Wednesday, November 15, 2017

BIG MYSTERY by beekeeper Fred

This story is provided to everyone in hopes we will all learn something from this experience.

Just when you think you are beginning to get a handle on successfully handling bees they spring another surprise on you.  My beekeeping friend Jon had a good summer.  He raised more than one hundred queens and also got a decent honey harvest.  It wasn’t as much as he wanted, but with this summer’s weird weather many of us had a smaller honey harvest than expected.  At the time of his honey harvest in early September all hives seemed up to snuff.  I remember remarking in late September that some had booming populations.  In mid-September Jon started fall feeding.   A few hives seemed to not be taking in the syrup, but most were rapidly draining the feeders.   Nothing abnormal.

In mid-October Jon set about removing the feeders in order to get the hives set for winter.  He immediately noticed sometime was amiss.  The bees in the first four hives appeared to have absconded.   Things didn’t get any better as he went through his apiary.  Probably about 25% of the hives still had bees, but then it was usually only a small cluster of insufficient size to survive the coming winter.  In the course of a month his apiary was essentially wiped out; a 75% loss and winter had not even started.   During the same time frame, I had only one hive “abscond” in a similar manner while I was feeding it.  Jon thought by putting our heads together we might be able to deduce what happened.   

We went through several hives.  There were varroa on the bottom boards, but nothing out of the ordinary considering the bottom board was last cleaned in the spring.   There were very little or no dead bees in the hives.  Most hives at this point were being robbed by yellow jacket hornets.  We didn’t determine if the hornets were after brood or honey.   Three hives that we looked at still had small clusters and their queens.  It was like his apiary had been hit by CCD (colony collapse disorder) as seen on some videos; all bees gone but the queen and a few bees.   Use of the CCD handle has declined in recent years as understanding of varroa and bee viruses has improved. 

We then tried to figure out what had happened.   We wanted to chase down all leads to the best of our ability.   A call to the State Bee Inspector was to put it mildly a little dissatisfying.  It seems the standard answer nowadays is ”Varroa, Varroa, Varroa”.  This answer could be the cause, but we hesitant to blame these heavy losses on something so simple and so quickly.   The inspector saw no reason for a visit or getting a sample of bees from the still surviving small clusters.   We decided to try to analyze the situation ourselves, but without any scientific laboratory to help us out.  We initially focused on things that changed from last year and also differences between his and my operations.

First, we concentrated on “Varroa, Varroa, Varroa”.   That would be the easy answer, but the facts had to add up to early varroa caused crashes.  

In 2016 Jon used an oxalic vaporizer for mite control. His winter survival in the 2016-2017 winter was about 80%.   In 2017 Jon started using an oxalic (insect) fogger to apply the oxalic acid.  This was one obvious difference. 

Jon reported he had not been seeing any varroa in the burr comb drone cells all summer.  His past experience was to see varroa on many drones when the burr comb was removed.   We looked at several bottom boards and did not see what we would call excessive varroa, but this was a subjective judgement.

In the spring we had both pledged to do mite checks; either by alcohol wash method or powdered sugar rolls.   Here both of us fell down on the job.  A total of one powdered sugar roll was performed by the both of us.  Pretty poor showing on this important task. 

Jon had adopted use of an insect fogger and an oxalic/alcohol solution for mite control as widely seen on YouTube.  It just takes about 15 seconds to treat each hive.  This is ideal if it is effective.  He did 3 initial weekly treatments in June followed by a knockdown treatment about every second week.  He planned on starting a 2nd round of the weekly treatments in October after removing the feeders.  That was one big difference between his and my mite control methods.  I used formic acid (MAQS) in mid-August as my primary mite control and did a follow up with oxalic acid vapor in September and October. 

I had been playing with Randy Oliver’s (Scientific Beekeeping) varroa model and looked up the efficacy of oxalic and formic treatments.  The model recommends using an efficacy of 90% for a formic acid treatment and only 15-40% for oxalic acid.  Therefore, it would take multiple ( 3 to 6 ) weekly oxalic treatments for oxalic to equal one formic acid treatment.  Randy’s oxalic data was for either a dribble or heat vaporization.  I queried Randy about oxalic/alcohol, but he had no experience.  He indicated NO ONE had yet compared the effectiveness of oxalic/alcohol to the other methods.  The Scientific Beekeeping website did have a warning from an independent beekeeper/chemist that the oxalic/alcohol solution may break down into a benign compound in the presence of heat (ie. the fogger coil), however, a comparative test or chemical analysis had not been done.

Out of curiosity Jon and I performed a side by side comparison of the acidity levels of MAQS, oxalic/alcohol, oxalic/water (dribble), and oxalic/water vaporized.  As mixed all had a similar acidity level (pH) of 2; a relatively strong acid.  We then went further and applied each into a cardboard box to simulate a hive.  Here the acid levels were lower.  pH levels of 4 to 5 (relatively weak acids) were seen.  But the oxalic/alcohol compared favorably will the MAQS.  No obvious smoking gun here.   However, we did notice during the cardboard box test that the fogger was violently ejecting the vapor (as compared to the vaporizer).   A large portion of the fog was escaping the box when using the fogger.   We agreed to take an additional look at this over a concern that a major portion of the oxalic acid may be being lost to the outside thus lowering the oxalic acid effectiveness further. 

One item of interest we discovered was that although oxalic acid is noted to be less detrimental to queens than formic acid treatments (approx. 3% vs 5% queen loss per application) the cumulative effect over time could be harmful.   For example, 6 applications of oxalic over the summer could result in an 18% queen loss due to the cumulative losses.   This is not associated with Jon’s problem, but this is something to keep in mind when planning your mite control methods.

After all this discussion about varroa and varroa treatments it should be said that a varroa related hive crash is unlikely to occur in the September/October time frame.  Varroa levels should have not had sufficient time to build up to a deadly level if the oxalic/alcohol fog was doing it’s job.    This is especially true for a new package bee colony of which Jon had about five.  If I was using Randy Oliver’s varroa model correctly (a big IF) and assuming a May 1st start date those five hives would not have had sufficient time for the varroa population to build up to a crash level.   There is also the possibility that Jon’s overwintered hives had relatively high mite levels that in conjunction with the lower effectiveness of the oxalic acid treatments could have resulted in a more rapid mite build up.

Jon had built a bunch of new syrup feeders for use this fall with plastic bottoms.  That was something definitely different.  But that lead fell through.  Jon had hives losses with both old wood bottomed and the new plastic bottomed feeders.  Also, his neighbor’s bees were OK and the neighbor had used two of Jon's new feeders. 

Could Jon’s sugar supply have been contaminated?  Both Jon and I have been using salvaged sugar from a bakery for the last two years.  My bees are doing fine so we tend to discount this possibility.

Could the bees have been hit by a pesticide?  Unfortunately, we have no way of determining this.  The loss did occur in late summer/early fall which is an unlikely time for a pesticide to be used.   Are bees susceptible to other poisoning?  We talked with one neighbor and he had NOT had a hive die-off.  As a point of reference that neighbor had used MAQS for mite control.  The second neighbor's bees were also OK.  Therefore, we tend to rule out a pesticide poisoning incident.

So next we come to the dreaded viruses and bacteria.   Jon had not been seeing any signs of Deformed Wing Virus all summer; ie deformed wings on bees or bees with stunted abdomens.  In addition, the mite load did not seem excessive so DWV is unlikely to have taken hold.   Plus DWV usually makes itself felt in mid-winter when the hive succumbs to the virus. 

A Nosema Ceranae infection is a distinct possibility.  Its symptoms match those of CCD.  Again, we have no method of determining if this was a Nosema Ceranae outbreak.  As for other viruses or bacteria we really have no way to assess the hive for these.  

My hives are spread over a large area in clusters of about 10 hives each.  Jon hives are all in one area maybe making them more susceptible to a communicable disease or virus. 

The odd thing is that all hives in Jon’s apiary are exhibiting the same symptoms.  They seem to have either absconded or all hives stopped successfully raising brood at approximately the same time and 6 weeks later there were no bees left in the hive.   With the hives empty of bees in early October that means the hives stopped having emerging brood in late August and queens stopped laying in early August or no larvae surviving since early August.  Neither of which seem plausible.  Also Jon was still successfully raising queens in early August.  Some of my hives were still full of capped brood in mid-September.   So the remaining option is that the bees in the hives absconded.  

To date, the entire episode remains a big mystery which we will likely not conclusively solve.  Not being one to give up easily Jon is planning on what precautions or modifications to his beekeeping methods to take next spring. 

A.      We both plan to renew our pledge to take periodic mite population samples throughout the summer.  

B.      To answer the oxalic/alcohol versus oxalic vapor questions we plan to run two side by side comparison of both methods.   One will be done in dummy hives and simply compare the amount of oxalic deposited in each hive by the two methods.  The second will be more long term and actually compare mite drops between the two methods. 

C.      Jon is considering adding MAQS to his arsenal in the battle with varroa.

D.      Jon is considering dividing his hives between two (?) locations to potentially prevent drifting and varroa and virus transfer. 

So our recommendation for all beekeepers wanting to avoid a similar story is to monitor mite levels both before and after performing your mite control in the spring and late summer.  Then you will personally know that your mite control method is actually working. 

Monday, November 13, 2017


9 NOV 2017--From United Kingdom/Great Britain--Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has said advice from Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) means government will now back a total ban on neonicotinoid pesticides. The ECP said 'exposure to neonicotinoids under field conditions can have an unacceptable effect on honeybee health'

Sunday, November 5, 2017


For those of you not out in the great outdoors chasing deer there will be a ECWBA club meeting on November 18th.  This meeting will be in a new location; the Casestecker Library in Green Lake.  Meeting time remains the same at 9:30AM.   There is ample parking outside the entrance or across the street in a municipal lot.

For most beekeepers all outdoors beekeeping tasks are now completed.  The exception could be addition of emergency food stores to your hives.  So now on to some indoor tasks you have been avoiding all summer.  Put a fresh coat of paint on your brood boxes?  Put new foundations in some of your frames?  Peruse the bee equipment catalogs?  Plan for 2018?

Saturday, October 28, 2017


At one of the recent club meetings we talked about using an insect fogger to apply oxalic acid to the hive.  It has been widely shown on the YouTube internet site.  The oxalic is dissolved in a number of different liquids (water, alcohol, or glycerin) which when vaporized will carry the acid into the hive as a vapor.  While researching the effectiveness of oxalic acid on the control of mites I read an article in Scientific Beekeeping.  This input in an 20 Sept 2017 by a professional chemist indicated that the oxalic powder in either alcohol or glycerin forms non acidic compounds in a relatively short time and will NOT kill the mites.  Here is the article.  If using an insect fogger I would only use water as the dissolving agent.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


If you have been watching the downtrend in daily temperatures you know that the fall feeding time is over.  The bees will be in their cluster for warmth about 18 or more hours per day now.  While they are in cluster the air is also cooling down any feed your may be offering them.  Even if the day time temperature is rising above or close to 57F and the bees appear to be active the temperature of any liquid feed on top of the hive is too cold. The bees will not take in cold feed because it will also cool their body and cause hypothermia.

So before the liquid feed freezes it would be wise to remove all feeders.  If the liquid freezes it may crack the feeder and dowse the bees with near freezing liquid.  This would in all likelihood kill your bees.

If you are concerned the hive doesn't have sufficient food for the winter you can add emergency feed as described in an earlier post.

Monday, October 23, 2017


While looking for honey bee related news I stumbled upon an ad for a sonic varroa killer.  If something like that actually worked it could be a partial solution to the varroa problem.  So I did a little reading on the product and also feedback on some bee blogs.  

First I read reviews of similar sonic products used against moles, ants and roaches.  It was hard to find positive feedback, but negative feedback was readily found.  

I found no positive feedback on the varroa sonic device on the web.  If there was positive experiences you could expect the web to be full of information.  These devices have also not been advertised in any of the bee magazines.   Also it appears you would need to buy more than one device because it must remain in the hive for 40 days.

If it really worked I'm sure the bee journals would have by now published detailed scientific reports with positive data.   To date I've seen none.  So my recommendation is to save your money and not buy this product.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


Here is an update on how we are doing with setting up a club extractor.  Although we missed this season's honey harvest the project will be completed prior to next season's honey harvest.  The extractor will be installed in a state approved kitchen and therefore members could sell the honey extracted here commercially if desired.

a.  The extractor and decapping tank have had a preliminary cleaning.
b. The extractor has been mounted on a pallet so we don't have to drill holes in the extracting room floor.
c. Two 6 foot tables and a honey sieve have been purchased.
d. A cleanable honey frame support bar has been added to the decapping tank.
e.  The next step is to move all equipment to their final location.

12 frame Extractor
Decapping tank and staging table

Saturday, October 21, 2017

October 21st Club Meeting

Outside bee work is just about complete for the year.  So its time for more club meetings.  Meeting will be held on a monthly basis through the winter.  The next meeting will be on November 18th at the Green Lake Public Library.

At today's meeting Leanne Doyle gave a review of the benefits and drawbacks of making the club a tax exempt 401C3 organization.  A team will be looking into this further and report back in the future.

Club member Jeff presented his design for a home-made bee vacuum.  It was suggested one of the winter meetings could be about homemade bee equipment.

Grandpa Jack informed club members that the Wisconsin sales tax code is being changed effective December 1, 2017 and after that all beekeepers can make sales tax free purchases of bee equipment.  Wisconsin bee supply houses should automatically change their sales tax policies.  If you are buying bee equipment from Fleet Farm you may need to do a one time fill out of a sales tax exemption form; similar to the form used by farmers.

Beekeeper Larry brought in a few live hive beetles so that we could learn to identify them.

We then adjourned the meeting and had a honey tasting gathering.  Probably the most distinctive were the apple blossom and mint flavored honeys.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

LATE FALL MITE CONTROL by beekeeper Fred

 The following is how I have been keeping my bees.  These methods may or may not work for you. 

Miticides are not 100% effective in killing off the varroa mites in a hive.  Most are quoted to have a 90 to 95% effectiveness.  NOTE: Powdered sugar is NOT considered to be a miticide and has VERY low effectiveness in controlling mites.  If a particular hive had a high mite infestation the 90 to 95% mite knockdown could still leave hundreds of mites in the hive and require a second treatment.  The mites will continue to reproduce as long as brood is present in the hive.   

Most northern beekeepers do an initial treatment for mites in mid to late summer after harvesting their honey.   Applying the miticide at this time has the benefit of allowing the bees to raise the “winter or fat” bees in a relatively mite-free environment.  But it also allows the mites a longer time to rebuild their population prior to the shutdown in bee brood rearing and coincident shutdown in varroa mite rearing.

For the last few falls the weather has been warmer to normal.  Whether this is due to normal weather fluctuations or global warming is anybody’s guess.  But for northern beekeepers the warmer fall allows the bees to continue raising young for an extended period.  I was inspecting several nucs a week ago and saw eggs, brood and capped brood.   With bee brood in the hive the varroa mites will also continue to multiply thus lessening the effectiveness of the mite control you had applied earlier. 

For the above two reasons some beekeepers apply a second or third mite treatment in September or October.  However, as the temperature declines the beekeeper may need to select a different mite control product.  For example, the instructions for Apiguard state to use it only when outside temperatures are above 59F.  For MAQS the minimum is 50F.  The beekeeper must also take into consideration that the applicators (pads, strips, trays) must be removed after a given time period; thus requiring the beekeeper to re-open the hive several weeks later.   For these reasons many beekeepers tend to use oxalic acid drip or vapor for late fall applications. 

Personally, I think that using oxalic drip or dribble is not ideal.  I don’t like the idea of wetting down the bees with the cold water solution of oxalic acid.   This could cause hypothermia and kill the bees in addition to the mites.   The upper and lower boxes must also be separated to get to the cluster in the lower box forcing the bees to re-propilyze the joint.  But again, that’s just my opinion and you know the saying that “10 beekeepers will give you 11 different opinions”. 

Therefore, for a secondary mite knockdown in the fall I use oxalic vapor as the agent.   I have used both an electrically heated vaporizer and a propane powered vaporizer.  Electrically heated vaporizers are available commercially and have received USDA approval.   The propane powered vaporizers have not yet received USDA approval.   Oxalic acid has a lower effectiveness in controlling mites; around 90%.  It also only kills phoretic (those on the bees and outside the brood cell) mites.  For those reasons it is a better secondary mite control that can be used when temperatures are cooler than your primary mite control. 

Remember the goal is to cut down on mite population thus minimizing the spread of viruses when the bees are in their winter cluster.   Also remember, all mite controls are also hard on the bees so over application of miticides could kill your bees in addition to the mites.  Follow miticide application instructions and monitor mite levels to avoid over application. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


As part of the ECWBA's public outreach several members provided a presentation to a Quilting Bee Class at the Green Lake Pilgrim Center.  The well received presentation was primarily conducted by Patti.  The audience of about 30 quilters peppered our supporting members with numerous questions throughout the presentation.  Honey sales after the presentation added a little money to the club coffers.

Clubmembers Gerard, Fred, Patti, and Al
Not pictured is Mark who was taking the picture.
A few of the attendees some of which were wearing bee costumes

Sunday, October 15, 2017

SOME THINGS THAT I HAVE LEARNED by beekeeper GrandaPa Jack

I returned to this hobby several years ago after our daughter encouraged me to do so.  She had seen the early pictures from the 60’s of me in bee veil and gloves, smoker and hives.  She said “dad, you use to do this, and we need experienced beekeepers to help out the pollinators.”

I had recently retired from dairy farming and finding that I had more time than common sense, agreed to once again enter the hobby of beekeeping.  How difficult could it be?  I had done this for several years, had a great mentor at the time, my Uncle Roy.  He had several yards and I would occasionally tag along and help out.

The first year back I spent the winter building equipment in anticipation of getting back into the business.  I also found out that Dadant Beekeeping Supply was also still in business.  An old supplier that I did business with many years before.  I also found that there was a new supplier in the area, Honey Bee Ware.  I placed my order for four 3 pound packages of Italian bees, and we were off to a great start.

Having old knowledge of beekeeping is a good thing.  To a point!  Beekeepers were talking about something called the varroa mite.  How bad could that be?  During the 60’s we had something called American Foulbrood.  The cure for that was to burn the hive.

After reading about it, and watching many YouTube videos of treatment free beekeeping, I decided that I just wouldn’t worry about it the first year.  That’s what many were saying.  The second year would be the year I would have to take care of the problem.  And, it was just a small mite, how bad could that be?

The next spring came and r realized that the mite that I had ignored was like the preverbal elephant in the room.  That little beggar closed the operation down.  All four hives dead and full of honey.

I decided to be a little more selective in my YouTube videos.  I  also ordered more bees, built more equipment and also had the greatest respect for the varroa mite.

Through the years you gain experience, and experience is the best teacher.  I’ll share a few bits of knowledge that I have gained in this journey.

For those that are starting out in this hobby and believe as I did about mites – ( there are those that do treatment free beekeeping.)  I have not learned how to do treatment free beekeeping and my hat is off to anyone that can manage numerous hives and not use any type of treatment for the pesky mite.  If you are under the notion as a new beekeeper that you can manage the mite without any type of treatment – order your packages or nucs now for next spring.  They are still at last year’s prices.

The longer you are in this hobby, the more you realize what you don’t know.  The old saying “you don’t know, what you don’t know” is so true in beekeeping.  Every year there are new challenges and you will learn from them.

Read the old masters of beekeeping, Doolittle, Jay Smith, Langstroth, CC Miller, ROB Manley, Dadant.  The information that these early beekeepers gleaned from observing the “Hive and the Honey Bee” hold true 100 plus years later.  Cornell University has old issues of the American Bee Journal that are fascinating to read.  Subscribe to the American Bee Journal or Bee Culture magazine.  We are fortunate today to have so much information in our home that is available on the internet.  But – be selective in your YouTube videos.

One of my favorite sayings in beekeeping, and it has been around as long as men and women have been keeping bees is “get 10 beekeepers in a room and you will get at least 11 opinions”.
I even find myself having several opinions on the same subject.  Must be an age thing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Follow this link for a number of actions you can take to improve your overwintering success.

TRYING SOMETHING NEW by beekeeper Fred

Last spring several ECWBA members attended a bee seminar hosted by the Marathon County Bee Club in Wausau, Wisconsin.  One of the presenters gave a presentation on overwintering nucleus colonies; nucs for short.  This discussion peaked my interest because the presenter was from Hudson, Wisconsin, which is another 150 miles further north than our area and experiences slightly more severe winters than our area.  His nucs were wintered outdoors.   I figured if he could overwinter a nuc then maybe I could too!  My only concern was if he got lucky due to last winter being warmer than normal.  I am about find out.  NOTE: I think ECWBA member Grandpa Jack also overwinters nucs. 

This September I found myself with 3 leftover Ankle Biter queens when a potential customer in Florida had to cancel his order due to hurricane Irma.  This gave me the opportunity to set up three nucs for overwintering.  For any hive to overwinter successfully it needs an adequate bee population, sufficient food, and a weather tight home.  An overwintered nuc would need the same.  As per the recommendations from the seminar presenter I set up 3 double deep 5 frame nucs.  These nucs were nestled together to provide a little additional weather protection.  See photograph below.  The bottom box had three frames for the bees and brood and the two outside frames with capped honey.  If a nuc did not appear to have sufficient bees I put in a frame of capped brood (from another hive) that was beginning to emerge.  The upper boxes were a mix of capped honey frames and frames with drawn comb.  I then fed the each nuc heavily for about 6 weeks; letting the bees fill the empty drawn comb. 

Finally, to provide added weather protection I covered the nucs with 2 inch foam insulation on the sides and top.  Then a water proof cover was added.  These two actions were done after the weather cooled. See photographs.   I also gave each nuc one blast of oxalic acid vapor in mid September to knock down the mite population.  Hopefully these Ankle Biter bees will control the mites during the winter.   Now it’s up to the bees to survive the coming winter. 

There are several benefits that arise from overwintering nucs (providing I am successful).  One, I will have my spring packages ready-made long before I could get a package or nuc and at no cost to me other than my labor the previous fall.   Two, I know my queens will be of winter hardy local stock; not California factory queens of questionable background.  Three, the warm confines of these double deep nucs promote rapid population buildup in the spring and therefore have a better chance of making a good honey crop than a new package. 

Check back about April 1st and I will let everyone know if these three nucs survived the winter. 

 The 3 nucs being heavily fed in September.  The entrance for the middle nuc is in the back.  This was done to minimize drifting between nucs.   I leveled the nucs before putting on the insulation. 
 Side insulation installed. 
 Feeders being removed and inner covers installed.   I temporarily sealed the inner cover holes to keep the bees inside so they wouldn't sting me.  I removed these before putting on the upper insulation.  Despite the cool temperature (~54F) the bees in nuc 19 were very active. 
Inner covers were topped with insulation.  A moisture vent channel was provided for each nuc by cutting a groove in the insulation. 
A side view of moisture vent
Insulation joints were sealed with duct tape. 

 Water tight cover installed and weighted with a few bricks.  Trying to be an optimist I made the cover is extra wide so I can overwinter four (4) nucs next year. 


A new virus that adversely affects honey bees has been identified.  It is on the order of the Deformed Wing Virus and also spread by varroa.  So the importance of varroa control is that much more important.  The newly identified virus is called Varroa Destructor Virus-1 or VDV1.   Follow this link for more information.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


The next club meeting is in two weeks on Saturday, October 21st.  It will be at the Ripon Public Library in the Silver Creek Room at 9:30AM.   Feel free to invite other beekeepers or people thinking about beekeeping to the meeting.

Members are encouraged to bring a sample of their honey for tasting by other club members.  Gerard will supply dipping crackers so that we won't get our fingers sticky.

The primary discussion will be about final winter preparations.

On the few warm days remaining before winter the bees will be in a robbing mood.  Make sure you have installed your entrance reducer.  As a minimum the entrance should be on the 3-4 inch opening; although even the 1 inch opening would be OK now that it is cooler.

Friday, October 6, 2017


Make your mark in saving the honey bee!  The UW-Madison has received a grant to study overwintering survival of honey bees.  They will be monitoring hive temperature, humidity and weight throughout the winter season.  They are also looking for participants to provide data on mite levels, mite treatments, survival, and honey production.

Contact Hannah Gaines Day if you would like to participate.   I believe they will be looking for data only from you, not monitoring of your hives. She can be contacted at her email or phone shown below.

Hannah Gaines Day

Or follow this link:


Follow this link:

Here is a 2nd link with basically the same information.

Here is a short video on the same topic:

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Here is an article on a new varroa control method.  I haven't ever heard or seen of this prior to today.  I did a little internet searching and it may just not be for sale in the US yet; hence our ignorance of this idea.   It is similar to a mouse guard with round holes.  Bees entering and exiting the hive must pass through the holes which are coated with a miticide.   Follow link for a description.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

ON THE ROAD AGAIN (or a feral hive) by beekeeper Fred

I'm almost caught up with all my beekeeping tasks.  All but 3 of my feeders have been removed and stored for the winter.  The last two items are to assess the strength of all hives early next week and in late October to wrap a small number of hives.  Although my past data shows wrapping does not improve hive survivability I figure I might as well use the hive wraps I do have instead of letting the mice chew on them.

At any rate I am now taking my dogs for two walks per day.  Good for both them and me.  On my walk today I spied a nice big hickory tree about 30 feet back from the edge of the woods.  Always on the lookout for hickory nuts I worked my way under the tree.  While bending over to pick up a nut I heard a familiar sound over my head; the buzzing of bees.  About 8 feet up the tree I could see an entrance to a feral bee colony.  Was this hive from one of my hives that swarmed last spring; who knows!

I retrieved my camera and took this picture a little later.  Most of the bees were gone, but there was still a small number coming and going.  If you look closely there are 2 bees on the lower portion of the entrance.  To you beekeepers that like to swarm trap in the spring the entrance hole was about 2 inches in diameter and 8 feet up where a branch had broken off sometime in the past.   I have no idea how big the internal cavity is inside the tree.  The tree is about 18 inches diameter at the height of the entrance.  This entrance would be in the shade all day long anytime there were leaves on the tree.

I will add this feral hive location to my winter monitoring list.  I am curious if this feral hive will make it through the winter.

Friday, September 29, 2017

ON THE ROAD by beekeeper Fred

While on the road to pick up a few bags of sugar I took the time to visit with an Amish beekeeper.  I don't know what I was expecting, but I guess all beekeepers confront the same problems.  I stopped mainly to see how this Amish beekeeper controlled mites.  In my imagination I thought the Amish had some special sauce for success.  He indicated most of the Amish beekeepers in this area were following the recommendations of a local commercial beekeeper.  They were treating twice per year.  In the spring they treat with Apiguard and in the fall with Apivar.  So they were alternating chemicals as is currently recommended.  I told him of my use of formic and oxalic acid, but he had not heard previously of them.

It appeared he has just finished his honey harvest.  The supers were all in his front yard and the bees were cleaning out the residual honey.

At his request we started discussing how to "fix" a hopelessly queenless hive.  He was aware of the method of installing a frame of eggs and brood, but he did not indicate he was successful.  I indicated I had tried this several times without success.  The laying workers seem to not initiate queen cells.  I passed on the method where the queenless hive and another strong hive were physically switched in position while the workers were in the field.  I also passed on the method where a major portion of the frames (with bees) from the queenless hive are swapped with frames (with bees) from a strong hive.  In these two method either a new queen is then added or a frame of eggs and brood is added.

So I didn't discover a special sauce, but had a good conversation between two beekeepers.

Sunday, September 24, 2017


If you are planning to feed your bees, get it done now.  The days are getting shorter and temperatures will be declining.  Remember the bees begin to cluster when temperatures dip below 57F.  When in cluster the bees won't be moving sugar water (or other feed) from the feeder to the comb.

If you look at the fluctuation of air temperature on a typical fall day you will see temperatures in the 30's and 40's at night; then warming to above 57F for only about 8 hours per day.  The shorter time period above 57F will limit the time and amount of feed put into storage.  Also the bees are reluctant to drink cold feed and will wait until it is warmed; further shortening the amount of feed to be stored.  Finally the cooler temperatures lengthen the time required to dry the feed to less than 20% moisture, which is required to prevent fermentation.

Those were the technical reasons to get your feeding done now.


I can’t remember exactly where I read the short article (Bee Culture or American Bee Journal) but it was about RAPID queen introduction.  The concept was simple.  Remove or kill the old queen.  Flood the hive with a scent to mast the pheromones of the new queen.  Also spray the new queen with the same scent.  Then put the queen into the hive.  The author claimed success in 9 out of 10 rapid introductions. 

This fall I had a few leftover queens that I needed to use and decided to give this time saving method a try.  In the first instance, I saved the old queen (just in case!).  With a small spray bottle, I sprayed down the receiving hive and the donating nuc with a sugar water solution containing a little lemongrass oil, Nozevit and Honey Bee Healthy.  These three additives produced a strong odor, but none are detrimental to the bees.  I can understand why the bees would be temporarily confused.  For several hours many of the hive bees decided it was nicer outside of the hive than inside.   I then picked up the new queen and put her directly into the hive.  No aggression was noted.  Several days later I verified she was alive and laying.  This first test was putting a new queen into a package queen hive which I think was of Italian origin. 

In the second test I was combining two nucs; one with an Ankle Biter queen and the other with a Russian queen.  On this second try I was a little braver and immediately dispatched the Russian queen.   After spraying down the bees in both nucs I combined the nucs.  A week later I verified the queen was present and laying.  I was a little worried the Russian bees would not be as accepting of the new queen.  But there were no problems. 

I will use this rapid introduction method next spring for introducing queens for any splits or nucs I make.  It sure beats the several days wait while the bees free a new queen from her cage. 

I was also talking with another beekeeper with more experience.  His method of rapid introduction was to coat the new queen with honey.  The effort by the nurse bees to clean her off also distributed her pheromones into the hive.  A little messy, but effective. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017


The September club meeting has come and gone.  Three to four prospective new members introduced themselves.  All members also introduced themselves and provided a brief summary of their summer. 

After conducting the usual list of club business we got around to discussing the problem of getting your hives through the winter.  In pre-varroa days the biggest danger to a hive was moisture and starvation.  However, now the biggest danger is varroa mites and the viruses they carry.  So make sure you treat your hives for varroa.  Many members report using MAQS in August with follow up oxalic acid vapor or dribble treatments in September and October.

This summer was unusual and many hives have not filled the bottom two brood chambers with honey.  Heavy fall feeding was recommended.  The upper brood chamber box of a 10 frame box will weigh approximately 90 pounds when full of honey or honey substitute.  Eight frame boxes will be proportionately less.  This 90 pound weight is considered sufficient to get a hive through a normal winter.  People running 8 frame boxes should consider adding a full medium super to get to that 90 pound requirement.

For the benefit of the new members/new beekeepers several of the established members brought in examples of how they ensure adequate hive ventilation and provide the hive with emergency food in the winter.  Emergency feeding is above and beyond the amounts mentioned above.   Some winters the emergency food is consumed and sometimes it is untouched.  But a few pounds of emergency feed is cheap insurance compared to the cost of a package of bees.   Six presenters and six totally different designs. But all designs provided ventilation to let any moisture/condensation escape and provide room to slip in an emergency food supply.   Show below are a few pictures of their handicraft.

Gerard providing a few introductory remarks. 
 Oxalic acid vaporizer made by adapting a insect fogger.  NOTE: Not USDA approved.  Various designs of this type can be seen on YouTube. 
Simplest winter emergency feeder. 3 inch rim plus rug over sugar 
Most complex design includes center feeder, upper entrance, ventilation holes, blanket to prevent air from ventilation holes getting directly into the brood chamber.  
Simple rim plus hardware cloth bottom where sugar is placed.  Covered with fiberglass insulation 
 Note insulating board has groove cut to provide ventilation. 
See ventilation slots in sides.  Top is insulation board. 


Patti, the ECWBA Secretary, has opened and will be taking care of a Facebook page for the club.  It can be accessed by looking in the Web Links section ( on right side) of this blog.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


1) This Saturday, the 23rd, there will be a club meeting at the Ripon Public library commencing at 9:30AM.  The primary topic will be about wintering your bees.

2) Friday is the official start of fall.  Although its been warm this week temperatures will soon be falling.  Get your feeding done NOW if you plan on feeding.

3) Experienced beekeepers have already treated their hives for mites.  If you haven't, get it done NOW.  If you already have treated them it is time to do a post treatment mite level check.  Mite levels greater than 1 per hundred mean you should re-treat.  Most mite treatments are only 90 to 95% effective.  Hives that had very bad mite levels prior to treatment could still have too many mites and put winter survival into debate.

Monday, September 18, 2017


Here's what I've seen recently.

Sam's Club-$10.36 for 25 lb=41.4 cents per lb. (you need to be Sam's club member)
Walmart-$15.51 for 25 lb=61 cents per lb
Amish store south of Montello-$22.00 for 50 lbs=44 cents per lb

Occasionally I see 4 lbs for $1.79 at local grocery but there is a strict limit on amounts you can buy.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Beekeepers can harvest a number of things from their hives depending on their motivation. Honey, beeswax, pollen and propolis are the four primary products.  For most beekeepers honey is their primary goal.  However, an easily obtained secondary byproduct of the honey harvest is beeswax.  The process of extracting honey whether by decapping or the crush method yields beeswax.  Beeswax can also be recovered when the beekeepers periodically replaces the foundation in frames.

From Wikipedia:

“Beeswax (cera alba) is a natural wax produced by honey bees of the genus Apis. The wax is formed into "scales" by eight wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees, who discard it in or at the hive. The hive workers collect and use it to form cells for honey-storage and larval and pupal protection within the beehive. Chemically, beeswax consists mainly of esters of fatty acids and various long-chain alcohols.”

Beeswax can be obtained by washing the cappings or crushed comb in water to remove any residual honey.  Then the cappings and comb are melted.  This can be done in a solar melter or double boiler.  Beeswax has a melting point lower of roughly 145F.   NOTE: Beeswax is very flammable and should never be melted over an open flame.   After it is melted the wax should be poured through a cloth filter to remove any minor bits of contamination. 

Don’t think you will be getting hundreds of pounds of beeswax from your hives.  Most smalltime beekeepers will be lucky to get one or two pounds of wax per year.  However, you can easily buy clean beeswax from many sources (for example Amazon, Ebay or Walmart) for roughly $8 per pound if candle making or soap making trips your fancy.   Or ask your fellow beekeepers for their wax or cappings.  

The beeswax has a white to pale yellow color.  If you make your wax from cappings only you will get this pale yellow to white wax.  If you are adding old foundation the wax will have darker yellow coloration. 

Most hobbyists use their beeswax to make candles, soap, or lip balm. 

 Solar melter.  You can make one as a winter project or buy one.  Unless you have a lot of cappings using a double boiler may be cost effective. 
White cappings and some dark crushed comb in melter.  Note the crushed comb is darker and will yield darker wax. 
 A small double boiler is used to safely melt the beeswax. 
 A vegetable crusher/strainer and bread loaf pan.  The strainer is lined with cloth to filter the wax. 
Finished product: Blocks of wax after removal from bread pan.  Note variation is color of the blocks.  One pound honey bottle shown to give scale.

These items can usually be picked up at garage sales or flea markets for a few dollars.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Extracting honey in a group setting makes the work go faster.  A few jabs at slowpokes or a jab at the guy in charge of the extractor overflows the honey bucket makes the time zip by.  Today we did about 30 medium supers in about 4 hours including cleanup and training of newbies.  Jon, Al, Derek, Norb, Fred and Jim all have their extracting done for this year.


Can you identify which of these nine (9) insects are bees?    I sure didn't make a passing grade.

Saturday, September 2, 2017


On several of the weaker hives that I have been feeding with sugar syrup I have noticed that robber honey bees are trying to get in to also partake of the bounty.  The Nature's Nectar blog has a good article on how to counter robbing.  Follow the link below.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

FIELD DAY TEST RESULTS submitted by beekeeper Denise

As part of this summer's field day at D's Bees the state bee inspector took bee samples from six of D's hives.  Denise has now recieved the results of the analysis performed by the USDA and presents them here.

"as part of the bee inspection / field day - some of the bees
were sampled (into the alcohol) and sent to the east coast for

The results are back.

555 bees / 3 mites
putting my mite count at .5/100
(varroa mites detected at more than 3-10 mites/100 are
thought to cause damage and colonies exceeding this
threshold should consider treatment)

and viruses all came back negative EXCEPT FOR:
DWV (deformed wing virus)
IAPV (israeli acute paralysis virus)

the DWV quantification was BELOW 30% of the average
the IAPV quantification was 50% the average
AVERAGE MEANING: compared to other samples where the
count was greater than 0.

i don't know about you - but to ME....this means
even though i had a LOW mite count - those little )(*)$*)@# are DIRTY!
concentrated with viruses!!!  i'm wondering about what that
number looks like for people with 10 or more mite count!?!???!?"


1) DWV has ALWAYS been present in bees.  The DWV virus has a number of different subspecies.  Some are benign.  Others are virulent (ie will kill off your bees).  I doubt the USDA went to the expense of identifying the specific subspecies of DWV virus D's bees were infected with.  It has been reported that hives infected with the benign DWV virus are immune to deletirious effects of virulent DWV.  Some scientists are reportedly working on how to infect all hives with the benign form.  However, viruses are known to mutate constantly.

2) According to Denise one of the six samples was Russian, one Carnie, three Italian, one unknown (swarm). But all samples were mixed together into one big sample for the USDA analysis.  

3) Here is a summary of Denise's mite control program.

a) Denise periodically monitors mite fall using sticky boards.  She analyses them comparatively (ie she doesn't count each and every mite).  She then treats hives with "abnormally" high amounts of mites.
b) She does drone cutouts in the spring and summer until the 3rd honey super goes on the hive.  Thereafter she relies on the sticky board counts to determine mite levels.   A drone cutout is the installation of a medium frame in the brood area.  The bees draw out drone comb in the space below the medium frame.  She periodically removes this frame and cuts off the drone comb and discards it.
c)Denise does not mite treatments in the spring of summer unless the sticky board indicates an out of control situation.
d) Denise does a full treatment of formic (MAQS) when supers are removed for the honey harvest. The third week of August for her.   However two of the big italian hives got an early treatment in the summer because they WERE CRAWLING with mites.   (Like pepper sprinkled on the sticky board)    After each hive gets a full maq... I'll switch to weekly oxalic vapor.   The two Biggie's are gonna get another full Maq in 30 days! 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Bee colonies can die throughout the year.   There are three primary reasons for losing colonies.  They can go queenless in the spring, summer and fall.  A good beekeeper periodically checks that his hive is queenright throughout this period and re-queens if necessary.   They can be killed by varroa mites and the viruses they vector; primarily in the winter.  Again a good beekeeper knows what to do via management techniques or chemical treatments.  The third most likely reason for losing a hive is winter starvation.  We previously discussed fall feeding of hives which will normally prevent starvation.  However, a number of hives are lost each year due to starvation even after fall feeding. 

You ask; It’s still summer, why are we reading about this so early.  The answer is simple; so you can plan ahead.

Educated beekeepers know that the bees start the winter in the lower brood chamber.  In fact they usually fill the upper portion of the brood chamber with honey when they are “re-organizing” the hive   in the fall in preparation for winter.  Then as winter progresses the bee cluster slowly eats its way upward through the stored honey.   The movement in general is always upward.  Only on warm winter days do bees from the cluster venture sideways to the side frames that are full of honey.  At some point the cluster reaches the top of the hive.  Ideally spring has arrived prior to this happening.  The warm weather of spring allows the bees to break their cluster and forage sideways in the hive. 

In central Wisconsin wintered hive are composed of 2 deeps or 3 mediums. Historically this methodology has kept winter starvation to a minimum.  For maximum winter survival from a food standpoint 3 deeps or 4 mediums would probably be better.  But this severely limits the amount of honey available to the beekeeper.   Also now with the added losses due to varroa the idea of any hive loss due to starvation is anathema to beekeepers.  So now many beekeepers provide the bees with emergency food at the top of the hive during the winter. 

In the winter all feed is in the form of solids.  No liquids; which will freeze.  Also, if there were a warm day the cold liquids could drip on the bees which would be fatal. 

Winter feed is usually put in the top of the hive in December.  At this time the bees should be in a tight cluster down in the lower brood chamber.  For most beekeepers the winter feed is simply sugar; cane or beet based sugars.  Pollen or pollen substitutes are not fed until after the New Year since it may trigger brood rearing too early.

The sugar can be presented to the bees by many different methods.  Here are a few.  With all of these methods a spacer is required so that the sugar can be applied between the top frames and the hive inner cover.   The width of the spacer will determine the amount of sugar that can be provided.  Also since the spacer is being added in December it is a good idea to seal the joint between the spacer and hive body with duct tape since the bees will not be able to seal the joint themselves with propolis.
1)      Newspaper (Mountain Camp) Method—Spread a double layer of newsprint on top of the frames of the upper brood chamber.  Do not block air movement along the edges of the hive; leave a 2 inch space.  Some beekeepers punch a hole in the center of the newspaper to allow the bees access to the sugar without having to go to the outside of the hive which is colder.  Pour granulated sugar on top of the newspaper.  The amount of sugar will be limited by the thickness of the spacer. 
2)      Candy boards—This method involves heating a sugar/water solution up to XXX degrees F ie the candying temperature.  This hot syrup is then poured into a rimmed board the same size as the hive rim.  After the candy cools and sets, the candy board is inverted and placed on the hive beneath the inner cover.  The candy acts as both a food source for the bees and a moisture absorbent. 
3)      Sugar discs—sugar discs can be made by combining roughly 5 pounds of sugar with 7/8 cup of water (or any amount if you maintain that ratio of sugar to water).  Thoroughly mix with a spoon.  Then put in a form and tamp the mixture.  Allow to dry overnight.  The sugar discs can be laid directly on top of the frame tops.  I also place a piece of limp rug over the top of the discs to minimize air movement.  The thickness and diameter of the discs are left to your discretion.

Beekeepers, being independent types, will think up other methods for winter feeding.  The idea is that for a small investment in sugar and time you can prevent the needless loss of a hive do to winter starvation.  After all you did steal most of their winter stores ( ie the honey) the previous fall!

Do not be too concerned about removing the hive cover in the winter.  The bees do not heat the entire hive.  They only heat the cluster.  But don’t dawdle.  Have things organized.  Remove the outer and inner covers.  Immediately place the sugar in place.  Install the spacer.  (Make sure to check beforehand that the spacer height is greater than your sugar thickness).  Replace the inner and outer covers.  This shouldn’t take you more than 45 seconds if you have things planned out.  Now you can take your time and duct tape the joint between the spacer and hive body. 

I would recommend checking about once every two weeks to see if the bees have consumed all the emergency provisions and are in need of more.  Hopefully the majority of your hives will not even touch them until spring.   I generally put in two 2 ½ pound sugar discs in December.  Some hives consume it all and need replenishment while others don’t touch the emergency stores.  Also Italian bees tend to winter with a bigger cluster and are more likely to eat themselves out of house and home. 
Variation on newspaper method; I used a pizza cardboard. 
Candy board
The bees really ate the sugar off this candyboard. 
 Inner and outer covers removed.  Ignore the green grass.  Think snow.
 I add about a 3 inch rim.  Remember to duct tape the joint. 
Sugar disc production line. 
 I cover the sugar discs with a limp rung to minimize air movement. 
 One of those other ideas beekeepers think up.  Center hole accepts a 5 lb column of sugar. 
Blanket covers hole to minimize air movement.