05/07/2013 05:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Honey Bees at Stone Barns Center


At Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in New York's Hudson River Valley, Dan Carr has the enviable job of spending his days with honey bees and educating the public about beekeeping. Since 2010, when he returned from a three-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, Carr has been responsible for maintaining the center's apiary (depending on the time of year, the number of hives ranges from 10 to 15). The colonies Carr oversees do double-duty providing the restaurant on the property Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and the center's farm store and farmers' market with honey.

Carr learned about beekeeping from a former Malawian Parks and Wildlife officer named Hector Banda who ran his Peace Corps training. His first bee mentor was the village's local chief, Village Headman Mgogoninga, who had more than 100 Kenyan top bar and traditional log hives.

Here's what Carr had to say regarding swarming and some exciting bee-related plans at Stone Barns.

On swarming..

"We generally try to get ahead of the swarms by reversing the hives in the early spring which is a manipulation where the beekeeper takes the empty box on the bottom and puts it over the top box where the bees are at that time of year. This makes the bees think they have more space for the queen to lay in. We also start checking for signs of an impending swarm when the dandelions start to bloom. If I see a colony where there are no empty spaces for a queen to lay I will add empty comb above the brood nest for her to lay in or else I'll just go ahead and make a split. But despite our best efforts sometimes a swarm happens so it's important for us to be ready to catch the swarm quick and get the colony settled into their nice new home. To my knowledge we haven't had swarms show up in our neighbor's yards, but we do get plenty of calls from people living in the towns around the farm asking us remove a swarm for them. Swarms are incredibly gentle. Usually their bellies are full of nectar as they prepare to hang out in a tree for many hours and sometimes even days while they look for a new home. I usually don't wear a veil and people are often amazed when I gently scoop the bees from the cluster with bare hands and put them in a hive with comb. Once I have most of them in the box I leave a small entrance and watch to see if the rest of the bees are coming in and if they are sticking up their butts and fanning their wings to expose the Nasonov gland and spread the hive's pheromone. If I see both of those things I know I got the queen and I usually leave the box their until night when the bees are all settled in, so I can shut them in and take them to their new location."

Check out this video of Dan and a Stone Barns apprentice catching a swarm.

On Stone Barns Center's bee plans..

"We do, we are planning on expanding with 12 nuc colonies that will be kept at a separate location from the other hives for an experiment with a lesser used organic mite treatment in which hops is the primary ingredient. This experiment is the brainchild of a local High School sophomore named Sarah Marino. Sarah and her science teacher approached me because they were interested in doing research that would help beekeepers. I told them finding ways to effectively treat mites that don't harm the bees and do not effect the honey would be be most useful. She came across hop-guard, which is newly approved for use in New York state and supposedly has little effect on the bees but is also safe for use while honey supers are on. We are getting all of the nucs from a trusted and consistent source Natures Way Farm in Lowman New York. They have been breeding and selling bees for over 20 years, so we know the nucs will be uniform so our experiment gets started off on the right foot. eight of the nucs will be Nature's Way Farm's Hybrid bee, two will be Sue Colby's New World Carniolan bee, and two will be Marla Spivak's Minnesota Hygienic bee. We will start tracking each colony's mite load as soon as we pick them up May 18th and continue to check the level of mites every week thereafter. When we reach a critical threshold of mites in six of the eight hybrid colonies we will treat with hop guard. Two of the colonies will get only one treatment, the other four will get a second treatment 25 days later, and two of those will get a third treatment another 25 days later. That way we can see what level of treatment is most effective and best for the bees. We will keep two of the hybrid hives treatment free as a control. We would also like to keep the two Minnesota hygienic colonies and two New World Carniolan colonies treatment free to look at how well different breeds of bees cope with the mites. Sarah is planning on presenting her research over the next couple years at a variety of major science competitions like the Intel Science Talent Search. I'm looking forward to working with Sarah, and I am very thankful that the directors of Stone Barns are supporting the research of such an enterprising young person with a strong interest in helping the bees. The bees are going to need more people like Sarah for years to come."

For more information on the Stone Barns Center beekeeping classes Dan leads, visit here.