Looks like I get to cross another one off my beekeeping bucket list. Comb honey! When I started beekeeping I read Richard Taylor’s book, The Joys of Beekeeping and have had the idea of making comb honey ever since. I crowded this hive after the first month of the flow by removing a super when they actually needed one, and replaced it with a super of Ross Rounds. Now, about three weeks later, all 32 rounds are beautifully capped. I realized after pulling it today that I had no space in the freezer so I put it back on top after inserting a medium. They deserve the space for all their hard work! Currently when foragers return at the end of the day it looks like a package of bees hanging from each entrance.
All beekeeping is local. These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina. During May the nectar flow settles in providing a steady influx of nectar keeping the bees busy. Robbing is minimal as food is plentiful. The bees are typically gentle and easy to work. Populations continue to grow and the beekeeper needs to be mindful of space management or else swarming may occur. Weather in the Midlands has stabilized with few surprises and the bees continue to fly longer and longer hours each day.
New beekeepers may find that during a strong nectar flow their bees will no longer take sugar syrup. By now they have developed a foraging force of their own and nature’s food is preferred over sugar syrup. Continue to encourage them to build comb at least until they complete the brood chamber hive body and food chamber hive body. After they have completed those boxes then it is your decision whether to continue to feed or hope to capture some real honey in the first honey super.
1) Add space as needed during first part of month. There is still a month of nectar flow left to be gathered and your bees should be at maximum foraging force.
2) Manage space within the hive in both expanding situations as well as restrictive situations. If a hive appears weak, then investigate. Do not allow too much room inside the hive if the colony weakens.
3) Plan on checks every two weeks.
4) Swarm season continues but is lessened. Continue to watch for swarms.
5) Continue to check for queen cells – make splits if swarm cells observed.
6) Monitor for disease. Assess mites levels. Temperatures will allow wax moths to set up shop in weak hives – kept your hive volume and colony population appropriate.
7) Remove any honey supers that are filled. Provide super space with drawn comb for bees to deposit nectar to ripen.
8) Notice Blackberries in bloom. Tulip poplar in bloom. Then Honeysuckle, Dandelion, Privet Hedge, Confederate Jasmine, Persimmon.
9) Add additional space conservatively toward end of month as nectar flow lessens to make sure honey gets capped properly.
10) Begin IPM program. Place beetle traps or other hive beetle management items. Your management method for wax moths is a strong hive with sufficient bees for the hive volume.
11) Email your local club Secretary asking what you can do to help, or volunteer to lend a hand in your organization. Many hands make light work. If you’d like to see your organization grow as well as offer and maintain your current level of member services your help is needed.
The above are general guidelines for the average bee colony in the Midlands of South Carolina. We all have hives that may be outperforming the average. We also have colonies that underperform the average. Use your judgement in making changes suggested here. Beekeeping is an art as well as a science. Only you know the many, many particulars associated with your physical hives as well as the general health and population of your colonies.
You may be called to come out and get the bees from someone’s water source. I get a few calls now and then. In the Spring they want beekeepers to come get them off the bushes. In the Summer it’s bird baths and swimming pools. Here’s a typical response I offered a gentleman who reported 20 or so bees coming to his garden pond. He was able to track them towards a wooded area close by:
“Yes sir, we have a member over that way. I doubt they are his bees as usually the bees will find the closest water source and use it exclusively. I see between the two of you there are lots of water ponds the bees would have to fly over to get the mile or so to you.
There really is no way to round up bees coming to a floral source or water. A colony of bees this time of year might have about 30,000 or more bees so 20 is just a few. Also, the queen has to be captured in order for a colony to survive. Otherwise it’s certain death for the workers captured. They have no way to reproduce without the queen and the lifespan of a worker is about 6 weeks.
Take comfort in the fact that only 1 in 6 colonies in the wild survive the winter. That means they will most likely be gone next Spring. In the meantime, also know that honey bees only sting in defense of their hive unless harassed. My mother in law lives with me and sits on our front porch where we too have a garden pond. She has come to enjoy the hum of the bees coming and going to the water source. By Fall they will stop coming and start settling down for the winter. In the Spring they have all the fluids they want in the way of nectar. So this is the only time of year they come to water sources.”
Let’s say you were going to open a new business and wanted to hit the market with a bang on day one of shopping season – say black Friday or whatever. You’d have to start preparing for that day ahead of time. How far ahead of time? You really don’t want to hire employees too soon and not have anything for them to do for months. Instead you want to hire them just enough ahead of time to get them oriented to their new jobs, well trained, and ready to service mobs of customers exactly on your Grand Opening date.
The same applies to your honey bees. Grand Opening date is the day the nectar flow begins in earnest. We can never know exactly when that date is as nature deals us a slightly different set of circumstances each year. But seasoned beekeepers in your area can give you a good estimate of the date nectar flow begins and ends in your area. Your job, as the beekeeper, is to have a full staff of employees ready and trained to gather that nectar starting on day one of the season. You’ll also have to worry about employee retention and expansion over the course of the nectar season. Finally, you’ll have to curb hiring as the season diminishes so that you’re not squandering resources on employees that will never gather nectar.
Here in the Midlands of South Carolina most seasoned beekeepers recognize the beginning of the spring nectar flow as April 1st. This year it appears to be running behind schedule. For the purpose of this article we’ll say April 1st and you can adjust for your location and observations. A 3 week old foraging bee available to work on April 1st has already graduated through the various stages of nurse bee, house bee, wax producer, etc. Prior to that she spent 21 days as an egg, larva, and pupae. So exactly when did you need your queen to lay that egg to produce that foraging bee available for work on April 1st? Bee math tells us she needed to lay that egg on approximately February 14. This is easy to remember as it is Nicolai Nasonov’s birthday. But wait, if the queen lays 1,200 eggs per day and does so on February 14 that results in 1,200 foraging bees on April 1st – but we want more than 1,200 bees don’t we? No worries, she didn’t go from 0 to 1,200 in one day. Instead, she’s been increasing her output since the winter solstice. But my point is February is critical for the beekeeper to stimulate production if he or she wants to have a full staff of foraging bees to get the job done in a manner that produces excess honey.
The same math can be used to determine when to start curtailing hiring new employees (bees) during the nectar flow. Our Midlands nectar flow ends approximately June 1st – a brief 2 months from its start date. An egg laid on April 19th will become a foraging bee on June 1st. That’s simply too late to contribute to nectar gathering. But that same bee will eat as much as any other bee in the hive and required the same amount of nutrition and work to create. Now here’s the dilemma, that colony is going to be in full tilt workaholic mode during the course of the nectar flow. It’s all hands on deck and as long as nectar is coming through the front door the queen will continue to lay eggs. The colony will continue to build and build bees because they have all the resources to do so. And the summer solstice isn’t until June 21st so that’s of no help. If you’re still hiring bees after April 19th you’re setting yourself up for having to feed those non-productive bees during the remainder of the nectar flow as well as the coming summer dearth. That means less excess honey for you.
What’s a beekeeper to do? A couple ideas might be to use that nectar flow time after April 19th to create a brood break by caging the queen. This would benefit the colony by reducing mite count via a brood break. A second option might be re-queening your hive allowing for a brood break. Moving your queen across the yard and allowing them to requeen would provide an almost perfect 25 or so days with out new brood. (Your queen across the yard is your failsafe.) Another option might be to “steal” frames of brood and get an early start on summer splits. The number of cells in a deep frame is around 7,000 although there is honey and pollen taking up some of the cells. Nevertheless, taking a frame of open brood, a frame of closed brood, and a frame of honey will hardly set an expanding colony back much and should result in an increase in your honey yield due to fewer mouths to feed. Plus you’ll get another colony, a new queen, a break in mite production, and a backup colony should anything go wrong in the fall. And with the nectar flow still in progress everything goes easier – wait until dearth comes and the same tasks will be much more difficult.
I’ll end here. Tending bees is a lesson in looking forward.
Congestion. A topic I repeatedly misunderstand. And, in all likelihood I remain confused. Congestion, which leads to swarm behavior.
I used to think congestion was not enough room within the hive to comfortably house all of the bees. Kinda like when your cousin comes to town with his 6 kids and stays for a week. Apparently this is in error. Adding an empty box with foundation may help a little because the wax producing aged bees may go up and draw some wax but that’s not it, really. I mean your cousin’s kids are still holed up in your bathroom even if you make them sleep on the back porch. With my cousin’s kids it’s not congestion in the house, it’s congestion in my bathroom. With the bees it’s not congestion in the hive, it’s congestion in the brood nest.
So, I’ve read about opening up the brood nest with an empty frame. I tried this a few years ago (2015) only I couldn’t bear to place an empty frame in there so I placed a frame with foundation. Mistake again. Placing a frame of foundation only split the brood nest up causing more problems rather than helping.
So a couple years ago (2016) I thought maybe it’s time for me to switch to nine frames since I have drawn comb now. That has to be more “open” right? Turns out I got it wrong again. What this would do is reduce the number of frames for bees to hang out making them more likely to be crowded on each frame.
Okay, so what I understand now, I think, is (how can I really know anything when it comes to bees?) that it is nurse bee congestion in the brood area, not bee congestion. And it is not simply too many nurse bees. I mean it IS too many nurse bees, but more importantly it is unemployed nurse bees in the brood nest. The nurse bees are getting in each other’s way. There is an overabundance of out-of-work nurse bees for the amount of work available. It’s like ladies night and there are only 4 guys in the bar.
So, what does a colony do when it has too many nurse bees, which also happen to be coming into wax creating age? Swarm, that’s what.
So how do we reduce their unemployment and keep them in the hive? Give them work. 1) Add drawn comb in the brood area for the queen to lay in, producing more work space and more employment opportunities for nurse bees as well as spreading them out (reducing congestion). 2) Also add drawn comb above the brood nest for the bees to store nectar in thereby reducing the tendency to backfill the brood nest with nectar.
All this adding of drawn comb into critical areas promotes more work space, egg laying, and work opportunities also creates some disruption in the hive, something I consider beneficial during the period the bees are contemplating swarming. It may also allow for Queen pheromone to be more equally distributed amongst the workers which satisfies another swarm theory.
This worked for me last year so I’m going to confirm by trying it again this year. Good luck with your bees!
Upper entrances. Increasing efficiency of nectar delivery to the hive means more honey stored. George Imirie developed a shim to add entrances between boxes. This is an upgraded version and the idea came to me from a friend. An advantage over Imirie’s design is the space between boxes is reduced to 3/8″ thereby reducing burr comb. I modified the measurements and added reducers.
Additional benefits include:
-They allow upper access and reduce travel across the brood nest possibly decreasing brood nest congestion and swarming. -They add ventilation.
-They cut down traffic across the brood to the honey supers allowing better access thus some think an increase in honey stores.
-If doing comb honey they cut down staining
– And if using an excluder it may help encourage storing in the supers.
Cost is less than a buck each.
Read more about my upper entrances here: Goals in Beekeeping and Upper Entrance
All beekeeping is local. These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina. April starts with the nectar flow in earnest and the beekeeper is busy with hive space management and swarm prevention and control. The bees will be in high gear growing populations, seeking opportunities to swarm, and storing excess nectar. Weather in the Midlands typically stabilizes with few surprises and the bees are actively flying longer and longer hours each day.
Beginning beekeepers get a “gentle” introduction to beekeeping as the bees are less defensive due to the availability of plentiful food. Also swarming behavior is not typical during a colony’s first season if space management is followed and the bees provided with proper space as the colony grows.
1) Monitor for queen cells – check suspect hives every seven to ten days for swarm cells hanging on bottom bar in boxes above brood chamber in hives with screen bottom boards and all boxes in hives with solid bottom boards.
3) Plan on checking every two weeks for hive body management i.e. space management.
4) If not yet added, place additional honey super(s) beginning of this month. On strong hives, install multiple honey supers if frames have drawn comb. Weaker colonies should receive less supers accordingly. If drawn comb is not available and foundation is used supers should be placed one at a time. Periodic checks should be made during the honey flow to see if additional supers are needed.
6) Unite weak colonies with strong colonies unless suspect of disease. Replace weak queens.
7) Make splits if increase is a goal with mated queens or allow colonies to re-queen themselves. Splits can be used to curtail swarm behavior but may decrease honey production. If increase is desired, split any hives not previously split and re-queen any weak queens. Queens should now or soon be available if needed.
8) Actively manage your hives designated for honey. Manage brood space allowing the queen room to lay. Utilize other methods of swarm prevention. There is no longer time for a colony to re-queen itself in time to raise foraging bees in time for the nectar flow. If needed, add a purchased mated queen or combine colonies if not diseased if seeking honey.
9) Begin IPM program. Place beetle traps or other hive beetle management items.
10) Watch for swarms daily and inspect for swarm cells every week to ten days.
11) If not already done, bait hives should be in position at various points 360 degrees surrounding apiary. Place bait hives at 50 to 150 yards away from colonies, edges of open fields, close to “bee” aerial landmarks, scent with lemongrass oil, 1 1/4″ circular entrance equals the 2 square inch recommendation.
12) Notice Dogwood blooming and azaleas in earnest the first week. Sassafras and Tulip Poplar blooming. Also, notice the greening up of many, many nectar producing trees.
13) Email your local club Secretary asking what you can do to help, or volunteer to lend a hand in your organization. Many hands make light work. If you’d like to see your organization grow as well as offer and maintain your current level of member services your help is needed.
For your viewing pleasure this month Kirk Anderson show us how to capture a swarm:
The above are general guidelines for the average bee colony in the Midlands of South Carolina. We all have hives that may be outperforming the average. We also have colonies that underperform the average. Use your judgement in making changes suggested here. Beekeeping is an art as well as a science. Only you know the many, many particulars associated with your physical hives as well as the general health and population of your colonies.
Why did my bees die?
This is a question often asked and sometimes difficult to answer. The beekeeper looking at a dead colony is left with clues that can sometimes indicate the cause of death. More often though the beekeeper looks at the “crime scene” and makes an incorrect assumption. We’ve all heard it, “Wax moths killed my bees.” or “They got robbed.” or Small hive beetles killed them.” Most often though these are the results of problems that were missed or not addressed earlier.
I like murder mysteries. And, like in murder mysteries, what kills the bees isn’t always the most obvious suspects. It’s not the one the mystery writer wants you to initially think it is. After all what fun would that be? Instead the beekeeper must use some logic in backtracking the history of the colony to solve the mystery. Many times the downward spiral started some time back and we missed it before it lead up to wax moths, robbing, small hive beetles, or other maladies.
This past winter I had a 9% overwinter loss coming into the spring buildup. All in all, in today’s world of beekeeping that’s pretty good. Early in this season’s buildup, in February, I rotated boxes as a swarm prevention technique. I noted that a particular row of hives were not building up as fast as my other hives. As I rotated the hive bodies I inspected and found that they were all queen-right though so I just chalked the slow buildup up to “one of those unexplained things.”
That row of thirteen colonies coming into spring lost six colonies AFTER that first box rotation of spring. All of my other colonies continued to grow and expand. Granted the ones lost were not the strongest but they had queens (I saw them). How were these different than the ones that were thriving? Time to put on my detective hat. They were unique in that they are all on same row, were not taken down in size last fall (I just ran out of energy), and had older queens. So what killed them? I don’t know but I suspect the stress of the box rotation on an already stressed colony. How were they already stressed? Why did they not build up like the other areas in my bee yard? Thinking about the differences: this group had older queens, larger hives usually have/maintain higher mite counts, and were in an isolated row in the bee yard. I don’t know exactly which stressor was the largest but I suspect some or all of the above come into play.
Now my overall losses were at 27% instead of the 9% prior to this event and most likely because I failed to reduce size, monitor this row for Varroa better, and not re-queen in the fall. Which exactly? Beekeepers always want to know which one is the culprit. I don’t know. Maybe it was multiple stressors and not just one. But I do have some excellent suspects! Regardless of which stressor killed these colonies I failed to do that which a good steward should have done for these bees. Ultimately it’s on me.
So, after writing the above I was further pondering the possibilities while making up some sugar syrup, and I was thinking about the stressors and it came to me what killed those colonies. Distilling it down to a single element – laziness. I should have taken those hives down to 2 boxes post nectar flow last summer. I should have monitored Varroa better in that row instead of assuming it would be the same as the newer hives in other areas. And I should have re-queened as would have happened easily if I had made splits last year when I should have taken them down in size. My laziness killed those colonies. So there, I came up with a single cause, identified the culprit, and solved the mystery!
It won’t happen again. Maybe something else but not this.
This week reports of swarms have increased indicating that swarm season has started in earnest. The flood of calls has yet to begin but will start soon. This picture, from last year shows a swarm capture utilizing my friend Dave’s combination arborist’s tree tool and a homemade bucket with paint strainer modification. These bees were about 28 feet up.
In the US, those interested in catching swarms should visit Bees on the Net which lists beekeepers willing to go out and retrieve swarms in their area.
This was done online at canva – I was full of ideas until I started playing with it, it’s not the final one .. but was interesting to have a play with. It needs making more even. The templates are there to play with so I might have another go and see what I can […]
It’s spring colony splitting time and one thing we should keep in mind as we delve into the congested and complex hive is having the correct balance of bees of various ages within the hive or split. An upset in the balance of bees’ ages upsets the proper functioning of the colony. Ex.: who’s going to clean the cells and feed the young larva if the colony goes queenless for an extended period and all of the bees have passed that stage in their adult development? Reversible? I wonder to what degree, and about the quality of work that can be expected from a bee that has passed it’s normal period for the work expected.
I’ve read below and elsewhere that there is some flexibility in the bees’ ability to move forward or backward in their age defined activities. However, the quality of the work suffers based on the bees’ physiologically ability to perform a particular task.
When making splits during the spring buildup there isn’t any difficulty finding brood of various ages so as to provide a split with a diverse population. Done well, a split hardly misses a beat and continues to grow and build effortlessly, while poorly configured splits struggle to get going and sometimes fail.
A simple diagram showing the life history of the honey bee worker.
The schedule of worker bee activities is both flexible and reversible, depending more upon physiological age than on chronological age, and is altered according to the needs of the colony. Diagram Source: Sipa Honey Bees
(All beekeeping is local. The dates given below are guidelines for the Midlands of South Carolina. Adjust to your local area as needed.)
This time of year both beekeepers and the honey bees are working towards the same short term goals but for different reasons.
Let’s start with some bee math. We can expect a bee born this time of year to have a life expectancy of approximately 5 or 6 weeks. Of those 6 weeks only approximately 3 weeks will be spent as a forager.
We also know, based on information provided to us by our seasoned mentors, that here in the Midlands we can expect our nectar flow to begin, in earnest, around late March / early April and to last approximately until the first week of June.
To gather the greatest amount of nectar (ultimately honey) and to get the most comb drawn during that 2 month window of strong nectar flow we must have all hands on deck on day one of the nectar flow. Meaning a colony at its peak of nectar gathering abilities, fully staffed to handle the challenge of millions of blooms occuring in a short period of time. (Think of it as having enough wait staff in a restaurant just prior to dinner hour. Too few staff and things just don’t get done.)
The bees want the same thing we do at the same time. They want a full staff on day one of the nectar flow. Missing the mark and showing up with a full staff at the end of the nectar flow is useless and, in fact, a burden on the colony’s ability to feed lots of bees after the nectar is gone.
So, it seems we have a mutual goal between beekeeper and honey bee – lots of bees on day one of what amounts to their work shift.
Let’s make a best guess as to when Day One occurs based on history as given to us by our mentors and say it’s April 1st here in the Midlands. Should I run an ad in Free Times advertising for Help Wanted to help with this year’s nectar flow?
“Seasonal Help Wanted: Honey Bees to help gather nectar during this year’s nectar flow. Must be willing to travel and be in foraging phase of life.”
No, probably won’t work. But using bee math and the bees own instincts for this time of year we can determine how to get those bees. I need a three week old bee available on April 1st. Given it takes 21 days from egg to birth and then allowing for the three week age requirement for the job, I can determine that a new foraging bee on April 1st was an egg exactly 6 weeks before the nectar flow began. Also, since the queen can only lay a set amount of eggs a day – perhaps 1,200 or maybe a bit more, I had better start even before that 6 weeks if I want a FULL staff on day one of the nectar flow.
Still with me? Great because the good, and bad, parts are coming soon.
What this means for you today (Feb. 20th), is that we are just now at that date when an egg layed today will get her work permit as a 3 week old forager on the first week of April. That’s good! Another thing that’s good is the bees have already been ramping up and your queen should be a laying machine right now. What you want to do is encourage that queen and that colony to continue this egg laying, brood rearing mania, tirelessly for the next 60 days. Important: Do you know how to do this?
Now for the bad news. Your reasons for the buildup are not the same as the bees. You both want a buildup and on that point you support each other’s efforts. However, because you have different end goals you have to understand each other’s motivations if you are going to be successful partners.
I’ll try to be gentle but, you see, they (the bees) want to move out. Not all of them; just about 60% and the queen. They’re preparing now for their move. You may have thought they were building up for the nectar flow and you’re right, they are, but they see the start of the nectar flow as providing the means for a successful move. We call it a swarm; they call it reproduction. By moving out at the start of the nectar flow it gives them the best chance of building a new home and surviving.
For the beekeeper this is like half of your employees leaving just as your grand opening day presents itself. And the amount of work to be done is so great that you’ll not get it done if you lose more than half those employees (well, you’ll probably get enough for them but not you).
So, the dilemma is to convince the bees they’d actually like to stay around in their current home for just a while longer. Very Important: Do you know how to do this?
Heck, convince them that if they stay, in June you’ll actually help them move (i.e. make split).
There’s lots to do in the bee yard today since mother nature has stolen at least two weeks preparation time out from under us here in the Midlands of South Carolina.
I had a few, okay maybe a half dozen, hives that were just too burr combed up in the feeding shim to properly handle when I should have ten or more days ago. Things weren’t better today.
The first venture into the hives after winter is probably one of the most difficult and dreaded for me each year. They have burr combed up all my violations of bee space and propolized everything together such that not much goes quite as planned. Then there’s always that space between boxes where the bottom bars of the frames above become connected to the top bars of the frames below. The bees, having not been allowed much in the way of drone comb find this a great spot to build drone comb and raise spring drones. That the hives in question today had been deferred spoke to the fact that I didn’t really want to deal with them ten days ago as I should have.
But things must be handled and there’s always the knowledge that afterwards the hives are easier to work for the remainder of the season.
My first adventure today was into a well populated two story nucleus hive I overwintered. They objected somewhat but adequate smoke kept them in check while I rotated a full box off the top and replaced it with drawn comb and returned some of their stores. I was happy to get out of there though as I was spending far too long performing my tasks being a little rusty and not having every widget available I normally like.
I did the same for several more nucleus hives and started in on the ten framers that still had feeding shims in place. That’s when the trouble started. Entire feeding shims filled with willy-nilly comb in all directions and filled with honey and drone brood. And black with bees covering everything and spilling out over the boxes. A little smoke helped move them but nothing short of a rap of the inner cover on the box dislodged them back into the uppermost hive body. Unhappy bees; unhappy beekeeper. Usually though they settled down shortly. Once I had to take a walk with them following me for 100 feet or so. I was probably not working them slow enough in the hive nor fast enough overall to get out of their domain. Get ‘er done, and I was almost there.
I had passengers in the truck with me as a drove away from the last hive. Windows down, suit on, and proud of myself having gotten the deed done without a sting through my glove or on top of my head as sometimes happens with the veil pulled down tight.
Oh, what’s that? A hive over by my main stretch of ten framers with it’s brick standing on end. Usually I use this brick position to indicate a queenless condition but I remembered from ten days ago why I stood it up then. The bees were too thick and they were too irritable to bother so I deferred and stood the brick up. Having completed all except this one hive I decided to stop and complete today’s task list. Only take a minute – probably.
The bees were still thick under that inner cover and they had the entire feeding shim filled with honey comb and drone brood. Most of it hung down off the inner cover. I smoked them down and waited. They kept coming back up in short order. As mentioned earlier, there tends to be an overall time limit for bees after which they just say, “You’re done here.” I was running out of time and knew it. I had a thought to go back to the barn and get a bottle of Bee Go to run them down out of that shim with its unpleasant odor. But my dilemma was time. Things weren’t going to get better in ten minutes. I was already taking a heavy bombardment of bees against my veil. I decided it would be best to bang the inner cover against the shim and smoke them some more. After a couple raps most of the bees dislodged and I was able to get the inner cover and the shim removed. I scrapped the honey and drone comb into a ready bucket and thought I’d better close up. Then, as one does when they are tired, a bad decision presented itself to me. While it’s good to know that I’m still capable of decisions at my age, bad ones just stink. I decided as I reached for the replacement inner cover that the bees were so thick I had better check for swarm cells between the boxes. Okay, that’s a quick hive tool between the boxes, a tilt upward, and I should be done – right? Well, there was drone brood between the boxes as I should have known, and maybe in my haste I forgot to smoke them down. Or maybe I did and they were so thick they had nowhere to go. I took my hive tool and scrapped the first top bar and my gloved had was covered. Second top bar and they have decided to cover my entire right arm. Third scraping and they are like Velcro on my jacket and veil. I can’t remember the final strokes as I was in get ‘er done mode. I did get the box down and in place when I started to feel the stings though my jeans and forearms. Oh my! Folks, when they decide they have no place left to light on you other than your jeans you’ve stayed far too long.
I started walking, stopping occasionally to brush some off. New beekeepers, remember I told you to buy a brush! I walked and walked and covered a hundred yards. Finally I headed back. I still had to replace the inner and telescoping covers. I did so and had to walk again with irritable bees. I had made every mistake I could have, overstayed my welcome by a stretch, rapid movements, and kept coming back when they said, “GO!”. One last trip and I eased into my waiting truck and drove off fully suited with about twenty bees that decided it best they give me an escort.
Done but not proud of my finesse on this one. Maybe I’ll go back for my smoker later, or tomorrow. Wonder where my hive tool is?
This week we are talking to Joe Lewis from Maryland in the big Ol’ US of A. This is Episode Ninety Nine of our beekeeping podcast.
Welcome To the kiwimana buzz…
Hi, it’s Gary and Margaret here, We are beekeepers from the hills of the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland, New Zealand. Our podcast is about beekeeping, Gardening and bit of politics about environmental issues. We also have been known to go off on tangents about other issues.
This interview was recorded in October 2016.
Joe is a Beekeeper and writer from Bel Air, Maryland which is between Baltimore and Philadelphia in North America. He has a passion for the Honey Bees and took up the hobby after retiring from the US Army. He was self diagnosed with the “Not enough bees disease” over eleven years ago and spends his days trying to locate a cure.
Sustainable Beekeeping thru Nucleus Colonies “Beekeeping 357”
Click one the video below to see a video lecture by Joe Lewis
Here is what you will discover
- How to cure “The Not enough Bees Disease”
- The secret to keeping lots of bees and working a full time job
- Why Five is the right number in Beekeeping
- What the Beekeeping 357 principle all about
- How Joe started writing for the American Beekeepers Journal
Resources mentioned in the show
- Joe Business is Harford Honey, the web site is HERE
- Book Following the Bloom by Douglas Whynott can be found HERE
- The Book Beekeeping in coastal California by Jeremy Rose can be purchased HERE
- Susquehanna Beekeepers Association has a website HERE
- Joe Lewis Queen rearing Calendar Wheel, download PDF HERE
- The fifty two most important people in your BeeClub, have a read HERE
- Our interview with Randy Oliver from Scientific Beekeeping can be found HERE
- Randy Oliver’s Article Queens for Pennies, read it HERE
- North West New Jersey YouTube Channel can be found HERE
- Landi Simone Nucleus Colonies Presentation can be found HERE
- Our interview with the Great Frank Lindsay can be listened to HERE
- J Smith – Better Queens Download from Michael Bush Website HERE
Not long ago, someone asked when we should start feeding the bees. The answer given was another question – What are your goals?
We want to building strong colonies but for what purpose? To catch the nectar flow? To make splits?, nucs?, or early pollination purposes? Each goal has a different start date.
Much of what we do with our bees involves looking forward. Last year I wrote a piece on when we should start the push towards building them up for purposes of capturing the nectar flow. I’ll bump that article to the top at a later date when it’s more relevant. Today, though, I’d like to think through another planning exercise for the beekeeper wanting to make strong splits from overwintered colonies.
I like bee math!
An experienced mentor and bee buddy of mine called me recently to ask if I wanted to order some early season queens. He caught me off guard just a bit because I really had not done my math homework for the coming splits season. Well, I’d better get hopping and decide if I’m going to order queens or make queenless splits.
And if I’m going to make spilts, when do I need to get busy?
Framing the issue:
We know from prior swarm seasons and winners of the “Golden Hive Tool Award” (given to the first captured swarm of each season) that swarming in the Midlands starts as soon as late, late February but typically early, early March and will remain strong for a month to six weeks into April then taper with an occasional spurts and sputters along the way.
We know that nature provides natural pollen and nectar for buildup in the Midlands around early to mid February (give or take). Some people see some earlier and this is climate and location dependent. So in nature we see feed for the bees a ~ month or so before swarming.
We know that the climate is still a bit dicey March 1st with occasional surprise freezes which could impact the survival of splits. I’m not sure I want to tempt Midlands weather.
March 1st looks to be an intersection between climate and colony readiness.
So, with natures help,some colonies are ready to swarm as early as ~ March 1. What constitutes being “ready?” Well, colony swarm preparations are a topic in itself but one hardwired componet is drone production. So we deduce that swarming colonies will have made drones ready to mate. I presume nature and the bees assume other colonies have done the same so as to provide some genetic diversity. But back to the point. If a colony is ready to swarm with ready drones when did they start those drones? The answer might help me as to when to start pushing buildup.
Let’s try to nail down a date to promote drone production by reviewing our bee math for drones: 3 days as an egg; 6 1/2 days as a larvae, and capped by day 10. 14 days as a pupa – 24 days. Right? Oh, but we must not forget that that drone is but a wee tot when born and needs to get to his “adolescence” to be ready for mating. That occurs after another 14 days give or take. Okay, I need to start making drones 38 days prior to making queenless splits. Right?…Wrong. Remember that if I make a split the bees will have to begin queen cells and we don’t need ready drones at the start of queen cells. We need them to coincide with the time it takes to make a queen and allow her to “harden” ready for her mating flight. Oh my, that probably negates some of my original calculations.
Nature tells me it will start making the splits for me (i.e. swarm) around March 1st. Let’s use that a date that nature chooses as the earliest date swarms are likely to survive and use subtraction to come to the date I need to start building up my hives in order to maximize my success with queenless splits. March 1st minus 38 days leaves me at January 16th. I know this date as the birthday of Johann Dzierzon, father of parthenogenesis. (In animals, parthenogenesis means development of an embryo from an unfertilized egg cell. Ain’t that a coincidence?) But, as much as I would like to start pushing for drone production on Johann’s birthday, remember I need to deduct (or add back) the time for the colony to create a mating ready queen or approximately 20 to 24 days. My head is starting to hurt. Okay, January 16 plus 24 days = February 7th (or three days before Ormond Aebi’s birthday).
Isn’t it a curiosity that my efforts at calculations results in a bunch of needless time wasting when mother nature gave me the buildup date to begin with – the bloom of Red Maples! That is, when the maples bloom is the start date when nature itself provides the necessary ingredients to maximize successful colony reproduction on a date conducive to climate and impending nectar flow. You can’t fool mother nature. I’m exhausted but it serves me right. Beekeepers should probably reply to questions like this with bloom dates rather than calendar dates.
All beekeeping is local. These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina or a similar climate where the bees are flying at least a few hours most days of the year. February begins a gradual warming in the Midlands but can often be all over the map with freezing temperatures as well as the occasional warm, even spring like, day.
Red Maple blooms in earnest at the beginning of this month and other early bloomers soon join in. The queen goes full tilt with her egg laying and the colony makes plans for reproduction. A lot is happening but mostly it’s a covert operation within the hives for the bees during February. While we humans believe it’s winter the bees have decided to go forward with spring plans and are building up their population in anticipation of colony reproduction (read what Randy Oliver has to say about Understanding Colony Buildup). For the beekeeper it’s crunch time to prepare themselves and equipment for the coming rush of spring. Bees will possibly swarm the later part of February in South Carolina.
1) During inspections this month we are looking to ensure the bees have enough food stores to support their current brood buildup. During February the bees will be intent on raising lots of brood regardless of their pantry stores. For that reason we are entering a risky time for colony starvation.
2) We get occasional warm, spring like, days in February. You may do a pre-spring inspection, checking for the presence of a queen and assessing the colony and stores. Look into the hive as far down as the brood nest if the weather is warm and the bees are flying. Be purposeful and brief. Check honey supply and feed with a candy board, sugar bricks, fondant, or thick sugar syrup if below one-half super. Whatever you choose, the food must be placed close to the cluster or on top for them to access the food during cold weather. If you saved frames of honey you may add these (after thawing), placing them close to the cluster. When removing a top telescoping cover with the inner cover exposed, if the bees are visible in the hole in the inner cover you need to feed quickly.
3) Depending on the Midlands climate, be ready for an early buildup. As brood rearing continues and populations increase, make note of increased population and congestion in the brood area. Swap (rotate) brood boxes if temperatures allow based on your assessment of buildup. Rotating boxes provides the queen with empty drawn comb to lay in as well as disrupts the colony with regards to swarm preparations. Only rotate brood boxes when most of the nest is in the upper brood box (food chamber). You do not want to split the cluster. Rotating brood boxes is a swarm prevention measure, not simply to get the queen into the lower brood box.
4) When rotating boxes notice that the bees will often have built drone comb in the space between boxes (bottom bar to top bar). You will break this comb as you separate the boxes – don’t panic. Before scraping this clean, visually assess for the presence of Varroa mites on the drone pupae. Also note whether the drone pupae are at the purple eyed stage which indicates queen rearing may start soon if efforts are not implemented.
5) Assess for Varroa levels early February and give a spring clean up treatment if indicated. When choosing your treatment method make note of how soon it needs to be out of the hive prior to placing honey supers. Remove any medications in hive if already in place.
6) If not yet done, continue to assemble honey supers, frames, etc.
7) Notice Red Maple starting along the roadways in the Midlands. Also Dandelions, Japanese Apricot, and Camellias.
8) Notice bees bringing in yellow pollen.
9) Place and bait swarm traps (bait hives) by mid month.
11) Build and prepare woodenware and frames for upcoming spring splits.
12) If you stored your drawn comb using paradichlorobenzene for wax moth control, start the airing out process.
14) Renew your association membership. Attend local meetings.
16) Email your Association’s Secretary asking what you can do to help, or volunteer to lend a hand in your organization. Many hands make light work. If you’d like to see your organization grow as well as offer and maintain your current level of member services your help is needed.
The above are general guidelines for the average bee colony in the Midlands of South Carolina. We all have hives that may be outperforming the average. We also have colonies that underperform the average. Use your judgement in making changes suggested here. Beekeeping is an art as well as a science. Only you know the many, many particulars associated with your physical hives as well as the general health and population of your colonies.
All beekeeping is local. These chores are for the Midlands of South Carolina or a similar climate where the bees are flying a least a few hours most days of the year. Even then, do not open the hive deeply or excessively during the winter months. A brief peek inside, looking downward through the frames, is okay on days the bees are flying.
1) Continue to assess stores by tilting your hives from the back to check for weight (hefting the hive). You may peek into the hive if the weather is warm and the bees are flying. Check honey supply and feed with a candy board, sugar bricks, fondant, or thick sugar syrup if below one-half super. Whatever you choose, the food must be placed close to the cluster or on top for them to access the food during cold weather. If you saved frames of honey you may add these (after thawing), placing them close to the cluster.
2) Long periods of temperatures below 50F will keep the bees inside and clustered. If you’d like to check on them place an ear against the side of the hive and give a knock to the side of the hive. You should hear a roar. An alternative method is to use a stethoscope which you can use to determine exactly where in the hive the cluster is located.
3) Continue to clean, repair, paint, and construct new equipment. Clean up and repair any deadouts. Learn from your deadouts.
4) Eagerly look for the start of Red Maple blooms by monitoring the sides of Interstates and roadways.
5) Colony population starts increasing as you continue feeding this month, especially if using artificial pollen. Population will rapidly accelerate when Red Maple blooms. Be prepared for a decrease in the amount of stores as the population expands and they start to feed more larvae.
6) Check for pollen stores and pollen coming in. If none, consider feeding pollen substitute.
7) Moisture control: Frequently check for excessive moisture on the underside of the telescoping cover. If wet, consider adding an empty box above with an absorbent material such as sawdust in a burlap bag or a quilt. Increasing ventilation will also lower moisture inside the hive.
8) If dwindling or queenless combine bees with another colony.
9) Our first reported swarm of 2017 was on February 14th. This year, consider building a nucleus hive or a portable hive for swarm captures. Build a swarm trap to capture your own swarms (and your neighbors).
10) Order package bees and queens for delivery mid to late March or as early as possible for your area.
11) Read a good beekeeping book. Mid-State Beekeepers Association is fortunate to have an excellent library and books available for checkout at meetings.
12) Register for a spring conference or other beekeeping educational opportunity.
13) Renew your association membership. Attend local meetings.
14) ‘Tis the season to be grateful. Be thankful to have a local beekeeping association with hard working volunteers serving the membership and community. Thank a club leader or volunteer; offer to lend a hand.
The winter solstice signals more than the first official day of winter. In the natural world, animals use the changes in available daylight to signal their actions. Eventually, longer daylight hours will signal song birds to sing more to attract mates and begin laying eggs and dormant plants to emerge and begin anew. Remarkably, the winter solstice signals honey bees to begin spring preparations now.
Read the full article here: Winter Solstice and Honey Bees — settlingforbees
The Winter Solstice means something different to beekeepers. It’s typically associated with the beginning of winter for humans. But for the bees it’s the beginning of spring. Very slowly, as the days lengthen the queen will begin an increase in the number of eggs she lays. On a colony level, for the bees, the goal is to have a full staff of bees ready to reproduce on a colony level (i.e. swarm) at the beginning of plant nectar and pollen production (best chance of survival). That means preparations such as brood rearing begin during the first months of the new year resulting in hives bubbling over with bees by March. But it has other ramifications for the beekeeper wishing to discourage that workforce from leaving. The beekeeper seeks to 1) encourage brood rearing while 2) protecting the colony from starvation as the bees feed ever increasing numbers of larvae, while 3) discouraging swarm preparations in the same time period. It’s like walking a tightrope!
African Bee, Apis mellifera, beekeeping, Buckfast bee, Cardovan bee, Carniolan, Caucasian Bee, choosing honey bee stock, German Black Bee, honey bee biology, Italian Bees, management, Minnesota Hygienic Bee, Russian bee, Survivor Stock Bees, Varroa sensitive hygienic (VSH) Bee
In my experience, selecting bee stock is the most important decision when starting in Bees. If you choose the wrong type, you can wind up with an aggressive bee or a disease ridden colony. Here is a quick-start guide to help aid you in your search for the perfect strain for you.
Apis Mellifera is the main scientific classification for European Honey Bees. There are several sub-species and hybrid species available. We will start our journey with the German Bee.
The cold weather is here, You’ve done what you can to tuck them in for the coming season. So, what are you going to do with all your time now?
1) Continue to lift the back of your hives to check for weight. Now is why you learned this method of assessing stores.
2) Perform maintainance on honey supers pulled off hives – painting or otherwise.
3) Assemble new equipment for next year – boxes, frames, stands, etc.
4) Order packages, nucs, or queens.
5) Plan for changes you’re going to impliment next season.
6) Call, visit, or write farmers or landowners where you’d like to place hives for out yards next spring.
7) Attend local and state beekeeper meetings.
8) Scout trees for placement and prepare swarms traps. Construct swarm capture bucket.
9) Build a nuc now to keep in your car or truck for community swarm captures next spring. Register with on-line swarm call lists.
10) Order or ask Santa for a copy of that beekeeping book you’ve been wanting to read. Read some every day.
Once a year an opportunity comes along for the beekeeper to treat all of his or her hives for Varroa for less than ten dollars and about five minutes per hive. That’s ten bucks to treat all of your hives. But this opportunity only comes once a year and is only available for a short period of time. In South Carolina, that time is now, or soon, during the broodless period.
I’m reading more and more about abscondings. It’s interesting that most posts relating these abscondings place the blame on wax moths, yellow jackets, or robbing. I suggest these invaders are the second or even third string teams coming in after the true villain has struck a weakening or fatal blow. Did the bees abscond? Yes, most likely from the reports I read they did indeed. From reports, one week the bees are there, the next week gone. But I ask you, if your home was overridden with ticks, with the infestation getting worse each day, how long would you stay in your home?
Why now? Varroa levels increase in the fall and having no drone brood and minimal open worker brood means mite density in the brood area increases.
Last year I watched a group of nine untreated hives go into winter and come out as three. Ten dollars total and maybe 45 minutes might very well have saved them if they had been managed differently.
For more information on how to perform an oxalic acid dribble, Rusty lays it all out here on HoneyBeeSuite: https://honeybeesuite.com/how-to-apply-an-oxalic-acid-dribble/
And here’s a “how to” YouTube video:
I’ll close this post with some words from Randy Oliver of Scientific Beekeeping:
“Three strategies I’ve found that always fail when battling varroa are:
1. Denial—“I haven’t seen any mites, so my mite levels must be low.”
2. Wishful thinking—“I haven’t seen very many mites, so I’m hoping and praying that my bees will be OK.”
3. Blind faith—“I used the latest snake oil mite cure, and it’s gotta work!”
Every time I’ve been “blindsided” by the mite, I was in actuality simply being blind.”
From Blount County Beekeepers Association:
With winter approaching (in some places it’s already here), the beekeeper has two jobs:
- Make sure the bees in your hives have plenty of food.
- Think about about what’s going to happen in your apiary in the spring and summer.
Neither of these jobs involves a lot of work at this point, but they shouldn’t be neglected. The main characteristic of good beekeepers is that they think ahead — one or two seasons ahead.
Now is the time think about your bees, the equipment you have and the general environment that will confront the bees when they start flying in the spring.
Will you need to order packages of bees or nucs to rebuild your apiary in the spring? That, of course, depends on how many of your hives make it through the winter. We don’t know what will happen in that regard at the moment, unless you have already experienced losses.
What we do know is that in Tennessee the winter losses for beekeepers have been about 30 percent during the past few winters. The smart thing then is to plan for that kind of loss and hope it doesn’t happen. Now is the time to get in touch with the folks who supply you with bees and see what their availability will be. Most of those people are starting a list now, and your name should be on it.
We’ll have more to say later about equipment and environment.
Right now, you should plan for some losses and think about how you will replenish your apiary.
As always, All beekeeping is local. Here’s my offering for the beekeeping calendar for the South Carolina Midlands for the month of November:
Plan on checks once this month but otherwise do not work unless necessary to prevent the triggering of robbing behavior. Try to not be too disruptive in order to allow them to get their house (brood box) in order for winter.
1) Make sure bees have stores enough for winter and proceed accordingly. Last month we suggested aggressively feeding colonies that were underweight using 2:1 syrup. The goal was to increase their weight to approximately 30 – 35 lbs of stores. This month with the cooler weather we increasingly start to concern ourselves with excessive moisture in the hive. If your colonies are still lagging behind in stored nectar / syrup you may be forced to continue feeding 2:1 syrup. If they have stored enough syrup, later this month you may wish to add some insurance in the way of a candy board or mountain camp style dry sugar feeding.
2) Moisture containment becomes a major management concern this month as we move into cooler weather. Moisture within the hive can not be avoided. The bees breathe and, like humans, express humidity which condensates in the cooler weather. Additionally, the process of eating and metabolizing honey results in the release of water molecules. Important reading: A review of methods to control moisture within the hive can be found here.
3) Further reduce entrances if not yet done. The appropriate amount of reduction is what your bees can guard. Colder weather will result in the bees staying inside more and clustering. Lack of forage will also reduce their need for a larger entrance. You probably won’t see as many guard bees on your landing board. Rather than struggling with removing the current reducer, simply place a small piece of wood across the front of the current reducer to attain a smaller entrance. Addition of an upper entrance such as a notched inner cover is advisable prior to entering colder weather to allow for ventilation and allow moisture to escape. If the colony is small a piece of screen across the upper entrance will insure no unwanted guests have access.
4) Make repairs on your equipment, assemble new equipment, and make some of those time saver gadgets. Replace any bad equipment.
5) November is an excellent month for selling honey as customers prepare for the holiday season.
6) Make plans to attend your association’s monthly meeting. Mark your calendar for the annual holiday dinner. Start hinting at what books or equipment you’d like this year for holiday gift giving. Start setting your goals for next season.
Palmer has a direct, no-nonsense speaking style that gets right to the point and stays there. In the course of his decades long career in beekeeping he has listened, tested and learned…and fortunately for the rest of us is generous in passing along his field-tested findings.
It would not be possible to set down his points in detail: Palmer simply presented too much that was useful, often ground-breaking and always interesting. Hence the links, below, to his full lectures. But I will try to summarize his famous “Sustainable Apiary” approach and touch on any topic that as a beekeeper I found particularly valuable.
Read the full article here: Michael Palmer and The Sustainable Apiary — Here We Bee
It’s only 62 degrees this morning, but bees in the English hive are already out foraging. It’s no wonder that these bees are well set up for the cold weather that is just around the corner; of all our hives, they have the most honey stored. This is our go-to hive for requeening because the colony has always been friendly, the queens have always been great producers, the bees are hygienic, and the bees are the first out the door to forage.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have a hive that has no stored resources despite all the goldenrod that surrounds the apiary. Our records show that they haven’t stored any resources since we brought them back from the sunflower patch — and they had nothing then. If I’d been able to find the queen yesterday, I’d have combined them with another weak but productive hive. Those guys have increased their numbers by a full frame of bees and they have nectar and bee bread stored. I can’t risk combining them without eliminating the lazy-genetics queen, so they have two weeks to pick up their game! We put a candy board on the hive yesterday (and reduced the entrance down to a single bee width), so maybe that will help them. Maybe it will make them more dependent on us.
Read full article here: Preparing for Winter — Lazer Creek Apiary Blog
Soon we will be heading into cooler weather. The concern here in the South Carolina Midlands isn’t the cold. It doesn’t get too cold here for the bees. They will cluster and as long as they have 1) honey, 2) enough bees, and 3) a dry cavity they are fine. With these three conditions present they will make their own heat and do well. The concern is moisture within the hive. The moisture is deadly as it will drip on the bees and wick away the heat, chill them, and they will die. If you don’t believe in the power of moisture to wick away the heat I encourage you to get out tomorrow morning and wash your car. What seems like a beautiful fall morning will chill you to the bone. If that fails to convince you try it again when the temperature falls to freezing.
I got the following from over on the Bee-L discussion list. It’s something to think about as temperatures drop and moisture in the hive condenses and becomes dangerous. The information below did not come with a named author.
Here’s some math on 100lbs of honey with 20% moisture… nice round numbers to keep the math simple: 20% moisture on 100lbs (45.4kg) of honey is 9.08kg of water which at 1L per kg is 9.08kg of water.
Now for the rest of the honey:
This quantity of honey is 80% (80lbs) of fructose. Molar mass of fructose (C6H12O6) = 180.72g/mol
6 Carbon -> 12.01g/mol x 6 = 72.60g/mol
12 Hydrogen -> 1.01g/mol x 12 = 12.12g/mol
6 Oxygen -> 16.00g/mol x 6 = 96.00g/mol
Total = 72.60g/mol + 12.12g/mol + 96.00g/mol
80lbs of fructose = 36287g
36287g of fructose / 180.72g/mol = 201 mol of fructose.
For future ease, lets round this to 200 mol of fructose.
Fructose is consumed by the bees and burnt with the oxygen they consume to release carbon dioxide and water. Here’s the balanced formula:
C6H12O6 + 6O2 -> 6CO2 +6H2O
Since 80lbs of fructose is roughly 200mol of fructose we need 1200 mol of oxygen to produce 1200mol of carbon dioxide and 1200mol of water.
200[C6H12O6] + 1200[O2] -> 1200[CO2] +1200[H2O]
Water as a molar mass of 18.02g/mol.
So 1200mol of water x 18.02g/mol = 21.6kg of water.
At 1L per kg we get 21.6kg of water released in the consumption of 80lbs of fructose.
So the total water in 100lbs of honey at 20% moisture is 9.08L + 21.6L = 30.68 liters of water.
If getting over 30L of water off of 31.5L (110lbs) of honey still sounds crazy, realize that the bees will have to consume 38.4kg of oxygen to metabolize the honey. So 45.4kg of honey and 38.4kg of oxygen combine – through the wonders of cellular respiration – to release 30.7 liters of water inside the hive.
The best and cheapest method of lowering the moisture problem is 1) providing adequate ventilation. My inner covers have an upper entrance cut into them. If the colony’s population is robust I just leave the upper entrance open as during summer. If the bees have decreased in numbers I may flip the slot so that it is on the top of the inner cover, or screen it, to prevent intruders while still providing ventilation. 2) Reducing the water in syrup to a 2:1 mix this time of year also helps to start reducing the amount of moisture within the hive. 3) As it gets colder, I have also tried removing all liquid feed and place a feeding shim with dry sugar on top Some people simply pour dry sugar on top of a piece of paper placed on the top bars or on the inner cover (Mountain Camp Feeding). The sugar acts as a desiccant and absorbs the humidity. The bees feed on any sugar that the condensation liquifies. It’s a two birds with one stone situation. 4) My first year I placed an extra box on top of the inner cover and inside I placed an old quilt. I was surprised at how damp/wet it got with condensation. 5) I have a friend that has some sort of fiber board that absorbs moisture. He places them over the bees (top box) and it wicks away the moisture keeping it from dripping on the bees. For people with money, they are available precut from the bee supply stores and in building supply stores under the name Homasote.
Start inspecting underneath your inner and outer covers for signs of condensation or mold. If it’s staying wet, dripping, etc increase ventilation or use other means to help them stay dry.
On the lighter side, some will find this funny, others won’t be able to get by the obvious noxious vehicle of Nazi Germany. But, one takes what one can and find humor if possible:
I find myself digging ever deeper into the void of my beekeeping knowledge. It seems the more you think you know, the more you realize you don’t know enough. That said, I’m forced into at least assessing the current state of affairs in the bee yard and make decisions based on my ever increasing level of uncertainty about these things.
It seems that I keep reading here and there that the two biggest killers of honey bees are mites and starvation. More recently I saw a third reason suggested, that being winter moisture in the hive. And then let’s not forget about problems resulting from inappropriate internal hive space. Let’s call these threats to beekeeping the Fall Four. So, with these things in mind, let’s visit the bee yard and see what’s happening.
It’s now late October and crunch time for assessing the Fall Four. Hopefully you survived the summer dearth period. Some of my friends fed their bees through the dearth and others allowed their bees to eat their stores – either method works. But now is the time to take on the Fall Four and look at each item and make it right prior to the coming cooler weather. Remember, honey bees are cold blooded animals and anything less than ideal brood nest temperature, in the low nineties, is likely to be stressing. And although the cool weather has started, we’ve still got a long way to go as well as times we can’t enter the hives or use certain interventions. So, this time of year we’re all beekeeping preppers.
Item #1 is Mites. I’ve lost one colony to mites this year. It crashed with a mighty thud. Within three to four weeks it went from absolutely thriving to a handful of struggling bees. The weather was warmer then so I continued to see bees coming and going. If a mite crash was to happen now, with these cooler days, I’d probably see no bee traffic as it would take all of the sickly remaining bees to heat the brood area, queen, and cluster. Luckily I’m currently seeing traffic by late mornings on all my hives. A friend of mine told me the other day that he considers a colony dying by mites to be similar to the flu running through a dormitory – one day all are fine, but within days everyone is bedridden. It’s not the mite itself that kills but the viri it spreads. Just like the flu, when the right virus coincides with the right opportunity it’s off to the races. So, pardon my rambling, but have you checked for mites lately? That doesn’t mean look at your bees and try to find mites. It means place a sticky board underneath, ether roll, or sugar shake and count mites and treat accordingly. Recently I’ve been reading about the need to treat all hives when mites levels are high in any hive in an apiary. It seems a failing colony getting robbed out is itself a vector for transmission of mites within an apiary. Personally, I’ve decided this year to treat using Oxalic Acid. Given it is an organic acid and apparently works by eroding the mites finer anatomical parts, the mites are not able to build a tolerance or immunity over time. With all colonies looking healthy right now, my plan is to wait until the broodless period around Thanksgiving and treat all of my colonies simultaneously.
Item #2 is Starvation. I placed my colonies on a maintenance level of feeding when dearth started. I had a plan to reassess stores at the start of October but then the Flood of 2015 came and plans were dashed. By the time I got into my hives several things indicated it was time to step up my feeding program – two weeks of rain, lack of fall foraging, and bees stuck inside eating their stores. My current goal is to get the hives heavy as soon as possible. That’s going to mean switching to a 2:1 sugar syrup to encourage storage while not stimulating brood rearing. I know from my recent inspections (after the flood) that the queens have already decreased egg laying. I don’t know if that’s because nothing was coming in during those long, wet weeks or because the days are getting shorter. Doesn’t matter though, my response is the same – feed ’em up good now. Now is the time to learn to pick up your hives from behind to determine their weight. That way, during the dead of winter you can assess stores without opening them.
Item #3 is Moisture. I’ve heard and read many times that moisture kills bees before cold temperatures kill bees. I’ve watched the YouTube videos showing beekeepers in the mountains of Virginia, upstate New York, and Vermont with snow piled high around their hives – and their bees survive just fine. I think that is proof enough that bees can survive the temperatures of a South Carolina winter. But moisture, that’s a different matter. Almost every winter I see moisture inside the outer covers on chilly days. If not controlled that condensation starts to mold – not good. The old books talk about installing your hives tilted forward so condensation will run forward and not drip down directly onto the bees and chill them. That’s good but I really want to do more. For one, reducing the syrup to a 2:1 mix this time of year also helps to start reducing the amount of moisture within the hive. A little later in the Fall, I’ll remove all liquid feed and place a feeding shim with dry sugar on top. Some people simply pour dry sugar on top of a piece of paper placed on the top bars or on the inner cover (Mountain Camp Feeding). The sugar acts as a desiccant and absorbs the humidity. The bees feed on any sugar that the condensation liquifies. It’s a two birds with one stone situation. But the best method to solving the moisture problem is adequate ventilation. My inner covers have an upper entrance cut into them. If the colony’s population is robust I just leave the upper entrance open as during summer. If the bees have decreased in numbers I may flip the slot so that it is on the top of the inner cover, or screen it, to prevent intruders while still providing ventilation. I don’t worry so much about the low temperatures unless it’s also really windy for extended periods; I do worry about that wet, damp chill that comes with too much moisture in the hive.
Item #4 is Internal Hive Space. Now is certainly a good time to assess hive (i.e boxes) volume. Most colonies grow throughout the nectar flow. If you were lucky you had the pleasure of stacking boxes on top of boxes – the uppermost boxes filled and capped with hoarded stores of honey. After the great flood, I was surprised to see that the bees had eaten a good bit of their stores. Other colonies had decided to eat some frames and leave others capped and untouched. Also, some colonies started their reduction in colony size early and are now down to half of the numbers of bees they had during the flow. Either way, they simply do not need the extra space any longer. My mentors have told me that here in the Midlands a hive with a 10 frame deep and a 10 frame medium, well provisioned, is all that is needed to get through winter until about late February. (two deeps or three mediums are also okay and represent about the same volume.) So, I look to consolidate remaining honey frames into as perfect of a second box as possible giving the bees a well stocked pantry above their brood area. Any extra full frames are placed in the freezer for possible use in late winter/early spring during buildup. I take a similar approach with regard to colonies that have reduced their numbers. I give them just enough room to be cozy and remove extra boxes (remember extra boxes are invitations to hive beetles and wax moths and require patrolling by your bees). The idea is to turn hives into efficient and compact units going into late fall and winter.
As already stated, I know more and more that I know less and less about bees. I’m sure that the way I am approaching this can be done a thousand different ways. That’s the intrigue of beekeeping. It’s an art and your methods are equally as valid. What works for you may be superior to what works for me. So take my observations and methods as incentive to explore, experiment, and tweak to your own situation. It’s all an adventure.
As always, All beekeeping is local. Here’s my offering for the beekeeping calendar for the South Carolina Midlands for the month of October:
Plan on checks twice this month but otherwise do not work unless necessary to prevent the triggering of robbing behavior. Try to not be too disruptive in order to allow them to get their house (brood box) in order for winter.
If you have not yet treated for Varroa it’s important that this is done before your winter bees are exposed to the smorgasbord of viruses that Varroa transmits when it feeds. Also, it’s not sufficient to just treat. You also need to have some idea that the treatment was effective in reducing the numbers of Varroa in the colony.
Expect the break in the weather to occur during mid-October. Local legend has it that the State Fair brings autumn to the Midlands. Looking forward, our average date for first frost is the last week in October and the first freeze the first week of November. That said, the bees still have plenty of flying days ahead before winter.
Notice goldenrod and asters along the roadways. Kudzu will also provide forage if available in your area.
1) Remove fall flow honey if appropriate. In my few years of beekeeping I have never had enough of a fall nectar flow to take honey. However, I have had colonies that were so large at the end of the spring flow that I was unable to reduce their cavity size to winter configuration until October. When this happens I am usually pleasantly surprised to be able to take some surplus frames from the bees, still leaving them enough for winter. Remember if you treated for Varroa using a product that affects the honey you will not be able to eat this honey but the bees will be happy to get it back in late winter / early spring.
2) Process supers and store for winter. After any extracting your options for cleaning the sticky frames are to either place the supers back on the hive or place them out in the yard for clean-up. If placed out in yard expect some comb tearing as the bees rob the supers of leftover honey. I am lucky that I do not have neighbors close and can separate the sticky supers from the bee yard by 100 yards or more. If you don’t have these options don’t leave sticky supers out where they can create a nuisance for your neighbors and cause a feeding frenzy spreading to your weaker hives. Instead consider simply placing them back on the hive and your bees will do the work of cleaning the supers and placing the leftover honey in the boxes below. Remove the cleaned supers in a few days returning your hives to winter configuration.
3) Protect your drawn comb. After it gets cold wax moths will no longer pose a threat. Until we get cold weather (end of November) you will need to protect any drawn comb you have removed from the hive. Methods vary from placing the frames in the freezer, placing outside open to light and air, or using Paramoth (paradichlorbenzene). Use of BT (bacillus thuringiensis aizawai) is no longer legal as the manufacturer did not apply for renewal for use with bees. The product is still available but is no longer labeled for use with bees. Clemson article on wax moth IPM.
4) Reduce entrances if not yet done. The appropriate amount of reduction is what your bees can guard. I like to see 20-30 bees on my landing board guarding the entrance. If you have this or more, and your entrance is well defended, then you may not have to reduce the entrance from its current setting. A three to four inch entrance is typical for this time of year. Addition of an upper entrance such as a notched inner cover is advisable prior to entering colder weather to allow for ventilation and allow moisture to escape.
5) Feed bees as necessary. As you recall, we started stimulating brood production in late August with a full 1:1 sugar syrup mix. Your bees, by now, should have some weight on them and you should be seeing an increase in orientation flights. When you see foragers bringing in goldenrod and other fall pollens they are raising your winter bees. Your colonies should have some open nectar for brood rearing available from the heavy feeding you have already provided. If they have plenty of open nectar but are still not heavy with stores it’s time to increase to 2:1 syrup to put some weight on the colony.
6) Any colonies that are lagging behind in weight should be fed aggressively at this time. Assuming you have reduced them down to overwintering configuration as discussed last month, now is the time to make sure they are increasing their stores in preparation for winter. Use 2:1 sugar syrup via your normal feeding method. Whenever they run out of syrup, refill. If using a jar feeder enlarge the feeder holes just a bit to allow them good access to the thicker syrup. The 2:1 syrup, fed rapidly, creates a situation where the bees cannot consume it as fast as they empty the feeder thereby creating a situation where they must store the thick syrup. If, however, you have colonies with more frames of stores than needed, consider sharing the bounty with less fortunate colonies.
7) Continue to tip colonies forward from the rear to assess their weight. Notice the number of frames of honey stores inside so that you can compare what you are feeling with what is actually inside. You will need this assessment skill during the cold of winter on days when you shouldn’t open the hives.
8) Pollen: Usually we get a nice pollen flow in the Midlands during the month of October. New beekeepers will notice, perhaps for the first time, the yellow and orange blooms along the roadways. That “smelly sock” odor you may notice in your hives this time of year is attributed to goldenrod. Kudzu blooms in late summer and will continue into early autumn producing a beautiful purple pollen. The bees will use autumn pollen to both raise winter bees and to stockpile for use during next year’s spring buildup.
9) Remove any queen excluders on hives. A queen excluder during the winter will prevent the queen from moving up with the winter cluster as the bees consume honey and move upward staying warm.
10) I’ve never had problems with mice in my bee yard but if you have a local mouse population consider placing a mouse guard on this month. An inexpensive method is to reduce the current opening top to bottom to 3/8 inch.
11) Attend your local monthly meeting. Volunteer to educate the public on the importance of honey bees by signing up to work a shift at the upcoming South Carolina State Fair booth.
12) Attend the South Carolina State Fair. Visit the South Carolina Beekeepers Association’s booth.
Out of curiosity I suppose, Steve asked how often you can split a beehive in one year. In other words, if you start with one beehive, what is the maximum amount of queen-right beehives that you can have by the end of the year? I answered that I didn’t know, as I’ve never tried it before and there are so many variables to consider. But it did leave me wondering how many hives a person could make if their only goal was to make more beehives (not honey production), and so the Fresno Experiment was born.
The premise of the experiment was to find out how many hives we could make that would be able to overwinter on their own stores of honey (or very limited feeding).
Get ready for Spring!
Lots of articles speak to the beekeeping year beginning in August or early Fall. Yikes, that’s now!
If you harvested in June then you probably fed your bees through the dearth. If you waited until now to harvest you probably got less honey but you saved the costs associated with feeding. Either way, now is the time to build the best bees you possibly can for the winter.
I know it’s still hot but get back in there on the next reasonably nice day and assess them. You don’t really have to take every frame out and make them upset but get an idea of what they have. Look for capped and uncapped brood, pollen, and honey stores. And start picking up the back of that hive and compare it to what you see inside so you learn what’s heavy and what’s not.
We’re on the cusp of the Fall flow and soon your hive will start to stink from goldenrod pollen. That smell should bring a smile to your face as they are making preparations for winter and raising fat winter bees. Some of you may have more honey than you need, others will see some empty comb. Read your hive and, like an artist, choose your tools to create the ideal hive for overwintering.
Most beekeepers assess and treat for Varroa after they pull honey whether that was a couple months ago or now. You want to do everything possible to increase the health of your bees now so they, in turn, raise strong winter bees over the next two generations. Sickly bees build sickly bees; strong bees build Arnold Schwartenegger bees. You want Arnold on your side when the temperatures are 20 degrees in January and the pantry is waning.
Beekeepers that started this year will reach the pinnacle of their beekeeping in March 2018. Then they will have bees-a-plenty and the race to stay ahead of the bees becomes an exciting and enjoyable problem. Using this year’s drawn comb they will explode. The bees will be saying, “Scotty, give me all you’ve got.” and you’ll be saying, “Captain, I don’t think she can take much more! She’s gonna swarm!” (pardon the paraphrase).
But, back to the topic at hand – building better winter bees. Time now to step up your game one more time before we enter the long dull days of winter. Although most days in the Midlands of South Carolina allow for the bees to fly they won’t be flying much because there won’t be anything out there. And you’ll be stuck inside wishing for Spring to come and waiting for that first Red Maple bloom, or with your ear to the side of the hive listening for their hum as they convert honey into heat.
So, assess them now and and get them flying towards a hive full of strong winter bees and a hive filled with lots of stores for the long winter ahead. Go for it! Build better bees!
Picture: Early Spring bees. Notice no leaves on the trees yet.
As always, All beekeeping is local. Here’s my offering for the beekeeping calendar for the South Carolina Midlands for the month of September: Plan on checks twice this month but do not work unless necessary to prevent triggering robbing.
Although we have recently had a pleasant break in the weather, September weather usually continues to be hot in the Midlands. Don’t expect extended cool weather until mid October. In the meantime, slightly reduced temperatures may open up some alternative Varroa treatment options.
The main management issue this month is a continuation of last month’s focus on pest management. Pests are growing in numbers while bee populations are typically falling in response to a reduction in available nectar. Varroa, Small Hive Beetles, Yellow Jackets, and other pests can overwhelm a hive leading to decline. A weakened hive then becomes vunerable to robbing and wax moths. The beekeeper must get ahead of the pests as responding after a problem is observed may be too late.
September 1st – September 31st
1) Continue to monitor and control pests – Varroa, Small Hive Beetles, and Yellow Jackets. If you have not yet treated for Varroa now is the time to assess and act accordingly.
2) This year’s hive beetle population seems to be greater than last year’s. I suspect this is due to last year’s warm winter, increased rainfall this spring and summer, and overall supportive weather. Place traps or Swiffer pads in hives before you notice a problem. Check traps weekly and replenish or replace as needed.
3) Yellow Jacket traps with lure can be placed around the apiary. There are several low cost or no cost do-it-yourself trap plans online. If you see yellow jackets attempting to breach security at the hive entrance observe how your bees handle the situation. A strong hive will eject the intruder in short order. Keep hives strong by adjusting hive size to bee population. Poor Man’s Yellow Jacket trap.
4) Goldenrod and Asters begin to make their appearance. We sometimes get a short fall nectar flow. If we get a fall flow you’ll notice a renewed vigor on the landing board and lots of pollen entering the hive. The smelly sock odor of goldenrod will be noted when you open the hive and sometimes when walking through the apiary.
5) Typically no local queens are available in September. If you need a queen you’ll probably have to order one from a warmer climate.
6) It’s crunch time to combine weak hives with strong hives. There is a saying, “Take your losses in the Fall.” Experienced beekeepers combine their weak hives with stronger hives knowing they can split in the spring and nothing is lost. (Assess and make sure the weak hive is not weak due to disease before combining.) Better to strengthen a strong hive than allow the weak hive to perish. Use the newspaper method between boxes with slits to allow the bees to become accustomed to each other. Remove weaker queen prior to combining. Note: Assess and make sure the weak hive is not weak due to disease before combining.
7) Use entrance reducers as appropriate. Many colonies have been bringing their populations down over the course of dearth period. Adjust their entrances accordingly. Addition of an upper entrance such as a notched inner cover is advisable prior to entering colder weather to allow for ventilation.
8) Increase feeding this month to stimulate the brood rearing of nurse bees which will raise your winter bees. I continue to use a 1:1 mix during this time but nothing thinner. Coupled with autumn pollen flow this can give a boost to improving the quality of your winter bees. Some beekeepers begin the use of 2:1 this month. The decision is yours based on your assessment of your hives, their stores, and whether you think we’ll get cooler weather sooner rather than later.
9) Begin to tip colonies forward from the rear to assess their weight. Notice the number of frames of honey stores inside so that you can compare what you are feeling with what is actually inside. You will need this assessment skill during winter when you shouldn’t open the hives.
10) If needed, make efforts to bring all hives with extra supers down to overwintering configuration. For ten frame hives that usually means one deep and one medium OR three mediums. If you have eight frame hives do the math to accomplish the same internal volume.
11) The occasional late swarm caught this time of year can be housed briefly in a box and fed. They will pull out some nice comb but anticipate combining them after a short while with an established colony.
12) Prepare your honey and wax entries for the South Carolina State Fair. Helpful hints can be found here.
13) Attend your local monthly meeting. Volunteer to educate the public on the importance of honey bees by signing up to work a shift at the upcoming SC State Fair booth.
14) It’s September and time to start preparing for autumn! Enjoy the following resources as you prepare your colonies:
Fall Management by David MacFawn
Fall Management Review from MSBA Beekeeper Class
Here in California we had a very hot summer. For most of June, July, and August we’ve had temperatures over one hundred degrees. Most gardens with full sun exposure did not do very well and neither did bees. We were really able to see the difference between hives that were shaded (or had some shade […]
|Birth:||Aug. 27, 1923|
|Death:||Aug. 6, 2007|
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2007
George Wady Imirie Jr., 84, a master beekeeper who tirelessly promoted the value of bees and beehives, died of congestive heart failure Sept. 6 at the Casey House in Rockville.
As a beekeeper since 1933, Mr. Imirie knew enough about the stinging insects to brave the swarms at his Rockville home without the usual head-to-toe beekeeping garb.
“Bees don’t like socks, especially woolly ones,” he told a reporter in 1997. “A hat is a good idea, because if a bee gets tangled up in your hair, it’ll sting you. I don’t wear a shirt, because that way, if a bee is on me, I can feel it and brush it away.”
Far more than stings, Mr. Imirie worried about the decline in bee colonies over the past several decades, infestation of the wild bee population by mites, and the level of knowledge and skill of those who keep apiaries.
“He definitely was someone who didn’t feel it necessary to tolerate any ignorance around him,” said Marc Hoffman, a member of the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association, which Mr. Imirie founded. “He would interrupt someone to ask, ‘How many hours is it before the larva emerges from the egg?’ and you’d better know the answer.”
But he also shared his knowledge, writing an opinionated and blunt newsletter called the “Pink Pages,” which addressed how to prevent swarming, how to prepare in fall so bees would overwinter well and how to deal with pests. The newsletter was read by beekeepers around the world. He coined a phrase now popular in bee circles, “Be a bee-keeper, not a bee-haver.”
In addition, Mr. Imirie and his sons thrilled Montgomery County Fair visitors and schoolchildren with demonstrations with a live hive of honeybees.
A Bethesda native born to a family that has been in the area for 298 years, Mr. Imirie started tending hives at age 9, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He dropped the hobby when he went to the University of Michigan for his undergraduate degree.
He was studying for a graduate degree in atomic engineering when World War II broke out. He was briefly in the Army, then joined the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M., working on the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
After the war, he studied engineering at Washington University in St. Louis and American University, one of his sons said. Mr. Imirie returned to Bethesda and helped run the family auto parts business for most of his working life until it was sold 18 years ago.
Mr. Imirie resumed beekeeping on his six-acre property in Rockville. He set up the hives in a square around a gnarly old apple tree. A hedge trimmed to a height just taller than Mr. Imirie surrounded the yard so that when bees emerged from the hives in search of nectar they would fly high enough to clear the bushes and avoid bystanders.
He founded the beekeepers association in the 1980s and for many years ran it almost single-handedly. After five strokes in 1990, Mr. Imirie began using a scooter. Throat cancer further slowed him in the late 1990s.
When Maryland agreed to produce auto license plates with a beekeeping insignia, Mr. Imirie was given the prototype, BEE 001, which he affixed to his scooter.
The association named its annual award for education after him.
|Birth:||Aug. 27, 1923|
|Death:||Aug. 6, 2007|
Of all the bad things out there threatening the survival of honey bees in our brave new world, none is more lethal than the Varroa destructor mite.
The Varroa mite has done more than just imperil the future of honey bees, and with that future the very food supply we all depend on. It has pitted beekeeper against beekeeper in the endless debate on whether to treat Varroa mites in your colony, or go treatment free. Treatment lite?
Should we, as Seeley and Winston have suggested, turn our bee genome inside out in pursuit of a honey bee that might outrun Varroa but will end up being just another kind of wasp…no honey harvests, no increase? Do we even have a choice?
Read more about this interesting option here: Eradication is the Goal: Gene Silencing is the Tool — Here We Bee
Quite literally, everything starts with a tasty meal.
In 1943 Abraham Maslow wrote a psychology article proposing a human heirarchy of needs. The short and sweet of the article is: humans start with meeting their basic needs such as food and shelter and, only as those needs are secure can we move to more advanced levels of operations.
So, what does this have to do with bees or insects? Nothing except that we probably need to understand other life forms also have a hierarchy o…f needs even if limited or primitive. Instead of behaviorally based it’s totally instinctual and for most it starts with food and ends with reproduction. Small Hive Beetles, Wax Moths, Yellow Jackets, and other pests are simply trying to have a tasty meal and move on to reproduction.
Our job, as beekeepers, is to interupt their ability to progess from food acquisition to reproduction. They want food; deny them access to food and they never progress to reproduction. Let this thought occupy our minds as we contemplate how to combat these pests (after all, we’re already fed so we can operate on higher Maslovian levels).
Denying food to pests: Does our bee feeding program build up the opposing armies as well as feed our bees? Do you see SHB or yellow jackets at your feeding station? Have we provided our hives with adequate defensive tools like entrance reducers, SHB traps, and “hive right-sizing” to guard and protect food stores? Are we inadvertantly announcing food availability with fragrant oils to attract pests who are actively seeking out food sources?
Using their needs against them: Bait traps can turn the tables on the pests by tricking them into thinking a food source is available. Simple, cheap traps can be made to attract these pests while NOT attracting honey bees. Poor, poor pests; can’t we all just get a snack? If they are hungry they are more likely to try that bait trap. Be careful not to create an increase in pest pressure through careless feeding of the foes.
My point is simply, if they don’t eat they don’t reproduce.
I remember some time back being encouraged to think like a honey bee. During these times of food dearth, perhaps it also pays to start thinking like a pest.
Seemingly indestructible Varroa mites have decimated honeybee populations and are a primary cause of colony collapse disorder, or CCD. Michigan State University scientists have found genetic holes in Varroa mites’ armor that could potentially reduce or eliminate the marauding invaders. Credit: Zachary HuangMichigan State University scientists have found genetic holes in the pests’ armor that…
Read full article here: Varroa mites—bees’ archenemies—have genetic holes in their armour — BEEKeeperTom’s Blog
The worst beekeeping mistakes come from putting off what you should have done yesterday. Somehow, problems inside a bee hive don’t get better by themselves. I keep thinking they will, but they don’t…. [[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more. ]]
We all have days like this. Read more here: Incredibly stupid things a beekeeper can do — Honey Bee Suite
From David Morland, ADBKA Chair: I learnt recently that my Grandfather was the first bee scientist at Rothamsted and one of the founder members of the International Bee Research Association (IBRA). His books and papers were passed on to Eva Crane whose own collection was the foundation of the IBRA library. He was succeeded as […]
In Search Of The Better
When people start looking for a place to live – a home to own – they generally have a good idea what their needs are. And they know their wants – some special things to make it their dream home. The needs and wants are highly variable, even different in different climates. And frequently the needs of a perfect place to live come before considering the wants. However, many homeowners are enthusiastic do-it-yourselfers. After a few weekends a want leads to a new patio. After that perhaps a garden shed. The DIY projects are endless. Build bookshelves, reconfigure a closet, turn a bedroom into an office and perhaps build a beehive.
What do European stock honey bees in search of a home look for? A dry cavity. That is top priority on the need list. (Sometimes it can’t be found.) What about the wants? Well, the preferred size is 40 liters, making a deep Langstroth hive body just right. Close to that size is acceptable. Next, a definite need is a small entrance that can be easily defended. The bees would like the cavity placed not too close to the ground. The bees, industrious do-it-yourselfers, will take care of building their own furniture (comb).
Read full article here: In Search Of The Better Beehive — Bee Culture
Infestations rarer among professional beekeepers
Hobby beekeeping is very common. A European Bee Health Report found that in many countries, the majority of beekeepers pursue the activity as a hobby. They give Germany as an example: 80% of beekeepers keep just 1–20 colonies, 18% keep 21–50 colonies and only about 2% keep more than 50 colonies. They note that improving expertise and education are likely good ways to improve honey bee health.
They may be on to something. In fact, in the past months two scientific publications – a large European surveillance study, and an essay in Journal of Economic Entomology – turn the spotlight on bee management, holding handling factors, like the lack of appropriate treatment, largely accountable for the spread of bee mites and diseases.
Bee epidemics have become a growing problem for both wild and cultivated bees thanks to the spread of the cultivated European honey bee. The Varroa Destructor mite is at the core of the problem, because it also passes on bee diseases (I have discussed this more at length in my earlier bee health piece).
Read more here: ‘Treatment-free’ Beekeepers Give Varroa Mite Free Rein
First and second year beekeepers! You may be pulling honey supers, extracting, and have empty drawn comb. Or maybe a hive failed leaving you with drawn comb. Drawn comb is gold! You can always buy more bees, catch a swarm, make a split, or otherwise replace bees. But drawn comb can not be purchased. Having drawn comb exponentially increases a colony’s productivity versus starting on foundation. A spring package on drawn comb typically makes honey the same year.
Beekeepers must protect their drawn comb from wax moths which will take every opportunity to destroy your bee’s legacy.
Here are a few excerpts from an email I sent discussing protecting drawn comb from wax moths:
Be thankful they are on plastic foundation. Otherwise you often have to replace the foundation. And if they are in wooden frames wax moths will actually bore holes in the wood as well. On plastic you can scrape it off and re-coat with wax for next year.
As for the freezer: You can google wax moth, life cycle, etc and find some research. It’s like anything else, dependent on temperature and length of time of exposure. Two days may be sufficient IF your freezer is at 0 degrees F. If your freezer is kept at 10 degrees F it may take 6 days. And if at 20 degrees F it may take 14 days. (These are guesses but you get the idea.)
There is a temperature range for wax moth reproduction. When the temperatures get cool enough outside they are no longer a threat. I guess there are some people with a limited number of frames who can store them in the freezer until the weather cools enough.
Every year we get posts on the discussion board with pictures saying they froze the comb for X number of days and then placed in in a Tupperware or other container and under the house or some similar dark place only to find the comb destroyed by spring. Last year in bee school a member of the class asked me about this specifically and said if he placed them in the freezer for days and then immediately placed it in lawn trash bags and sealed them completely and absolutely shouldn’t that work? I told him that “in theory” his plan would work but my experience is some eggs will hatch and if conditions are right they will destroy his comb.
On Para-moth (paradichlorobenzene) crystals: They do work but it is not a one and done application. Use them generously. Periodically check them through the storage period and replenish them as needed. They do “melt” as they release their gas into the supers. I’ve seen some people tape the edges of the supers to make a gas seal. Unfortunately this dark, sealed environment is also ideal for the moths when the para-moth dissolves and no longer provides protection.
Using open air and light: I did this one year with good success. I simply have too many supers now. Also, anything I place outside now is subject to squirrels who seem to like the comb, pollen, honey residuals.
BT (bacillus thuringiensis aizawa): Reports are, this works well. As you know it used to be a recognized method of wax moth control in bee hives but the company decided to not renew it’s license for use as such. Data used to be on the Clemson site. BT for use on crops is recognized as non chemical, organic bio control method and approved for use on organic crops. While an approved organic pest control method, it is no longer legal for use in bee hives.
I have a friend that uses BT and sprays the comb coming out of the extractor.
If you do not protect your comb from wax moths don’t despair, I understand the larvae are great as fishing bait.
You can read more about the Greater Wax Moth here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galleria_mellonella
And on the Lesser Wax Moth here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesser_wax_moth
This is an excellent article on assessing mite counts in your beehives. Thanks to J.Morgan, Karen Ferguson and SIBA for sharing.
When I lost what I considered my best hive over the winter of 2013, I sent a sample of these bees to the Beltsville bee lab. It came back with a mite count of 10.7 mites per 100 bees. That’s a high count for most people, and certainly for any of my hives. There were no problems with tracheal mites or nosema. Click here to see a video of a deadout similar to the one that these bees were sampled from.
I wanted to better understand how the bee lab ran these tests so I didn’t have to rely on shipping bees to the lab every time I wanted an accurate mite count. It turns out, it’s not too difficult to do accurate mite counts yourself using either an alcohol wash (that kills the bees you will use for your sample) or a powdered sugar method (that doesn’t kill your bees, but coats them in powdered sugar and allows you to dump them back in your hive.) The “best” method is still a philosophical debate. In our club, we have decided that the alcohol wash is a more accurate method, and killing 300 bees (about a half cup) to know the mite loads in the colony is better than watching the entire hive die a slow death as a result of viruses vectored by varroa.
Close proximity of honey bee colonies may contribute to Varroa population growth and virus transmission, according to an article recently published in Environmental Entomology.
Last year I made some entrance reducers which I dubbed, “The Gauntlet.” The idea is that it’s easier to defend a long, narrow corridor rather than a shallow doorway. Enter The Gauntlet, an entrance reducer made of 1×2 lumber (dimensionally 3/4″ x 1 1/2″). Using your table saw, cut your entrance to allow no more than 3/8″ entrance height. Width of the entrance is of your choosing but if you need The Gauntlet you probably need a smaller than usual width. Make several, some as small as one bee width. The result is a 3/8″ high, narrow corridor, 1 1/2″ long hallway for any intruders to navigate before they get inside. No need to even pull your old entrance reducer either, just place in front of the old one.
Our series continues with a light-handed titled, yet serious approach to beekeeping by Charles Martin Simon.
Standing around one of my bee yards early one morning, I was considering why the Asian bee has been able to live so successfully with the varroa for a million years while the parasite spelled disaster for the European. After all, the Asian and the European aren’t that different, or else those clever bee scientists wouldn’t have been able to combine them to bring us the varroa problem in the first place.
What are the differences between the two bee sub-species that cause the differences in their handling of the parasite? I’m not buying that “housekeeping gene” business. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist. I am saying the gene is not responsible for the grooming behavior. Rather, the grooming behavior is responsible for the gene. (More on this chicken-or-egg philosophical question later.) I also don’t buy the “bee dance.” Bees don’t need to tell each other anything; they’re born knowing. The dance is a sharing of excitement, not a treasure map. Those who continue to profess differently simply have not been paying attention. We avoid anthropomorphism around here, but what is this “bee dance,” what is the concept of bee communication, of bee “language,” of bee “housekeeping” if not anthropomorphism?
Von Frisch’s study, according to Thomas D. Seeley, who wrote the Foreword to the great scientist’s great tome, THE DANCE LANGUAGE AND ORIENTATION OF BEES, “…focuses on two principal questions: First, how does a bee direct her nest mates to desirable sources of food? Second, how does a bee find her way to and from sources of food? …multifaceted questions which have attracted a large corps of gifted investigators over the three decades since the publication of von Frisch’s book.”
“Gifted investigators” indeed! What a waste of talent, money, and time! Because the questions are not only meaningless but misdirecting, having set us off on the wrong path, but that’s not unusual with a science that is more interested in funding than finding. Finding puts the kibosh on funding, so it must be scientifically avoided at all costs. Sure, it sounds cynical, but it’s true. Our civilization is based on economy which is based on multifaceted illusions, if not out-and-out lies. The truth is a bee does not direct her nest mates to desirable sources of food; neither does she need to find her way to and from sources of food. These human concepts do not apply to bees. So we can dispense with the two principal von Frisch questions and also the lives and careers of many scientists. I know, the truth hurts, and I’m sorry.
Von Frisch did not intentionally set about to mislead us. He was simpler man in a simpler time, a good guy who believed in what he was doing and tried to do it right. Were he alive and reading this, he might even be able to get with what I’m saying, because, as Seeley says of him:
“…I think he would be little influenced by the abstract, mathematical approach so prominent now in neurobiology and behavior, and would rely instead upon personal observations of living animals for guidance into promising new scientific terrain.”
From an observation of, of all things, a wood tic’s behavior, combined with a later observation of that behavior replicated by bees and ants, I came into some promising new scientific terrain – about insect communication or, more properly, the lack of it, even more properly, the lack of the need of it.
My personal observations helped to convince me of what I had long suspected, that the dance is not a communication of data.
What happened was one day, while leaving a bee yard in my van, I observed a tic crawling up the engine compartment cover. It moved with purposefulness, like it knew exactly where it was going, making several seemingly meaningful twists and turns, before I picked it up and threw it out the window. Three weeks later, leaving another bee yard, I observed another tic crawling up the same engine compartment cover. This second tic followed the path of the first, exactly, every twist and turn (including getting picked up by me and thrown out the window). There were no terrain configurations or obstructions to account for the pattern. The second tic could only have been following the trail of the first, which, although invisible to me, was obviously clear enough to it. There is no other possibility. And when there is no other possibility, you find yourself approaching something like real evidence, moving past just a probable theory tenuously supported by possible evidence conditional on variable interpretations derived from often irrelevant influences such as the contents of the observer’s stomach at the moment of observation.
And as for the ants: I keep nothing but bee pollen in my freezer. Three years in a row now, in winter, the ants have been marching into the freezer and not coming out. They die in there in great piles. I do nothing to stop them. After all, it’s their natural choice and I support that. All three times, the process accelerated until there were no more ants coming
Using effectiveness in fulfilling earthly missions as the criterion for evaluating evolution, perceptive skills and intelligence, insects are way ahead us. They know their jobs without even having to know that they know, and they perform them perfectly without even trying. We, on the other hand, have job counselors, vocational aptitude tests, massive educational systems, job training, and we try and try and try again, and we still can’t get it right. We would not even have a civilization if it were not for insects. For example, mankind learned paper and pottery making from wasps. Where would we be without paper and pottery?
They tell us bees have an extraordinary sense of smell. Whereas that is obviously true, they don’t tell us that bees have a sense that goes beyond even the most extreme olfactory sensitivity. They have the ability to perceive memory that is neither intellectual nor located in their brains. It is external, located in the environment – which invalidates a whole lot of science that has been wasted searching for the answers in their brains, in their physical sensory apparati, looking for formulas to explain mathematically how you could get so much information into so small a space.
I postulate that the famous “housekeeping gene” is a memory unit, that it came into existence after the fact of the no-doubt random discovery of the grooming behavior and was thereafter concomitant with that behavior not the precursor of it.
In my day job as bee and wasp remover, I have for a client a hundred-and-fifty-year-old historical Victorian, three-story house which had a bee colony in an upper wall around a hundred years ago. The wall was opened and cleaned out more than 25 years ago, before the current owners took over, but to this day, every year, the bees try to get in where the old nest was located. The focus of their probing is under the shingles at the roof line where the wood is rotted in places. There is always the possibility they will be able to find a way in, as they have a few times, which keeps me setting up and taking down and running up and down and moving the 32′ ladder in an effort to keep ahead of them. Do they smell the old nest, or do they perceive the memory in the environment? Or could it be a mixture of both? Or could both be the same?
Because a lingering odor is a memory. But there is a memory so much more refined, so much more amorphous, so much more permanent that it may still be there even after it’s been replaced, overwritten or displaced, and by that time has become so refined that no olfactory apparatus, in fact no apparatus at all could ever detect it, except perhaps that most sensitive and sophisticated of all scientific instruments, the human imagination. Yet this super-refined memory can be accessed and responded to by bugs!
I do my bee work with a van not an open truck. That means swarms and hives and loose bees are right in there with me. I always put them near the back doors, and any loose bees will invariably congregate in the corners of or fly against the back windows. Even if the front windows are wide open, they will remain stuck at the back windows.
But one time, as I was driving along, I noticed in the rear view mirror one bee leave the back window and fly an erratic course to the front and out the window. A few seconds later, I observed another bee follow the same exact course, and then another and another, until all the loose bees that had been on and around the back window, maybe fifteen in all, had flown out. What was notable was that each successive bee followed the course perfectly as defined by the first. Now that first bee’s course, as had been that first tic’s, was random I’m sure, but the others followed it as though it were etched in the air, and I’m sure it was. Also notable: neither the first tic nor any of those bees nor any of those ants ever went back, and so could not have physically communicated any information at all to the ones that followed, and I’m not getting into the possibilities of insect ESP in this article.
When trapping bees out of cavities, I often observe them refusing to enter the bait hive I have provided for them. They will keep trying to get into their old entrance, which is prevented by a one-way exit, completely ignoring my hive, which is properly baited, until one bee serendipitously finds her way in. But as soon as that first one does, it’s a done deal. There will be a second and a third and so on, until all the bees are going directly for the bait hive, except possibly a few diehards that either never get the new idea or refuse to give up the old idea until they perish with it.
These behaviors reinforce the notion that every creature leaves a trail, that a trail is a memory, that every creature leaves a specific memory, and specific creatures read and respond to creature-specific memories.
Von Frisch: “The newcomers…fly rapidly and with certainty to the indicated flowers, even when these are kilometers away-an accomplishment on the part of the bees that is without parallel elsewhere in the entire animal kingdom (von Frisch 1967a, p. 57).” What about the migrations of birds? What about the migrations of butterflies – year after year, new generations returning to the same exact trees, with no survivors from previous generations to lead the way or communicate anything at all? What about dogs finding their way home across an entire continent, as well as countless other phenomenal findings of ways? When those bees leave the hive and fly directly to the honey source, they are not following Von Frisch’s directions, they are following a trail left by other bees, the more bees having traversed it, the heavier the trail, the more nectar or pollen, the more exciting the odor recorded in that trail.
There are different groups of forager bees within a single hive, each group visiting certain flowers only. So the bees of one group will be following the memory trail of that particular group not the other groups, and none of them will be following information received from the dancers, such as orientation coordinates, distances and locations. They will only have received from the dancing bees excitement and odors.
Von Frisch himself proved this (THE DANCE LANGUAGE AND ORIENTATION OF BEES, p. 31), only he thought he was proving something else. In his experiment, he had set up two feeding stations, one visited by the bees of one group, the other visited by the bees of another group, both groups from the same hive. He withheld the feed from both stations for a few hours, then refilled one. A scout returning from that station did the dance and right away bees from both groups rushed out to the field. But the bees from the unfilled station did not go to the filled station. They went to the empty station and after examining it thoroughly, returned to the hive where they waited around, never going to the refilled station at all. Now this proves unequivocally that the dance does not communicate distance, orientation coordinates, or location. The dance is about sharing excitement not communication of data. The excitement stimulates the bees to venture forth, and, once they are aloft, to pursue the trail that relates to their memory-perceiving apparatus. In this case the memory would contain an odor which they picked up off the dancing bee, but since the odor of both feeding stations was the same, they would follow not that odor but that of the bees of their own group, which would also have been recorded in the trail.
Von Frisch believed he was really studying what he thought he was studying. He believed what he saw. He didn’t know that nothing is what it appears to be. And that style of naive thinking, in the long chain of foolish science and heady pioneering, is exactly what has led us into our current dilemma. The scientists have not come up with real solutions. Is it that they don’t want to, are they that intelligence-diminished or that sold-out to the flowers of lucre? For example, they’ve pretty much given up on the foulbrood problem, having decided that sickness and antibiotic economics should be accepted as the official way of life.
They tell us judicious use of the miticides, following the instructions exactly, will prevent resistance, but this is patently not true. They also say the miticide is harmless to bees and humans, and this is not true either. When I was using the stuff, handling it still sealed in its original foil wrapper, I could taste the toxicity in my gums. I also noted a negative effect in the bees. And, on top of that, the stuff didn’t even work. And yes, I followed the instructions to the letter. My dear friend, third-generation grandmaster beekeeper Ormand Aebi (Holder of the official World’s Record in the Guiness Book of World Records, for honey production from a single hive in a single season with a single queen, from 1957 to 1984, 404 lbs., which true, single-queen record, broken only with the use of multiple queens, will most likely never be legitimately broken or even seriously challenged.) followed the instructions to the letter also, and nobody follows instructions better than Ormand, and after two years of following instructions he was completely beeless for the first time in three generations.
Why is the varroa devastating to the European while lived with so nicely by the Asian?
For one thing, the Asian has a faster metabolism. The pre-imagoes spend a day or so less time in the cells, and since it’s in the cells that the varroa does its dirty work, the time differential is sufficient to give the bees the edge.
For another thing, the Asian characteristically hangs its combs out in the open with minimum shelter, like under an overhanging ledge on the face of a cliff, whereas the European seeks a cavity. Obviously, with the Asian combs hanging in space, when a parasite falls it is gone forever. And the scientists have told us it is part of the parasite’s process to drop from the combs at some point. In a cavity, there will usually be a surface close to the bottom of the combs, a joist in a wall, the bottom board of a beehive, the solid part of a tree, some place for the falling parasite to land and wait for a bee to which to attach itself.
Several years ago, I reasoned that screened bottom boards might be of use and went to work designing when all of a sudden they appeared on the market, and with sticky board inserts too, so you could even count the parasites. But the problem didn’t go away.
So I decided to take it further: No bottoms at all.
My thinking was, obviously, that would allow the parasites to fall away and disappear like with the Asians. As for losing the ability to count them without the screened bottom boards and sticky inserts, who cares as long as they’re gone?
First I planned on putting the bottom boards back when the weather got cold, but I caught myself thinking like a beekeeper instead of an apiculturist. I was thinking of the bees as static things, not living, adaptable beings. And I decided it would be better for them if the bottoms were in fact left off during cold, wet weather also. The bees would compensate for the increased exposure by tightening up the cluster, eating more honey to burn more calories to keep the temperature in the cluster up to where it needs to be, raising their metabolic rates. They would become more like Asian bees, not as the result of mixing the species with the disastrous consequences that engendered, but as the result of replicating the lifestyle, and thereby end up healthier – those with the will to survive anyway. Survival of the fittest is always the rule, so why try to get around it? When we artificially prop up the weak ones, we end up with perpetual sickness.
Besides, the Asian bee routinely overwinters in sub-zero weather without any but overhead shelter and possibly one wall, and that would be a cold, stone wall at that.
Here’s a quote from Jamie Strange’s article “The Bournacq Hive,” in the October 2003 issue of Bee Culture:
“It was not until after beekeepers began working in moveable frame equipment that foulbrood became a problem…. Also, because generally only strong colonies were wintered, the beekeeper insured that he was keeping the best stock for the following year. These strong colonies did not have to be fed or treated for disease…the beekeepers were selecting for disease tolerant stock.”
That is exactly what I am talking about, doing what it takes to make the colonies really strong and healthy. Except I don’t think moveable frames are the culprit. Moveable frames are helpful and not harmful, when used correctly. The problem is reusing combs too many times, which is the inevitable result of the pernicious habits of using foundation and extracting.
I keep my hives on stands at least 16 inches above the ground to prevent skunk predation, of which we have quite a bit around here. I have, however, worked with many feral colonies close to the ground and going strong, in the bases of trees for example. So placing bottomless hives close to the ground will probably be fine as long as the colony is strong enough, and if it isn’t strong enough, nothing matters anyway.
Now the approach for a skunk would be different with a bottomless hive close to the ground. Let’s look at their modus operandi. They scratch the landing board which brings out a few curious bees which they eat. Scratch again, eat a few more. To feed on a bottomless hive that was raised up somewhat but not high enough to be out of skunk range entirely, the animal would have to stand up and expose its underbelly in order to scratch on the wall of the hive or literally get up underneath it, both of which approaches would subject it to serious attack, as scratching landing boards from a nose-first, horizontal position does not.
I have been slowly converting my hives to bottomless, leaving some bottomed for comparison. Every single converted hive, after an initial short period of confusion, while the bees were figuring out what was going on and what to do about it, showed an immediate increase in vitality.
It is now November, and several of my bottomed hives have already died from the parasite. Whereas the bottomless are going strong, much stronger than other hives in past seasons at this time of year, even those that went on to survive the winter.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Going Bottomless
Bottomless hives are difficult if not impossible to steal. The bee thief, looking for the easy way, will find exactly the opposite of what he or she is looking for. It goes against his or her nature to mess with a bottomless hive, especially a big, strong, competent colony housed in falling-apart equipment (my favorite kind).
The breathing capacity of the hive is immediately and dramatically increased. No more moisture build-up or moisture-related diseases. No more debris on the bottom boards. Bottom board rot is a thing of the past, along with the need to replace.
No more slanting hives forward. Vertically straight hives make straighter combs (not that that matters), support weight better, and ride earthquakes better (that does matter around here).
And no more mouse worries. Without a bottom board and sufficient space between the board and the bottom of the cluster, mice can’t even get started. It also helps to use frames with no bottom bars in the bottom super of the brood area, so the combs hang naturally without artificial solid endings.
No more facing entrances to the sun. You might think this is not important but it can be. I moved some colonies onto a lovely piece of land overlooking a large slough designated as a wildlife preserve, faced to the sun as I had been taught. These hives steadily lost vitality and died. It was the wind. There is a fierce wind blowing straight up the slough and directly into the hive openings when the hives are facing south, which is the direction they need to face to get the most sun. Most sun means quickest warm-ups and most light for the longest duration, which means most work which means most production. Like lemmings, we gear everything to maximum production regardless of what untoward consequences might be engendered. It took two complete seasons with two complete bee losses on that location before I was able to unlearn enough of what I had been taught to turn the hives around. The third year I faced them north. I really had to force myself, and I worried about it afterwards. But they are thriving now. Nevertheless, I still catch myself feeling uncomfortable about it from time to time. Unlearning is much harder than learning.
With bottomless hives, smoking for manipulations is much more effective with much less smoke.
There are some disadvantages: Decreased honey production for one. Or, is that a good thing after all?
You might think bottomless hives could be invaded easier by yellow jackets and cleaned out by robber bees. But there is a difference between how the guard bees function with bottomless as opposed to conventionally bottomed. In the conventional setup, the robbers have only to get past the guards, which are positioned at the entrance looking out, and they’re in and can have their way virtually without challenge. With bottomless, the guards cover the complete territory, scanning in every direction, and it is not possible to get past them. I have watched yellow jackets working the bottomed hives while avoiding the bottomless. I think with the guards out in the open, the yellows get attacked a lot quicker and heavier, and they learn fast. Of course, the strength of the colony is going to be the key, as it always is. I just can’t see a good strong colony getting invaded by anything except maybe bears, but we don’t have bears around here. And besides, a bottomless hive would be no more vulnerable to bears than a bottomed one. And if a weak colony gets wiped out, maybe that’s a good thing too, saves the trouble of nursing it only to have it die off anyway, and it will; they always do.
The need to install bottom boards for moving. Each hive has to have a bottom board available. But there are probably better ways to close hives for moving than standard bottom boards with screened entrances. Come to think of it, I have many tops with feeder holes, left over from the bad old days when I used to feed. These would adapt excellently for moving bottoms by stapling eighth-inch mesh over the feeder hole, the end cleats forming convenient legs to keep the screened openings up and away from truck beds or floors or other hives when stacked, and allow the air to circulate. These could be stapled or duct taped on.
Loss of directionality. Bottomless beekeeping may not be for those who want to practice the safety procedure of staying behind the hives when manipulating, so as to keep out of the flight paths. Keeping out of flight paths is not what really reduces stinging incidents anyway. I’m sure it helps the keeper relax more to think he or she is doing it “the right way.” But what really does the trick is when the handler maintains a cool and level, detached state of mind, when there is no fear, and, most importantly, when that state is not forced or faked but real and native – and, of course, slow, deliberate, smooth, assured movements and appropriate smoke.
Don’t assume the bees will be flying every which way in a 360-degree chaos. They will establish flight paths and preferred ways in and out of the hives, but they won’t be consistent among the hives, as when an entire traditionally bottomed apiary is pointing in the same direction, and the handler will be able to work with that if he or she deems it judicious to do so. Conversely, to not work with that means to ignore it, which is my preferred method. It makes no difference whether I am in a flight path or not, as long as my state of mind is correct, which it always is. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I never get stung. I do from time to time, and I usually like it. But just a few weeks ago, I was just standing there minding my own business, when a bee got right up in my face and stung me on the end of the nose. Ouch! That really hurt. Hurt my feelings too, that she would do such a thing to me without provocation.
On one of my removal jobs, I have a hive hanging 36 feet up, leaning against a two-inch pipe. Now, form-wise, a two-inch pipe against the side of a hive should be very much the opposite of a landing board in front, but those bees use that pipe like it was designed for just that purpose. Which leads me to think bottom boards and landing boards are functions of anthropomorphism not proper bee culture. We want the bees to have what we would want if we were them, a nice cozy tight room with a comfortable entrance, as though they were good little people that shared our sense of functionality as well as goals. As though they didn’t have incredible abilities that we don’t have, like the ability to fly, to take off from and land on virtually any surface in any position, to crawl vertically and upside down – which abilities they enjoy exercising. Everything that lives has the ability to enjoy, and when they enjoy rather than struggle against impossible odds or otherwise suffer, their health is automatically better. And to every loosening of the regimentation of Langstroth-driven modern beekeeping, the bees respond positively.
A note on pollen trapping with bottomless hives
Bottom-positioned, self-cleaning pollen traps on standard bottomed hives provide a little help against varroa. Parasites get knocked off when the bees squeeze through the screen and fall into the pollen drawer and die. But the board that covers the drawer on the top of the trap, which prevents debris from entering the drawer, forms another hive bottom where bees can walk around and fallen varroa can wait for a ride back to the brood area.
The solution is an eighth-inch mesh screen above the debris board, positioned on its own frame which is not attached to the pollen trap so that it can be easily removed for. With this screen in place and the trap used on a bottomless hive, it is more effective against varroa.
There is a wire-meshed space across the rear of the pollen trap and exit holes at the front, which would allow some mites to fall through. But when the trap is placed over a bottom board, any mites that might fall through will end up on the bottom board, and they might get rubbed off when the bee returns through the screen or they might not. But without the bottom board, any that fall through will be gone forever, and those that fall through the debris board screen onto the debris board will die there waiting for bees to attach to, if what the scientists say is true, that when a mite falls it remains stationary where it lands until a bee passes close enough or it dies. If it’s not true, then a sticky board could be placed on the debris board, or it could be coated with an essential oil.
With my first converted pollen traps, I ran a half-inch strip around the outer top of the traps (see illustration) to provide space between the comb bottoms and the screen. Then I started using empty supers, without frames, between the pollen traps and the comb bottoms, which made the spacing strips unnecessary. Of course the colonies are managed so they build new combs above not below the bottom combs.
The space added by an empty super decreases the number of bees that would be walking around on top of the debris board or screen, since the bees mostly crawl up and down the inner sides of the super going to and from the combs, and might even make the screen unnecessary, especially when the pollen traps are removed in the fall and winter, which they should be. I realize some keepers simply open the flyway and leave the traps in place, but that’s not a good idea because the exit cones, unused, get plugged with debris. So since you have to take them off to clean anyway, you might as well leave them off for late fall and winter.
Our traditional modern ways mollycoddle the bees with one hand while abusing them with the other. Is it any wonder they can’t get it together?
What I am proposing is not good for business. Instead of adding products, I’m taking products away. Instead of increasing honey production, I’m decreasing it. But a little honey is better than none, and dead bees make no honey.
Bottomless beekeeping, combined with foundationless (one of my favorite not-things), will result in a smaller, faster bee, both kinetically and metabolically, a stronger, healthier bee less susceptible to disease and predation.
My intention is not to return beekeeping to the dark ages, but to take stock of what works and what doesn’t and to mix and match methods toward the goal of maximum health rather than maximum production. Bees are incredibly powerful creatures. Given half a chance, they are unstoppable.
Both philosophically and practically, the varroa has been a benefit to bee culture if not beekeeping. To use the words of my friend, the revolutionary British apiculturist Ian Rumsey: “We have overcome an enemy by making it our friend.” Actually, we have overcome many enemies. What we must do is get out of the way to allow the bee to develop into the world-beater it can and should be, the very capable creature that can triumph over the harsh realities of life as it is, not as it used to be or we wish it was.
Charles Martin Simon
Another article in our week long series of articles written by Charles Martin Simon.
The article below is edited for brevity. Read the full article at Beesource.com here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/more-beekeeping-backwards-i-owe-a-huge-debt-to-varroa/
My article Principles of Beekeeping Backwards, that appeared in Bee Culture, July 2001, received so much attention I felt like some kind of celebrity, which isn’t good. The article was eventually archived on the internet at BeeSource.com. Fortunately, not everybody who wrote likes me. Some insinuated that I might be crazy. Interesting, since I ended the article with “I am crazy, and proud of it.” Well, hopefully, this article will dispel any doubts and give them more reasons to like me even less. And that’ll be good.
…the other day I did find husk. It was on a swarm-removal call. The bees were located on the ground, tangled up in ivy and boards, in a narrow space behind a garage, and a good four feet in from the opening. There was no way to get a box to them, and because they were so entwined in the vegetation and wood, there was no way to scoop them either. Plus, I couldn’t move anything without the risk of crushing bees and maybe the queen. So, certain it wasn’t going to work but needing to do something, I positioned the beehive on the ground up against the opening, meanwhile trying out in my mind the various excuses I might use for why I couldn’t get the job done.
To think I had responded to the call with such professional elan. “A swarm? On the ground behind the garage? Sure, no problem. We do it all the time.” It sounded like it couldn’t be easier over the phone, but it was going to be embarrassing.
Then something I didn’t expect happened. The bees closest to the box – remember, it was four feet away – perked up with recognition of the hive and started marching toward it, and crawled right in, with the rest of the swarm following. Nasanov maneuver on the landing board, and it wasn’t long before they were all in, well, the usual 99% anyway. I was about to screen it shut and call it good when some of them came running back out with confused looks on their faces. I lit up the smoker and chased them back in, but they wouldn’t stay. As soon as I stopped the smoke, back out they would come. I figured the queen must not be in there.
I squeezed into the space behind the garage as carefully as I could, looked around and spotted a few bees clustered partially obscured by some leaves. I smoked them but they wouldn’t move. I pushed them around with my index finger, and, just as I suspected, there she was: the queen. She hadn’t joined the march to the box because she was dead.
Meanwhile, back at the hive body, there was confusion on the landing board, with more and more bees leaving. I took the tiny carcass and flicked it into the entrance. Then the bees started nasanoving with renewed vigor and running into the hive and staying. Bees flying around the area relating to where the swarm had been, changed course and beelined it in. I screened it up, took it to one of my yards, and mixed it with a queen-right hive. So empty husks can be useful sometimes…
The Great Blessing of Varroa
Yes, I mean it, although it took all these years and so much loss for me to begin to understand. Because of the Varroa, the other day I found the best bee frame in the world. As some of you may know, I’ve been in the bee frame business, invented and sold world-wide the Super Unfoundation Frame, and I take frames very seriously. So saying I found the best frame in the world is, for me, saying something big. This is a frame that is superior both technically and aesthetically. Why? For one thing, because it’s free. I found it in my rotten-equipment pile.
A free bee frame is a terrible thing to waste. But more important than its recycled aspect, it’s free because it has evolved by virtue of the process of deterioration beyond the rules and restrictions of conventional, non-free bee frames, even those of my own design and construction. Yes, with the recognition of this particular frame, I have even surpassed myself.
And, it is precisely to the Varroa that I owe the finding of this frame and the implications thereof. Ten or 12 years ago, when the dreaded parasite came into my yards – finally, after years of hearing it was coming – and started destroying my bees, I was distraught, naturally. Every Spring, I’d start with swarms that would build beautifully only to die off in the Winters. I would find myself working in dead bee yards, cleaning and organizing equipment that should have been abuzz with bee life but was silent. More than disheartening, it was painful. I wondered why I was even going on with it, when some of my most stalwart compadres, even the great Ormand Aebi (World Record holder in the Guiness Book of Records for over 10 years for the most honey produced by a single hive with a single queen in a single season – a record that was only broken with the use of multiple queens, a true single-queen record which is not likely to ever be even seriously challenged), the most stalwart of them all, had quit.
Every year I felt more foolish and became more despondent. And, of course, without the bees to keep it alive over the Winters, the equipment was rotting at a greatly accelerated rate.
I couldn’t bring myself to replace it. I calculated that if, under the circumstances, I would continue to replace equipment “as needed,” I could literally be destroyed by the very beekeeping that was such a great love in my life. And it kept getting worse. Now I know for sure that had I made the investments necessary to keep up acceptable appearances, I would not have made it to this point.
I, as did most beekeepers, cursed the Varroa. I jumped through all the hoops, conventional and unconventional, and nothing worked. Even when there wasn’t anything to do, I continued working in the yards, cleaning and organizing equipment that was more and more rotted-out and useless.
If you’re a bee person, there is nothing more pathetic than a dead bee yard. The moaning of the wind through vacant bee boxes is one of the most heart-wrenching sounds you’re ever going to hear. Beekeeping had turned into the opposite of everything I was in it for. I had to quit, I wanted to quit, but I didn’t know how. There were spaces and times in my life that were slotted for bee work. There was nothing else I could do. But the only thing that was alive and growing was my junk pile. I burned an incredible amount of equipment over the years and still had a mountain left.
Then, a few hives started surviving the winters. Then a few more. My removal business was growing, and I was getting more and more swarms in the springs. Meanwhile, my lifetime interest in health had turned into another business, and I shifted my focus from honey to pollen, and I started getting great harvests, even though most of the bees were still dying off in the Winters.
But I needed to take another step philosophically. I shifted concept from “my” bees to “the” bees, and “the” bees to “my” bees. It was a natural not an intellectually conceived move, since, after all, most of the bees I was dealing with were feral. I brought the principles of wild bees into my beekeeping.
My frames (SuperUnfoundation) had been a step in the right direction, but as such had been limited in that they had not completed all the steps. If they had, I’d have no doubt gotten “there” a long time ago. But as it went, I am only getting “there” which is “here” “now.” You don’t have to understand; it’s philosophy.
Now the bees that are not my bees are my bees. I have expanded to embrace them all. And since they’re all mine anyway, no loss is too great, no gain too small. It’s finally all working.
And as stated, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Varroa, without which none of this would have been possible.
By “this” I mean perfect beekeeping. Because that’s what it has become, perfect.
And one of the greatest contributions for which the dirty rotten little parasite is directly responsible is in taking out of the game those players who shouldn’t be in it any longer, and discouraging those who might otherwise have become beekeepers from entering in the first place – meaning specifically those who have not grasped how to go with Nature, those who solve problems by attacking them, those who attempt to beat Nature and make maximum profits. But don’t feel bad, it wasn’t that long ago that I too used to think it was about honey, and that honey was money. But let’s face it, if it was about honey, we’d be “honey-makers” not “beekeepers.” But we’re beekeepers, so it’s about keeping bees.
From a human supremacy (a delusion that is destined to prove untenable) standpoint, bees dying, at the agency of Varroa or whatever, is a bad thing, but the insect mind doesn’t work like that, doesn’t share human values. The more bees die, the more they live. I don’t expect you humans to understand that either, because you base all your science and philosophy upon your own desires. And when you die, you’re done. Too bad for you.
And the last attributes of the best bee frame in the world: ease of use, effectiveness, durability. This frame has it all. Actually it is only a partial frame, the bottom bar and part of a side bar having rotted completely away. So it’s not really a frame at all, but what is left is excellent indeed.
The Beauty of Bad Equipment
I went to college to study agriculture and dropped out because the agriculture they were teaching was not the agriculture I wanted to learn, and became part of an organic farm in the mid-Sixties. The land came with a nice yard of 25 perfectly-cosmeticized beehives organized in extremely straight rows and two dilapidated hives off to one side. Anyway, it wasn’t long before thieves came in the night with a big truck and stole all 25 of the “good” hives.
The partners called an emergency meeting, during which it was decided that I should take over the two beehives that were left; none of the others being interested in bees at all. And that’s how I got into it – with those two unstolen hives. With the help of one of the “partners” and somewhat more than a modicum of stinging, I managed to get them moved to my section and set about to learn about them.
Now, 35 years later, I have come full circle, from knowing nothing about apiculture, to knowing a lot, to knowing nothing, from bad equipment to the best equipment back to bad equipment.
The most obvious benefit of bad equipment, then, is that thieves are less likely to steal it. If it looks bad, they won’t want it. And if it falls apart when they go to lift it, so much the better. Note: In this regard, it’s a good idea to not staple the bottom boards to the hive bodies.
Thieves are slaves of illusions; that’s why they’re thieves. They have perverted values. Honey is money, for example. But what is money? And you still hear some old-timers talk about “robbing the bees,” and I suppose that’s correct in their cases because that’s what they’re doing.
But theft-proofing is far from the only benefit of bad equipment. For some strange reason, it seems bees prefer it. They have an affinity for rotten wood. Enough has been written about keeping newly hived swarms from absconding that it is apparently a common problem. There are many tips, such as placing the hive in the shade, not unscreening until almost or after dark, or leaving them in all night and unscreening the following morning.
The beekeepers who have this problem must be the guys with the new foundation and new and freshly-painted hives. I’ve never once had an abscond with old equipment, except when a swarm was queenless. Let me tell you, if after you hive a swarm, you hear the buzz of a queenright colony, there’s no way you could drive that swarm from that box.
Bees like holes in unapproved places.
They like surprises. I once watched several bees taking turns dancing on a nail sticking out of an old hive near the entrance. A bee would grab on to the nail with her forelegs and then spin around it for a while, while a group stood around and watched. Then she would let go and be replaced by another one. This went on for nearly an hour, our time. You might say they were trying to remove it. But why? Because it offended their sense of order? And why right then, after it had been there for years? I don’t think they were trying to remove it. I think they were having fun with it.
With bad equipment, You can’t beat the price, or, I should say, cost. Bad equipment saved me from going under.
Then there’s the issue of aesthetics. As I gleaned through my junk pile year after year, it became harder and harder to just burn it. The dead stuff was the only live stuff left. I’d look at a piece, rotted, crooked, mouse-eaten, wax moth larvae-eaten, and think, there’s a lot of life left in that still. Even beyond that, I’d think the piece had never been so alive. Id better keep it. And I’d throw it onto a second pile, which I was developing for potentially reusable bits and pieces.
Nevertheless, my mind was still clinging to the overbearing image of clean, painted hives and straight clean combs, even though I knew very well from long ago there is no objective standard of beauty. I once went out with a Playboy Bunny, and, believe me, she was not beautiful.
But the power of brainwash persists in overcoming reason and logic. Even though I knew better, I still wanted to see neat hives in neat rows containing only pristine frames and combs.
I know better than to keep bees in neatly ordered rows. In fact, one time I had a stand of bees on a rich piece of property, and one day the property manager descended upon me to tell me that the hives had to be lined up evenly. I looked him right in the eye and told him no. He couldn’t believe it. He said the padrone wanted everything neat and even. I said I don’t work for the padrone, or you. The hives stay crooked. He left in a snit. Later, after he had complained to the padrone, the padrone told me not to listen to him, and I never saw the man again even though I kept bees on that property for several more years. It’s curious what some perceptions rate as important.
Did you know some beekeepers get bent out of shape by the presence of propolis in their hives? Now don’t that beat all get out?
Anyway, my mind kept trying to see the rotten equipment as unsightly, something to be ashamed of, as though using it was putting me beneath the beekeepers with the good stuff, even though those with the good stuff were, for the most part, out of business, and my business was growing by leaps and bounds, between bouts of depression.
Beauty is a dangerous thing, because it’s entirely subjective and the world acts as though it were entirely objective. This big mistake is costly to beekeeping as well as pretty much everything else.
If you are familiar with Friedrich Huntervasser’s “Against Rationalism in Architecture,” then you know where this goes. But on the slim chance you aren’t, I’ll elaborate. When a man-made piece of architecture (in historical context always striving for increased levels of excellence) is new, whether it is a home for human habitation or a beehive, it is sterile. Huntervasser asserts that until a home has sagged and there are cobwebs in the corners and a patina of grime over the walls, it is unhealthy. He points to designs which round the corners of doorways as superior. Had he been a bee man he would have preferred skeps to Langstroth hives.
God does not create sterility. There are no straight lines in Nature. Mankind deludes itself with the concept of straight lines and man creates sterility. It is the end result of the human mind’s purification process, the unconscious compulsion to be ever striving for ever increased excellence. Man must always outdo him- or herself. He or she must always keep raising the bar. He or she sees Nature as a replication of the same process, as in the Theory of Evolution.
It has been said that God created Man in His or Her own image. It has also been said that Man created God in His or Her own image. So I guess it all boils down to personal opinion, who you are and where you’re coming from. In my opinion, Man is the culprit. In our efforts to make it better, we invariably make it worse. And nothing is a better example of that than beekeeping.
I am not trying to make a case for laziness and neglect; I am trying to make a case for inevitability. Except for those among us who happen to be virgins, we all know what it means to “break-in a virgin.” The virgin is emblematic of the highest level of purity, but yet we all pretty much understand the virgin to be improved by the very process of being sullied. Such paradoxes are a way of life with us. But at what point does the break-in turn into the break- down? Maybe when the object has no further possible use except for composting.
No longer threatened by Varroa or any other parasite, no longer threatened by disease, death or humiliation, instead enhanced by these factors, my beekeeping has arrived philosophically and practically. I’m comfortable with the bad equipment, finally. I see it is beautiful.
But I don’t mean to imply that my perfect beekeeping is perfect. My perfection is imperfect. My beekeeping is not without its problems. Why, just the other day, as I was prying the top off a beehive, it just disintegrated in my hands. See? I suffer too.
The article above is edited for brevity. Read the full article at Beesource.com here: http://beesource.com/point-of-view/charles-martin-simon/more-beekeeping-backwards-i-owe-a-huge-debt-to-varroa/
Bee Culture Magazine, November, 2003
Last year a friend and I moved some plastic barrel hives, otherwise known as “cows” into standard Langstroth hives. The cows were impossible to inspect having gone cross-combed almost from the start. Additionally, they could not be assessed for Varroa nor treated. The history was that originally there had been ten but, through attrition, in about a year they were down to two remaining. The move was successful and the colonies flourished through the remainder of the year.