Wednesday, September 30, 2015


If you've taken a walk in the fields in the last few weeks you have seen there is almost nothing for the honey bees to utilize.  If you would like to aid your bees next fall now is the time to begin thinking about next spring's planting.  The aster family of flowers has a lot of fall blooming varieties.  My favorite is the New England aster, but there are many others.  The Maximilian Sunflower is also a fall blooming plant.  Both are in their prime right now and are good pollen sources for the bees.  They are both perennials and will slowly spread.  I had trouble establishing the asters from seed and had to resort to rooted sets.  I am sure your bees will appreciate any help you give them.

                                                                 New England Aster
                                                               Maximilian Sunflower

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Colder weather is just around the corner.  Now is the time to accomplish two important beekeeping tasks.

If you are going to treat for mites you need to pay attention to the daily temperatures.  Most miticides, whether natural or chemical, work best in warm (not hot nor cold) weather. Consult the directions that come with your miticide for the best temperatures.  By late October temperatures will be too cold for the miticides to fully vaporize and be effective.

Feeding of liquid feeds also is affected by temperature.  If the feed is too cold the bees will not utilize it.  Remember the bees begin to cluster when overnight temperatures are in the mid 50s.  So they won't be feeding for a good portion of the 24 hour day.  Also, the feed pail or tray will also cool to the overnight temperature.  Th bees will avoid feeding until the feed warms up sufficiently.  Also the cool temperatures will slow the water evaporation of water from the feed. So if you are giving the bees a pre-winter boost get it done now.

Also remember to remove the queen excluders if you utilize them.     In addition, reduce the entrance reducer to the 4 inch opening to help the bees prevent robbing.  Then in November reduce it further to the 1 inch opening.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Here is an interesting article from Cornell University that indicates that wild bees are adapting to the presence of varroa mites.  Natural selection in action.  Of course this has been slowly occurring over a period of decades and most beekeepers do not have the patience to wait for this long term phenomenon to occur.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Here is an article about an apiary that has a 90% survival rate.  (Not clear to me whether this is an annual or winter survival rate; however it is impressive none the less)  The article indicates they select for hygenic behavior by a somewhat detailed procedure.

Editors Note: They appear to be doing what can also be done by purchasing Varroa Sensitive Hygenic (VSH) or USDA Russian queen bees.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


This link leads to an interesting article in Science Daily about bees in New York that have developed a natural resistance to varroa mites via natural selection.  As a side note, this phenomenon is similar to how the USDA Russian strain of bees developed their natural resistance to varroa in the Primorsky region of Russia.

Another important point of the article is the importance of maintaining genetic diversity in the bee gene pool.  This helps the bees select genes via natural selection (ie. good ones survive, bad ones die) that help them combat varroa. Continuously procuring your bees from the same source probably is not the wisest choice.  The industrial queen raisers who supply queens for packages are probably not motivated in this direction.  So it will be up to you individual beekeepers to increase the genetic diversity in your apiary by varying your source and type of packages and queens.  

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Locally the city of Appleton has approved allowing residents to keep bees within the city limits.  But its not as wonderful as the headline reads.  There are requirements for classes to take, fees to pay and neighbors to mollify.  Read the link for additional information.

Also in the news is an article stating that Africanized honeybees are spreading further north in California.  Feral Africanized bees have now bee found as far north as the Sacramento valley.  Makes one wonder if our California package bees will begin arriving with Africanized queens.  It would be a good idea for midwest beekeepers to start sourcing their own regional queens, packages and nucs.

WINTER PREPARATIONS submitted by beekeeper Denise

This link provides a few recommendations on how to prepare your hives for winter.

A few other items:

1) Make sure you remove the queen excluder between the brood chamber and any honey supers you leave on the hive.  Although the worker bees may be able to pass through the excluder your valuable queen can not.

2) It is a good idea to fall feed ALL the new hives you started this year.  These new hives are the most likely to have a shortage of winter stores.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


The pesticide "sulfoxaflor" was in the news last week when it's EPA approval was overturned by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.  What is "sulfoxaflor"?  It is pesticde that acts similar to neonictinoid, but is not exactly a neonictinoid.  All this make my brain hurt.  A short write-up on "sulfoxaflor" can be found at the following Wikipedia link.

Wikipedia also has a good summary about neonictinoids and their relationship to honey bee decline.  This class of pesticide has 7 different chemical compounds and is sold under 19 or more different trade names.  The link to Wikipedia follows:

At this time 100% of seed corn and about 33% of soybeans is coated with neonictinoid pesticide.  So here in Wisconsin we are surrounded by it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tales from the Apiary contributed by beekeeper Denise

story from the hive - NOT one of mine....but i still feel terrible.

student sent me a video with a question, "what's going on here?"

the video showed 3 hives next to each other with about a foot of
space between.  the hive on the left was APPARENTLY the strongest
of the had 3 honey supers on it.

bees were POURING OUT from the bottom entrance - many of them
crawling up the front vertically - only to amass...and fall to the ground.
(and seemingly the other hives were not effected)

i replied, "ROBBING"  (4 pm in the afternoon)
he asked - what can i do?  i replied - pretty much nothing...throw a sheet over it.
and reduce the entrances on the other hives!
which he did...  the beekeeper and his family were leaving for a camping
trip and didn't have an immediate chance to go through the hive. when he came
back and went through the hive - he reported....

TOTAL LOSS - all the honey gone
MASSES of dead bees on the ground

....makes me want to tear into my own hives RIGHT NOW!!!!

EDITORS COMMENTS: This is fall.  This time of year is definitely one of poor availability of nectar and pollen.  Bees will rob neighboring hives to try to support their own populations.  Any weakness is exploited.  The Italian strain of bees is especially known for this.   In this particular case it appears hive beetles have weakened a previously strong hive.  It neighbors commenced to rob it.  This usually results in enormous battles to the death inside the the hive bees defend their winter food supply.  What can you do?  For weaker hives it is a good idea to re-install the entrance reducer with the 4-5 inch wide entrance in position.  This lessens the width of entrance the guard bees need to cover.  .If you see a lot of wax flakes at the hive entrance robbing is probably occurring as the robber bees decap the stored honey. Another tip off is a huge increase in flight activity at a hive entrance.  Compare activity between hives.  The one with the most activity is probably being robbed.  


In case you don't look at the "Calendar" section of this blog, please be aware that there will be a club meeting this Saturday (September 19th) at the Fund du Lac public library at 9:30AM.   Discussions will cover your honey harvest results and preparations for winter.

If you plan to apply anti-mite chemical this is the time to do it.  Most chemical treatments require warm days to distribute the chemical fumes throughout the hive.  Temperatures may not be high enough in October and definitely not high enough in November to accomplish this.


Here is a recently published article regarding neonitinoids and their potential harmful effects on honeybees.

Friday, September 11, 2015


According to the LA Times the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has revoked the EPA approval of the pesticide sulfaxaflor (sold under trade names of Closer and Transform) due to flawed data in relation to its toxicity to bees.  This pesticide is used on a variety of crops.  Read the LA Times article via the link below.  Whether this ruling will help our Midwestern bees is still a question.

Sunday, September 6, 2015


Traditionally, small scale honey extraction involves use of a heated de-capping knife.  This is a time proven method.  With fully filled super frames de-capping is a breeze.  It can become challenging for a novice when the comb is uneven in depth, but with a little practice and patience even these frames can be uncapped. 
Traditional heated de-capping knife

This year to add a little spice to our extracting party we tried three other methods.  We had 5 people running the equipment.  One novice, two highly experienced and two with intermidiate experience. The article summarizes our findings.  The first alternate was an “uncapping punch”; essentially a narrow plastic roller with short spikes that penetrate the cappings.  It was a breeze to use; making an elongated hole in each comb cell.  It was much faster than the uncapping knife; especially on uneven comb surfaces.  However, it seemed to have two drawbacks.  The spikes seemed to load up with wax over time; resulting in a shorter elongated hole in the cappings.  As this happened extraction efficiency degrades.  Over time we began finding frames that were getting only partially extracted.  Stopping frequently and cleaning the tool could probably have alleviated this issue. Since the objective is to get as much honey as possible, our consensus was to stick with the heated de-capping knife and only use the uncapping roller in comb areas not readily accessible to the knife.  The second drawback is that the face of the comb has hundreds of tiny wax flakes adhering to it.  These flakes fall off the comb during extraction and speed up the plugging of the coarse screens which we use to remove wax debris from the extracted honey.  (We don't filter our honey, but do run it through a series of 3 screens; 600, 400 and 200 microns, to remove wax and other debris. Pollen passes freely through all three screens.)
                                                 De-capping roller; notice the small spikes. 

During our lunch break we viewed a Utube video of de-capping using an industrial heat gun; a hair drier on steroids.  Not having an industrial heat gun we actually pressed a hair drier into service.  Although its power output was lower the hair drier did uncap dry cappings (“Dry” cappings are white in color due to a thin air bubble beneath the cap.  A “wet” capping has no air bubble beneath the cap and the cap appears the color of the honey touching the cap’s underneath side. )  Using the hair drier was definitely slower than the heated de-capping knife.  A few days later we tried an industrial heat gun.  The industrial heat gun definitely was faster than the hair drier; about on par with the de-capping knife.  However, we noticed that even some dry capping cells glazed over again with wax.  There was honey in some cells after extraction.  The consensus of the group was to put the heat gun aside.

Our final experiment was a de-capping plane.  This tool was definitely faster than the decapping knife; a definite plus.  However controlling the depth of cut was a little more difficult.  We noticed there was a tendency to cut too deep.   This puts more of the valuable honey in the de-capping pile.  We fully recover the honey from the de-capping pile, but why cause ourselves additional work. 

All said and done everyone gradually moved back to the heated decapping knife.  Sometimes the old tested designs are the best.  Of course, if someone were to let us try an automatic de-capping machine we could probably be convinced to give it a test next year.

Put together 10 beekeepers and you get ten different opinions.  Feel free to provide any feedback you desire.  Maybe we were missing some important techniques that make these other tools more efficient.   

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Poor Mans Comb Honey by Beekeeper Fred

Prior to the invention of the extractor most honey was sold in the comb.  Lately comb honey has had a resurgence in popularity.  A 4" by 4" square of comb honey sells from $10 to $15 each.  The square weighs approximately 1 pound, so the seller gets a premium price for his honey over the selling price for extracted honey.

Being frugal (or cheap) I was looking for ways to make comb honey without having to by the special kits sold by the big bee equipment suppliers.  Comb honey can be cut from the combs removed from top bar hives.  Or my alternate method was to let the bees draw out comb in regular Langstroth hives.  To do this I put a wax starter strip in a 6 5/8 inch super frame. The starter strip is approximately 1/2 inch wide so that it will extend out approximately 1/4 inch into the open frame.    (Don't use wire re-enforced foundation.) I locked the starter strip in place with melted wax. You do not want to use a full width piece of foundation for two reasons.  1) Foundation is made from recycled wax and may contain undesirable contaminants, which is probably not good to eat.  2) The foundation is thicker and tougher than foundation that the bees will draw out.

The bees will naturally draw out comb and fill it with honey.  The distance from the bottom of the starter strip to the frame's bottom bar is just wide enough to cut a 4 inch wide chunk of comb honey.  The frame is long enough to allow harvesting of four (4) sections of square comb.

I mark the frames with the comb honey starter strips so I can locate them after they have been filled.  Otherwise they look just like a regular filled frame.  I also wait to insert them into the hive until the first super is filled with honey.  I then move two of the full frames to another super and insert two of the "comb honey" frames in their place.
                                          Frame marked to help identify it at season's end

Frame ready for cutting
Position cutter at edge of starter strip
Removed comb honey section