Thursday, December 30, 2010

Processing Beeswax

Beeswax is an important product of the bee hive. This high-quality wax, secreted by young worker bees is the structure of the honey bees’ nest. Beeswax can be collected from old honeycomb or from the capping wax removed when extracting honey. The cappings are the beeswax seals the worker bees place over the cells holding fully ripened honey. Removing old comb is an effective way to remove absorbed environmental chemicals from the hives and reduce diseases spread by spores: American foulbrood, chalkbrood, and Nosema. At Peace Bee Farm, we consider replacement of old honeycomb an important part of our integrated pest management program. Since we don’t use chemicals in the hives, the capping wax that we save can be used to produce new frames of chemical-free honeycomb. Nanda Uganda asked about processing beeswax. To obtain the beeswax we paint onto plastic foundation, we take our capping wax and heat it in a wax melter. The capping wax, which contains a small amount of honey, melts around 145 degrees Fahrenheit. This honey can be recovered when the wax melts, but honey is altered in color, aroma, and flavor by temperatures above 120 degrees. The melted beeswax and heated honey flow from the wax melter into a separator, a simple container with a baffle. The beeswax floats atop the honey. When the beeswax cools and solidifies, thick residue, called slumgum, can be scraped away. To further purify the beeswax, it is melted several times in water. The water absorbs soluble impurities in the beeswax; insoluble material is strained from the beeswax. Repeating the process refines the beeswax.

We use beeswax primarily to coat frames for the brood nest and honey supers of our bee hives. Other uses include candle making as well as a number of bee hive products: hand and skin creams and lotions, lip gloss, soaps, furniture polish, and leather conditioners. People who sew use beeswax to strengthen their thread, and archers coat their bowstrings with beeswax.

Monday, December 27, 2010

In the Honey House

The honey house is a small, insulated building where we handle the honey from the time that it is harvested until it is bottled. There are tasks to be done in the honey house throughout the year, but the comfortably warm building is an exceptionally nice place to be when outside temperatures are below freezing. Honey bees produce honey in the spring, summer, and fall when flowers are in bloom. They store honey in their hives for the winter. We harvest a small portion of their surplus honey and store it in the honey house. All honey changes over time from a liquid to crystals of sugar. The formation of crystals doesn’t harm the taste or quality of honey. Some of the sugars in honey are stable as a crystal and not as a liquid. Different honeys convert to crystals faster than others. Generally, honeys that bees make from flowers crystallize faster than honeys derived from flowering trees. Cool temperatures also speed the formation of crystals. By winter, most honey contains crystals. We slowly warm the honey to re-liquefy it. Stirring daily, most honey can be liquefied in three to five days at 108 degrees Fahrenheit. The honey is then held at 100 degrees until needed. The warm honey pours freely from the bottling unit. Some liquid honey is made into creamed honey. This spreadable honey is formed by mixing in fine crystals of honey and then chilling at 57 degrees.

Beeswax is also being melted and cleaned in the honey house. In its first melting, some honey is removed from the beeswax. Since beeswax melts around 145 degrees, this honey has been heated, altering its color and flavor. We never mix this heated honey with our raw honey; it is sold to those who produce mead, or honey wine. The final residue left from melting and straining beeswax, called “slumgum,” is shown in the photo. It is composed primarily of propolis bee glue, pollen, and silk from bee pupae cocoons.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pax Vobiscum

My friend at the Memphis Botanic Garden, horticulturist Sherri McCalla, sent me a quote from Fred C. Galle’s Hollies: The Genus Ilex: “Of all old English traditions, however, one of the most enchanting is that even the bees must be wished a Merry Christmas; a sprig of shiny green and bright red holly must adorn each hive.” This is a fitting tradition, as the hollies are an important family of bee plants. Hollies provide ample nectar and pollen for the bees. The bees pollinate holly flowers, producing fruit and seed in bright red berries.

Honey bees communicate within the colony primarily through odors and vibrations. Bees rapidly share the condition of the colony with all bees in the hive. Today, the internet allows beekeepers and others interested in bees to communicate instantaneously. Distance is no object. I sent a friend an e-mail message, thinking he was in Arkansas. He responded immediately, from 12 time zones away in Nepal. The internet allows us to share news and ideas quickly and virtually anywhere. For example, this blog has been read in at least 162 countries around the world. Software allows us to translate among foreign languages. I regularly read the comments and writings of those who share an interest in our bees, our craft of beekeeping, and our environment. Isentsov, one of our readers from Moscow, Russia, writes: “Remember that practice without theory is blind, but theory without practice is useless.” In one sentence he clearly describes the complexity of beekeeping. It involves both an understanding of honey bee biology and the shared skills, learned from observation of the hives, handed down from generation to generation. In short, beekeeping is a science and an art. Communicating with each other, we discover solutions to honey bee health problems, develop better ways to produce honey and hive products, and more effectively pollinate our crops. Increased communication leads to greater understanding. The Underhills who operate Peace Bee Farm offer to all: “Peace be with you.”

Friday, December 24, 2010


Clothianidin is an insecticide belonging to a relatively new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. These nicotine-based chemicals are systemic in action, meaning that they are taken up through a plant to poison all of its parts. They are of great concern to beekeepers around the world because they poison the nectar and pollen consumed by honey bees and other pollinators. Clothianidin is often coated onto the seed of crops. It is in widespread use in the United States as an insecticide on corn, the nation’s largest crop. Other crops treated with clothianidin include canola, soybeans, sugar beets, sunflowers, and wheat. While corn, a grass, provides no nectar, it does produce a large amount of pollen, which is very attractive to honey bees. The use of clothianidin has steadily increased since its conditional registration in 2003. Beekeepers have experienced heavy winter die-offs from that time to the present.

The EPA quietly presented Bayer with full registration of clothianidin in April of this year following a seriously flawed trial funded by Bayer. The trial, conducted in Canada, placed hives near canola plots treated with clothianidin and untreated control plots. Remarkably, both plots were located so close together that the honey bees had free access to both. EPA scientists questioned the validity of the trial. Others experts analyzing the trial found significant flaws in its design: corn produces much more pollen than does canola; corn pollen is more attractive to honey bees; and canola is a minor crop in the US, while corn is the most widely planted crop. The neonicotinoids, including imidacloprid, are suspected by beekeepers and many scientists as contributing to honey bee colony collapse disorder. Clothianidin is a persistent pesticide, meaning that it remains in the environment for a long time, and the pesticide is highly toxic to honey bees. You may read the report at Without independent investigation, the neonicotinoids remain suspects in colony collapse disorder. Clothianidin is banned in Germany, France, Italy, and Slovenia.  Today’s photo: clothianidin-treated corn.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Winter Solstice

Honey bees and humans keep different calendars. Today is the winter solstice, the Northern Hemisphere’s shortest day. For us, it signifies the first day of winter and the beginning of the coldest part of the year. However, for the honey bee, today seems to be the start of the new year. With the days lengthening after today, queen bees may restart laying eggs at any time. Many colonies begin brood production on a small scale during the month of January. Most of our hives here in the Arkansas Delta stopped brood production in late October and early November. As a survival measure, the bees conserve food stores during cold weather by maintaining a cooler hive when there is no brood present. Just as we turn down our home thermostats in the winter to conserve energy, the bees regulate their winter cluster at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Whenever there is brood present, the bees warm the cluster surrounding the brood to 95 degrees. To warm the cluster of bees to the higher temperature requires the bees to consume a considerable amount more honey.

The honey bee evolved an efficient behavior for maintaining warmth in the hive. Workers only warm the cluster of bees, not the empty spaces around the cluster. The hairy bodies of the bees and the design of the beeswax honeycomb make effective insulation. In cold weather, the bees huddle tightly together; on warmer days, the cluster expands. Bees on the outside of the cluster form an insulating shell; bees in the center generate heat by shivering their flight muscles. Eating honey, a high-energy food, the bees can generate 104 degrees in their flight muscles. The queen remains inside the warm cluster. As bees on the outside chill, they rotate to the center of the cluster. To conserve food, drones were expelled from the hive with the first frost. Today’s photo shows an American bison in Wyoming. These great creatures survive extremely cold winters insulated by a hairy body.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bee Yard Visitors

Bee yards often attract a number of animal visitors, both domestic and wild. Some of these animals are pests, some are an annoyance to the beekeeper, and some are beneficial to the bee hive. Where bears exist, they seriously damage hives. Here, beekeepers take preventative actions, like using electric fences around the hives. Fortunately, bears are quite rare around our bee yards. Skunks are probably our most serious animal pest of bee hives. These small nocturnal mammals enjoy eating honey bees. They scratch at the hive entrance with their claws to draw out the guard bees. The skunks catch and eat the bees, leaving evidence of their presence: egg-shaped pellets of bee exoskeletons. Skunks will remain at the hive entrance for long periods of time catching and eating bees. The continuous scratching disturbs the hive, making the bees quite defensive. Often our first indication of skunks in the area comes from guard bees greeting us with a sting as soon as we approach the bee yard. Possums and raccoons at times become bee hive nuisances. Whenever any of these small critters start attacking hives, I set a live trap and remove the animal. In today’s photo, a possum, North America’s only marsupial, snarls from inside the live trap. It will be carried miles away and released unharmed in the woods.

If bee hives are located in pastures, we need to fence around the hives if livestock is present. Horses and cattle may brush up against exposed hives. Some birds eat honey bees. Eastern kingbirds like them; purple martins and mockingbirds eat a few. Sparrows, domestic chickens, and guinea fowl forage along the ground around bee hives. Eating small insects, they are probably beneficial to the hives. Bats help control wax moths; owls, cats, snakes, and coyotes help control mice and rat populations around bee yards. I regularly find tree frogs inside bee hives. I don’t think that they do any damage. Guard bees effectively protect hives from most intruders.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Move the Hives an Inch

There are traditions that have been passed down among beekeepers for hundreds of years. For example, it is still common to hear of folks beating on pots and pans to settle a swarm of bees. Another ancient tradition involved notifying the honey bees that there had been a death in the beekeeper’s family. The bees were notified by moving the bee hives an inch. Today, I moved some of my hives an inch. My father, Luther Underhill, died at age 92. Luther came to live with Rita and me on Peace Farm after my mother’s death. They were married for 69 years. He loved the domestic birds on the farm and the bird sanctuary. Luther was always ready to follow along with me to the bee yards, and he loved to go to the beekeeper’s wood shop where we assemble, paint, and repair bee hives. This year’s honey crop was produced on frames that Luther helped paint with chemical-free beeswax that we collect from our honey harvests. In today’s photo, Luther holds a freshly-coated frame.

Collecting and saving our own beeswax cappings is part of our integrated pest management plan. The honey bee’s nest is built of beeswax honeycomb; and beeswax acts like a sponge, absorbing many chemicals in the environment. Since we do not use miticides or harsh chemicals in the hive, our cappings beeswax is relatively free of chemical pesticide contaminates. We paint this beeswax onto frames of plastic foundation. The wax makes the plastic much more attractive to the bees. As the bees start to work on the frames, they begin by shaping the added beeswax into cells. Having a supply of chemical-free beeswax allows us to more aggressively cull old frames. The rigid plastic foundation can be easily reused. Removing the comb from old, dark frames effectively removes chemicals and disease spores from the hives. It helps fight reproductive spore-forming American foulbrood, chalkbrood, and Nosema disease. The bees have been notified; Luther will be remembered.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Deep or Illinois?

News stories, particularly related to Colony Collapse Disorder, over the past four years have brought considerable interest in beekeeping. I am regularly approached by individuals who are interested in getting started keeping honey bees. They have questions about obtaining bees and ordering or building bee hives. I always encourage them to join their local beekeeping association and follow along with experienced beekeepers as they learn about honey bee biology and the craft of managing bees in hives. When Reverend L. L. Langstroth built the modern bee hive in 1851, he used the available lumber of the day. His hive box stood roughly nine inches tall. That same box is still in wide use today, and is commonly called a “deep” hive body. A typical bee hive uses two nine-inch hive bodies and has a volume of 84 liters. Honey is collected in supers of five or six inch heights. At Peace Bee Farm, we prefer to use a slightly different arrangement. We use three medium-depth boxes, often called “Illinois” hive bodies. With a depth of roughly six inches, the three medium boxes make a hive having the same 84 liter volume. Why would one use three boxes with 30 frames instead of two boxes with 20 frames? The medium-depth boxes provide many advantages. First, it is a convenience to the beekeeper to manage equipment of the same size. I find the greatest advantage of using the same size frames for hive bodies and honey supers in swarm suppression. Swarming is often initiated by brood nest crowding. Brood nest frames full of spring-time honey can be moved up into a super to immediately relieve brood nest crowding.

The transition from deep to medium equipment can be accomplished over the winter by allowing the bees to move upward into frames of drawn comb filled with honey. Once the queen is up in the medium boxes, I place a queen excluder under them to prevent her from returning to the deep box.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A New Bottomland Forest

Whenever we are planting, we should give consideration to the honey bees and the native pollinators. Whether we are planting a flower garden, a kitchen vegetable garden, an herb garden, or a pollinator pasture, we can greatly increase the available forage and habitat for our important pollinators. By including native plants in our horticultural plantings, we can provide food as well as places for the pollinators to nest and reproduce. As Tod and I went about hand-planting a portion of our wetland reforestation project that was accidentally destroyed by a farmer’s plow, we tried to accommodate the pollinators as we replanted the forest. In the river bottoms, we planted hardwood trees from seed collected in other woods on the farm. We planted Shumard, Nuttall, overcup, pin, sawtooth, water, cherrybark, and willow oaks; shagbark and bitternut hickories; pecans; and American black walnuts. The seeds, acorns or nuts, we planted into the heavy clay Delta soil before rains. We also dispersed the seed pods of green ash to be carried by the wind. Along a gentle ridge rising above the river bottoms, the natural embankment of an old Mississippi River oxbow chute, we planted a number of species of trees less tolerant of seasonal flooding. For these plantings we included a number of flowering trees to provide food for honey bees and native pollinators. Along with the oaks, hickories, pecans, walnuts, and ash, we planted seed for black locust, peach, plum, and persimmon. Along the ridge, we also distributed by the wind the seed of catalpa and redbud.

After the tree seeds germinate and start growing, we will return and plant understory plants like hawthorn, blackberry, and milkweed. Grape vines and native muscadine vines will provide food for honey bees in the treetops. After pollination, their fruit and seed will provide food for songbirds and small mammals that will distribute the plants throughout the forest. Clouds gather for the rain that will start the regrowth of the forest.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Honey Bees Benefit Cities

The New York Times published a story relating the rapid increase in the number of individuals who are choosing to keep honey bees at their homes in the cities. While beekeepers have always been welcomed in some cities, other communities passed ordinances to limit or prohibit beekeeping. The story, which tells of beekeepers’ efforts to change restrictive laws, is located at Some of those communities that attempted to restrict beekeeping did so in an effort to prevent Africanized honey bees from entering. Laws limiting beekeeping activities may actually have the opposite effect. Fortunately, the Africanized honey bees have not proven to be the threat that some predicted. All beekeeping organizations recommend beekeepers adopt good neighbor policies involving beekeeping practices designed to lessen unpleasant encounters between honey bees and the public: Bee hives should not be placed close to property lines. Tall fences or shrubs encourage the bees to fly high above the heads of neighbors. Hives placed in pastures with livestock need to be fenced to keep animals away from the hives. Beekeepers should provide the bees a source of water. Don’t place too many hives in residential areas, usually three or four for lots less than one acre. Bees should be worked in a manner to prevent disturbing bees when neighbors are present: Open the hives in the daytime when bees are foraging. If a colony is defensive, re-queen it. Reduce robbing by not working bees during a dearth, and limit the time that honey is exposed to flying bees.

Having managed honey bee colonies benefits cities: They provide pollination for food and ornamental plants, establish a trained group of beekeepers who can handle bee emergencies, and prevent the creation of environmental niches for more dangerous stinging insects. I think that maybe the greatest benefit involves developing environmentally aware citizens. Peace Bee Farm maintains three bee yards in public areas in the city of Memphis. Today’s photo shows some of our urban bee hives facing an evergreen barrier.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hive Set-Up for Winter

The survival of a honey bee colony over the winter depends largely upon the way the beekeeper sets up the hive in the fall. The first requirement for winter-time survival is that the bee hive must have adequate ventilation. Honey bees maintain a warm hive throughout the winter. Whenever the bees have brood present, they maintain a temperature in the brood nest of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The bees can withstand a cooler temperature than their developing brood, so they will only warm their cluster of bees to about 70 degrees when they stop rearing brood in the winter. This is equivalent to our lowering the setting on our home thermostat in the winter to save energy. The honey bees’ respiration produces moisture inside the hive. With a warm, damp atmosphere inside the hive and cold winter temperatures outside, condensation occurs inside the hive. The effect is similar to that which occurs on the outside of a cold glass of iced tea on a humid summer’s day here in the Delta. Water drips profusely down the glass. Water from condensation dripping into the brood nest bees kills bees. Tilting the hive forward in the winter keeps the water from falling onto the bees. It is most important to provide ventilation to prevent condensation from occurring. Leaving screened bottom boards uncovered provides good ventilation for the hive. A vent port in the hive’s inner cover provides air flow through the top of the hive. Surprisingly, protecting from cold temperatures is not a requirement for winter-time hive set-up.

The second requirement for the bees to survive the winter is that they must have adequate stores of honey, and it must be located where the bees can access it. The honey should be above the cluster of bees. The bees consume the honey above their cluster and then move upward into the empty cells. Experience tells beekeepers how much honey the hive needs for the winter: in the Arkansas Delta, about 60 pounds.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hive Poised for Starvation

One colony of honey bees stood out as different from each of the others. When I checked the hives for stored honey for the winter, all were heavy in weight with the exception of one. Most hives were full of honey, located in the top of the hive, available for the bees to access during cold weather. However, one hive was extremely light in weight. Inside, I found yellow-colored bees as opposed to the dark-colored bees that occupied each of the other hives. Click on the photo and you can see the chewed-out honeycomb and empty cells where the stored honey has been removed. No, the hive has not been robbed; these bees simply consumed more stored honey than their neighbors. The difference between this hive and the others is the race of bees. The dark bees are Russian; the yellow bees are Italian.

Each race of bees has distinct behaviors. Russian honey bees tend to build up their population slowly in the spring. It was already mid-spring when I added the colony with the young Italian queen to this bee yard. Italian honey bees build up quickly in the spring and maintain a large population throughout the year. Both races of honey bees in this bee yard produced good crops of honey, allowing me to harvest some surplus honey from each hive. It was after the harvest that the difference in the races of bees became apparent. The Italian bees with a larger population simply consumed their winter stores early in the fall. Fortunately, I detected the hive’s honey shortage in time to add supplemental feeding. The Russian bees, popular because of their resistance to Varroa mites, over-winter with a smaller cluster of bees and require less stored food for the winter. Russian, Italian, and Carniolan queen bees are each selected for resistance to parasitic mites. It is easier for the beekeeper to manage bees with more similar behaviors than the two races occupying this bee yard.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nature Deficit Disorder

Four years into the largest die-off of honey bees that has been recorded, we are finding how resilient the honey bees and the people who tend to them are. One of our followers sent me at link to a presentation recorded in the summer of 2008 by one of the researchers working to uncover the causes of honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder. Though some time has passed since the recording was made, the conditions, driven by pesticides, toxins, and disease, described in 2008 remain accurate today. Dennis VanEnglesdorp, acting as the State Apiarist for Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture as well as conducting research at Penn State University, passionately describes the condition of beekeeping in America. Bees serve us in a most important way: We rely upon the honey bee to provide one bite out of every three that we eat. This is accomplished by honey bees completing the reproductive step of pollination of our flowering crops. The bees that do this work are carried about the country on trucks by a group of crafty, determined migratory beekeepers. In spite of heavy losses, they have been able to maintain colony counts by splitting hives each year.

VanEnglesdorp asks why bees are now suddenly susceptible to the conditions that result in CCD. He mentions the heavy dependence our agriculture places upon pesticides. Studies are being conducted to identify the pesticides found inside bee hives. Interestingly, some of the hives with the greatest amount of pesticide are healthy. Some beekeepers attribute this to the deadly result of having too many parasitic mites in a hive. Possibly, those beekeepers who used pesticides heavily in the hive more effectively controlled the Varroa mites and the viruses that they vector. VanEnglesdorp describes our environment as suffering from “Nature Deficit Disorder.” To help correct this situation, he suggests we “make meadows, not lawns.” I photographed a mule deer eating fireweed, a famous honey source, in a Wyoming meadow. Hear VanEnglesdorp’s enthusiastic 16-minute presentation at

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Greatest Killer

The Northeast Arkansas Beekeepers Association’s membership includes a diverse group of commercial, sideline, and hobbyist beekeepers who willingly share their experience in handling bees. The group’s conversation usually revolves around honey bee health. Meeting in Jonesboro, the discussion involved the things that kill bee hives. We talked about Varroa and tracheal mites, Nosema disease, viruses, American foulbrood, Colony Collapse Disorder, and the several other pests and pathogens that affect honey bees. Fires are a cause of concern, especially for bee yards placed in agricultural areas where fields are burned, sometimes by accident but usually as part of no-till farming practices. Windstorms damage bee yards, particularly here in “tornado alley.” Several beekeepers lost hives in spring-time flooding. Delta beekeepers who occasionally experience some water in the bottom of their hives literally lost hives; they washed away. There is universal agreement as to the number one cause of honey bee colony losses: starvation.

 Depending upon seasonal flowers for food, a honey bee colony spends most of the year in preparation for the dearth of flowers in the winter. The honey bee is unique as the only insect in the temperate region that stores food so that it may remain alive and active throughout the year. The amount of honey that the colony stores is determined by the size of the colony, the forage available, and the weather conditions. Whether the colony has enough stored honey to survive the winter often depends upon how much honey the beekeeper harvests from the hive. Experienced beekeepers, like those of Northeast Arkansas share their experience in how much honey a colony needs to survive a cold Delta winter. The pictured hive has plenty of honey for the winter. Worker bees have concentrated honey in the upper portion of the hive, the appropriate place for the bees to access the honey. Hives that are light in weight need supplemental feeding.  I lift the back of each bee hive and try to estimate its stored honey.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Natural Pest Controls

Today’s New York Times features a report on the efforts by organic farms to control insect pests without using chemicals. “Farmers Find Organic Arsenal to Wage War on pests may be viewed at The author briefly describes several pest control strategies using natural biological controls. He stresses the benefit of having more varieties of plants growing around agricultural fields. The plants encourage beneficial insects that feed on pest insects. Today’s monoculture agriculture doesn’t provide for the natural enemies that help control many crop-destroying insects. Monoculture planting may have contributed in part to this year’s overwhelming populations of insect pests in the Arkansas Delta. The article describes the use of “trap crops” planted to lure pest insects away from cash crops. To keep bugs away from strawberry plants, alfalfa is planted nearby. The alfalfa is more attractive to a pest bug than the strawberry plant, thus the strawberry crop is saved. Other farmers use a vacuum to suck bugs from the strawberry plants. Ed Anderson is experimenting with a vacuum arrangement that he built to remove small hive beetles from his Tennessee bee hives. Such mechanical controls are good choices for inclusion in integrated pest management programs; there is no chance of a pest developing a resistance to a sucking machine. Bats are effective controllers of certain insect pests. Unfortunately, these flying mammals, that are also useful pollinators, are declining in numbers. For information about bats and White-nose Syndrome, the fungal disease that is seriously reducing their populations, visit

The Times article speaks of the benefit of nutrient-rich soil and the use of cover crops including legumes. Some organic farmers are using essential oil sprays to protect crops. They are spraying clove, mint, and thyme to repel and kill pests. This sounds like our non-chemical approaches to beekeeping, using essential oils to kill Varroa mites. It appears that organic crop farmers and beekeepers have much to share. Today’s photo: monocultural plantings leave little habitat for beneficial insects.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Operation Migration

We see evidence of successes in wildlife conservation efforts. In recent decades, the whooping crane almost became extinct. However, with the concerted efforts of public and private groups, these beautiful birds are slowly increasing in numbers. The whooping crane population declined from an estimated high of 1400 cranes in 1860 to an all-time low of 15 birds in 1941. The only naturally-occurring flock of whooping cranes summers in Alberta and Northwest Territories, Canada. The wild flock, which now numbers 180 birds, migrates to the Gulf of Mexico coast of Texas. A consortium of wildlife experts recognized that the population was at risk with all of the birds sharing the same territory and migration route. In an effort to protect the whooping crane from extinction, another flock of cranes was established with a separate migration path through its historic range. This Eastern population now has 96 cranes which migrate from Wisconsin to Northwest Florida. Whooping cranes are guided on their first migration by pilots using ultralight aircraft. My friend, Shirley Murphy, keeps me informed of the whooping crane migration. Today the 11 young cranes making the migration guided by human fliers in ultralight aircraft are resting in Hardin County, Tennessee in the vicinity of Shirley’s Tennessee River home and bee yard. They are at the half-way point of their 1285 mile migration. You can follow the progress of the flight at The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is a group of non-profit organizations, individuals, and governmental agencies that are working together to establish the Eastern population of cranes. Their work can be viewed at

Here at Peace Farm, we also see the results of successful conservation efforts. We are visited by birds extending their range: black-necked stilt, tundra swan, and bald eagle. This week, I noticed that a number of the nesting holes that Rita drilled into a dead tree trunk had been used by blue orchard bees, like the one I photographed gathering pollen from evening primrose flowers.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Live or Let Die?

After two weeks in place in the bee hives, the thymol treatments have evaporated from their gelled state. The thymol vapors have killed a large proportion of the colony’s parasitic mites.   The mites fell from the bees and can be seen on the plastic inserts that covered the screened bottom boards and concentrated the thymol fumes. My 10-year-old grandson, Ethan, removes the inserts and hive spacer shims used to administer the thymol. Thymol is a product of the thyme plant, a common herb used to make pizza sauce. It is considered less dangerous to the honey bees than chemical miticides. The harsh miticides are known to lead to infertility in queens and drones. These agents have also led to resistant strains of parasitic mites.

In the future, it is hoped that we will not have to use any treatments at all to control mites. Great efforts are being made to breed strains of honey bees that are resistant to the deadly Varroa mites. These bees have a genetically heritable behavior trait that allows them to detect reproducing Varroa growing in the cells with developing honey bee pupae. The bees open the cells and remove the pupae along with the parasitic Varroa. This is called hygienic behavior. It is hoped that through genetic selection honey bees will evolve that can live in the presence of parasitic mites.  That seems to have occurred to a considerable degree with tracheal mites, but not yet with Varroa. In practicality, we are a long way away from pure honey bee genetic control of Varroa mites. Mite resistance is greatly diminished with each supersedure of a colony’s queen. A few beekeepers are attempting to use a “live or let die” approach to Varroa control, letting the mites select the resistant colonies. A more practical approach, however, seems to be an integrated pest management plan that employs numerous mite controls including “soft” chemicals, like thymol” as needed to rapidly knock down mite populations exceeding self-defined thresholds.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thymol Treatment for Varroa

Varroa mites were first detected in the United States around 1987. These visible parasitic mites followed by just three years the detection of microscopic mites that live in the trachea, or breathing tubes of the honey bee. The two species of mites decimated honey bee colonies. For a number of years it was common to not see a single honey bee in a stand of clover on a warm spring day when foraging bees should be abundant. Over the next couple of decades, tracheal mites became less of a killer of honey bees, but Varroa mites remained the most deadly pest of bees. Varroa mites puncture the exoskeleton of the honey bees and suck the bees’ blood, called hemolymph. The resulting wound exposes the bees to a number of viruses; several are suspected of being associated with Colony Collapse Disorder. In an attempt the stop the deaths of honey bee colonies, beekeepers relied upon chemical miticides to kill the parasitic mites. This was a most difficult task of attempting to kill a pest on a living insect without harming the insect. Each of the available miticides killed parasitic mites effectively for a while, and then strains of mites resistant to the chemicals replaced the original mites. Other strategies now being preferred include the use of “softer” agents, like organic acids and essential oils.

In the photo, I am inspecting a frame from the center of the brood nest. Here, bees are completing their last brood cycle of the year. In the center of the frame, a few capped cells hold pupae ready to emerge as adults. Around these capped cells are the empty cells of recently emerged bees. Farther out, a band of worker bees tend to uncapped honey. The outside edges of the frame contain honey capped with beeswax, the colony’s stored food for winter. Photographer and beekeeper, Brandon Dill,, took this picture of me wearing protective gloves to apply thymol to treat a hive for mites.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bees Control Beetles

It is common for insect populations to explode every few years and then to return to normal levels for a number of years. This pattern may result from external conditions like weather, food supply, or reduced predation. In the few years that the small hive beetle has been established in the United States, we have seen its population fluctuate somewhat from year to year. I suspect that the quite controlled environment of a bee hive regulates the small hive beetle population considerably. However, there is one stage of the small hive beetle’s life cycle when the insect lives outside the bee hive. Beetle larvae crawl from the hive to pupate in the soil. The beetles continue their development as pupae in moist soil. Beetle populations are generally higher in hives located in the shade than in the full sun. Perhaps the beetle larvae experience considerable predation from insects and birds as they crawl long distances seeking moist soil.

When migratory beekeepers move their hives, they leave behind the beetle pupae in the soil. Of course, the pupae emerge as adults and fly to surrounding managed hives and feral honey bee colonies. Control of small hive beetles is best achieved by the bees themselves. Strong colonies of bees filling the hive’s internal space keep beetle reproduction in check. Beetles thrive in hives with plenty of hiding space, such as those stacked with excess brood boxes or honey supers. Internal feeders holding drowned bees are breeding grounds for small hive beetles. Beekeepers should not use chemical treatments in the hive against small hive beetles. Even if the chemicals are effective, the housekeeping bees spread toxins throughout the hive as they remove the dead beetles. Some beekeepers have success trapping beetles with small pieces of corrugated plastic, like old campaign signs, placed in the bottom of the hive. Beetles enter the holes, and worker bees seal them inside with propolis. Today’s photo: yucca blooms in a Peace Bee Farm bee yard.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Small Hive Beetle Damage

Many Mid-South beekeepers reported their hives heavily infested with small hive beetles this year. It appears that rainy conditions in the previous two years lead to successful reproduction of large populations of these bee hive scavengers. While the beetles are often a secondary pest of the honey bee, once their populations explode they become a primary pest of the hive. A strong honey bee colony may share a small hive beetle population living within its hive numbering several hundred insects. The bees drive the beetles into distant corners of the hive, away from the brood nest. Today’s photo shows a small hive beetle hiding from guard bees in the space between the top bar of a frame and the edge of a super. Small hive beetles can overtake the bee hive when the bee population is weak, the colony is stressed by disease or other pests, the colony is queenless, or multiple generations of beetles are reproducing in the hive.

While handling small hive beetles in the bee hives is an ongoing challenge for beekeepers, they can be a real concern in the honey house. Leigh, a beekeeper in Hawaii, was most disappointed to find that small hive beetle larvae had emerged in his frames of honey to be extracted. The honey was fermented, and the flavor and aroma greatly affected. When harvesting honey, we should try to avoid bringing beetles into the honey house. To prevent beetles from destroying harvested honey, the honey should be extracted within a day or two. Supers of honey should not be stored in the honey house for long periods of time. Frames of honeycomb “slimed” by small hive beetles have the odor of fermenting oranges. The islands of Hawaii have been immune to a number of honey bee pests and pathogens until recent years. World trade can accidentally transfer unwanted pests, pathogens, and invasive species along with cargo. For beekeepers, like Leigh, small hive beetles add a level of complexity to our craft.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Bee Hive in the Fall

A visit to the bee yards on a warm fall day finds many foragers entering some of the hives with their pollen baskets bulging with bright orange pollen. These hives are the ones that are still producing brood. Other hives show no pollen being collected. In these hives, the queens have either slowed egg laying or stopped for the season. Most of the pollen is converted into bee bread to be fed to the larvae. Little pollen is stored over winter. The earliest brood of next year will be fed from nutrients stored in fat bodies of the worker bees. I find no drone bees in the hives. To conserve food, the colonies have removed many drones during the drought and nectar dearth of late summer. The remaining drones were expelled from the hives with the first few cold nights of fall. Beekeepers look for hives with large populations of drones in the fall, as this is an indication that a colony may bee queen-less. The colonies have concentrated their honey stores into the brood nest. Most of the honey is capped with beeswax, but the bees leave some honey uncapped and ready to eat.

Today’s photo of foragers bringing pollen into the hive was taken by beekeeper Brandon Dill. You can see his work at Brandon studied beekeeping at Heifer International, a most interesting charitable organization devoted to relieving global hunger and poverty. Heifer began its work by providing animals such as cattle, goats, water buffalos, or camels to needy people to provide meat, milk, muscle, manure, money, materials, and motivation. Along with sustainable agriculture training, Heifer’s efforts are designed to help entire communities by having recipients pass along a female offspring animal to a family who has also undergone sustainability training. Among Heifer International’s many worldwide projects are “Beekeeping to Stop Poverty and Illiteracy” in Kosovo and “Seeds of Hope” in the southern counties of the Arkansas Delta region. Heifer International’s efforts may be viewed at

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Urban Farm

Mary Phillips manages a farm in the center of the city of Memphis. Within a short distance of the city’s residential areas and major transportation and commercial hubs she grows vegetables and even fish. In the spring, she plans to add honey bees. Mary worked with us at Peace Bee Farm to gain experience after she took a beekeeping class while attending college. At Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, Mary studied sustainable agriculture. Now she is building a farm in an abandoned cotton field that sat fallow for 60 years. After trees were cleared and stumps removed, Mary and a few helpers planted their first crops this year. When Rita, Tod, and I visited the farm on a cool, damp fall day, the ground was covered with lush cool-weather crops of lettuce, radish, arugula, turnips, mustard, collards, kale and other salad greens. In the photo, Mary and Rita inspect compost beds of earthworms turning vegetable scraps into organic material to be added to the silty Memphis soil. By amending the soil with organic matter to help retain moisture, the farm was able to produce vegetables this year, Memphis’ hottest on record.

Tod looks over the hydroponic vegetable production arrangement built above a tank holding tilapia fish. Water is pumped continuously from the fish tank to the vegetable growth area. The water gathers nitrogen and nutrients from the waste of the fish. These nutrients feed the roots of tomatoes and watercress plants growing in a bed of gravel. Oxygen-rich water splashes back into the fish tank filled with rapidly-growing tilapia. Elsewhere on the urban farm, chickens live in a coop on wheels. Equipped with a small grazing yard, the coop can be rolled periodically to new locations. As the chickens scratch and feed, they remove weed plants and seeds while enriching the soil with their high-nitrogen waste. A few fainting goats are employed to clear brush and weeds. I look forward to helping Mary establish her urban honey bee hives.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Investigating Nosema Disease

Nosema disease is receiving considerable attention, because it is now being seen as possibly associated with honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder. As researchers began their study of all known honey bee pathogens in their search for possible causes of the large-scale die-off of honey bee colonies that started in 2006, they discovered that a new strain of Nosema disease was present In the United States. The new strain, known as Nosema ceranae, is thought to have originated with the Asian honey bee. Our honey bees, of European origin, have carried another strain of this bee disease, Nosema apis. This microorganism, which has been reclassified several times and is very similar to a fungus, causes dysentery in honey bees. Now, surprisingly, the original strain has been largely replaced by the new strain. Nosema apis has easily identified symptoms, mainly waste streaking on the hive; Nosema ceranae shows no symptoms. Nosema apis is normally a winter time disease; Nosema ceranae affects bees throughout the year. While Nosema apis was rarely considered a serious condition, Nosema ceranae seems to be much more lethal. Honey bees affected by Nosema ceranae have a shortened lifespan. For honey producers, this results in a lesser number of foragers and reduced honey harvests. The new strain is being reported to exist along with certain viruses in collapsing honey bee colonies. Both strains can be controlled by Fumagillin, our only available treatment.

Researchers at The University of Tennessee are among those studying Nosema disease. At the recent Tennessee Beekeepers Association’s annual conference, Dr. John Skinner and entomology graduate students Michael Wilson and Paul Rhoades demonstrated how to remove the honey bee mid-gut and examine the contents for Nosema spores. Like American foulbrood and chalkbrood, Nosema is a spore-forming pathogen. Nosema exists in both vegetative and spore-producing states. Microscopic analysis of infected honey bees often reveals millions of reproductive Nosema spores. In the photo Paul removes the mid-gut of a honey bee. Beekeeper Shirley Murphy observes in the background.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Feral Bees in a Tree

At times honey bees and people conflict when living close together. Ron has a colony of feral honey bees living in a cavity in a tree along his driveway. The bees are alerted when he works in the area, and he would like to remove the bees. Recognizing the importance of honey bees, Ron would like to remove the bees without killing the colony. Some have told him that the only way to remove the bees is to cut down the tree. Ron asks if the method of removing bees from a structure using a funnel is effective. I have removed bees from trees in this manner on a number of occasions. The funnel method allows a beekeeper to transfer the bees into a modern bee hive without killing the colony. Other bee removal techniques often require cutting the tree or using chemicals to drive the bees from their cavity.

I prefer to attempt a colony transfer in the spring when queen bees are available in newly established hives. A tree suitable for a funnel transfer has an entrance close to the ground. Easy access to the opening in the tree is important. The beekeeper must fashion a stand for the hive to receive the bees. It needs to be near the point where the bees enter the tree. The hive stand must be substantial, because the expanding hive can easily weigh several hundred pounds. The beekeeper places a queen-right hive with a small population of bees near the tree’s opening. Next, he closes all tree openings except one which he covers with a screen funnel. This allows the bees to exit, but not reenter the tree. Foraging bees returning to the tree overpower the guard bees of the close-by hive. The receiving hive’s population expands rapidly. The transfer requires six to 12 weeks to complete. Today’s picture shows feral bees fighting with guard bees moments after I placed a funnel over the opening to their tree.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

To Treat as a Precaution?

A person considering becoming a beekeeper wrote me and asked, “Are mites, moths, and Nosema common, and is it necessary to treat as a precaution?” I replied that each of these pests and pathogens is quite common, but we can keep bees in their presence. I recommend always trying to find a solution that limits the use of chemicals in the hive. One may want to develop an integrated pest management approach that doesn't rely on regular use of chemicals, as they often result in chemical-resistant pests. Using chemical treatments as a precaution can lead to problems. For example, the American foulbrood recently detected in Tennessee proved to be resistant to Terramycin, the approved treatment. Chemicals can be a part of an integrated pest management plan; they just need to be at the end of the list of management tools.

Mites are a major killer of honey bees, and mites exist in all colonies. One should approach them from several integrated pest management angles: Install screened bottom boards on hives; purchase queen bees bred for resistance to mites; dust the bees with powdered sugar; and learn techniques for measuring the hive's mite population. At the end of the honey producing season, apply one of the softer mite treatments if necessary. Wax moths, though plentiful, are not a problem in the hive. Wax moths are hive scavengers that eat the honeycomb and hive residue after the bee colony dies. As long as one keeps the colony queen-right and populated with bees, the workers will remove the wax moth eggs and larvae from the hive. Nosema exists in almost all colonies. Fumagillin is an approved treatment for Nosema that can be added to the bees’ feed. It appears that some of the viruses and Nosema combine to contribute to colony collapses and losses. As we learn more about pests and pathogens, we are able to keep our colonies strong, healthy, and productive.” Today’s picture: fireweed, a great honey plant of the American North-West.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Brood Nest

The honey bee makes a permanent nest. In nature, honey bees build a nest in a cavity of a hollow tree or a hole in a rock wall. Honey bees also find many man-made objects to be suitable cavities: mail boxes, barbecue grills, and the walls of houses. Man long ago learned to house honey bees in hives made of fired clay resembling drain pipes. Woven straw hives, called skeps, having the appearance of inverted baskets, were used by the Europeans who brought honey bee colonies to America. They packed two skeps inside a wooden barrel with ice and sawdust added to lower the temperature of the hives to reduce flying during the three month ocean crossing. The modern bee hive was invented by a Philadelphia pastor, Reverend Lorenzo L. Langstroth in 1851. The Langstroth hive is an open wooden box, structurally similar to a hollow tree. The observant pastor built his hive after carefully measuring the distances between sheets of honeycomb built by bees in the wild. The Langstroth hive contains removable frames holding the fragile beeswax combs. The ability to remove the combs allows beekeepers to inspect the hive for bee diseases and to harvest honey in a non-destructive manner.

Tod and I agreed to assist a new beekeeper set up his hive for the winter. The active colony of bees was housed in a traditional Langstroth hive with two deep hive bodies for the brood nest. These were topped with one shallow honey super. The super and the upper hive body were each filled frames of capped honey. The frames of the upper hive body were stuck firmly in the hive, so we lifted the box as a unit. The honeycomb in the lower box, containing the brood, was not held in frames. Combs collapsed like a house of cards. Beekeepers should never leave empty boxes in a hive for bees to fill with honeycomb. We will repair the hive next spring if the queen survived the implosion.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nectar and Pollen Sources

An observant Central Virginia beekeeper is identifying flowering plants in his area that are useful for producing nectar and pollen. There is a great diversity of flowering plants in a temperate region like Virginia, and a number of these are important bee plants. Virginia honey bees forage prolific nectar sources: clover, black locust, basswood or linden, and tuliptree. The Appalachian Mountains support the sourwood tree, which produces nectar in the higher altitudes. From the nectar of this flowering tree, bees make the famous sourwood honey. Many of the flowering plants produce both nectar and pollen to attract honey bees. There are seven families of flowering plants that can be considered exceptionally important to the honey bees. The rose family contains almonds, apples, pears, plums, cherries, blackberries, and hawthorns. The mustard family includes spinach, turnips, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, and rape or canola. The legume family has peanuts, soybeans, peas, beans, indigo, alfalfa, kudzu vine, and the most prolific honey plant, clover. Some legumes are trees: mimosa, redbud, Kentucky coffeetree, and black locust. The snapdragon family includes mullein and the empress tree. The composite family includes the sunflowers, dandelion, goldenrod, and many garden flowers, like the coneflower and daisy. The mint family includes spearmint, peppermint, catnip, bee balm, lemon balm, and coleus. Finally, the magnolia family includes one important tree for the honey bees, the tuliptree, also known as yellow poplar. Almost any plant in these families can be expected to provide considerable amounts of nectar and pollen.

Beekeepers can identify obscure wildflowers that they observe attracting honey bees by following local guides like Weeds of the Northeast, by Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso. One person’s weed may be a beekeeper’s important wildflower. The Hive and the Honey Bee, edited by Joe M. Graham, lists a number of bee plants according to family and identifies them as nectar or pollen sources. Today’s photo is a bumblebee collecting pollen from native wildflowers at the seven thousand foot elevation on Pike’s Peak in Colorado.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Taste of Honey

Honey is concentrated flower nectar. To get a taste of flowers, simply eat some honey. Honey may variety greatly from location to location, from year to year, and even from month to month within a particular year. Honey made from different nectar sources varies in color, flavor, and aroma. Honey harvested from one bee yard may change from year to year depending upon weather, wildflowers in bloom, and agricultural crops planted in the area. There are certain regions that produce honeys that are well known and sought after. Many people seek out the subtle and mild flavors of orange blossom, tupelo, sourwood, fireweed, alfalfa, star thistle, and cotton honeys. A select few are dedicated fans of the strong-flavored buckwheat honey with its lasting aftertaste.

By removing supers of honey after particular nectar flows, beekeepers can separate individual varieties of honey. The National Honey Board describes some of the varietal honeys at From the Peace Bee Farm hives at the Memphis Botanic Garden, with its great diversity of flowers, we have collected four distinct honeys in the same year: honey with the aroma of muscadine grapes, honey with a mild taste of flowers, peppery honey, and chocolate-flavored honey. The flavor of honey doesn’t always reflect the aroma of the flower. Lavender and citrus honeys don’t taste like the flowers. Today’s picture shows some of the many entries in the recent Tennessee Beekeepers Association’s honey show. Honey shows allow beekeepers the opportunity to hone their skills at producing a jar of honey as fine as the honey inside the cells of the bee hive. Competition among beekeepers is keen. For breakfast today, I had some mildly flavored East Tennessee sourwood honey with steel-cut oatmeal and coffee with chicory. From sourwood trees at altitude, honey bees produce a famous honey in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Sourwood trees are not consistent producers of nectar; but in years when there is a good nectar flow, Appalachian beekeepers sell rich sourwood honey to loyal customers.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Goldenrod in Bloom

Goldenrod is one of the most important flowering plants for the honey bee. It is a prolific producer of nectar and pollen late in the year. Blooming in the late summer and fall, this bright yellow-flowered composite provides nectar for the bees to build up stores of honey for winter. Goldenrod also provides pollen to help stimulate the colony to produce brood late into the fall. The pollen adds considerable amounts of protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals to the diet of the late-season bees, helping ensure that they will be capable of producing the food for the next year’s early brood. Goldenrod is a consistent producer of nectar and pollen in most years. The open flowers attract a number of insect species. It is not unusual to see honey bees, bumblebees, and solitary native bees sharing goldenrod blooms with soldier beetles and yellow jacket wasps. Today’s photo shows one honey bee foraging goldenrod for pollen while another collects nectar.

Peace Bee Farm’s hives at the Children’s Museum of Memphis were active today with bees bringing in large amounts of bright yellow pollen, likely from goldenrod. The bees were foraging heavily even though the early morning temperatures were quite cool. The bees were also removing some drones from the hive as well as pupae. The drones, male reproductive bees, are not needed in the winter. They are pushed out the hive entrance to perish the first frosty night of the fall. Honey bee pupae are removed by hygienic bees that have a genetic trait that allows them to detect parasitic Varroa mites living and reproducing in the brood cells with the developing bees. The Varroa puncture the surface of the bee and expose it to a number of pathogens, including viruses. Varroa can be found in all honey bee hives. The mite population in the museum observation hives increased in late summer. I applied a thymol-based treatment to reduce the parasitic mites as part of our integrated pest management plan.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tennessee Beekeepers Meet

Mankind has long known that honey bees produce honey, a delicious and nutritious food, and beeswax, a valuable item with many uses. To get to these items, people first learned to rob wild colonies and later to manage housed colonies of bees. Beekeepers, throughout history, have relied upon a sharing of skills to exploit and manage honey bees. Beekeepers from across Tennessee and from a number of neighboring states converged upon Cookeville, Tennessee for the annual conference of the Tennessee Beekeepers Association. The audience for Tennessee’s state-wide association included beekeepers from each of the state’s 30 affiliated local associations. Local, state, and regional beekeeping associations provide training and mentoring of new beekeepers. These associations are the foundation for the sharing of beekeeping skills. To effectively manage honey bee colonies, one must be exposed to both the modern scientific understanding of honey bee biology and the traditional beekeeping skills passed down from experienced bee handlers.

The annual conference is first a social event where beekeepers meet old friends and make new ones. It is most importantly an educational event where experienced beekeepers, researchers, and industry experts share information and tips on managing hives, maintaining healthy bees, and marketing honey and bee hive products. Beekeeping equipment manufacturers display and sell bee hives and equipment. One of the ways that beekeepers hone their skills in producing products from the bee hive is through honey shows. Here, beekeepers compete to present the most perfect jars of honey in extracted liquid form, or in chunk or cut comb form. Chunk honey includes a piece of honeycomb in a jar filled with liquid honey. Beekeepers also compete by exhibiting beeswax candles, blocks of beeswax, and products made from beeswax. Competition exists between producers of frames of capped honey, taken from the hive and displayed in boxes behind glass or plastic. Bee-related photography is a popular event at the honey show. I was greeted at the conference hall by larger-than-life and charming honey bees.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Honey Bee Flight School

Several hundred bees flew in figure-eight patterns in front of each bee hive this afternoon. The bees flew for several minutes in circling motions within three feet of the hive entrances. The activity looked somewhat like a bee colony swarming. Quietly, the flight activity returned to normal with foragers regularly flying in and out of the hives. Honey bees conduct “flight schools” in the afternoon for young bees to exercise their wings and learn the appearance and location of their hive entrance. These orientation flights of the young bees occur daily when the colony is producing young. The worker bees start flying before they become foragers at about three weeks of life. Prior to this time, the bees spend most of their time in the bee hive serving hive duties of cleaning the hive, feeding the brood, tending the queen, building honeycomb, transferring nectar, making honey, cooling the hive, removing dead bees, and guarding the hive. The presence of young bees in flight today is a welcomed sight; it means that the queen was producing brood in early October. These bees have a different physiology from spring and summer bees. They will live through the winter and have highly developed glands to produce food for next spring’s brood.

Honey bees also make orientation flights after a hive has been moved to a new location. The bees can be seen circling close to the hive entrance and then expanding their flight as they memorize visual landmarks. Beekeepers say that you can move a hive “two inches or two miles.” If a hive is moved a short distance, the foragers will return to the original site. Hives are usually moved several miles to prevent foragers from drifting back. However, for short hive moves, the bees can be encouraged to reorient by blocking the hive entrance with grass. Once the bees have chewed their way through a bundle of grass, they will start making orientation flights and memorize their new hive location.