Saturday, December 31, 2016

Uh oh! Something new-Rev. 1

Check this out.

Here is a second article with a little more technical detail.

Beekeeper Fred's Apiary Update

I performed a sound check of all my hives today using a stethoscope.  That involved a hike through the snow of about 1 ½ miles to reach all of them.  As previously stated I took 40 hives into winter.  Based upon a quick and dirty early October inspection I had classed 27 hives as strong, 10 as medium strength and 3 as weak.  As of today 38 hives are still humming.  Of the two lost since my last report, one had been classed as weak and one medium. 

Although I have lost 2 hives so far I am happy with the results (5% loss) to date.  This time last year I had already lost 23% of the hives.   This is a significant improvement over last year, which I attribute to steps taken back in August.  A) Heavily feed all first year hives (that free sugar sure helped),  B) Don’t try to overwinter any hive started after June, C) Treat for mites in mid August and again in September and October, D) cull or combine weak hives. 

Both of the lost hives had been wrapped with a BeeCozy.  As stated previously I have tracked hive survival of wrapped versus unwrapped hives for several years and have seen no difference.

One hive appears to have mice in it.  Tomorrow I will slip in a little piece of rat poison to try to remedy that situation.  There is a long way yet to go until spring, but the winter solstice has passed and the amount of sunshine is slowly increasing day by day.  

Saturday, December 24, 2016


If interested in getting federal money for bee habitat read the following links.  This help is usually limited to farmers (others need not apply) and the recipients must jump through the usual bureaucratic hoops, but don't let that discourage you.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Winter Thermoregulation

This links provides analysis of winter hive temperatures.  The study was conducted in a 5 year span in Madison, Wi.  The data allowed the analysts to come to a number of conclusions which are at the end of the article.  The ones I thought significant were:

1) The hive makes no attempt to regulate the temperature outside of the winter cluster.
2) Insulating does permit the cluster to be somewhat looser; meaning it is spending less energy to maintain cluster temperature.
3) In the Madison area both insulated and uninsulated hives should have no survival issues under normal winter conditions.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

VARROA VIDEOS from the Honeybee Health Coalition

Back to varroa control again.  Here is a link to a website that has a set of videos decribing varroa mite sampling and the all of the most used varroa control methods.  Watch the videos and choose the method you feel will be most effective for you.  One thing to remember is that if you want to call your honey organic you will be limited to oxalic or formic acid as a means of chemical control.


Received this photo taken yesterday on December 14th.  It was a high of about 10 degrees yesterday.  On the outside of this hive there was a mound of obviously frozen bees.  The heads of most bees were pointing towards the entrance.  The hive is apparently doing fine.  It appears these bees are mostly drones that had been evicted from the hive.  My theory is that this package queen did not get the message to stop raising brood earlier this fall and now that crunch time has arrived the drones are being evicted.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


The really cold weather will soon be upon us.  Going down to -15F this weekend before a warm up to the balmy 20s.  Nothing we can do now but wait out the cold.  This extreme cold is one reason for utilizing cold acclimated bees.   Nature's Nectar blog has a few words on the hazards of late fall feeding.  Read and be smarter for next year.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

WINTER 2016-2017 by beekeeper Fred

I think with the past weekend’s snow we can all agree that winter is upon us and our bees.   Hopefully we all did our best during the long warm fall to prepare our bees to survive the coming months of cold weather.  Again this year I will periodically report on how my hives are surviving.  As you can tell from previous year’s reports I am not a master beekeeper and have on occasion suffered heavy winter losses.  Some years are better than others.  Each year I try to learn a little more by reading, hard knocks and conversations with more successful beekeepers and then apply those lessons to increase the chances of winter survival for the bees in my apiary. 

Last year my final winter survival was a miserable 50%; worse than some and better than others.  If I had to make my living at beekeeping I would probably be out of business.  In the spring I surveyed several of the more successful beekeepers in hopes of learning their techniques to high survival.  Here were the items that seem to have a great influence.

1)      Never try to take a weak hive through the winter.  Put another way: Only take a strong hive into winter.   Weak hives should be combined with another hive. 
2)      Treat for mites in mid August.  This permits the hive to raise winter bees in a fairly mite free environment. 
3)      Check mite levels after the August treatment and treat again as necessary. 
4)      Do not start new hives after June.  They simply won’t have time to develop large enough populations and food stores in the remaining summer and fall.  In my area the honey flow is essentially done by mid-July. 
5)      Heavily feed all start-up hives through August and September. 
6)      Minimize use of spring packages since the genetics of the factory queens are not ideal.
7)      Incorporate mite resistant bees into your operation.
So how did I do incorporating these recommendations? 

1)      In mid-August after the honey harvest I culled 5 hives from my operation by eliminating the weak hive’s queen and combining the bees with hives of medium strength.
2)      After the honey harvest I treated all hives (except one) with a full dose of MAQS (formic acid).  The one exception was the hive with a Purdue Ankle Biter breeder queen.  I did not want to chance killing the queen during the treatment.
3)      I cheated on the “check mite levels” post treatment.  So yes I was lazy.  Instead in mid-September and mid-October I treated all hives with oxalic acid vapor. 
4)      I did not start any new hives this year after July 1st except for two swarms I managed to catch in mid-August.  These were immediately re-queened and given liquid feed.  A third swarm voluntarily occupied an empty hive in mid-August. 
5)      In early August I began feeding the 2016 start-up hives and also any hives that were not making a honey surplus.   Thank god for that free sugar from the bakery!
6)      I reduced my package purchases this spring to eight and perhaps that was a blessing.  Through the course of the summer only 2 of those packages did anything.  The others just never got going.  Four of them needed re-queening and two more superceded their queen.    I have my fingers crossed and hope to not buy any packages next spring.  At least that’s my aim.
7)      This year I raised and incorporated both Russian and Purdue Ankle Biter stock into my operation.  Both strains are noted for their mite resistance and ability to withstand northern winters.

Although I did not make mite level checks on all hives as suggested I did learn how to perform these checks.  This year I upped my game by learning how to use sticky boards, alcohol wash and powder sugar roll mite check methods.   After a little reading I plan to standardize on the powdered sugar roll method next year.    ALL of the hives I checked did have mites of varying levels; even after those three (3) mite treatments.   All post-treatment mite levels showed my hives below mite limit recommendations (for those few hives I did check).  The fact that I did not check all hives is an obvious shortcoming.   Overall I think my hives are in the best shape going into winter since I have started beekeeping.

As of October 15th I decided to take 40 hives through the winter.  I tried to gauge hive strength by quickly observing the number of frames covered with bees below the inner cover; strong 8-10 frames, medium 6-7 frames, weak 5 or less.   Twenty-seven (27) hives ranked strong, ten ( 10) medium and three (3) weak.   (Yes, I know I should have eliminated those 3 weak ones)  Twenty-five (25) are of Russian stock, eight (8) of Ankle Biter stock, four (4) Carniolan stock and 3 miscellaneous or unknown.  Note: Only a few of these a “purebreds”.  All queens I raise are open mated and therefore their offspring are mongrels that hopefully retain the beneficial traits of their mother.

This year I will again compare the survival of wrapped versus unwrapped hives.  In the previous two years I have done this there was no difference in survival rates.  I will see if this holds true again this year.
                          Unwrapped hive in foreground/BeeCozy wrapped hive in background

I periodically check the hives by simply listening with a stethoscope for the loud buzz of the bees though the upper air vent hole.  I am happy to say as of December 1st all hives were buzzing.  A below zero cold snap will arrive next week which will test the weaker hives.  But as we all know crunch time comes in January and February .  Stay tuned. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016


Here is an article from the Des Moines Register that reports glyphosate contamination in American honey samples.  Actually, its not surprising since glyphosate is one of the most popular herbicides in the US.


The primary topic of the December meeting involved a report from club members who attended the Brown County Beekeepers Seminar in October.  Patti Ingram provided a bullet point slide show with the highlights of the seminar.  Other attendees provided additional background information.  Topics covered in the seminar were winter survival and overwintering nucs.

What I gained from their information is that the overwintered nucs were actually regular deeps that were modified to be side by side 4 frame nucs.  The two nucs could thereby share heat through the divider in the center.  These nucs were also stacked at least 2 deeps in height.

A thank you to Patti, Mark and Paul for their report.

Septembers minutes were read and approved.  As was the treasurer's financial report.

The topic of public outreach was delayed until the January meeting.  All members were invited to provide both ideas for public outreach, but also do recruiting of personnel to support any activity.

Free kits to perform powdered sugar mite checks were distributed all interested club members.  The meeting then adjourned and members went to sample product-of-the-hive treats brought in for our enjoyment.  Baklava, honey glazed pecans, honey spiced chicken, mead, honey brittle, and honey cookies were sampled by club members.

The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for January; exact date TBD.

                                                          Patti giving presentation
                                                               Mmmmm Baklava
                                                            Honey spiced chicken
                                                                     Honey cookies


Tuesday, November 29, 2016


This link provides a path to a series of videos about beekeeping in northern climates such as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Monday, November 28, 2016


Here is a link to the Northern Bee Network.  This is a web site that lists suppliers of northern bred queens and nucs.  The concept behind this list is that northern bred queens will likely be more winter hardy.  I will add this link into the supplier list in this blog.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


This is a reminder there will be a club meeting on December 3rd at 9:30 AM in the Silver Creek Room at the Ripon Public Library.

There will be a general discussion about about meeting topics and public outreach for 2017.  In addition members are encouraged to bring any bee related crafts they participate in for an informal show and tell.  For example candle making, soap making, lip balms, honey related foods or drinks, hand made beehive equipment, etc.  There is a rumor that Gerard will be bringing homemade baklava!  

Friday, November 18, 2016


After reading the varroa mite articles in the Nature's Nectar blog and seeing sticky board pictures sent in by beekeepers Gerard and Grandpa Jack I decided to do another mite check on one of my hives.  I chose to utilize a sticky board so I could directly compare with the pictures from those three sources.  
So Wednesday I slipped a sticky board into Hive U.  This hive has a Ankle Biter queen.  I had previously treated the hive with MAQS in mid-August and again in mid-September and mid-October with oxalic vapor.  I was not expecting to see many mites.  When I removed the sticky board 24 hours after another oxalic vapor treatment I counted 19 mites.  
                                                                   Mites are circled.

So now for a big question.  Are 19 mites good or bad?  I had absolutely no idea. Gerard indicated this was much lower than what he had seen from his hive.  Like most beekeepers I was not able to find a handy go/no go recommendation for the method I used.  The closest I found were limits ranging from 12 to 50 mites for a "natural" mite fall onto a sticky board in 24 hours.  "Natural" mite fall occurs from mites dying and dropping or being groomed and dropping or just losing their grasp on a bee and dropping.  I could not find a limit for my accelerated method which used oxalic vapor.  

In a beehive at this time of year the population is slowly declining.  Right now I am guessing the population is in the 20,000 to 30,000 range.  I've seen recommendations that mite infestation levels should be in the 1 to 5% max level.  A 1% level means there are about 300 mites on 30,000 bees.  Oxalic acid vapor is reputed to kill 95% of the mites on bees (not those on capped brood).  95% of 300 is 285.  So potentially on a "good" 1% hive I could kill 285 mites.  From this I am making the inference that my 19 mite fall in 24 hours is "GOOD".  Since I have treated all my hives in a similar manner I am feeling good about my chances for good winter survival.  It looks like the snow may start flying next week so my outdoor beekeeping is done until spring other than periodic checks tosee if the hives are still humming.  Stay tuned.   

PS-you probably saw that I treated my hives with 2 different natural acid compounds; MAQS (formic acid) and oxalic acid.  MAQS is reported to be able to penetrate the brood cell and kill juvenile mites. MAQS is also reputed to have a higher potential for killing the queen; therefore I was hesitant to apply it more than one time.  MAQS also needs warmer temperatures to be effective.  Oxalic acid can be used at lower temperatures; down to 40F.  However, oxalic acid does not penetrate into the brood cells. It is most effective after the queen has stopped laying and all capped brood has emerged.  I had also just received the oxalic vapor tool and was playing with it.     

Thursday, November 17, 2016

2017 Beekeeping Classes

Here is information on one possible source for beekeeping classes.  As always the ECWBA does not endorse people or products.  These classes are held in the Madison area.  When the Editor hears of additional classes they will be posted on the blog.

Learn to Keep Bees!   Beekeeping Classes  2017

Cost: $50, additional family members $25 each.

Beginners Class   Repeats on Jan 21,  Feb 18,  Mar 11,  April 8,  May 6
For those with no experience at all in beekeeping, we will touch on everything you need to know for your first year:

 -Elementary bee biology                         - What to do about swarming?
- What about the neighbors?    -  Splitting a hive, or moving it
- Equipment and protective gear              - Pests and diseases
- Installing your first package  - Harvesting your Honey with Tips on Selling
- Inspecting your hive                             - Preparing for winter

This is a lecture style class with props galore!  Handle everything in sight, taste some pollen, sample honeys.  Plenty of time for questions. 

Second Step Class  will be held March 18, 2017

For those who have already kept bees one year, and now find themselves with many additional questions, and a feeling there is more to know, we will cover the following topics and more as requested by you:

- Bee Behavior                                                        - Splitting Hives/Making Increase
- Equipment beyond the basics                                - Swarm Capture
- Inspecting                                                             - Pests and Disease Treatment
- Queens                                                                  - Preparing for winter                             

Registration includes:

-Full day class 9 am - 4 pm                                           -Class Handouts
-Morning Coffee (Please bring your own lunch)          -Catalogues
-Bakery with Honey                                                      -Sample Journals
-Membership in the Dane Co. Beekeeper's Association -Honey Recipes

You may purchase artisan honey, hand dipped candles, and several other products.  Bring change.
Rich Schneider of  Capital Bee Supply will be on hand with woodenware and equipment for sale.

Classes will be held at the       Lyman Anderson Building
                                                5201 Fen Oak Dr.
                                                Madison, WI 53718

To Register, send 1.) name   2.) address   3.) phone number   4.) e-mail address
5.) date and name of desired session and   6.) check or money order made out to:

          Jeanne Hansen                     For further information or questions, contact:
          824 Jacobson Ave.                                               Jeanne Hansen   608-244-5094
          Madison, WI 53714                          

Mentoring   in the Apiary, on an individual basis, by appointment,   $20 for a 2-hour session.

!!*!!*!!  If you mail a check and don't get a receipt, please contact me  !!*!!*!!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Here is nice write-up about how once mite free colonies get re-infested.  Thank your neighbors within a mile radius.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


This article is about beekeeping and bee winter survival in Ireland.  However, it also cites some European studies regarding queens.  The two most applicable to Wisconsin are:

1) Locally raised queens have a longer survival than purchased queens; an average of 83 days longer.

2) It is better from a winter survival standpoint to re-queen in mid-summer.  Re-queening during late summer or early fall is not as successful in getting the hive through winter.


We have been harping you about the need to control mite levels in your hives.  Controlling the mite levels is key to minimizing the chances of deadly bee viruses from getting out of control.  Here is a simple homemade varroa check kit.  It can be used for either powdered sugar or alcohol wash checks.  The magazines and blogs that I read indicate that both powdered sugar and alcohol wash yield similar results.  

To make this varroa checker you must be a cheesehead.  I think all members of the ECWBA qualify.  First eat the cheese out of two spreadable cheese containers.  Next cut the bottom out of the containers leaving a lip around the outside edge.  Sandwich a piece of screen between the two containers.  Join the containers using 3 or 4 screws and nuts.  WhaLa! you now have a varroa mite checker.

If you plan to use this with alcohol also place a bead of RTV rubber at the joint of the two containers. 

Most varroa checks recommend using 300 (1/2 cup) of bees.   Place a mark 1 1/4 inch from the bottom of one container which is the lvel of 1/2 cup or 300 bees. 

Place 2 teaspoons of powdered sugar in containers.  Scrape 1/2 cup of bees from a brood frame into top container.  Replace lid.  Shake vigorously for several minutes.  Towards the end of the shake allow the powdered sugar (and mites) to fall through to the lower container.  Remove lid from lower container over a white sheet of paper and count the mites.  Pour the aggravated bees back into the hive.   For 300 bees 3 mites equals 1% infestation; 6 mites equals 2%, etc.  The most commonly seen limitation is 3% or 9 mites.  If you have 9 or more mites you should treat your hive.  If you are of the "live and let die" persuasion at least you will know why your bees have died.  NOTE: Some experts are now recommending a 1% level as the treatment threshold.  

For those club members that might not have cheese containers I will be bringing to the December club meeting about 6 sets of parts to be given away on first come/first severed basis.  

                                                           Assembled varroa tet kit.
                                            Cut out bottom with Exacto knife or equivalent
                                                   Place screen between containers
                                                                  Screws and nuts
                                                                       Secure together

Friday, November 11, 2016


This link provides an article that discusses how much space is needed for a bee hive.  It also gives guidance to placement of the hive to minimize encounters between bees and people.


The article in this link doesn't provide a solution to Deformed Wing Virus (DWV), but does show the on going work to understand and some day defeat or control it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


The November 8th article in the Natures Nectar blog shows the benefit of a late fall oxalic vapor treatment.  Make me think I should treat my hives once more and I've already treated them 3 times.  Follow this link to the article.

Beekeepers Gerard and Jack applied oxalic acid this past week (week of Nov. 7th) after reading the above article.  Both sent in pictures of horrendous mite drops.  Their hives had all been previously treated in August.

                                                                   Jack's mite drop
                                                                   Gerard's mite drop

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Primer for Potential New Beekeepers by beekeeper Fred

The following recommendations are based on personal experience and extensive reading on the plight of the honey bee.  As a new beekeeper you will soon find out that every beekeeper has his own experiences and opinions.  As a new beekeeper you will need to sift through all of this advise and come up with a plan of your own for raising and maintaining your bee colonies.  

Potential new beekeepers often enter the hobby with altruistic goals.  Most have heard of the plight of the honeybee and after reading various articles think that they can immediately become successful beekeepers.  Many potential beekeepers become enthralled with the idea that left alone the bees will naturally develop mite and virus resistance and that everything will be wonderful.  This sometimes, but rarely, happens in isolated areas where an apiary is free of outside influences.  It also takes years of dedicated effort for this to occur.   In the beekeeping community this approach to beekeeping is sometimes called the “Live or Let Die” or “James Bond” method. 

Every beekeeper knows that the European honeybee is beset by varroa, tracheal mites and viruses.  In combination these three factors can cause the demise of a colony of bees during the additional stress of winter.  New beekeepers will quickly be taught this lesson by the school of hard knocks when they lose the majority of their bees the first winter.   Ideally it would be in the best interest of the bees to allow them to develop via natural selection the ability to effectively neutralize these pests. Natural selection has the nasty habit of killing of the weak.  The double whammy of varroa and viruses if left uncontrolled frequently results in 30 to 100% hive loss over the winter.   Such horrendous losses are not necessarily in the best interest of beekeepers who are interested in honey production and selling pollination services.  Several approaches have been developed by beekeepers to hopefully end up with the same end result; honeybees that can survive without chemical intervention.

The key to helping the bees survive is understanding the relationship between the bees, varroa mites and the viruses.  The honeybee has developed good natural defenses against virus transmission in the colony.  However, the recent arrival of the varroa mites has upset the equation.  The mites feed on both the adult and larvae bees.  In addition they move between bees.  Therefore any virus infection in the colony gets transmitted from bee to bee by the varroa and can kill a colony if the mite infection rate is too high.   Controlling the level of mite infestation is the key to controlling viruses.
The first thing to be said in a discussion on bee survivability is that 99% the queens received with packages are raised from long established genetic lines.  These genetic lines were developed to maximize honey production and the docility of the bees.  These established genetic lines have NOT shown the ability to withstand the assault of the three pests.  Also to date most major queen breeders have NOT been motivated to change their breeding stock to more resistant types.   So every time you purchase a package to replace your winter’s losses you are simply getting more of the same inferior genes.  If your beekeeping philosophy trends towards the “live or let die” approach you will probably be purchasing packages every year until you give up and quit beekeeping due to the expense of buying packages every year.  Also, when you purchase these inferior queens you are importing the poor genes into not just your apiary, but also into your neighbor’s apiaries since bees tend to mate with drones from other areas.   Sad, but true. 

There are various approaches to giving your bees a fighting chance against varroa.  First is to provide them with a little aid in their fight with their antagonists.  This involves the use of chemicals (either natural or artificial) in an attempt to control the mites.  History has shown that the mites have repeatedly developed resistance to artificial chemical treatments.  Over the last 30 years several chemical treatments were the silver bullet for controlling mites for a few years until the mites via natural selection developed resistance to them.  There are currently 4 or 5 treatments that are still effective, but the efficacy of these may also decline in the future.  New beekeepers should consult with experienced beekeepers in their area on the use of chemical treatments.    Chemicals that kill mites can also kill your bees and also do harm to you if not applied to the proper manner.   Also remember that the continued use of chemicals to control mites will not aid the bees in developing a natural resistance to mites.  Most hobbyist beekeepers, who are mainly interested in honey production, will probably end up using a chemical approach for controlling mites. 

Other less invasive methods include screened bottom boards for the hive, drone brood trapping of varroa, and temporarily caging the queen; all of which can also aid in the fight against varroa.  A new beekeeper needs to understand the pros and cons of these approaches and also understand their limitations.

The next (and more difficult) approach is to develop genetic lines of European bees that can control the mite level themselves.  Other types of honey bees (Asian) have developed the ability to coexist with the varroa mite.   There are many reports of beekeepers who have not chemically treated their hives of European bees for many years and their bees have also developed resistance to mites. Only very dedicated beekeepers are likely to succeed in developing resistant bees because the selection process is long and difficult. The time frame for those who have been successful is on the order of decades.  However, hobbyist beekeepers can take the step of procuring queens that have these resistant traits and getting these genes into their apiaries.   Varroa resistant lines include Varroa Sensitive Hybrids (VSH), USDA Primorski Russian, Buckfast, and Purdue Ankle Biters.  The VSH, Buckfast and Purdue Ankle Biter strains were developed by beekeepers or scientists performing slow and meticulous data gathering, analysis and then long term breeding programs.  The Primorski Russian bees were a line of European honeybees that were exposed to mites in the Primorski region of Siberia and over a period of 100 plus years underwent natural selection and finally only resistant bees survived.  New beekeepers should read up on these resistant strains of the European honeybee either by doing internet searches or reading about them in one of the bee magazines; such as American Bee Journal or Bee Culture.  Users of these specialized strains have reported varying degrees of success.

It is recommended that new hobbyist beekeepers should NOT follow the “live and let die” philosophy for two reasons.  The first is that you will most likely lose your bees in the winter do to the varroa and virus effects.   All beehives in the US now contain varroa mites; your new hive isn’t any different despite your wishful thinking.   You can’t see them (the varroa), but they ARE there.  The second reason is that the varroa from your hive will migrate to your neighbors’ hives.   Bees inherently drift between hives; especially the drones.  Varroa use this phenomenon to expand their territory and populations by hitching a ride on the drones.  Also when your hive dies (as it most likely will) robber bees will come to loot the stored honey.  In doing this they will pick up mites and return them to their home hives.  Thus you are unknowingly infecting your neighbor’s hives with varroa. 

In summary every new beekeeper should remember:
1)      Every time you buy a bee package to re-stock your hive you are importing same inferior genes into your apiary. 
2)      Following the “live and let die” philosophy, although altruistic, will most likely result in high colony losses in your apiary and is harmful to your neighbors’ bees also.
3)      If truly interested in being helpful to the honey bee you should incorporate varroa resistant genetic lines into your operation; the sooner, the better.
4)      Unless you have unlimited financial resources for purchasing replacement packages it is wise to understand and apply a mite control program.  After you have become more knowledgeable and are successful in getting your bees through several winters you can then begin experimentation.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


A new virus, the Moku virus, has been identified in Hawaii.  It appears to be similar to Deformd Wing Virus and Isreali Acute Paralysis Virus and can also be transmitted by the varroa mite.  Here are a few links.  Unfortunately I haven't yet found a description of the symptoms associated with the virus.   On the plus side it appears that the presence of the DWV virus controls the Moku virus.  So far it has not been reported in the continental US.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


Here is a link to a blog article discussing our warm weather.  The article also stresses the need for all beekeepers to treat for mites.  If you don't like using hard chemicals then you should consider either formic or oxalic acid treatments.

Monday, October 24, 2016


The WHPA annual meeting will be in Fond du Lac next week.  Open and read the following links for more information.


Here is a link to a blog written by a beekeeper in Stillwater Minnesota, which is about 100 miles north of Central Wisconsin.   Looks like he is also computer savvy.  In this posting he is writing about tasks for October and then has several short videos on: Oxalic Drip Application, Wintering Hives in Minnesota and Installing a Bee cozy.  In general a lot of useful information.  I will try to periodically visit this site and pass on items applicable to our locale.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


Tired of Langstroth, Warre', and TopBar hives?  Here is something different.  Please note that I am not sure this hive complies with the state requirements that the hive should be easily inspected for various bee diseases.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


As many of you are aware Lee Hiene has retired from both Dadant and the package bee business.  He passed his package bee business to Tim Wilbanks.  Here is an email I received from Tim regarding spring 2017 packages.  As usual the ECWBA does not endorse any suppliers. Tim's email address is   The following is Tim's email.

Our family is excited to start the process of gearing up for the Spring 2017 package bee season.  We will continue to provide the great service and quality bees from Northern California that Lee Heine provided for so many years.

This email is to get an idea of how many packages, what size, and when you'd prefer to receive them this coming Spring.  It may seem early, but I'm currently receiving lots of orders and starting to compile the list. I'll do my very best to accommodate your preferences (e.g. 2lb. vs. 3lb., timeframe, Italians vs. Carnis, etc.).

Prices will not be finalized until after New Year's once pricing from the suppliers in CA is set, but you can put in your order and send your deposit ($10 per package) to my PO BOX listed below.  Once prices are set, I will let you know via email.  Payment in full is required by March 15th to avoid a log jam at pickup.  Of course, you will be able to add or subtract from your order with no penalties as long as there is still availability.  Deposits secure your order quantity and give you priority for preferred time frame for packages.  As I receive deposits, I'll update my records.  Just like last year, there will no longer be any credits for returned cages.   Most all of the producers have done away with reusing them.  

Mail deposits to:
Heritage Honeybee, LLC
Tim Wilbanks
PO Box 117
Sullivan, WI  53178

We will no longer distribute packages from the Dadant store in Watertown, as Lee did.  Instead, my family is currently constructing our new home and building which will serve as the new pick up location for your bees.  It is located only a few miles off Interstate 94 at exit 275 between Johnson Creek and Oconomowoc.   
Pick up address will be:
N6007 Hillside Dr.,
Sullivan, WI  53178

Please feel free to contact me anytime; I am almost always available at:  319-321-2494 .

Tim Wilbanks
Heritage Honeybee, LLC
PO BOX 117
Sullivan, WI  53178

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Follow this link to read a paper published last year in Bee Culture on the Purdue Ankle Biter grooming bee.   This paper has more detailed data regarding the performance of this bee type in the field.  Several club members are now utilizing queens with the Ankle biter genes in their hives.  Any means of combating the varroa mite is needed.

Monday, October 10, 2016


This is a short book written by David Burns.  It is available as an E-book from Amazon for those of you that have a “Kindle” e-reader.  I was able to borrow a Kindle from my sister and read the book. 

Nothing you haven't heard before, but it summarizes in one place the necessary steps to get your bees through the winter.  It also explains the reasons for each step.

Here is what I gleaned from this book.
1)      The biggest cause of winter loss of hives is the varroa mites and the viruses it spreads.  If you don’t have year round mite monitoring and control you are doomed to have high winter losses. 
2)      You must have strong colonies in the late summer/early fall prior to the colony going into cluster.  Bees should be heavily present on every frame until cluster.
3)      He encouraged feeding in late summer and early fall of both sugar AND POLLEN (or POLLEN SUBSTITUTE) to encourage raising of fat winter bees. This is addition to fall feeding many beekeepers already do to top off the colony’s winter stores.
4)      Re-queening in late summer helps with raising large quantities of winter bees. 
5)      Other minor aids such as screened bottom boards, mouse guards, etc were discussed.
6)      He stated good beekeepers inspect their colonies every two weeks.    

So here we are getting ready to go into winter and I am reviewing in my mind where I may have slipped up.  I have treated for mites twice and plan to do it once more.  I can’t say all of my colonies are “strong”.  I did combine several, but based on this book I should have combined several more.  I did feed about half of my colonies (weaker ones and new colonies), but not the stronger ones.  Although I re-queened many colonies in late summer I can’t say I was following his recommendation. 

This year my late summer/ early fall preparation for winter was better than any previous year and I am hoping for higher winter survival.  Next year I will add in the feeding of pollen in the fall.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

MITE COUNTS by beekeeper Fred

Today beekeepers Fred and Jon conducted mites counts on four (4) of Fred's hives.  It was the first time for both of us.  We had both watched two Randy Oliver demos on You Tube the night before; both sugar roll and alcohol wash methods.   With two people the mite counting process took only about 5 minutes per hive.  We used the alcohol wash method to check for mites.  This method sacrifices ~300 bees per hive.  I didn't want to kill the 300 bees, but felt that I needed to better understand the mite levels in my hives.  The sugar roll method keeps the bees alive, but is not as accurate.  Interestingly 3 of the 4 hives still had capped brood.  None had eggs or uncapped brood.  So the queen have transitioned to their period of not laying.

To run the mite check first you must pull a brood frame and bees.  Very carefully check for the queen.  If she gets in your 300 bee sample you just killed your hive.  We did encounter a queen in one of the four frames we pulled and gently set her aside.  Then you shake the bees from the frame into a plastic pan.  Next you quickly scoop up a half cup of bees and pour them into the mite washing gadget.

 The mite washer is two plastic cups that nestle together.  The bottom of the inner cup is cut off.  A piece of cheesecloth is wrapped around the bottom.  A cup of alcohol is placed in bottom cup.  The inner cup and cheesecloth are inserted into the outer cup.  Pour in the bees.  Put on the cap and begin shaking for a minimum of 30 seconds.  The mites and bees are killed.  The mites drop through the cheesecloth and collect in the bottom of the outer cup.  See pictures.  We poured the alcohol and mites into a tea strainer to make counting easier.

                                     Mite washing gadget-I think the cups were Ziploc brand
                                                            Tea strainer showing 5 mites

As previously stated we checked 4 hives; 2 with Russian queens and 2 with Ankle Biter queens.  The two Russian hives had 5 and 1 mites from the 300 bees samples or a 1.6% and 0.3% infestation rate.  The Ankle Biter hives had 3 and 1 mites or 1% and 0.3% infestation rate.

I had treated all four hives twice. First time in mid-August with MAQS and later in mid-September with oxalic vapor.  I plan to treat them once more in mid-October when all the brood will have emerged and the mites can no longer hide in capped cells.

I'm not sure if my infestation rates are good or bad.  Over the past 10 years the recommended maximum infestation has been lowered.  In the 1990's it started out at 20 per sample. but is now down to 1 to 3 per sample.

BEE THEFT submitted by beekeeper Jack

Reprinted with permission from Farm Journal - Special Features Page - October 2016
By Chris Bennett -

The Real Sting of Bee Theft
Investigators pursue a rash of honeybee crime during almond pollination

Don't dare try to steal from the bee detective.  Jay "Rowdy" Freeman raises honeybees and rents them out during almond pollination.   He's also on the felony investigations squad in Butte County, Calif., and stays hot on the trail of bee thieves.

Honeybees have long been a target for criminals during almond pollination, but the rate of theft has jumped due to fast money and easy pickings.  Specifically, a honeybee shortage and an increase in pollination rental rates have combined to lure thieves.

California's 1.1 million acres of almonds translates to a $6 billion industry.  However, the almond machine would come to a screeching halt without pollination and the Golden State doesn't have nearly enough honeybees to get the deed done.  Every year, before the February to early March pollinations season, trucks from across the U.S.. make a pilgrimage west, packed with billions of honeybees.  Roughly 1.8 million beehives are used during almond pollination - up to 90% of the available commercial hives in the U.S.

Hive rental rates quadrupled in a single decade, reaching an average $190 in 2016.  Bee boxes are frequently placed in unsecured locations.  Thieves case the hives and strike in the late night and early morning.  Who's doing the stealing?  "The majority of hives are stolen by beekeepers." Freeman explains.  "They'll usually grab anywhere from 20 to 200 hives in one hit."

In a form of agricultural fratricide, beekeepers lacking bees for contracts steal from fellow keepers.  For example, 100 stolen hives rented at $200 for a few weeks use means $20,000 in profit for no work or management.  Commercial hives are often kept four to a pallet.  Using flatbeds and forklifts, thieves load and drive several hours to another almond-producing area.  They often take out the frames, place them in their own equipment, and drop the hives into their pollination contracts.  Hive values can average $300 to $350, Freeman adds.  Steal 200 pallets with four hives each and the math can bleed a beekeeper for $280,000: equipment, value of bees and queen and rental profit extrapolated for years afterward.

Gene Brandi, president of the American Beekeeping Federation, has been raising honeybees and pollinating almonds since the 1970s.  "honeybee theft continues to occur because we're short on bees for almond pollination and colony prices are climbing .  Bee rustlers exist and they rent the stolen beehives to unsuspecting almond growers.  Legitimate keepers would never do it, but there are a few unscrupulous people in every industry, including the beekeeping industry, who are brazen enough to commit these crimes.  There have even been a few people who set up chop-shops, grind off ID numbers and brands, and repaint the stolen hives."

Bee theft is low on the legal priority list.  Several years ago, a thief caught stealing honeybees from Brandi and a dozen other keepers received a nine month suspended sentence and two years of probation.  Although financial restitution was part of the sentence, only one victim received payment. FJ

Saturday, October 1, 2016


After viewing a You-Tube video last year the idea of making a oxalic acid vaporizer has been in the back of my mind.  My electric vaporizer works great, but I was thinking of doing a late February treatment and carting the heavy battery around in the deep snow didn't sound like an easy task.  The video showed an easy to make propane powered vaporizer.

For about $40 I was able to buy all components to build the vaporizer.  You might get by for less by buying the components at a big box store like Menard's or FleetFarm.  The components are:

-6 inch length of 1 inch diameter black pipe threaded on both end
-4 inch length of 1/8 inch pipe (ID) threated on both ends
-Two caps for the pipe
-A piece of rubber to seal the upper cap.
-2 small hose clamps
-2 large hose clamps
-A low cost propane torch with piezeo-electric starter (I used a $20 unit from Menards)
-A 2 foot length of  1/8 inch thick steel strapping
-JB Weld epoxy

The most complex part of the assembly is drilling and tapping the 1 inch pipe to accept the 1/8 inch pipe.  The JB Weld is applied to the lower cap threads and 1/8 inch pipe threads  in order to seal these joints and prevent leakage of the oxalic acid vapors.  Assembly is straight forward and by looking at the following pictures is self explanatory for almost any handyman/woman.  The flame from the torch is pointed at the lower cap which holds the oxalic acid powder.

I plan to use a short length of rubber hose from the vaporizer to the hive.  I will bring this vaporizer to the next club meeting.

                                                 Overall view.  Top cap is not installed.
                                Steel strap can be forced into the ground and makes a good stand.
                                                 Oxalic vapor exiting the exhaust pipe.
                                     You can see the blue flame impinging on the lower cap.

REMEMBER: Oxalic acid vapor is harmful to your lungs and eyes.  Use a respirator or stay upwind.


Seven types of Hawaiian bees palced on the endangered species list.  Not the common honey bee yet.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


A few area beekeepers are reporting wax moth infestations.  Usually wax moths only gain entrance and become a problem in weak hives.  Removed supers can be protected from wax moths by storing them with paradichlorobenzene moth balls or crystals.  The supers are placed in a stack and one (1) tablespoon of the crystals are placed on top of the supers before covering them to seal in the paradichlorobenzene vapors.  Beekeeper Gerard reports the Bushy Mountain sells name brand Para Moth for $15.95 per pound.  He also found that Fleet Farm sells the generic equivalent for $4.95 per pound.

CAUTION: DO NOT USE GENERIC NAPTHA MOTH BALLS!!  The vapors in naptha moth balls are absorbed by the wax and are fatal to bees when the super is installed the next spring.  


When the temperature drops below 57 degrees F the bees in a colony begin to form a loose cluster.  At these temperatures bees may still be seen active at the entrance to the hive and inside the hive, but at a reduced level.  By the time the temperature drops to 43 degrees F all the bees in the hive are in the cluster. Activity at the entrance and inside the hive will be negligible.  As temperatures continue to drop the cluster will shrink in size as the bees pack themselves more tightly together to minimize heat loss.

Many beekeepers feed their hives during the fall to ensure the hive has enough resources to survive the winter.  Top mounted liquid feeders are probably the most used method.  (Boardman entrance feeders are mostly a warm weather feeder and also can induce robbing during the fall)  Other beekeepers place candy(sugar) boards over the top of the hive.  Both of these feeding methods are greatly effected by temperature and the bee's clustering behavior.

Once the bees are in cluster they will no longer be visiting liquid feeders; either top or entrance type.  Of course each fall day as the outside air temperatures rise the bees may break cluster and begin using liquid feeders.  However, the bees will not drink from liquid feed that is too cold.

I noticed that this morning the temperature had dropped to 44 degrees.  I am sure the temperatures will warm back up again since it is only late September, but this is a warning that the effectiveness of liquid feeders is drawing to a close.  So don't delay if you are planning to liquid feed; the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

Candy boards are usually installed in early November when the bees are already in cluster.  Otherwise, the bees would deplete this resource before winter arrives.  In winter the bee cluster tends to rise vertically until they reach the top of the hive.  If they have a warm winter day they may displace sideways.  If the temperature is too low the tight cluster will not move.  This is the time that the candy board is effective.  When the cluster reaches the top of the hive it will naturally bump into the candy board and its food reserve.  If that warm day does not arrive and allow the cluster to displace sideways then the candy board saves the day.

As an alternative to a candy board some beekeepers add a third brood box.  They take the four outside frames of honey from the bottom brood box.  The bees rarely utilize this honey since it is the habit of the cluster to rise vertically.  These four frames are placed in the added third brood box.  The recommended configuration is to place two empty, but drawn, frames in the center  of the box surrounded by the four honey filled frames; two on each side of the empty frames.  The empty frames are intended to provide room for the cluster.