Friday, March 31, 2017


 March came back at us with another bout of cold and snowy weather.  But its spring now and I am ready to work with my bees.

In the past few warm days I cleaned out my six dead-outs to see what I could learn.  Two of the dead-outs had been classed as weak hives last fall and I would say their loss was due to starvation.  Although I had fed those two beginning in mid-August I could not find any honey in the entire hive( 20 frames).  The clusters of dead bees were rather small.  So I surmise they had been too weak to even pack away the sugar syrup offered last fall.  If I had followed the edict to not take weak hives into winter and combined those two hives I probably would have avoided losing them.
One dead-out had the signs of a Nosema infection; diarrhea deposits on the frame top bars.  I may need to reconsider my non-use of fumigilan.  There were at least 5 full frames of honey in the hive.  However, I have not used fumigilan for several years without signs of Nosema.
The fourth was interesting.  The cluster was on the left side of the hive.  On the right side were 3 full frames of honey.  In the middle was a PLASTIC foundation frame that did not get drawn out.  I think this bare frame acted a block during the cold weather and prevented the bees from moving to the food supply.  The bees are hesitant to draw out plastic foundation except during the honey flow and last year I was culling all undrawn plastic foundation from my hives, but apparently missed that one. 

The 5th was a strong Carniolan hive last fall when I graded the hives.  There was honey in frames.  No signs of Nosema, DWV or other problems.  I could blame it on an un-acclimatized California package queen, but really I just don’t known.
The final dead-out had been a marginal Russian hive all last summer and never made any surplus honey.  I think it was a case of the beekeeper having a sentimental heart and giving a poorly performing queen a second and third chance instead of just replacing her. 

 As previously written I had graded all hives by strength in early October by quickly peeking under the inner cover.  I did this in about 5 seconds so I wouldn’t start second guessing myself.  Strong hives had 8-10 frames covered with bees.  Medium hives 6-7 frames.  Weak hives 5 or less frames.

A summary of the over-wintering statistics are:
-Overall there was 85% survival in my apiary although I think one hive will dwindle away unless I give it a boost with bees from another hive.  My survival target last fall was 70%, so I am happy. 
-Losses by hive strength rating
     Strong hives had a 4% loss.
     Medium hives had a 30% loss.
     Weak hives had a 66% loss.
-Losses by queen type (ignoring strength)
     Russian-8% loss
     Ankle Biter-25% loss NOTE: ankle biter hives had a higher percentage of weak and medium strength hives due to their being started later in the summer.
     Package Carniolan-40% loss
-Losses by queen type (with hive strength recognized)
     Russian strong hives-0%   Russian medium hives-25%   Russian weak hives-100%
     AB strong hives-0%   AB medium hives-34%   AB weak hives-100%
     Carniolan strong hives-34%   Carniolan medium hives-100%   Carniolan weak hives-0%

-Wrapped versus unwrapped hives were a tie again this year.  Lost 3 (or 15%) of the wrapped hives versus 3 (or 15%) of the unwrapped hives.    NOTE: Even my unwrapped hives are located behind a tree wind break to protect them from the prevailing winds.  In the previous two years there was no difference between wrapped and unwrapped hive losses either.  The following link is a summary of extensive research done in Madison, Wi, which showed hives with and without insulation should survive in this locale.

-There are several top bar hives in my apiary.  These hives are not as easy to work throughout the season, but even harder to work in the winter.  There is no easy way to feed these hives in the winter.  You can’t easily open the top to see where the cluster is.  The fragile cold comb will shatter if touched in the winter.  Even if you know the cluster’s location there is no way to get emergency feed to the cluster.  The only place to put emergency feed is on the bottom of the hive, but the cluster is at the top.  Maybe switching over to Russians, which overwinter with a smaller cluster, would eliminate the need for emergency feed. 

1)      The recommendation of only taking strong hives into winter was confirmed by my data.  Next fall I need to do a better job of eliminating or combining the weak hives.
2)      Mite resistant queen types (in my case either Russian or Ankle Biter) survived better in my small sample.
3)      Russian queened hives had a slight advantage in survival over Ankle Biter queened hives.  When hive strength is factored in both types were about equal.   
4)      The California Carniolan queens received with packages last spring were a disaster this past summer and winter; 6 of 9 did not make it through one year.  And I think 2 of the 3 surviving hives had superceded their queens shortly after the package was installed based on their extremely slow buildup.   Therefore my future plans are to replace all package queens prior to winter.   My long term aim is to completely stop buying replacement packages; hopefully next year.
5)      My mite control effort last fall was my most thorough effort to date. MAQS applied mid-August, oxalic vapor applied mid-September and mid-October. 
6)      Most of the surviving queens (31 of 34) in my apiary this winter were first or second generation mite resistant stock.    Roughly two thirds of those (~20) had queens that I raised.  My amateur queen raising efforts seems to not have adversely affected these queens or their winter survival. 
7)      From my limited data I can’t definitely say if the milder winter (only got down to -10F instead of the usual -20F), improved mite control or the mite resistant queens were the biggest factor in my greatly improved hive survival.  It may be a combination of the three.   Next year I will try to explore this further by stopping mite control on a few hives.

In summary my plans for next winter are: 1) Only winter strong hives, 2) practice effective mite control,  3) feed all 1st year hives, 4) incorporate mite resistant and local survivor genetics into my stock, 5) replace all package queens,  6)get the undrawn plastic frames out, and  7) pray for mild winters.

My next major project will be to clean the bottom boards on each surviving hive.  I do this by reaching in through the entrance with a slim hook and drag out the dead bees before they start to mold or decay.  I won’t open hives for a more thorough cleaning until it is at least 70F.  It is important to NOT chill the developing brood.   Following that I will be waiting for a few warm (greater than 70F) days in succession and begin rearing a few queens.  Hopefully mid-April will provide that opportunity. 


The club President Gerard wanted you to have the opportunity to participate in the 2017 bee survival survey conducted by BEEINFORMED Partnership.  If you would like to participate go to the link below:

Type in "2017" when prompted to give the survey ID.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Larvae Development Video Link

Follow this link to a neat YouTube video.

Another interesting video is a cartoon on varroa mites.  It does have an advertisement at the end; so watch at your own discretion.


Bee Hive Winter Thermoregulation-at club meetings we frequently debate the need to wrap hives with insulation.  This article summarizes research done in Madison, Wi. on this topic.  

RUSSIANS-A good description of the Russian honey bee can be found at this link.

Purdue Ankle Biters-This article provides a desciption of "Ankle Biter" strain of bees that chew legs off varroa mites

Mountain State Bees and the Mite Mauler-This article provides a description of the "Mite Mauler" strain of bee that chews on varroa with its mandibles. 

Saskatraz queens-This article describes a new strain of varroa resistant of bee developed in Canada.  It should be winter hardy and varroa resistant.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


I will be amending the Midwest queen supplier list shown in the RESOURCES section of the blog to add a source for the MiteMauler and Saskatraz speciality bees.  These suppliers will be added at the end of the list since they are not from the Midwest.   Sweet Mountain Farm information is already present on the list.


This past Saturday, March 25th, the ECWBA hosted a forum at the Fond du Lac library dealing with the Primorski Russian race of Apis meliferra honey bee.  The guest speaker was Sue Dompke from the Sweet Mountain Farm, LLC apiary located on Washington Island.  Other bee clubs and individuals were invited to attend.  Probably 45 were in attendance.

                       ECWBA President, Gerard Schubert just passed the microphone to Sue

The Primorski area of Siberia was the natural home of Apis Cerena, the Asian honeybee.  Consequently this region also has varroa.  After the completion of the TransSiberian railroad european Apis Meliferra bees were imported into the region. The Primorski Russian strain of bee resulted from survivors of Apis Meliferra bees being raised in the Primorski region of Siberia for the past 100+ years.  In this time period they were able to develop a tolerance to the varroa mite through the process of natural selection. (Back in those days chemical treatments were not available, so only the strong survived.) In a few short words the Primorki Russian has a 100 year head start over western bees in coping with the varroa mite.  They have developed several traits which allows them to cope.

With the desire and drive to become a beekeeper Sue was able to rapidly expand through use of "Hive Sponsorships" and grants.  Through her research she thought the Primorski Russin bees would be a good match for her area.  Since about 2005 she has slowly but continuously expanded her operation.  She has about 5 out apiaries in addition to her home operation.  To ensure her stock remains of pure Primorski Russian stock she was worked with all beekeepers on the island and convinced them to also use Russians.  The location of the island prevents interbreeding with other bee stains from the mainland (ie Door County).  Any new bees come from the Russian Bee Breeders Association which also ensures pure stock.

Sue ran through some of the peculiarities of the Primorski Russian strain.  A few of them are:
1) A smaller winter cluster which consumes less honey.
2) A more rapid population buildup once pollen and nectar are available.
3) The trait of keeping a "just in case" queen cell almost always in development.  This cells and queen larvae is discarded by the workers if the queen is in good health.  If for any reason they become queenless there is an already fully developed queen larvae at the ready.
4) But the ability to tolerate varroa is probably the most important trait.  Sue uses no chemical treatments.
5) Introduction of a Russian queen into other types of hives requires care and patience.  Sue shared her 21 day sure-fire method.

For this 2016-2017 winter Sue indicated she has had a 89% survival rate (and that's without any chemical mite treatments.)

Being in the beekeeping business Sue and her family have expanded into other bee related products: queens, nucs, 8 frame cedar hives with extra thick walls, lip balms, candles, soap, etc.

In the summer SMF conducts an open house/field day several times.

People interested can search for: or call 920-847-2337

A detailed description of the Primorski Russian bee can be see at:

Friday, March 24, 2017


Some package bee suppliers will be making deliveries this year in plastic boxes.  Follow the link to two videos.  One shows installation of bees from a traditional wooden box and the second with the new plastic box.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

SPRING, A TIME FOR PACKAGES – OR ? by beekeeper Grandpa Jack

Spring, a time for packages – OR ?
With the approaching spring, comes the anticipation for beginning and experienced beekeepers to start anew, increase their numbers or replace deadouts.  One of the long standing ways of doing this, is to purchase 2 or 3 pound packages of bees through the local beekeeping supplier.
This is a long standing way of obtaining bees for the upcoming year.   Bee purchases have been on the rise over the last several years along with the price.  A three pound package of Italian bees with a mated queen is presently around $130. Looking over some old invoices, the price of that package in 2014 was $106.  That’s a 24% increase in just 4 years.  I don’t remember what it was in the 60’s, but can only imagine that the amount would be laughable today.
When considering packages for 2017 what are some of your risks ?  You have paid good money for approximately 10,000 bees and you are looking forward to the coming season.  Hopefully they will get fully established and maybe even make you a little honey.  But beware of the risks.
A study done by the ‘Sustainable Agricultural Research and  Education’ (SHARE)  sheds some light on some of those risks.  I have included the following link, so you may take a look at what the research center discovered.
Based upon their studies, a three pound package with the queen that came with that package has a 28-45% chance of making it into the next season (2018).  On the other hand, the packages that were requeened by a northern queen had a 75% chance of survival into the next year.
Northern queens and bees are survivors.  They have come from hives that made it through the winter.  They are acclimated to the northern climate and the extremes that our weather can provide.
The package of bees that you are buying is not from this area of Wisconsin or even the Midwest.  Our weather is not favorable to shaking bees into packages for resale the last part of April.  The bees that come from those packages are either coming off almond pollination or from our southern states.
I am not implying that package bees are not an option.  Just know what the odds are, and hopefully you can lean those odds in your favor by knowing the risks.  Package bees are not your only option.  Local beekeepers with overwintered colonies or nucs are an excellent source and you are buying local overwintered bees that have a proven laying queen that are ready to explode.  They will cost a little more, but your risk is considerably lower and you will usually have a honey harvest the first year.
As years pass by, it is very apparent that the African Honey Bee (AHB) is making its presence known throughout the west and south United States.  More mention is made on Beesource of the problems that they are causing.  So far, the AHB has not acclimated to the northern states, but many feel it is just a matter of time.  The cross breeding of the AHB and the European Apis Mellifera (our species)  is happening.  The timeline of their movement north is uncertain.
What are the odds of purchasing bees that have been mated with an  AHB drone ?  A virgin queen will fly out to drone congregation area’s to be mated with 10-15 drones.  The question of “who’s your daddy ?” become surreal.
The other option is bait hives.  Free bees that have over wintered in your area,  have a laying queen, and are just looking for a new home.  What is not to like about free survivor bees.
It is unusual for a package of bees to swarm the first year.  They will be busy establishing their colony and gathering reserves for the following winter. If everything goes according to the plan. The bees that you are going to catch in your bait hive have likely made it through winter.  That’s why we call them survivor bees.   They swarmed from an existing hive that became well established.  Remember, bees do two things.  They make honey and more bees.
Bait hives are inexpensive to make and you can have a lot of fun doing the trapping.  I must warn you , that it is habit forming.  There is nothing like getting free bees and knowing that these are local survivor bees.
For those that subscribe to the American Bee Journal, there is an interesting and informative article in the April issue.  Dr. Tom Seeley of Cornell University has also researched and published articles and books on bait hives.  For those that might want a refresher course and a little information on how you can make your start to the 2017 beekeeping season a little more interesting.  Make sure to come to ECWBA  meeting, Saturday, April 8th



One of the recurrent themes at the Marathon County Beekeepers seminar in Wausau was the aim to get away from buying packages every spring.  The downside of packages are three fold: a) The expense, now $100 plus per package, b) package queens are southern or California raised and are genetically programed to raise brood in December and c) They are also not acclimatized to our northern winters. 

Two of the speakers were advocates of making your own replacement “packages”.  The downside is that you need to plan a year ahead and need more equipment.  Basically they recommend you double the size of your apiary.  Half of the hives will be devoted to honey production and the other half to starting new hives to replace your upcoming winter losses.

Although the details of the two speaker’s talks were slightly different what they were advocating was essentially the same.  First you need to select one of your strong hives that has overwintered.  So in essence you are selecting for a northern winter survival trait.  If you have more than one survivor hive you can consult your records (I hope you track your hive performance) and further refine your selection for high honey yield or demeanor or mite loads. 

Then in mid May you use your selected hive and plan to split it up into 4 or 5 nucs.  In theory these nucs have time to raise a queen, get installed in a full size hive and build up sufficiently to make it through winter.  If you delay to late May or early June there is not enough build up time and you will end up having to overwinter the nuc itself.   Both speakers spoke of a drop dead date of June 21st; the summer solstice.  NEVER try splitting or starting a new hive after then.
 First remove the queen from the hive about 5 days prior to the planned split.  A strong hive will start a multitude of queen cells on its own.  Then when you do the split you will have ready-made queen cells (Note: they will still be uncapped) and will just need to distribute them among the nucs.    A strong hive can better handle starting queen cells than a weaker nuc.

You have now 16/20 frames in a 2 brood chamber hive and also a large number of queen cells.  Each nuc gets two frames of honey and 2 frames of brood. One brood frame should primarily be capped brood which will soon emerge and give you a strong nuc.  The 2nd brood frame should have 1 or preferably 2 queen cells.    Try to distribute the bees evenly amongst the many nucs. 

Two tricks of the trade.  One, take you hive tool and scrape off some cappings from the honey frames.  This ensures the bees have readily available food while they are raising the new queen.   Place the frame with the scratched capping opposite the area where you installed the frame with queen cells.  Two, they recommended the trick of “notching” the area with one day old brood.  Locate the one day old brood.  Take your hive tool and poke it carefully half way down into the cell. Then drag the tool downwards.  This exposes a row of one day old larvae and tends to promote queen cell raising. 

There are downsides to this approach.  One, you are sacrificing the honey crop from the hive you split. But with luck you will have 4 or 5 new hives next year.   Two, your operation needs to be big enough to have the equipment; 4/5 nucs and 4/5 extra hives.
There are upsides also: One, you break the tie with package bee sellers.  Two, you are propagating survivor bees that can live in our northern climate. 

More information can be seen at

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Well its past March 20th and spring is officially here.  Temperatures are beginning their slow climb and we are seeing more days in the 50's when the bees can get out and fly.  But here in Wisconsin we still can get occassional bouts of snow in April and frosts well into May.

Its also about time to think about removing winter wrapping from your beehives.  At this point the wrap is probably preventing the sun's rays and warmer outside temperatures from warming the hive.  Also as previously discussed wrapping has no real measurable effect on hive survival unless your hives are fully exposed to the prevailing winter winds.

In my apiary I have lost 3 wrapped hives (15%) and 3 unwrapped hives (also 15%).  So for the 3rd year running I don't have evidence that hive wrapping has either a positive or negative impact.  NOTE: All of my hives are protected from the previaling NW winter winds.

On those 50+ degree F days it might be a good idea to make a quick snap inspection of your survivor hives.  Don't do anything other than removing the outer and inner covers for a few seconds to see if you can see some capped or open honey.  If not, you need to feed.  It would be a shame to lose a hive to starvation after making it all the way through the winter.  The trees and dandelions are not producing pollen or nectar yet.

Monday, March 20, 2017

THE FUTURE OF BEEKEEPING?? by beekeeper Gerard

The ECWBA BLOG editor asked me to write a few words about the “Future of Beekeeping” breakout session at the Marathon County Beekeepers seminar last Saturday,  but frankly, I’d rather not because what I heard was very disturbing to me.   I had hoped to hear about an improved environment with large swaths of pollinator forage planted among the monoculture crops, improved genetics through selective breeding programs, and a decrease in pesticide use, particularly the neonics.  But there was no talk about improved nutritional conditions or a decrease in pesticide use.
The speaker started his talk about a commercial honey producer that states he is not a beekeeper.  He is a honey producer.  This honey producer purchases all new bees every year, and has a special bee shredder to blow the bees into after his pollination contracts are fulfilled for the season.  He doesn’t want to be bothered with trying to keep bees alive over winter.   Pollination + honey = profit.   What ran through my mind was the hope that there would be a shredder for him when his productive days were at an end.  I pretty much stopped listening at that point.
I did tune in when he talked about artificial insemination because that’s going on today in order to maintain “pure”, and to develop “improved”, strains of bees with natural bee genetics.  (My first queen was “Joe Latshaw” Carniolan.)  Pure Carniolan, or Russian, or Italian semen injected into a pure queen of the same race, or cross-breeding to bring desirable natural traits forward (VSH, Ankle Biter, etc.), I’m okay with that.   But when the trail headed into genetic engineering and modification to make designer bees, I checked out again.  (I have read articles about Bayer and Monsanto attempting to design a GMO honey bee that’s “Round-up Ready”.)   I am totally against unnatural tinkering with life forms of every kind.  Obviously some people think that’s great, I’m not in that camp and pretty sure I never will be.
The next thing was a talk about overwintering bees in caverns and caves.  He had explored a 17 mile long cavern and somewhere in there found the “perfect spot” with a consistent “perfect” temperature for the bees to overwinter.  Not too hot, not too cold, just right.  But it was a bit low on oxygen so fans were installed to bring more oxygen to the area.  BUT, how did they know it was “just right” and low on oxygen?  Sensors!  Hundreds of micro sensors in every hive.  Keep the temperature right, the oxygen right, the humidity right, the amount of food right……….what could go wrong?
So keeping bees in a cavern for the winter might be all right, and I was sort of okay with what he was talking about, until he started bringing out the orange blossom honey bees because it was time for oranges, and the almond blossom honey bees because it was time for almonds, etc.   Designer bees for highest efficiency and profit, genetically modified to withstand the chemicals they’ll encounter, overwintering in environmentally controlled conditions.  (And a shredder in case something does go wrong!) Utopia! 
These were computer generated models about where technology is heading.   I hope to be hanging out with Brother Adam in the big apiary in the sky when that day arrives.  I enjoy and plan to stay a beekeeper, not a bee farmer, not a honey producer.  I went back to my home apiary and watched the bees for awhile on Sunday.  I enjoyed watching them come and go and being the natural honey bees that they are today after 40 million years of adapting to the natural world.  That may all change as Man decides that Man knows how bees should be and creates the technology to make it so.

EDITORS NOTE: Gerard, Thanks for the report.  any similar opinions were expressed by the seminar attendees.  


This past Saturday, March 18, many beekeepers from the Midwest had the opportunity to participate in the 2017 Beekeeping Conference sponsored by the Marathon County Beekeepers Association held at the Northcentral Technical College in Wausau Wisconsin.
One of the keynote speakers was Mel Disselkoen.  Mel is from Michigan and started beekeeping in 1972.  Through his years of beekeeping,  he has developed what is called, the OTS (on the spot) queen rearing system.  Mel developed this system after studying what he calls the “pioneers of modern beekeeping” . Those pioneers would include, Miller, Doolittle, Dzierson and many others.
Mel is a published author that  has recently written -  OTS Queen Rearing – A survival guide for beekeepers worldwide.  In his presentation he covered many of the techniques that he uses to raise quality queens with a minimal amount of steps involved.  His presentation covered how to make splits, produce honey, and getting your bees ready for the winter without using miticides for the treatment of mites.
Mel questions why beekeepers are buying bees every year when you have all the resources available to increase your numbers and even have extra colonies that can be sold to local beekeepers and those that want to get started in the vocation of beekeeping.
One of the many reoccurring themes of the conference was the negative impact and experiences that many are experiencing with purchasing packages of bees.   It was pointed out that over 35% of the queens in packages that are started will superceed within the first thirty days. The packages that we are buying are not climatized to our area,  and  what is the risk of introducing Africanized bees into our area.  Survivor bees from your area are the best bees to have in your apiary.
To find more information on Mel and his techniques, go to his website
To watch a youtube video of a presentation that Mel did a few years ago
or just search for Mel Disselkoen on youtube.
Personally I would like to thank  East Central Wisconsin Beekeepers Association for sponsoring my day at the convention and the Marathon County Beekeepers Association for sponsoring the day long event.  Well Done !!


Sunday, March 19, 2017

OVER WINTERING NUCS by beekeeper Fred

This article is the first of four to be written by ECWBA members that attended the Marathon County Beekeeper's seminar on March 18th.

The presenter on this topic, Adrian Quiney, has about an 80% success rate in overwintering nucs in the Hudson, Wisconsin area ( about 20 miles east of Minneapolis/St. Paul area).  He also has hives in 3 apairies so he wasn’t a novice promoting radical untested ideas.  His aim for overwintering nucs was to break his dependence on purchasing package bees every spring.  Hudson has a slightly colder winter climate than ours. 

His first comment was that you need a good varroa mite control strategy prior to attempting to overwinter nucs.  It can be chemical based, bee species based or brood break based. That said here is his process for overwintering nucs.

He constructs his own 5 frame nucs from ¾” wood, but most suppliers also sell a 5 frame nuc.  A 4 frame nuc may work but all of his experience is based on 5 frame nucs.  A 5 frame nucs is essentially a 8 or 10 frame deep simply cut down (narrowed) to hold 5 frames.  Each of the overwintering nucs is composed of two 5 frame deeps stacked one upon the other.  The bottom box has no holes.  The upper box has ¾ to 1 inch hole.  This is for ventilation or a winter exit in case the lower entrance is blocked by snow.  The bottom board and entrance reducers are essentially a cut down versions of standard size equipment.  Don’t be afraid to make your own equipment.  The presenter was by self-admission only a beginning wood worker.  Corner joints don’t need to be quality dovetail joints, but can be simple rabbit joints or no joints at all.  Some of his nucs were made of scrap lumber. 
On the top he places some sort of thin plastic sheet.  Almost any type will do;  an old feed bag, plexiglass, etc.  The main purpose of this sheet is to prevent the bees from eating into the next layer.  That next layer is 2 inch thick foam insulation cut to size to act as a cover.  In the summer a rock or brick is used to hold everything in place.
For nucs he plans to overwinter he starts the process in early June.  First he picks a full size and full strength hive (2 deeps) he wants to propagate.  This hive is already a winter survivor.  (Yes, he is sacrificing getting honey from that hive this year in return for more hives next year.)   A full strength hive is used since it is better able to raise quality emergency queens.  So he has 16 to 20 frames of bees and honey available for dispersal amongst 4 to 5 nucs.  Next he locates and removes the queen.  She can be used in a nuc or elsewhere.  Next he goes through the 2 deep full size hives and puts in notches in area of the brood nest that have 1 day old larvae. (See the article by Grandpa Jack about notching frames to promote queen cells)  This full strength hive that is now queenless sets to raising emergency queens.  An alternate would be to insert purchased queens if you have some special genetics you are trying to get into your operation.

The early June start is chosen based on 2 factors.  The bees need enough time to raise the new queen and brood.  Starting later than early June does not allow enough time for build up before fall.  You also want to minimize the number of varroa brood cycles the nuc goes through prior to the fall bee brood raising break.  Less varroa equals better survival.  Also the act of starting the queeless nucs provides a built in bee brood break in early June that also sets the varroa back.  Personally, I would probably give the donor hive a oxalic acid vapor treatment just prior to splitting it.
Seven days after doing the notching you inspect for queen cells.  The queen cells should be capped at this point.  Hopefully, there are many cells on a number of different frames.  He limits the number of queen cells per frame to 2. He removes any more than two. (If you are carefull somethings you can raise a queen from removed cells).  This minimizes virgin queen fighting.
Now he distributes the 16/20 frames among the nucs.  1 frame with at least 2 queen cells, 1 frame with capped brood, 1 frame honey,  1  frame with foundation.  Try to distribute any remiaing bees to balance out the nuc bee strength. So you end up with 4 to 5 nucs.

Then he leaves the nucs alone for 3 weeks.  At that time inspect for a laying queen. Expect a 20-30% failure rate.  If there is not a laying queen you need to either add a queen or re-combine the queenless nuc with a queenright hive.  This prevents the queenless nuc from getting laying workers. 

At this 3 week point he also adds the second brood chamber box with 5 frames to the nucs.
In mid August he weighs the nucs.  He feeds those that don’t weigh 50 pounds gross weight (hive, bees and honey).  He carries his bathroom scale out to the apiary for the weighing.  His data showed the hive weight declined 12 to 35 pounds over the winter. 
For winter he lines up the nucs next to each other so they are sharing a wall and thus minimize heat loss.  All entrances face south.  He is not too worried about drifting because the bees won’t be out foraging do to the lower temperatures.  He partially closes the upper vent hole.  Essentially he cuts a cork in half and stuffed it in the vent hole for the winter.  He then puts a plywood cover over the top.  This cover has a 3 inch lip to overlap the exposed 2 inch thick foam insulation outer cover.  The plywood prevents mice from chewing on the foam. Some plastic sheeting can be added to prevent water damage to the plywood cover. 

He showed data over about 10 years with a 80% winter survival rate. 

You can see of Adrian's work on Youtube.  Follow this link and click on Videos.

Friday, March 17, 2017

12 Hours of Sunshine!!!

Although spring doesn't officially arrive until March 21st we now have 12 hours of sunshine per day.  Things will begin warming up and the bees will become more active.  Their first task of spring is to gather as much pollen as possible in order to feed the brood they have begun to raise.  The first pollen to be available in this area is usually from maples, aspen and willows.  The bees will still be dependent on their stored honey until the first nectar bearing flowers appear.

Powdered pollen substitute or pollen can be offered on sunny days in feeding trays.  The bees will use this source until natural pollen is available and then the bees will ignore the substitute.  Shown here are two simple ways to present the pollen substitute to the bees; in a cardboard box and on a flat board.  If presented in small amounts the bees will usually clean it up in one day.  If the pollen substitute gets rained upon it turns into a useless hard glop.  Sometimes beekeepers use a covered birdfeeder to feed the substitute and thus somewhat protect it from the rain.

The feeding of pollen or pollen substitute stimulates the bees to raise more brood prior to the start of the honey flow.  With a stronger hive you theoretically get more honey.  Conversely, a stronger hive is more likely to swarm.

NOTE: This is done primarily to help overwintered hives.  By the time package bees arrive there should be enough natural pollen already present and feeding of a pollen substitute is usually not necessary.

These feeders were about 20 feet from hives.  The bees usually find the feeder within minutes and quickly arrive en masse as the source location is communicated to the hive.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Honey bee nutrition is vital for our honey bees to start out healthy and to be able to tolerate pests, toxins, and diseases throughout their lifetime.  They will be killed by an overdose of any of those things, but good nutrition gives them a fighting chance to survive what they encounter in their lives.
I became especially interested in late fall pollen sources when I became aware of Fat Bees.  To have any chance of overwintering a colony, the bees raised in late fall need to be fed lots of protein and be disease-free (Varroa control) to store the protein in their bodies.  The Fat Bees use some of the stored protein to survive the winter months and some to convert into royal jelly to feed the larvae when the queen starts laying in late winter.  Without these protein reserves they’re doomed.  Pollen patties can help, but they’re not the “real deal” and will not produce an optimum bee.
My initial thought was to find “bee plants” with the highest levels of crude protein and plant those.  However, researchers have found that honey bees don’t always go to the most protein-rich pollen sources when they have a choice, and will visit plants with significantly lower amounts of protein in the pollen.   They concluded that the bees are getting something else that they need, and the researchers don’t yet know what that is.....yet.  What became obvious is that variety is essential.
I’m fortunate to be surrounded by “wasteland”.  It’s low, wet country so there’s very little agriculture and a lot of wildflowers.  Add to that a couple of hundred acres of DNR land with prairie restorations and my home bees are in Eden.   But yet, according to my phenology record, there’s not much blooming in mid-July or after early September.    
To “fill-in” those dearth periods, my focus this season is to plant a bunch of Russian Sage for a summer bloom, and Autumn Joy Sedum for a late fall bloom.  Both are excellent honey bee plants and the Sedum is high in protein, just when the bees need it for the Fat Bees.  (I’m excited about Russian Sage because a friend in the Ripon area has them and she told me they literally vibrate with honey bees when they’re in bloom, and ECWBA member Mike Rohde gave me a couple of Autumn Joy Sedum last year and the bees were all over it when it was in bloom starting in late September.)
The list of honey bee plants became too extensive to list so I’m going to list a couple of excellent resources, in case anyone is wondering what would be good to plant this spring.   When buying plants, beware of hybrids and of chemically treated plants.  Some hybrids do not produce pollen or nectar, and we know the dangers of chemicals.  “Heritage” plants and organic seeds are probably the best bet to avoid chemicals and genetic alterations.
A couple of things though.  Herbs (all of them) are great pollen and nectar sources.  Giant (aka: Anise) Hyssop came up repeatedly as a great honey bee plant.  And we’ve probably all heard of Beebalm, Cosmos, Lavender and the Asters as excellent bee plants.  For those considering trees; maples, willows, basswood, sourwood and black locust are all great for honey bees.
100 Plants To Feed The Bees by the Xerces Society. 
The Xerces Society is about protecting invertebrates and not strictly honey bees.  This book has a nice key by each plant which shows which pollinators visit which plants based on 40 years of Society observations and study.   This book lists plants by common name and can be purchased from Xerces.
Garden Plants for Honey Bees by Peter Lindtner. 
Mr. Lindtner spent his life as a horticulturist and beekeeper and this book lists hundreds of plants categorized by bloom season.  This book lists plants by genus (that Latin stuff) so there’s a bit of difficulty locating plants that we know by common name.  (Google the plant you’re looking for to find the genus name.)  It has 1 – 5 stars by each plant to indicate the typical level of pollen and nectar. 
There’s a variety of other books on the subject (Winnefox has several) but these two struck me as the best of those that I read.  They make very good reference books for your home library.
Last week while looking for native plants I came across The Wild Ones website and they are currently accepting orders for 1 to 2-year-old plants, but orders are due by March 20!  The plants cost $5.00 each, or $4.50 each if ordered by the flat (12 of the same plant).  There’s some very good honey bee plants among the offerings.  For those interested:
Native plants are a good thing, but introduced plants can be too.  What we don’t want to plant are invasive plants that get out of control and choke out the natives.  Purple Loosestrife is a good example.  Honey bees love it, but it’s choking out native plants and that’s a death knell for the native pollinators that depend on local fauna.  Be careful in your choices.
Speaking of natives, there was a native honeybee in North America 14,000,000 years ago.  Apis nearctica.  Who knows what happened and if any of their genetics survive in Apis meliffera, but now we know that at one time there were native North American honeybees.   
Our next meeting is April 8 at the Ripon Public Library, 9:30 a.m., Silver Creek Room.  We’ll be talking about hive reversals, techniques for changing out brood comb, and Jack will be bringing a swarm lure and will talk to us about swarm catching.  It's cold today, but the season is close and we need to prepare for it now.
See you then,

EDITORS NOTE: Two other good sources of native prairie plants are:
-Prairie Nursery in Westfield, Wi.
-Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota