Snohomish is the home to the Northwest District Beekeepers Association and with such a convenient local resource on hand, we signed right up. Their monthly meetings are scheduled for the 2nd Tuesday of the month, so our first attendance was on June 9th. The meeting is held at a local church. There were so many cars in the parking lot that we thought there must have been multiple activities happening at the church. We didn’t imagine that all the cars belonged to people in the bee club. We were wrong. The room was packed. There must have been 40 or more people attending this meeting. They mentioned the number of folks attending, saying that 5 years ago, they held this meeting in one of the smaller rooms in the church as they had very few members, now membership has swelled.
We sat down at one of the round tables and introduced ourselves to Carolyn, new beekeeper of 3 months and her mother Betty. They live in Everett. We also met Dawn, new beekeeper this year and Lloyd, not sure when he started. The president of the club kicked off the meeting asking the folks who were there how many of them are first year beekeepers. A large number of people raised their hands, maybe 40% of the attendees. Wow. That is a lot of new beekeepers. Are these folks getting into this for the same reasons Dave and I are? Is everyone trying to save the bees? I’m sure everyone has their own reasons, but that is likely part of it for most – just my guess.
Education hour: The first hour is a talk that a seasoned beekeeper gives for the benefit of the new beekeepers and one of the clubs members, Dave, spoke about his experiences and techniques with his 20-30 hives. Seasoned beekeepers are often called on by folks to rid their yard or barn of an existing hive or swarm of bees. Dave, told many humorous stories of going out and getting bees. Some of the things we learned from his talk:
- He has seen a 60% survival rate in his hives.
- Heat is working against the bees so you must keep an eye on the hives for weight, checking for honey around the hive. You need to feed the bees if you don’t find enough honey. Use a 1 to 1 sugar to water concentration.
- One guy commented that he was told to keep the feed on the hive till they stop feeding – comment back from Dave was that some bees won’t stop feeding. (Beekeepers feed their hives in the winter, so this question was about when to stop feeding the hive from winter time.)
- Make sure you have a laying queen – eggs and larvae.
- He doesn’t use smoke this time of year as it impacts production of the honey
- Check hives once a week
- When at least 50% of the honey cells in a frame are capped, you can harvest that honey. Moisture content should be between 17-18%.
- He mentioned Betterbee.com as another place to get bee stuff
Bee Club events: The meeting then turns into normal club business, there is a club picnic in about 6 weeks that they need volunteers for. They will send out the invite soon, where members can sign up for different responsibilities. The club picnic has many interesting activities like: Hive inspections and other short presentations, how to make whipped (creamed) honey, wax handling and candle making, and cosmetic products from the hive. I’m blown away. I’m somewhat of a training junkie and love all the introduction and how-to’s that the club has to offer. The club also has a booth at the local county fair in late August and are looking for volunteers to help man the booth. They say that even beginning beekeepers can answer most of the questions that are asked by the public. There are a lot of beekeepers that have educational bee boxes, with the see through sides that they can take with them to fairs and schools and give talks on bees and beekeeping.
Special Topic – Vorroa Mites: The bee club meeting always has a special guest to give a talk on a specific topic. This meeting it was Jim Tunnell, the owner of The Beez Neez, our local apiary store. He came to talk about methods of monitoring your hive’s mite problem to determine when to treat. He showed two specific ways to monitor mites and then said that we were lucky as today there are many food safe mite treatments available. When asked why we don’t just regularly treat the hives for mites, Jim cautioned that you shouldn’t treat the bees for mites too many times, so it is important to wait until there is a big problem and not just a normal amount of mites. Here are the two mite checking methods he presented, outlined below. Jim prefers the first one.
- Short frame method – this is the one Jim likes best. You put two of the shorter honey super frames in the western size boxes (our bigger boxes). He puts these shorter frames in position #3 and #7 so they are the middle frame in each side. This leaves a gap at the bottom of the frame. The bees will fill in this gap with drone cells. On every inspection, Jim cuts off the latest growth of drone cells from these two frames. He uses an uncapping scratcher to open the ends of the drone cells and then stabs the scratcher into the cells to pull out the drone larvae. Then he looks for mites
on the drone larvae, just as our beekeeper mentor Jim does. He makes a judgment on the number of mites found to determine if he should treat the bees or not. The added benefit of this method is that you are removing the mites from the hive. As you cut away the drone larvae, you are cutting one of the best places for the mites to live in the hive, so you are keeping the mite count down as an added bonus. Jim feeds the cut away honeycomb with the drone larvae to his chickens. For us, we would need to destroy it another way as we wouldn’t want the mites to survive only to get back in the hive.
- Alcohol method – before showing this method, Jim wanted to make sure that the bee club crowd wouldn’t hang him for killing bees. This method requires that you pull about 300 bees from your hive and put in a mason jar of alcohol. The way to get 300 bees is to shake one of your frames over a mixing bowl. The bees will fall to the bottom and be a bit dazed. You can then scoop up bees in a 1/3 cup measuring cup. One-third cup of bees equals approximately 300 bees. You then put these bees from the measuring cup into another mason jar. You join the two jars, quickly flipping the alcohol onto the bees and then swirl it around until they are all dead. The mites on the bees will detach from the bees. You then scoop out the bees and look at the rest of the liquid and count the mites. If you find more than 9 mites then you have a serious problem and need to treat. Less than 3 mites for 100 bees is okay, greater than that is time to treat.
We found this bee club to be a wonderful resource of information and also a great group of people who share a common passion for bees. We look forward to being a part of this community.