Saturday, June 23, 2018


Here is the second You Tube video on varroa mites that I promised to provide last week.  Varroa mites are your biggest enemy to being a successful beekeeper.

Friday, June 22, 2018


The summer solstice has just occurred; providing us with the maximum amount of daylight.  What does this mean in the world of beekeeping?

The long days provide the bees the maximum of time for nectar gathering.  Mother nature has made this coincide with the blooming of alfalfa, clovers, and numerous other nectar producing plants. 

Hives populations are nearing their maximum as the bees were using the pollen and nectar for raising brood.  For a short time, the population will remain at its maximum before beginning a decline in mid-August.   In response to the shortening days the queen will soon begin reducing her egg laying.  

Varroa populations are also increasing because of the abundance of brood in the hive.  At this time the majority of mites are hidden inside brood cells parasitizing the brood.   With the honey supers on the hive the only ways of controlling the mites is use of formic acid treatments or drone brood removal, which require partial disassembly of the hive; not a task relished by the beekeeper. 

Some beekeepers indicate that the summer solstice is the cutoff date for naturally starting new hives in northern climates.  At this point there is insufficient time and food resources for a new hive to build to a sufficient size to survive the winter.   There are techniques to work around this rule, but are labor intensive on the part of the beekeeper.   

Recently there has been interest in overwintering nucs.   However, even here the varroa problem intervenes.  Without effective varroa control these nucs will be doomed in winter.  Well, that’s my lead in for reminding you to watch the webinar on “Making a plan for Varroa” at 7PM EST ( ^ PM CST) next Tuesday, June 26th.    Log in to the webinar at  The webinar is hosted by Michigan State University’s Meghan Milbrath.   

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


This month's meeting will be at the Rushford Meadery and Winery.  Usual time of 9:30AM.  The address of the meadery is shown on the club calender.

The meadery is the location of the two club hives and the club extractor.

The meeting will consist of our usual business meeting, a tour on the extractor and how to schedule time for its use.  We will also inspect the club hives if weather permits.  In conjunction with our recent theme on controlling varroa mites we will show how to monitor mite levels utilizing either a screened bottom board or sugar shake.  Pam and Gerard have already treated the hives for mites so hopefully we won't detect any, but we will go through the process.

Finally the meadery owners will host a mead/wine tasting.  Their excellent products will be for sale.

Saturday, June 16, 2018


Megan Milbrath, a beekeeper associated with Michigan State University, is making three YouTube videos concerning the varroa mites problem.  Here is a link to the first video.  As the other two are released I will pass them on to you.


Just like humans our bees are affected by the heat.  This weekend the temperatures will be in the 90's!  The bees work to cool their hives by bringing in water and by fanning at the hive entrance.  The water, when it evaporates, removes heat from the hive.  Therefore a water source, either natural or artificial,  should be available within a few hundred feet of the hive.  Also make sure the entrance reducer is removed.

Another method the bees use to limit heat within the hive is by bearding on the front of the hive.  Bearding usually occurs on hot afternoons and evenings.  By morning the bees will usually all be back in the hive.  Bearding is normal behavior and NOT a sign of imminent swarming.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018


Here are two links to articles with information about bee flight.  NOTE: The second article states it will add cookies to your computer.  Don't open this article if you don't want them.

Mid-June Checks

The honey flow has started in central Wisconsin.  But don't let up on your every other week inspections of your hives.  Overwintered hives should be putting honey into the honey supers.  New package hives are still building their populations.  It takes a full two months after package installation for the bee population to reach a point where the package will be large enough to bring in surplus nectar.

Another thing to be on the outlook for is American Foul Brood.  The Natures Nectar blogsite is reporting a few instances of infected hives in Minnesota.   Follow this link to read about it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

June Apiary Check by beekeeper Fred

June is a high activity time in the apiary.  There are many task that a beekeeper needs to accomplish if he/she wants to maximize the return on their investment of time and money.  

Hives started with package bees or nucs need to be regularly inspected to verify they are queenright.  Failure to do so can have dire consequences.  For myself, I had two packages go queenless.  I noticed both in time.  One accepted the new queen and is on its way to full recovery.  The second did not accept the replacement queen.  Unfortunately, I was distracted by other tasks and this hive ended up with laying workers.  I am currently trying to remedy the situation.  Hives with laying workers are a good subject for a separate article. 

Package hives should by now have had the second brood chamber installed.  The hive population at this point should have recovered or surpassed the 10,000 bee level (the original 3 pound package population).  By the end of June the population should grow to the 30,000 to 40,000 range.   A queen excluder and honey super could be added at anytime although a package hive will probably not make use of it yet.  But also remember these items will need to be removed and replaced when you are verifying the colony is queenright. 

In May I installed screened bottom boards on six (6) hives.  Periodically I remove the witness boards and count mites.   Both the overwintered and package hives had mites.   I am experimenting with treatments of both oxalic acid vapor and Oxalic acid alcohol fog.   As expected it took three (3) weekly treatments of oxalic acid vapor before the mite drop stopped.  I am now waiting to see how quickly mites reappear.   Unfortunately, the hive I was performing the oxalic acid alcohol fog test on went queenless and I must repeat that test. (I don't think it was related to the mite treatment)  At any rate I will be recording mite drops on these six hives throughout the summer. 

I am beginning to see trefoil, staghorn sumac and clover in bloom.  This is the start of the main honey flow in central Wisconsin which will run through mid-July.   In my strongest overwintered hives the bees have only filled one or two frames.  I suspect this was from the black locust bloom, which is now complete.    The honey flow to be several weeks slower than previous years. 

As a queen raiser I have also been very busy grafting larvae and setting up nucs for queen mating.  Here is a photo of my latest attempt.  27 out of 30 queen cells were capped!  For me that’s outstanding.  This batch of cells are scheduled to emerge on about June 10th.   Ideally, the cells should get placed into mating nucs prior to then, so the queens can emerge in a hive.    If they emerge while still in the incubator, this causes another set of tasks.  So this weekend promises to be a busy time.  Oh yeah, I also promised to man the ECWBA booth at Walleye Weekend at the same time.   Might be a long day.

 To the uninitiated queen raisers sell ripe cells (one to two days prior to emergence), virgin queens and mated queens.  The price of each is proportional the risk undertaken by the buyer.   Roughly $10 for a cell, $20 for a virgin queen and $30 for a mated queen.  


1)      Verify my hives are queenright every other week.

2)      Monitor the honey supers and add more if needed.

3)      I will be treating the new package hives with a ½ dose of formic acid (Formic Pro).  I treated the overwintered hives with a ½ dose last month. 

4)      Inspect the witness boards on hives with screened bottom boards. 
5) If you want to increase your apiary hive count any new hive should be started no later than June 21st.  This provides them time to grow their population and store honey for the winter.  You will not get a honey crop from these new hives.  

Friday, June 1, 2018


Here is a new twist on mite control; refrigerating the hives to induce a brood break.  A 3 week brood break is needed to allow all brood and mites to emerge and then easily be treated.  Hmm? Couldn't caging the queen for 3 weeks accomplish the same thing?

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


A few native nectar sources.   I hope your hives are strong enough to make use of these short lived flowers.  

Two shrubs, names unknown, that the bees were foraging heavily

Monday, May 28, 2018


The honey flow is starting in the ECWBA area.  Today in addition to numerous bushes in bloom, I saw raspberries, clover and black locust in bloom.  In some areas the black locust honey flow can be significant.

Overwintered hives have already began storing nectar in the honey supers.  This year's new package hives have not yet reached a population large enough to generate a surplus for the honey supers.

Overwintered hives, of medium to strong strength, should definitely have a honey super installed at this point.   Check the supers weekly and be ready to add another super when the first super is 60% filled.  At this time you do not want the bees to begin storing nectar in the brood nest area if the honey super gets filled.  This will cut down on the places for the queen to lay and may promote an urge to swarm.

Some beekeepers recommend what is called "bottom supering".  In this technique the new empty honey super is installed underneath the partially filled first honey super.  The claim is that this method motivates the bees to gather more nectar.  "Bottom supering" requires more work of the beekeeper because he/she must remove the heavy partially super to install the empty super underneath.  I have seen no scientifically gathered data to support this claim.  Like most things involved with beekeeping there are varied opinions about "bottom supering".

Sunday, May 27, 2018


Today I was out checking some of my new package hives.  One hive was lagging behind the others.  Although there were several frames of capped brood there was no uncapped brood or eggs present.  A more detailed search showed my hive was queenless.  I took immediate action to install a new queen.

A hive without a queen is in trouble.  This is a lesson usually learned by hard knocks by new beekeepers.  For this reason it is recommended for beekeepers to inspect their hives every other week.  The inspection is intended to verify that there are eggs and brood present.  If these are present they allow the beekeeper to assess the condition of the queen even if they are not skilled enough to readily find her.  A hive with eggs, uncapped brood and capped brood is termed to be "queenright".

If you see eggs you know in the worst case the queen was present as little as 4 days previous.  If you see pearly white uncapped brood you know as a minimum that the queen was present at least 9 days previously.  Capped brood is an indication she was present at least 21 days previously.

Without a queen the hive goes into decline.  a queenless hive also triggers other events.  Without the presence of queen pheromones the bees will usually initiate an emergency queen replacement if the right age and right sex larvae can be found.  Emergency queen cells are usually found in the middle of the frame.  Swarm cells are usually found on the bottom of the frame.

The brood also emits pheromones.  The brood pheromones inhibit normally sterile worker bees from laying eggs.  21 days after the loss of the queen the worker brood has all emerged.  Then the workers attempt to propagate the genetics of colony by raising drones.  Although they may raise drones, drones contribute nothing to the survival of the hive and the hive will go into inevitable decline.

By inspecting once every two weeks you will be able to detect the queenless condition prior to hive population crashing and prior to laying workers beginning to raise drones.

Most beekeepers (new and old) get into trouble once the honey supers are put on the hive.  Then the work involved with a hive inspection gets more time consuming and many beekeepers (new and old) blow off the biweekly inspection much to their peril.   Some beekeepers think they can accurately gauge the condition of the hive by the amount of flight activity at the entrance.   Things appear normal until all the brood is done emerging.  By then the brood pheromones are dissipated and laying workers are in control.   Do so at your peril.

Put in the effort to verify your hives are queenright and you will be rewarded with more honey.

Thursday, May 24, 2018


The hot weather of this coming week will be good for the bees.  However, you should remember that strong hives need ventilation to cool the hive.  For strong hives it is recommended to now completely remove the entrance reducer.  This year's new package hives are still growing and their population is probably not yet large enough to cause overheating.  The entrance reducer for these hives should oriented so the 4 inch opening is open.


Here is one of the first reports on this past winter's hive losses.  What is interesting is that the losses of backyard beekeepers were 46% compared to 26% for commercial beekeepers.  It also indicates varroa is the primary reason for winter losses and that year round monitoring and control of varroa is required to lower backyard beekeeper losses.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


The weather in the coming week will be ideal for swarming of strong overwintered hives.  Follow this link for some excellent advise on how to prevent swarming and how to catch swarms.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


This is a reminder of our regularly scheduled club meeting at 9:30AM on May 19th at the Caestecker Public Library in Green Lake.  Topics for the meeting will be checks needed for new packages and other items of interest.

Monday, May 14, 2018


Today I got reminded twice on one of the routine tasks required of a good beekeeper.  That task is to perform a periodic inspection to verify your hives are queen right.  I started out the day with a plan to inspect all hives started this spring with packages.  I went through 12 hives and at the last one found a hive to be queenless.  Luckily I have several new mated queens arriving tomorrow.   This experience reminded me to take a look at an overwintered hive I had been wondering about do to its slow buildup.  Yep, another queenless hive.

A hive can be queenless for a little more than 3 weeks before laying workers take over.  Three weeks is the time it take for all the brood to mature and emerge.  The pheromones from this brood suppress the urge of the workers to lay.   So a good beekeeper tries to verify his hives are queen right about once every two weeks if he or she wants to avoid a hive going queenless and then getting laying workers.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Why re-invent the wheel.  The Nature's Nectar blog has a good article about package buildup and also what to do with overwintered hives.  Follow the link below:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May 1st Apiary Check

We are finally getting a little bee friendly weather.  The bees have been busy bringing in tree pollen with which to raise brood.  Also been seeing a little clear nectar.  But the late snow storms in April have really set back the normal hive buildup.  While inspecting hives in the last week of April I have noticed two things.  In general, bee populations in overwintered hives are significantly lower than last year.  Last year the hives were fully occupying both brood chamber boxes by this time.  This year, the bees were only in the top box of most overwintered hives.  Slightly better, but not by much, than newly installed packages.  Dandelions also made a late appearance on April 27th.  It appears we are about 3 weeks behind what is normal for central Wisconsin. 

As a beekeeper who raises queens I also need to monitor the hives for the presence of drones.  So far this year I have not seen any drones although I have seen a few capped drone cells.  Currently the bees are putting all available resources into raising worker brood.  Based on these observations I doubt conditions at this time will result in May swarming.  June swarming is an entirely different kettle of fish.  To get swarming requires high bee populations, drones, queen cells and a strong honey flow; none of which are present right now. 

This year I am trying to improve my mite control process.  As part of this I have installed screened bottom boards on two overwintered hives in order to closely monitor mite populations.   About two weeks prior to installing the screened bottom boards I treated the two hives twice with oxalic acid vapor.  Two days after installing the screened bottom boards I checked the witness boards and both hives had dropped 2 mites each.   After 2 more days I checked again and there were 7 and 3 mites on the bottom boards.   I will be using a mite drop threshold of 10 mite in a week as the trigger to do a mite treatment.  Curiosity getting the better of me I checked again after 2 more days.  This time there were 0 and 4 mites.  Both hives are now tied at a 9 mite drop after 6 days or 1 ½ per day.   It appears that the 2 oxalic acid vapor treatments did not eliminate the mites in these two hives.   I will be following up with more treatments and mite counts in May and also comparing the effectiveness of oxalic vapor versus an oxalic alcohol treatment.

Based on the mite drop noted above it is possible to roughly estimate the mite population in those two hives.  Based on the 1 ½ mite drop per day there are approximately 300 mites in each of those two hives.  Consulting with Randy Oliver’s varroa mite model it appears that these two hives will definitely be in the danger zone by August.  Therefore, I will be treating for mites on all overwintered hives prior to mid-May.   I will probably be using a ½ dose of MAQS or FormicPro. 

Last week (April 26th) I got my courage up and did my first queen graft for the year.  The first night the newly grafted queen cells spent the night in my basement since overnight temperatures were down in the upper 20’s.  As of May 1st I had 17 capped queen cells.  There still is a 3 week wait for the queens to emerge and mate.   

Our replacement packages finally arrived on April 30th.  So I spent today installing them.

Tasks to be done in May are:

-Split extremely strong hives

-Check the new package hives after about one week to ensure the queens are released, accepted and laying
-Continue feeding new package hives 1:1 syrup until the bees stop taking it or the frames in both brood chambers are fully drawn with wax
-Consider adding a 2nd brood chamber to the new package hives if the queen has laid eggs in the center 6 frames

-Treat for mites in all overwintered hives about mid-May

-After the mite treatment is a good time to install the first honey super.  There is always the chance of a big nectar flow from locust trees.  Use or not use a queen excluder according to your preference.

Friday, April 27, 2018


I've always wondered what was meant by queen "piping"; not knowing whether I may have heard it or not.  Follow this link and go to the 2nd article on the Natures Nectar website for a recording of a queen "piping".


Europe has banned most neonictinoids.  See linked article below.

Now if only we could ban those pesky varroa.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Video of first 21 days of a bee's life

Here is a short video about the first 21 days of a bee's life.  Only about 1 minute is about the bee's development the remainder is discussion about varroa.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

MICROPARTICLES ABSORB PESTICIDES submitted by beekeeper Grandpa Jack

Here's an interesting article about a development that may help the bees cope with pesticides they ingest.  But please remember the biggest problem the bees have is the viruses and bacteria's passed around by the varroa mite.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


This post is primarily directed at new beekeepers as an aid to monitoring the progress of a newly installed package of bees. 

Congratulations you have received and installed your new package of bees.  A 3 pound package is usually composed of one queen and about 10,000 worker bees with a few drones thrown in.   The new queen will usually begin laying within one to two days.  Factors limiting the queen’s laying are: 1) Availability of drawn cells,  2) Availability of pollen, 3) Availability of honey or nectar, 4) And, of course, the weather. 

Three of these four factors can be positively influenced by the beekeeper.  Placing the new package on drawn comb eliminates the need for the bees to expend their limited food resources to draw new comb.

 Adding a pollen or pollen substitute patty lessens the need for the bees to forage for pollen.  In the spring the availability of natural pollen can be limited due to poor weather (cold, snow, or rain).  Without sufficient protein the brood will not develop and then be cannibalized by the nurse bees.  If sufficient natural pollen is available the bees will probably leave the pollen patty untouched.

In a new hive there usually is not a supply of capped honey.  If possible provide a several frames of capped honey from another hive or deadout.  Nectar may not be available do to poor weather or the fact that few plants bloom in early spring.   Therefore, a sugar water (1 part sugar to 1 part water) substitute should always be provided.    This will keep the hive growing even during poor weather.  Renew this food supply during the entire time the bees are filling the 2 brood boxes.  Stop feeding when the honey supers are installed. 

It takes roughly 21 days between when the first egg is laid and a worker bee emerges.   The average life of a worker bee is roughly 6 weeks or 42 days.  Also, the bees in your new package of bees are not all young bees, but rather a mixture ranging from new nurse bees to old worn out field bees.  After installation the aging of the bees in the package will naturally result in the hive population slowly declining.  In fact, by the time new replacement bees are emerging (21 days) the hive population will have declined by roughly 50%; from 10,000 to 5000 bees.  So, do not be overly concerned if you notice the hive population is declining.  By the fourth week the population will begin to recover.  It will take roughly 3 months for the hive population to reach its maximum of 50,000 bees if your new queen is performing properly.  

 After two weeks it is a good idea to verify the queen is laying.  By that time there should be both eggs, developing brood and even a few capped brood.   If you don’t see eggs or brood your hive may not have accepted their queen or possibly she is sterile or did not successfully mate. 

Start your hive with a single brood chamber box or even a 5 frame nuc.  This lessens the volume that the bees need to heat.  This single brood chamber box provides the colony with sufficient room for at least one month.  Remember their population is declining for the first three to four weeks.  After a month and after the bees have drawn out 8 of the 10 frames ( 6 of 8 for those of you using 8 frame boxes) its time to add a second brood chamber. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Finally a little sustained warm weather is predicted for central Wisconsin!  Next week looks to have several days with mid-60's temperatures and sunshine at the same time!  Hopefully you are done with cleaning out your deadouts.   With this warm weather it will be time to do a little upkeep on your survivor colonies.  Three tasks come to mind.

1) Clean each hive's bottom board.  Try to do this cleaning without removing the brood chambers.  A hooked rod can be used to pull out the dead bees on the bottom board.  You may need to do this several times since some dead bees may be lodged between the frames, but will fall down to the bottom board later.
2) Do a very quick check of the brood chamber and verify that the queen is laying.  Don't lollygag because even the mid 60s temperature will be detrimental to the open brood.  If you see eggs or brood, even on one only one frame, immediately close the hive.  If there are no eggs that means you either have no queen or the work force is not large enough to support her.  In either case remedial action is required.
3) Consider a mite treatment.


Its back to basics.  Most beekeepers are simply "bee havers".  Their only interest is in getting their yearly honey harvest with almost no thought beyond that.  If beekeepers are to help the bees out of their current difficulties the beekeepers need to get more involved and approach their beekeeping on a more scientific basis.  The following article may help you on this quest.

Monday, April 16, 2018


There will be a club meeting on Saturday, April 21st.  Time: 9:30AM to approx. 11:30AM  Location: Caestecker Library in Green Lake, Wi.

I am sure one topic of discussion will be member's experiences while installing bee packages during a snow storm.   However, the main theme of the meeting will be oriented towards new beekeepers; tools, tips, feeding, mites control, etc.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


If you are like most Wisconsin beekeepers you have just realized that you have had significant or catastrophic winter losses.  Here is a paper describing an effective control strategy specifically tailored for Wisconsin.   Club member Liz Walsh, the state bee inspector Dan Ziehli and a few others combined to write this plan.  Remember that effective mite control is the key to successful beekeeping.

Saturday, April 7, 2018


It appears the European Union is getting closer to a total ban on neonictinoid pesticides.  But it takes a long time for governmental bureaucracies to act.   Whether the same will happen in the US is open to question.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Bee Informed Partnership by beekeeper Fred

Yesterday I received an email inviting me to submit 2017-2018 winter loss data to BIP.  I have put a link to this request below.  You may wish to submit your data. 

Prior to providing my data I took a closer look at their analysis of data submitted for prior years.  Surprisingly their data shows Wisconsin winter losses running at about 19% in the 2016-2017 winter season.  To me this seemed out of touch with the reality experienced by hobbyist Wisconsin beekeepers.  Looking a little deeper into the results it appears their analysis is driven by submittals by commercial beekeepers that do NOT winter their bees in Wisconsin.  Their data showed 85% of hives were wintered elsewhere; definitely not something a hobbyist beekeeper does.

Even if a lot of hobbyist beekeepers were to submit data I feel the commercial beekeeper data will always swamp our small numbers.

Other links show the prevalence of the various bee viruses in Wisconsin.  It appears that 8 out of 10 viruses are present in Wisconsin.

For the winter loss map use this link:

For viral prevalence use this link:

To supply data for their survey use this link:

Saturday, March 31, 2018

MARCH 31st REPORT by beekeeper Fred

Both meteorological (March 1st) and astrological (March 20th) spring have come and gone, but we still haven’t got to consistently warm days, spring flowers and budding trees here in central Wisconsin.  In fact heavy snow is predicted in the coming week.  Urgh!!! The bees are still sticking close to their warm hives; only venturing out for cleansing flights in bright sunshine.   However, I did see some bees returning with loaded pollen baskets last week.  I hear that some beekeepers will be getting packages as early as April 7th.   So we better be planning out our bee work NOW. 

The first thing to making a plan is to look back and see how we can improve.  March 31st marks the end of beekeeper’s winter.  For beekeepers winter survival statistics are calculated over a period from October 1st to March 31st.   Using this period gives everyone a common reference point.    To my disappointment and despite following the same varroa mite treatment protocol as the previous two years my winter survival took a nosedive.    Was the decline due to my beekeeping practices or maybe new diseases that I have recently become aware of; SMS and DWV3?  

This past winter I ended up with a mediocre 51% survival and I suspect a few of those survivors may slowly dwindle away as frequently happens.   So there is room for improvement.  I guess I should be thankful that by splitting I should be able to replace most of my losses. 

I keep a detailed spreadsheet about all overwintered hives.  I record data about each hive and then try to draw some lessons from the results.  Data such as queen type, queen age, hive strength, mite treatments, wrapped or unwrapped, cluster location are all entered in the data base.  Here are a few of my observations.

1.       Hives with Saskatraz queens had the highest survival rate at 100%.  I only had 2 Saskatraz hives so this may not be a significant data point, but this line of bees has been bred over the last 20 years to coexist with varroa.

2.       Hives with Purdue Ankle Biter queens had a survival rate of 73%. 

3.       Hives with Russian queens had a survival rate of 48%.

4.       Local mutt queens had a survival rate of 67%.

5.       For the second year in a row hives headed by package queens had 0%, yes ZERO percent, survival. 

6.       2nd year queens had a slightly higher survival rate over 1st year queens.  But this may have solely been the effect of the package queens.  When the package queens are removed the 1st and 2nd year hive survival rates of 1st and 2nd year queens are the same within 1%. 

7.       As an experiment I did not treat two Russian hives with miticides.  They had the same survival rate as the Russian hives I had treated.  

I went through all my deadouts and to the best of my limited abilities determined the reason for each hive’s demise.    I classed one as being robbed out in late fall.  Five were classed as starvation.  The remainder (75%) I classed as viral/bacterial die outs.   Where do I go from here? Let’s look at each in turn.

a.       The robbed out hive should have been combined with another hive earlier in the fall.  Poor job on my part.  I need to get better at detecting and combining weak hives. 

b.       I have not weighed or even just hefted hives in the fall to determine if they are underweight.  I also deliberately chose to only fall feed 1st year hives.  I had mistakenly assumed 2nd year or older hives would have sufficient honey stored away.  That accounts for 4 of the 5 losses.   I will make it a point to check all hives earlier in the fall and feed as necessary.  One question I can’t answer was if the underweight hives had viral/bacterial infections that resulted in sick bees and therefore less foraging bees and less stored honey.

c.       Viral and bacterial diseases are spread by varroa; so even the newly reported diseases can be curtailed by a good mite control strategy.  In previous years I had treated with MAQS in mid-August followed up with top up treatments of oxalic acid in September and October with good success.   I never confirmed the effectiveness of these treatments by doing mite checks.  Trying to get an arm around the situation based on what I have read I will do the following.  In April I will treat all hives with oxalic acid vapor; 3 treatments a week apart.   I also will monitor a few hives using screened bottom boards throughout the summer to verify low mite levels.   Finally, I will move in my fall MAQS treatment to early August.  After pulling the honey supers in mid-August I will run mite checks on all hives to confirm the MAQS treatment was effective and varroa mites are below permissible levels.  If not, I will treat again.  The September and October oxalic vapor treatments will remain the same.

d.       Now to the package queens.  Simply put, I plan to replace all package queens on or before mid-June with mite resistant stock, such as, Saskatraz, Ankle Biters, or Mite Maulers. 

Remember the 6Ps!  Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.   So, I’ve done my prior planning.  Now I just need to execute to plan and not let laziness get in the way. 

Friday, March 30, 2018


A few club members have indicated that their bee packages will be arriving on April 7th.  The weather forecast indicates continued cold weather for the next few weeks.  The Natures Nectar blog has a few good recommendations for starting packages in cold weather.  Probably the most significant is use of a 5 frame nuc which keeps the bees warmer.  Follow the link to the video.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Spring is here; at least today.  Next week looks like another chance of snow!!!  But on this spring like day I was out treating survivor colonies with Oxalic acid vapor.  While out and about I heard and saw the honey bees up in maple trees gathering pollen.  They were returning to their hives with a pale gray/yellow load in their pollen baskets.  I also received reports that pussy willows are now in bloom.
I had just finished gassing this hive with oxalic acid vapor.  When I had plugged the upper hole and bottom entrance there were only about 10 bees present.  This crowd of bees returned in only the 5 minutes of the treatment.  They must have been furiously working nearby maple trees.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

MY CONVERSATION WITH LARRY CAIN by beekeepers Fred and Larry-Rev. 3

Larry was a visitor at our March 17th ECWBA club meeting.  He is from Appleton and is both a beekeeper, a flyer and friend of Damon Reabe, the presenter at our meeting.  He was gracious and participated in our first winter survival survey.  His survival was 10 out 12 hives or 83%, which is noteworthy for central Wisconsin.  He agreed to let me informally quiz him about his mite control strategy.  He stated he is more than willing to help anyone.

After talking about queen rearing for a short time we got down to business.  He indicated that he considered this year’s survival rate a failure.  83% a failure???  He said he obtained 100% the previous two years and therefore was considering methods to improve his mite control strategy in the future.

First to what he does now for varroa control. 

Larry’s hives are installed in 3 sided shelters open to the east  or south.  This shields the hives from the midday summer sun and from the winter winds.  It also facilitates minor hive tasks in inclement weather.  The structural roof allows him to use chain tighteners hooked to deer scales to lift each hive and monitor weight gain during the summer and weight loss through the winter.  Recording the weight on a dry erase board next to each hive allows him to detect even minor changes. During a honey flow a strong hive often gains five pounds during the day and often loses half of that due to evaporation overnight.  Monitoring the weight changes and comparing to other hives is a non-invasive way to possibly detect a  problem within a hive.  This system also permits him to determine if the hive needs supplemental feeding in the fall to assure sufficient honey stores for the winter. 

All of his hives have screened bottom boards.  He inspects the pullout witness board on a weekly basis throughout the year.  He records the mite count on each hive's dry erase board  and, if he sees more than 12 mites on a witness board in one week, he schedules a mite treatment.  This would be one strip of MAQS with supers on or one shot of oxalic vapor if supers are off.  Some experts believe that counting mites on the witness board is not an accurate indication of the level of infestation but Larry considers the intrusive sugar or alcohol tests to be an irritant to the colony, a risk of harming the queen and, perhaps most importantly, a demanding task that most beekeepers just don't get done on a timely enough basis to effectively control the mites.  In late summer he treats with MAQS (full strength-2pads).  In the fall, when temps are too low for MAQS, he uses a single oxalic vapor treatment as a cleanup.

Because of the “poor” outcome (83%) this winter he is considering incorporating a fall brood break in 2018.  After the honey flow is complete he will isolate the queen in the hive for 30 days in a tube of window screen with a cork at each end and then do an oxalic vapor treatment which will kill off the phoretic mites (there should be no mites in cells after 30 days).  Then he will release the queen to allow the colony to resume raising its winter bees.   

Other things Larry does to help the bees thrive. 

Two winters ago Larry had five hives that, due to a poor honey flow in the fall, were dangerously low in population and honey stores.  He decided to conduct an experiment to see if such colonies could be saved.  He fully enclosed one of his shelters, insulated the floor, walls and ceiling, installed lights and a 1500 watt heater.  Each hive was fitted with a 2" clear plastic tube which was extended through the wall to the outside.  To minimize heat loss the outside end of the tube was fitted with a rubber cap with a 1/2" hole large enough for bees (perhaps even carrying a dead one) to make their cleansing flights. Keeping the temperature at 45 degrees allowed the bees to stay warm while using less than a pound per week of stored honey. Each hive survived. When spring foraging began and traffic increased he was amazed to see the inbound (heavy) bees generally travelling on the bottom half of the tube while the lighter outbounds travelled upside down on the upper half! 

One other side note.  Noticing in January that the weekly mite count in 5 of his 12 hives was of concern and in 3 others of great concern.  He treated those eight hives with oxalic acid vapor.  Over the following three weeks he counted almost 2300 mites with 1300 of them falling from the 3 hives that were of great concern. He views the results as clear evidence that, even though recommended mite treatments are done in summer and fall, there could still be a significant infestation.  Mite counts are now practically nonexistent in most of his hives.

Larry just attended his local bee club meeting in Appleton.  They went around the room surveying overwintering success.  He said it was the same situation as the ECWBA rates; very high losses by everyone but a few.
This shelter has been changed in several ways.  The tree has been cut down to allow more sunshine.  The glass sidewalls have been paneled to keep bees from having difficulty travelling.  A rain gutter protects arriving bees from drips during a drizzle.  The rainwater is directed to a sand-filled trough to provide water for the bees. 
 These east-facing hives catch the early morning sunlight but are in the shade by noon.  It would probably be better to face southeast.  The deer scale, chain tightener and chains can be seen on the far right hive.   

Larry overwinters his hives with two deeps.  The third deep is actually a feeder.  Inside each feeder he has installed two Boardman feeders. Its configured so the bees can access the feeders from below and Larry can swap out empty feed bottles from above without suiting up.  Ingenious!

 This is the interior of the emergency shelter.  That's the top of the electric heater in the foreground.  The hives were wrapped in case the temperature dropped due to power failure.  The plastic tube slips into a 2" circular saw cut in the adapter that has a 1" hole aligned with the 1" hole that had already been drilled

Larry uses queen excluders.  

Question: how times is an average hive treated?
Answer: Well, I used to eschew treatment and have gradually come to the conclusion that it’s absolutely essential not only to protect my own hives but those of my neighbors.  In the past I’ve noticed that a fresh colony such as a split or a swarm seems to get by with a small mite load and doesn’t need treatment or at most a knock back (one strip) of MAQS is sufficient. But an overwintered colony seems to get loaded up requiring treatment early, often and with a knock down (two strips). But with the promise of oxalic which doesn’t seem to adversely affect the bees and can be used in cold weather, I expect the overwintered colonies to have a lower level infestation. So I think and hope I that, with winter and spring applications of oxalic vapors, the mite levels I experienced in the past will no longer occur.  I know that doesn’t directly answer your question but I’m afraid that this whole mite thing is so variable depending on the specific hive and treatment is in such flux that I hesitate to put a number on it. 

Question: Do you have scheduled foundation/comb replacement?
Answer: Well, Fred, like a lot of things I always plan to phase out the three year old comb but it often looks so good and I (or other beekeepers) often need drawn comb for splits and swarm captures so, at the end of the season some of the older combs have brood or critical honey stores. So, I do agree with the concept but, in practice, it just doesn’t happen with any reliability. 
Larry freely admits not all beekeepers will go to the lengths he does in order to keep their bees alive. 

Friday, March 23, 2018


Although I am not done with deadout analysis it appears that most of my hives that succumbed this winter died out due to either a viral or bacterial infection.   I did see signs of the SMS (Serratia Marcescens Sicaria) bacterial infection in several of my deadouts, but without a full fledged biological lab it is hard to be certain.   In previous years I addressed deadouts simply by cleaning out all the dead bees and scrapping the bottom board.  This had always been sufficient when I thought I was combating a viral infection.    I was unsure if this simple cleanup method was sufficient for addressing hives that had succumbed to SMS.    I thought the SMS bacteria could not survive the cold of Wisconsin winter without a warm host; either the bees or varroa. 

Being unsure I went to the expert on SMS infections; Professor James Burritt at UW-Stout.  Here is his response.

Great to get your message. My best estimation is that the bacterium does not remain viable on the equipment or hive parts. Our results suggest the bacterium is transmitted by live Varroa mites.  Don’t hesitate to ask any questions you like, and we can talk by phone if that would be helpful.

Very best,


So I plan to continue using my present deadout cleaning process as described above.  Also please note that it is varroa that transmits this bacteria to the bees so make sure you monitor mite populations and conduct a mite control program.  

Sunday, March 18, 2018

2017-2018 WINTER SURVIVAL SURVEY by beekeeper Fred

During our March club meeting we passed out a survey to gauge winter survival.  I also added in data from a few local non-members where I knew the situation.  This data was from 18 beekeepers; 10 members and 8 non-members covering a total of 143 hives in the ECWBA area of operation.   The survey was anonymous and was not meant to flag winners or losers, but rather to gather data to help all beekeepers increase their winter survival.  My feeling is that having good survival isn’t a simple matter of luck, but hard work and attention to details. 

The best survival to date goes to a club member who had 6 of 7 hives (86%) surviving at this time.  A close second went to a non-member visiting the club meeting from Appleton.  He had 10 of 12 hives (83%) survive.  These two respondents were in a league of their own.   I will try to contact these individuals to get more details on their beekeeping practices so we can pass them along to everyone. 

The next grouping was at the 50% survival level.  This was composed of 3 club members.  The author was in this group.  (I can’t decide if I should feel good or terrible with this result.  But I am determined to do better next winter. I am slowly analyzing each of my deadouts to ascertain whether mites or other causes were the reason for the hive’s demise and will report these results in a later post.)

There were two with 25% survival.

Finally, the bulk (13) of respondents with 12% or lower survival.

There are obviously lessons to be learned from the two beekeepers with good survival.  I will try to contact these individuals to get more details on their beekeeping practices so that we can all learn from their success.    They both indicated they treated against mites 3 or more times. 

From the survey form I can see that they both also used screened bottom boards.  Screened bottom boards do two things.  One, they let dislodged mites fall through the screen and they can not climb back aboard a bee.  Some data indicates this can reduce mite levels by up to 20%.   Second, which may be more important, is that these beekeepers used the screened bottom boards to monitor mite levels.  One respondent indicated he schedules a treatment if his weekly inspection of the sticky board below the screen shows more than 12 mites (roughly a 2 mite drop per day). 

Mite resistant queens (Russians, VSH, Ankle Biters, Saskatraz) may be a key factor in improving survival, but is not a silver bullet.  Four beekeepers reported their surviving hives had mite resistant queens.  The beekeeper with the 85% survival reported using mite resistant queens (type unknown) in all hives. 

Powdered sugar?  The one respondent that used powdered sugar for mite control had 12% survival. 

The only beekeeper that did not treat with either chemical or powdered sugar lost all hives. 

The composite survival rate for club members (48%) beat the composite survival rate (28%) of non-members.  However, when I take out the top four club performers the club composite rate drops to 36% survival.  I also saw a report out of the Wisconsin state apiarist that hive loses have been running in the 50% range the last few years.  This includes beekeepers that make their living with bees.   

As stated above the survey was anonymous.  If possible, I would like the two top performers to contact me, so I can quiz them a little more on their beekeeping techniques.  Call Fred at 920-229-2204.  Thank you. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


This article describes how I and some close beekeeping friends keep our bees.  These methods may or may not work for you or fit with your beekeeping philosophy.

As I sit here thinking of spring and writing this article I can see snow falling, but tomorrow its supposed to warm to 48F and the bees will be flying.  Well I guess that’s simply March in Wisconsin.  The buds on the maples are beginning to swell so it can’t be long until the surviving hives are raising new brood at a furious rate.  So I am trying to put in writing the things we should be doing in the last two weeks of March and beginning of April. 

1)      Check your survivor hives and make sure they have enough food.  There still should be capped honey next to the bee cluster.  If not, consider adding supplemental dry feed.  Its still too cold for liquid feed.  This inspection should just be a quick peek.  You don’t want to chill any brood the hive is trying to raise.  The rule of thumb is if you are comfortable outside in a short sleeve shirt then longer and more detailed inspections are OK. 

2)      Clean up your deadouts.  Sweep off the bottom boards.  Remove all frames and shake and brush out the dead bees.  Replace any mouse damaged frames.  Reassemble the hive and seal up the entrance until your new bees arrive.   Sometimes a coat of paint is warranted. 

3)      Order replacement bees (packages or nucs) ASAP!  Some package suppliers are reporting they are already sold out.  

4)      Winter wrapping can now be removed. 

5)      If you get a 70F day you can consider reversing the brood chamber boxes.  If the bees have brood only in the top brood chamber then do the reversal.  If there is brood in both boxes then a reversal is not really necessary because the queen has obviously transitioned back to the lower box.

6)      The main enemy of the bees continues to be mites and the viruses and bacteria they carry.  A spring mite treatment is highly recommended.  The type of mite control is usually highly influenced by the individual beekeeper’s preferences.   Just remember to do the treatment prior to installing the honey supers.  This ensures you won’t contaminate the honey and there are that many less components to handle during the treatment. 

7)      Identify and quantify your strongest hives.  The strong hives will likely swarm beginning in mid-May.  You can beat them at their own game by performing a split before they swarm.  One half of the split will have the old queen.  You need to make a decision as to whether to let the bees in the second half raise their own queen (called a walk away split) or whether you will introduce a queen.   Performing the split eliminates the excitement of trying to capture a swarm that has settled 30 feet up your favorite tree.    If you a going the new queen route you now know how many to order.  If the “walk away split” is unsuccessful in raising a queen you can still buy a queen if some are available.