Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Larvae Development Video Link

Follow this link to a neat YouTube video.


Another interesting video is a cartoon on varroa mites.  It does have an advertisement at the end; so watch at your own discretion.



Bee Hive Winter Thermoregulation-at club meetings we frequently debate the need to wrap hives with insulation.  This article summarizes research done in Madison, Wi. on this topic.  

RUSSIANS-A good description of the Russian honey bee can be found at this link.

Purdue Ankle Biters-This article provides a desciption of "Ankle Biter" strain of bees that chew legs off varroa mites

Mountain State Bees and the Mite Mauler-This article provides a description of the "Mite Mauler" strain of bee that chews on varroa with its mandibles. 

Saskatraz queens-This article describes a new strain of varroa resistant of bee developed in Canada.  It should be winter hardy and varroa resistant.  


Saturday, March 25, 2017


I will be amending the Midwest queen supplier list shown in the RESOURCES section of the blog to add a source for the MiteMauler and Saskatraz speciality bees.  These suppliers will be added at the end of the list since they are not from the Midwest.   Sweet Mountain Farm information is already present on the list.


This past Saturday, March 25th, the ECWBA hosted a forum at the Fond du Lac library dealing with the Primorski Russian race of Apis meliferra honey bee.  The guest speaker was Sue Dompke from the Sweet Mountain Farm, LLC apiary located on Washington Island.  Other bee clubs and individuals were invited to attend.  Probably 45 were in attendance.

                       ECWBA President, Gerard Schubert just passed the microphone to Sue

The Primorski area of Siberia was the natural home of Apis Cerena, the Asian honeybee.  Consequently this region also has varroa.  After the completion of the TransSiberian railroad european Apis Meliferra bees were imported into the region. The Primorski Russian strain of bee resulted from survivors of Apis Meliferra bees being raised in the Primorski region of Siberia for the past 100+ years.  In this time period they were able to develop a tolerance to the varroa mite through the process of natural selection. (Back in those days chemical treatments were not available, so only the strong survived.) In a few short words the Primorki Russian has a 100 year head start over western bees in coping with the varroa mite.  They have developed several traits which allows them to cope.

With the desire and drive to become a beekeeper Sue was able to rapidly expand through use of "Hive Sponsorships" and grants.  Through her research she thought the Primorski Russin bees would be a good match for her area.  Since about 2005 she has slowly but continuously expanded her operation.  She has about 5 out apiaries in addition to her home operation.  To ensure her stock remains of pure Primorski Russian stock she was worked with all beekeepers on the island and convinced them to also use Russians.  The location of the island prevents interbreeding with other bee stains from the mainland (ie Door County).  Any new bees come from the Russian Bee Breeders Association which also ensures pure stock.

Sue ran through some of the peculiarities of the Primorski Russian strain.  A few of them are:
1) A smaller winter cluster which consumes less honey.
2) A more rapid population buildup once pollen and nectar are available.
3) The trait of keeping a "just in case" queen cell almost always in development.  This cells and queen larvae is discarded by the workers if the queen is in good health.  If for any reason they become queenless there is an already fully developed queen larvae at the ready.
4) But the ability to tolerate varroa is probably the most important trait.  Sue uses no chemical treatments.
5) Introduction of a Russian queen into other types of hives requires care and patience.  Sue shared her 21 day sure-fire method.

For this 2016-2017 winter Sue indicated she has had a 89% survival rate (and that's without any chemical mite treatments.)

Being in the beekeeping business Sue and her family have expanded into other bee related products: queens, nucs, 8 frame cedar hives with extra thick walls, lip balms, candles, soap, etc.

In the summer SMF conducts an open house/field day several times.

People interested can search for:  www.sweetmountainfarm.com or call 920-847-2337

A detailed description of the Primorski Russian bee can be see at:  http://www.russianbee.com/Russians.html

Friday, March 24, 2017


Some package bee suppliers will be making deliveries this year in plastic boxes.  Follow the link to two videos.  One shows installation of bees from a traditional wooden box and the second with the new plastic box.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

SPRING, A TIME FOR PACKAGES – OR ? by beekeeper Grandpa Jack

Spring, a time for packages – OR ?
With the approaching spring, comes the anticipation for beginning and experienced beekeepers to start anew, increase their numbers or replace deadouts.  One of the long standing ways of doing this, is to purchase 2 or 3 pound packages of bees through the local beekeeping supplier.
This is a long standing way of obtaining bees for the upcoming year.   Bee purchases have been on the rise over the last several years along with the price.  A three pound package of Italian bees with a mated queen is presently around $130. Looking over some old invoices, the price of that package in 2014 was $106.  That’s a 24% increase in just 4 years.  I don’t remember what it was in the 60’s, but can only imagine that the amount would be laughable today.
When considering packages for 2017 what are some of your risks ?  You have paid good money for approximately 10,000 bees and you are looking forward to the coming season.  Hopefully they will get fully established and maybe even make you a little honey.  But beware of the risks.
A study done by the ‘Sustainable Agricultural Research and  Education’ (SHARE)  sheds some light on some of those risks.  I have included the following link, so you may take a look at what the research center discovered.
Based upon their studies, a three pound package with the queen that came with that package has a 28-45% chance of making it into the next season (2018).  On the other hand, the packages that were requeened by a northern queen had a 75% chance of survival into the next year.
Northern queens and bees are survivors.  They have come from hives that made it through the winter.  They are acclimated to the northern climate and the extremes that our weather can provide.
The package of bees that you are buying is not from this area of Wisconsin or even the Midwest.  Our weather is not favorable to shaking bees into packages for resale the last part of April.  The bees that come from those packages are either coming off almond pollination or from our southern states.
I am not implying that package bees are not an option.  Just know what the odds are, and hopefully you can lean those odds in your favor by knowing the risks.  Package bees are not your only option.  Local beekeepers with overwintered colonies or nucs are an excellent source and you are buying local overwintered bees that have a proven laying queen that are ready to explode.  They will cost a little more, but your risk is considerably lower and you will usually have a honey harvest the first year.
As years pass by, it is very apparent that the African Honey Bee (AHB) is making its presence known throughout the west and south United States.  More mention is made on Beesource of the problems that they are causing.  So far, the AHB has not acclimated to the northern states, but many feel it is just a matter of time.  The cross breeding of the AHB and the European Apis Mellifera (our species)  is happening.  The timeline of their movement north is uncertain.
What are the odds of purchasing bees that have been mated with an  AHB drone ?  A virgin queen will fly out to drone congregation area’s to be mated with 10-15 drones.  The question of “who’s your daddy ?” become surreal.
The other option is bait hives.  Free bees that have over wintered in your area,  have a laying queen, and are just looking for a new home.  What is not to like about free survivor bees.
It is unusual for a package of bees to swarm the first year.  They will be busy establishing their colony and gathering reserves for the following winter. If everything goes according to the plan. The bees that you are going to catch in your bait hive have likely made it through winter.  That’s why we call them survivor bees.   They swarmed from an existing hive that became well established.  Remember, bees do two things.  They make honey and more bees.
Bait hives are inexpensive to make and you can have a lot of fun doing the trapping.  I must warn you , that it is habit forming.  There is nothing like getting free bees and knowing that these are local survivor bees.
For those that subscribe to the American Bee Journal, there is an interesting and informative article in the April issue.  Dr. Tom Seeley of Cornell University has also researched and published articles and books on bait hives.  For those that might want a refresher course and a little information on how you can make your start to the 2017 beekeeping season a little more interesting.  Make sure to come to ECWBA  meeting, Saturday, April 8th



One of the recurrent themes at the Marathon County Beekeepers seminar in Wausau was the aim to get away from buying packages every spring.  The downside of packages are three fold: a) The expense, now $100 plus per package, b) package queens are southern or California raised and are genetically programed to raise brood in December and c) They are also not acclimatized to our northern winters. 

Two of the speakers were advocates of making your own replacement “packages”.  The downside is that you need to plan a year ahead and need more equipment.  Basically they recommend you double the size of your apiary.  Half of the hives will be devoted to honey production and the other half to starting new hives to replace your upcoming winter losses.

Although the details of the two speaker’s talks were slightly different what they were advocating was essentially the same.  First you need to select one of your strong hives that has overwintered.  So in essence you are selecting for a northern winter survival trait.  If you have more than one survivor hive you can consult your records (I hope you track your hive performance) and further refine your selection for high honey yield or demeanor or mite loads. 

Then in mid May you use your selected hive and plan to split it up into 4 or 5 nucs.  In theory these nucs have time to raise a queen, get installed in a full size hive and build up sufficiently to make it through winter.  If you delay to late May or early June there is not enough build up time and you will end up having to overwinter the nuc itself.   Both speakers spoke of a drop dead date of June 21st; the summer solstice.  NEVER try splitting or starting a new hive after then.
 First remove the queen from the hive about 5 days prior to the planned split.  A strong hive will start a multitude of queen cells on its own.  Then when you do the split you will have ready-made queen cells (Note: they will still be uncapped) and will just need to distribute them among the nucs.    A strong hive can better handle starting queen cells than a weaker nuc.

You have now 16/20 frames in a 2 brood chamber hive and also a large number of queen cells.  Each nuc gets two frames of honey and 2 frames of brood. One brood frame should primarily be capped brood which will soon emerge and give you a strong nuc.  The 2nd brood frame should have 1 or preferably 2 queen cells.    Try to distribute the bees evenly amongst the many nucs. 

Two tricks of the trade.  One, take you hive tool and scrape off some cappings from the honey frames.  This ensures the bees have readily available food while they are raising the new queen.   Place the frame with the scratched capping opposite the area where you installed the frame with queen cells.  Two, they recommended the trick of “notching” the area with one day old brood.  Locate the one day old brood.  Take your hive tool and poke it carefully half way down into the cell. Then drag the tool downwards.  This exposes a row of one day old larvae and tends to promote queen cell raising. 

There are downsides to this approach.  One, you are sacrificing the honey crop from the hive you split. But with luck you will have 4 or 5 new hives next year.   Two, your operation needs to be big enough to have the equipment; 4/5 nucs and 4/5 extra hives.
There are upsides also: One, you break the tie with package bee sellers.  Two, you are propagating survivor bees that can live in our northern climate. 

More information can be seen at Parkerbees.com