Summer in Savannah is hot. Like seriously hot. The temperature today was 98 degrees today and the heat index was 114 degrees. Our bee garden has a 6-foot tall fence around it that blocks all the wind coming in from the nearby marsh. The air doesn't flow very well and once you are out there for fifteen minutes you feel like you just got out of the shower. That being said, I find that as I spend time out there, I focus less on the heat and more on our honey bees and the incredible work they do to keep their hives hospitable for themselves during our hot summer months. Our hives are on stands that lift them about 14 inches off the ground. We run screen bottoms on so that air can flow into them and the bees will not get overheated. This is standard practice for most beekeepers around our area. Even so, our bees are bearding on the outside of the hives to use their wings to blow cooler air into the hive and cool down their sisters and brothers. As humans, we complain when there are a few too many degrees above room temperature and we begin feel hot. Think for a moment about living in a place where we had 80.000 other humans living on top of one another and we had to use our hands to push the air into our houses to cool us down. Even sweating through my shirt, when I think of the bees I feel relatively cool compared to them.
I bring up the details of the season because we are getting to the point in our bee garden this year that we need to harvest some honey and condense our hives a little bit to make sure that small hive beetles do not invade them. This invasion has happened during the summer in recent years and I do not want to have to replace any more hives next year because I did not heed the warning of past seasons. I discussed hive beetles in a previous post, but I will take a minute for a brief overview here. Hive beetles are a sub-Saharan species of beetle that was first noticed in the United States in 1996 and has spread all over the south-eastern US as well as some parts of Canada and the west coast. The beetles tunnel into the hive and feed, defecate, and can even ferment the honey to a point where the resident bees will abandon their hive. A strong hive will use propolis to seal them to the side of the hive or the bees will attack and just force them out. In a weak hive, or a hive that is spread out over too many boxes, the hive beetles will overrun the bees and cause so much havoc inside the hive that the bees will have no other choice but to leave. The beetles can spread from hive to hive rather quickly and it can become an epidemic in an apiary if not taken seriously. There are multiple ways to deal with them, but none better than maintaining a healthy and strong colony. Bear in mind, this is only my opinion and that every beekeeper will have their own ways of dealing with these intruders. I heard from someone a few years back that if you ask 100 beekeepers how to perform the same task you will get 200 answers and all of them will be correct. Honey bees are so adaptable that they will work with whatever help you are willing to give them in order to make things right in their hives.
I mentioned to Ted (head beekeeper and founder of Savannah Bee) recently that I would like to have a summer harvest for our bee garden, and he reminded me that I should make sure to pull enough honey to condense the hives and make them strong enough to fend off the inevitable onslaught of small hive beetles that will come in a few weeks. I would like to think that I know most of the answers to any situation regarding our girls in the bee garden, but the truth is that Ted as a good 25 years experience on me. He was right (as always... sigh) and I ordered some bee escapes for our inner covers to make sure that when I pulled the honey from the hives, I would not have to deal with too many upset ladies as the hive was being disturbed. We are starting a new series of short videos soon that will document our progress in our bee garden as we move forward in the season, as well as give our personal opinion on some key points of beekeeping 101. You will be able to view the before and after of our harvesting of this season's honey in a few weeks!
This is the start of a bi-weekly update on our bee garden that will continue throughout the summer and fall. I hope that you will keep up with us on the status of our hives out here. I would love to hear input from readers on what you do differently than we do at Savannah Bee Company and also what you would suggest (especially concerning small hive beetle management). As a beekeeper, I have found that I am always evolving with the times as well as moving in my own direction, creating a beekeeping style of my own. It is the tips and tricks that I have learned from so many great beekeepers that have been so valuable to me and allowed me to innovate and create in the Savannah Bee bee garden! Until next time, keep on keeping (beekeeping that is)!
Submitted By: Usher Gay