Honeybees

Facts, updates, and personal reflections on honeybees. Read about our own honeybee hives, as well as news on the state of honeybees in Vermont.


A Beekeeping Workshop with Renowned Vermont Natural Beekeeper

Honey bees are an essential fact of the innkeeping life here at Golden Stage Bed and Breakfast.

Our hive tours entertain and educate guests; the harvest season brings folks from far and near to our annual Honey Harvest Festival; and, of course, the golden reward of raw honey from the inn’s backyard sweetens guests’ morning tea and breakfast treats year-round.

Golden Stage Inn Honey bee hives in winter

Julie and I attended a natural beekeeping conference this weekend with renowned organic beekeeper Ross Conrad of Dancing Bee Gardens in Middlebury, Vermont.  Ross Conrad wrote the first book in the United States about organic beekeeping practices, so naturally we had to check this out!  The beekeeping workshop was part of Grafton Nature Museum’s 2014 Adult and Family Programs.  The theme this year is ‘The Birds and the Bees.’  Conrad also did a presentation for this series that Julie attended a few weeks ago about Colony Collapse Disorder.  Coming up this week is a talk with Sara Zahendra about Native Bumblebees, and on April 9th, Bridget Butler ‘The Bird Diva’ will present a workshop on bird-watching!

So, back to the organic beekeeping workshop…

Though I have not yet started my own backyard beekeeping, I figured I could still pick up some advice or inspiration from the talk.  Sure enough, I walked away with my head positively buzzing with knowledge and excitement about keeping bees.  Here, I’d like to share with you some of the lessons I learned from Ross Conrad!

  1. Treat your bees well.  Some people buy hives with the expectation of having a low-maintenance pet.  Bees should be cared for just as you would any other livestock or living creature.  Visit their hives once a week; be attune to their state of health; do what is natural and good for the bees rather than simply caring about the size of your honey harvest.
  2. To begin beekeeping, learn by doing!  As a beginning beekeeper myself, I really took this message to heart.  I can attend as many talks as I want, and read every book about bees, but that will not make me a good beekeeper!  The best way to learn beekeeping is to do it.  Just as in real life, we must learn from our failures.  Conrad said, “When your hive fails, that colony was giving you a gift.  They are helping you learn from your mistakes and be a better beekeeper in the future.”  A beekeeper must take that opportunity to learn – to evaluate what went wrong and how she or he can do better next time.  There are local beekeeping clubs to help you get started with networking all across the country.
  3. There is no correct way to keep bees.  Every beekeeper has their own method.  Some are organic, some use pesticides.  Some are hobby beekeepers, some are commercial.  Everyone has their own philosophy and rules when it comes to honey bees, and you will figure out your own once you spend time with your hives.
  4. Always control for mites. Ross Conrad’s three priorities with raising bees are health, honey and dryness.  Keeping your bees healthy comes first!  If you do nothing for varroa mites, which every hive will inevitably deal with, your bees will have weakened immune systems.  This means their chances of succumbing to diseases, pests or difficult weather conditions will be threatened.  Conrad listed many ways of controlling for varroa mites organically, so that your bees and honey are not exposed to pesticides or toxins.
  5. If you hold a bee in your hand, the world will be beautiful… because beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder!

Dancing Bee Gardens Raw Honey

Visit Vermont to meet the honey bees at Golden Stage Inn bed and breakfast and sample some local honey!  Stay tuned to hear about our bee installation this spring.

Vermont Zombie Honey Bees caused by Parasitic Fly

The honey bees at the Golden Stage Inn are waiting out the winter to make another delicious batch of local Vermont honey this summer, but always on a backyard beekeeper’s mind is the threat of what is known as “Colony Collapse Disorder.” While the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder remains a mystery and may be more complicated than one simple answer, a parasitic fly may have something to do with it. Before October 2013, this parasite had not been observed any further East than South Dakota…but a recent spotting will cause concern for Vermont beekeepers this summer. The phenomenon of ‘Zombie Bees’ (or even ‘ZomBees‘) has reached Vermont and now threatens the East Coast. See where Zombie Honey Bees have been spotted across the United States using this map, and visit www.zombiewatch.org to help monitor the spread of the ZomBee syndrome through citizen science.

Vermont Zombie Honey Bee killed by Parasitic Fly

Save our pollinators!

The parasitic fly causing the zombie-like infection is called Apocephalus borealis, and has been known since the 1920′s as a parasite of yellow jackets and bumble bees. John Hafernik discovered that the zombie fly infected honey bees as well in 2008, just two years after colony collapse disorder began to affect honey bees and their hives. Apocephalus borealis lays its eggs in the stomach of the honeybee. The infected honey bee leaves its hive, exhibiting symptoms such as nocturnal activity, attraction to light, and disoriented, spasmodic movement. It is this convulsive movement that the term “ZomBee” came from, as the bees move very similarly to zombies in Hollywood movies. They are not actually undead; they simply appear to be. When the eggs hatch, the honey bee dies. Unfortunately, Vermont was the first state in the East Coast to record a sighting of this parasitic attack back in October 2013 in Burlington. It is unknown whether these Vermont zombie honey bees are an isolated case or a forewarning of more Apocephalus borealis infestations to come.

Colony collapse disorder is a serious threat to both backyard beekeepers and large-scale, commercial beekeepers. Since 1/3 of the fruits and vegetables we eat depend upon bees to be pollinated, this disorder doesn’t just affect the insects – it affects our cuisine and nutrition as people!  Vermont zombie honey bees may be a new threat to beehives across Vermont or even New England, which is why it’s important to continue research and become a beekeeper! Even if you are not a beekeeper and don’t plan on keeping honeybees, you can help in other ways. Purchase local Vermont honey as your sweetener. Welcome beekeepers to your community. Know what chemicals and pesticides have been found to harm honey bees and contribute to colony collapse disorder. Plant a bee-friendly garden with native wildflowers. Learning about bees is not just environmentally-conscious…it is fascinating and fun!!

Bzzzz. -Sophi Veltrop, Golden Stage Inn Undead Insect Researcher

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

There’s no place like Vermont to weather the weather with loved ones, a cozy fire, and a good book! With our first full-fledged snow storm hitting just two nights ago, the Okemo Valley has received 12-16 inches of snow in less than 24 hours. Here at the Inn, we were lucky to receive the upper end with 15-16 inches of snow, and we can see many of Okemo Resort’s 91 open trails right from our front yard. With 75% of the mountain slopes open and lessons and competitions already in full swing, it’s sure to be a glorious year. So let it snow! The sparkling fluffy powder on the ground is a far cry from the ice and sludge of cities and suburbs, making winter in Vermont a delight rather than a drag. Every year we look forward to this moment; we pack away our outdoor summer gear and get out the shovels and snowshoes. And when the snow finally blankets the hills, everyone is off on their skis and snowboards, skates and sleds, beating the cold with exciting winter sports and cozy indoor games, music and food. Here’s a glimpse of our beehives under the snow; the colonies are safely tucked away in their own stores of honey and heat for the season. We hope this tremendous snowfall is just a hint of what’s to come!

 

 

Golden Stage Inn Bed and Breakfast Vermont    Golden Stage Inn Vermont B&B Winter Season

 

 

The Vermont Golden Honey Festival – Sept 14, 2013

Just a few more days and we’ll be hosting the Vermont Golden Honey Festival!  Over a dozen vendors will be gathering at our Vermont Bed and Breakfast on September 14, 2013 to offer their Vermont-themed and honeybee-themed products.  Co-hosted by Golden Stage Inn Bed and Breakfast of Proctorsville and Goodman’s American Pie of Ludlow, this event is sure to please!

Why a Vermont Golden Honey Festival?  Vermont’s state insect is the honeybee after all, so it already seems a perfect match.  But as hobby beekeepers, we also have an added incentive.  The honeybee is often feared, or — maybe worse – overlooked and disregarded.  Although honeybees have received a lot of press lately for their dire circumstances, still not enough people realize just how awesome and important these bees are.  Responsible for nearly one of every three bites of food we eat, the honeybee provides us with so much more than honey.

At the festival, in addition to browsing the vendor booths for freshly baked bread and quilted crafts, books and photography, flowers, handmade stationery, and so much more, visitors will also have the opportunity to hear brief talks on beekeeping, mead making, fiber arts projects, and comic strip creation.  Goodman’s American Pie will be making their first public appearance with their all-new portable beehive pizza oven.  Honey-crust and honey-themed pizzas anyone?  It’s sure to be delicious!  There will even be a table for kids (of all ages) to make a simple craft.  Admission is free.  The festival runs from 10am through 4pm.  Check out our festival page on facebook for updates.

If you’re anywhere near the Okemo Valley in Vermont this weekend, be sure to swing by the Vermont Golden Honey Festival at Golden Stage Inn.

We can’t wait to see you! – Julie-Lynn, Innkeeper, Golden Stage Inn

Witnessing A Honeybee Swarm (2013-July)

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay,

A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,

A swarm in July ain’t worth a fly.

 

Simply put, a swarm is a beehive’s way of reproducing.  In the Spring, if the queen of a hive is strong and the population of bees plentiful, the queen will leave the hive with nearly two-thirds of the hive’s bees to find a new home, leaving the original hive to rear a new queen and continue on.  A honeybee swarm is an amazing sight to witness.  A strong hive may have 60,000 bees, so when the queen leaves with her followers, she’s in the air with nearly 45,000 bees.   An awesome vision, the bees fill the air like snowflakes in a blizzard.

 

So it was this that Michael noticed through our solarium window.  We have three beehives at our Vermont Bed and Breakfast and one of them is just outside our breakfast room.  This is the hive that had released its bees into the yard, completely consuming the front lawn – bees in the grass, bees climbing the hive boxes, bees in the air.   We watched for several minutes, waiting to see where the bees would land – because that’s what the poem up above is all about.  Ideally, the honeybee swarm will land in a place that we can catch them and relocate them to an empty hive box.  If it’s early enough in the season, say May or June, the bees will have plenty of time to draw out their honeycomb and fill it with enough honey to survive the inevitable winter season.  The earlier, the better, because a May swarm will not only make enough for its own stores, but honey for the beekeeper too!  But if it’s late in the season, the bees prospects for survival are just not as strong, so they’re not as valuable to a beekeeper.

 

Our own honeybee swarm was in the first couple days of July so I was feeling pretty optimistic about the bees being able to pull it together and make a go of it.  With this eagerness, we waited for the bees to settle.  A honeybee’s swarm schedule is pretty predictable.  The bees leave the hive in a flurry, then they settle on a nearby branch dispatching several bees to scout the area for a suitable new home.  This can take a few hours or a few days.  The swarm waits patiently in a cluster – well, a “cluster” is sort of an understatement.  The mass of bees crawling over one another and hanging off of one another is the size of a basketball with thousands of bees sprawling along the branch for several inches in every direction.  One of the coolest parts of seeing bees in this state is that the bees are super passive and very unlikely to notice a human’s presence, so we’re able to stand freely and watch the magic.

 

Unfortunately for us, these bees settled on a branch three stories high.   There was no prudent way to catch them, so we were forced to accept this a donation to nature.  The bees would find a new home, move into it and continue the tradition of bee-ness elsewhere. (In the photo — which was taken from 30 feet below –you can see the brown clump.   That’s the mass of 40,000 bees or so.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes a picture just doesn’t do justice.)

 

The bees remained on their branch for two overnights, through the torrential downpours that have so marked this Spring. And then on a sunny afternoon, after returning from errands, we found the branch bare.  The queen and her acolytes found a new space while the hive they left behind awaited the birth of their new queen.  Within days, their new queen would emerge and this ‘daughter hive’ would be complete once again.

 

Our Bed and Breakfast is located in the Okemo Valley of Vermont.  We have two sheep, nearly two dozen chickens (fresh eggs!), and three beehives.  Ask about getting a tour of a beehive.  You can don a beekeepers suit and veil — or watch through the windows from the comfort of our solarium.

-Julie-Lynn Wood, Innkeeper, Golden Stage Inn

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