Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Spring is definitely here.  Warm weather.  The bees have started working the pussy willows and maples for pollen in order to make bee bread.  This will trigger the bees to begin raising brood in earnest.  This is also the starving season for bee colonies.  Make sure to check your hives for adequate honey to last to the start of the honey flow.  If necessary feed them 2:1 or 1:1 sugar water.

Friday, March 27, 2015


After the disastrous 2013-2014 winter with its -20F temperatures I resolved to do better in the 2014-2015 winter season.  While performing the clean up of the many 2013-2014 deadouts I tried to isolate the root cause for each hive failure, whether it be starvation, moisture issues, mites, or air leaks.  The vast majority were simple cases of starvation; insufficient food stores to carry the hive through the nectar drought that lasts the 7 months from late September until mid April.   In the summer of 2013 I had started a number of new hives in late June.  These hives were especially hard hit, because of the simple reason they did not get to store honey during the June honey flow.  In this area the honey flow is primarily in the June through mid July time frame.  I saw no cases of mite infestation or moisture issues.  In all my hives I have a one inch diameter air exchange hole on the downwind side of the upper brood chamber.

To address the starvation situation I decided on two actions.  On newly started hives I put them on a 1:1 syrup supplemental feeding at the beginning of August.  Then after the late August honey harvest I put almost all other hives on a 2:1 syrup supplement to ensure they had the chance to fill the brood areas with winter stores.  Sugar was running about $20 per 50 lb bag.  I figured it was better to feed each hive 25 lb of sugar ($10 worth) than having to buy a $85 package.  Little did I know package prices would increase to about $100 this spring.  Nine hives received no supplemental feeding as a control or comparison point.  

There was also the question of hive wrapping.  Previously I had never wrapped any of my hives.  Many club members are proponents of hive wrapping.  Articles in American Bee Journal and Bee Culture are evenly split between proponents and detractors.  At the last minute I decided to wrap 50% of my hives with BeeCozies.  The Bee Cozy is an easy to install insulation blanket/wind break. 
In September I culled three (3) weak hives and combined the bees and brood with other hives.  I had not done this the previous year.  I was left with 30 hives.  Almost immediately one of the weaker hives was robbed out.  Down to 29.  I then did a quick and dirty analysis of each hive; grading them based on the number of frames covered in bees.  I classed the 29 as:
Six hives were sheltered in an unheated building.  I wrapped 12 hives with Bee Cozies in November when flying had declined to a minimum.  All hives are in somewhat sheltered areas; either trees to the north or inside the building.

Four (4) of the hives were topbar hives and twentyfive (25) Langstroth hives.  Of the Langstroth sixteen (16) had 2 brood chambers and 9 had 3 brood chambers.  

All hives were treated with formic acid (MAQS).  Italian and Carniolan hives were given a full dose.  I applied a half dose to Russian based hives as a precaution based on the recommendation of two Russian queen suppliers.  I did not analyze any of the hives for the presence of mites prior to the treatment.  Mites tend to be a bigger factor in the second year of a hive; not the first.  This would be the first winter for 28 of the hives.

As a final precaution, in December I provided each hive with “emergency” rations; either in the form of 2 pound sugar patties laid across the upper chamber frames or a sugar board with about 10 pounds of solid sugar. 

Beginning in January I started monitoring the hives using a stethoscope.  This was done on the 1st and 15th of the month.  Sometimes do to curiosity I did extra monitoring; such as after a -10F night.  By placing the stethoscope over the air vent in the upper brood chamber you can easily hear either a comforting buzz or dead silence. 

The winter of 2014-2015 was gentle on the bees.  The coldest temperature was only -14F instead of -20F.  Also the extreme cold spells were shorter; usually only a few days in length versus a week or more in length in 2013-2014.   We also had a January thaw allowing the bees to take voiding flights. 

To date my winter survival has been an encouraging 86% (25 out of 29) versus a dismal 35% survival last year at this time.   There is still another month to go before being out of the woods.  Also, I have not yet verified the queens have survived.
Three of the four lost hives had been classed as weak during the fall inspection.  I should consider tightening my criteria for culling weak hives in the fall.  I made the classic error of hoping for the best.  I should have combined two of these into one hive with sufficient winter stores and population.  It’s probably better to sacrifice one queen than lose 20,000 worker bees.

One of the four lost hives was due to beekeeper error.  I placed the sugar board above the inner cover by mistake essentially blocking the bee’s access to the sugar.

The fourth lost hive had appeared normal during fall inspection.  It had been a good honey producer, but had failed to store much honey in the brood chambers.  I did not detect this during my quick inspection.  Based on its honey production I had decided to skip its fall feeding.  Interestingly, many of the unfilled frames in the brood chambers were plastic based. 

I saw no mites on the bottom boards of the four lost hives.  Do I credit this to the use of formic acid (MAQS) or the fact that these were first year hives?  Mites tend to reach toxic levels in the second year.

Again this year I saw no “moisture” related failures.  Therefore, I believe my system of an open one (1) inch diameter hole in the upper brood box and leaving the small (one inch wide) hole of the entrance reducer provides adequate ventilation to prevent moisture problems. 

All hive losses occurred immediately following one of the -10F nights.

Other observations:
      A)     Based on fall hive strength:  100% of the strong hives survived, 95% of the normal hives, survived, and 4 of 8 weak hives survived. 
      B)      100% of the top bar hives survived, 89% of the 3 brood chamber hives survived, and 81% of the 2 brood chamber hives survived.
      C)      By hive origin type:  Carryover from 2013-100% survived;  April/May packages-92% survived; June or later startups/requeens-78% survived;   Swarm-100% survived
      D)     By queen type: Carniolan-100% survived. Italian-89% survived.  Russian-77% survived*
*All Russian losses were due to beekeeper error or related to low population due to late September requeening of a queenless Carniolan hive
E)  Wrapped hives-Three of the four lost hives had been wrapped.  However, other factors were probably the reason for these hive failures.  Conversely, hive survival of unwrapped hives did not seem to suffer.  In my small test I would say the wrapping did little, if anything, to improve hive survival.  I will monitor this again next winter.
F) Unfed hives-8 of 9 hives that did not receive the fall 2:1 feeding survived.  This shows the bees do have the capability of surviving without supplemental feeding if they go into winter strong enough.
G) The bees in every hive accessed the “emergency” sugar provided above the frames with the exception of the top bar hives.  In the top bar hive the bees congregate at the top of the comb, but the sugar patty is on the floor. 

      1)      As a beekeeper I feel I did everything I could to help my bees survive the winter.
      2)      Fall feeding should be done on June or later start up hives.
      3)      The price of fall feeding is good insurance.  Whether fall feeding or spring honey harvesting is a better beekeeping approach can be settled another day.
      4)      I continue to lean in the direction that hive wrapping is of little benefit other than making the beekeeper feel he is doing everything possible to help survival.
      5)      I didn’t see any disadvantage in overwintering by top bar hives other than it is harder to provide the bees with “emergency” feeding.
      6)      I don’t know how much of the greater hive survival was due to the more benign weather or my added precautions.
I will continue tracking my hives through next winter to try to learn more. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


At the recent club meeting we discussed feeding hives with sugar water avoid spring starvation and  to boost the hive population in time for the honey flow.  Last year I recorded the dates I first saw various flowers begin to bloom.  Will this years blooms arrive at the same time?

May 1st-first dandelions
May 16th-Birch catkins flowering
June 2nd-Saw Red and ladino clover blossoms (first real nectar source)
June 3rd-Black locust trees began blooming (blossoms faded by June 11th)
June 6th-Raspberries in bloom
June 8th-Recently planted yellow sweet clover started to bloom ( blooms complete by July 15th)
June 21st-Alfalfa blooming
June 22nd-Sumac in bloom (Bloom complete by June 28th)

I continued to see alfalfa and white sweet clover in bloom well into August.  Mid August is also the start of the goldenrod honey flow.

The point of this summary is that the main honey flow in this area doesn't begin until about June 1st.  If you backtrack from June 1st to account for the raising of brood and maturing of the young nurse bees to the field bee stage you could start feeding the hive in about mid April.   This will artificially stimulate a larger field bee force to be ready in time for the June 1st start of the honey flow.  Having a large field force already present could greatly boost your honey yield.  That's a strategy some beekeepers utilize.

Based on what I have read a 1:1 sugar syrup stimulates brood rearing and comb construction.  Thicker syrups (such as 2:1 or higher) tend to induce the bees to store the syrup without the brood rearing stimulation.

Feeding 1:1 sugar syrup prior to mid April may raise a large population earlier, but there won't be any nectar for this larger force to gather.  It is therefore a waste of your money and may induce the hive to swarm.  However, feeding 2:1 syrup in early spring is a good method to prevent early spring starvation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Club member Gerard Schubert reports that apiary marking flags are available through DRIFTWATCH.  DRIFTWATCH is a service that notifies pecticide sprayers of the locations of apiaries and other sensitive area which should not be sprayed.  These signs are available through:


Monday, March 23, 2015

Beekeeping Seminar 2015-Marathon County Bee Association

Micheal Bush will be the keynote speaker at this year's Beekeeping Seminar 2015 hosted by the Marathon County Bee Association on April 11th.  Micheal Bush is a noted proponent of treatment free beekeeping.  Numerous other presenters will be at the seminar.  See the link below for registration details and information about other topics of the seminar.


Vicki Ebel of the ECWBA is trying to organize a group of ECWBA members to attend the seminar and share travel expenses.  You can contact Vicki at:  VICKI_ebel@yahoo.com

Friday, March 20, 2015

More on Spring Management

Here is a short article on spring management of bees.  This is written for an area to the south of us, so you will need to back off on the recommended dates to begin each process.  Topics include "Feeding Bees", "Swarm Control", "Splits", and "Supering".

The recommendation to initially feed 2:1 sugar syrup is intended to feed the bees, not promote brood raising.

As always you will see that beekeeping is an art; not a science.  Too much feed and your colony may swarm.  Too little feed and your honey crop may be adversely affected.

The article also talks about checkerboarding the brood nest area of very strong colonies to control the urge to swarm.  The frames you remove to prevent swarming can be placed in weaker hives to give them a boost.


Monday, March 16, 2015

2015 Packages/Nucs/Queens

 If you haven’t ordered replacement/expansion packages or nucs yet, time is running out!  Here is a partial list of package/nuc/queen suppliers.  Prices are higher than last year.  Remember the ECWBA does NOT endorse any suppliers.

Lee Heine in Watertown, Wi.   Contact the Dadant store in Watertown for an order form.  Lee sells 2 and 3 pound packages and queens.

HoneyBeeWare in Greenville, Wi.  (Appleton area)   HoneyBeeWare sells 2 and 3 pound packages, nucs and queens. 

Sweet Mountain Farm in Washington Island.  They sell Russian nucs on 6 5/8” frames for $160.  Queens will be available in June.

Miksa Bees in the Mt. Calvary area has nucs and packages from Florida.  See the January post in Our Bee Blog.  352-348-4002   Miksabees@gmail.com

Craigslist has four (4) other potential suppliers in Algoma, Freedom, Wausau and Madison.  No names were listed in the advertisements.  Buyer beware!    

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pollen substitute feeding

A few days ago I posted a picture of returning bees with what I thought was pollen.  I was convinced it is too early for pollen and the bees were probably returning with propolis.  Feeling sorry for my bees I made up a quick and dirty pollen substitute feeder from a cardboard box (see picture).  Nothing happened immediately, but 15 minutes later the bees had found the protein source and were packing it away.  Some were packing it on so heavy they had a hard time getting airborne.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Pollen this early???

Beekeeper Fred was out checking his bees today.  At several hives he saw bees returning with full pollen baskets.  Seems early for pollen.  Did the several recent warm days make some plants start the flowering process early?  These are Russian's by the way.  Notice the dark bee coloration and the light grey color of the pollen baskets. Saw no pollen at any Italian or Carni hives.  Feedback by club member Gerard indicates this is probably propolis.

Queen Rearing: A Beekeeper's Primer

This year's field day will have a demonstration of the techniques of queen rearing.  The attached article, located by beekeeper Denise, provides a written overview of various method for raising queens.  I suggest reading this article prior to the upcoming club field day. Raising your own queens provides another fun dimension for the amateur beekeeper.


UW River Falls trying to overwinter nucs

To lessen the dependence of and expense to Wisconsin beekeepers of replacing winter losses the UW @ River Falls is trying to develop a methodology to overwinter nucs.  A write up on their efforts is described in the link below.  This will be a challenging task because a nuc has limited food stores and the cluster size will be very small.  However, if they are successful it could be a boon to local beekeepers.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Unconditional registration of Oxalic Acid by EFA

Based on the attached writeup it appears oxalic acid has been "approved" by the EPA for control of varroa mites.  I put approved in parentheses because I don't know the meaning of UNCONDITIONAL REGISTRATION that is used in the article.



A recent article in American Bee Journal stated that average yearly losses prior to varroa and tracheal mites was about 30%; some years more and some years less.  Most beekeepers run extra hives to compensate for these losses.  I suspect the average loss is slightly higher now with the mites. The warm weather in the last week has allowed some beekeepers the opportunity to assess the conditions in their apiaries.   Here are reports from fellow amateur beekeepers (both club members and non-members) about their winter losses. 

Beekeeper Fred (member) reported the following.  As of today Fred has lost 4 of 29 hives (14% loss).  Fred runs a mix of Russians, Italians, Carniolans.  Fred had wrapped about half of his hives in BeeCozies.  All hives were inspected and graded in the fall as "Strong", "Normal" or "Weak".  Some, but not all, hives had received fall feeding.  All hives were treated with formic acid (half strength on Russian hives; full strength on the others).  Most were also provided winter emergency food in the form of sugar patties on the top frames.  Two of the four lost hives were hives that had gone queenless sometime in August.  They had been requeened with Russian hybrid queens in September.   These 2 hives had been rated as "weak" during fall inspection and did not quickly consume the fall feeding offered.   The third was a Russian hybrid hive that was classed as "weak" at the fall inspection.   The fourth was an Italian hive which had been classed as 'Normal" during inspection.  This hive had NOT been offered fall feeding.  To date, the data shows no measurable advantage to wrapping the hives; 3 of the 4 lost hives had been wrapped.  

Beekeeper Denise (club member) reported the following:   As of today Denise has lost one of four hives (25% loss).  Analysis of the hive indicates it died of starvation.  This hive had filled four supers with honey last summer, but did not have enough to winter over.  The three (3) remaining hives appear to have nosema, but are living.  Denise will be treating with fumigilin to try to control it.  Denise treats her hives with a thymol based pesticide in the fall.

Beekeeper Jon (non-member) reported the following:  As of today Jon has lost 3 of 20 hives (15% loss).  Jon runs VSH Italian bees in most of his hives with a few Carniolans.  Jon also had both a fall and winter feeding program.  2/1 sugar water was offered in the fall after honey removal.  Sugar patties on the top frames were provided in the winter as emergency stores for the bees. Jon does no chemical treatments for mite control.  Jon's notes and analysis of his lost hives showed: one hive robbed out in late fall; one hive had nosema/dysentery, and the third failed due to starvation.  The third hive was a single deep combined with a nuc in late fall. There was insufficient honey/sugar in the second new deep to carry the hive all the way through winter.  Some beekeepers would have culled this hive in the fall.

Reports of heavy losses of other non-member beekeepers have been heard third hand.   

There is still a month to go before tree pollen normally becomes available.

Bring your apiary winter results to the March club meeting.  

Thanks to Jon, Denise and Fred for their inputs.  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

CNN 1 Hour Special about Honey Bees

This Thursday, March 12th, at 8:00PM CST CNN news channel will have a special on honey bees.  On Direct TV it is channel 202.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Fond du Lac to consider allowing beekeeping within city limits

The Fond du Lac city council is considering allowing beekeeping within the city limits.  See the attached  March 8th article copied from the FonddulacReporter web site.   The story also has a nice video on a bee swarm in a tree last summer.  Club members in Fond du Lac may want to contact their local aldermen to support this change.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Maximizing Honey Production with Effective Spring Management

Is was great to be out last Saturday afternoon and see the bees taking voiding flights from 'most' of my hives.  Seeing those flying bees relieved  a lot of my apprehension about my bees making it through another Wisconsin winter.  There is still a period of winter and early spring before the hives will be out of danger of starving.   It's also time to think about spring management of your bees.  Good spring management can greatly increase the honey potential of your hives.

The following article provides several hints at improving the health of your hives and increasing your success in gathering a bountiful honey harvest.  Some adjustment to the dates mentioned in this article may be necessary due to Wisconsin's more northerly location.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Combined Queen Order?

Club member, Gerald Schubert, is ordering several queens from Olympic Wilderness Apiary.  They sell VSH, Russian and survivor stock queens.  Gerald is willing to add your queen needs to his order.  His queens are due for delivery in mid July.  Combining an order would result in reduced shipping costs.  If you are interested please contact Gerald at: borthbeekeeper@gmail.com

PS-do you want to see additional postings like this?

Remember the club does not endorse any suppliers.

Friday, March 6, 2015

HIVES MADE OF CEDAR? (by beekeeper Fred)

Since the advent of varroa and tracheal mites there has been a flood of ideas on how to increase hive survival; some good, some bad and some totaling ineffective.  Several suppliers are promoting hives made of cedar instead of the traditional red or white pine as a means of increasing hive survival.  Whether this is simply commercial promotion or hard facts is for you to decide.  

Several benefits are purported by a change to cedar. 

1)  Cedar has a lower coefficient of thermal conductivity.  0.053 for cedar versus 0.060 for pine.  For hive sides of the same thickness this means the cedar hive would transfer 10% less heat from the inside of the hive wall to the outside.  Whether this results in the bees needing to generate 10% less heat to stay warm is debatable.  Remember there is still the cold air void surrounding the bee cluster inside the hive along with several layers of comb and honey.  In addition there are usually a lower entrance and an upper vent to encourage a slow airflow through the hive to void it of a moisture build up.

2)  Cedar has a lower density than pine.  If a constant brood box weight were maintained the brood box wall thickness could be increased by roughly 25% or the wall thickness could be increased from the current ¾ inches to roughly 1 inch.  This would further insulate the hive. 

3)  Cedar wood has aromatic oils in its pores.  Cedar oil is attributed with antibacterial and pesticidal benefits.  In the supplier literature these benefits are talked up.  But the literature doesn’t provide any scientific data affirming these benefits; such as cedar oil has been proven to kill 99% traecheal mites and 75% of varroa mites.
Therefore I can confirm hive boxes made of cedar will transfer less heat from inside to outside in the winter.  Conversely, it will also transfer less heat in the summer, requiring the bees to dedicate more effort to the task of ventilating the hive. 

I haven’t seen anything written that is negative about hive boxes made of cedar.  The strength of various types of cedar and pine woods is similar.  Although tensile and shear strength of cedar is slightly less than pine, the difference would not be considered significant considering the types of mechanical loading to which the hive boxes are subjected.   Cedar lumber does cost more the pine lumber and I would expect this to be reflected in the cost of cedar hive boxes.  
Other insulating methods such as Styrofoam or insulation wraps can also cut heat loss.  These methods have been in use for years and the debate over whether the extra insulation is beneficial is still being debated.

I haven’t seen any scientific literature that cedar boxes increase hive survival.  I have been in the bee game only a short time and may have missed this data.  If you have seen any data to the contrary please let me know and I will amend this write up.  That said here are two sources for woodenware made from cedar.  Their websites have some thought provoking write-ups.  Read and enjoy.

www.sweetmountainfarm.com  Makes 8 frame hives with 1 inch wall thickness
www.thewarrestore.com   Makes several different styles of cedar hives. 

Remember the East Central Wisconsin Beekeepers Club does NOT endorse any supplier’s products. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015


The second week of March is forecast to have warmer weather.  The bees will definitely be out of the hive taking voiding flights.  Maybe even out collecting a little maple tree pollen.  Although you may be tempted, do not pull frames to look for brood as a means to verify your queen has survived the winter.  It is still too cold even with the projected low 50's temperatures.  Such inspections will just chill and possibly kill any brood that is present, which will set back the recovery of your hive.  Spring frame inspections should not be attempted until it is warm enough that you can comfortably work the hive in a short sleeve shirt.  An afternoon with high 60's/low 70's would be ideal.  I would still make this a quick inspection.

About the most you should do during these first few warm days is to insert a pollen patty on top of the hive frames.   Have everything ready.  Pop off the outer and inner covers, drop in the patty and then IMMEDIATELY replace the covers to minimize heat loss.  Don't dawdle!

With nights continuing to get below freezing its also too early to add  top style sugar water feeders. The plastic liners of some sugar water feeders could split if the sugar water refreezes at night.  Although next week's warm weather is welcome, don't be fooled that spring has finally arrived in Wisconsin.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March ECWBA Club Meeting

WHEN:  March 21st, 2015 at 9:30 AM

WHERE: Fond du Lac Public Library
                Eugene McLane Room (downstairs)
                32 Sheboygan St.
                Fond du Lac, Wi.

The March meeting will be an open discussion format.  There will first be a short business meeting with the open discussion following.  Probable topics will include getting started for beginning beekeepers, spring survival, bringing bees though winter into spring, etc.