Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A NEW APPROACH FOR DEALING WITH VARROA MITES submitted by beekeeper Grandpa Jack

At the most recent meeting of the East Central Wisconsin Beekeepers Association, there was a discussion of Randy Oliver’s article on using a shop towel soaked with glycerin and Oxalic acid.  The article showed promising results with the methods discussed.

Personally I will be trying this method when the weather warms and look forward to seeing the results that were presented in the February edition of the American Bee Journal.

For those that would like to explore this further, I have found the discussion on this topic that has been going on ‘Beesource’ to be very interesting.  For those that have never logged on Beesource, I will take you through a few steps to get you in the loop.

Beesource  is a discussion group (forum) of beekeepers, both large and small, commercial and hobbyist that discuss issues concerning beekeepers throughout the world.

From your internet browser, go to beesource.com  or type:  beesource   in google or bing.

Click on Beesource and you will be taken to the page.
If this is your first time, you will need to register (very simple process), and come up with a sign-in name and password.  Here is where you can be creative if you want.  My sign-in name is GrandpaJack, which is part of my trade name of “Grandpa Jack’s Bees”.

After you have registered and logged in, you are free to roam and see what the rest of the beekeeping industry is concerned about.

To find more out on this new way of dealing with the varroa mite follow these steps:

1) After logging into the Beesource website look under Forums header and go to the sub-category:  Business side of beekeeping. 
2) Under that heading, go to :Commercial beekeeping.  From that there, look for the topic of “Oxalic, Glycerin, shop towels – A promising stop gap fly swatter”. 
You can also do a search for anything that you might be looking for.  The search box is in the upper right hand corner of the sign-in page.  I found this discussion, by typing in mites.

Now….get ready to find out what the world is talking about in the wonderful world of beekeeping

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Follow the link to recommendations for feeding of pollen (or substitute) patties this time of year.  It is important that the patty be in contact with the cluster.  The bees may not break cluster to feed on a patty that is only a few inches away.


MARLA SPIVAK ON WHY OUR BEES ARE DYING submitted by beekeeper Denise

Follow the link to a speach by Marla Spivak on why our bees are dying.  It a bit dated (2013) but everything is still true.  Go thru the link and then click on "Interactive Transscript".


Saturday, February 25, 2017


There were three (3) new attendees at the February club meeting.

The first portion of the meeting was devoted to club business topics.
-The club voted to approve spending money to allow two (2) club members to attend the Marathon County Bee Seminar in Wausau, March 16th.  The attendees were chosen by a raffle.  Jack Bremmer and Fred Ransome won the raffle for the two places.  Gerard and Larry are also planning on attending.
-Mark Ingram volunteered to be the "Events equipment coordinator".  Initially this job will be to inventory (type, quantity and location) of all club equipment used for public events.
-The position of "Events Coordinator" is still looking for a volunteer.
-Anyone wanting to order apparel (T-shirts, hats, sweatshirts) with club logo should contact Laurie Koeck.
-Any volunteers willing to be "mentors" should email Fred to have their name added to the blog listing of mentors.
-Also contact Fred to be added to the blog's swarm catcher list.
-The next meeting will be April 8th in Ripon.  The primary topics will be "Hive Reversals" and "The Bailey Method of Comb Changing".

The second portion of the meeting was an open discussion on winter and spring bee experiences.  Topics were:
-Hive survival for club members ranged from 0 to 100%.
-Tips for improving winter survival were freely passed among members.
-Jack B will be trying the oxalic acid/glycerin/shop towel method for treating for mites this summer.
-Poor experiences with last year's package queens were discussed.  Members were cautioned to watch for package queen supercedure this spring and to possibly have a nuc with a replacement northern bred  or mite resistant queen ready for use.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


There will be a club meeting this Saturday, February 25th, at 9:30 AM in the Silver Creek Room in the basement of the Ripon public library.  See you there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017

TYPICAL SPRING PICTURE submitted by beekeeper Gerard

Here is a common situation in spring.  Bees in search of pollen are raiding bird feeders and seed piles.  They take the dust back to the hive.  Whether it is of benefit to the bees is questionable since most of this is very low in proteins or other food value.

                                                       I count seven (7) bees.


During the past weekend with its unusually warm weather I hope you took the opportunity to inspect your apiary on the condition of your bees.  If you have deadouts to replace or are expanding here is a short listing of area bee package suppliers. 2017 package prices are up slightly from last year.   The order of this listing is purely arbitrary.  I am sure there are other Wisconsin package and nuc suppliers. Sometimes if you pool with other beekeepers for a large quantity buy you can get a discount and save on pickup costs. 

ECWBA makes no endorsements of any suppliers. 

Heritage Honeybee LLC (bought Lee Hiene’s package business)-319-321-2494

Dadant & Sons in Watertown, Wi.-contact Brian Lox at 920-261-5363

HoneyBeeWare    Greenville, Wi.
$135 per 3lb package

Fleet Farm-Appleton, Green Bay, Plymouth, Stevens Point only.
$133.50 per 3lb package      Order by Feb 28th

Kelly Beekeeping-ships via USPS Priority mail to your local Post Office
Italians-$128.50      Russians-$133.50  Shipping is extra

Henry’s-Redgranite, Wi.    John Piechowski  920-566-2855  5 frame nucs

MIKSABEES@Gmail.com or call 1-352-348-4002

Hansen Honey Farm, 3279 US-8, Rhinelander, Wi.  54501  715-369-0383
Hansenhoneyfarm.com/t/bees and queens

Sweet Mountain Farm-see ECWBA web site

Craigslist listings
Jim 920-550-9536   3lb package $120  Italian or Carniolan

Josh  in Sarona, Wi.   715-651-6600   Nucs $135   

Saturday, February 18, 2017


Follow the link to read an article about the effects of this early warm weather on your bees.  The main point is feed them if low on winter stores, but do NOT promote brood rearing this early.  The article is the second article from the top of the Nature's Nectar blog.


Friday, February 17, 2017

HIVE CHECK by beekeeper Jack

Hive check – Friday, February 17, 2017.  52 degrees and sunny.

The previous statement, pretty much says it all, doesn’t it ?  We as beekeepers have been waiting for a day like this and certainly the bees have been waiting. 
There’s a certain satisfaction when you enter the bee yard on a day like that.  The air is humming with activity and the fronts of many of the hives are covered with bees.  For the most part anyway.
Hopefully all of you felt this way on Friday.  There are those survivors and those that did not.

I’ll walk you through my apiary and let you know what I found.

Having been gone for the most part of last  August, I did not get to do my mite treatments when I had originally planned them.  I vaporize with oxalic acid and have had decent success with that. 
So,  treatments took place over a three week period in September.  Beekeeper Fred warned us last October to not trust the earlier treatments, since he had found a much higher mite count later in the season than you want.  So, October I treated again and was surprised at the mite count that I had on the sticky boards.

My winter prep is to leave enough honey on the hive, reduce the entrances, and put a super on top with screened side vents, with a screened bottom, filled with wood shavings and on top a 1 inch piece of Styrofoam under the telescoping cover.  The plans for the ventilation box were found at   Strathconabeekeepers  website

I use all 8 frame equipment and go into winter with a combination of three deeps, or a combination of mediums and deeps that equal the same size as three deeps.

Last winter (2015-2016) I went into spring with 7 out of 9 living and flying.  This year, so far, I have 6 out of 9 living and flying and looking quite strong.  Their honey stores are still quite well stocked and I have started feeding AP23 patties to a couple of hives.  It’s still a long ways to spring and weather can happen in Wisconsin at any time.
Two of the dead outs can be attributed to mites.  They have the characteristic trait of leaving behind their feces on the face of the comb.  The third one looks like they went into winter with a small cluster and no brood found.  I did not re-queen last fall and feel that this was a fatal mistake.
Being a farmer, there is always next year,  and next year will always be better than last year.

Hoping that you find only pleasant surprises this spring.


We are having a few nice warm days.  For hives in the direct sun the bees are out doing voiding flights.  Did you notice all the gold spots in the snow?  Some hives may not be flying.  Some of mine wrapped with Bee Cozies are not flying.  I assume the Bee Cozy is insulting the hive from the warming effects of the sun.

Also although your hives may have lots of flight activity they are NOT getting ready to swarm.  This is because swarming requires four things; none of which exist right now.
1) Large population
2) A replacement queen being raised
3) Drones available to mate with the queen
4) A strong pollen and honey flow.


At least in Canada the government health organization has recognized some neonictides are damaging to honey bees.  But like all government organizations they move sloooowly and only propose to discontinue use over 3 to 5 years.  So far nothing out of the US EPA.



Read about the following research that shows agricultural fungicides may also be hurting your bees.  The second link contains an abstract about the scientific research.



Wednesday, February 15, 2017


There will be a one day beekeeping conference in Wausau this March 18th hosted by the Marathon County Beekeepers club. Topics include treatment free beekeeping, splitting, and overwintering nucs.  Click on the link below for more detailed information as to the speakers, time and location.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Although its still winter you should be prepared to do a mite check this coming spring.  A "powdered sugar roll" is a simple and easy way to check mite levels.  The equipment to perform a powdered sugar roll is relatively inexpensive or you can make your own.  (A 11/11/2016 post in this blog showed how to make a mite checker.)  For instruction on conducting a mite check see the following link.  Remember a mite treatment of some form is recommended if you detect a mite level of more than 3 percent.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Thursday, February 9, 2017

THE GOOD OLD DAYS WINTERS submitted by beekeeper Jack

Winter is always a difficult time for beekeepers and honey bees.  That was also the case in 1870 as written in this American Bee Journal article.  This  edition has several articles about wintering bees and the problems that beekeepers were having.    The article is from the minutes of a convention, featuring many prominent beekeepers of the time.
Reprints of this article are public domain and made possible by the Albert R Mann Library and the Cornell University Library.
Cut and paste the following link to gain access to this edition of the American Bee Journal.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


After flirting with zero again during the week this weekend's weather is predicted to be warm (~40F).  Its time to check your hives.  Per the attached blog and video from Minnesota the bees should be on more than 2 frames.  If 2 frames or less the bees are unlikely to survive the remainder of winter in sufficient strength to be able to regenerate this spring.  Instead they just slowly dwindle away.  So if two or less you should seriously think about ordering a replacement package or plan on making a split this spring.

After verifying the bee population is OK you need to quickly inspect if there is enough capped honey to tide the bees through to spring.  The recommended amount is 3 frames of capped honey.  Both the frame count and honey survey shouldn't take you more than 30 seconds.  DO NOT remove any frames; simply view from above.  Be quick in order to not chill any brood the bees may already be raising.

All of this is summarized in a video showing how to make the winter inspection.


Sunday, February 5, 2017


If you did a good job of mite control last fall your bees are still going strong.  Being February the days are now getting longer.  In most hives the queen will have resumed laying.  For the hive to successfully raise brood the center of the cluster must be heated to and maintained at about 92 degrees F (just like in the middle of summer).  Once brood rearing has started the bees are genetically programmed to maintain the cluster core temperature.  Nothing else takes a higher priority.  The small patch of brood acts as an anchor for the cluster.  This is when some hives get into trouble. 

February in Wisconsin can still see extreme low temperatures.  Those below zero nights and days cause the cluster to contract in size to maintain the core temperature.  In some cases the cluster loses contact with the adjacent honey reserves.  With brood to keep warm the bees in the outer edge of the cluster, nearest those honey reserves, must make a choice.  Either leave the cluster to get honey or keep the brood warm.  THE COMMANDMENT TO KEEP THE BROOD WARM ALWAYS WINS OUT.  If the extreme cold spell lasts more than 2 or 3 days the bees will simply starve while keeping the brood warm.  If the cold spell lasts only 1 or 2 days and then warms the cluster will be able to expand and hopefully regain contact with the adjacent honey.
All beekeepers doing clean up of deadouts in the spring has seen the classic signs of cold induced starvation.  The dead bees are in a tight cluster.  Hundreds of  the dead bees are head first into the comb cells.  Often within inches is a lot of honey. 

What’s a beekeeper to do? 

-A brood chamber well provisioned with food in the fall is the first priority.  Did you provide your hives with fall feeding? 
-Strong hives with larger clusters (covering a larger area) tend to weather the cold spells better.  That’s something that must be addressed in the fall.  Simply do not take weak hives into winter.  Combine them with others.
-Emergency food reserves (winter patties or sugar) placed on top of the brood chamber may get your bees through this crisis if they have already risen the top of the brood chamber and are already in contact with emergency food reserve.    

-An alternate is the Primorsky Russian bee.  Having evolved along the southern edges of Siberia they are genetically programmed to delay the start of brood rearing longer than the European honey bee.  Without brood the cluster can more readily relocate.  
-Also remember that during pre-varroa times it was common to lose 10-15% of hives; most of which were do to starvation.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

FEBRUARY 1st HIVE CHECK BY beekeeper Fred

First a little review.  I took 40 hives into winter.  All hives had been treated with MAQS in mid-August and then with oxalic acid vapor in mid-September and again in mid-October.   Random mite checks showed 0 to 1.6% mite levels, which should be acceptable.  All 1st year hives were heavily fed 2 to 1 sugar syrup beginning mid-August.   In early October I graded the 40 hives by looking at the number of frames in the upper brood box that were covered with bees.  Strong had 8-10 frames covered with bees, medium 6-7 frames and weak 5 or less frames.   The results were 27 as strong, 10 as medium and 3 as weak.   Earlier I had eliminated several other weak hives by combining them with other hives.   In addition to good mite control it is recommended to NOT try taking weak hives through winter.  So I almost complied with that successful wintering rule.   There were 24 hives headed by Russian queens, 8 by Ankle Biter queens, 5 by Carniolan package queens and 3 miscellaneous ( one Italian and two unknown from swarms).
So now we are half way through winter.  There has been about 6 nights with below zero weather.  However, we did have a nice mid-January thaw when the bee clusters were able to relocate.

At this point I have lost 7 hives or 17.5%.  Each loss hurts but the losses are a lot better than last year when I had already lost 33% by February 1st.   Hopefully I am learning something; if I only listen more closely to what the bees are telling me. 
-Losses by relative hive strength are 3.7% (1 of 27) for strong hives, 40% (4 of 10) for medium hives and 33% (1of 3) for weak.  Another confirmation of that wintering rule of only trying to overwinter strong colonies.

- By queen type the losses are 4% (1 of 24) for Russians, 25% (2 of 8) for Ankle Biter, and 60% (3 of 5) for Carniolan.  The Carniolan queens were “run of the mill” package queens from California; so I suspect they have little if any mite resistant characteristics (genes).   Russian and Ankle Biter hives that went into winter as strong hives are all still at 100% survival.  So maybe the lesson here is to replace package queens with more winter hardy and mite resistant strains as soon as possible.
-So far there has been a slight difference in survival rates for wrapped (lost 3) versus un-wrapped (lost 4) hives.  In previous years there was no difference.   I will have to wait until spring to see how this ends up. 

 I see in the weather forecast that there are a few more below zero nights in the offing.  It’s another two months before the bees can begin foraging for pollen.  After spring arrives I will try to take a mathematical look that takes into account all factors; queen type, wrapped versus unwrapped, fed versus unfed and initial hive strength.  So far by studiously applying the applying the wintering rules I have seen a significant increase in winter survival over previous years.

The overwintering rules as I know them right now:
1)      Only try to overwinter your strongest hives. Eliminate dinks (weak hives) by combining with others.
2)      Know your mite levels and treat as necessary.  Mites and the associated viruses kill more hives than starvation or cold.
3)      Heavily feed startup colonies since they are unlikely to have stored enough honey to see them thru the winter.   Feeding all colonies after removing surplus honey isn’t a bad idea.
4)      Incorporate superior mite resistant queens in your operation.   (I lost 7 of 9 package queens from last April til now.)