Jun 29, 2019

The cottonmouth is a pit viper frequently seen by the marsh in Hudsonville.

Cottonmouths, Agkistrodon piscivorus, display large broadbands and they turn almost solid black as they age. The belly has irregular blotches and the underside of the tail is black. The western cottonmouth is the one found in Hollysprings, it is one of the 5 sub-species of the South East. (A. p. leucostoma). The typical size is about 3 feet long, but the large ones can be up to 6 feet. One of the distinctive characters is a black line from the eye to the back of the lower jaw. Its body shape is heavy to very heavy in some individuals. it can be called water mocassin or even cottonmouth mocassin by tradition. One fact that I used to associate to local folklore and therefore give little credence to is that cottonmouths can actually bite underwater.

Cottonmouths are rather associated with river swamps than with the rivers themselves. They are prevalent in isolated wetlands, especially when such habitats are surrounded by swampy habitat or heavy vegetation, which is the case at the head of the Cold Water river. They will hibernate during winter, in retreats which are away from the swamp, we see them in October on the paths in the woods on the western slopes. During the active season, cottonmouths move at night or during the day. They will hunt after dark in hot days. One can find them coiled on a stump or along a fallen log. On sunny days of fall they may be found on the lower branches of a tree. I personally have never seen any in a tree.

While they have been named after their fish diet (piscivorus), they are opportunistic predators and eat a wide assortment of preys. They can ambush or actively hunt. They will eat rodents, birds, fish, frogs, turtles, other snakes.

The mating period is in spring, apparently there also can be a fall mating period. Males will ‘fight’ other competing males in ‘combat dances’ to win the privilege of mating. Litters of 7 babies in average are born late summer or early fall. Baby cottonmouths are lighter in color and more brightly banded. They display a greenish tail tip. The baby cottonmouths can be mistaken for copperheads.

The very large cottonmouth  below (I estimate 5 feet long ) fought with one of the dogs and stood its ground, keeping its mouth open to deter the opponent. I could finally hold the dog back, it had been bitten in the chest. I carefully checked the snake looking for wounds as there was blood in its mouth. There was not even a scratch. It finally calmed down and went its way back in the swamp. Behavioral research has demonstrated that the species is not agressive toward humans, cottonmouths are mainly defensive in nature. These studies have also shown that most cottonmouths will not bite a person unless they are being picked up.

They are not threatened as a species, they can be locally extirpated, especially if a new road separates the foraging area to the hibernation quarters.

The venom of cottonmouths destroys blood cells and has anticoagulant properties. Deaths have resulted from their bites, however nearly all victims that received proper medical attention survived.

Refitting a Freedom hive.

Jun 23, 2019

Converting a 65 liter into a 32 liter Freedom Hive.

Tom’s hive died on its second season. I strongly suspect the fact that the bees did not swarm as the reason. The varroa kept on thriving as the bees were keeping on building. Eventually the colony got overwhelmed.

The comb network from under the hive, which stands on a tripod.

Swarming seems to be a critical component to fight the mites. The queen about to swarm will stop laying eggs and get fit to fly. It will take the new queen a couple of weeks to start and lay eggs, interrupting the propagation cycle of the varroa. Therefore the volume of the hive needs to be spacious enough to hold sufficient stash for winter but snug enough to induce the bees to swarm every single Spring. I have been toying with this idea for the past two years and I have built some 25 to 30 liters hives which were installed in March of this year, including a few small hives for the small hive project and the Maggie hive, which I have high expectations on. However I cannot show any results to prove my point yet.

Seen from the top, the original design for a 65 liters chamber looks as the picture below. The insulation between the inner chamber and outer body is limited to these sheets used for mountain cabins. It may be sufficient to retain the heat in the Mississippi winter, but I doubt it prevents the scorching summer heat from increasing the temperature of the brood. The bees had been bearding, but not in a very dramatic way though.


While exchanging ideas with Matt Somerville, it was decided to limit the volume of the inner chamber by reducing its diameter while keeping the outside body untouched. This modification would increase the gap between the two cylinders, which would be filled with additional insulation. I chose some home insulation I had left. A colony of bumble bees had elected this material as their home in the workshop.

The diameter has been reduced from 34 cm to 24 cm while keeping the height at 72 cm. Each of the 12 planks is 6.2 cm large and cut with an angle of 15 degrees.

It was important to recut the original planks so that the chamber remains propolized for the next colony. I had to remove the comb which could not be refit. Recycled combs spend a short week in the freezer and are reused for other hives.

The inner body before and after the reshaping.

The slimmer body on its original bottom that has not been recut yet.

The new inner chamber requires thicker beams to secure it to the outer shell.

Insulation between the two chambers, inner top with an insulation layer, additional inner insulation layer, thick wood roof and the telescopic roof.

The comparison of the hive before and after refitting. Each access tunnel through the front holes are bored through the beams. The hive wall is now 13 cm thick as a succession of outer wood shell, insulation sheet, insulation fiber and the inner shell wall.

As I was working on the hive a few bees moved in attracted by the nice smell of propolis and wax.

The hive was set back in place the next afternoon on June 23, 2019.

SunHives in the BeeBarn

Jun 16, 2019

I was introduced to the Sunhives by Heidi Hermann in 2017. A thorough review of this hive is on the website of the Natural beekeeping Trust ( Header picture by H. Hermann.

The hive was invented by Gunther Mancke. His book ‘Sunhive’, articulates the basic principles, the building instructions and some general observations to complete the hive and understand its shape. The hive is widespread in Europe and has been set several times in America, it seems to be well accepted by the bees. I decided to install two sunhives in the bee barn on the west side. The hives have been made by Kelsey of Heirloomista in Minnesota. Her website is

I received the hives in two batches over winter 2018.

The lattice is a windbreaker for winter, it is removable and while the bees can take cleansing flights in the room they also could fly out and in. The lattice has not been tested with the bees in winter.

Two swarms were poured in the hives mid-March. By  mid-April both small colonies had grown tremendously foraging on the first prairie flowers.

By the third week of May I found coincidently the queen wandering on the bottom flower of the front sunhive, she was not attended by her usual retinue. She was perfectly ignored by her daughters. Her pheromones would not trigger any reaction, the hive was frantically busy with the nectar flow. I found the dead queen under the hive in the evening. There is no access to the hive to check whether replacing queen cells have been built, but this is one of the virtues of this hive: the bees handle and the beekeeper becomes a beewitness.

The last week of May and the first week of June 2019 were extremely hot and humid, the temperature reaching daily 100 degrees and more in the sun. The room remained below 80 degrees the whole time, but the bees kept on bearding.

By mid-June 2019, both hives are fine.

Andrea’s log hive

Jun 09, 2019

Andrea’s hive is the first log hive installed in Holly Springs, MS.

One of the three log hives carved in Fall got attributed to Andrea, who lives downtown Holly Springs in North-West Mississippi. The hive has had several designs prior becoming a simple model easy to set in trees.

1- the original model with its roof.

2- a review of the hives over Christmas 2018 simplified the design

The hive was hauled up on March 2, 2019.

Andrea was happy with the hive on the property, but did not really know what to expect. would bees come eventually?

On April 16, 2019, I received an early message.

The heavy rains over the week of June 3rd, 2019 had tilted the hive leftwards so a second strap was added to better secure the log  and bring back the original verticality of the comb, which is necessary to the correct orientation of the bees following the waggle dancers.

La Ruche Anatole

Jun 09, 2019

This hive is a hollowed log with a hexagonal section roof.

Anatole proposed to build a roof, which section would match the shape of a comb cell. The hexagon would fit the circular section of the log hive and the large volume of the roof would be filled with insulating fabric. The bottom of the hive is made of two layers of cypress: an inside floor tucked in a circular groove and an external bottom matching the bottom section of the log. The log was hollowed with a chain saw and the walls have been kept very raw, not even smoothened on the lower part, leaving many grooves for pseudoscorpions, if any, to hide. I guess it also creates shelters for small hive beetles.

The hive was peeled off its bark, torched  and recut in February 2019. It was set in the yard on a stand we built for the purpose. The roof is so cumbersome that there is no easy way to set it up in a tree, unless building a large platform.

On the evening of April 11, 2019, Phillip sent me a message about a swarm in his backyard, which I went to pick up (the word ‘give’ should be understood as ‘hive’ on my last answer). I had been scrambling for several hours hiving swarms as showers were forecast for the night. The swarm was poured from the top in the dark and it rained really hard that night. The colony remained small with little activity for 6 weeks, it was doubtful it would make it.

The video below was shot on June 8th, 2019 early morning when the bees start and fly out. Even if the colony is rather small, its chances of survival have increased tremendously.  The bees are dark and typical of these mongrel bees in the area, a mix of black bees and Italian bees. The mongrel bees do not build large colonies though. This hive is about 40 liters and probably a tad more spacious than what they find here. let us see whether it makes it over winter. It would bring genetic diversity.

Miti II

Jun 01, 2019

Miti II is hive 15 of the SmallHive project. It is in a tree of the Mitigation Property curated by SPAC. It is very active on June 1, 2019


Jun 01, 2019

A short video of the state of first small hive installed at Strawberry Plains on June 1, 2019.