Friday, July 31, 2015

Honey Flower Sources submitted by Beekeeper Denise

As you a savoring this year's new honey crop you can try to imagine the flower source which your bees visited to gather the valuable nectar.  The following article may get you a little closer to identifying the primary source.  However around central Wisconsin the honey is usually from a mixture of a number of flowers; not a single source.


First year beekeepers are usually in need of guidance for their first experience with extracting honey.  Beekeeper Denise has informed the blog that Honey BEE Ware offers an extracting service. This is a way for new beekeepers to gain extracting experience from a seasoned beekeeper.  Please note the ECWBA does not endorse any companies, services or products.

Honey Bee Ware proudly offer's Extracting Services! 
Rent our 20-frame motorized radial extractor - $30.00 for up to 4 hours.
We'll guide you in the process, but this is all hands on.
Call to schedule your appointment today.

Don't want to get sticky? 
We will do the extracting for you...$0.25 per pound of processed honey, minimum $40.00.
We will also purchase your honey at current wholesale market price. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

VSH Bees by beekeeper Fred

Everyone knows that the varroa mite and pesticides/fungicides are the major problems to successfully maintaining a healthy hive.  There is little an individual beekeeper can do in regards to agriculturally applied pesticides and fungicides.  However, the beekeeper can take action against varroa.  The traditional approach has been to control the varroa mite using chemical treatments.  This method has had short term success, but the mites have developed resistance to these treatments.   An alternate approach is to improve the genetics of your bees so that they can naturally counter the varroa mite.  Some bees have developed traits whereby some worker bees remove brood infected with varroa and thus slow or stop the growth of the varroa infestation.  This behavior has been given the name of "Varroa Sensitive Hygiene or VSH".  Some bees exhibit this trait naturally; such as the Primorski Russian bees.  Other bee sub-species have gained this trait through selective breeding.  VSH Italian, VSH Carniolans and Minnesota Hygienic queens are all commercially available.

A good description of the Varroa Sensitive Hygiene trait is summarized at the following link.

VSH bees are not yet widely used.  Most, if not all, queen bees in spring time bee packages are NOT of the VSH variety.  To get this trait the beekeeper must personnally procure and introduce VSH queens into their apiary.  VSH queen bees tend to be slightly more expensive ($5 to $10) than non-VSH bees.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Honey Flow is almost complete

The honey flow in mid-Wisconsin is rapidly winding down.  Of course there are still some smaller sources, such as goldenrod and asters, yet to begin.  My notes indicate probably 90% of the honey you are going to get is already in the hive.  With the decline in readily available nectar and the hives at about their maximum population the potential for hive robbing is at its greatest.  What usually happens is the strong hives begin robbing the weak; especially in crowded apiaries.  If you see a sudden increase in flight activity at a weaker hive's entrance be on the watchout for robbing.  On weak hives it is a good idea to install the entrance reducer with the 4-5 inch opening in position.  This will give the weak hive a better chance of defending their honey.  Read this link for a little more information on robbing.

With the honey flow winding down its also time to begin thinking about the honey harvest.  "Keeping Backyard Bees" has a short article on some preparations you can do in advance of the harvest.  Also, if you haven't got your honey bottles, you better do it NOW because the local suppliers will soon be at zero stock.  It happens every year.  But remember canning jars work just as well.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Foundationless Hive Frames submitted by beekeeper Denise

Denise found this article that describes the process for letting the bees draw their own comb in Langstroth type hive frames.  Those who attended the ECWBA field day a few months ago may remember beekeeper Fred showing an example of a foundationless frame who bee drawn comb.  As with all things in the beekeeping world there are number of opinions regarding foundationless frames.   Here are just a few of the pros and cons.  

-You do not have the expense of buying foundation.
-In theory you are not bringing into your hive any foreign chemicals that may be in the purchased foundation.
-The bees govern the size of the comb cells.
-In those senses it is "natural" and similar to what occurs in top bar hives.
-You are all set to make "cut comb" squares for sale because of no imbedded wires or tough foundation.

-There will not be any imbedded wires in the resulting comb.  Therefore you lose the strengthening supplied by the wires.  This may result in stretching of the comb in hot weather and possible collapse of the comb during honey extraction.
-The bees will tend to construct more drone size cells naturally.  The additional drones will each more honey.
-Foundationless frames should to be installed between existing drawn frames to ensure the bee do not get creative and make odd shaped comb.

Here is the link to the article.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


ECWBA member Gerard reports that there is a Mother Earth News Fair in West Bend Wisconsin this coming August 8th and 9th.  There will be six workshops/presentations regarding beekeeping.  Entrance to the fair costs $25.  A 25% discount is available for passes bought prior to August 4th.

The Workshop/Presentation topics are:

-What does it take to be a Beekeeper
-Maintaining a healthy hive
-Beekeeper Training Average Jones to train beekeepers
-Safe beekeeping for Children, Families and Teachers
-Beginning Beekeeping
-Importance of Pollinators

Exhibitors include: Beepods and Bushy Mountain

More details can be found at this link:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

LESSONS LEARNED by beekeeper Fred

A thunderstorm blew through last night so I thought I would check the bee yard.  Other than a few downed branches everything looked OK.  However, I did notice a swarm issuing from a hive.  This was about 1 PM.  Previously all swarms I have been acquainted with have come out in the morning.  Lesson No. 1: The bees don't swarm to any schedule.

So I sprung into action to gather up the needed equipment.  By the time I was ready the swarm had settled nicely onto a fairly low branch.  I thought this capture will be a piece of cake.  I forgot to say it was hot (84F) and humid (69%); 90F heat index.  Usually a swarm can be captured without any stings.  Not today.  These bees were NASTY.  Although I successfully hived them I paid a price; about five stings to my wrists.  And this was only the stingers that penetrated my gloves.  I bet another 50 stingers were arrayed on the backs of my gloves. LESSON No. 2-The ventilation strips on some gloves let in stingers in addition to cooling air.  I will be sure to get gloves without the ventilation strips next time I buy gloves.

Then I had a bright idea (or so I thought at the time).  I could open the swarm source hive and get a few free swarm cells and raise a few more reserve queens.   Taking a cue from the testy swarm bees, this time I lit up the smoker to calm them down.  No dice.  The bees were on me (hands, arms and legs) as soon as I lifted the inner cover.  LESSON No. 3:  Bees can be very testy on hot humid days and even smoke may not calm them down.  I guess those precautions in the bee books about working the bees on hot humid days are true.

So I went home and had some ice cream with honey topping.    

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Link between high fructose corn syrup and CCD?

Here is an article that speculates on a link between feeding bees high fructose corn syrup and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  Personally I have never lost a hive to what I would consider as CCD.  CCD is characterized by departure of all bees but the queen and a few nurse bees and is not a winter phenomenon.   My lost hives usually are related to going queenless in the summer or winter starvation.  CCD mainly affects commercial beekeepers who frequently utilize high fructose corn syrup as a winter feed.  This article indicates that the corn syrup may be the delivery mechanism for neonicotinoid pesticides to the bees.  If that is true, it is also delivering that same pesticide to people via any food prepared using high fructose corn syrup.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

APIARY EXPERIMENTS by beekeeper Fred

This year I have been conducting two experiments.  One is comparing two versus three brood chamber hives.  The second is using two queens to promote quick new hive buildup.  Sometimes I just have to do it myself .

 I became interested in three (3) brood chamber hives after reading a University of Minnesota bee pamphlet (Beekeeping in Northern Climates) several years ago.   Consequently I have been running a number of three brood chamber hives.  Although we are at approximately the same latitude as southern Minnesota, we are in a milder winter climate according to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone maps.  Roughly 5 degrees F warmer on average.   My data from last winter showed no difference in the survival rates of two versus three brood chamber hives.   I have also noticed that the bees are filling the third brood chamber primarily with honey.  The third brood chamber does not appear to promote raising of additional brood.   Two brood chambers provide the queen with enough laying space.  In most hives there was only honey in the third brood chamber; only a few had brood in the lower quarter of the deep frame.   At mid-July most of my three brood chamber hives have only just begun putting honey into the supers.   If the third brood chamber doesn’t result in more bees, more honey and better winter survival I can see no advantage to this configuration.   In fact, the honey heavy 3rd brood chamber actually discourages me from conducting weekly brood chamber inspections.  Who wants to pick up and move that heavy 90 pound box. 

I have been raising small quantities of queens for a couple of years.  This year I actually have more queens than I have a need for.   I had heard that 2 queen hives can increase the overall hive efficiency and result in more honey.  I was using the some of the surplus queens to start up new hives.  New hives getting started after mid-June are always in a race to build up the hive enough to survive the coming winter.   I thought why not use a second queen in some of these start-up hives to promote a faster build up and increase the probability of winter survival.   So I have set up several two brood chamber/two queen hives.  One queen with several frames of bees, brood and honey are put in the lower chamber.  The two chambers are separated by two (2) queen excluders to ensure the queens cannot interact; ie fight or kill each other.  In the second brood chamber goes another queen with several frames of bees, brood and honey.  I prop open the outer cover to give the bees in the upper chamber a way to exit the hive in case they don’t want to run the gauntlet of the excluders and bees in the lower chamber.  So far, so good.  The queens are both alive and laying.  I can always remove the second queen at any time to fix another hive that has queen issues or to help out another beekeeper in need of a queen.    Come September I will need to remove one of the queens and remove the double excluders.   This fall I will make it a point to compare the strength of the two queen start-up hives to several other start-up hives. 

Bottom to top: Bottom board, lower brood chamber, double excluder, upper chamber, inner cover,   propped up outer cover


Here is a link to 7 interesting bee related articles.  I found the one about mite versus bee larvae high temperature survival most interesting.  Thanks to beekeeper Denise for this link.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


The University of Minnesota will be building two new bee related facilities.  The first is primarily a research lab for U of M teachers and students.  The second is the Bee & Pollinator Discovery Center that is an educational center open to the public.  See the link below for additional information.

Monday, July 6, 2015


July 5 - beekeeping observations: hives happy & healthy.  4 newly installed hives BUILDING their population and stores for winter.  TWO MONSTER hives (6 plus honey supers each)....WHICH I'VE ALREADY STARTED CLEARING (reducing).  NOTE: PURPLE FLOWERS signals the march toward the end of honeyflow (asters are usually the last)  hive #2 & #6 top honey supers are FULL but not capped.  AS SOON AS they're capped, they're getting reduced!  i've had TOOOOO many of these (monster) hives "collapse/fail" after harvest...because i took too much of their resources away too soon.  my plan is to reduce them GRADUALLY this year.  harvest for me is late august....less than 60 days away!

my thoughts on MONSTER HIVES.  as the season goes along and the beekeeper coaxes the bees to store more honey by putting more empty boxes above them....the two bottom deeps become a huge nest area for POPULATION (to distribute among these MANY boxes).   along comes harvest - beekeeper takes all the honey away - "shoves" all the population (STORAGE bees) into the bottom deeps.  and WHAT JUST HAPPENED?????  there's no honey stored in the deeps - you've got a huge population of older bees....and THEY DECIDE....THE QUEEN MUST STOP LAYING - NO RESOURCES.  beekeeper thinks - oh oh....queenless.  and it's LATE AUGUST/ early september....what flowers still exist for them to FILL THEIR OWN BOXES?


each of these MONSTER HIVES has a "HIVE SUPER" of their own that's filled and capped...and set aside.  I put THEIRS on first...and gradually moved it up and up and off. (i super on the bottom of the stack).  SO THE PLAN THIS YEAR IS:  when i go to harvest honey - they're going to get THEIR SUPER back - to overwinter with.  they will overwinter as 2 deeps and a hive-super.

i was noting the coming abundance of PURPLE FLOWERS this morning...for me - it signals the end of the season.  i've got less than 60 days left to MAKE SURE THE BEES HAVE ENOUGH HONEY FOR WINTER! 

noted: #2 and #6 monster hives currently have 5 supers on.  top two on each are FULL and HEAVY but not capped.  AS SOON AS they're capped - they're getting cleared.  I WANT TO PUSH this population down gradually this year!!! 

Thursday, July 2, 2015


In the past week one of my hives began acting oddly.   Even on these cool days the bees were gathered on the doorstep; very few were going out on nectar runs despite abundant sweet clover nearby.  This was a hive that had already filled two supers and I had great hopes of a 4 super season for this hive.  It looks a like an overly warm hive with a beard that you typically see on a hot summer night, except neither the days nor nights have been overly hot. 

        Odd behaving hive; bearding on cool day; entrance blocked except for immediate left edge

                                           Typical hot day bearding; entrance not blocked
So I got out the smoker and did a quick check.  The brood nest had only capped brood.  No eggs.  I did see two queen cells.  One had already emerged and one was still capped.  The two cells were not at the frame bottom; so I assume they are supercedure cells, not swarms cells.    I assume my hive has gone queenless; hence the lack of motivation of the colony; no brood to raise.   I can requeen or wait and see if the emerged queen successfully mates and begins laying in the next two weeks.  Since this hive is a good honey producer I have chosen the later.  I can always re-queen in two weeks.
The bee population in the hive was also very high.  My other fear was that the hive was in preparation for swarming.  However, swarms usually leave before the replacement queens emerge.    Just in case, I will make it my business to visit this hive every day about 10AM to noon, when swarms usually emerge from a hive. 

This hive piqued my curiosity and I looked through this year’s records.  I have had 6 hives go queenless this spring and summer.  Luckily, I have been raising queens and have replacement queens readily available.  The six lost queens were all in their 2nd year and all came with packages.  Is this a case of poorly mated queens or some other environmental factors?  Unfortunately, such a diagnosis is beyond my amateur capabilities. 

I also dispatched a 3rd year queen who had turned into a drone layer which usually means she had depleted her supply of stored sperm.

UPDATE 3 July 2015--I checked the odd hive the next day at about 10:30 AM.  Flight activity was better than the day before.  I was working on another hive about 50 feet away when at 10:40 AM the "odd" hive began to swarm.  After about 10 minutes the swarm had condensed on a low limb 30 feet from the hive.  As of 12 noon they have so far stayed put so I must have successfully captured the queen although I did not see her.