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Notice Board . . .

So what happened to the bee plant survey? Actually, Miriam Valere, a beekeeper in Salt Lake City, has been working on it for quite some time. She is preparing a fact sheet for each plant, with photos and links to more information, which will be sortable to where you live. The survey provided a ton of information, and we are trying to make it as useful and logical as we can. Miriam has put untold hours into the project, and I am so grateful for her efforts. Look for it in the near future.

An A-list of bee books

Even though she grew up in a frugal rural family, my mother always believed that if a cookbook delivered just one great recipe, it was worth the price. After all, she would use that recipe countless times and perhaps pass it on to others.

Today, I feel the same way about bee books. If I get one snippet from a bee book that improves my skills or deepens my understanding of bees, then the book was worth both the time and the money.

In these modern times fraught with honey bee problems and native bee disappearance, there is an ever-expanding library to pick from. Here are a few of my current favorites for you to consider.

The Beekeepers’s Handbook, Fourth Edition by Diana Sammataro and Alphonse Avitabile. 2011. This is my first choice for an overall beginner how-to book. The sequence is logical, the explanations are clear and concise, and it gives you enough to get going without overwhelming your brain. Many clear diagrams, bulleted lists, and appendices. If you can buy only one beekeeping book, this is the one.

Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive by Mark L. Winson. 2014. This book is both a memoir of the author’s life and a dissection of the many disturbing aspects of a contemporary bee’s life—from Varroa mites to CCD. Winston’s love of honey bees shines through every word he writes, and he makes us think about how we might learn from the bees and become better stewards of our dwindling natural resources.

The Bee: A Natural History by Noah Wilson-Rich. 2014. It has always been my contention that understanding bees generally—all of them—makes one a better beekeeper. Conversely, you don’t need to be a beekeeper to enjoy the fascinating pas de deux between flower and bee. Not a beekeeping how-to, this book puts honey bees in the context of all bees and explains their relevance to our daily lives

Bee by Rose-Lynn Fisher, 2010. This is picture book for honey bee lovers. The photographs, taken with the aid of an electron microscope, reveal the honey bee and all her parts in stunning detail. Whether you are a beekeeper, gardener, photographer or just curious, this book is a joy. This is nothing like seeing the parts up close to understand how they all work together to pollinate our world.

California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists by Gordon W. Frankie et al. 2014. You don’t have to be from California to appreciate this book. The book details the basic families of bees and the plants they like using colorful photos of both. It also explains the complex relationship between bees and flowers and explores ways to build better native bee habitat.

A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees by Dave Goulson. 2014. Some books I don’t want to end, and this was one. It reads like a cross between a novel and an adventure story as it follows the author’s fascination with bumble bees from childhood to the founding of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Along the way you will learn more about bumbles than you ever thought possible.


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How to feed syrup in winter

The following method of feeding syrup in winter was sent to me by Wayne Davidson of St Charles, Idaho. Although his climate is cold and the winters long, Wayne has been using this method successfully for three years.

The reason it works, I believe, is that the syrup is kept in an insulated compartment right above the cluster. The syrup is surrounded by wood chip insulation on three sides and foam insulation above. We know from experimentation (and logic) that the warmest part of the hive (aside from the cluster itself) is the area just above the cluster. The insulation traps the heat from the cluster and keeps the syrup warm enough for the bees to drink.

Here is a description of Wayne’s set-up in his own words:

  • I tried to capitalize on everything I could since our winters are long. First, I moved the hives to the south side of the house and set them close to benefit from radiant heat when the sun shines. I got this idea from the dog; he always napped here even in the winter months.

  • Some years we can have nighttime temps in the teens clear until April 21, and nothing growing until late May. So I wanted to feed the bees without causing stress. That’s when I started putting the top feeder on in the fall at the last inspection. It serves as a nice lid with a ventilation opening. I added wood chips/shavings, the type you get at the feed store for livestock, for a little insulation, but also to catch whatever moisture might be in the box.

  • I filled the pan with syrup and put the inner cover on followed by the foam insulation, and then the outer cover.

  • I fully realize that I am leaving a pan of water on top of the hive. My reasoning is, “So what if it freezes?” it can’t break anything, and when it thaws out it’s still there. Second, the bees don’t have to mess with it until it’s warm enough to explore.

  • Moisture was a worry at first, but not any more. If water evaporates it has a way out though the hole in the foam, and out the outer cover. I went to the pitched roof for the telescoping cover just for this reason. It provides an attic space that is always venting, winter and summer. (When I tried this set up with flat tops, they didn’t vent as well and some mold formed on the underside of the inner cover. Still, if any water condensed it would be on the inner cover and right above the pan or the shavings, and any drips still won’t fall on the bees.)

The results

  • The syrup never appeared to freeze. I admit I only checked the feeders on sunny days when the ambient temperature could be 10-15 F, but next to the house considerably warmer. If the syrup froze in the night it was thawed when I checked. Still opening the lid had little effect on the bees since they never were exposed directly to the cold air.

  • Last year I fed every two or three weeks weather permitting. While some colonies ate everything I gave them, and were often begging for more when I opened the lid, some didn’t touch it until spring when they started laying again.

  • While there was some mold on the inner covers that didn’t vent well as I mentioned, I saw no evidence of mold, or dampness of any kind in the hive just below the feeder in the spring on the first inspection.

  • In the photos you will notice something different in the pan. This year I thought I would warm some honey that had crystallized and feed it in the feeder. Well this colony didn’t eat it very fast and now it is setting up again. When I took this picture the honey was soft enough I could easily scoop it with my finger, but it wouldn’t flow. I will go back to just syrup in the pans.

  • This is my third winter doing this and I still like the results. I have used a commercial top feeder, but I only fill half of it since they are so big and then fill the other half with shavings.

For years I’ve said you can’t feed syrup in winter, but now I see that is not entirely true. Wayne’s system takes advantage of a number of factors: he uses good in-hive insulation, he positions the hives in the sun with a wind break, and he sets the syrup directly above the bees.

Good job. Thank you, Wayne.


Wayne’s hives are on the sunny side of the house, which provides warmth and a wind break. © Wayne Davidson.
The feeder is in the purple box below the inner cover. © Wayne Davidson.
A thick layer of foam insulation is placed above the inner cover. © Wayne Davidson.
The gabled roof provided the best ventilation. I love that the vent closure is hinged. © Wayne Davidson.
The feeder tray is surrounded by wood chips which trap warm air and absorb excess moisture. In this photo, partially crystallized honey is in the tray. © Wayne Davidson.
The feeder can be refilled without chilling the bees: just pour in the syrup and replace the top pieces. © Wayne Davidson.

Don’t miss these photos!

Do you ever wonder where your winter colony is? Or how big? Yesterday, Kevin O’Donnell of Arlington Heights, Illinois sent us some awesome photos that answer those exact questions.

Kevin is a specialist in insulated packaging systems, especially those that pertain to drug products. As a result, he has a fascination with thermal regulation inside his beehives.

Recently, Kevin discovered a thermal imaging camera that attaches to an iPhone 5. With it, he photographed his three hives and was amazed to discover all wasn’t as he expected. He writes:

As you can see in the first photo, the hive on the left is doing well, the middle colony appears to be failing, and the one on the right is dead. I find this curious as the strongest hive going into winter six weeks earlier was, by far and away, the hive on the right. The weakest? The one on the left.

That’s a lot of important information from one photo! I do things the hard way, by pulling out the Varroa trays to see where the debris is. But the photo tells you not only the size and location, but the vertical placement and current colony strength.

Kevin continues with even more fascinating information:

The second photo shows a small feral colony (where I am pointing) living inside a hollow column on my cousin’s front porch in Peoria, IL. If it is still there in spring, I am going back to retrieve it!

Is that cool or what? If any of you are interested, the camera can be found at: FLIR ONE Thermal Imager for iPhone 5/5s

Also, the Seek Thermal has versions for both Android and iOS: Seek UW-AAA Thermal Imaging Camera USB Connector for iOS Devices, Black

Thank you, Kevin, for sending the photos. Great work!


Thermal image 1 Odonnell
The colony on the left is strong, the middle is weak, and the right is dead. © Kevin O’Donnell.
Thermal image 2 Odonnell
A feral colony living inside a hollow column. © Kevin O’Donnell.

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