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. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

March 11th, Foragers out and about

Beekeeper Gerard snapped these two photos of honey bees working his bird feeder.  That means they must be raising brood and are out looking for pollen or a suitable substitute.

 Bee digging in cracked grain dust in bird feeder.
Bee sunning/warming on roof of feeder before flight home.  Any guess on what the white blob is?

Here its airborne and the blob is still there?  Is it a water droplet covered with dust?  


This article is to remind all club members, guests and walk-ins that there will be a club meeting this Saturday, March 17th, at 9:30AM.  As usual the meeting will be at the Caestecker Library in Green Lake.  This month a local aerial sprayer will discuss the role of aerial spraying in Wisconsin agriculture and how sprayers attempt to minimize the impact of spraying on honey bees and wild pollinators.

A survey will also be passed out to measure the winter survival experienced by ECWBA members.  Guests are also welcome to provide their data.  This survey will be anonymous.  If possible please check your hives prior to the meeting.  Thursday and Friday are predicted to be approximately 50 degrees so your live hives should be flying.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Honey as a cancer cure?

This may just be "fake news" or "unconfirmed news" but it sounds good.  Eating honey may keep cancer at bay.  See the article via the link.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


This article confirms that most bees in southern California are now "Africanized".   What is interesting is that this author of this article seems to be promoting use of Africanized bees to counter the varroa mite.  Another reason to use local survivor stock!

Thursday, March 1, 2018


Adrian Quiney, a beekeeper in Hudson Wisconsin, appears to be able to successfully control mites WITHOUT chemicals.  He uses what is called the dutch/german drone brood varroa control method in June.  Later in August he splits his hives and overwinters his bees in double deep five frame nucs.   So far this winter he has had outstanding success with a 87% nuc survival rate through the end of February.  I can't think of a single ECWBA member that wouldn't like a survival rate like that.

Here is a link to a YouTube video describing the Dutch/German drone brood varroa control method.

Here is a link to his February 27th inspection of his nucs.

Follow this link to see his moisture control method for overwintering nucs.


The author of Nature's Nectar blog is located in Stillwater, Minnesota.  Therefore much of the advice in this blog is directly applicable to the ECWBA area also.  Follow the link below for some good spring hive maintenance advice.

MARCH 1st APIARY CHECK by beekeeper Fred

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. 

Those three warm days at the end of February were wonderful.  I enjoyed seeing many bees taking advantage of the warm temperatures to take cleansing flights.  The lengthening period of daylight should have also triggered the queens to begin laying by now.   Since the start of brood raising can result in hive starvation if the cluster cannot readily access food,  periodically throughout March I plan to check that all hives have sufficient readily available emergency sugar supplies.

I will be using the warmer March days to start cleaning out my deadouts in preparation for a few packages to be arriving in late April.  I will try to determine the cause of each hive’s demise.  Despite last fall’s high hopes varroa, viruses and bacteria have wreaked their havoc on my hives over this winter.   While replenishing winter feed I did see the symptoms of a Serratia Marcescens Sicaria bacterial infection (See the February 21st post in the ECWBA blog for more details on this bacterial infection.) in a few of the hives.  That’s a little discouraging after the previous two winters with good survival rates. 
 This hive had a 3 inch spacer to allow adding emergency sugar discs.  The blanket is on top of the sugar to minimize air movement and absorb moisture.  These dead bees separated themselves from the cluster and climbed on top of the blanket.  This is a symptom of a serratia infection.
 Another deadout.  This feeder has a five inch diameter tube to hold the sugar disc in the center of the hive on top of the frames.  You can see the bees climbed up and away from the frames and are in piles alongside the sugar.  This behavior was only seen in deadouts.  Living hives do not have any bees in the side pockets.  Again, a serratia infection is the suspected cause. 

For those beekeepers that do not provide winter emergency feed the presence of many dead bees on the top of the inner cover is a symptom of serratia.   

As of March 1st my overall hive survival is down to a miserable 59%.   Survival by queen type is:  Saskatraz-100%, Ankle Biter-73%, Russian-59%, Local mutts-67%, and last year’s package queens-17%.  The high Saskatraz survival may be a fluke since there were only 2 Saskatraz hives in my apiary.   My initial observations are that mite resistant bee types continue to have the best survival rates and California package queens have the lowest.   (Remember these are just my observations and may not be scientifically supportable.  My apiary is too small to draw firm conclusions.)  Winter survival statistics typically run from October 1st to March31st, so I have another month to go before calculating my final survival statistics.

I have already placed queen orders so that I can change out the queens in all new packages before the end of May.  I will be installing a mix of Saskatraz, Ankle Biters and Mite Maulers in new packages. 

Serratia Marcescens Sicaria ( serratia, for short) is a bacterial infection, not a viral infection.  Initial research into this bacterial infection shows that it is also transmitted by varroa.  So the control of serratia is closely tied to the control of varroa.  In the two previous years I have only practiced varroa control in late August with MAQS and mid-September and mid-October with oxalic vapor.   I am now considering adding a spring oxalic vapor treatment, but intend to read more on the pros and cons of multiple mite treatments prior to proceeding.  Each mite treatment does entail a small related risk of killing the hive’s queen.  I have also seen some literature that shows fall mite treatments should be done as early as late July.  I will be looking at this  more closely. 

A little less than 4 weeks to the official start of spring.  Yea!