Wednesday, July 29, 2020

MITE TREATMENTS

This week I have been applying FormicPro to my hives.  The air temperatures have been within the recommended range of between 60 and 85F.  Hives have reacted differently to the treatments.  Here are pictures of 3 hives that are within 20 feet of each other.  We can all speculate on the reasons for the different reactions.

 This hive shows no reaction to the treatment. 
 This hive had slight bearding at the main entrance and vent hole.
This final hive has heavy bearding on the front and sides.  The bees are about 1 inch in thickness.
NOTE: The next morning all bees were inside again. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

COMING TWO WEEKS

In the ECWBA area the weather forecast for the next two weeks appears ideal if you are treating mites with either MAQS or FormicPro. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

ROBBING ALERT!!

One of the first signs that the honey flow is winding down is that the stronger hives start robbing from weaker hives.  Today I saw 2 mating nucs being robbed.  Being inherently weaker than a full size hive they are more susceptible to robbing.  Tomorrow morning I will be reducing the entrance size of all nucs so they can hopefully self protect themselves.  These two mating nucs are also located in my main apiary which was probably a mistake.  Most of my mating nucs are isolated and hopefully less prone to robbing. 

Of course, the honey flow in your area may still be going strong.  Remember the adage "Location, location, location".   

Thursday, July 16, 2020

WINTER FEED

Fall will soon be upon us and we will be thinking about feeding our bees.  Watch this Youtube clip.  Basically the best feed is table sugar; either cane or beet.  Other feeds can be problematic.  Homemade fondants can also be problematic.  Corn syrup is OK, but "off spec" corn syrup is problematic. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixmovAZXeyk

Sunday, July 12, 2020

NECTAR FLOW

Historically speaking the nectar flow in our area begins tapering down in the second half of July.  Most nectar bearing plants reduce flowering after the summer solstice (June 20th).   Combined with the typical reduction in rainfall in late July and August the nectar simply dries up.  Contrary to this, every year is a little different and early July rainfall can extend the flow.  A good beekeeper always wants to leave room (ie an extra super) on the top of the hive for any extra flow.  Empty storage space encourages the bees to work harder and longer trying to fill this space.  This is especially true for stronger hives.

Late August and early September can produce a smaller flow from goldenrod and purple loosestrife ( an invasive species).  The goldenrod flow is very problematic.  Some beekeepers remove their honey supers prior to this flow so that the bees will be forced to store this nectar, if it occurs, in the brood boxes in preparation for winter.

Late July and early August is also the time to treat for varroa mites.  Only formic acid treatments (Formic Pro or MAQS) are approved for use while the honey supers are in place.  This requires removing the hopefully heavy honey supers, inserting the treatment, and then replacing the honey supers.  An alternate approach is to simply remove the supers and extract them if the honey is capped.  The approach you take is up to you as an individual beekeeper.

We can discuss both approaches at the next ECWBA meeting, which will be on July 18th at the Rushford Meadery outside of Omro.  Start time is 9:30AM, but early arrival is encouraged for additional information exchange.  See you there.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Senior moments in beekeeping by Grandpa Jack & Beekeeper Fred


Eight  years as a beekeeper and several years of prior experience still doesn't exclude me from making one of THOSE mistakes. 

A couple of days ago in anticipation of removing several supers of capped honey, I put my bee excluders on.  I use a triangle board that will let the bees out, but will not let them back in. Note:  Unless you leave them on too long.  I like using the triangle board, its does a very good job and beats brushing each frame off of bees. 

Luckily I threw a coat on and put my hood up, even though at the time I felt that it was quite unnecessary.  Usually after a couple of days most of the bees have cleared out and you can just take the super off and the hive is unaware of what your even doing.

I cracked the cover loose and was met with a noticeable roar.  That was my first clue.

I had put the excluder in one of the hives, upside down.  Instead of the bees going down to the super below, they were coming up into the super and unable to leave.  Talk about packed with bees !
Luckily I had a one inch ventilation rim on top and that was packed with bees.

Now you would think that they would of been happy to see me considering their circumstance, but they let me know by way of a couple of stings, that they were ticked off.  I backed off, lit my smoker, put on a pair of gloves and grabbed the bee brush.  After several minutes of rearranging and telling them that I was very sorry for what I did, the hive and super full of capped honey was back in place.

We will try this again in a couple of days.  Grandpa Jack

Not wanting to Grandpa Jack feel all alone I have my own story from today.

I drove over to two of my remote hives.  One hive is working its 5th super, so being an optimist I was going to add a 6th super.    The tower of two deeps and 5 supers is the limit of my lifting capabilities.  I suited up so I could move one of the lower full supers to the neighboring hive which was still working its 2nd super.  Like in Jack's situation the bees were none to happy, but everything went fine.  I had the hives reassembled and bent down to pick up the bricks to secure the covers in place.  Unfortunately I had forget to zip one side on my hood.  Bending over opened the gap. And in flew a bee.  It went straight for my ear.  I was anticipating a sting, but the bugger went straight into my ear.  I think the hair on his body prevented him from backing out.  Expecting a sting any second I drove 5 miles to a neighbor who kindly retrieved the bee without me getting stung!  Whew!  This incident will keep me zipping up the hood for another year.  



Sunday, July 5, 2020

Tracheal Mites

When beekeepers get into discussions about controlling mites the discussion sometimes turns to tracheal mites.  There are two items of good news on this front.  One, most bees in North America have evolved defensive mechanisms so that tracheal mites are no longer a problem.  Two, some varroa mite control products also control tracheal mites.  Specifically, two fumigant mite treatments, formic acid vapor and thymol, kill tracheal mites.  NOTE: The active ingredient of Apiguard is thymol.  To read more on this topic follow the link provided below.

https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publications/E-201/E-201.html

This paper had no data stating if oxalic acid vapors also control tracheal mites.  

Thanks to Gerard for tracking down this information.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

NEVER A DULL DAY by beekeeper Fred

Being a conscientious beekeeper I try to spread out my hives to minimize drifting.  Some hives are a 1/2 mile away from my main apiary.  This does have its downsides; one being the extra distance to be covered while working the hives.  A second downside is that the hives are away from human habitations and that means wild animals can make unwanted visits.  These two hives had been visited by skunks in the spring. But last night is appears a bear made a mess of these two hives.  Pictures say it better than I can.  A paw print in the middle of one honey frame told the tale.

 Hive YY
Hive WW

About 15 minutes and a few bee stings later everything was reassembled.  Casualties among the bees were surprisingly few.  Most brood and honey frames were intact.  Queen status will be determined at a later date.  

Sunday, June 28, 2020

LATE JUNE by beekeeper Fred


It’s been a busy time at the Flying Squirrel Apiary in the past month.  Not even time for surfing the net for interesting bee articles.
  

In early June I made a trip to Indiana to pick up two breeder queens.  One is the standard Purdue Mite Biter type, while the second was from an excellent feral bee line from the Kentucky mountains crossed with Purdue Mite Biter drones.  Both types chew on the mites.   Since then I have been grafting small quantities of larvae twice weekly and raising queens.  My goal is to convert all my hives to one of these two queen types prior to fall.   This mite chewing behavior is one of the schemes developed by mother nature for the bees to cope with the mite scourge.  Us humans haven’t been very successful over the past 30 years, so I figure to utilize what mother nature has provided.
  

I am aware of one bee breeder that has been treatment free for the past 7 years using these genetics.  This is not to say their winter losses are zero, but they are low enough to be tolerable.   They are also using the trick of not importing any bees into their apiary.  This minimizes the chances of importing viruses.   By emulating these tactics, I hope to also become eventually treatment free.  Time will tell.


But since not all of my hives have been converted yet, in mid-June I applied a ½ dose of formic acid (I use FormicPro) to all hives.  I do this rather than doing mite counts on all hives.  My philosophy is that all hives have mites and therefore need treatment.  Over the past three years my treatment scheme has yielded about an 80% winter survival rate.
  

We have just passed the summer solstice when we are getting the maximum amount of daylight.  This also coincides with the maximum amount of blooming flowers and trees.  Consequently, the maximum honey flow occurs in this period; roughly June 15th to July 15th.  Make sure to monitor your honey supers and add additional supers as needed.   A strong hive can fill a medium super in as little as one week.   For whatever reason the honey flow seems to have started later and is less intense than last year.  I am not expecting the bumper crop like I harvested last year.   I do think part of the reason is that I steal bees and brood from every hive to stock the mating nucs I use for queen rearing.  Lower hive population results in less surplus honey.   But until the honey harvest in early August I will remain hopeful of getting my share of honey. 


Just because the honey flow is on you should not ignore regular hive inspections.  Don’t wait until your hive collapses from being queenless or from disease.  Coincidently, I noticed a hive starting to dwindle.  It was queenright, but the brood was not surviving to maturity and getting capped.  Not being a brood disease expert, I fumbled around a little until deciding it was probably a case of European Foulbrood.   I was able to obtain Terramycin (oxytetracycline) antibiotic from another beekeeper.  Sprinkling some on the frames seems to have reversed the situation.  Brood is again growing and being capped in less than a week from beginning treatment.  The honey supers were removed to both ease application of the antibiotic powder and to prevent any of the antibiotic from adulterating the honey (note: this hive had not produced any honey do to its weakened state).   This is the first time in 12 years of beekeeping that I have encountered this disease.


Another reason for hive inspections is that the swarm season is still in force until about mid-July. 

In the coming month I will be closely monitoring the hives for adequate space in the honey supers.  With the honey flow essentially ending by the end of July I will also get my order in for mite control treatments.  These treatents should be applied in early August. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

HONEY FLOW IS ON!!!!!!

Although the fruit trees are done blooming other sources of pollen and nectar are kicking in.  Dutch clover and alsike clover are getting abundant.  Gerard reports the black locusts are starting to bloom in the Ripon area; unfortunately the black locust in my area are only beginning to leaf out.  The amount of nectar the black locust provides varies greatly year to year.  Let's hope this is a good year.


As you can see a large tree is a big multiplier in the amount of flowers per acre.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

HONEY FLOW STARTING

With the change in weather to sunshine and warmer temperatures the honey flow has started.  Make sure you have installed honey supers on all over wintered hives.  I have been seeing several filled frame on the stronger hives.  Of course, on new start up hives you should delay adding the honey supers until the bees have filled 80% of the upper brood box with brood or honey.

Although the dandelion bloom has waned honeysuckle and dutch clover are now making an appearance.  In my area the black locust trees have yet to start leafing out, so that flow will be delayed.  The black locust nectar flow can be huge or near zero; large variations from year to year. Basswood and other clover honey flows will be coming in turn.

With temperatures getting up to 80F it is time to remove the entrance reducers.

It can be very startling how quickly the hive population can build up.  Good queens can lay 1500 to 2000 eggs per day.  If the weather is right and the nurse bee work force sufficient to feed and warm the larvae, the hive population can double or triple in a month. Overcrowding and a good honey flow can trigger the urge to swarm.  Be on swarm watch through the end of June.  

Late April and June is also the prime time to rear queens.  Setting up a queenless nuc (similar to a walk away split) is a good way to increase your apiary size or to make a spare queen.  If they do not make a new queen you can always recombine the bee back into the original hive.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Odd swarm reported by ECWBA member

This is an odd swarming situation!  What do you think has happened?

I have two theories.  One, the hive did not stop feeding the queen soon enough and she's still too heavy to fly even a short distance to a nearby bush.  Two, did this queen have her wings clipped and therefore can't fly?  After our ECWBA beekeeper sorts this out she can inform us of what the real situation was.  

PS--Another thought has crossed my mind.  I see there are no honey supers.  has the entrance reducer also been mistakenly left in?  It could simply be a case of overcrowding and overheating.  




Thursday, May 21, 2020

IDENTIFYING A LAYING QUEEN submitted by Grandpa Jack


Grandpa Jack submitted this photo to help out newbie beekeepers find out if their queen is laying.  

There are many descriptions of what an egg looks like and to the new beekeeper its all very confusing.  Yesterday while I was going through one of my hives, I came across this frame and just couldn't pass it by without taking a picture.  The photo shows the relative size of the egg to the cell. 

While examining the frame for eggs, have the sun on your back and it makes the job much easier.



Saturday, May 16, 2020

SPRING HAS MADE AN APPEARANCE




Spring appears to finally have arrived!  Finally, a few days in the 70’s.  The bees are bringing in a little nectar; probably from the fields of dandelions and loads of pollen. 

The upper hive entrance stained yellow from all the pollen the bees are bringing in. 

  

I have installed honey supers on the strongest hives.  This was done for two reasons.  First to capture this early dandelion flow.  Second, I don’t want the bees to be storing nectar in the brood nest area.  When the bees plug up the brood nest it restricts the area in which the queen can lay, this may create an urge to swarm. 


So far, I have seen no swarm cells in the hive inspections I have been doing, but I have robbed every hive of at least three frames to set up mating nucs.  I did hear one club member has already had a hive swarm.


Following up on four weak hives I found 2 were queenless and 2 queenright.  On the weak queenright colonies, I transferred in 2 frames of bees and brood from strong colonies.  One of the queenless hives was combined with a winter nuc.  At this time, I have no plan or resources for the 2nd queenless hive and it will probably slowly dwindle away.
  

Utilizing winter nucs I was able to replace all winter losses without buying a package or nuc!  This is the first time in about 8 years that I didn’t need to buy bees in the spring.  Good mite control and use of winter nucs made this happen.   Not having to buy bees in the spring makes the difference between having a costly hobby versus actually having a little cash income!  All beekeepers should incorporate winter nucs in their beekeeping plans.  PS—I see that the Marathon County Beekeepers seminar has been rescheduled for November.  One of the topics will be “winter nucs” presented by Adrian Quinney. 


My efforts on the queen rearing front were not as successful.  Although I was successful in raising 24 virgin queens in late April the weather just was not cooperating in early May.  None of the 24 have been able to mate so far.  I am hoping this latest warm spell will do the trick, but also know that as the virgin queens age they are less likely to mate.  Rain and cold weather kept both the queens and drones at home.  As they say, “that’s farming”.  Nothing to do but start another batch of queens in hopes that the weather will cooperate next time. 


Right now, I am patiently waiting for two new breeder queens; one a Purdue Mite Biter and a second from feral stock.  Both of these lines exhibit enhanced mite biting characteristics.   When I receive the breeder queens I intend to try the “48 hour cell” method of raising queens.   With this method a grafted cell is left in the queenless starter box for 48 hours.  Individual cells are them transferred to mating nucs where the bees will, in theory, finish and cap the cell.  Reportedly “48 hour cells” can easily be transported long distances if kept at roughly room temperature.   This would be an excellent method at minimal cost to distribute superior genetics to all club members that own a mating nuc.    

Friday, May 15, 2020

BOOK REVIEW--KEEPING BEES ALIVE




“Keeping Bees Alive  Sustainable Beekeeping Essentials” by Lawrence Connor


This book compiles in one place the steps needed to become a sustainable beekeeper.  At ECWBA club meeting we briefly discuss the actions needed to attain that goal.  But here they are provided in more a more complete manner with detailed explanations.
  

Its obvious that the biggest problem for all ECWBA members is keeping their bee alive.  This book provides excellent guidance on methods for you to become a sustainable beekeeper. 


Some of the highlights are:

1)      Only use mite tolerant queens; such as VSH, Saskatraz, Mite Biters, Minnesota Hygienic,or Russians.

2)      Use locally raised mite tolerant queens that have adapted to loca conditions.

3)      Winter survival is greatly aided by queen types, locally adapted bees and negatively impacted  by use of package bees.

4)      Make your own increase nucs with mite tolerant queens.  Don’t buy packages. 

5)      48 hour queen cells can be used to inexpensively distribute mite tolerant genetics.


I recommend all ECWBA members looking to improve their beekeeping skills read this book.  It is available on Amazon or from Wiswas Press for roughly $40.  My copy will be available to ECWBA members to pass around.   

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

SWARM WARNING

Next week it appears temperatures may reach the low 80's.  We can only hope!  But those nice temperatures also bring along the distinct possibility of swarming.

Swarming can or will occur from strong overwintered hives.  If when you open the top of your hive and see overcrowded bees just about boiling out then the hive conditions are right and the bees are probably just biding their time for the weather and nectar conditions to be right.  Right now we are having a good dandelion nectar flow and next week the temperatures will be right also.  

The amount of honey a hive gathers through the summer is proportional to the hive population.  When you lose 50% of the worker bees you also lose that ability to gather nectar.  Sometimes beekeepers whine that the swarm took all of the honey with them.  No true.  They only take about 5 pounds.  What really happens is the hive loses its work force that produces the surplus honey we covet.   It takes at least 6 weeks before the workforce recovers.  By then our honey flow is usually complete.

So what can you do?

1) Removing swarm queen cells will delay swarming, but just for about eight (8) days; the time it will take the hive to raise and cap a new batch of queen larvae.  So cutting out swarm cells is a delaying tactic only.

2) You can do a split.  Simply separate the upper and lower brood boxes.  Whichever box has the queen will continue to grow.  The box without the queen will set about raising a new queen.  Its about a three week process to get a new laying queen.  The chance of success is 60 to 70%.  If you find queen cells put them all in the queenless part of the split.

3) You can remove frames of bees and brood and start nucs.  This will relieve overcrowding and may prevent swarming.

4) Do nothing and see your hive swarm with the hopes of catching the swarm from a nearby tree while their scouts are looking for a new home.

5) You can also put out a swarm trap.  It should be at least 100 yards from you home apiary.

Chasing swarms has its own rewards.  Happy beekeeping.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

WINTER NUCS

Many of you have just bought expensive bee packages or nucs this spring.  This video shows an alternative.  A side benefit is that locally sourced bees usually have a higher winter survival rate than purchased packages.  This video is from 150 miles north of us in Hudson, Wisconsin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNio5w7eQWM&feature=youtu.be

Although too late for this spring you can begin planning for next winter.

Friday, May 1, 2020

EARLY MAY IN THE FLYING SQUIRREL APIARY by beekeeper Fred


What’s happening at the Flying Squirrel Apiary?

I ignored the advice of a recent club newsletter to check that all overwintered hives have sufficient honey to tide them over to the beginning of the honey flow.  I noticed a decline in flight activity from one hive.  Opening it, I noted a 6 inch diameter cluster of dead bees.  Inside the cluster were 3 frames of capped brood.  Outside the cluster absolutely zero honey throughout the hive.  More attention to detail could have saved that hive. 

If there is any question on adequate food I provide the colony with one gallon of 1 to 1 sugar syrup. 

I had previously reported on a hive that had 50% drones, which is odd for this time of year.  In the recent warm spell, I looked at this hive in detail.  There was one capped emergency queen cell of doubtful vitality.  No worker brood.  Plenty of drone brood, but in the random distribution normally seen with laying workers.  I will attempt to re-queen the hive by inserting several queen cells, but don’t have a lot of confidence this will succeed.   I also detected what seemed to be a second queenless hive when writing this article.  Immediate action is needed to prevent them become hopelessly queenless. 

About April 19th I began seeing dandelions.  Although not a big source of nectar for our bees, the dandelions is a sign that spring is here.  

On the warmer days where temperature got above 60F I was performing three actions.  First, I simply verified hives are queenright.  Next, I lift the two brood chambers off the bottom board to permit a quick scrapping of all dead bees from the board.  At that time, I also determine if the brood chambers need to be reversed.  If I see the queen is laying in both boxes, I leave things alone.  If the queen is only laying in the upper brood box, I do the reversal.  Bees always want to move upward.  If there is no open comb above the brood nest the bees don’t always use the option to move into the lower brood box and instead decide the hive needs to swarm.  This gets amplified if there is a strong honey flow and the bees are filling the lower brood box with honey. 

Although conditions were not ideal, I made my first attempt at queen grafting April 18th.   About 60% of the queen cells were capped.  On April 28th I candled the cells and it appears about 80% seemed viable.  Not bad for this early in the season.  On April 30th I was starting to see movement in about 25% of the cells.  By the morning of May 1st of the initial quantity of 24 cells, 13 queens had emerged, 7 the queens were moving in the cells, one (1) still looked as a probable and 3 duds.   Now the scramble starts to get the new queens into mating nucs.   This time of year, it takes about 3 frames of bees in the nuc to keep the new queens warm if we get a cold night.  Hopefully, mature drones will be available and the weather will be favorable, when these queens are ready to mate about May 6th.  Time will tell.  Raising queens this early in the spring is always a gamble. 

Things to accomplish in May.


1)      If you haven’t done it already clean your queen excluders of excess wax and propolis.  A heavily propolized excluder may inhibit the movement of bees from the brood chamber to the honey supers. 

2)      Honey supers and excluders for overwintered hives will get installed in mid-May.  Consulting my notes, the honey flow doesn’t really begin in our area until late May.  Minor sources are available prior to that and extremely strong hives can begin storing honey as early as mid-May, but that is an exception.

3)      Make sure you have inspected and repaired any damaged honey super frames beforehand.

4)      If this is your first year at beekeeping the honey frames will not have drawn comb on them.  In that case the bees are even more reluctant to cross the queen excluder barrier.  It is recommended that you not install the excluder until the bees have started to draw comb.

5)      The tendency of the bees is to store honey ABOVE the brood chamber.  They are sometimes reluctant to refill the side honey frames around the brood nest.  Experienced beekeepers do not add the honey supers until they see that new white wax on the honey frames around the brood chamber.  The new white wax is an indication the bees are actively filling the outside frames. 

6)      Change the entrance excluder to the 4 inch setting. 

7)      Order supplies if you intend to perform a June mite knockdown treatment. 
If you have hives in which the bee population is exploding you may want to consider: a) doing a split or b) removing bees and brood to start a nuc or c) removing bees and brood to aid a weaker hive or d) add another brood chamber box until you figure your plan of action.  Failure to take action will probably result in the hive swarming.  Although swarming isn’t inherently bad you will be losing about 50% of the hive’s work force and also the hive’s queen.  This will set the hive back at least a month because of the time it takes the hive to raise a new queen and get the work force back up to snuff.   By the time the hive recovers the major honey flow in our area could be over.  Also the hive will only successfully re-queen itself about 60% of the time.  Note to new beekeepers: A new hive started from a package or nuc rarely swarms in its first year. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

BEEZY DAY

Finally two warm days in a row.  Several ECWBA members took advantage of the nice weather to clean out the club hives and install nucleus colonies (nucs).  The UV light in sunshine was killing any COVID19 virus spores that might have been present out in the clean country.

Many hands make the job go fast.  Roger Manock, Fred Ransome and Gerard Schubert quickly cleaned out the deadouts.  Although Gerard was operating the camera in this shot, he also dug in and got his hands dirty with the rest of us.  We even kept socially distant. 

The two hives with syrup feeders in place are all set to grow.  


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Mid-April in the Flying Squirrel Apiary


Beekeeping is always full of surprises! We had a few warm sunny days and then back into the deep freeze.  However, as of this writing no hives or nucs succumbed to this hopefully last bout with winter.
  

On those few days where we were getting into the high 50’s I was doing a cursory inspection of the hives and nucs by simply raising the inner cover and quickly peeking in to assess hive strength. As normal there was a big variation in strength; from about 6 frames of bees to the entire box boiling over.


To strengthen some of the winter nucs I was transferring full frames of bees and brood from the strongest hives to the weakest nucs. While doing this I was already seeing capped drone cells and a few active drones. Based on the few drones I was seeing swarming will probably not occur before mid-May.  But remember beekeeping is full of surprises.


One surprise was a hive where 50% of the bees are drones. Very unusual. I think the queen’s supply of sperm had run out and she was only laying drone eggs. If we get a warmer day I will try to assess the situation further. Since I don’t have a replacement queen this hive will probably just dwindle away.


Surprise number two. I have been supplementing the food supply of my winter nucs by giving them 1:1 syrup via a quart mason jar. A racoon has found this bounty and has removing the jars and drinking the syrup three nights running. I have had to temporarily stop the feeding while I try to live trap the racoon. So far, the racoon is winning. Luckily, he is not damaging the nucs and the bees have not minded the 3 inch hole in their roof.  


What’s ahead?  

When we get into the 60’s I will be scraping the bottom boards. Then I will do some more bee and brood transfers between strong and weak hives. This is called leveling. It suppresses the swarming urge of the strong hives and strengthens the weaker hives.


I hope to start queen grafting if we can get a few 60 degree days in a row.  By the time this several week process is complete there should be mature drones available for mating.  Then I just need to pray for warm sunny days for mating flights.  Mated queens may be available mid-May if all goes well.


I always get the urge to put on honey supers near the end of April. This year I will fight that urge and not add the supers until I see the bees making fresh white wax on the outer frames of the brood boxes.  This means they are busy filling the comb with honey. Adding the honey supers too early lets the bees follow their normal instinct, which is to place the honey directly above the brood nest. Forcing them to put the honey into the brood box outside frames ensures a good honey supply for next winter. The only danger is that if there is an early and strong honey flow they may start filling the brood nest area itself, which can induce swarming.  Knowing when to add the honey supers is part of the “art” of beekeeping.


Happy beekeeping. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

WINTER SURVIVAL UPDATE

Here are the winter survival statistics of a few ECWBA members that responded.


Back in an early 2019 ECWBA meeting the club distributed four different varroa mite control methods that had been used by club members and had successfully (in relative terms) controlled mites and limited winter losses.  Another year has passed so we surveyed a number of club members who had implemented these recommendations and have tallied up the results.
  

Beekeepers A, B, and C used the mix of formic and oxalic acid treatments (Method 2 below) and roughly followed the recommended process.  Beekeeper A had 88% hive and winter nuc survival.  Beekeeper B had 88% hive and nuc survival.  Beekeeper C had 85% hive and winter nuc survival. 


Beekeepers D and E used the oxalic only treatments (Method 1 below) and roughly followed the recommended process.  Beekeeper D had 100% survival of hives.  Beekeeper E did not fare as well and had only about 20% survival.  Critical to the use of oxalic acid is that it must be applied 3 times one week apart in order to be effective.  Beekeeper E had reduced the 3 applications to only 2 and paid the price.  


Beekeeper F used the formic acid and Apiguard treatment mix (Method 4 below).  Beekeeper F had 64% winter hive survival.  Digging in a little it turned out the Apiguard treatment is a 2 part treatment and must be done in warm weather.  Due to cold weather the 2nd treatment did not get applied and Beekeeper F apparently paid the price.  


No one apparently used Method 3 below.


It must be remembered that in pre-varroa/virus days normal winter survival ranged from 85 to 90%, so some losses can always be expected. 


Every beekeeper marches to his own drummer.  But it appears the 2019 ECWBA recommendations if followed will yield good winter survival.  Shown below is a reprint of those recommendations. 



VARROA TREATMENT RECOMMENDATIONS


At ECWBA meetings we frequently are asked “Tell me how to treat for mites”.  Here are four recommended courses of action.  We have run these four methods through Randy Oliver’s Varroa model and all four should control the mites sufficiently to get your hives through the year. This will prevent winter collapse.  While the spring (April) treatments are not absolutely necessary they will lower the mite and virus levels during the spring buildup.  Using any of these four methods will prevent a mite level buildup from year to year. 



Method 1—Vaporized Oxalic Acid only

This should be the lowest cost method (ignoring the cost of the vaporizer) but is also the most labor intensive.  Oxalic acid treatments are also known to be kinder to the queen.  NOTE: Applying oxalic acid vapor while honey supers are on is not EPA approved.

                -3 oxalic treatments a week apart beginning April 1st

                -Repeat beginning June 1st

                -Repeat beginning August 1st

                -Repeat beginning October 1st



Method 2-Oxalic acid/formic acid mix

Rotating the oxalic and formic treatments hopefully avoids a buildup of tolerance in the mites.  Formic acid is hard on queens, especially during extremely hot weather.  Try to apply formic acid when the initial four days of the treatment period are cooler.    Formic acid treatments are allowed while the honey supers are present. NOTE: Applying oxalic acid while honey supers are on is not approved by the EPA.



                -2 oxalic treatments a week apart beginning April 1st

-A ½ strength Formic acid treatment about June 1st.  A full dose could be used, but increases chances of losing a queen for not a big benefit.  

                -A full strength formic acid treatment about August 1st to 15th

                -A single oxalic treatment about October 15th



Method 3-Oxalic acid/Apiguard mix

Rotating the oxalic and Apiguard treatments hopefully avoids a buildup of tolerance in the mites.  Apiguard is not to be applied while your honey super are on.  The thymol in Apiguard will be absorbed by the honey; making it inedible.   NOTE: Applying oxalic acid while honey supers are on is not approved by the EPA.

                -2 oxalic treatments a week apart beginning April 1st

                -3 oxalic treatments a week apart beginning June 1st

                -3 oxalic treatments a week apart beginning August 1st

                -An Apiguard treatment beginning September 15th



Method 4-Formic acid/Apiguard mix

NOTE: Apiguard can not be applied while honey supers are in place.  The thymol in Apiguard will contaminate the honey; making it inedible.

                -1/2 formic acid about June 15th

                -Full dose formic acid about August 15th

Sunday, April 12, 2020

WINTER SURVIVAL

Without our monthly club meeting we have not been able to compare winter survival statistics and the mite control methods used by various members.  As a substitute Gerard and Fred would like all members to send their winter survival statistics ending March 31st, 2020 to: fredransome@aol.com.  Also please send in your mite control method including type(s) of mite control, date(s) applied, etc.  We will then try to analyze the data and provide a best practices recommendation that we believe will provide the best survival for next winter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

WHAT DO BEES AND HUMANS HAVE IN COMMON




Other than they both like honey, why viruses, of course.  Many of the lessons we are hearing about the COVID19 virus are also applicable to our bees.  


Humans get the Flu and Covid19.  Bees get Deformed Wing Virus, Black Queen Cell virus, several bee paralysis viruses and others.


Some human viruses (various flus) have vaccines; other don’t (COVID19).  No vaccines are available for any of the bee viruses and probably none will ever be developed.  Propolis is thought to provide some protection. 


Spread of viruses in humans can be slowed by practicing social distancing.


Spread of viruses within a hive is aided by the inherent proximity of the bees to each other.  The added factor of mites spreading viruses from bee to bee can be a lethal combination.  Drones tend to drift between hives and can also spread viruses.  Spread of viruses between hives from drone and worker bee drifting can be greatly reduced by increased hive spacing.  Beekeepers can help the bees practice social distancing by increasing the space between hives.  In the wild, bees typically have about ½ mile separation!  Tom Seeley recommends a separation distance of 300 feet, but anything more than the typical 6 feet separation used by most beekeepers helps slow drifting.  We are all guilty of having hives spaced too closely together.   Beekeepers have chosen convenience over protection.
  

Of biggest concern are the vast holding yards that occur in California prior to distribution of hives throughout the almond groves.   The holding yards have thousands of closely packed hives.  A lot of drifting of both drones and workers occurs.  Any viruses soon get spread throughout the entire holding yard.  Remind you of New York and COVID19? 


After exchanging viruses in the holding yard cesspool, the bees first go to the almond groves to perform the pollination.  Then many of these hives are broken down into packages and given a new queen.   Come spring these packages are sent throughout the country.   Not an ideal situation and, as a consequence, many new package hives have a multitude of viruses and simply do not make it through winter.  The viral load is just too great.  One could see the demise of a hive in winter as good thing in that the viruses die along with the bees and can no longer be spread.
  

What can a beekeeper do?  First, increase the spacing between hives.   Second, stop buying package bees where the bees are sourced from bees used for industrial pollination hives.  This will slow the introduction of current and new viruses into your apiary.  Besides, buying package bees every year is a sure way to having a money losing beekeeping operation.  Third, take care of the hives that you have.  Learn mite monitoring and control techniques to get your bees through winter.   Fourth, raise nucs or extra hives every year to provide yourself with stock to replace your losses.  By doing this you are not importing viruses every year from the pollination holding yards.   The satisfaction, you realize from raising your bees and having a sustainable operation, will more than pay you back for your initial investment in nuc boxes or extra hives.
   

Although anecdotal I am aware of several beekeepers that through the use of mite resistant stock, use of nucs and not buying packages have been able to stop all mite treatments and still have minimal winter losees.  In one case I know of a beekeeper that has been treatment free for 7 years by following these principles.
  

ECWBA members should remember my offer for a FREE Purdue mite biter queen to any member building or purchasing a nuc box.  This is in hopes of starting you down this path. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

BIP ANNUAL SURVEY

If you would like to take part in the annual Bee Informed Partnership survey follow the link show below.  This survey is intended to better understand bee losses and the management techniques of those who have good winter survival.

https://26.selectsurvey.net/beeinformed/TakeSurvey.aspx?SurveyID=LMS2020#

Thursday, April 2, 2020

SPRING HIVE INSPECTION

Beautiful day today, but still not warm enough for hive insections.  Maybe just a little peek under the inner cover to see if your hive is thriving, struggling or dead.  Our April ECWBA meeting has been canceled due to COVIT19, but you can read about how to perform spring hive inspections by following this link.

https://www.betterbee.com/instructions-and-resources/first-inspection-of-the-season.asp?utm_source=Betterbee+Contact+List&utm_campaign=87638874b4-april-newsletter-040220&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_61e19f35ed-87638874b4-190789533&mc_cid=87638874b4&mc_eid=f947ce30f5

Sunday, March 29, 2020

WINTER IS OVER, LONG LIVE SPRING!



Finally, sun and a few warm days in the 50s.  We seem to have turned the corner from winter to spring.  The snow has disappeared!  I am seeing a few bees up in the maples gathering pollen.  It’s time for some beekeeping!


But before jumping into the joys of working with the bees it is time to do a review of what occurred in the previous winter.  The first step in that process is to analyze the deadouts.  My apiaries lost 8 hives.  One loss occurred last October and appeared to be from becoming queenless and then being robbed out; no evidence of varroa.   Three (3) exhibited the symptoms of a SMS bacterial infection.  Two were obvious cases of starvation.  Two were indeterminate.  Have you analyzed your deadouts?
  

March 31st also is the end of a beekeeper’s winter and is the time to calculate winter survival statistics for the last time.  My hive survival worked out to 85% and nuc survival to 86%.  Hive survival by queen types was:  Purdue Mite Biter-91%, Saskatraz-86%, Georgia ltaians-50%, miscellaneous queen types (mutts, carnis, MH)-83%.    However, I expect to lose several more hives and nucs in April as some hives that seem to have made through winter just slowly dwindle away.   These spring losses are probably due to old queens that just can’t shift into the high egg laying mode again. 


The big unanswered question is what were the prime contributors to the good results: mild winter weather, good mite control, queen types?  Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for this.  I do know my apiaries have a larger percentage of mite resistant queens than most other apiaries.  The statistics reported above show the mite resistant queen types had higher survival.  Also, my mite control process is slightly different (I think slightly more severe) than that used by others.  But short of running more scientifically controlled tests I can’t isolate the primary factors.   At any rate I will be using the same mite control process next winter and continue to increase the percentage of mite resistant queens in my apiary.   I have no control over the weather.
  

The high survival rate of both hives and winter nucs has allowed my beekeeping operation to be classed as a “sustainable” for the first time.  In other words, I will be making NO purchases of packages this spring to replace winter losses.  Can I repeat this next winter?  Time will tell.

On to beekeeping!


Probably the first tasks in your apiary is removal of mouse guards and winter wrap and cleaning out of the deadouts.   While doing this its also possible to do a preliminary cleaning of the bottom board using a hooked rod.  Be sure to reinstall the entrance reducer on its smallest setting.
   

With the warmer weather tree pollen will be available.  When this happens, the bees will forego any pollen substitute in preference for the real thing.  Real pollen is preferential to the manmade substitute, so by mid April there is no need to give the bees pollen patties.


Although warmer, nectar is still not available in any substantial volume.  Some beekeepers give their hives a shot of 1 to 1 sugar syrup to promote brood rearing.  Don’t overdo it; one (1) gallon per hive is sufficient.  If given too much syrup the bees will fill the brood nest area, which will slow or prevent the population buildup needed before the natural nectar flow starts in late May.   Without a large workforce the bees will gather less nectar for themselves and you.


If we get a 60F or warmer day in April, it’s time to verify the hives are queenright and raising brood.  If you encounter a weak or lagging hive a frame of bees and brood can be moved from a strong hive to the weaker hive.  This leveling or equalizing aids the weak hive and may also prevent a strong hive from swarming.   Unfortunately, the weather prediction for the next two weeks does not show any 60F or warmer weather.   For that reason, you should also not perform any hive reversals until warmer weather arrives. 


It’s still too cool to disassemble hives.  Doing so may chill the eggs and brood and result in killing them.  It’s better to wait for shirt sleeve weather.  


For those of you getting packages or nucs in  April, plan ahead and get the hive(s) set up before the packages or nucs arrive.   


THEORY ON HOW UNDERTAKER BEES WORK

Follow the link to an interesting article.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/03/how-undertaker-bees-recognize-dead-comrades

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

MARCH 21st ECWBA MEETING CANCELED

Due to covid virus restrictions the March 21st ECWBA meeting in Green Lake is canceled.

Monday, March 16, 2020

ANOTHER USE FOR A NUC BOX

At the last ECWBA meeting a short presentation on nuc boxes was given.   This link shows another good use for a nuc box.  The spring build-up of bees tends to be faster in a nuc box than a full size hive.

naturesnectar.blogspot.com/

Saturday, March 14, 2020

MID MARCH


My anticipation of the coming beekeeping season is building as the snow disappears and on every slightly warm day that I see the bees out flying.  But we are still weeks away from getting into our hives for a more detailed check.  The stronger hives are already building in population.  Weaker hives are deciding whether they will recover or dwindle way.  But due to the low temperatures, there isn’t anything we beekeepers can do but observe. 


I just checked my hives and nucs.  87% of hives are alive so far.  86% of nucs are alive.  I suspect several hives and nucs will still dwindle away by the end of April.  But overall, I am a happy beekeeper.  For two years running I seem to have defeated varroa and the associated viruses.     It appears I have graduated to a sustainable beekeeper and don’t need to shell out big bucks to buy packages to continue this challenging hobby.  What is the saying?  Pride cometh before a fall.  But at least for now that won’t happen until next winter; meanwhile I can enjoy a summer of beekeeping. 
    

Last week I quickly popped open the outer and inner covers and put in a half of a pollen patty.  Any hive or nuc that had consumed all its emergency sugar was also given a piece of sugar disc.  Better safe than sorry. 


During these inspection trips I noted that there must be a skunk in the area.  These pesky critters pulled out the entrance reducer on the one hive which I had not installed a mouse guard and were trying to eat bees.   With the bees still in cluster I do not think much damage was done. 

At the end of March, I will be removing the mouse guards and the wrapping from a few exposed hives where I added protection against north winds.  The entrance reducer will remain in the 1 inch setting. 


I will also be analyzing and cleaning the deadouts.  However, initial observations of several deadouts are that they probably died from the SMS (Seratia Marcens Sacaria) bacterial infection.  This bacterial infection is common in Wisconsin.  Symptoms are that infected bees break away from the cluster and die.  The dead bees (piles of them) are frequently found between the inner and outer covers.  The cluster then gets so small that it can not generate enough heat to survive. 


If you haven’t ordered packages by now, you may be out of luck.  Maybe a friend with a strong hive will aid you with a walkaway split. 

Sunday, March 8, 2020

INSPIRED TODAY??

Hopefully your bees were flying today as temperatures got up to about 58F. A day like this should inspire you about the start of another beekeeping season.  If you didn't see much activity either your hive did not make it through winter or are in an area exposed to the wind.  I have not seen any activity at the maples or willow yet; so these bees are still eating their winter stores.

 Typical cluster of bees around the upper entrance on my survivor hives. 
Activity at a few winter nucs.  I only wish all nucs were doing as well as this set. 

FIRST POLLEN??? submitted by beekeeper Gerard

Witch hazel blossoms are open but no bees to be seen today.  They're crazy busy at the Ultrabee feeders and chicken coop.  Nice to see them out and about.


Sunday, March 1, 2020

MARCH 2020


February is now down in the record books.  For us central Wisconsin beekeepers weather conditions were not too bad; only two below zero nights in February.  However, these two nights were hard enough on my bees to take out two more hives and two more nucs.  A quick check of two showed extremely small clusters which probably could not generate enough heat to make it.   My hive and nuc survival percentages at this point are now down to 88 and 86% respectively.    This is slightly lower than last winter at this time.   Of course, further losses may occur until spring is finally here.   I should be thankful for this high survival rate, but any loss hurts.  On the bright side, I can look forward to chasing swarms in a few months. 


The high survival rate indicates to me that my varroa mite control methodology is working.  I had used the same process for the past two years.   One oxalic vapor treatment in early April, a 50% formic acid treatment in mid-June, a 100% formic treatment late July/early August, followed by single oxalic acid vapor treatments in September, October and November.  These last three oxalic treatments were to knock down migrating mites resulting from robbing or mite bombs.  This year I plan to skip the April oxalic treatment on 50% of my hives to see if this change makes a difference.   

Speaking of spring, the long term forecast shows that daily highs will creep up into the mid 40’s and even the low 50’s in the next two weeks.  Soon we will begin seeing the bees searching for tree pollen.  Silver maple and pussy willow are usually the first available pollen sources.
  

But the nights will still be dropping to below freezing.  Even so, the hives are now rearing brood in earnest.  To do this they must warm up the brood nest to 92F.  This requires honey or sugar to fuel the heater bees.  During the warmth of the afternoon the bees will be able to scour the hive looking for honey.  However, at night they will again go into cluster over the brood.   Make sure your bees do not run short of fuel and starve.  I will be adding a sugar disc to all hives one more time in March.  At the same time, I will also insert a ¼ or ½ patty of pollen or pollen substitute.   Consider that a package of bees or a nuc costs more than $120,  so the small cost of the sugar and pollen patties are cheap insurance to prevent starvation.   Once tree pollen is available the bees will ignore your offering of the pollen patty.


There is still one more month to go in the beekeeper’s winter, which runs to the end of March.  Although you are getting anxious to check out your hives do NOT perform any inspections yet.  The maximum that you should do is to quickly raise the inner cover to see if you hive is alive or dead.  Pulling a frame to inspect for brood will expose the brood to cold air and kill it.  If alive, is the cluster large enough in size for a strong spring buildup?  If dead or extremely undersize, now is the time to get replacement bees on order.  If the cluster is enormous you could also begin planning for a spring split; be it a walk away split or adding a queen.  Do you need to purchase or build more equipment?  Remember the 6P’s; “Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance”. 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Late February

Again another good write up on the Natures Blog.  The author is located in Stillwater, Minnesota; about 150 miles northwest of us, so his recommendations also apply to our area.

naturesnectar.blogspot.com/

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

ECWBA CLUB MEETING--February 15th

This Saturday is our regular club meeting.  It is being held at the Rushford Meadery and Winery outside of Omro.  Start time is 9:30AM.

Topics are:
     -Annual elections and other club business
     -Candle making
     -Nucs
     -Scheduling conflicts will prevent discussions about:  beeswax balms/soaps and making beeswax sandwich wraps

Sunday, February 9, 2020

February Update from Nature's Nectar blog

Follow the link to an article in the Nature's Nectar blog.  The author seems to like Saskatraz queens.  In my apiary they are faring slightly worse than Purdue Mite Biters.

naturesnectar.blogspot.com/

NEW WAY TO FIGHT VARROA AND DWV???

Here is a link to an interesting article on a potential way to fight varroa and deformed wing virus (DWV).

https://phys.org/news/2020-01-bacteria-bees-pests-pathogens.html

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Sunday, February 2, 2020

BLUE BIRD DAY


Once in a while we get a blue bird day; sunshine, little wind, and warm temps. This Sunday I think we just had our blue bird day for February; sunshine galore and warm temperatures (for February that is). 
  

Although the temperature only reached a high of 44F, the microclimate on the south face of the hive was considerably warmer.  I placed a thermometer on the face of one of my hives and recorded 65F.  This warm temperature allowed the bees to warm their flight muscles and then take short voiding flights.  I also noticed that flight activity was significantly greater in my mating yard which is protected on three sides from the wind.



  

Unfortunately, some of the bees don’t make it back to the hive and can be seen sprinkled on the snow.   Also, on the snow are those golden spots indicating they accomplished their goal of voiding waste products that they have been holding all winter.   Although a few bees don’t make it back to the hive overall the ability to take voiding flights is more beneficial to overall hive health than the loss of a few bees.  

Tomorrow we will be back to normal February temperatures so we should be glad of the blessing of this one blue bird day.