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Rhode Island to Savannah – getting bees

Spring bees! Here we go on the trail south to get them and bring back to New England. I’m riding co-driver with Mark Robar of Trails End Farm and we’re running non-stop from Rhode Island to Savannah, Georgia. A distance of 1000 miles in 18 hours each way.
The RH - Savannah roadmap

The RH - Savannah roadmap

Of course, all great plans have a hitch; in this case it was crossing New York. The GW Bridge
We used Upper. And overall we didn't do badly, getting into New Jersey in about 3 hours. Par so far. And we crossed The Delaware Memorial Bridge at the southern end of the New Jersey Turnpike by 8.30pm – not bad going! img_3687
We shot past Washington DC at 11pm. Crossed the Virginia state line into North Carolina at 3am. Just waltzed into South Carolina at 6am. Dawn approaches but she’s grey and torrential. Hey what you got for me today America! Georgia in 198 miles. 785 miles in 15 hours covered so far. Looks like a grey day in South Carolina
But the weather broke! It’s a great day – warm, with breakfast. OK the Cracker barrel is a big franchise but a welcome brekky of grits, eggs, steak, hashbrowns, gravy, biscuits and cinnamon apples. With coffee and juice. I love this country :)
A Cracker Barrel never looked so good :)

A Cracker Barrel diner never looked so good :)

After leaving and early spring Rhode Island the day before and driving though the nights drenching rain, the south was a different country. Now that the sun had broken through it was warm, the air was good … and look at the flowers! Dogwood! (At least, Mark says it’s dogwood …), wisteria. And on into Georgia, where the interstate was lined with tansy and lavender.
Mark says it's dogwood

Mark says it's dogwood

and wisteria

and wisteria

Georgia! And this is one of the best "snapped while driving" pics I've taken! Georgia! And this is one of the best "snapped while driving" pics I've taken!
After 1137 miles in 21 hours (including food stops) we arrived at the apiary about 50 miles west of Savannah. And somewhere there was a motel with a pillow calling my name ….
The Oak Dale motel

The Oak Dale motel

THIS is the apiary. Or part of it. In particular, a screened door behind which are boxed bee packages being prepared for collection. These bees are hopelessly curious because they can smell the activity within. THIS is the apiary. Or part of it. In particular, a screened door behind which are boxed bee packages being prepared for collection. These bees are hopelessly curious because they can smell the activity within.

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Newport Wanderers

Got a call from a friend of ours late Sunday afternoon. “I think we have a swarm of bees on a stone in our garden”. On a stone? That’s odd; they normally hang in trees after they’ve swarmed. But all things may happen. I asked if she could send a picture and sure enough, they were indeed honey bees and it was a stone.

This is the photo. It looks like a big pile of bees but in fact it’s a small pile completely covering a large stone (about 12″ long by 6″ high).

A family member had suggested turning the hose on them; this was discouraged, thankfully. The comment at the time was “how fast do you think you can run” but in truth turning a hose on a small swarm of homeless honey bees would have caused a minor flutter and a lot of sorry dead bees.

We drove out, getting there just as the light was failing. The problem was this: how do I get the bees off the rock and into a hive box, in the dark. The answer? I don’t do anything at all. Like any good leader the bees themselves know what to do: I just provide the tools for them to do it.


I took a photo but in the bad light it’s tricky to see. What I did was take an empty hive box and, using wood props to level it, place it on the ground so that it enclosed the bee rock. The bottom was left open, but inside the hive body I then put a few empty frames: two medium and two deep. I placed them as close to the bees as I could.

The theory was that with a swarmed colony looking for a home, I would let them know they had found that home and build it around them. By providing frames close to the rock, I hoped they’d start to move off the rock for the waxy familiarity of the frames. By providing a favorable environment I as sure they wouldn’t then try to move elsewhere.


The lower box shot shows the frames in place. Even the camera flags doesn’t really work well.

The other factors here were the weather and my schedule. Forecast called for rain all day Monday. This could have an either/or effect: either the bees wouldn’t have moved off the rock and they’d get chilled by the rain, OR they would have moved to safety but kept in the box and unable to leave. I hoped for the latter, because I wasn’t going to be able to return until Tuesday morning.

Monday’s synopsis: it rained, the bees moved off the rock, all was well. Tuesday morning we showed up an 6am – before they’d really started flying – picked up the box and placed it on a closed bottom surface in the back of the car. No Bee Left Behind. Perfect. We took them home where, for reasons including the weather and a yacking wren nesting close by, I couldn’t make a thorough inspection to see what we’d got. I made sure they had some sugar feed and let them get on with it.

Fast forward to Friday and finally I was able to get them to a suitable location and take a look.


The first question anybody should ask when hiving a swarm is: is there a queen”? The photo shows a lot of bees. Can you see what I see?


Yup. We have a queen. The lower photo shows just the circle around the queen so she’s easier to see on the frame. Good stuff. And there appeared to be a fair number of bees as well. Not as many as a commercial package but enough to be going on with. I may supplement the numbers with bees from another hive.

So bees appeared out of nowhere and joined our apiary. It’s that time of year and the beekeeper must be a chances and grab such opportunities. God, the weather, Bayer and my own clumsy hand may take a hive from me just as swiftly so I’ll take it when it’s offered.

These bees are now in their hive on an excellent piece of land, facing east to catch the hot new day, and adjacent to a to-be-grown treatment-free cornfield and a wildflower meadow – in addition to the flourishing flora of semi-rural SW Rhode Island.


Be happy, Bees.

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Head ’em up and move ’em out

Today I moved two of my hives out of their winter shelter in the backyard and up to their summer garden area.

The winter shelter just uses a freestanding summer deck and tarps to protect the exposed areas of the hive. With protection from above, I have been able to pop the lids regularly. Two of these hives were low on food in November but all seem to have made it so far (7 March) Class03B_img_4.jpg
You don’t see many semi’s hauling bees in New England but neither do you see a car. This is our ’92 Honda Civic with 300k on the clock and still getting 50+mpg. I dropped the back seats and made a chipboard removable flatbed. Fitted out like this is serves as out bee mobile all summer. One hive is in. IMG-20120429-00160.jpg
The key factor for success here is preventing the bees from getting out of the hive and filling the inside of the car. These hive boxes aren’t specifically made for transportation so I’ve sealed up the entrances and any ventilation holes with hardware cloth, and strapped the lids down securely. I have in the past made a mistake with this and it is somewhat un-nerving to find the car slowly filling up with curious bees … IMG-20120429-00161.jpg
Beautiful day for a drive. Left at about 6.45am IMG-20120429-00162.jpg
OK here we go. I’d prepared this yesterday – whacking the weeds, leveling the 4×4’s etc IMG-20120429-00164.jpg
With both hives, what I’ll do is take the strapping off, unseal the holes and the entrance, and let them fly. Additionally, I want to take the hives apart and check each frame as this is the first real look I’ve had this year. I’ve watched the hives, obviously; enough to see numbers increasing and lots of activity. But I want to eyeball the queen and check there is brood in the right places. I also have an extra box of empty frames for each hive as I suspect that they’ll be ready for expansion. IMG-20120429-00165.jpg
One down. I’ve also adapted the front entrance so it can hold a quart feeder bottle without the bottle falling to the ground. IMG-20120429-00167.jpg
Two done/ It’s taken about 90 minutes. IMG-20120429-00169.jpg
Now they just have to scope out the hood to get their new location fix. IMG-20120429-00173.jpg
(Not that hood, stupid). IMG-20120429-00172.jpg
I gave them sugar syrup to settle them in, but they won’t take long to find local food. Dandelions are everywhere and bees love them. I was astonished at a “green” ad yesterday on tv. Promoting the importance of “green” and showing a couple killing their wildflowers (“weeds”) with a Bayer poison. Myopic, and stupid. I have no patience for it. Here’s the ad: IMG-20120429-00175.jpg

Done. We’ll see how they make out in their summer home.

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RFID Tracking of Sublethal Effects of Two Neonicotinoid Insecticides on the Foraging Behavior of Apis mellifera

RFID Tracking of Sublethal Effects of Two Neonicotinoid Insecticides on the Foraging Behavior of Apis mellifera

This is the current research article on neonicotinoids. You can read the article on it’s site by clicking Here.

The Abstract is here:

The development of insecticides requires valid risk assessment procedures to avoid causing harm to beneficial insects and especially to pollinators such as the honeybee Apis mellifera. In addition to testing according to current guidelines designed to detect bee mortality, tests are needed to determine possible sublethal effects interfering with the animal’s vitality and behavioral performance. Several methods have been used to detect sublethal effects of different insecticides under laboratory conditions using olfactory conditioning. Furthermore, studies have been conducted on the influence insecticides have on foraging activity and homing ability which require time-consuming visual observation. We tested an experimental design using the radiofrequency identification (RFID) method to monitor the influence of sublethal doses of insecticides on individual honeybee foragers on an automated basis. With electronic readers positioned at the hive entrance and at an artificial food source, we obtained quantifiable data on honeybee foraging behavior. This enabled us to efficiently retrieve detailed information on flight parameters. We compared several groups of bees, fed simultaneously with different dosages of a tested substance. With this experimental approach we monitored the acute effects of sublethal doses of the neonicotinoids imidacloprid (0.15–6 ng/bee) and clothianidin (0.05–2 ng/bee) under field-like circumstances. At field-relevant doses for nectar and pollen no adverse effects were observed for either substance. Both substances led to a significant reduction of foraging activity and to longer foraging flights at doses of ≥0.5 ng/bee (clothianidin) and ≥1.5 ng/bee (imidacloprid) during the first three hours after treatment. This study demonstrates that the RFID-method is an effective way to record short-term alterations in foraging activity after insecticides have been administered once, orally, to individual bees. We contribute further information on the understanding of how honeybees are affected by sublethal doses of insecticides.

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Leave the Roundup on the shelf

Another warm and pleasant day. We keep on repeating that the weather can turn nasty even until end of April but so far the mild winter has been a relief. Bees are out. A lot of bees are out. Of the four hives in the backyard I’ll soon have to decide where to put them for the year but right now it’s good to see them flying. IMG-20120318-00086.jpg
There’s a few sources of food around the place but I am supplementing their dinner plates with a bit of pollen pattie and some sugary fondant. We have a honeysuckle out front with new flowers budding; it’s covered with bees as they hoover the pollen off it. That shrub is going to go wild this year as it’s now well and truly pollinated. Also got a few primroses – here seen with an obliging bee doing it’s thing. IMG-20120318-00083.jpg
Another curious source of food seems to be this wheelbarrow. Just around Christmas I started to dig out a culvert next to the driveway in order to build an organized set of steps to replace the somewhat flimsy stone steps we’ve had for years. They looked OK but weren’t that easy to walk on. I got as far as the weather would let me and in doing so had a small collection of plants I wanted to put back when I’d completed the work. Some of those plants are in this barrow along with a bunch of old leaves and a chuck of 4×4 scrap. IMG-20120318-00092.jpg
There’s something about whatever is in those leaves. Minerals and moisture of some kind, I guess. Whatever it is, a particular clump of old rotting leaves is attracting a LOT of bee attention. Funny creatures. IMG-20120318-00088.jpg

Been discussing the supposed Einstein quote on the BEE-L list recently. Apparently the quote – which reflects on the demise of man 4 years after the last honey bee dies – is a fabrication. Einstein had no interest in honey bees and there was – is – no basis in fact for the statement. However, that doesn’t reduce the vital part that the honey bee plays as a pollinator in the food agricultural system. Pollination is critical, whether it’s via a natural pollinator, performed by hand, or by agrochemical methods. So despite not having Einstein at your back, don’t forget the honey bees’ contribution as you start your spring weekend warrior tasks. Forget the Roundup and weed killers. Leave the dandelions until they’ve flowered then whack them down. Honey bees love all the wild things we call weeds. IMG-20120318-00089.jpg


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The Bee Trail from Savannah

Bee collections from Georgia to New England

A short photo- and dialogue of where New England spring bees come from, why we need them and how I manage the trip logistics.

We need imported bees to replenish stocks, replace losses and provide for new beekeepers. It is not uncommon to experience 50% or more losses over winter and there are various innocent reasons for this – weather, lack of food, some bad hive management or just bad luck. The losses are compounded by concerns such as pesticide kills, food quality – or lack of natural food. The recent extra stresses on honeybees have also meant that replenishing stocks are not as easy, cheap or available. The business of bringing new bees into the region should be one that’s efficiently planned and organised to the benefit of competing beekeepers, local associations and hobbyist beekeepers. Alas, it’s not. Many trips are made by competing organisations Class03B_img_0.jpg
On a very small scale, we have tried various methods of overwintering bees to try and dispense with the need to collect each spring. This method places the hives in an unheated greenhouse. The hive entrance is adapted to hold a 2″ pipe Class03B_img_1.jpg
The pipe is pushed out through a hole made in the greenhouse sidewall. Placing the hives in a greenhouse is not for warmth but for accessibility and to reduce exposure to the bitterest of weather conditions Class03B_img_2.jpg
This is a “backyard beekeeper” approach because it does not adapt well to scale; greenhouse size is a restriction as well as the effort required to move hives. However, using this method we are able to check the bees more often, give them feed throughout winter if needed, and especially start with pollen patty in January when the queen starts laying Class03B_img_3.jpg
This is a similar method in my backyard, using a freestanding summer deck and tarps to protect the exposed areas of the hive. With protection from above, I have been able to pop the lids regularly. Two of these hives were low on food in November but all seem to have made it so far (7 March) Class03B_img_4.jpg
We get our new bees from Georgia, which is usually 6-8 weeks ahead of us in terms of weather. Class03B_img_5.jpg
These hives are in the immediate vicinity of the warehouse but the apiary usually has between 30-40,000 colonies Class03B_img_6.jpg
The bees we pick up are collected from the field that day. They are shaken from the field hives into these transport packages. Class03B_img_8.jpg
Back in the loading warehouse, a can of food syrup is added (seen here at the other end when we are installing the colony) Class03B_img_9.jpg
The queen is also added to the package. She, along with some worker “nurse” bees is placed in this little wooden box with some food, and foxed to the inside of the package box Class03B_img_10.jpg
We collect in vans. Class03B_img_11.jpg
And pickups, with trailers. We don’t often see 18-wheelers coming into the North East with bees Class03B_img_12.jpg
One way of doing the collection run is to drive down (two days), stay overnight (in the Oak Dales Motel on Rte 1), wait all day for the load, then drive home. The drive home is usually a clear run – or at least with minimum breaks every couple of hours Class03B_img_14.jpg
My preferred method is to get a one-way flight to Atlanta, stay overnight at the airport then pickup a rental truck for the journey home. The airline/hotel vs gas price is comparable, and the effort is much less Class03B_img_15.jpg
The type of truck doesn’t matter, but it must be able to ventilate. Either a walkthrough with hinged rear doors, or a box truck with roller door is ok, but the walkthrough bust have A/C otherwise the bees will overheat. I drive the box truck with the door open, using just a tarp if there’s a lot of road spray Class03B_img_16.jpg
As the packages come in from the field to have the syrup and queen added, they are stacked up in clusters of ten. Only when the required number of packs are available will loading begin Class03B_img_17.jpg
The packs are loaded very carefully so there is adequate spacing between them, and between the first row and the bulkhead. They are also only loaded to a maximum height. Ventilation is crucial; honeybees generate a lot of heat and will have more difficulty keeping cool than they will warming up Class03B_img_18.jpg
Big fans blow into the van as we load. And on this van, with an opaque perspex roof, buckets of ice are also use liberally to cool the box environment Class03B_img_19.jpg
The packages are braced in place using 1.5″ battens staplegunned to the package boxes Class03B_img_20.jpg
The battens are wedged against the side of the truck to prevent lateral movement, and attached to each other in multiple directions Class03B_img_21.jpg
This load was about 400 packages. They’re battened up securely – they’ll never drop off the back of the truck. The single batten hanging vertically on the left side is actually nailed into place, jamming the roller door open Class03B_img_22.jpg
The route is about 1100 miles depending on the actual apiary. We’re never released from the apiary much before 5-5.30. This is so that we drive the first half of the journey at night when it’s cooler. By sunup I’ve usually made it to Richmond VA, finally arriving home about 24 hours after leaving Class03B_img_23.jpg

Click here to see more pictures from The road from Savannah in 2009. This was one trip where we drove there and back instead of taking the plane. Most of these pictures are taken on the way down.

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Fly bees

“The honeybee makes her honey from the same nectar from which the hermit spider distills one of the deadliest poisons known.”  The question is, how do you treat your opportunities? Do you distill them into success or failure?”
Quando Omni Flunkus Moritati

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Mark Robar’s 2012 Bee School Classes

Marks beginner bee classes will be held February, March and April 2012 at East Farm, URI. Directions click here.

The classes are six sessions each and are held on Tuesdays or Saturdays. Attendees indicate which class they would like to attend.

The cost for each six session course is $55 per person. A course manual is included.

The course will include an introduction to honey bees, discussion of equipment, hands-on equipment making, the yearly cycle, where to keep them, pollination. A full curriculum will be posted shortly.

Please email me with your name, your Tuesday or Saturday preference, and the number of people you are booking for. Payment will be required before the classes start. I will email you a confirmation along with details of how to pay.

FEBRUARY Afternoon Evening
Saturday 18 Class 1 1.30-4.30  
Tuesday 21 Class 1   6.30-9.30
Saturday 25 Class 2 1.30-4.30  
Tuesday 28 Class 2   6.30-9.30
MARCH Afternoon Evening
Saturday 3 Class 3 1.30-4.30  
Tuesday 6 Class 3   6.30-9.30
Tuesday 13 Class 4   6.30-9.30
Saturday 17 Class 4 1.30-4.30  
Tuesday 20 Class 5   6.30-9.30
Saturday 24 Class 5   7.00-9.30
Tuesday 27 Class 6   postponed to Tuesday 3 April
Saturday 31 Class 6   5.00-8.00
APRIL Afternoon Evening
Tuesday 3 Class 6   6.30-9.30

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2012 Bees

This year’s very mild Rhode Island winter has made it very easy to keep an eye on the bees. On the one hand, we don’t want it to be too warm because that stimulates the hive and they run out of winter food quickly – and there’s nothing growing that they can collect.

But on the other hand, I’ve lost many of my hobbyist hives just through brutal icy wind and cold. This year I brought all four current hives into my backyard and put up a bit of protection from the weather (just tarps) and have poked my head into the hive regularly. While their metabolism slows below 42 degrees and they don’t fly, they’re still active in the hive. Below that and they start to cluster and I try not to disturb them for fear of dislodging them.

I’ve been mixing up icing sugar fortified with HoneyBeeHealthy – it’s simple to mix up. They love it. Actually, I love it too.

So now here we are mid February and while the North East could face horrendous weather up until April, to have got this far without a major snow is a blessing.

This picture taken this afternoon – it’s about 55 degrees outside and there are a ton of bees all over the backyard. Life is good.


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East Farm

Directions to East Farm Rd, Wakefield, RI 02879

East Farm Road is off Rt 108 heading south from Rt 138 in Kingston. To get to Building 75, leave Rt 108, keep to the right as you proceed down East Farm Road. After the “Rotary” make a sharp right and #75 is at the far end on the right. Park anywhere you can find a space.

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Class 1

The Honey Bee Colony


Development Times

The Honey Bee Colony

The hive consists of three castes of bees

  • Queen• Fertile female responsible for the total population
  • Worker• Sterile female – does the work of the hive
  • Drone• Fertile male – exists to mate with queen


Worker bees progress through very defined growth stages

  • When first hatched they become Nurse Bees• Clean cells, keeps brood warm, feed larvae

    • Receive nectar from field bees

    • Builds wax comb

  • They progress from Nurse Bees to Guard Bees • Keep unwanted visitors out of the hive

    • Fan to cool the hive

    • Fan to release locator pheromone

    • Fan to dehydrate honey

  • They progress from Guard Bees to Forager Bees • Gather nectar and pollen

The forager bee is the last stage of a worker bees life. In gathering nectar and pollen she is also fulfilling nature’s critical pollinator role but she also has a low survival rate due to predators, pesticides etc. Eventually the worker bee will work herself to death – literally – as her wings simply wear out.

Development Times


Queen 3 5-/12 7-/12 16 2-5 years
Worker 3 6 12 21 6 weeks
Drone 3 6-1/2 14-1/2 24 8 weeks

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