun requirements, the decision was made to plant the more valuable (regarding bees) Basswood in the vacant locations despite the beautiful blooms that resemble tulips, thus the common name.

Final Plans and Map

Putting everything together, there will be sumacs planted on the hill that raises the farm entrance from the pasture as well as below the powerlines. Sourwoods will be planted between the farm entrance track and the main road as well as along the fenceline in the pasture. Lastly, Basswoods will occupy the areas where they have room to spread.

Note: I apologize for the low res imagery. It is used for faster processing as well as the only aerial image saved offline for when I work on maps at the farm where my cellular data is the only access to internet!

That concludes this series…I hope you aren’t sick of bee talk!


First bee betrayal

I got arrogant. Four months of beekeeping had not yielded a single sting with no attempt even being made at trying to penetrate my protective clothing. Why would I need smoke or veil or jacket or gloves just to snug the frames together quickly?

With the lid removed and one hand set to remove the inner cover, my days without incident reset from infinity to zero.

Turns out that three consecutive days approaching 100 degrees fahrenheit not only makes people grumpy, but honeybees as well.


I get stung frequently unrelated to beekeeping mostly owing to my immense joy in going barefoot when not actively engaged in some activity that requires shod feet. Most of those activities involve walking on turf containing white clover. Stings themselves are completely devoid of pain. The initial sting still sends the subconscious alarm signal that screams “THIS SENSATION IS NOT NORMAL” and sets off the surge of adrenaline that initiates the flight response. When the stinger is removed promptly, the venom only causes 30-90 seconds of mild soreness.

One of my ladies got me square in the elbow. Partly due to the aforementioned arrogance and partly due to recognizing a valuable learning opportunity, I left the stinger in to show my friend how to properly remove it once we had retreated to a safe distance. Scraping sideways with a fingernail is the proper method avoid injecting the remaining venom in the eviscerated venom sac that is ripped from the bee’s organs resulting it is Kamikaze like death.

The result: 2 days feeling like I chipped my elbow bone. Instead of sunlight being my morning alarm, it was the pain from rolling over onto my elbow due to the habit of side-sleeping that multiple shoulder surgeries instilled.

Lesson learned: Use smoke and wear protection! I was lucky to escape with stings only on my arms and torso while my unveiled face eluded the wrath of my hive.


Virginia Beekeeping Legalities: Good!

Learning that my state offers a grant program to encourage new hives and beekeepers, I assumed the state would share friendly beekeeping laws. However state code § 3.2-4403. Duties of beekeepers caught me off guard. Specifically:

Beekeepers shall:

1. Provide movable frames with combs or foundation in all hives used by them to contain bees, except for short periods, not to exceed the first spring honey flow, and to cause the bees in such hives to construct brood combs in such frames so that any of the frames may be removed from the hive without injuring other combs in such hive;

As raccoon, opossum, mice and skunks are part of the natural ecosystem of my farm, I had been planning to utilize Top Bar Hives as I feel they provide the best intruder-free bee habitat opposed to Langstroth Hives people most associate with beekeeping. However that State code I included above made me wonder if the top bars in my hive design are considered “moveable frames”.

A quick call to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services put me in touch with a extremely knowledgeable individual in Mr. Keith Tignor. In the span of 4 minutes he explained in great but easy to digest detail the law, how to design a top bar to fit into the law, the reason the law exists (protect the hive from damage when inspecting for disease), and how to utilize the state grant program.

All I need to do is design my hive so that brood comb can be removed without damaging it. Furthermore, this lets me build my own hives from wood milled on farm which preserves the grant funds for other beekeepers!

It was a win-win-win for everyone involved.


Siting the First Beehive

An unintended use for the LiDAR data has been made apparent. During my research for beginning beekeeping, I found the consensus among beekeepers was to locate hives where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade. I have not found a scientific source for this so I won’t go into the justifications just yet.

Using the LiDAR data in GIS software, I can create hillshades that show where sun reaches the ground at various points in the day as well as aspect maps. Aspect is the direction the land faces. Using hillshades and verifying with aspect, I found a good spot for the first hive plus solid locations for other hives!

Morning Sun:


Afternoon Sun:


Aspect Map with 3D Trees


Note that the trees will cast shadows to the NorthEast in the afternoons!

For the initial hive, I chose a small, SouthEast facing clearing in the woods. The sun exposure factors are correct and they will have peace from livestock, laboring farmer and equipment back in the forest. My plan is to grow a perennial, spring food plot in the clearing to give nursing Doe nutrition for their fawns. Clover and Chicory will be the most likely seed (and the only seed I will plant outside of gardens) so hopefully the bees can find enough food year-round with the forest, pasture, vegetable gardens and food plots!

Decision is made!