Tightening Up in Late Winter

February 26, 2018

This time of year, when the 65 degree days give us a short window where we can safely open the hives without damaging their winter cluster, is the perfect time to TIGHTEN UP and make sure that the hives still have enough honey to make it to the dandelion.  

Often, the bees have moved up in their hive body, from the bottom deep where they had a nest all last year, up towards the honey stores in the upper deep and supers.  We go into these hives on the warm days and remove the old dark combs, which are not being used by the bees anymore.  Old dark comb that is not being tended collects humidity and moisture, and then it can begin to mold, creating an atmosphere within the hive that is not ideal.  When the bees’ warmth cannot penetrate all the corners of the hive body, mold and other issues can come in.  This can often be seen by taking a look at the debris tray (see picture below).

We have observed that healthy warre, top bar, and round hive forms do not have the same mold problems as the langstroth. Even a healthy langstroth hive can have mold.

From Gitana (langstroth hive)–perfectly depicting the relationship of the winter cluster to the langstroth hive body, where the outside edges that are furthest from the cluster become “cold corners” where moisture and humidity accumulate and mold begins to form.  After seeing this tray, we went in and removed the bottom deep.  The cluster is now sitting in one deep and one super and can fully penetrate their whole hive body.  She will not have any more trouble with moisture build up and mold.

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A wonderful 3-day visit from Richmond Waldorf School




Posted in Education Gallery, Events

Video of bees POURING into their hive during the height of the August 21 Solar Eclipse

Around 2:30pm–30 minutes before the height of the Solar Eclipse on August 21st. All of the bees in all of the hives rushed back into their colonies for the about 45 minutes. It was midday without a single bee on any flowers in the Sanctuary!

After the Sun began to ‘grow’ again, the bees poured back out of their hives and resumed their work.

Posted in Events, Sanctuary Gallery

Pollinators in Peril

The August 2017 issue of ACRES USA has an excellent in-depth interview with Graham White (beekeeper, author, educator) on the impact of neonicotinoids on the honeybee and pollinator population. The impact on all of life is frightening! You can find a link to the full interview here:


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Bearing witness to the workings of magic — One hive saves another!

Beekeepers Notes:

Felicity (hive on the left)

Came through the winter in one deep and one super, had enough honey still in the early Spring when we did our first check.  She looked healthy with a lot of bees, but we neglected to pull any frames to check.  In early April we did our first real health check and found that she had only capped brood, but no eggs or larvae.  In mid-April, we checked again and she had no brood at all!  We gave her a frame with eggs and larva on April 11 from Galaxia so that she could build a supercedure/emergency queen.  

Sistine (hive on the right)

Came through the winter in one deep, but was quite strong early on, so we added a second deep in early April.  She had a wonderful brood nest and the queen was laying very well.  By mid April we saw queen cups and we were expecting her to swarm.  

We witnessed an amazing occurrence.  On April 18th, as we were getting ready to open Felicity to check if she was in the process of raising an emergency queen, Vivian noticed that something was going on.  When we went to the entrances we saw that Sistine was in a ‘swarm mood’ with bees somewhat laxidazically following each other in a procession out of the hive.  Some stopped in front and gathered together a little bit, but many more were walking from Sistine straight into Felicity without any fighting at all.   We decided not to open the hives right away so that they could work it out and check again soon. 

On April 20th, we had our Principles and Methods class with us as we went to the hives.  When we opened Felicity, we saw a nice dark queen on the first frame that we pulled.  Did she walk over from Sistine?!  We continued to look into the cells, and on three consecutive frames we saw no developing larvae, no capped brood, only eggs!  A fertile queen must have just arrived and begun laying!  

Sure enough, Sistine broke her brood cycle next door and raised many new queens to replace the one that so generously moved next door to save Felicity.

What a blessing for us to bear witness to the tremendous wisdom that lives within the Great Bee.


Posted in Articles

Spikenard Featured on Citizens Cooperative (Local Television Station)

A beautiful job done by reporter Emily Gruver for our local television station. Check it out:

Posted in Articles

Spikenard Featured on the Weather Channel

Check out the new Weather Channel feature in their series That’s Amazing, where Spikenard is featured at around 14:40. 

Click Here to check it out!

Posted in Social/Cultural

Update on the Bees – Full Version from 2016 End of Year Letter

The 2015/2016 winter was a difficult one for beekeepers in America with the national average loss of 44%.  While Spikenard experienced a much milder loss than the professionals, we too learned a great deal that can help to prepare us for a future that is riddled with the challenges of a changing climate.

The temperatures stayed very mild through the end of 2015 as we rang in Christmas, singing to the bees under the Full Moon in our T-shirts.  After New Year’s, the temperatures swung between 60oF and -5oF twice over a four week period from early January to early February, which gave us much worry, because we suspected that most queens were still laying.  If the queen continues to lay eggs, it means that the workers must work tirelessly to keep the hive stable at ~90oF in order for the healthy development of eggs, larvae, and pupae.  When the drastic changes in temperatures brought lows down to -5oF, the worker bees served selflessly and rather than leaving the young ones in order to go get honey, they starved with their kin in a cluster as tight as could be.  On a warm sunny day in late February, we found 4 hives that weren’t flying.  It was a sad day for all of us, to say the least.

And so we came into April with 22 hives, ready to celebrate their health, vibrancy, and overflowing reproductive power.  It was a wonderful swarm season, with our Sun Hive and one of our beautiful top bar hives swarming 4 times each!  We had 24 swarms in all, the majority of them in May, and we sold many swarms and nucs to our students who have been patiently waiting to have their orders filled.  The first swarm of the year was on April 20th, and the last of the season came on August 22nd.

The land in spring was overflowing with an abundance of orchard blossoms, dandelion, white-dutch clover, crimson clover, and California poppies.  The bees had their fill, and more!  With so many new swarms needing to build comb, we gave quite a bit of the honey from the spring harvest back to the bees, which they very much appreciated.  We also had plenty of honey for sale in spring which was appreciated by many humans as well, and consumed very quickly!  By July, our honey stores tip-toed away from the shelves in the visitor center in order to fatten up the bees before winter.  We, and the bees, surely do appreciate your patience and understanding! 

Our research on the varroa mite and its impact on our colonies continues to be a source of new inspiration and learning.  This will be our third year of consistently ashing and spreading the ash from the varroa mites in order to help curb the often overwhelming reproductive power of the mites.  We have seen mite numbers reduced by more than half this year from last year, and will continue to watch this trend of correlation between the consequential and consistent spreading of mite ashes and their abundance in the hives.  What is difficult, of course, is that drones from colonies across our landscape can also bring mites into our hives, and we cannot really control this potential re-infestation.  Even so, our research has thus far shown than strong and vibrant colonies do not succumb to the presence of the mites and are able to remain healthy and strong.  The mites may even help a colony strengthen its forces to some degree!   More to come as we continue our work with the ashing preparations and our monitoring of the varroa mite!

We decided to wrap/insulate all of our 27 hives early this year to help the bees keep a more steady temperature through the continued instability of our changing climate.  With a couple exceptions (the ‘pet’ hives that we give special consideration to), all of the hives look strong and healthy going into this winter with plenty of honey.  With so many new swarms from spring about to brave their first winter, we do, of course, worry about them.  We appreciate your loving thoughts towards the Sanctuary and our bees.

We wish you, students, friends, and fellow beekeepers, a strong and healthy winter—both for you and your bees! 

Please share how your beekeeping season has been on our Facebook page, or by sending an email to alex.t@spikenardfarm.org.

Posted in Articles

An expression of light in darkness

Hidden in a holy hollow,
away from any beam of light,
they brighten what they gather,
from the Sun’s great warmth and might.
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A magical thanks-giving

DSC01373-bannerWe were stirring a thanks-giving preparation (#500 & B.C.) for the bees and the land this afternoon on the Bee Barn porch and the sky lit up for us like magic. Blessings to the Earth and all of her caretakers. And may grace shine upon the bees.

Posted in Social/Cultural