Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mass Bee Day 2015

Today was the Mass Beekeeper's annual Field Day. It's an all-day activity held at the University of Massachusetts Agronomy Farm in South Deerfield, MA. This is my 3rd or 4th time going - they have a variety of sessions appropriate for anyone from the first year beginner to the veteran beekeeper.

The day is broken up into 4 time slots, and you choose from the sessions presented. Some sessions repeat (like Ken Warchol's bee hive inspection presentation); others are presented only once. So you have to pay attention to what is going on. You can see the agenda here. I'll mention a little about the sessions I attended. I took lots of pictures, so this post has a lot of photos!

First, the site of the field day is gorgeous. Every year I've gone the weather has been wonderful. The UMass Agronomy Farm is used in the farm teaching at the university. They have test fields for various crops, and they also have a few cows!

The sessions for the field day were set up literally in the field! The local bee club brings in some hives to be used for the various sessions, for the demos etc.

The field day brings in people from all around the region, multiple states and bee clubs. In addition to the session presenters, a few of the beekeeping supply companies bring in a trailer and set up to sell things (if you put in an order ahead of time, they will bring it to field day free, saving on shipping!). I ended up buying a Cloake board, something that is somewhat more complicated than I can make.

This is my 3rd or 4th year attending, so I finally know what to bring (including water and sunscreen!) I got there plenty early so I could claim a good spot for my chair, along the fence line!

Session 1
The first session I attended was Ken Warchol's demonstration on a hive inspection. Even though I've been a beekeeper for 7 years, I always enjoy listening to Ken show what to look for at this time of the year.

The bees were very gentle all day, and one of the nice things about field day, is that you get a chance to get up close and personal with the bees. Here is Ken showing a frame of bees to the audience members. They ended up passing it around like it was a book! No stings!

Some notes from Ken's presentation
  • Ken has been working with bees for 38 years!
  • Last year had many problems overwintering, with losses due to:
    • Starvation
    • Mites and associated diseases
  • If you see black heavy dots of gunk on your frames, you probably have Nosema problems
  • Clean your hive tool! Use a 6:1 mixter of water to Lysol, and a brillo pad
  • At this time of the year, a good hive will have 10-12 frames of brood from an overwintered hive. A hive will level off at this strength
  • Start treating in October for Nosema using Fumagillin
  • During inspection, look for abnormalities - sunken caps, pin holes / puncture marks
  • Make sure the bees have enough food. You may have to feed even in the summer.
  • Queen cups are OK - bees will just make them. But look for new white wax on the edge and/or egg in cells.
  • Bees can actually move an egg (I didn't know that!)
  • Alcohol wash for checking for mites - 300 bees, 5 mites or less is treatable. 11-12 you have a bad infestation.

Session 2
Dr. Richard Callahan gave a presentation on preventing swarms.

Again, like most of the sessions, there was a lot of hands-on activities. Dr. Callahan showed examples of queen cups and queen cells on frames that he had brought. Pass it around, folks! :-)

Some notes from Dr. Callahan's session:
  • Bees swarm because they are crowded - give them space to lay.
  • Queen cups with white wax means they are thinking about swarming.
  • You can relieve the pressure by removing some frames of capped brood to a nuc or another hive.
  • Once the queen cup is capped, "they are going to go"
  • You can disrupt the swarm instinct, but it is difficult - involves rearranging the hive.
Dr. Callahan has a PhD in Entomology, and is one of the directors of the WCBA. He adds a lot to our bee club, and we are lucky to have him.

Lunch etc...

There was a big break for lunch, and the annual smoker contest. I thought I was going to be good with my snacks, and I didn't pre-order the on-site lunch. But hunger got the best of me, so I went into town and ate at this cute little diner called Dove's Nest in Sunderland, MA. It was a stereotypical small town diner, with obvious "regulars" and high school kids as waitresses.I skipped the smoker contest - I tried a couple of years ago but didn't win.

Session 3
Session 3 was given by Daniel Berry from the Franklin County Beekeepers Association. He spoke on increasing your bee year - splits, etc.

I remember him from last year, because he has this neat split hive two-nuc setup (which takes the space of one 10-frame hive). I made one last year - that was what I tried to overwinter my nucs in (and failed).

Some notes from Daniel's presentation:
  • 2-nuc hive has a special bottom board with a raised divider
  • Daniel keeps Russian bees, which he buys from a certified Russian bee breeder. He likes them because:
    • Mite-resistant
    • Good behavior
    • But are swarmy
    • Thrifty food consumption - they eat less
  • He uses an empty grain bag as an inner cover
  • Uses thumbtacks on the hives to denote the condition of the hive, 2 tacks:
    • one to indicate age - uses queen rearing colors
    • one to indicate the family / lineage - arbitrary colors
  • Make nucs from capped brood, as they don't need to use resources to finish the bees
  • Usually from mid-July to mid-August there is a dearth
  • Aug-Sep - Joe Pie, Goldenrod is available
  • Always be thinking of the bees 3 weeks ahead
  • Daniel overwinters double-nucs abutted next to each other, with grain bag inner covers, 2" blue block foam insulation, then a top weight/board.
  • Start in mid-November to set up the nucs for the winter
  • Mid-September to mid-October - feed. Any later and there will be too much moisture in the honey.
  • Daniel leaves (internal frame) feeders on all winter
  • He can sell a Nuc for $175 come May

An interesting thing happened in the middle of Daniel's session, one of the other sessions set off a swarm of bees. We notice during the session that the number of bees flying around (there are always a few bees around since we have open hives) increased dramatically. I took a short video, but it's hard to video small fast moving insects:

The bees settled in one of the pine trees near our session, and the people from the next hive over came and "captured" the swarm in a bucket, and put it in nuc box.

Session 4
Session 4 was given by Dan Conlon from Warm Colors Apiary, and the subject was Queens for the Backyard Beekeeper.

This was a popular session, as can be seen by all the people in the crowd.

Some notes from Dan's presentation:
  • The Franklin County beekeepers have a QRI (Queen Rearing Initiative) - they raise 150 queen per week
  • With large-scale queen rearing you can be selective in picking only the best layers
  • Use of the Cloake board
  • Separate open brood from the capped brood during queen rearing
  • If you have swarm cells, pull out frames with the capped cells into a nuc, with the three best cells on the frame
  • Study: Let the new queen lay for 21 days for optimal longevity and productivity (the industry standard is only 14 days - insufficient)

Overall I really enjoyed the field day. I learn something new each time, and it kind of energizes me for the hobby. Maybe next year my wife and I can come together - it's quite an all-day affair, but my kids are old enough that they could spend a day by themselves.


  1. Sounds like a great day! I'd wanted to attend this year, but had things going on with family (also a good thing).

    I thought that note about letting the queen lay for three weeks was really interesting. I'd seen a queen breeder mention that they allow their queens to lay for 3 weeks, but I thought that was for observational purposes. Now I know better. Thanks!

  2. Is this Norfolk County Beekeepers [Dan Conlan] or Norfolk Beekeepers the club,raising 150 Queens per week with a 3 week laying period would require at least 450 Nuke"s

  3. oops I'm bad got the counties wrong franklin couty not norfolk


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