We first met the Regional Beekeepers back in May of 2020. Then twice a year since, we've made a point to catch a chat with them to talk about their bees, their challenges, their successes and plans for the next six months. This time, we move from west...
We first met the Regional Beekeepers back in May of 2020. Then twice a year since, we've made a point to catch a chat with them to talk about their bees, their challenges, their successes and plans for the next six months.
This time, we move from west to east. First we meet Paul Longwell from Olympia, WA. A master beekeeper. He maintains AŽ Hives, Long Langstroth hives, and standard Langstroths.
Next stop is along the western slope of Colorado where we meet up with commercial beekeeper, Ed Colby. Ed is a regular here on the podcast reading portions of his book, Tales from the Bottom Board.
Next stop is just east of Akron, Ohio, where we check in with Tracy Alarcon. Tracey has years of experience keeping bees and raising his own queens. He's even been the county bee inspector. So he's seen all the good and bad. Fortunately, most of the bad has been with other's colonies!
Last stop on the trip is in Locust, North Carolina where we meet up again with chemical free beekeeper, Mark Smith. Mark is building his chemical free apiary using no outside bees since 2011. He posts regularly on Instagram under Flatwoods Bee Farm.
We invite you to join us and compare your story to theirs. Let us know what you think by leaving comments for this episode above. Start a discussion!
Thank you for listening!
Links and websites mentioned in this podcast:
We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer service, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com
This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help ensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode!
Thanks for Northern Bee Books for their sponsorship of Bee Books: Old & New with Kim Flottum. Northern Bee Books is the publisher of bee books available worldwide from their website or from Amazon and bookstores everywhere. They are also the publishers of The Beekeepers Quarterly and Natural Bee Husbandry. Check them out today!
Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com
We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a regular podcast featuring interviews with leading bee and insect researchers in the world of pollination, hosted by Dr. Kirsten Traynor.
We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments in the show notes of this episode or: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at www.beeculture.com
Thank you for listening!
Podcast music: Be Strong by Young Presidents; Epilogue by Musicalman; Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus; Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott
Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC
Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today podcast, presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today podcast is your source for Beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.
Global Patties: Hey Jeff and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees. Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs.
No matter where you are, Global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com
Jeff: Thanks, Sherry and thank you, Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support, and we know you'd rather we get right to talk about beekeeping. However, our great sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen from the transcripts, the hosting fees, the software, the hardware, the microphones, the subscriptions, the recorders. They enable each episode. With that, thanks to Bee Culture magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast.
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Hey everybody. Today we are going to do something, we're mixing up a little bit differently, and today with our regional beekeepers, we're going to just jump right into the conversation on the podcast today. Join Kim and I are from West to East. We're going to go with Paul Longwell, Ed Colby, Tracy Alarcon, and Mark Smith, and it's going to be fun, ain't it Kim?
Kim: Yes, it should be and going west to east is a little bit different this time, but in the long run it'll all come out.
Jeff: It's prevailing winds.
Kim: There you go.
Jeff: Hey, guys, welcome to Beekeeping Today podcast. Thanks for joining us this spring of 2022.
Mark: Well, thank you for having us back guys. It's always a pleasure.
Paul Longwell: Welcome back everybody.
Mark: Nice to be here.
Jeff: Well, let's get right into it then. Our listeners like the episodes when you guys are on it because beekeepers like to hear other beekeepers talking about their bees. Issues they face and the challenges and how they address them. Beekeeping is local, so everybody likes to hear something different or misery loves company. I'm never quite sure which one it is.
Kim: Paul, where are you?
Paul: Olympia, Washington.
Kim: Okay, people got an idea of where he's sitting.
Jeff: Paul, why don't you introduce yourself to our listeners? Let's just talk about the fall in the winter, the spring, and what you have planned for this summer.
Paul: Hi, I'm Paul Longwell. I've been beekeeping for about 16 years now. Got a University of Montana master beekeeping course under my belt and just finished the Hives for Heroes program from the University of Minnesota. Really loved bees, learned it a long time ago when I was a young child on the aunt's farm. For honey this year, we had a really good long season, very good weather. I've only had four hives at the time, but I still got over 150 pounds of honey off of them, which I thought was pretty dang good.
In fact, it's still crawling out of my ears and my wife's going, "Are you going to give it away? Going to give it away or what?"
That's one of the issues, she's worried about how much honey we're going to get this. This spring, we had a really difficult spring coming up. Jeff and I both got waylaid by our bee vendor that's saying, "Hey, the bees are here about two weeks early." Well, when we went down to pick them up, it was only 44 degrees. When I got back up to Olympia, it was 52 for an hour. Hide bees as fast as you can. Jeff and I were turning around and worried about, are we going to lose brood or what from the cold? In fact, yesterday I was just reading the report.
Yesterday was the coldest day on record for weather in Olympia at 23 degrees and a high of 66 in the afternoon. The weather has been really bad. We've been going through hot, cold, snowstorms, rain showers, hail, and everything else. A lot of people in the Northwest are having problems getting their bees in time and getting them in a good day so they could actually put them in their hives. I saw a e-mail from one of our queen breeders this morning saying that due to the weather, she lost almost all of her first round of queens that she was raising.
Had to start over on the next step.
Kim: Quick question, Paul, would be is your bees are obviously being affected by the weather as are your beekeepers out there. What are the plants doing? Are they behind? Are they on schedule? How is the food going relative to everything else?
Paul: Our cherry trees that are up now, our plum trees came out really early and the weather turned around. Basically took the blossom and took it away before they can even get out. I am lucky where I'm at because I got bigleaf maple around me. I've got 37 acres of bigleaf maple trees. They've been out on those. They're out today, but I would say a lot of people are complaining about the weather affecting the crops. I saw a news article where they're saying the cherries and apples, the blossoms are coming out, but the weather is there and the bees can't get out on them.
Kim: Yes, that's cold springs. The downer is that the bees are ready and there's no plants out there because the weather may delay them or kill them or something. It's always something as I like to say.
Jeff: Sound like a farmer, Kim.
Kim: Jeffrey, are you seeing the same thing where you are, 10 miles away?
Jeff: Paul often calls or texts me and says, "Oh, they're flying," and my bees are sitting there wanting hot chocolate, to take one of Paul's terms. I am a little bit more exposed to the wind where my hives are. He was seeing blooms before I saw blooms in my neighborhood. I think it's a little bit different, little microclimates around here.
Paul: Yes, that's one of the issues. I live in a natural reserve area. One side of me is nothing but an old blueberry farm that's been back to wetland. That's 150-some acres. Then I got a nature park that's 37 acres right on the other side of me. My bees are getting a lot of elder and maple. Where Jeff lives, it's more of agriculture, a grass farm, and everything else. I text him and he goes, "They're not bringing in pollen yet." I just sent him a picture to show him, "Hey, here's all the pollen on mine." He goes, "Dang." Big difference.
Jeff: He's rubbing my nose in it all the time. Yes, his bees were bringing in pollen about two weeks before mine were. It was pretty amazing to see the difference.
Kim: I have a question, Paul. You said this year you brought in about 150 pounds of honey from the four colonies?
Kim: What is your general colony average where you're at per year? Do you know that?
Paul: I don't know that offhand. I wasn't expecting that because two of my colonies were pretty well new. I wasn't expecting that much of a harvest the first off the year off of them, but they went to town.
Kim: They were packages last year or overwintered.
Paul: They were nucs. One was overwintered and there was two nucs I put in my Slovenia beehives and they went to town and did a good job.
Kim: Jeff, do you see that kind of average more or less out there?
Jeff: Yes. Well, this last season was really good with the blackberry. I have a lot of blackberries around me. I averaged maybe well, 60 pounds or so per colony. Most [crosstalk].
Kim: [crosstalk] honey. Oh. That's nice.
Jeff: It was great. I get a lot of good compliments as if I actually do it myself.
Kim: Homemade honey.
Paul: It's a major crop over here. These blackberries and that was one of the problems in our weather pattern is the blackberries came on. Then they were on and then all of a sudden, they were off. A lot of people in other parts of the state were complaining. The blackberries were in bloom for a very short time, the bees couldn't get to them, or it was so dry that there was no nectar in the blackberries themselves.
Kim: Well, that's the next question I was going to ask is, what's your moisture situation look like now and in the next three months? Are you getting any predictions?
Paul: Well, I saw one report that Volcano Tonga that went off, its eruption cloud is circulating the earth right now and it's causing more rainfall than we were expecting for the next couple months.
Kim: Like I said, it's always something, if it's not-- [laughs]
Paul: It's always something. That's beekeeping, right?
Jeff: That's true and true.
Kim: Just overall, what's your moisture situation out there over winter? I don't know you guys get water from snowpack and those sorts of things. Is that looking about the same, less, more?
Paul: I lost two hives last year due to weather. It wasn't varroa. Everybody got the same treatments and everything else but I lost my two Langstroth hives due to the weather. We had a spurt where it really warmed up and then all of sudden it was cold. In between that even with candy boards and the other one, and clipboards on there. Those two Langstroth went bye-bye.
Kim: Never good. What else you got Jeff?
Jeff: What are your plans for the summer, Nepal?
Paul: Well, put a couple more Slovenian beehives together because the weather around here and I wanted to protect the bees more from the weather. Do that, I have two hives that overwintered in my horizontal hive and one of my AZ hives that I want to split here shortly when queens are available. Hopefully, expand two or three colonies. I might build myself another long lang hive to turn around and transfer one of my Langstroth hives to it. I've seen to have better luck on long lang hives to get them to overwinter better because of the thicker walls in that.
Kim: What's your average winter temperature?
Paul: What is it Jeff, cold?
Jeff: Well, no, it's not cold. It's pretty mild actually. I would say our average winter temperature is like low 40s would be an average. Be 40, 41. There are a couple of nights.
Kim: January, February?
Jeff: In January and February, we'll get a cold streak but average, we don't get much snow. We get two weeks maybe of snow on a snowy year.
Paul: No, that's usually February.
Kim: Okay. Thank you.
Paul: We have really cold springs, which is a problem for a lot of people because their bees are starting to come on but they can't get out of their hives to add feed or that. Then next thing they go, brood is starting to come around and they run out of resources but you can't get them the hives.
Kim: Oh, good piece of advice is to keep your eye on your bees and the food that's available to them because no food, no bees.
Paul: Spring is always a challenge.
Jeff: Well, thanks a lot, Paul. Paul Longwell and Olympia, Washington. This is a great opportunity. Let's hear from one of our sponsors, Strong Microbials and we'll be right back.
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Jeff: Hey, next up, we're moving east and we have Ed Colby sitting on the western slope in Colorado, or at least that's where you usually are. Ed. Where are you today?
Ed Colby: That's where I am. Right there on the western slope. I don't generally go too far away.
Ed: Paul's radical weather in the Northwest is pretty much, I'd call that typical for Colorado. In the springtime, we had here on the farm, our apricots during blooming, it got down to 20 degrees the last couple of nights. Marilyn and I went skiing in Aspen yesterday and where it had snowed 17 inches. It was reportedly the best skiing in the year.
Ed: It's when you think winter's over, it's not. As for last summer, last fall, my harvest. I had a 100-pound average, which is really good for around here, where it's typically more like 40 pounds. As for this summer, my goal is to [chuckles] produce comb honey, and I'm not very good at it. I'm going to reread the two books that I have by Jean Killian and Richard Taylor. This year, I'm going to nail it on the comb honey.
Ed: My overwintering, what was really good, I lost 1 hive out of 63. Although I do have a few weak ones, but I don't mess with them too much in spring. I rarely combine hives. I just got to let God sort them out. I've had colonies that have dwindled down to one frame in the spring that, well, this one I'm thinking I made a super honey. My billionaire who shall remain anonymous has moved from a location at about 7,000 feet to 8,900. He's still got both properties but anyhow, he wants bees at his new property and I'm going to go up there.
I just got some queens today and I'm going to go up tomorrow and I'm going to make some splits and increase his holding of four hives to, I think probably seven. Then I can leave some hives at his very productive, lower elevation. We can move them up to a higher elevation and give them a try out there. It's always a crapshoot.
Kim: Ed, I got to ask you, is the air thick enough at 8900 feet so the bees could fly?
Ed: Well, [chuckles] they can navigate okay, but the weather is more the problem. As far as I'm concerned, at this latitude, that's about as high as you can go. I've had bees as high as almost 11,000 feet. The problem is, they don't fly. Not because the air's too thin but because it just doesn't get warm enough. This new location, I don't know what it's going to be like, as far as floral sources but there's only one way to find out and I intend to find out.
Jeff: Do you plan on leaving them up there, or are you just going to take them up and drop them off?
Ed: No, I'm going to talk this guy, and let me bring them down in the fall. He's really crazy about bees but sometimes I have to tell him what's practical and what's not.
Ed: At 8,900 feet, the valley floor is about 7,800 feet. I haven't actually looked at this piece of property but the dandelions are spectacular down on the valley floor, where I have kept bees before. It might only be about a mile away so they may do fine. I got 15 queens today. I'm going to get 50 more in two weeks, and I've got overall plan. I'm not a great planner, but I think I have a pretty good plan this year. I've got Formic Pro and Hop Guard are going to be my go-to, my decides in the summer.
When I do an oxalic acid dribble in November, December, I generally can't find a mite until about June. I haven't had any of mite tests yet this year. I'll do a few just enough to assure myself that that December dribble that I did actually worked. I do a fair amount of my treatment in the summer with honey supers on. I intend to do this with Hopguard and Formic acid. I prefer to use Formic acid, but a lot of times it's just too hot around here.
I was just totally intrigued with the article in the current issue of Bee Culture by a gentleman whose name Kim Flottum would probably remember, but I don't have it in front of me. Anyhow, this guy did a comparison between thymol products. He was very high on the ApiLife Var which I've never tried because it's better at a wider range of temperatures, especially cooler temperatures. I think for a fall treatment if needed, I'm going to try to go with that ApiLife VAR which is like a combination of several thymol-type products and not just straight thymol.
I've got some ApiLife Var that I'll probably use up. That's an Amatraz- based miticide. For me, the most important thing is that late fall, early winter oxalic acid doable. That's my go-to miticide. I'm out of things to say here unless you guys got some questions.
Jeff: Did you take bees to Almonds this year?
Ed: No, I haven't done that in several years. I got sideways with a guy who was the bee broker out there. Doesn't matter what his name is. He's very well known in the bee world. He doesn't like me too much, but anyhow so I stopped sending bees to the Almonds then. Well, so I left them here in Colorado and they don't make any money for me here in Colorado, in February. They've done so well overwintering that I'm really addicted, taking care of my own bees here in Colorado in the winter, not sending them off with somebody else to a land of milk and honey, California.
Kim: Well, what's your moisture situation out there, Ed? Is it there enough now? Is it looks like you're going to be enough water in the rest of the season?
Ed: Oh, water. Yes. That's always a problem. Well, as you know everybody who's picked up a newspaper this year knows there's practically no water in Lake Powell in Lake Mead. We've had so many consecutive below-average moisture years that the ground is dried out. Even when we do have a good year that water, instead of going into the rivers, it just doesn't make it there. It gets soaked up by the dry ground. As of right now, this is about an average moisture winter for Western Colorado. I don't think it's going to help with the overall water situation.
We're always panicked about wildfires around here. That's a bigger issue.
Kim: Are you going to be in the path of any of this? Basically, west of the Missouri River, they're saying is serious drought. That puts you pretty close to being fires and not enough water and everything else. Are you looking at that being a problem? The next question is if I'm living someplace where I'm in the path of a possible fire, what the heck do I do?
Ed: I don't know. I stay up and worry about it. I actually woke up about two nights ago and I couldn't go back to sleep because I was thinking about, "What the hell am I going to do if a big fire is on the dry hillside unirrigated behind me and the wind's blowing 80 miles an hour." Those 14 firefighters that get killed in, I guess it was 1994, that was just right down the road. I saw that thing blow up. It's a huge problem here. Now, and it's even a health problem because fires were burning. We had fires to the east and the west big fires two summers ago.
It was very unhealthy. I don't know how bad it was for the bees, but it was not pleasant for human beings to breathe.
Kim: I just have a question for Ed about the ApiLife Var that's the way for one, correct? The camper, menthol, and thymol product comes in the wafer?
Ed: Yes. I think so. I don't think it's a-- Kim might have to help me out here. I thought it was a script.
Kim: No, it comes in a wafer. You break them up and you put one in each corner of the colony. As an inspector, I saw people put that on plastic frames and the direction say not to use it on plastic frames because it melts them and I witnessed that firsthand. You might just wanted to let you know if you hadn't read that yet that if you have plastic frames, you're not supposed to use it on plastic frames there some reactions with it. It's interesting--
Ed: I've got enough of them that he probably rained on my parade there, Tracy.
Kim: No, I'm well, I'm sorry. What, trying to rain on your parade about using it. I remember finding colonies when I was inspecting where people had used that and hadn't fully read the directions and found those wafers into the plastic frames. That was 10 years ago maybe things have changed between now and then.
Jeff: Thanks a lot, Tracy appreciate the feedback. Anybody, our listeners, if you want to pick up any great miticide products for your varroa treatments this year, you can check that out at our sponsor coming up Betterbee.
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Jeff: All right, everybody. We're going to get back in that bus and head further east and to Ohio near Youngstown. If I recall, right. Tracy Alarcon. Thanks for joining us again.
Tracy Alarcon: That's correct. I live about halfway between Akron and Youngstown in Northeast, Ohio. I just live on a couple of miles, south of Interstate 76. It's been an interesting year. As far as our fall harvest, we had a good amount of rain in June, which usually means we'll have a pretty good goldenrod flow but in my area I basically had none. When I remember listening or talking about our last podcast, I was halfway through the season and the bees brought in enough for them to overwinter on.
They didn't bring in any surplus. I was very disappointed because we had a great, great spring honey flow, and like I said, we had plenty of rain early, but I didn't get any goldenrod. I am but people that are north of me, north of 76 and north of the turnpike in 80 on the turnpike, which is route 80, they said they Raed in the goldenrod. They get a lot more rain up there consistently with the weather, from the great lakes. They get a lot more rain showers up there. Winter, I'm not laughing at Paul, I guess I'm laughing with Paul, but his description is our typical normal winter.
We had 70-degree days and then two days later it was snowing. We had a lot of snow this year so bad that I ended up with some ice dams on the roof of my house. While clearing them I slipped and fell and tore my rotator cuff. Winter, for me, I haven't been in the bees since late February because I had surgery in March. The bees were doing great then, but like Ed was discussing my varroa, I use formic acid and oxalic acid. I make a lot of splits. We've talked about it in the past with the brood breaks.
When I make my splits in the summer, they all get an oxalic acid treatment. If I need to, I'll use a formic acid sometime in August, September weather dependent, of course. By weather, I'm talking about the temperature because I need to keep the formic acid in its control temperature. Then sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, still I'll get oxalic acid vaporization.
Jeff: Are you using dribble earlier in the season than--
Tracy: I'm lazy? I use vaporization.
Jeff: You're not lazy, you're time constraint.
Tracy: That's true. To me, it's more efficient.
Jeff: There you go.
Tracy: Plus I work and I leave the house by about 5:15 AM. Actually, that works out really well because can hop on the tractor, run out there in the dark everybody's home, give them quick vaporization that takes less than 10 minutes per colony. Then I can leave for work. For me, that works out better than having to have daylight and opening the colonies. If there's any-- November or December, I doubt that there's much flight in Colorado.
Depending on here, we could have flight weather or not. Those are my varroa things. My spring right now is just, we had really warm weather a few days ago and then I learned a new weather term. We had something called graupel, G-R-A-U-P-E-L, and it's riming of a snowflake. Snowflake, it's ice crystals formed around the edges, and we had that coming down. It was warm enough to snow, but it was cold enough to ice on the snow. Today, this morning about five o'clock, it was 60 degrees, 62 degrees and at 10:00 AM it was 42 degrees.
We just have crazy, crazy weather here. Here we've had, at least in my area, we're a quagmire, there's water everywhere. You try to walk around the property at all and you're just squishing everywhere. My summer plans are this year, I'm going to have to learn how to try to work colonies one-armed. I've been out of month out of surgery and I have a couple months of therapy before I'm supposed to be able to start lifting anything really heavy. I found my old-- When I first started, I bought every toy I could find and I bought one of those frame grippers.
I tried that back in late February when I was just checking colonies for food stores. I can use my high tool one-handed and I'll have to set it down, which I'll lose it even more than normal, but that's why I have 20 of them I think now. Then use the frame grip to be able to check the frame. It's going to be interesting to see what I can do if I can do it.
Jeff: Well, Tracy, I just want to throw a suggestion out to you that one of the guests we had on our show or in the wintertime, Cliff Struhl, runs a company called Bee Smart Designs, and he's come out with a brand new product. It's basically a hive tool magnet contraption that goes on a belt that goes around your waist. The hard thing about using it is remembering to use it as opposed to leaving your hive tool on top of a hive or wherever you put it. One-handed, it'd be a great thing to have. It'd be your tool will always be on your hip, on a magnet easy to grab.
Tracy: That sounds like a great idea. I use stainless steel tools though. I don't think that that'll work on the stainless, but I can give it a try.
Jeff: I think it will.
Tracy: Well, stainless is usually-- In my boating experience, stainless is non-magnetic. I don't know how much stainless are in these hive tools that I have, but I'll give it a try. That's a good idea.
Kim: This might be a good reason to go to 21 hive tools, Tracy.
Tracy: Well, you lose them, you buy them, you win them at raffles.
Kim: Then you find the three that you lost last year. I've got one of those magnetic belts, and I've used it a couple of times now. Jeff's right in terms of remembering to put it there, but about the a third or fourth time, it's just a habit and you just slap it on there. You don't even have to look, it grabs it. I got a quick question for you on what's blooming where you are in Northeast Ohio.
Tracy: Well, we're lucky here in Northeast Ohio because Ohio State University years ago put together a phenology calendar. They talk about bloom times and I was just looking at it. This year we're at 121 growing degree days, and there's a whole formula, plants bloom based on their growing degree days. As of today, we're at 121 growing degree days. Last year at this date, we were at 231 growing degree days. The maples start blooming around 34 growing degree days, and they're at full bloom at about 75-80.
We've had the maples and that's about it that we've had. I've got some dandelions that are just starting to pop in my yard. In the farmer's yard, last year was already full of dandelions. Now, I don't even see any in the fallow field next door right now. Like I said, we've had so much rain and it's just been so cold that we haven't really had much that I can recognize bloom. The bees are still pretty heavy and I put on like 20 pounds of fondant on each colony of baker's fondant, so they have more than enough food till next month, I guess.
Kim: I guess, I'm about what about 40 miles west to you in Northeast Ohio, something like that. We've got some maples blooming and today that 60 degrees morning you mentioned, things really began to shine. I'm looking for a little more bloom coming out the next week or so, but we are behind where we normally are, like you are there. What do you look for this summer in terms of moisture? It sounds like you got way more than you're going to need.
Tracy: Well, that's what I always think, but as we've mentioned on previous podcasts out here where we live, we have this super hard clay. While it doesn't drain, if you don't get the continuous flow, it turns into concrete. I always look at the Old Farmer's Almanac and they're saying, it's going to be a warmer dryer April and May, which I had to laugh because it's already April 14th and it's been wet as I'll get out. They're saying that it's supposed to be a cooler and wetter June and July than the average, but here in Northeast Ohio, if you don't like the weather right now, you wait two minutes because it's changing.
Kim: The one thing about that dry clay soil that you mentioned is it has proved beneficial in terms of small hive beetle. Their larva leaves the colony and they can't get in. They can't bury, they can't do anything. They just die out there. I think the small hive beetles I saw in my colonies last summer, I could count on one hand with fingers left over just because of that problem, dry and hard soil.
Tracy: I agree, and we talked about it last time because it's so wet if they do come out to try to pupate, they'll pupate in water. They'll not pupate in the ground. I think a lot of them drown there too.
Kim: They drowned early and can't get in late.
Tracy: That's a good thing is for our small hive beetles go. I'm going to have to play it by ear this year. I always like to do some summer splits around the summer solstice because that's part of my mite control plan when I put in fresh queens or young queens for winter and put a brood break in there with an oxalic acid treatment. I find that after years of doing that, I very rarely have any problems with mites from my colony. It's from the surrounding colonies when they start to collapse and I get a few of those mite bombs on some of my bigger colonies.
That's when I have to end up using some formic acid. I've been using Formic Pro because it's a little bit longer treatment and not quite so volatile. Those are the things that I'm doing. Right now, I lost one colony out of 15 so I have 14 colonies. Unfortunately, it was our club's colony. I'm the president of our local colony and I didn't re-clean it last year. We have enough bees that we can make a split easily and have a club colony for our club apiary.
Jeff: Well, it's a good learning experience for the club.
Tracy: We're going to take a colony and we're going to do a split at our field day in May and we're going to install a package. Everybody that can see how a package is and we're going to install the package probably the first week in May when they get here. The split will do at our field day late in May, and that's always fun when we do that because a lot of people are really anxious about making splits and they're just not that difficult. It's always fun when we do that, but that's it in a nutshell.
Jeff: Thanks a lot. Let's keep on our journey and let's what you're right there on, right off of interstate 80, 76, and jump on 76. Get on to 80 cut across over to Pittsburgh cut south ultimately and we end up at Mark's house. Hey Mark, we're coming up to your house. Mark Smith Flatwood apiaries, right, and you're in-- I can't remember which Carolinas you're in.
Mark Smith: I am in a little town called Locust. I'm about 35 miles east of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Jeff: You're in North Carolina. All right. Very good.
Mark: Interstate 77 does come through Charlotte.
Jeff: All right. I've remembered that very well. I used to take that all the time. How was your fall and winter and how's the spring and summer looking?
Mark: Well, everything so far is going really great. We had the largest honey harvest I've ever had last year. Going into fall, here in the south, fall flows, it's like gambling. All it does is take one tropical system coming up to coast. All your goldenrod and asters gone. Last year, we had probably the best fall flow that I've ever seen here. It was a great year. I was actually in some colonies having to pull frames of pollen out because they were starting to get pollen down. The fall flow was really good.
Jeff: Now, for our listeners who don't know, you're all natural at this point, right, with your bees?
Mark: Yes. I'm the oddball hippie one of the bunch. I've been chemical-free since 2014. December was really crazy here, extremely warm. I don't know exactly how many record highs that we set, but more importantly, we set 17 record high lows in the month of December. I know you have to think about that for a little bit.
Jeff: High lows.
Mark: Yes, record high lows. In December this past year, we had several nights where it just barely got down into the 60s. That's just crazy for December. Obviously, with that kind of weird weather, one of the first trees that produce any pollen or nectar for us here is red maple. I don't know why there's two different varieties of red maple here close to where I live, but I usually get two different blooms. The first bloom happened before Christmas last year. That set of red maples bloomed out before we even got to Christmas.
Then as soon as we got past Christmas, Kim sent all the cold air down here and we went back into winter. We saved that second red maple flow for when it usually happens.
Kim: I thought it was fair to share, Mark.
Mark: You're a good man. So far this year, we've had rain and moisture when we needed it. With trying to make honey, you have to have moisture for there to be nectar in the blooms, but you have to have days where they can fly. If you have rain all the time, I don't care how much nectar's getting blooms, the bees can't get to it. We've had just enough good flight days that so far the flow this year is amazing. I think I shared on the pod last time we were all together that I set a milestone as far as-- I know it sounds weird me being chemical-free, I do mite checks.
I had the lowest mite check in August of last year, a 0.6% in August. It was actually a state inspector that did that mite check, so that took me out of the loop. That's all on her, so that's the official one. Well, I've set another milestone. October the 1st last year, I had 37 colonies, every one of them over winter chemical-free. We're really proud about that. As far as where the flow is right now, here where I live in North Carolina, the hollies are just about done, that was an amazing flow. We're starting to go into tulip poplar.
The way that you know that tulip poplar has started blooming, and they bloom from the top down. You start seeing bees coming back with not just pollen on their head, but completely covered with pollen because they have to crawl down. The bloom is so big that they have to crawl down into it to get to the nectar. So far, we're off to a good start this year and we're really looking forward to a good year.
Jeff: I remember you posting the picture of the red maple, the maple bloom in January, I think it was. I was thinking, "Oh my gosh, that's-
Mark: A lot of people think that's a terrible thing, that that source was used early. Well, yes, it was used early, but that resource was collected and put into my colonies, so it wasn't wasted. We were really happy about it.
Kim: Are you still trying to expand this year up to 100 colonies?
Mark: That is my goal. That's my next milestone I want to get to 100 and come out of winter over 100, so I'll keep you posted.
Kim: Well, with 40 colonies that should be pretty easy to get right up to 100 provided you can get enough queens, but you raise all your own, right?
Mark: I raise all my bees. I haven't bought so much as a queen since 2011 and have been beeless since 2011. Yes, I raise all my own stock.
Kim: When is your prime queen rearing time? Are you in that right now already?
Mark: Oh, we're in that right now.
Kim: Okay. Well, good luck with that.
Mark: Oh yes. Hey, so far we're making lots of swarm sales.
Kim: Maybe Mark, you could explain. I'm always a little concerned that somebody living in Denver is going to listen to you and think, "Oh, chemical-free, maybe I'll try that." I believe that there are some circumstances, and trust me, I'm in awe of what you do. As I recall, we've talked about this in past years, you do have some unique circumstances that have to do with the surrounding bees that make it somewhat easier to raise these chemical-free and keep your mite numbers down.
Mark: Yes. Well, I don't have any commercial operations around me. Probably if you wanted to say commercial operations, probably the biggest ones around me are right around 100 to 200 colonies. As far as big operations, there's nothing close to me. No interstate highways that the guys going back and forth to California would stop at a pit stop. I don't have any interstates close to me. I'm a little isolated, more isolated than others, but it's not the middle of nowhere.
Kim: Basically, your technique of late-season mite population, I don't want to say control, but mite population adjustment has to do with making splits later in the summer. Is that how you work in there?
Mark: No. I actually do a lot of splitting on June the 1st. I don't wait until the end of the year. I do a lot of early splitting, so it coincides with my flow.
Kim: When is your major flow over then?
Mark: June the 21st. It's almost like cutting off a spigot. You're going to just stop.
Kim: You're making splits the first part of June and your flow is over pretty much two-thirds of the way, three-fourths of the way through June. Those queens are coming in and there's not much going on in terms of food collection.
Mark: That's right.
Kim: The timing key then is new queens and no food, right?
Mark: Well, there's still lots of food on the colonies from the farm.
Kim: Lots of food inside but the flows are essentially over so you don't get a lot of traffic in and out.
Kim: That's what would make your location difficult to do that with I think, the timing of the flows.
Mark: Yes. Most of my splits are done right around June the 1st but I've already been splitting and making nucs. Most of it's done, like I said, right around the 1st of June.
Kim: Jeff and Paul, are you making splits sometime during the season for this mite control or mite population adjustment so that you have a queenless period and your bees have a chance to clean house?
Paul: I will probably try it this year. My treatment is I look at my hives every three weeks to see what my mite count is and then make my adjustments based on that. I think I will try this brood break this year.
Jeff: I'm not planning any splits this year. I'm not intending on any splits.
Kim: I'm not far from Tracy and I've had fairly good success doing that, doing a queenless period. A little bit later than June but not much later than June to break that brood cycle and give the bees time to clean house and get rid of whatever is in there. Some years it works really, really well, and some years I can't read their calendar and it didn't work at all.
Mark: Yes. Another reason I do it so close to June the 1st is because if you do your bee math, I should have emerging queens on or right around the summer solstice. I've always heard that any queen that's mated after that, she'll start laying winter bee eggs quicker. Whether or not there's any truth to that, I don't know, but it works. We'll just keep doing it that way.
Jeff: Your success is as a result of something you're doing, right, so that's really cool.
Mark: Yes, something I'm doing or bees are doing it but we're happy.
Kim: That many colonies overwintered is telling me something that you're doing right.
Mark: Thank you.
Jeff: Location, location, location.
Mark: That too.
Jeff: That's good. Guys, it's been a great pleasure having you back on the podcast. We just have a couple of seconds left. Anything anybody wants to say wants to mention before we wrap the show up?
Tracy: It's always a pleasure to be here and listen to all your gentlemen discuss how you keep bees and why you're keeping bees. I just wonder about the robin situation that you say your flow ends, this is for Mark sorry. You say your flow ends June 21 and when does your fall flow start as a general rule?
Mark: That's dependent on moisture. If we're having moisture in the ground coming out of summer. Our summers can be very dry but typically by September the 1st, you'll start seeing some of the shorter variety of goldenrod starting to bloom. Cluster bees really don't care that much about it. Usually, September the 1st as long as we can keep some moisture, that's about when our fall flow will start.
Tracy: Do you have any robin problems between that time amongst your colonies in your apiaries?
Mark: Not really because the way I do my splits on June 1st is almost like equalizing all my colonies. That they all get a fresh start, so to speak. Coming out of the spring flow with a broodless period, the population comes down a little bit. We don't have a strong guy and a weak guy in apiary. No, I really don't have problems with robin. Of course, on all my colonies I run the entrances short small, year-round. Was it three inches, I think it is the small entrance or not the little bitty entrance but the next size up.
Ed: I think it's something like 3 inches. You're talking about the wooden entrance reducers that have the two holes.
Mark: Yes. I'll run those all the time, I never have waddled.
Kim: Jeff, I'd like to state one thing before we go here. My household and Tracy's household are going through a similar situation. This spring, Tracy's got a torn rotator cuff and my much better half Kathy fell and damaged her shoulder. I've got a one-handed helper just like Tracy's going to have here this year. Hopefully, between the two of them, they'll heal fast and get better.
Jeff: It sounds like you have a job cut out for you. You're going to be over helping Tracy for a little bit then get back home help Kathy for a little bit.
Kim: There you go. That's cut out for me.
Jeff: It sounds like that's what you set yourself up for.
Tracy: Kathy usually does the driving and navigation. Kim, I think might get lost on his way out here. Especially with all the construction going on in Akron.
Kim: Thanks for letting me know.
Tracy: It's still bad just so you know.
Jeff: Gentlemen, it's been a great pleasure and honor to have you on the podcast and wish you the best in this coming season and look forward to having you back in the fall.
Ed: Thank you, enjoyed it.
Kim: Take good notes, summer guys.
Mark: Thank you, Jeff.
Jeff: We'll see y'all later.
Ed: Take care, everybody. Thanks, Jeff. Thanks, Kim.
Paul: Nice seeing you guys again.
Kim: Good to see you, Paul. Take care.
Ed: Tell Kathy, get well soon.
Jeff: That about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple podcast wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps other beekeepers find this quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage. As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast.
We want to thank our regular episode sponsor Global Patties, check them out at globalpatties.com. Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of this podcast, check out their probiotic line at strongmicrobials.com We want to thank Betterbee for their longtime support. Check out all their great beekeeping supplies at betterbee.com Thanks to Northern Bee Books for their support of Bee Books: Old & New with Kim Flottum. Check out all of their books at northernbeebooks.co.uk. Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on the show.
Feel free to leave us comments and questions and leave a comment section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.
[00:54:57] [END OF AUDIO]
Paul first developed his interest in bees at a young age while watching the commercial beekeepers’ hives on his aunt’s farm in Yamhill Oregon. After a long career serving in the Army and as a public employee, his love and interest in keeping and working with bees raised back to the forefront in 2008.
An avid beekeeper and member of the Olympia Beekeepers Association, Paul enjoys teaching and sharing his love of bees. As a Montana and Washington state master beekeeper, Paul has gained experience in both Langstroth, Top-Bar and Slovenian AZ hives. He noticed how the local maritime winter weather influenced his honeybees and beehive losses. Paul’s research for solutions lead him to better understand the Slovenian bee houses and AZ hives. Discovering better honeybee health and longevity, Paul converted a storage building into a bee house and installed several AZ-type hives.
Paul actively shares his knowledge by giving beekeeping presentations in-person, during podcasts and Zoom classes. He has taught several beekeeping classes for the Washington State Beekeeping Association, including the apprenticeship course to inmates at Cedar Creek Prison. Paul also serves as one of the clubs’ mentors to new beekeepers. He serves on the Thurston County Fairgrounds and Event Center board.
Along with his wife Penny Longwell who is a master gardener, they co-developed the Pollinator demonstration garden at the Thurston County Fairgrounds and Event Center. They also offer pollinator classes for the local Master Gardener Interns.
I am the owner of Flatwoods Bee Farm in Locust, NC, USA. We have been keeping bees since 2010. In 2014, we changed to a chemical-free operation and have been since. Our bees are our own survivor stock. We sell honey and nucs.
Sideline beekeeper. Columnist, Bee Culture magazine "Bottom Board" column since 2002. Author, A Beekeeper's Life, Tales from the Bottom Board. (https://www.amazon.com/Beekeepers-Life-Tales-Bottom-Board/dp/1912271885)
Actuarial tables indicate I should be retired, but I continue to be obsessed with Apis Mellifera. I live in western Colorado with the gal Marilyn, the blue heeler Pepper, 15 chickens, three geese, four lambs and way too many bees.
Tracy Alarcon currently lives in Diamond, OH and took up beekeeping in 2006 after his wife, Tina, got involved with the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. After reading everything he could get his hands on about beekeeping he took a Beginners course at the A.I. Root company in Medina, OH where the class was taught by Kim Flottum, and the rest is history, as the saying goes.
That first year he started with two packages in the Spring which turned into seven colonies going into that first Winter. As luck would have it three of those colonies survived that first Winter. He has sold queens and Nucs and managed up to 100 of his own colonies at one time. Currently he manages 21 colonies and would like to get it down to 10 or so, but he still likes raising queens so the number never seems to go down!
Tracy got involved in three of his local beekeeping associations doing whatever was needed and is still writing a newsletter for his home county, Portage, where he currently serves as the President. He also served for 5 years with the Ohio State Beekeepers Association and while there help craft the OSBA Master Beekeeper program and compiled the Best Management Practices that were adopted by the Board of Directors in 2012.
Tracy teaches beginners, queen rearing, seasonal management, and... beekeeping. Tracy served as the Portage County Apiary Inspector, (OH), for 7 years. He also is a recently certified EAS Master Beekeeper class of 2021!
Tracy lives with his wife, Tina, and their 5 dogs on 25+ acres in Northeastern OH. When not tending the bees or the gardens they enjoy life with nature.